Finally, we get to the best of the best, the games that, regardless
of platform, proved to be the cream of the crop, overshadowing their
peers and stealing their way into our hearts. It was a tough choice,
to be sure, the votes keeping neck and neck the entire time, with
various staff arguing day and night which games truly deserved the
prize of best of the year. In the end, someone had to win and that
was Shadow Hearts: Covenant.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant had the
style, poise, and overall gumption to steal the crown spot. Outdoing
even the original, Covenant brought a sheer charisma to the experience
that just could not be denied. Improving on the style and action of
its previous incarnation, Covenant's overall appeal not only grew--it exploded.
Covenant shook off the rough start of its predecessor,
working hard to provide players an easy way to get into their story
and delivering to those who tried it a stellar performance, a cleverly
worked dark alternate history RPG mixed with plenty of good comedy,
excellent character designs, and a very solid core gameplay
experience. Providing a well rounded experience with the improvements that
we expect from the industry's best, Shadow Hearts: Covenant well
earned its spot as RPGamer's staff Best Overall RPG.
It didn't win it by far though, because traveling right behind it was
the GameCube's titan of the year, Tales of Symphonia by Namco.
Performing a graceful leap to the third dimension, this cel-shaded
wonder offered a superb battle experience with energetic real-time
action and effective AI support. The adventuring party lead by the
pleasant and cheerful Lloyd traveled through two worlds and outer space in an enjoyable
storyline unlike most others. For that, Tales of Symphonia earned it's second place spot in spades.
Ending the set is a game whose designers deserve every chunk of
credit that can be given to them. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
by Intelligent Systems boasted a powerful story-book theme that was
delivered with smoothly moving child's pop-up book graphics over what
easily is one of the best game designs to come forth this year.
Proving once again that you can't go wrong with Mario, this blend of
platforming, clever paper-puzzles, and RPG goodness beat out it's
competitors to come to a deserving finish at third.
by Philip Bloom