If this year's picks tell us one thing about what RPGamers like, it's that we want to have choice. It doesn't matter where the game is made, a story in an RPG is at its best when players can decide how to play. This year, we were able to shape the fate of humanity, win the hearts of lovely young ladies, and decide how to stop terrorist plots. How better to enjoy an RPG story than by playing the role we want?
Mass Effect 2 is without a doubt one of the most in-depth role-playing games this year, and its story is the driving force behind that success. The Mass Effect series, and by extension every game developed by BioWare, creates a sense of deep immersion that few games attempt and even fewer achieve. This is exactly what Mass Effect 2 has done in this sense: when you play Mass Effect 2 you cease to be you and you become Shepard. The game completely sells you on the reality of its universe, and even certain sci-fi elements such as the Mass Relays actually sound theoretically possible. The characters are believable on a personal level; they sell you on their humanity, or their "alienness" as it were. It brings a sense of believability rarely seen. Outside of the interpersonal relationships between the characters, the setting is as entirely believable as sci-fi can be. The situation that the universe faces reinforces the shades of gray ascetic that BioWare loves so much, illustrated by the fact that Shepard has allied him or herself with a terrorist organization in the effort to get the job done. It lays the moral choice on thick in the sense of do you let the organization manipulate you or do you do your best to reign in your new backers. All of this equals one of the most visceral role-playing experiences of this generation of games.
The various elements of the story in Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love sound like they were picked at random. Shinjiro Taiga, a Lieutenant who wants to fight to defend liberty, joins the "Star Division," a secret organization which uses giant transforming mechs to defend New York City in 1928. Of course, this secret organization of justice has a Broadway show as a front, and uses a slingshot to insure the mechs get to where they need to be. Needless to say, Sakura's plot, setting, elements and over-the-top characters help the story stand out, but it's the protagonist's interactions and relationships with the all-female cast that truly work to make the story in Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love a memorable experience and runner-up in our Best Story category.
Alpha Protocol had a bad reputation with many mainstream reviewers, and yet for some reason RPGamer seemed to be one of the few sites out there that gave the game a shot and somehow saw beyond the flaws into what others couldn't see. Alpha Protocol's story is surprisingly rich for a Bond-esque game. Many of the decisions that are made affect how the story progresses and Michael Thronton can be molded to any type of spy hero one desires. Thronton's journey to assassinate the leader of Al-Samad becomes more than he bargains for, and part of the fun within the story is making friends with old enemies, while busting out some cool spy tech to save the day. There are so many choices to choose from to alter the story, giving the game a lot more replay value than it is often credited for.
by Sam Marchello, Phillip Willis, Roy Burnet, Michael Cunningham