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Game of the Year 2013: Marshall's Picks


Marshall Henderson

The end is nigh, and we“ve made our offerings to tomorrow, but what have we earned? This year, we“ve been rewarded with spectacle and action and excitement, with more cinematographic precision and open-world-ness than we“ve ever been able to do before, but it“s always been escalation. Where do we move forward? The end of the year always forces a sense of introspection and retrospection, but as the industry gets older, I feel an Ehrmann-esque need to do take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of my youth. I demand different things. Maybe not better, but different. Fortunately, 2013 was a year intent on delivering.

 

Also, note, while I will try to avoid them, it“s hard to talk about some of these games without mentioning some stuff that may be considered spoilers.

 


 

 

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6. Fire Emblem Awakening

 

Fire Emblem Awakening is not the most pioneering game. It doesn“t bring much new to the genre of SRPGs, as it is a menagerie of different ideas that have been added, so long as they can easily fit within the constraints of the genre, nor does it necessarily cater to the usual Fire Emblem audience.

 

What it does do, however, is take a genre revered, often enough, for its difficulty and puts the nature of challenge into the player“s hands. Using seals to change classes, and then factoring in the offspring system, Awakening earns its place on the list through a tough-to-start, easy-once-mastered-unless-you-play-on-the-hardest-difficulties-which-basically-cheat system. While it isn“t the groundbreaking-est of games, and while simple competence isn“t, in itself, a worthwhile goal, Fire Emblem Awakening piles in its systems in a surprisingly intuitive game that earns its position in this list.

 


 

 

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5. Pokemon X/Y

 

Okay, yes, I know. All that preamble, then right out of the gate, there are two formulaic something-RPGs. But Pokémon X and Y adds, no pun intended, depth to the series in such a way that utilizes all the features of the technology, pulling forward all the features that cause people to criticize the series for being same-y.

 

The series has evolved (huehue) constantly under the hood, but that came in tandem with the utilization of a whole suite of new features and interfacing in X and Y Versions. In short, it stands as the best Pokémon game to date in every circuit but nostalgia.

 


 

 

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4. Castles in the Sky

 

Disclaimer: I consider the creative team behind this game to be friends, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Or don“t, you can do what you want, I“m not your boss.

 

Castles in the Sky is positive. It seems like a weird thing to have to point out. After all, games are meant to be fun. At one time, maybe this would have been true, but not today. Gaming has become a boldly cynical culture, through practice and narrative alike.

 

Castles in the Sky does not subscribe to this ideology. There“s unjaded sincerity, as if Castles is telling you that the world maybe is a good place sometimes. Even more bizarrely, it even seems to believe it, coupling beautiful music along with simple-but-soothing gameplay to create a meaningful barrier, a safe space to actually enjoy the world a little bit.

 


 

 

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3. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

 

Final Fantasy XIV is the Robert Downey Jr. of video games, without a doubt. When a lot of people found the drunken mess crashed nude in their computer rooms, it was very obvious that Square-Enix had a problem. Almost two years in rehab, however, saw a new game emerge, one without the technical issues and restrictive gameplay elements that made the original such hot street trash.

 

After a rocky relaunch, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has come out like Iron Man, granting it a huge amount of celebrity status and adoration, having addressed nearly every issue people had with the original title. Not only that, but quickfixes continue to address issues as they arise, and the massive content patch in 2.1 brought in even more new content, showing that Square-Enix has no intention of slowing down. Oh, all the hours I“ve put in...

 


 

 

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2. The Last of Us

 

I“ve never really been all that keen on Naughty Dog. It isn“t that I ever disliked them, but I felt like they had very little emotional range, and just stayed in comfortable lack of empathy.

 

Boy was I wrong. The Last of Us is a tremendous piece, combining lessons learned from the Uncharted series with some of the most phenomenal characters ever born into the world. The change of dynamic between two believable characters is done masterfully, and every playthrough brings out a little more nuance, introducing sometimes entirely new motives unto actions. Every time I think back on the game, I remember a small detail, or a concept that maybe evaded me the first time through, and the eventual jeers and berating I will receive from now-justified Naughty Dog fans.

 


 

 

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1. Gone Home

 

It“s hard to talk about Gone Home. I have always lived my life as a very “put all your emotions in a bottle and bury them, and if that bottle breaks, get a bigger bottle” kind of guy. After playing Gone Home there was no bottle big enough to prepare me for those feelings. In my decades of gaming, I have never felt a game so efficiently eviscerate me with emotion as this did. In all my years of gaming, I have never been so thoroughly engaged with a family, my own included, as I was here. In all my years of gaming, I have never played anything as good as Gone Home.

 

Every facet of Gone Home is an absolute masterwork. In the most organic way, Gone Home tells its story in a very “if these walls could talk” manner. The story feels like a very voyeuristic plot until, at some point in its brief two hour time period, it shifts to being a very personal story. After playing this game, I was a ghost for weeks, wandering my house and sitting on the floor, thinking about it. This was so all-consuming that it“s hard to call this my “Game of the Year.” Rather, it“s hard to restrict it to that title.

 

In my eyes, it is truly peerless, with its understanding of genuine human emotion, the way that simple phrases feel like they can wound, and its incredible attention to detail. Within two hours of gameplay, Gone Home may currently be my favorite game of all time.

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