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Glenn "7thCircle" Wilson's 2009 Halftime Report
1st Half
RPGs Not to Miss
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Of the games I played in the first half of this year, two had so much content and were so fun to play that they kept my attention for 100 hours. The first was Fallout 3 with Broken Steel and The Pitt, but 2008 games with 2009 DLC are still considered 2008 games. That leaves Class of Heroes as the best game I played this year. Aside from the whole 100 hour game time thing, Class of Heroes is noteworthy because I purchased a copy of it after I reviewed it. I haven't done that with any other game. An enjoyable dungeon crawler that wasn't too difficult, Class of Heroes never pushed me away. It held my attention with interesting dungeon designs and an open party creation system that let me play with the exact character types I wanted to use. Gaming sessions flew by, and if the clock didn't say 98 hours on it when I finally removed the UMD, I would have guessed that I played it for only 50 or 60.

For an entry in a series known for its boring, rote gameplay, Dragon Quest V DS surprised me with an emotional story, moderate difficulty, and excellent pacing. I never had to level grind, and I became very attached to my family and pets in the game world. It is the most playable and outright fun Dragon Quest game available, and it's an easy recommendation. While I didn't enjoy Knights in the Nightmare as much as Sting's other development efforts, it still stands as a unique game that does many things well and few things poorly. The plot is great, but slightly confusing and lacking the emotional impact it deserves. The strange battle system is engaging, but the difficulty is inconsistent and the ability to skip past game over screens nukes the challenge. It's different and weird and fun enough to warrant a recommendation; just don't expect something outstanding.

That's all of the ones I have personal experience with and feel safe calling RPGs "not to miss." The RPGamer staff members who played Suikoden Tierkreis seemed to think it was a blast, so it would be the next 2009 game I would recommend even though I haven't tried it. I'll purchase and play it eventually. Devil Survivor is a game I have mixed feelings about. At times I loved it and couldn't put it down. At other times it frustrated me in ways that no fun game should frustrate me. The way the story implemented multiple paths was neat, but the character development was flat. The battles were usually fun, but there were too many nasty, tricky fights in the game. For every three things Devil Survivor did extremely well, it did two things that ticked me off. Overall, I'm glad I played it. When a love-hate relationship is over, the love tends to be remembered more than the hate.

2nd Half
Most Wanted RPGs
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Dragon Age: Origins is a game I have eagerly looked forward to playing for a long time. Sure, DAO insulted my intelligence recently with its Marilyn Manson, sex, and blood trailer, but I know that was meant to appeal to a lesser crowd. Even without the return to a fantasy setting, I'd be excited about this game because it comes from BioWare: one of the only development studios consistently putting out excellent, game of the year material. They've been working on this for five years, and it's supposed to feel like a dark Baldur's Gate II — my favorite BioWare game — so I am expecting greatness here, even by BioWare's standard.

As for Vanillaware, I absolutely loved Odin Sphere. Yeah, it had flaws, and I understand why some people couldn't get themselves to finish it, but it was an amazing game on every level. Recent news divulging that Muramasa focuses more on action than story disappointed me, however this is still a game I expect to blow me away.

Little King's Story was on my Halftime Report last year too. For me, the hype around this game has died a bit. Maybe I got suspicious over the long delay or the lukewarm write-ups out of E3, but my expectations have been tempered. I'm sure LKS will be enjoyable and unique, but I'm not hopping up and down in anticipation like I was 13 months ago.

I like the idea behind a downloadable tactics game. It's a subgenre of RPGs that tends to have a below average presentation, instead focusing on gameplay, story, and strategy, and we're okay with that, right? Putting a short tactics RPG on consoles' downloadable services makes so much sense to me. Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment could start a nice trend.

I keep pulling for Obsidian. I know the legacy of its upper staff members. They made my favorite video game ever, and I keep hoping that they will make another RPG that stands up to it some day. Alpha Protocol will not be that game, I know, but I want it to be great and — please, God — bug-free so that Obsidian's reputation gets better. I don't want Obsidian to be the next Troika.

Looking to the past and future of 2009 RPGs, I don't think the line-up is as strong as it was in 2008. Last year I had trouble picking only five games for the "2nd Half" piece. This year I struggled finding a #4 and #5. At the end of 2008, there were four top games stealing the end of year awards, and having the staff members pick only three of them for the overall award was tough. This year I only see one game which, for me, could stand head and shoulders above the rest across multiple categories. Who knows, though? There might be a Valkyria Chronicles hiding in the rough this year too.

~7thCircle
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