The votes are in and have been tallied. It was a year of varied tastes, but even through all the variety three games emerged victorious from among the nearly one hundred RPGs released in 2009. In looking at the list, it appears as if dragons were the key to RPG success this time around.
It's not hard to be skeptical of Demon's Souls. Screenshots, previews, and other forms of media don't leave a particularly memorable impression. Even the most favorable game reviews can't do the title justice. It's a game that needs to be played to be understood, and once you pick it up, it's hard to tear yourself away. Of all the RPGs released this year, Demon's Souls managed to single itself out as the best.
The secret behind Demon's Souls success isn't one singular aspect, but many that come together to create a fantastic gaming experience. The haunting music, or more often the lack of it, coupled with gloomy, hostile environments provide the perfect atmosphere, while the simple but highly strategic combat system that punishes you for over-extending yourself ensures that you're always in danger. Despite being punishingly difficult, each death is part of a learning process, and it's easy to move forward once you know how to proceed. The coup de grâce is the innovative and completely unique multiplayer aspects which allow players to help each other by leaving messages and bloodstains on the ground. Almost like a built-in strategy guide, this system lets everybody help each other find their way through a dark and unforgiving world. For all these reasons, Demon's Souls is RPGamer's RPG of the Year.
It doesn't matter what system you played Dragon Age: Origins on, you were going to have a solid experience. The game is full of the one key ingredient that truly matters in an RPG: actual role-playing. Whatever problems you might have had with the battle system or graphics, the characters and dialogue options the game features were more than enough to make up for it. BioWare's spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate series has made a big splash in the market, now spanning both consoles and PCs. The new world they've created already has two novels to accompany it, a flash game, a handful of DLC, and an upcoming expansion. This world they've created is solid and doesn't look to be going anywhere anytime soon.
It took 17 years for Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride to cross the Pacific for English speakers to play it, but the reception it got on arrival suggests that was not a bad thing. A classic Dragon Quest game with a touching story featuring addictive monster collecting showed why this title has been regarded among the import crowd as one of the Super Nintendo era's finest to be deserving of its praise. Easily one of the most accessible Dragon Quest games to date, Hand of the Heavenly Bride lands in the overall third place for RPG of the Year.
by Adriaan den Ouden, Michael Cunningham, Mike Moehnke