2015 will go down in video game history as one of the most eventful years in memory. Not only did it kick off with updated hardware care of the New Nintendo 3DS, but there were a ton of game announcements to go absolutely nuts about especially when it came to the RPG genre. We also experienced important milestones, breaking records for site traffic and tripling our follower count over the course of the year on our Twitter account.
2016 will certainly mark a watershed moment for this generation of consoles. I would also like to point out that we as a site have some big plans for the new year that we hope many of you will enjoy, including new features and more extensive coverage of the games you all love.
Which brings us to this important moment - deciding who will win one of our categories for the . While prior years were relatively light in terms of variety, 2015 had dozens of great RPGs all with amazing experiences that will surely carry us well into the new year.
Let us announce the winners of the RPG Site Awards 2015. Today, we will reveal who won for Best Tangential, Best Writing & Story Execution, Best Score/Soundtrack, Biggest Surprise, and One to Watch. If you would like to listen to our deliberations, you can download our podcast here or catch it on iTunes.
Best Tangential: Yakuza 5
Runners-Up: Tales from the Borderlands, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
This category, Best Tangential, is awarded to the best title that isn't technically an RPG but best embodies the spirit of the genre. The truly brilliant thing about Yakuza 5 is how well it presents a plethora of choices to the player while also maintaining a sharp focus on the overarching narrative that draws one into its vision of Japan’s criminal underworld - a world jam-packed full of things to do. Not only does that mean getting in fights and learning new skills, but also heading to Club Sega to enjoy some Virtua Fighter 2, playing a little Aladdin pachinko at the parlor, or visiting the local convenience store to read manga.
It’s a term often thrown around in games, but Yakuza 5 does feel like a true living world in many senses - all the more impressive with it being a PlayStation 3 title. It’s in this open nature that Yakuza finds its way onto RPG Site’s tangential list at all - while not strictly an RPG, it strongly features the do-anything spirit of the genre.
The criminal underbelly that rules the different cities the player explores is alive and well, and the best part is how great the characters that inhabit these spaces are. The conversations that occur between you and other players feels surprisingly organic and real, which helps to further immerse you in Yakuza 5’s compelling world. The series has never been bigger or better, and earns its place as one of the best releases this year.
Best Writing & Story Execution: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Runners-Up: Undertale, Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
Many come to the RPG genre for its storytelling, and while there is no doubt that the rest of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is very good indeed, storytelling is where it is at its absolute best. Sure enough it has a head-start, adapted from a very successful series of novels - but developers CD Projekt RED have also made that world their own, executing on it with confidence, care and attention to detail that is seldom seen in games at all, leave alone ones this sprawling.
A common thread in the best of our genre is for the best sidequests to beat the core story, but The Witcher 3 even trumps that; everything feels as important and immersive as each other, and heading off on a contract or aside never feels truly contradictory to Geralt’s main mission. None of the world ever feels disjointed, and there’s no sign of that odd quest with dodgy writing or voice-over that somehow slipped through the cracks - everything is exemplary.
It’s difficult to fully articulate just how excellent The Witcher 3’s narrative is, but the best I can manage is to say that without doubt I rarely feel so utterly involved and absorbed into the world of an RPG as I did here. In many ways, its story delivery and execution sets a new bar for the big-budget cinematic RPG in general.
Best Score/Soundtrack: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
Runners-Up: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC, Undertale
A game's soundtrack is its lifeblood. Not only does it help set the tone but music itself can draw out emotion and allow us to become further invested in a genre as rich as the RPG. From cutscenes, to field exploration down to title screens and menus - music is what connects us to these other worlds. This year, no game did just that quite as much as Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward.
Despite being a MMORPG - and an expansion no less - Heavensward has more content than most single player releases, and its soundtrack amongst the fullest and most varied in both style, arrangement of classic themes and the way each theme is attached to the game. Ultimately, Sound Director Masayoshi Soken has managed to put together a score so unique but so decidedly Final Fantasy - with each track falling into place from the stirring instrumental renditions of Nobuo Uematsu's newly penned vocal theme to the rock-inspired ballads found in the more focused themed boss fights and raid environments. Many of his sounds aren't what you'd expect given the series' history, but that's the best part about it. The player never knows what to expect.
It's that feeling of mystery - that feeling of emotion that really brings the game's soundtrack together. The main theme - Dragonsong - is so expertly weaved throughout much of the narrative and field music to help paint the somber mood of the war-torn nation of Ishgard and the 1000 years Dragonsong war the Warrior of Light finds themselves involved in. Battle music especially has been further refined - taking queues from the heavier beats of Heavensward's main scenario but blended seamlessly with each transition from towns to fields, progressing from area to area with something new. It's the connection of all these musical themes that really express how well-put together the soundtrack really is.
Biggest Surprise: NieR Automata developed by Platinum Games
Runners-Up: Final Fantasy VII Remake is real, Shenmue III announcement
2015 has been full of wonderful surprises, no matter what type of gamer you happen to be. Localizations of titles that had a slim chance of making it Westward, game series getting new titles that were long thought abandoned, and who can forget the announcement of the Final Fantasy VII remake? Within this year of constant surprises and excitement, though, the biggest shocker of all for the RPG Site team was the announcement of a sequel to the recent cult classic NieR.
NieR is a divisive title, but those that can look past its gameplay quirks praise the title for its amazing and emotional plot that throws players for a loop. Sadly, after the completion of NieR its developer Cavia closed, making it seem as though there would never be a continuation of NieR or the company’s other major series, Drakengard. Of course, Square Enix surprised us all in 2013 when they announced Drakengard 3… but with a less than stellar reception, it seemed unlikely Square Enix would take such a gamble again.
Then, at E3, Square left us stunned. The first trailer may have been a big tease, without much information, but it gave us three very important facts. First, a new NieR title named NieR Automata is being made, which was huge news in itself. Second, Taro Yoko is at the helm again, so we can be assured his twisted and emotional plots will be back. Third, and almost as big of a surprise as the game announcement itself, is that Platinum Games is helping out with NieR Automata.
Cavia’s titles were always a bit lacking in the gameplay department, and few developers can be trusted in the craft of creating action titles than Platinum. Later combat footage only helped to cement that faith. This dream team is likely to make NieR Automata great, and its unexpected announcement is our pick for the biggest and best surprise of this year.
One to Watch: Persona 5
Runners-Up: Mass Effect: Andromeda, NieR Automata
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: 2016 is likely to be a stand-out year in RPG history. There’s a boat load of new RPGs coming, big and small, and there’s practically something for every RPG fan: fans of established series’ East and West get a new Final Fantasy and Mass Effect, new IPs are represented in the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Scalebound and Project Setsuna, and the ‘kinda-sorta’ RPG crowd even had a new Zelda to look forward to. There’s a lot going on.
Going into the debates for this category, there was one clear, unanimous winner: Persona 5. It’s fair to say that the RPG Site team are feverishly excited to see what the future holds for Atlus’ cult hit series, and with its launch pushed back to summer 2016 in Japan, we're all crossing our fingers that we'll also be able to play it before the end of next year.
While we've learned a whole lot this year in regards to the characters, their Personas, the current premise, and what the game will actually look like, there are still so many mysteries to unravel about what advancements they've made to the Persona formula. We've heard no word on if the Social Link system is coming back and we're still scratching our heads as to why demons are back when Shadows are still roaming about. We're all at this current juncture in which they've shown just enough info to leave us wanting more. A lot more.
Stay tuned for tomorrow where we will cover Best Indie, Best Small Screen, Best Big Screen, and Best Overall RPG of the Year!