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RPG Site Best of 2018 Awards - our picks for the best of the year

2018 felt like a strange year for RPGs - sometimes slower than the last couple of barnstorming years, but once we actually got to the end it became clear we'd been misled: it was actually a really impressive, brilliant year for RPGs. As ever, the RPG Site crew put our heads together to decide what we felt were the Best of 2018 - and we've done things a little differently again this year.

In this article, you'll find ten games we've highlighted as the best of 2018. We don't order them beyond an outright winner, but we have picked our top five - and then from our top five, a winner overall, the game we're crowning RPG of the Year 2018. And it wasn't an easy choice. As always, we made a list of every game we thought was worth some recognition this year. Through vigorous debate, we whittled that list down to just ten games, and then we cut that ten down to our five favorite games of 2018 for RPG fans. We've also picked a few specific areas where we wanted to commend games for their efforts - listed in this article as commendations. 

If you want to know more about the decisions, listen to our special Best of 2018 edition of the Tetracast, the RPG Site podcast. This is a raw recording of our debate in full, lasting for hours but allowing you to hear our arguments and reasoning in real time. You can find that below and via our iTunes page.

Do note that our list features both fully-fledged RPGs and some games that are either extremely 'light' RPGs or in some cases arguably barely so. This is by design. Regular readers will know here on RPG Site that we cover the most 'pure' examples of the genre alongside other games. Our aim is to cover all games we feel fans of the RPG genre are likely to enjoy, and our Best of 2018 list reflects that fact too. Thank you for reading the site in 2018 - and we hope to see you a lot in 2019!

If you enjoy this, don't forget to check out our 2018 Reader's Choice Poll too - thousands of you voted for your picks, and the results are in!

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Commendations: Special Shout-Out Awards

This year, we decided to not bring back the detailed, specific categories for certain things but instead as staff debated if any particular games deserved to be commended for a certain aspect of their design. Before we get into the meat of the RPG Site Best of 2018 awards, here's our commendations for the year:

  • Commendation for Storytelling - Yakuza 6: 
    Yakuza 6: The Song of Life weaves a compelling narrative that touches on what it means to be family and other interpersonal relationships in a deeply moving way.
  • Commendation for Music - Octopath Traveler: 
    Yasunori Nishiki and the audio team behind Octopath Traveler blew our minds away with their strong melodic symphonies all throughout the game. It’s lovingly created with tunes that harken back to a bygone era of RPGs.
  • Commendation for Design & Immersion - Monster Hunter World: 
    Monster Hunter World earns its subtitle not only in its more global appeal but in its focus on building a living world that interacts with itself in interesting and exciting ways. Every biome is like a carefully-constructed mechanism, where one action can cause things to change to help or hinder you in brilliant ways.
  • Commendation for Art - Octopath Traveler: 
    It only takes one glance at Octopath Traveler to understand what it’s going for visually. Octopath Traveler’s self-proclaimed “HD-2D” style opened the doors to our wildest imagination of a path forward to preserving the look of classic sprite-based JRPGs for the modern age.
  • Commendation for Ongoing Support - The Elder Scrolls Online: 
    Despite what you may have heard, one online Bethesda game was really good this year - The Elder Scrolls Online. Years on from its rocky launch, it now feels like a lovingly-constructed, great value package - and this year's Summerset expansion pack only added further to that.
  • Commendation for a non-RPG - Into the Breach: 
    Fans of strategy RPGs will definitely want to take a look at Into the Breach. It’s masterful grid-based indie game that truly highlights the best elements of what we love in tactical combat.

Best of 2018: The Near Misses, aka the Runner-Up Five

The games listed here don't officially get one of our 'Best of 2018' awards, but they made it right to the end of the debate fighting off some tough competition - so here's to these five - amazing games all.

Valkyria Chronicles 4

After a decade of smaller-scale sequels and questionable spin-offs, Valkyria Chronicles 4 finally returns to the formula that surprised and delighted so many of us ten years ago. A gorgeous blend of a water-colored art style and engaging tactical gameplay, there’s been nothing that’s played quite like the original game until now. While it may not be as novel as the series’ debut in 2008, and borrows several ideas perhaps too closely, a return to form is a huge win for a series that seemed dead in the water just a few short years ago. [Bryan Vitale]

Valkyria Chronicles 4 also placed 5th in the Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2018.

The Bard's Tale IV: Barrow's Deep

InXile's revival of a 30-year-old franchise is a little different than expected, but still offers a satisfyingly deep and flexible battle system surrounded by heavy puzzle exploration and a fantastic musical score highlighted by Gaelic vocal tunes. While the storyline itself struggles to stay interesting and technical issues still remain, Barrow's Deep is an impressively addicting and mechanically robust game. [Adam Vitale]

Yakuza 6

The much anticipated Yakuza 6: The Song of Life serves as the final conclusion to the decade long story of Kazuma Kiryu. Rife with narrative twists and turns, an emotional story and an overall satisfying conclusion we only found it natural to include it in our runner's up list. While it does lack the amount of content found in previous Yakuza titles, the revamped fighting system and sheer attention to detail with the revamped environments and character models in the Dragon Engine make this a title a must for any fan. [Kazuma Hashimoto]

The Banner Saga 3

Much of what's offered by The Banner Saga 3 has been seen before in its predecessors, but this is nevertheless an incredibly confident, satisfying closure to an ambitious indie trilogy. With a bleak, desperate outlook on a ravaged world, this finale could easily feel like a downer - but it's anything but. [Alex Donaldson]

Octopath Traveler

Octopath Traveler was one of the key titles that caught all of our eyes during the Nintendo Switch’s reveal event. Despite the numerous faults with its narrative structure, it is an undeniably charming game that lays a solid foundation for a potential sequel. Octopath Traveler’s musical score, battle system, and multiple job classes make it an enjoyable experience to play and we all hope that whatever follows in its footsteps will overcome its missteps.  [Josh Torres]

Octopath Traveler placed 2nd in the Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2018.

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk - Best of 2018 Winner

Sometimes exciting games come from unexpected places. Nippon-Ichi Software had never made a DRPG before Labyrinth of Refrain - but no one can say that they didn't leave an incredibly strong first impression. Gruesomely detailed enemy artwork, impressively in-depth party customization, and surprisingly great characters for what may have been one of the most mature character studies in a JRPG in a long time make the game instantly memorable in a genre that has already been well established. That NIS was able to accomplish all of this with their first shot at the genre is commendable enough on their own, but even ignoring their lack of history with the genre, Labyrinth of Refrain is easily one of the best DRPGs in years.

Like any DRPG, Labyrinth of Refrain certainly won't be for everyone - but what it does attempt to do, it succeeds at with spades. I didn't expect to feel any significant attachment to the game's characters by the time the story was over, but any DRPG that can manage that feat is more than worth highlighting as far as I'm concerned. [James Galizio]

Pokemon Let's Go - Best of 2018 Winner

When Pokemon Let's Go was first announced, I was generally unconvinced. I wanted the first Pokemon outing on Nintendo Switch to be the first ever barnstorming, high-definition, mind-blowing foray into a different sort of Pokemon adventure - not a dumbed-down remake of things I'd seen before. Within a few hours of starting Pokemon Let's Go it clicked, however. I got it. And you know what? They were right, I was wrong. Pokemon Let's Go is the perfect first entry for the series on the Switch. It's a great nostalgia trip, and a brilliant training ground for new players for whom this'll be their first non-mobile adventure, or lapsed trainers from the nineties finally returning to the fray now.

The concept is genius, really - Pokemon Go gets people started, Pokemon Let's Go is the transition, and next year Nintendo and The Pokemon Company will attempt to draw those players to a 'full depth' Pokemon game. Despite that status, Let's Go still has plenty to challenge players and some really smart design decisions. The choice to eliminate random wild Pokemon battles is a serious improvement, for instance - and one we hope is carried to the next game. With any luck, this title will create several all-new young RPG fans. [Alex Donaldson]

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire - Best of 2018 Winner

Very few games establish a world that feels as well realized as the Deadfire Archipelago in Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. Shifting the focus of the series from most a pure-fantasy setting to a colonial/nautical one was a bit out of left field but ended up paying off for Deadfire in spades. The overarching narrative that details the various conflicts big and small due to a foreign power intruding on native land pairs perfectly with the ability to roleplay as a pirate, good or bad. One of the most impressive feats about Deadfire is how it smartly refines from the precedent set in Pillars of Eternity to make an experience that’s more approachable, less obtuse, and simply more fun.

Introducing voice acting elevates the quality of the writing that makes every small quest slightly more memorable and removes some of the burden of overwrought exposition. Analogously, cutting the battle party down from 6 to 5 helps keep encounters away from being an incomprehensible sea of spell effects. Deadfire also boasts a huge variety of playstyle options with respect to companions and class/subclass combinations. There are so many systems to tinker with alongside a fantastically unique setting that makes this game one of the unsung gems of the year. [Bryan Vitale]

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire placed 6th in the Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2018.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Best of 2018 Winner

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is a prime example of taking a well-established RPG series and polishing it to the extreme. Where Dragon Quest XI might be lacking in innovative modern flair, it more than makes up for in well-crafted characters, beautiful locations, simple but engaging turn-based combat, and a great localization effort. In fact, Dragon Quest XI's classic trappings place it in a somewhat unique spot regardless, because it can continue to offer that familiar and comfortable Japanese RPG style that few other big-budget outings offer in the modern RPG landscape. In an era where the line between Action game, RPG, and even Online games become more blurred, Dragon Quest's traditional approach is ironically .. refreshing.

How Dragon Quest XI manages to retain its formula, but rejuvenate it for modern audiences is simply impressive. Every element of Dragon Quest XI works well in creating a wholly memorable experience; there's no one piece that feels misplaced or misused (except the music, unfortunately). Dragon Quest XI shows us clearly that there is still a place for classically styled RPGs. [Adam Vitale]

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age placed 1st in the Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2018.

Monster Hunter: World - RPG of the Year 2018

2018 was a slower year for RPGs than some of the years we might have had in the past, but even then there were plenty of games that captured our hearts, making the discussion for Game of the Year as difficult as it always has been. That being said, no other game made as much of an impact this year as Monster Hunter: World. Already we hear some questioning the choice - is this even an RPG? Well, according to Capcom it is, and beyond that, this is a game steeped in character progression, with growth tied more closely to loot and gear rather than a leveling system.

Capcom’s latest entry in their flagship series did the impossible – re-imagining the game’s many mechanics in ways that would be conducive for new fans in the west, while not alienating the strong fanbase that the series has enjoyed both in Japan and across the globe. It trims much of the fat that the series has maintained since its inception, and in doing so lets the core of the series shine through even stronger than it has in the past.

Many RPGs have worlds in which their games take place, but few contain worlds that directly interact so closely with their gameplay. No two hunts truly feel the same, and this is in so small part due to how each of Monster Hunter: World’s maps evolve throughout each hunt, and the reactions of the numerous animals that inhabit these biomes. Capcom took a massive bet with the game, and it paid off better than anyone could’ve imagined.  Monster Hunter: World proves that any franchise can re-invent itself in bold new ways, and is without a doubt our Game of the Year.  [James Galizio]

Monster Hunter: World placed 3rd in the Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2018.

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