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  1. 2012 was a very interesting and different year for gaming. Depending on how diverse your gaming tastes, amount of free time you have available, and the gaming hardware you have access to, it was either very much a blessing or a curse (in more ways than one). Because there aren't as many obvious and clear contenders, like the AAA titles of last year represented, it will really boil down based on preference despite how a lot of genres were incredibly well represented this year from retail and digital forms for gaming. For me, well, I think it will be shortly apparent what genre I may have an (unreasonable) affinity for, but I certainly have had a lot of great gaming experiences during 2012. 10. Tales of Graces F Official GP Review If I were to make an incredibly specific category for this year, this game would probably steal the "Most Fun RPG Battle System Of The Year" category. I have my reservations about how the very cliche story beats are handled and some annoying dungeon design, but I would be lying if I didn't say I had a lot of fun with this game despite that. While Tales of the Abyss probably had the best storytelling of the series, and Tales of Vesperia having the best characters/overall style, Tales of Graces F I simply enjoyed the most of the whole series as a game. Sporting a very deep and entertaining combat system, light-hearted nature, and wealth of optional content, it was simply an adventure I proudly went out of my way to play through twice despite its flaws. 9. DJMax Technika Tune Even though I find myself playing rhythm games occasionally, I've rarely been invested in them outside of a group/party environment. Having said that, and I know it's probably odd, but playing DJMax Technika Tune really solidified me being content with my Playstation Vita purchase. It doesn't flip the music game genre on its head, but it somehow really resonated me with its very catchy, unique song selection that I normally wouldn't expose myself to, responsive and entertaining gameplay, and very slick design/presentation. I still find the game immediately tempting to play every time I boot up my Vita even when I have games like Persona 4: Golden and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward begging me to continue playing them (I love you two, I just have a problem... and the only cure is more DJMax.). 8. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time Official GP Review The best word I can use to describe Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is 'endearing.' It tickles a certain earnest old-school gamer itch that just doesn't exist in RPGs nowadays. To call Wayfarer of Time simply 'old' and nothing else, however, would be very insulting. Hidden beneath its dated presentation lies a very dense SRPG with plenty of challenging fights, intriguing narrative and character interactions, and a multitude of endings. Wayfarer of Time certainly takes the best title I've played in the series and I have no qualms calling it the PSP's proud swan song. 7. XCOM: Enemy Unknown Official GP Review Despite being quite a fan of strategy games and especially their RPG variations, it has been a while since I've played a strategy game that felt like a sincere breath of fresh air (that I wanted to keep playing), since probably the original Valkyria Chronicles. XCOM: Enemy Unknown manages to reinvigorate the classic PC series while also capturing the devious spirit as well. Despite that, Enemy Unknown is surprisingly easy to get into and is very engaging throughout with its complex and strategic combat system, well-implemented base managment system, and enticing replay value. 6. Xenoblade Chronicles I“m still relatively surprised we even got both The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles in the United States even after the European release, but what I“m even more surprised by is how much more I liked Xenoblade of the two. The Last Story was probably the more ambitious game, and I really enjoyed my time with it, but Xenoblade really sold me with its incredibly grand scope, fantastic musical score, engaging storytelling, and just plain refined RPG structure. Proving that, even on dated hardware, big things come in small packages… wait, I set up something I shouldn“t have, didn“t I? 5. Mass Effect 3 Official GP Review I“ve always been a sort of blasphemer when it came to this series, where even if I enjoyed the original two to a certain extent, I felt like I played them more out of obligation than any true personal enjoyment and investment. That really changed when I played 3, however, which not only fixed a lot of my complaints about the series as a game, but really drew with me in terms of writing/narrative, great voice acting and musical score, and just plain overall design more so than the previous games. Sure, the ending still blows and some story elements could“ve been handled better (or been outright omitted), but I will not let that detract from what I thought was a strong experience and easily one of my all-time favorite western RPGs this generation. 4. Persona 4 Arena Official GP Review If there was a gaming match made in heaven catered almost specifically to individuals like myself, this game would fit the bill. This game combines one of my all-time favorite RPG properties and has my favorite fighting game developer realize it into one incredibly well-crafted fighting-game package. Admittedly, despite the praise it got for its storytelling, though solid, I desired a bit more out of it (even as a fan). As a fighting game, though, my minor quibbles were more than balanced out by the entertaining and frenetic combat system that is easy to learn but hard to master. Seriously, I just have a blast playing even now, whether it be competitively online with the great netcode or among my circle of friends regularly. 3. Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland Official GP Review Making for what was probably my most unhealthy gaming addiction this year is this little odd title... 40 hours in 4 days -wait, that wasn't subtle at all. Most will reasonably overlook this niche title, but I know I'm secretly on the right side of history for playing easily one of the best RPGs this year. Regardless, I had a great time seeing the Arland trilogy come to a close and will secretly miss the light-hearted and cavity-inducing character interactions, fun RPG mechanics, rewarding exploration/development and deep crafting system, and my homies Gio and Sterk; well, at least until Atelier Ayesha is released. 2. Journey Official GP Review For an individual who usually gets nothing out of playing “arthouse” games, playing Journey was nothing short of a pleasant surprise to me to put it lightly. Featuring an incredibly immersive setting/atmosphere, captivating musical score, and some surprisingly poignant moments in an anonymous online environment, which would be very difficult to articulate for the uninitiated, I sure as heck wouldn't trade the 2 hours I got with Journey over many other games. 1. Devil Survivor 2 Official GP Review It seems like Atlus has a habit of releasing great RPGs late in the cycle on perceivably dead systems and Devil Survivor 2 is no exception. Out of all of the games I've played this year, Devil Survivor 2 may actually be the hardest to rationalize as the #1 place on this list. It shares a lot of the same strengths as my previous listings (great storytelling, branching narrative, enthralling combat etc), and is probably the most visibly incremental of the bunch, despite being a deceptively much-improved sequel. Beyond that though, Devil Survivor 2 has a sort of intangible appeal to it that I may irrationally place right on the top of the proud #1 throne. I find it incredibly hard to nitpick its faults as a whole, even as an iterative sequel, and it was a game I didn't want to stop playing until I saw EVERYTHING it had to offer. Honorary #11: Sleeping Dogs, Gravity Rush, Binary Domain, Borderlands 2, Katawa Shoujo, and The Last Story. I would love to have more excuses to give shout-outs to many games games I've played or I haven't gotten around to finishing (My deepest apologies Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, The Walking Dead, and Mark of the Ninja!) this year since I look back on it pretty fondly. 2012, as a whole, was very much a pleasant surprise for a year I didn't expect too much of going into. So much so, that even if not a whole lot impresses me in 2013, there are still a lot of games from 2012 I'd love to play... or unhealthily keep playing.
  2. Developer: Career Soft Publisher: Atlus Platform: PSP (also playable on Vita) Release Date: Out Now ESRB: T for Teen. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time is the fourth entry of the tactical role-playing series 'Growlanser,“ which initially debuted on the Sony Playstation in 1999. Like previous games, Wayfarer of Time is known for its pseudo real-time strategic battles, branching story paths, and a multitude of endings. The PSP version of Wayfarer of Time, renamed from the unfortunate Japanese title of Growlanser: Over Reloaded, is the definitive version of the original PS2 game. With new story scenarios and characters, the 2003 release gets a well-deserved tribute on a portable system. Considered by many fans to be the best entry in the series, does Wayfarer of Time have what it takes for a fitting swan song on the ever-dwindling PSP hardware? The player assumes the role of the promising mercenary, named by default as ”Crevanille,' a member of the highly-acclaimed Alten Schwart Brigade. Recently tasked with his first true mercenary contract, he is dispatched to protect a small island faction in order to help turn the tides of an oppressive country“s military takeover. That is, until the resurgence of the ”Angel“ - an all-powerful being regarded as a harbinger of death and bringer of catastrophe in ancient times - sets the island and the inhabitants aflame in a terrifying display of power. Shortly after having narrowly escaped with his life, Crevanille and the few remnants of the once-proud brigade decide to disband and go in search of new lifestyles. Crevanille sets off and begins his journey, deciding upon how to face the looming Angel threat among the tumultuous political landscape. With what would seem like an odd hodgepodge of dark political intrigue and sci-fi/fantasy elements, the storytelling is actually pretty engaging in Wayfarer of Time. Despite what one may take away from the implication of the fantastical story component, it actually presents a darker and more grounded approach to its narrative, and has no qualms emphasizing the mortality of its world and inhabitants. Like many games in the genre, it is a little slow to unravel, feeling somewhat contrived and controlled in the earlier stretches. As it progresses, however, it's easy to feel a genuine concern for the world and the driving force behind the various characters, further propelled by the consequence of player input. As a whole, it is a large-in-scope narrative, and the localization fleshes it out well. Growlanser, as a series, has always had an interesting and different approach to what is often associated with Japanese strategy RPG“s combat systems. By blending both turn-based and RTS elements into one, Wayfarer of Time makes for something that's not quite as methodical and stiff as a normal Japanese strategy RPG, nor is it as overbearing on a macro level, and a test of speed, like many RTS games. As an end result, it is a surprisingly intuitive pseudo real-time system that shouldn't overwhelm newcomers, and brings over many tactical options of both. At its best, it“s a flexible and fun combat system with lots of variety in mission objectives. At its worst, it has some inherent clunkiness and crushing difficulty spikes that encourage the occasional grind. Outside of combat, players are free to venture off to various locales or undergo a vast array of activities. The most notable of the activities is how the game handles sidequests. Some sidequests are straightforward enough, like escorting a merchant in hopes of a monetary reward or exploring a dungeon in order to obtain rare loot, but for a surprisingly large majority of them, they play on a more personalized reward. Everything from expanding upon the game's many subplots and the relationships with various characters, like 'bromances' to romances, to more direct consequences like altering the fate of certain characters and events of the main narrative, are valid rewards. Proudly boasting 40+ endings and several story branches, Wayfarer of Time offers a lot to do, and does a fairly good job enticing players to do multiple playthroughs. At first glance, it would be hard to compliment the visuals of the game. To be fair, it does very much look like a PS1 game, despite having actually been originally on the PS2. Character sprites are basic and hardly dissimilar from previous iterations of the series. Similarly, the environments are bland and uninspired throughout, as if plucked directly from a stock of RPG background catalogs. Conversely, the well-drawn character portraits, reminiscent of 90s era-anime, bring a distinct personality to the series and the occasional anime cutscenes features well-done and crisp animation to complement it, even if they are too few and far between. These flaws aren't unnoticeable, but because of the strong gameplay and narrative that propels it, it can be easy to overlook the lackluster presentation. Due to budget constraints, Atlus was forced to omit voice acting of any sort, outside of the few anime cutscenes prevalent in the Japanese version. This may come off as disappointing for some, but there's definitely an audience who would prefer it without. Also on the audio front, the music isn't very impressive, favoring synthesized tracks over more instrumental compositions. That isn“t to say the music bad, since it really isn't. A few tracks stand out, but as a whole, the soundtrack just isn't particularly memorable. Fans of strategy RPGs should be proud that Atlus brought this great title overseas. It's not without its flaws, with unforgiving difficulty curves and a presentation that doesn't bode well even on the PSP hardware, but it remains, at its core, an addictive strategy RPG that is absolutely dense with content and interesting storytelling. Tactical role playing fans, and even PSP owners in general, would do themselves a quite a disservice by overlooking this gem. Pros: + Localization showcases narrative and cast + Multiple story branches/endings and sidequests demand replay + Interesting combat system with lots of variety in mission objectives Cons: - Basic 2D visuals and bland environments - Immense difficulty spikes for certain missions - Not very memorable music for the most part Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10) Great A unique and fun take on the strategy RPG formula. Dense with content and some interesting storytelling fans of the genre should not overlook it despite some minor missteps.
  3. We're just under a week out from the release of Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time now, and as such, Atlus has released a new trailer for the SRPG. Enjoy it, folks - you're looking at what could be the very last PSP title to release unless Square-Enix decides to bring Final Fantasy Type-0 stateside or Grand Knights History is picked up by another publisher (hey Atlus...). Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time tells the story of a land that was nearly wiped out a long time ago by evanescent divine beings, and is now once again threatened by the same beings who will destroy the world unless a hero rises to stop them. This fourth (previously unreleased in North America) installment in the Growlanser series releases next Tuesday, July 31 in retail stores and digitally on the Playstation Store.