Ari’s Top Ten Games of the Year 2013

There has certainly been no shortage of great games to play in 2013. On the contrary, I imagine many of you would agree that there were too many!

Before I get to my list of Top Ten Games of the Year 2013, I just want to fully disclose my process. The candidates for this list were chosen based on the games I have played that were covered by Gamer Horizon in 2013, so any game beyond the scope of our coverage won’t appear below. Second, this list is based exclusively on my personal opinion, and does not consider the popularity or overall impact of a title on the masses. This is not a list of most respected or highly reviewed titles; it is simply a list of my personal favorites.

Honorable Mentions

With that being said, I’d like to designate two honorable mentions. First is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which was an excellent game developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games. It’s an adventure game, quite similar to Ico, and it does something that most videogames fail to do. It makes the controller part of the game, not only as an interfacing device, but as a part of the emotional connection to the storyline. I don’t want to go into further detail, as to spoil exactly how this happens would be a disservice… I’m going to leave it at that. Play Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

The second honorable mention is Super Mario 3D World, which to be honest, I didn’t have time to finish at the time of this writing (it was under the Christmas tree). From what I’ve played so far, it is a fantastic platformer, and has a great deal of quality Nintendo creativity! I’m loving the game, and can’t wait to play more of it. It’s just pure fun.

10. The Last of Us

I’ve got to give Naughty Dog a lot of credit for how hard they pushed the PlayStation 3 this year. The Last of Us is a stunningly beautiful game, assuming you can appreciate the beauty in such a depressing setting. But it’s not just the visual prowess that makes this game great; it’s the storytelling as well!

From its incredible introduction to its outstanding and thought provoking ending, The Last of Us told its tale brilliantly from start to finish. The motion captured performances and vocal work by the actors were top notch. I really connected to the characters, whether or not I was very fond of them, and that kept me playing, despite a lack of interest in the actual gameplay, which I found a bit boring after I got used to the mechanics. But that shouldn’t discourage you from playing the game! The Last of Us is an incredible piece of work overall, and a must play title on the PlayStation 3.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - The Last of Us

9. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness

I’ve always been a fan of the Disgaea series, though I never enjoyed a cast of characters in any of the sequels as much as I loved the original cast from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. So imagine my surprise when I found out that they were making a direct sequel to the original game!

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness made me fall in love with the original cast all over again. It was great to spend more time with Laharl, Flonne and Etna, and though the new characters were not as great as the returning cast, the original trio was able to support the extra weight. The gameplay was also as addicting as ever, and included some exciting new features, like mountable monsters and the Cheat Shop. When it comes down to it, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness was simply a great strategy RPG that was packed with content. I still have a ton of stuff to go back and do in the post-game! This is a must buy for any fan of Nippon Ichi titles.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness

8. Bioshock Infinite

Finally, the proper sequel to Bioshock that Bioshock 2 didn’t quite manage to be! Bioshock Infinite is another game that earned its spot on my list for amazing storytelling. The dialogue between Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth was one thing, but the relationship between Elizabeth and the player was another thing entirely. I suppose that’s an advantage for first-person games; characters on screen can look right at the player without breaking the fourth wall. So the player gets to observe the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth, but also feel as though Elizabeth is speaking directly to the player. Does that make sense?

Well, even if it doesn’t, don’t worry. Bioshock Infinite takes great advantage of opportunities to not make much sense, but it works out in the long run. I especially loved the glorious madness of Columbia, the floating city. A character in its own right, Columbia stole the show with its pristine outward appearance but dark and violent innards. Learning about the history behind this unique city was a pleasure.

It was also a lot of fun to fight bad guys throughout the floating city. The first-person shooting was solid, and a curious collection of guns and Vigors kept things interesting. Moving about on the Skylines added depth (no pun intended), though I can’t say that ended up being quite as cool as it looked in the trailers. Still, Bioshock Infinite is easily one of the best games of the year, and any fan of single-player first-person shooters should have it in their library.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - Bioshock Infinite

7. Shin Megami Tensei IV

I suppose it’s telling that even after reviewing Shin Megami Tensei IV after having played 85 hours that I kept playing until I reached 111 hours of gameplay. One of the reasons I loved this game so much was the return of the “Press Turn” combat system, which awards players extra actions for exploiting enemy weaknesses and punishes them for wasting actions on enemies that can absorb, nullify or reflect the attack. Of course, the system works both ways, so the player has to manage their elemental resistances as well. It’s a very deep and satisfying battle engine, and one that I’ve been enjoying since Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2 on PlayStation 2.

I’m not sure if Shin Megami Tensei IV is better than those games, but it is certainly one of the best JRPGs of the year. With its huge list of demons to battle, recruit and fuse, and several drastically different endings to play for, it’s easy to allow Shin Megami Tensei IV to take control of all of your free time. It has some weaknesses, like a convoluted world map and obscure quest descriptions, but this doesn’t prevent it from being a quality and worthwhile game overall.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - Shin Megami Tensei IV

6. Tomb Raider

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I’ve never been a fan of Tomb Raider. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy any game of its genre until I played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on PlayStation 3 and the incredible Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. After playing those games, my mind opened up to the possibility of enjoying a Tomb Raider game, and as luck would have it, Crystal Dynamics was hard at work on a new title in the franchise.

Visually stunning, this year’s Tomb Raider game pulled out all the stops, starting out with an engaging opening sequence where we were reintroduced to Lara Croft and met a variety of other interesting characters. It isn’t long before Lara gets into trouble, and while we witness this young Lara fighting for survival, we get to enjoy some of the finest moments gaming has to offer.

Everything is fully realized, from the subtleties in the visuals and character animation to the action itself. Tomb Raider plays like a dream, while telling a great story and delivering top quality gameplay. I did not expect to enjoy Tomb Raider as much as Uncharted 2, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - Tomb Raider

5. The Guided Fate Paradox

The roguelike is not a very popular genre; in fact it’s the very definition of niche. Still, it’s a genre that I have enjoyed over the years, so imagine my surprise when Nippon Ichi provided me with a review copy of The Guided Fate Paradox. At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about the game—not even that it existed—but having just played Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, I was in the Nippon Ichi mood, so I started playing it right away.

It immediately felt familiar, even formulaic to anyone familiar with other Nippon Ichi titles, but in this case, that wasn’t a bad thing. The one thing that roguelikes typically lack is a decent story. In fact, some of them are so bare bones that they don’t have characters or an overall story at all! By contrast, The Guided Fate Paradox has a likable cast of characters and a strong storyline that kept me interested throughout the entire game.

Building a roguelike on top of a Nippon Ichi JRPG foundation resulted in what is quite literally my favorite roguelike of all time. I ended up completely addicted to The Guided Fate Paradox, to the point that I forgot all about Disgaea D2, even though I had just been addicted to that game as well. The whole situation made me feel bad for missing out on another Nippon Ichi roguelike that was released years prior on PlayStation Portable, the awesomely titled Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman—that’s one oversight I recently corrected. But regardless, if you have any interest in the genre, or even if you are a total newcomer to roguelikes, I suggest you give The Guided Fate Paradox a try.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - The Guided Fate Paradox

4. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

I’m not exactly a hardcore StarCraft II player. When Wings of Liberty came out, I earned every achievement in the single player campaign, and played competitively online for several months, but then I gave it up for the next game on my list without looking back. Years later, I finally got StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and remembered why I had spent those many months playing online. I even felt bad for not sticking with the game, because it is by far the best real time strategy game I have ever played.

The expansion pack may have had a disappointingly short campaign and a small number of new units for multiplayer, but that doesn’t change the fact that StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is the latest version of my favorite real time strategy game. With new features like unranked matchmaking and the ability to resume a disconnected game, Heart of the Swarm improved the quality of life for those playing online, and also added some great features for helping newcomers acclimate to online play after coming from the campaign.

The campaign itself had some cool features too, like a hero unit that grew throughout its entirety and a variety of interesting achievements to increase replay value. And playing online is also as fun as ever. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is one of those games that makes me wish there were more hours in the day, just so I could squeeze a couple of games into my daily life.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

3. Fire Emblem: Awakening

When Alex loaned me his copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening, I was filled with trepidation. I had played a couple Fire Emblem games before, though not in recent years. But I remembered those frustrating hours playing through the games on Gameboy Advance, stubbornly attempting to keep every unit alive throughout the entire game and replaying maps over and over again in order to do so.

Fortunately, Fire Emblem: Awakening had a few different difficulty settings to offer an easier experience to newcomers, as well as a punishingly difficult experience for series veterans. Of course, I couldn’t play it on easy—that would be embarrassing—so I ended up playing the game on “Hard Classic,” the setting recommended for players that were used to the series.

I hit an insurmountable brick wall only a few hours in.

I ended up starting over on “Hard Casual,” which basically allows units to flee the battlefield instead of dying when they run out of HP. How embarrassing.

In any case, now that I was finally making progress, I was enjoying the game immensely. I loved the cast of characters and strengthening them with the support system while simultaneously getting to see them talk to one another and develop relationships. With the large variety of classes and so many different possible relationships, the replay value is surprisingly high for a strategy RPG. Too bad I had to give the game back to Alex. Regardless, Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the best strategy RPGs I’ve played in a long time, and it belongs in your 3DS library if you are a fan of the genre.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - Fire Emblem: Awakening

2. Grand Theft Auto V

It’s been a long time since I have enjoyed a game so much that I literally had to play it every single second that I had a spare moment of free time. Grand Theft Auto V had me glued to my Xbox 360, a system that had been accumulating a rather impressive layer of dust in the last few years.

I had become obsessed over the campaign, and the time just flew by as I witnessed the story of Franklin, Michael and Trevor. Sometimes I’d get distracted, driving aimlessly around Southern San Andreas, but most of the time I was making a beeline for the mission waypoints and planning heists or getting into trouble.

It’s amazing that Rockstar continues to raise the bar with every new release in this series.  I’ve always been dumbfounded by how much detail goes into the crafting of a Grand Theft Auto game, from the city itself with its cars, pedestrians and landmarks to the background content, like the radio stations and in-game internet. It’s all so overwhelming, and yet that is part of what makes it great. You can just get completely lost in this world Rockstar has invented, and I do, every single time they release a game.

Grand Theft Auto V continues the trend of improvement with one of the most detailed worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of exploring. Just writing this is tempting me to jump right back in to Los Santos. Unless you specifically dislike this type of game or setting, I see no reason that any gamer should not own Grand Theft Auto V.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - Grand Theft Auto V

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

When I witnessed the announcement of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on Nintendo Direct, I was immediately excited. As a fan of A Link to the Past, I couldn’t help but to look forward to this new game set in the same world. But at the same time, I was skeptical of the new mechanic I saw, where Link turns into a drawing and moves along the walls. It honestly seemed a bit silly.

Now that I’ve played the game, I have to wonder why I ever doubted Nintendo. The mechanic blends perfectly into the puzzle solving elements of the Zelda franchise, and adds a new layer of depth (or in this case, flatness) to a game that sticks to the formula of its predecessor like glue.

Fortunately, this was one case where looking to the past for inspiration was a great idea. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was one of my favorite Super Nintendo games and one of my favorite Zelda games in general. If there was ever a game to copy a formula from, that would be it. And so after all these years, Nintendo finally did, and the result is not only one of the best Zelda games ever made, but one of the best games in recent memory.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is incredibly fun to play from start to finish. The puzzles are challenging, but never frustrating, and the world is masterfully crafted, with plenty of content to play on the nostalgia of longtime fans and tons of new content to keep things fresh and exciting. The only thing I can hold against the game is that it’s a bit too easy, even on the unlockable Hero mode, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a remarkable game overall. Just when I least expected it, Nintendo came through with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, my favorite game of the year.

Top 10 Games of the Year 2013 - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Well, that’s it for me. Be sure to check out the other Top Ten Games of the Year 2013 lists, and if you haven’t already done so, check out our Top Games of the Generation features as well! And as always, post your own lists in the comments below, and let me know how horribly wrong I am. Man, we are spoiled by all these great games, aren’t we? It’s a good time to be a gamer!

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