This year we combined the awards for story and dialogue as the staff rankings for each were nearly identical. It seemed that in 2011 more than other years, the best stories came with fantastic dialogue to back them up. This is always one of the more complicated awards to rank. Should we look at storytelling alone? What about decision making and player input? In the end, we were able to narrow it down to these chosen few.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a traditional coming-of-age adventure brought to life by a delightful cast of characters, snappy dialogue, and a well-made world. Although the story starts off a bit slow, it quickly picks up pace once heroes Estelle and Joshua set off on their journey to locate Estelle's missing father and become full-fledged members of the Bracer adventurer's guild. The two teenagers meet with many plot twists along the way, some of which are predictable and some of which aren't, but the last few chapters in particular are full of gripping adventure.
The cast of characters and the impressive localization job done by XSEED games truly make the story of Trails shine. Of particular note is the heroine Estelle, a fiery and confident young woman who proves herself far more intelligent during the game than her poor school performance would indicate. Estelle knows what she wants out of life and is uninterested in becoming more "feminine" or less assertive despite the occasional criticism of others. Her strengths and her attempts to overcome her faults make her both an endearing character and a good role model for young women, something that is rare indeed in the world of video games. Also of note is the character Olivier, a hilariously over-the-top dilettante who is both exactly who he seems to be and far more. The XSEED team clearly had a fabulous time with Olivier's lines, and his appearances in the story cause the game's most entertaining exchanges.
The dialogue between characters in Trails is always fun to read, from the cute bickering between adopted siblings Estelle and Joshua to Olivier's elaborate declarations to the well-drawn minor characters who add colour to the story. Estelle is given room to show multiple sides of her personality, swapping high-volume insults with a bandit girl yet showing tenderness toward young children in need. Even inanimate objects have personality in Trails — the localizers added a different joke to every single emptied treasure chest in the game, poking fun at the futility of checking the chest a second time. Fans of strong stories and characters in RPGs shouldn't miss Trails, as there's a reason it has so many fans amongst RPGamer's diverse staff.
Our second place pick here is no joke, as a witcher is nothing to laugh at. The Witcher 2's story contains harsh realities like genocide, regicide, large-scale war, and cruel choices made by self-serving people seeking power through any means necessary. Geralt walks down a path with a widely splitting fork, allowing the player many different options along either way. The story, along with great characters and rich writing, left us unable to hear the word "plough" in the same light again. In a similar twist, Radiant Historia also offers players significant variety in where to go and how to attempt accomplishing missions. These options combined with Atlus USA's wonderful localization helped this game stand out and shine.
by Becky Cunningham and Michael Cunningham