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Top 5 RPGs of 2013

There were some fantastic RPGs released in 2013. From stellar entries in long running series, to some fresh new experiences. The Nintendo 3DS had a great year and some of its best games are reflected in this list. Unfortunately there are a few quality RPGs I have yet to play so please leave some thoughts on your favourite RPGs of 2013 in comments.
1. – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds –
A true triumph of game design, A Link Between Worlds manages to rekindle memories of one of the greatest games of all time while also reinventing the classic Zelda franchise. Focusing on straightforward design lets the gameplay really shine as the combat is fast and fluid and the dungeon puzzles are creative, imaginative and rewarding. The fresh elements include the item rental system and Link’s ability to turn into a painting and merge into walls. These seemingly simple mechanics completely change the way you play the game as the world is yours to explore very early on and not only do you have to think about puzzles from the top down view, but sometimes the answers can only be achieved by looking at them from a completely different perspective. The 3D effect also adds to the gameplay in a meaningful way. This is Nintendo at the top of their game.
Zelda ALBW Battle
2. – Bravely Default –
While the start of a new series, this game feels like the direction the classic Final Fantasy series could have taken in recent years and what a game it is. Bravely Default features beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds, an exciting and strategic new take on tradition turn-based combat, a robust customisable job system, fully explorable world map, charming and interesting characters, brilliant soundtrack, memorable villains and a story centered around crystals and saving the world. It perfectly combines the spirit, freedom and customisation from the SNES era Final Fantasy instalments with the presentation, atmosphere and character development of the PS1 era titles. If this sounds like the things you look for in an RPG, you need to play this game.
Bravely Default Ship
3. – Fire Emblem: Awakening –   
While Fire Emblem is a long running series, not all of its entries have been released in English or really gained any mainstream success, that is until this brilliant title. An in-depth strategy RPG at its core, Awakening also features the ability to create your own character, manage interactions and relationships between the enormous amount of party members, superb presentation, substantial addition content and an engaging story with great dialogue and character development. The experience and difficulty is adjustable making it approachable to new players, while also keeping its hardcore gameplay the series is known for. A game that will keep you coming back for a long time.
Fire Emblem Awakening Battle
4. – Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix –
A high definition update to a PS2 classic. While the original Kingdom Hearts is the gem of this collection it also includes the PS2 remake of Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories and cutscenes from the Nintendo DS spinoff Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. The first game in the series is still a fantastic action RPG expertly combining some of Disney’s greatest animated movies with popular Final Fantasy characters connecting it all with an entertaining original story, superb voice acting, fun real time combat system and a fantastic soundtrack. Whether you are playing this for the first time or reliving fond memories this is a great collection and will get you ready for 2.5 Remix coming in 2014.
Kingdom Hearts Sora Riku
5. – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch –  
A combination from acclaimed RPG maker Level 5 and famed anime company Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni features some of the best visuals you will ever see in a video game. The art direction and animation will draw you into the magical world, but you will stay to explore the imaginative locations, quirky characters, intriguing story and unique battle system that combines real-time action with menu commands and monster collecting. A whimsical adventure that is both charming and inviting.
Ni No Kuni Forest
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Review: Why You Should Play Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG for the PlayStation 2 that featured the bizarre, but magical combination of classic Disney characters with Squaresoft’s own Final Fantasy characters.

Kingdom Hearts Cloud

Kingdom Hearts created a universe where characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and Peter Pan co-existed with Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. It didn’t just rest on the popularity of Disney’s timeless characters and settings though, expertly mixing it together featuring an entertaining original story, fun real time combat system, high quality voice acting and an amazing soundtrack. Kingdom Hearts was so unpredictable, yet so ingenious.

Kingdom Hearts Sora and Kairi

The story focuses mostly on original characters, while leaving the Disney and Final Fantasy characters as cameos, which works extremely well as it lets Kingdom Hearts stand on its own two feet. The main character Sora is tasked with using the Keyblade to travel to different worlds and protect them from being consumed by the dark creatures known as the Heartless. The story evolves from the light verse darkness theme and provides many twists and turns such as your allies becoming enemies. The locations are also a highlight as each new world brings a classic Disney film to life.

Kingdom Hearts Goofy and Donald

Unlike most of the RPGs Squaresoft were releasing at the time, battles in Kingdom Hearts are in real time with the player having full control over Sora, who is joined by Donald and Goofy (plus other Disney characters) as computer controlled party members. The combat system still has plenty of depth as Sora can attack with his Keyblade, cast magic spells, use special techniques, jump, fly and even use summons. Despite the bright and colourful look of the games graphics, some bosses are very difficult and require the player to master all of their abilities such as an optional fight against the infamous Sephiroth in the Hercules’ Olympus Colosseum.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Vs Riku

Kingdom Hearts excels in its voice acting, as the main characters are brought to life by Hollywood actors and many of the Disney characters have their original voice talent. Adding to the fantastic audio experience is the impressive soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura who carefully blends arrangements of iconic Disney melodies with memorable original compositions such as “Dearly Beloved” and “Hollow Bastion”.

Kingdom Hearts Ansem

Kingdom Hearts is a wonderful mix of originality and nostalgia. If you wish to play an action RPG with thrilling game play and memorable characters then you should play Kingdom Hearts.

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The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 4) – No Going Back

After defining and revolutionising RPGs on the original PlayStation, Square went head first into the next generation by beginning work on the tenth instalment in the Final Fantasy series developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2. With much more powerful hardware, Final Fantasy X saw the introduction of voice acting, more realistic facial animations, fully 3D environments (replacing the pre-rendered ones used in Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX) and had three different composers producing the soundtrack including Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy X was a huge success and was seen as a giant leap forward for the series, while still keeping the features fans enjoyed, such as an engrossing narrative, memorable characters, mini-games, turn-based battles and a gigantic world to explore.

Final Fantasy X Tidus Wallpaper

During the early 2000s online gaming was growing in popularity and Square announced the next numbered Final Fantasy game would be a completely online experience. Final Fantasy XI allowed players to created their own online avatars and take on quests to develop their character and progress through the main storyline. Final Fantasy XI became the most profitable entry in series and is still in operation 10 years after it’s release with new developments expanding the game.

Final Fantasy XI Battle

After the critical success in Japan of Vagrant Story and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s pleasure with Yasumi Matsuno’s work as a game director, Sakaguchi decided that he would entrust Matsuno with the next mainline Final Fantasy game. Co-directed by Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, Final Fantasy XII was a massive change in direction for an offline Final Fantasy game. It featured a seamless battle system with no random battles, free camera control, was based in the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics and put heavy emphasis on a political storyline. Due to creating the new battle system completely from scratch, Final Fantasy XII had a very long development cycle of around 6 years and during the time Matsuno fell ill leading to his resignation from Square. Final Fantasy XII was completed after he left and was still meet with huge success.

Final Fantasy XII Boss

Square had partnered with Nintendo many years earlier to create Super Mario RPG, but the world was shocked when they announced they were developing a new RPG with Disney known as Kingdom Hearts. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura made his debut as game director as Kingdom Hearts was released as an action-RPG featuring worlds and characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, mixed with original and Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. What seemed like an odd combination produced one of the best RPGs released on the PlayStation 2 and expanded into its own long running series.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Donald Goofy

With Square still dominating the RPG scene, Sakaguchi believed it was time to broaden the company’s horizons as he created Square Pictures and directed his first feature length movie. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film using the most advanced technology available at the time. Despite some positive reviews, the film didn’t earn enough money to even cover its expensive development and cost the company millions of dollars, Square Pictures was closed down and SquareSoft was in financial strife. Sakaguchi stepped down as vice president of Square and shortly left the company all together when Square merged with their once rival Enix in 2003, creating Square Enix.

Final Fantasy The Spirits Within

During the years either side of the merger with Enix, many talented employees left Square such as  directors and game designers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasumi Matsuno and Tetsuya Takahashi, script writers: Masato Kato and Kazushige Nojima, as well as composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura. Many other employees joined smaller development companies too. Square Enix still continues to create Final Fantasy games and others in old Square franchises, but the golden age of SquareSoft seems to have long past. Still, we can always look back at some of the greatest video games ever made and remember the unforgettable journeys they gave us…

Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi

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Top 5 RPG Soundtracks By Yoko Shimomura

Shimomura has produced many fascinating RPG soundtracks over the years. She is known for her alibility to portray colourful worlds with her music as well as produce diverse themes. These are my top 5 Soundtracks from Yoko Shimomura:

1. -Legend of Mana-

The music in Legend of Mana perfectly paints a whimsical dream world. Shimomura created magical town themes, fast battle music, peaceful and beautiful piano tracks and a fantastic vocal piece to bring the magical world to life.

Best Compositions: “Song of Mana”, “Earth Painting”, “Cliff Town Gato”

2. -Radiant Historia-

The soundtrack of Radiant Historia is relatively small, but includes a lot of quality. Like the game itself, the music evokes memories of past RPG classics. It features mysterious piano and violin tracks as well as frantic battle themes that enhance emotional parts of the narrative.

Best Compositions: “Edge of Green”, “Memories of the World”, “Blue Radiance”

3. -Kingdom Hearts-

Kingdom Hearts soundtrack is an impressive achievement as it manages to blend the themes of Disney’s motion pictures with Square’s RPGs. Shimomura created careful arrangements of iconic Disney compositions as well as memorable original pieces.

Best Composition: “Simple and Clean”, “Dearly Beloved”, “End of the World”

4. -Xenoblade Chronicles-

Recently released, Xenoblade’s soundtrack is a collaboration between many composers including Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda. Shimomura contributes a magnificent main theme, stirring town music and energetic battle themes.

Best Compositions: “Main Theme”, “Colony 9”, “Time to Fight”

5. -Parasite Eve-

The oldest soundtrack on this list, but it really shows Shimomura’s diversity. The music of Parasite Eve is experimental and wonderfully combines beautiful piano melodies with techno electronic sounds. It creates the perfect haunting atmosphere for the more intense parts of the game.

Best Compositions: “Primal Eyes”, “Theme of Aya”, “Urban Noise”

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Top 5 PS2 RPGs

The PlayStation 2 had a massive library of games, which included many fantastic and diverse RPGs. Designers attempted to evolve the genre by improving 3D graphics and making voice acting a staple. These are my top 5 PS2 RPGs:

1. -Final Fantasy X-

When it was first released, Final Fantasy X was unbelievable. It took everything from past SquareSoft RPGs to the next level. The world of Spira was mesmerising; featuring fully 3D locations, the characters spoke for the first time in the series through the well implemented voice acting, the magical soundtrack had three composers and the battle system was intuitive and flexible. Final Fantasy X showed what RPGs could be like with the power of the new technology, while keeping the spirit of classic games intact.

2. -Kingdom Hearts-

SquareSoft had shown in the past that they could have success with mixing different creations together with Super Mario RPG. Kingdom Hearts was an action-RPG combining Disney characters with some original and Final Fantasy characters. The result was an unexpected hit, providing enjoyable combat, fun cameo appearances, great voice acting and a wonderful soundtrack. Kingdom Hearts captured the fun of classic games such as Secret of Mana while invoking nostalgia from classic Disney movies such as Aladdin and Peter Pan.

3. -Final Fantasy XII-

While Final Fantasy X was vintage RPG design brought up to the modern era, Final Fantasy XII tried something completely different. The whole world of Final Fantasy XII was one huge map that players could explore and enemies were fought without random encounters using a real-time, turn based battle system. It featured the customisable “gambit” system which allowed players to give their AI characters directions and the License Board was used to upgrade party members. Final Fantasy XII was a magical RPG with an intriguing political story and unique game play mechanics that have since been replicated in newer RPGs.

4. -Rogue Galaxy-

The first thing you will notice about Rogue Galaxy is its beautiful cel-shaded graphics. Once you have gotten further into the game you will be hooked in by the frantic and enjoyable battle system, imaginative world and characters and the deep customisation systems. Rogue Galaxy provides an entertaining Sci-fi RPG with plenty of content to keep players engaged for hours.

5. -Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King-

Dragon Quest VIII brought the fiercely traditional series into a fully three dimensional world, but retained all the features the fans loved about the older games such as turn-based battles, levelling up systems and the silent hero. The supporting characters are memorable and the dialogue is well written, providing an epic adventure with plenty to do. While other RPGs looked to change their core design Dragon Quest VIII didn’t try anything new, but every part was so well executed that players loved it anyway.

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