2002 was no doubt a spectacular year for RPGamers everywhere. From remakes of old classics to highly anticipated original games, the past year provided a bit of everything. The Game Boy Advance best signified a return to the "old school" style of RPGs, especially with its remakes of Breath of Fire II, Phantasy Star I, II, and III, and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. For all of the "new schoolers," the PlayStation 2 was once again the console to own this year. PC owners received the most RPGs of any gaming platform in 2002, which paid off with some outstanding games. A few RPG series leaped into the next generation, while RPGamers awaited the fruition of the dynamic duo of Square and Disney.
One of the series that made the jump to the next generation of consoles is Suikoden III, staff selection for RPG of the year for 2002. The most notable change in the series is definitely the graphics. The full 3D environments are very immersive, and never become dull after exploring the same location many times over. Characters also come to life from the improved graphics, as their emotions are now animated. Gamers were also happy to see that the localization was a big step up from previous Suikodens, making the plot and characters much more enjoyable to experience. Suikoden III didn't forget its roots however. As usual, there are 108 characters to recruit, and the battle system is largely the same, give or take some tweaks. Combining classic elements, improving some of those, and introducing new enhancements made this game well worth the wait.
The readers decided another game was more deserving of RPG of the Year, placing Suikoden III second. That game is Kingdom Hearts, the result of the combined efforts of Square and Disney. Many were skeptical that this unlikely team could produce a solid RPG, but when it was finally released, all those doubts were quickly forgotten. Combining an original storyline with characters from the Disney and Final Fantasy cast created an experience never before seen. The battle system, a free-roaming 3D-action environment, allowed the characters to pull off complicated moves with their Disney-inspired weapons and cast staple Final Fantasy spells. Whether they were young or just young at heart, the readers were not disappointed with their favorite RPG of 2002. The staff of RPGamer didn't think as much of it, but still thought very highly of Kingdom Hearts by giving it second place.
There was a consensus between staff and readers on which game should receive third place. PC RPGs never before received enough votes to be placed at all for RPG of the Year, but the trend has finally broken with Neverwinter Nights. It was quite apparent that the game was well received among D&D players as well as newcomers, due in part to its immersive multiplayer mode and powerful campaign editor. Although some had problems with the main campaign, the immense replay value offered by the former features usually kept RPGamers coming back to Neverwinter for more.
Fourth and fifth place are new to this year's RPG of the Year awards, and placing in fourth for the staff of RPGamer is Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. First released on the PC, and later ported to the Xbox, Morrowind gave gamers some of the best visuals and replay bang for their buck in 2002. Those sick of linear adventures found a refreshing change of pace, as nearly everything in the game was very open-ended. Readers disagreed and gave Wild ARMs 3 the fourth place nod. A great game in itself, and a worthy successor to the Wild ARMs series, the readers dug the western-style soundtrack and perfect localization. The dialogue was also made more non-linear, thus establishing a theme for fourth place amongst the staff and readers.
Rounding out 2002's RPGs of the Year are a couple very deserving fifth place entries. Both staff and readers craved portability in their RPGs, and thus bestowed honors on Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis and Legend of Zelda: Four Swords respectively. For those seeking tactical RPG action whenever and wherever they wanted it, the latest Tactics Ogre game provided just that. Friends also had the ability to send their strongest warriors into a two-player battle for bragging rights. Legend of Zelda: Four Swords also had an outstanding multiplayer mode, but the glut of the game was its beautiful remake of A Link to the Past. Each game came with a $30 price tag, making them very affordable to even the poor, college student RPGamers.
2003 is already well underway with a brand new Zelda adventure on the horizon, and Square's return to Nintendo will come to fruition. The long awaited introductory chapter to Xenosaga is but a scant couple of weeks away. The year is off to a wonderful start; there are many wonderful surprises still to come. 2002 was an awesome year for RPGs, but 2003 is quickly shaping up to knock its pants off. Here’s to a wonderful 2003!