There were a lot of great games this year. People say that every year of course, but I really mean it. Gamers across the world had RPGs, shooters, adventure games, action games, platformers, MMOs and everything in between. On top of all that, we saw the launch of the next generation of gaming consoles, handheld consoles like the Vita and (especially) the 3DS actually got a lot of use in my house and the last generation shows no sign of slowing down. The PS4 and Xbox One are great pieces of modern technology, but they don't really have the super-mega-hit games to back them up quite yet, so you won't see any of those games on my list.
For my top 5 games, I didn't go through my list of games that I've reviewed and pick the top 5 highest scored entries. I didn't look at sales numbers. But most importantly, I didn't base it on hype or general public reception. Instead, my list is entirely personal. These are the top 5 games that I experienced this year, each of which stuck with me for very different reasons.
I was never a big fan of Portal. Honestly, I'm not too sure why not and I really would like to enjoy the franchise, but it always just seemed like it tried too hard and I was overexposed to the subject matter before even getting a chance to formulate my own opinion. I will take the time and actually finish both of them someday soon, but I hear Antichamber often described as "a poor man's Portal". Well, I beg to differ. There isn't a voice guiding you down barren hallways and there aren't AAA-caliber graphics with an impressive array of visual effects and atmosphere. What the game lacks in "sizzle" it definitely makes up for with tons of "steak" for the price point, delivering one of the most memorable games I've played not only this year, but in recent memory. Antichamber is beautiful in its simplicity and extremely effective at guiding players towards the perplexing puzzle in the next room - I kept pushing forward, slowly learning about the game (and myself) as I played. Read my full Antichamber review for more details, but suffice it to say that immediately after starting the game, I knew I was in store for something quite special.
Sometimes when you let yourself get extremely excited for a game, it can disappoint you. I often exercise the practiced skill of cautious optimism, but every now and then my nerd gets the best of me. Ever since I first traveled to Gen Con a few years ago and talked with some producers about the then upcoming Neverwinter MMO that was little more than concept art and a trailer, I knew I would be interested. Once the game started picking up steam into the public eye earlier this year, I interviewed the producer, did some in-depth walkthroughs with a team member, reviewed the game and previewed an expansion - I've been very engaged from the start. I even named Neverwinter the #1 free-to-play MMORPG in 2013 at the start of the year and I am proud to say that I wholeheartedly stand by that early prediction. Read my full Neverwinter review for a more detailed look at the game, but it keeps coming back for more even now, months later.
I was very skeptical of this game when it was first announced. So skeptical in fact, I wrote an entire editorial about why it could be a bad idea. The route they took with the story ended up rendering almost all of my concerns null and void, but my caution lingered throughout the months leading up to launch. Make no mistake though, once I popped that cartridge into my 3DS and saw those beautiful, magnificent, golden triangles twinkling down into my view in glorious 3D, all of my concerns washed away. Nostalgia mixed with wonder and the new features blended so effortlessly with the rest of the game that I often forgot what was new and what was old. I've already gushed about the game on a special spoilercast with a fellow writer here at The Koalition, but my true excitement and intrigue cannot be overstated. If you're a 3DS owner, you need to play this game as soon as possible.
Releasing a new JRPG IP that's exclusive to a single console near the end of a generation is risky, unless you're a respected developer that teams up with the "Disney of Japan" otherwise known as Studio Ghibli. Ni no Kuni has no right being as charming and engrossing as it is because, in all facets, it's traditional to a point of near faults. Save points are scarce in dungeons, difficulty spikes force grinding, voice acting is often hit-or-miss and combat has its ups and downs - but none of this matters when the heart and soul of the game is just so damned good. If you've played the game even briefly, you'll especially appreciate the juxtaposition of that comparison. At the end of the day Ni no Kuni is, in all ways, a love letter to the entire JRPG genre that's carefully constructed in such a way that it would be criminal to miss it at this point. Not only is it the best RPG released this year, I'd rank it in my top 5 games of this entire generation.
I've played a lot of games this year. On top of that, I've played a TON of games this generation. Throughout my life, I can't even recall the number of games I've played. With all of that being said, The Last of Us is not just the king of my top 5 games of 2013 list, it's the king of my list of games for this entire generation. Naughty Dog has crafted such an emotionally powerful and expertly paced tale of survival that I cannot foresee myself, in all honestly, feeling such raw emotions in any game, ever again, like The Last of Us made me experience. While it's incredibly cliche to say that words can't describe how I feel about this game, it's the truth. So many other games that came out this year (and this generation) use characters as a carrot to dangle in your face that keep you playing to the end, or gameplay gimmicks to keep you hooked, but never have I experienced such an engrossing story about a single relationship between two vastly different. As the most perfect swan song, tribute and sheer masterpiece, The Last of Us will forever rank in my top 5 games of all-time. For this, Naughty Dog, I thank you.