Well, here I am again, doing pretty much the same thing I did last year around this time. Things are a bit more spread out among the systems this time, as the last year has seen me end up with both a 360 and a PS3. This was also a ridiculously tough decision to make, as so many amazing games came out this year. That makes 2 years in a row filled with great releases... can 2009 go for the trifecta? As before, everything is in alphabetical order, because it's easier that way.
If you don't like the wall o' text, then the TL;DR version is once again at the bottom.
Anyway, without further ado, here we go.
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Advance Wars has been a consistently good series for quite a while now, but it also came with a certain aesthetic. Sure there was a war going on against some evil force, but the main characters were plucky, bright-eyed and generally seemed to be having a good time, regardless of who shot who, and what blew up what. Days of Ruin was admittedly a bit of a shock when it was first announced. The world was destroyed, the colors were darker and toned down, and gone were the big happy grins of Andy, Sami, and Max. However, the strategic gameplay was tighter than ever, so even with the brownification, Advance Wars managed to crank out another exceptional entry into the series. WiFi multiplayer made it even better, since you could take on friends across the country and world. Now if only they'd do something about those friend codes...
Burnout Paradise was actually the first game I bought after buying the cursed PS3
from BahamutZero. I had been a fan of the earlier Burnout games, and the idea of being able to perform crazy stunts and just drive wild around the city really sounded appealing. This game was amazing fun, and it still manages to get my attention once in a while. The amount of support from Criterion is wonderful, and it's one of the few games I'm looking forward to paying more for in the upcoming year as the paid DLC comes out. This is how DLC is supposed to work, and everyone else needs to take a look at this.
Disgaea 3: Absense of Justice
There's something about the Disgaea games that keeps me coming back time after time. Sure, it looks like a PS1 game, but the game mechanics are as solid as anything out there. There are so many things to tweak as you work your way up towards building a ridiculously overpowering army, and the randomly generated stages and ridiculous level cap means that Disgaea 3 is a game that you could play for hundreds of hours and still not be done with it. Some major improvements come along with the great Disgaea gameplay to make this one a keeper. Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard
Note: I loved the original Etrian Odyssey. The music was great, the visuals were good enough to convey what was going on without becoming too tiresome, and the challenge was way up there. When Etrian Odyssey 2 was announced, I was ready to buy it right there. The original game wasn't perfect though, and EO2 manages to address a few of the biggest flaws. More map making tools are available, so intrepid adventurers have an easier time of drawing maps that make sense, gone is the nearly useless BOOST gauge from the original, replaced with special Force skills for each class, and a few new classes join the mix, making party building full of even more choices. If you're a fan of the old school dungeon crawl, you can't do much better than this.
I had played the original Fallout games long ago and had a great time with them, so I was a little cautious about what might come from Bethesda's work on the series. Add to that, the fact that I completely hated Oblivion and the forecast wasn't looking good for Fallout 3. However, when I finally got a chance to play it, it was clear that some definite work went into making it more than just "Oblivion with guns". I love the V.A.T.S. system, have a great time with all the different places I can explore and things I can find, and just generally enjoyed my time in the Capital Wasteland. Left 4 Dead
I'm a big fan of zombies and zombie movies in general, but as I've stated before, FPS is not my genre of choice. Valve however, is doing their best to make me into an FPS convert by releasing amazing games year after year. Every campaign I've played through on Left 4 Dead has been nothing but amazing fun. Playing with friends is even better, and when everybody has their headset on auto-talk, it's a good laugh to hear someone yell out "Oh shit!" or screaming for help when something invariably goes wrong. This is a game where you have a great time even when you lose, and anyone with a close group of friends should give it a try together.
Lost Odyssey was something that I picked up on a whim shortly after I got my 360, because there was still time before the release of Tales of Vesperia. I am certainly glad I did. It brings back the old school turn based battle gameplay that SquareEnix is too hastily abandoning, while removing some of the stupidity that came along with it. The fact that all spells cost multiples of 5 MP, and I never end up with a max MP ending in something like 7 or 9 makes it utterly streamlined, and never makes me feel like I got completely gypped by a level up. Little things like characters who can learn skills from others by fighting with them, a defense level for people in the back that lowers as the front gets pounded, and an amazing cast of characters (especially Jansen), only serve to add to the awesomeness of one of the best RPGs of the year. Whoever is in charge of the universe, please take the money from SquareEnix and give it to Mistwalker.
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Mana Khemia was sort of an oddball. Released on the PS2 when most companies had already pretty much abandoned the thing, it was an RPG set in the Atelier Iris universe, and set at an Alchemy school at that. The game plays out as the characters go throughout their school weeks, earning enough credits, dealing with school problems, and being harassed by rivals, all while telling a story about the main character and his friends. The great Alchemy system from the Atelier Iris games is back, and the battles are as fun as ever. Mana Khemia is a definite indication that 2D is still just as good as 3D, and Gust delivers beautiful sprite-work as always. If you missed it the first time, you could do a lot worse than picking up the PSP version, due out soon. Metal Gear Solid 4
Say what you'd like about Snake being old, or about the game being more cutscene than gameplay, but it's hard denying that MGS4 wasn't one of the most amazing experiences to come out this year. The convoluted storyline of the MGS universe was finally tied up, new characters and old favorites joined up, Johnny Sasaki got his chance to shine, and with some of the most epic boss fights in the series, Kojima managed to put Snake to bed in a manner that was not only satisfying, but fun. Here's hoping that he makes good on his promise that the Solid series is over though, since there really isn't anywhere else to go left.
Tales of Vesperia
The Tales of... series seems to be rather hit or miss at times. Tales of Symphonia was great, Tales of Legendia, not so much. Add to that the fact that half of the games don't even make it across the ocean, and it's a series that really needed to have a good game for its first current-gen outing in order to stay relevant. Luckily, Tales of Vesperia is a great entry into the series, further expanding on the battle and skill system of Tales of the Abyss, and bringing item creation along for the ride. The story was great, the characters were likable, and Yuri managed to walk the line of a troubled hero without coming off as idealistic or cheesy. Honorable Mention: The World Ends With You
Square Enix has been lacking these days. Infinite Undiscovery has a horrible name, and gameplay nearly as bad, and Last Remnant, while somewhat better, is nearly unplayable unless you install it to your hard drive. However, sometimes they manage to pull out something completely amazing, and that's what you end up with in The World Ends with You. An awesome concept, an interesting and fun battle system, and oozing with style, these are the kinds of games S-E should be focusing on. TL;DR version
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Disgaea 3: Absence of Justice
Etrian Odyssey 2: Heroes of Lagaard
Left 4 Dead
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Metal Gear Solid 4
Tales of Vesperia
Honorable Mention: The World Ends With You