2016 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but it's also been a pretty good year for RPGs. We celebrate that as we always do - by taking the time out at the very end of the year to acknowledge some of our favourites form the year.
2016 was also a big year for RPG Site itself. We celebrated our 10th anniversary and saw some tremendous growth - and it's really all thanks to you, our readers. Many of you have been with us for years now and have been instrumental in spreading the word about what we do. We couldn't be more thankful for that, and we hope you'll stick with us for the years to come.
But that's enough being soppy - let's get down to why we're here today. 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, and check back tomorrow for the second and final part of our end-of-year awards where we name our favourite RPG of 2016 plus your favorite, voted by you right through the month of December.
Best Writing/Script/Localization: Tyranny
Runners-Up: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, Project X Zone 2
Obsidian Entertainment has developed a strong penchant for memorable writing and sophisticated characters, and its 2016 title, Tyranny, doesn’t do anything to disappoint that expectation. In fact, Tyranny was designed in a fashion to allow the creative team at Obsidian to stretch their writing chops in ways that go even beyond creating a compelling narrative from beginning to end. Tyranny is a game that allows the player to take whatever side they want, for whatever reason they want, all while ensuring that the story that is present remains cohesive no matter what actions the player takes. And In many ways, they succeeded tremendously.
Tyranny is a shorter game compared to many of its contemporaries, only taking 20 or 25 hours to fully complete. However, this doesn’t mean that the writers skimped on the scope of its narration in crafting a brief or limited experience; instead they focused their efforts on extending the narration’s breadth without compromising its depth. The characters in Tyranny are just as, if not more compelling than their counterparts in Pillars of Eternity. On top of that, the shorter playtime duration helps ensure that consequences of actions taken early in the game and even in the pre-game “Conquest” section are continuously felt throughout the entire experience.
As a result, nearly every moment feels surprisingly relevant, and Obsidian’s trademark prose gives every biography and quest, …and object …and skill, a level of depth that’s still mostly unmatched in the genre. Every dialogue is filled to the brim with encyclopedic levels of detail for seemingly every aspect of the game. Every character and faction is shaped with a fully realized history, and Tyranny goes a step further and allows the player to take an integral part of shaping some facets of that history. It’s truly an achievement meriting recognition.
Best Soundtrack/Score: Final Fantasy XV
Runners-Up: Dark Souls III, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
Final Fantasy is a series defined in part by its music and the latest mainline entry is no exception. Penned by the combined talents of Yoko Shimomura, Yoshitaka Suzuki, Tetsuya Shibata, Shota Nakama and Yoshino Aoki – Final Fantasy XV’s soundtrack represents an astounding achievement, melding both old with new.
Despite development woes, Final Fantasy XV’s soundtrack is a real gem. From cutscenes, to field and normal battles right on up to the game’s epic boss encounters – its blend of orchestrated music here connects us to the vast world of Eos and back to our own.
The vocal theme here – Somnus – is the standout track, having been woven into much of the game’s story-heavy musical cues. Other points of interest include the whimsical stylings of Valse di Fantastica, the heart-pounding APOCALYPSIS NOCTIS and Hellfire along with more curious tracks such as Ardyn’s theme and Wanderlust. After 10 years in the making, it’s clear a new classic has entered the fold.
Best Art/Visual Design: The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine
Runners-Up: Final Fantasy XV, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
This was a close-fought battle. Runners-up Final Fantasy XV and Tokyo Mirage Sessions both have their own impressive natures. Atlus’ Persona and Fire Emblem mash-up has some of the coolest menu work we’ve ever seen, and Final Fantasy XV has some truly incredible visual design. But our pick actually goes to an expansion pack: The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine.
What’s impressive about Blood & Wine is how it takes The Witcher 3’s engine and visuals and builds a new type of world. While the world of The Witcher has you used to gritty, threatening and often downright nasty locales, the final expansion does something entirely different. The state of Beauclair is stunningly beautiful.
It’s colourful and picturesque in a way that The Witcher 3’s world isn’t. It conveys more the energy of a fairytale. In doing something so very different it truly showcases just how impressive CD Projekt’s engine, technical prowess and art team is. There’s an entirely different feel to Blood & Wine than the rest of The Witcher 3 - and that in a sense is what has earned it this award.
Biggest Surprise: Dragon Quest Builders exceeds expectations
Runners-Up: Romancing SaGa 2 finally getting localized, Wild Arms and Arc the Lad are back!
In a year that was full of games garnering one unexpected critical response after the other, there was none more surprising than Dragon Quest Builders. Whether you were a fan of Dragon Quest, creation games, or just a general fan of RPGs, it’s safe to say not many people had high expectations for this game prior to release. However, if you were to ask people in any of the aforementioned camps how they felt about about the game now, chances are they would shower it with love.
Dragon Quest Builders is an experiment on Square Enix’s part to take one of their most revered IPs and place it in an unfamiliar setting. It is an excellent blank canvas for fans of creation games, and also offers just enough of a leveling and progression system to entice fans of the core RPG series.
More than all of that though, it is a game that won over all of the naysayers. There was not very much excitement for the game leading up to the release, and a lot of people wrote it off thinking it was meant solely to capitalize on the popularity of games like Minecraft. Dragon Quest Builders is so much more than that though; it stands on its own as a wonderful title that simply asks its audience to indulge in their creative side.
Best Tangential/Non-RPG: Hitman
Runners-Up: The Last Guardian, XCOM 2
This was unexpected. This was a category many of us expected XCOM 2 to win, and both that and The Last Guardian are very honorable mentions for runners-up. However, our award this year for our favourite non-RPG that RPG fans should go out and play anyway goes to Hitman. Just saying it sounds weird.
Hitman had everything going against it. Its episodic format seemed like a dreadful idea, and the requirement to be online in order to play sounded like a death sentence for a single player game. But Hitman is amazing: the episodic release of new levels encourages players to master each location, to fully explore and investigate each sandbox, while building anticipation for new locations to be released.
Hitman’s approach to stealth gameplay is similar to that of a Rogue-like. Knowledge gained from each run can lead to discovering new assassination opportunities, new disguises and hidden paths, all of which can lead to better runs. The online features added incredible replay value with new elusive targets and escalations to existing missions.
For these reasons, we feel confident that Hitman will appeal and engage RPG fans. The first season of Hitman has revitalized the series and has us eagerly awaiting Season 2.
One to Watch for 2017: Nintendo Switch
Runners-Up: Mass Effect: Andromeda, Nier Automata
It may seem a bit odd having an entire platform be our pick for One to Watch, but this represents so much more than any single video game. The Nintendo Switch is a pivotal moment for the company. As much as we love the Wii U and several of its games, it’s pretty clear the system was an abject failure for Nintendo. It barely registers as a blip when people are discussing the current generation of consoles, mostly because so many big publishers have passed on the Wii U for its more technically capable competition.
That’s why we are thrilled about all the things we’re hearing from reports about the Nintendo Switch. A new Mario RPG; a proper Pokemon entry; a Xenoblade Chronicles X port; and Gamecube coming to the Virtual Console. We really like the idea of taking these great games with us on the go, especially the best version of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
There’s so many things to look forward to, and so much potential as a platform. We’re coming up on the full reveal of the Switch on January 12, and we’re excited to see what the house that built Mario has in store.