The time has come. Day Two of our deliberations covers the biggest categories: Best Indie. Best Small Screen RPG. Best Big Screen RPG. And then, we pull it all together and decide on Best Overall RPG of the Year. It was a very difficult journey to get to this point, with the deliberations high on drama as we fought to narrow down the list of several potential winners down to three, and ultimately, our winner of each respective category.
In the end, though, the entire RPG Site staff came away happy about the decisions that we have made, and we hope you are too. If you would like to listen to our deliberations, you can download our podcast here or catch it on iTunes. You can also read up on Day One of our awards if you haven't already. For now, let us announce the winners!
Best Indie: Undertale
Runners-Up: Pillars of Eternity, Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Space Time Continuum
Heartwarming. Silly. Whimsical. Absurd. These are only a few of the ways you might describe our favorite indie title of 2015. Undertale packs emotion & wit into a retro-styled RPG about about a human who finds themselves in the world of monsters. Touching on themes of loneliness, empathy, compassion, and aided by a stellar soundtrack, very few titles can connect with the player the way Undertale does, while at the same time delivering humor both clever and wacky. Not only that, Undertale isn’t shy to challenge some of the typical conventions found in the RPG genre, from how exposition is delivered to how monsters are engaged.
It’s somewhat difficult to describe what Undertale offers without spoiling too much of the experience, but it’s easy to say there’s not much else like it. The game is incredibly responsive in how it reacts to the player’s actions both in and out of combat, and how character behavior largely depend on player choice - not to mention the game is loaded with secrets to discover. Undertale is also especially cohesive in how all facets of the game work in harmony to deliver one of the most heartfelt experiences of the year.
With a memorable narrative, fantastic music, charming characters, and less than ten total playtime hours, anyone fond of RPGs should set some time aside for Undertale.
Best Small Screen: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter
Runners-Up: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker, Final Fantasy Record Keeper
2015 may not be remembered as a landmark year for portable gaming as the various mobile and dedicated handheld platforms didn’t see many exciting new releases. As such it created an opportunity for a 9 year old title to claim our award as the best small screen RPG. But The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky Second Chapter isn’t just any old RPG, it’s the conclusion to a story western fans have been demanding for over 4 years.
Despite encountering monumental obstacles, publisher XSeed has delivered one of Falcom’s best RPGs, with one of their finest localization efforts to date. While the game is essentially the second half of the original Trails in the Sky, the game’s impeccable writing, fully realized characters and breathtaking soundtrack have ensured this title is still amazing, 9 years after it’s original Japanese release.
There are few RPGs that have stories and characters as captivating as the ones featured across both Trails games. The Second Chapter delivers on over 4 years of hype and anticipation, being a compelling conclusion to an incredible saga, that should not be missed.
Best Big Screen: Bloodborne
Runners-Up: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Xenoblade Chronicles X
What is immediately apparent about Bloodborne is just how much thought went into every aspect of it. Whereas Dark Souls was compromised in some respects to meet publisher deadlines, Bloodborne is the result of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s vision without filter. It is a triumph of great game design.
The most impressive thing about Bloodborne is the care put into the world of Yharnam. Many games boast “living breathing worlds”, but few succeed in the way this game does. The level design, lore, environmental storytelling, and the art direction come together in a way that makes the player feel like they’re exploring an actual city. All game worlds are designed around the player, but Bloodborne does a very good job of concealing this fact and makes you feel like your character is involved in a story much larger than themselves.
The combat in the Souls series was more a tactics affair than it was about reflexes or combo memorization, but Bloodborne is a much faster paced game. Nearly every enemy engagement can end with you being bested if you don’t pay close enough attention, and you must utilize all the tools at your disposal. The game really keeps you on your toes to the point where it can even be a bit draining. However that is part of what makes it such a joy, coming out the victor in battles as tense as these is immensely satisfying.
Bloodborne is a constant fight-for-your-life ride from beginning to end. It can be a brutal and trying experience at times for sure, but the game also respects your intelligence a great deal in return. In an age where tutorials mask the hand of the developers very little, wandering the streets of Yharnam is a very refreshing journey.
Best Overall RPG of the Year
3rd Place: Undertale
Enough can't be said for how Undertale impresses with its beautiful hand-drawn cutscenes, fascinating puzzles, and solid if at times hilarious writing - all topped off with an incredible soundtrack. In every encounter, players will be given the opportunity to fight, show mercy, or perform different acts to sway their inclination and negotiate your way out of a bad situation. This presents many morally ambiguous situations where you have to decide what really is the right thing to do. Or, of course, you may just want to see the world burn and go with the most awful decisions possible, you monster.
Toby Fox has presented an instant classic with Undertale, and it deserves the praise that it gets. Each facet of the game has been crafted exceptionally well, providing a dense amount of entertainment value in what is an adventure that lasts just long enough to retain its overwhelming charm. We talked last year about how South Park: The Stick of Truth didn't have to be some 20-hour game to provide a great experience, and Undertale only underscores that wonderful feeling.
2nd Place: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt RED like to make a big deal out of their RPG chops. They rock up to trade shoes like E3 and Gamescom wearing shirts that declare "We are Rebels" and "Play your Role", and while this might easily sound like hubris, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the absolute proof that there's no hot air in these claims. They know their stuff. It's real - and they are now indisputably pioneers of this wonderful genre.
This fiercely independent studio has somehow managed to craft one of the largest and most ambitious RPGs ever - and they've made it work. Somehow, they make it look effortless. Its story is engaging, its world is beautiful, and there's an attention to detail that is all too rare. Slight issues, many of them patched, aren't enough to drag this game down - and the truth is, The Witcher 3 very nearly won it all here. It was close - because it, and the next game up, are that damn good.
1st Place: Bloodborne
The Souls franchise is now home to a number of great games and while Bloodborne doesn’t technically fall under the Souls moniker, at its core Bloodborne is indeed a Souls game. What makes Bloodborne really special is how it manages to follow the legacy of the games that preceded it while striving for perfection in core mechanics of its own.
The world of Yharnam is expertly crafted, dominated by towering characterful gothic buildings haunted with evil beasts and creatures that stand in your way. Make no mistake, Bloodborne is difficult but it provides players with the necessary tools to tackle every obstacle. Encounters leave an impression one remembers, while weapons feel unique and solidly customisable to better fit a particular play style. Most notable is the ability to transform your weapon into a secondary form that devastates foes in an alternate fashion, a solid addition to the player’s moveset.
In terms of design and balance, Bloodborne feels about as close to perfect as a game can come. All of its mechanics and gameplay systems intertwine into something really special, and when it clicks, it’s excellent. What Bloodborne achieves with its intrinsically connected gameplay systems is quite an achievement, and no part of the game feels like it goes to waste. It’s an experience without the extraneous fluff, focused and uncompromising in its vision.
On a sliding scale of what is and isn’t an RPG, Bloodborne probably sits at the far fringes. It barely scrapes into the genre with its narrative told through subtleties and action-driven combat, but there’s enough character customization and player agency here for us to happily include it on this list. RPGs should be more than a journey, and at their absolute best, more than just a game. Bloodborne is that, presenting an immersive, compelling and grimly beautiful experience from start to finish.
Reader's Choice: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Runners-Up: Xenoblade Chronicles X, Undertale
If you were paying attention to our Twitter account, we had you the community vote on which RPG you thought was the best title released in the past 12 months. With thousands of votes counted, the winner was decided with only a single vote separating 1st and 2nd place.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Xenoblade Chronicles X were neck-and-neck the entire time the poll was up, proving just how important they were to a lot of you. In the end, though, The Witcher 3 slipped by with a victory. Learn more about this vote in detail in its dedicated post.
The most noticeable thing about this poll was how how audience continues to diversify. After the Top 3, the votes were spread around almost evenly among many of the big titles that came out last year. Suffice to say, we are excited to see what the new year brings and we want to cover as much of it as possible all for the benefit of you, the readers.