Best Console RPG
Dragon Age II was always going to be a difficult proposition after the staggering expectations brought on following Dragon Age: Origins. Unfortunately, the rush to capitalize on the goodwill of the first entry meant that its sequel failed to live up to expectations, putting pressure on BioWare to do a much more thorough job when it next went back to the continent of Thedas. This time out, the game was allowed the required time to mature, and Dragon Age: Inquisition has brought the series back to the heady heights where it began. It's a game that is exceedingly easy to completely lose track of time in — always a mark of RPG greatness.
As is often the case in BioWare games, one of Inquisition's big strengths is its colorful and engaging cast and how players' decisions can shape the lives of those around them. The world is really brought to life by its inhabitants, and Thedas remains a deep setting still with many aspects left to be expanded upon. The memorable soundtrack is joined by excellent voice-over performances, to the extent that one of the few complaints is that there simply isn't enough of it in such a huge game. The excellent gameplay is assisted by a wide variety of large locations to explore and a huge amount of additional things to do, almost looking like too much at some points. Returning characters offer treats for those experienced with its predecessors, but the game is still perfectly accessible to those new to the series. There were certainly some strong challengers for the best console RPG of 2014, but the all-round greatness of Inquisition has successfully dealt with those who doubted it.
Not even Nintendo wants to make Paper Mario anymore. No, for that sort of fun and upbeat RPG we had to wait for Obsidian to release its long-gestating South Park: The Stick of Truth. The inspiration is clear but it has the crude, South Park edge that the television series is known for. The game plays out perfectly like an episode, between the off-the-wall humor, in-jokes, and story directions and set pieces that are too raunchy to mention here, but fans of the genre will find plenty to love as well. For the first time in a video game, South Park is a fun place to explore, live in, and uncover the dirty little secrets of. If you can get past the characteristically unpleasant veneer, there is a fun gem of a game here.
Nobody expected Ubisoft to make a fairy tale-styled sidescrolling turn-based RPG starring a courageous young princess, and yet Child of Light floated gracefully onto the scene this year. The game's lovely world, imaginative characters, strong-hearted heroine, and gorgeous soundtrack combine to form a magical experience that touches the heart. The Grandia-style combat system is pretty neat, too. The Western RPG landscape is stuffed with dark, gritty worlds, so it is a breath of fresh air to play a game full of classical fantasy wonder. It is gaming's Labyrinth, full of wonder, danger, and just the right touch of humor — not to mention being a rare coming-of-age story starring a girl. Here's hoping we'll see more of these types of imaginative, small RPGs from Ubisoft in the future.
by Alex Fuller, Becky Cunningham, and Zack Webster