21. Dark Souls II
Developed by From Software. Published by From Software in Japan, Namco Bandai worldwide. Released on March 11, 2014. Available on PS3, XB360, and PC.
Mike says: The Souls franchise shouldn't be this successful. The series is famous for its difficulty, and that challenge does draw in an audience. What amazes me about these games is that the difficulty goes beyond the combat. The gameplay mechanics are largely unexplained, the importance of the stats and how they affect combat are learned by trial and error, and even the story does not make itself readily accessible to players. Playing a game in the Souls franchise requires players to invest a huge chunk of time into just learning how to play, either through experience or researching online.
Dark Souls II still maintained its difficulty, but some minor, precise changes in the game made it more accessible. The cost of those changes would result in more challenges down the road, however. The penalty for death, for instance, changed to a system that would reduce a player's max health with each death, down to 50% (compared to Demon's Souls putting you at 50% immediately). And while players were given more opportunities to recover that max health, these increases were incremental. Adding a rare item to re-spec your character also takes off the pressure a bit when playing without a character build planned out.
20. Diablo 3
Developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. Released on May 15, 2012. Available for PS3, PS4, XB360, Xbox One, PC, and OS X.
Josh says: Diablo III returns you to the demon-infested world of Sanctuary, just in time for another attempt by the Lord of Terror, Diablo, to add Heaven and Earth to the list of his domains. You play a Nephalem, a powerful champion for the human cause, as you battle Hell's greatest minions to keep Diablo and his henchmen's forces from taking hold. During your journey, you'll rescue a fallen angel, battle covens of witches, and, eventually, defeat Diablo himself.
Of course, Diablo III is a tad less story driven than many of its RPG counterparts. Action RPGs, as they are known, don't tend to tell the most profound stories, as players are typically eager to just start clicking repeatedly to wipe out screens full of enemies. I quite enjoyed the story, though, and eagerly watched every cutscene.
Despite a fairly light, linear story, the gameplay lent itself well to the basic notions of the tale; hordes of demons are attacking, slaughter them all with extreme prejudice. Whether you're lighting signal fires to fend off a siege or killing Belial's scores of reptilian soldiers, cutting a swath through an army of cursed beings is exactly what this story is about. I was particularly fond of the early hints at the late-game reveal, which you'll likely only catch on a second playthrough. But who am I kidding? Diablo III's appeal is the frenetic gameplay, not the third telling of basically the same story.
19. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developed by Obsidian Entertainment & South Park Digital Studios. Published by Ubisoft. Released on March 4, 2014. Available on PC, PS3 and XB360.
Devin says: When I entered fifth grade in 1997, life for me and the other little scamps in my class revolved around three things: Star Wars, Nintendo 64, and South Park. I remember walking out to recess more than once to quietly, and secretly discuss the previous night's episode -- too loud and some nosy teacher could rat us out to our then-unknowing parents.
Still, I was thoroughly shocked at how well South Park: The Stick of Truth turned out. A lover of South Park and Obsidian Entertainment both, you can't help but be suspect of games based on licensed content in this day and age, no matter who is involved. I still remember the Nintendo 64 South Park game - mindless fun for an 10-year-old, but a decidedly crap game otherwise.
The Stick of Truth takes a TV show that many of us know and worship, and manages to transition it to a new medium without any iota of awkwardness. The Stick of Truth plays out like a long, deep, interactive episode that hits all the right references, includes every character you want to see, while set in bundle of quests that rarely leave you bored or frustrated.
Not only does The Stick of Truth hit all the right Quiet Little Mountain Town notes, but its RPG mechanics are solid, if a little basic (a good trait for such a simple game). The Obsidian special sauce is apparent throughout, leaving role-playing buffs swimming in a sea of Cheesy Poofs, fart jokes, and alien probes.
Oh, and play with a controller if you're goin' down to South Park, and you'll have yourself a (better) time. I guarantee it.
18. Bravely Default
Developed by Silicon Studio & Square Enix. Published by Square-Enix & Nintendo. Released on February 7, 2014. Available on 3DS.
Justin says: Bravely Default is like one of those children books about some anthropomorphized household appliance or railroad equipment learning an important life lesson. The little-RPG-that-could, tugging firmly on nostalgia, managed to change hearts and minds with its charm and clever mechanics. Ok, that might be a bit of a dramatization, but the game did succeed in selling a million copies, not bad for a little 3DS game. It did however contribute to Square-Enix recommitting to making proper JRPGs. Big surprise, when you make the games all your fans want to play instead of some new offshoot of Final Fantasy XIII
Bravely Default was made firmly with nostalgia in mind. Battles are turn-based. There are jobs to master, which unlock new skills. And your band of characters is swept up on an epic quest to save the world. There's even an airship. It's a classic Final Fantasy in all but name. That's not to say that the game didn't make any improvements. The central mechanics, and namesake, are the options for Bravely and Default during combat. Default defends the character, but it also stores up an action. Bravely lets you expend several actions in a turn, either using stored up ones or going into the negatives - forcing you to wait out until you recover. It's a fun system that let you burst through weak enemies quickly and rewarded balancing flexibility and power. Speaking of enemies, while Bravely Default still operated with random encounters, you had the option to control the rate of them appearing. Want to grind and level up for a boss fight? Then you can crank the occurrences up to max and get into a fight every few steps. But if you just wanted to quickly move along the story, at risk of being a little under-leveled, you could turn them down or off entirely.
All of this was paired with some great Street-Pass content. I would frequently take my 3DS to events or gatherings with no intent to play, but knowing that I'd reap the benefits of making a few more connections. The game slips a little in the later sections, but it's still otherwise fantastic.