Back in Part One we covered our favorite RPG stories, music and visuals from the year of 2016, but now we get into the really tough-fought categories: our overall picks for the very best from all of 2016.
We sat down as a group and discussed our favorite RPGs of 2016 in a variety of categories. We deliberate the awards for hours - and those arguments can be found in podcast form below and on iTunes. You'll also find a video run-down of the awards we've given out today, and of course a text-based version of all those verdicts. Keep in mind that many of these categories were packed fields; we only have a winner and two ungraded runners-up, but there are many more games that were considered in every category. To hear how close your favorite got be sure to check out the podcast.
From the dozens of nominations that were made, all of us fought hard for the winners of their respective categories. There were a ton of great gems this year, and we were particularly thrilled and interested to see the reader vote differ from ours but also broadly speaking feature very similar excellent games. Enough talk - let's get to it!
Best RPG from an Independent Studio: Stardew Valley
This year we award the title of best RPG from an independent studio to Stardew Valley. A game that resulted from four years of hard work by just one man. While Darkest Dungeon and Steamworld Heist landed spots as our runners-up.
Developer Eric Barone’s farming RPG may look familiar to many, as it bears striking resemblance to the original Harvest Moon. For fans of the series, that’s just one reason to love it, but Stardew Valley also understands that it cannot simply ride nostalgia to success. The game still very much maintains its own identity by expanding upon the basic concepts Harvest Moon pioneered, while adding its own flare to areas where the other failed.
Stardew also has its own, unique and loveable cast. It ventures outside of tired tropes its predecessor relied upon, and adds more than just a surface layer to those characters. Barone carefully crafted this adventure to have a little something for everyone to enjoy, and it’s because of his careful attention to detail that players of Stardew Valley won’t quickly suffer from the burnout that typically comes with simulation games like it. As the game expands its reach to console gamers, we’re excited to see where the developer takes it in the new year.
Runners-Up: Darkest Dungeon, Steamworld Heist
Best Small Screen: Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse
Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse rose to the top as our choice for Best Small Screen RPG of 2016 in a packed field of worthy nominations. Building from the foundation laid by the original Shin Megami Tensei IV, Atlus took an already solid game and thoughtfully improved upon it in most every aspect. With a stylish battle system, addicting demon fusion and collecting, believable characters, and a fantastic soundtrack, Apocalypse excels in just about every facet. It stands out from the crowd.
It’s clear that the developers at Atlus took criticisms of the original Shin Megami Tensei IV to heart and created a polished sequel that hits all the right notes. Apocalypse is much more than just a bandaid follow-up; it provides a fresh new experience with its own distinct identity. Fans of the original will certainly enjoy the callbacks, but Apocalypse is anything but anchored by its predecessor. Atlus has made some great sequels in the past, and this one may be their best yet.
More than just being a great sequel, Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse is a great modern turn-based RPG, and a great entry into the vast SMT series.
Runners-Up: Pokemon Sun & Moon, Fire Emblem Fates (Conquest)
Best Big Screen: The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine
We already know the decision to name an expansion pack as our top big-screen pick of the year is going to ruffle some feathers, but we’ve stuck to our guns anyway: The Witcher 3 Blood & Wine is an impressive package with a depth and a level of polish that rivals full-blown disc-based releases. In fact, that’s part of what makes it so impressive.
Blood & Wine’s greatest achievement is that it tops off The Witcher series with something that feels truly different. We’re used to adventuring through dark, dank places full of awful characters and creatures and bloody, muddy streets populated by dangerous and untrustworthy characters.
Blood & Wine’s all-new open world of Beauclair swaps that for Knights of Honor with polished armor and flowery dialogue. Rougher neighborhoods are swapped for colourful, properly cared for Vineyards.
The adventure offered still has plenty of monsters and bloody bandits for you to take care of, but what’s impressive about Blood & Wine is how it gives us an entirely different take on the world and an alternative dive into some of the systems from one of the very best RPGs of the last decade. From another company this might well have been a full-on sequel, but what’s important is this: whatever the method of delivery this is one of the finest RPGs of the year.
Runners-Up: Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
Staff RPG of the Year: Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse
2nd Place: Stardew Valley, 3rd Place: The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine
Choosing an Overall RPG of 2016 was not an easy decision. Many amazing games came out this year and trimming that list down to just a handful of titles became a journey in itself. No matter the platform and whether you played it on-the-go or at home; whether it was made by a AAA studio or a niche independent developer, all sides of the video game industry shined in their own special way this year. You’ve seen it for yourself in these awards.
When all was said and done, we at RPG Site ultimately chose our Overall RPG of 2016 - Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse.
Refining the core strengths and rectifying the biggest flaws in the original Shin Megami Tensei IV base game exceptionally, Apocalypse achieves what sequels dream of doing - to present the perfect next step of its foundations in a natural manner. From its intuitive refinements to its combat system down to injecting a bit of Persona to enhance its storytelling, Apocalypse blends every aspect of its design in a unified way.
It wears the roots of the Shin Megami Tensei series with pride and finds a way to not only appeal to long-time fans of the franchise, but also presents a brand-new tale in which newcomers who haven’t played the base SMTIV game to jump right in and not feel completely lost.
Apocalypse’s characters, music, atmosphere, and gameplay all come together in such a brilliant way that only a few RPGs manage to unify seamlessly. It certainly proves that sometimes, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create something incredible.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse for the Nintendo 3DS wins the highest award as RPG Site’s Overall RPG of 2016.
Reader's RPG of the Year: Final Fantasy XV
2nd Place: Trails of Cold Steel II, 3rd Place: Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
In many ways perhaps the most prestigious award we give out, the reader's’ choice for the best RPG of the year is chosen by you. Thousands of you voted and now we have the results: Final Fantasy XV is your reader's’ choice RPG of the year.
Final Fantasy XV is no doubt a game that is flawed and troubled. It had an infamously difficult development and there are problems with the game in terms of pacing, cut content, a poorly executed narrative and so on. It has an air about it of a game that could’ve been one of the greatest RPGs ever made if it were only given more time. Its problems ultimately held it back from winning big in our staff-picked awards, but here’s the thing: FF15 is still an incredible game all the same.
It smartly reexamines and reuses some of the best ideas and concepts from FF’s past while at the same time experimenting with an open world as well as various other ideas and concepts mostly nabbed from the best RPGs from the West that have released while the FF series has been doing some soul searching. The shadow of games like Elder Scrolls and The Witcher, both previous readers’ choice winners, is cast on FF15 but in the best possible way: the game is better for it.
For almost every weird disappointment in the game there’s another area where it excels. In spite of its flaws, it’s a game that many members of the RPG Site staff have played for 50 hours or more - and so we’re not surprised at all that so many of you voted for it. More than anything, FF15 feels like a great springboard into FF’s future - and that’s exciting.