2010 has been an interesting year for RPGs, and it's been hard for us to come to a decision about what should win our awards. We're listing a winner and a couple of runners up in each category, and dishing out a few awards each day this week. Today we're tackling Best Original Soundtrack in a 2010 RPG, Wii RPG of the Year and DS RPG of the Year. Let's do this.
Best Original Soundtrack in a 2010 RPG: Nier (360/PS3)
If critics like to keep on saying that video games can't be conveyed as true art, one simply has to take a listen to NieR's soundtrack for a compelling indicator that this is simply not true. Nearly all of the songs on the album contain vocals, something you don't typically find in a genre with music that just sort of fades into the background.
Pound for pound, NieR offers arguably the best soundtrack of the decade and deserves a thorough listening session to fully appreciate composer and sound director Keiichi Okabe's masterful demonstration of his ability (rather surprising considering his only real work prior to NieR was the Tekken series). NieR's entire soundtrack is strong enough where it can stand absolutely alone without any need for actual context, and that is why we have awarded the game with the Best Original Soundtrack of 2010.
Runners Up: Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII
Wii RPG of the Year 2010: Monster Hunter Tri
While Monster Hunter's been going at it in Japan for a few years, Monster Hunter Tri was able to shake up the RPG genre tremendously in the west. By adding a feature a good part of the current gaming industry thrives on — multiplayer — the game takes us back to the good old days of Phantasy Star Online.
Taking age-old grinding mechanics like leveling and mastering skills, Monster Hunter Tri focuses on the player's skill. Better armor and weapons increase your survivability and lethality, but you'll only run into armors completely mitigating previous enemies' attacks during the game's online elite mode, High Rank.
While most online RPGs have players focus on learning rotations and pulling off the right one depending on a situation, Tri has you fighting bosses as if it's one of the old Mega Man Robot Masters. You'll dodge, roll, duck and sidestep to avoid one deadly attack after another, trying to get in those few stabs against it in between. Monster Hunter Tri explores a new direction for the series, taking a more action-oriented route, a field relatively unexplored by the RPG genre as a whole.
Runners Up: Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love
DS RPG of the Year 2010: Dragon Quest IX
Revered in Japan, Dragon Quest has always struggled to grab gamers in the West as other Japanese RPG franchises like Final Fantasy have – but Dragon Quest IX is a signal – a bright flare in the sky of the RPG landscape – that triggers a changing of the times. The gameplay here will be largely familiar for those who have played Dragon Quest before, with added touches such as an entirely customizable cast and Wireless features.
Level-5 and Square Enix have managed something impressive here – taking a 40-50 hour RPG and not only making it portable but also making it accessible to an incredibly wide audience – from non-gaming adults who are graduating from Professor Layton to kids looking for a bigger challenge after tiring of Pokemon. On top of all that, it’s just a fantastic game, and a great example that no matter how much some like to pretend, the turn-based JRPG isn’t dead yet.
And that's all she wrote for today! Be sure to check back tomorrow for Day Two of our awards where we decide on the Best Writing in a 2010 RPG, PSP RPG of the Year and PS3 RPG of the Year!