In many ways, 2012 has been a bit of a disappointing year for gaming. Throughout the year, there were countless games that failed to live up to our expectations. 2012 also saw the release of the Vita — a new handheld — and the Wii U, the (supposed) first next-generation console. Each of these systems show signs of promise, but neither system has a “killer app” yet. There simply isn’t very much reason to own either system at this point. Although many things about 2012 have been disappointing, it’s important to remember that the year has still had bright spots. Today, I will be highlighting those bright spots.
I have comprised a list of the top five games of the year (in my opinion). At first, I thought this list would be pretty easy to make, but I was gravely mistaken. Some great games have come out this year and it was very difficult to actually narrow all of the games released down to just five. I ended up having to cut some of my personal favorites from the list. Solid games like The Walking Dead and Pokémon White 2 originally made the cut, but they ultimately failed to make the list in the end. The top spot, my 2012 game of the year, was especially hard to choose. There were three games this year that I really felt stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was hard to choose between these three games, but I eventually made a final decision. Now, without further ado, here are my top five games of 2012.
5. The Last Story
The Last Story is a game that I’ve been following since 2010. From the time I first heard about it, I was eagerly hoping for a North American release. At one point last year I thought the game would never hit the States, but thanks to Operation Rainfall (and good sales), the game was released in the US this summer. After all of the anticipation, I was concerned that the long wait for the game would end in disappointment like so many other games this year. Luckily, I was gravely mistaken.
The Last Story is easily one of the best games on the Wii. The game combines features from a huge variety of genres that shouldn’t fit well together and somehow makes them into a great game. The game’s strength lies in its innovative battle system. Instead of using another turned-based battle system, The Last Story utilizes a unique battle system that combines strategy, strength, and speed. This battle system starts out slow, but then becomes one of my favorites in recent memory. Players can’t rely entirely on strategy, strength, or speed. Each quality must be used in succession with the others to be most effective. Players must cast spells to weaken an enemy’s defenses while sending in other members of the party to damage the enemy, all while dodging enemy attacks. This fusion of gameplay types is really something special.
In case the excellent battle system wasn’t enough, The Last Story backs it up with loveable characters, beautiful music, and an engaging story. The Last Story may not be the best JRPG of the year (that honor belongs to another title on this list), but it is one of the most memorable.
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Coming into 2012, Call of Duty: Black Ops II was certainly not on my radar. After putting in well over 200 hours in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I felt like I was done with the series. Each iteration after Modern Warfare had seemed like a step back for the franchise. After being very disappointed with recent Call of Duty games, I was not looking forward to Black Ops II at all, but after playing the game, I was very surprised. I realized that Black Ops II wasn’t just a good Call of Duty game, it was the best Call of Duty game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II makes many changes to the Call of Duty formula that cause the game feel to feel fresh, even though it is part of a yearly franchise. The campaign (despite its plot holes) is engaging and surprisingly immersive. It’s easy to get sucked into the game’s world. The campaign uses player choice in ways that I’ve never seen a game of its type do before. Some of the choices that the actions in the game cause you to make are seriously difficult. The excellent use of player choice in Black Ops II is the reason that the game is the most immersive shooter I’ve played in years.
Besides the excellent campaign, the multiplayer and zombies modes are also great. It’s easy to accidently spend hours in these addictive modes. The game’s multiplayer might even be the best multiplayer of this console generation. Many of the annoyances that plagued past games in the series are completely gone and the new Scorestreak system allows players to play for the objective (in objective-based games) without being at a disadvantage. The expansions made to the zombies modes aren’t as significant, but they’re still great.
Considering I wasn’t even sure if I would play Black Ops II, the game is easily my surprise of the year. I thought that Black Ops II would be the death of the franchise, but instead, it gives it new life.
3. Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade Chronicles is yet another JRPG that wasn’t originally going to be released in North America. Luckily for us, Operation Rainfall (and decent sales numbers) changed that and I am so glad that they did. Xenoblade Chronicles isn’t just the best JRPG of the year, it’s the best JRPG on a Nintendo console since the SNES era.
The success of Xenoblade Chronicles is mainly due to the game’s ridiculously fun battle system. While The Last Story’s battle system focuses on a variety of different aspects, the battle system in Xenoblade Chronicles focus solely on strategy, and this certainly paid off for Monolith Soft, the game’s developer. It’s hard to describe why the battle system in Xenoblade Chronicles is so great. I think the best example of its greatness is the fact that I spend the first few hours of the game level-grinding. The battle system was so much fun that I wanted to fight as many enemies as I could instead of continuing the story.
The battle system is accompanied by some incredible music. It’s simply a joy to listen to the music of the Gaur Plain. The music’s upbeat nature just makes a guy feel all happy inside. It also has some serious variety. The game’s soundtrack includes music from tons of diverse genres. It’s rare for a game to feature both heavy metal and traditional JRPG music, but Xenoblade Chronicles does just that, and it does it quite well.
Some people might disagree with me, but I think Xenoblade Chronicles could easily be the best JRPG of this generation. It really is that good. The mix of old and new JRPG elements in Xenoblade Chronicles really makes the game something special. Xenoblade Chronicles might get overlooked by many people because it’s on the Wii, and that’s unfortunate. This is really is one of the best games of the year.
Journey is a very hard game to describe. In some ways, it has more in common with a painting than it does with a video game. Journey is simply a beautiful piece of art that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Simply watching the game doesn’t do it justice. In a year that has been filled with explosion after explosion, Journey manages to offer a completely different experience.
Journey’s success is due in large part to its incredible use of cinematography. There are moments in Journey that are more beautiful than any painting I have ever seen. The game knows just when to change its visuals so that it can remain engrossing for all players. In just two hours, Journey take players to a huge number of locations. Each location is beautifully animated and plays an integral part in the game. The variety of locations in Journey greatly add to the sense of beauty that the game has.
While Journey’s visuals are nothing short of stunning, the game would be incomplete without its moving soundtrack. The music in the game perfectly sets its mood. Journey causes players to feel all kinds of emotions and the music plays a big role in that. The wonderful music gives the game an element that few other games have. Journey isn’t just a game, it’s an experience.
People will always debate over whether or not video games are art. After playing Journey, I can confidently say that anyone who plays this game will know the answer to that debate immediately. It’s not possible to play Journey without being touched by the adventure. Journey is the kind of game that will be held up among people as the defining “art game” for years to come.
1. Mass Effect 3
I understand that this choice will cause controversy, but Mass Effect 3 really is the best game of the 2012. While the ending was certainly disappointing, that does not erase the prior 20+ hours of gaming bliss. Mass Effect 3 is able to immerse players in a way that no other game has ever immersed people before. Mass Effect 3 isn’t just the conclusion of the Mass Effect trilogy, it’s the conclusion of my trilogy. Mass Effect 3 allows players to truly carve out a story of their own. Mass Effect 3 is able to push storytelling in video games to new levels while remaining a blast to play.
Mass Effect 3 greatly improves upon the combat in Mass Effect 2. The tighter gun controls and new melee attacks make the combat fun and rewarding to play. Previous Mass Effect games were held back from their potential greatness due to their gameplay flaws, but Mass Effect 3 faces none of those problems. It fixes the previous problems with the combat while successfully expanding upon the game’s other features. Mass Effect 3′s combat is so good that it can even support a surprisingly good multiplayer mode. I was not expecting anything from the multiplayer, but it manages to be more than simply a bland addition. It’s actually quite fun to play.
Mass Effect 3 wraps up the Mass Effect trilogy in great fashion, but the game is about much more than just the fate of the galaxy. Mass Effect 3 focuses on Shepherd’s fears and struggles. After being unable to save a child in the beginning of the game, Shepherd has nightmares about the child throughout the game. These nightmares really add a lot of depth to Shepherd as a character. Shepherd isn’t just some super solider who isn’t fazed by war. Seeing the products of war has a great effect on Shepherd. The game’s emphasis on these effects make Shepherd one of the most relatable characters gaming has ever seen.
The game’s story is full of many memorable moments, but these moments would not have been anywhere near as memorable without the game’s excellent soundtrack. The music in Mass Effect 3 causes moments in the game to resonate with players long after the credits role. Cris Velasco, the composer of the game, did a phenomenal job in creating Mass Effect 3′s music.
The Mass Effect series has always emphasized player choice and Mass Effect 3 is no exception. Every decision you make in the game matters. Even the smallest of decisions could have a great impact in the galactic war. Mass Effect 3′s incredible use of player choice make it the most immersive and personal game of the year. Mass Effect 3 isn’t just Shepherd’s story. It’s your story.
Mass Effect 3 is able to combine great gameplay, fantastic storytelling, and incredible music in a way that few other games can. Mass Effect 3 is able to bring video game storytelling and gaming in general to new heights with all of its great qualities. Mass Effect 3 will always be remembered for its ending, and that’s a real shame. The game’s ending doesn’t take away from its greatness.
Mass Effect 3 truly is the best game of 2012.