RPG Site Awards 2011: Day Two
It's day two of the RPG Site Awards 2011, our look at the brightest and best from the RPG genre in 2011. Yesterday we revealed our first four awards, talking about music, voice cast performances and big and little screen experiences - now it's time for us to acknowledge some more 2011 RPGs for areas in which they excelled.
As always we list a winner alongside a few runners up in each category, and today sees us look at the Best Writing and Best Story in 2011 RPGs - two sides of the same coin that we judge seperately - as well as our favourite Western and Japanese RPGs of 2011.
Best Writing in a 2011 RPG - Bastion
We do something strange in our RPG Site Awards - we separate Writing and Story out into two separate categories. We think a story that's minimalist in its approach or not brilliantly written can be engrossing - whilst great writing is sometimes forgotten in awards, blasted away by massive, bombastic stories. This is our solution to that problem.
Yesterday Bastion won an award for its soundtrack - a peripheral part of the game. The peripheral of Bastion is incredibly well crafted, highlighting how the small team behind the game viewed every aspect of the experience as important as the gameplay - and that approach worked brilliantly.
Even if you've never played Bastion, you'll likely be aware of the omniscient narrator who accompanies you through the game. His silky voice comments on much of what 'the kid' does, from actions during major story-based events to combat choices - and every single line is brilliantly written.
Bastion manages to pull at the heart strings with what is an exciting but fairly standard narrative - but what makes it really special is the narrator, who from word one is a tangible character and real companion for the player. That's down in part to delivery but mostly to writing, each of his lines expertly adding texture to not only his own unseen character but also the world he inhabits.
Runners up: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Books, Lore), The Witcher 2
Best Story in a 2011 RPG - Dark Souls
It's as if this game was born for this award, lacking in much actual writing but still somehow packing a really impressive, morbid and unconventional story that encourages player interpretation and open thought about just what things mean.
Deliberately minimalistic and understated in style, Dark Souls' opening sets up a morbid world where humans are essentially already finished - your goal really to fight back and survive as best you can, but victory seems almost impossible. This isn't the traditional Japanese RPG where a young boy leaves home to save the world - it's a waif of a plot that serves to help make you as jumpy, jittery and nervous as your character's frailty does, teasing that all those hours of suffering might, in the end, be worth it.
NPCs driven insane by the cruel world around them are common, while items, enemies and the world itself all tell a story through context that the player will have to gradually piece together alone. There's little exposition here, and its genius - as it highlights that core principle of Dark Souls - you are almost entirely alone.
Runners up: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together
Western RPG of the Year 2011 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Day two of our awards and a second win for Bethesda's open-world dragon-slaying epic Skyrim. Like yesterday's award for the best big-screen RPG of the year much of the debate for this award came down to Bethesda's Skyrim versus CD Projekt's The Witcher 2, and Skyrim again prevails - for a number of reasons.
Despite now being 18 years old, the core concepts that drive The Elder Scrolls series and that prop up Skyrim's many Game of the Year nominations are the same ones that debuted in The Elder Scrolls: Arena for DOS in 1994, dropping players into the world of Tamriel and offering up everything from forests to towns to dungeons, giving the player freedom and choice of what to do within that world.
The core principles of The Elder Scrolls series are the purest of Western RPG lineage, the blood transfused from Dungeons and Dragons and table top RPGs more present here than almost anywhere. The world of Skyrim is your GM here, AI NPCs your fellow players - and it allows you to live an engaging second life without consequence. Skyrim is as worthy as the rest of the series of recognition, dragging concepts forwards into the modern age, fusing old and new together brilliantly.
Runners up: The Witcher 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Bastion
Japanese RPG of the Year 2011 - Xenoblade
While readers in North America are still waiting for the official and limited release in 2012, they can take solace in the fact that Xenoblade - Xenoblade Chronicles as it is officially known in Europe - is without a doubt not only the best Wii RPG of 2011 but also one of the best games on the system period.
Xenoblade's world is beautifully realized, using the concept of it being set on the back of a living creature to create interesting and beautiful geography. It pushes the lacking technical capabilities of the Wii to their absolute limits, and creates a world so well executed that the wish this was in high definition isn't as strong as with other Wii titles.
On top of a brilliant world, Xenoblade packs in a fun and engaging battle system and a story that is well-told with a British-produced localization that's pretty unique in the realm of translated Japanese titles. The manner in which the game takes JRPG tradition and twists it in brave and intriguing ways makes Xenoblade good, but it’s the level of polish on every aspect of the game is what makes it great.
Runners up: Dark Souls, Radiant Historia, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together