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Best of the Rest: Sinan's picks of 2014

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ATTENTION: The year 2014 has concluded its temporal self-destruct sequence. If you are among the escapees, please join us in salvaging and preserving the best games from the irradiated chrono-debris.

Dark Souls 2

I've been known to perch on treetops with many a RPG, but even by my standards this was a makeout-heavy year. Four of my five picks are of the role-playing variety, and I've put more than 250 hours into that quartet alone. 2014 was a super-solid time for the genre, and that's evidenced by the sheer range of RPGs in my Best of the Rest.

The only place to start this round-up is Drangleic. It was always going to take something truly special for Dark Souls 2 to stay out of its predecessor's shadow, at least for me. We are, after all, talking about following on from my game of the last decade. That proves a challenge too far for From's sequel, despite the many tweaks and additions it brings to the table. Crucially, Dark Souls 2 diminishes that sinking-into-quicksand helplessness, that sense of being lost, in every sense of the word. It is still there, but just that significant bit less so.

Yet Dark Souls 2 remains an all-encompassing adventure like few others this year. It draws from both Dark and Demon's Souls to juxtapose a deep, foreboding world against an elegant simplicity of swords, shields, dungeons and big bad monsters. There are more pretenders to the throne now, but Dark Souls 2 still stands out as an idiosyncratic, unpredictable experience.

For all my criticisms I plowed at least 100 hours into the world of Drangleic, and I'll be back on the plow when Dark Souls 2 hits PS4 and Xbox One in April.

Gallery: Dark Souls 2 (PC, 4/22/14) | 7 Photos

Child of Light

Ubisoft's gorgeous platformer-RPG is full of fairy-tale whimsy, though its princess is no damsel in distress. The rich, sanguine art is what drew me to Child of Light along with the poetry, but they weren't what kept me. In the end the rhymes often feel forced, stretched too far by their ambitions, and they distract from a positive and unusual premise.

What I wasn't expecting was combat with the kind of broad appeal a game like Child of Light needs. On lower difficulties the health-offering plants and enemy-slowing pointer feel a little gimmicky, but also appreciably accommodating. Switch up to the higher difficulties and suddenly they're linchpins in a dexterous juggling act, with echoes of Grandia 2. Not forgetting the occuli alchemy which makes perk-boosting such a satisfying endeavor.

The narrative may be trite, but with its flowing battle system and vivacious fantasy world Child of Light is sweet enough. Sometimes, that's all you really need.

Divinity: Original Sin

More old-school than the Fresh Prince and just as jazzy as Jeff, Original Sin is an unapologetic timewarp. That's not to say that it's Souls-difficult, more that it's unafraid to put role-playing values ahead of any concerns about being awkward. That's a tricky tightrope to walk, between open-ended scope and close-minded sentimentality.

Those old-school quirks make the first few hours shaky, but Original Sin stays steady and secure thanks to another superb combat system. This time it's turn-based, and all that freedom comes good in a celebration of strategy. From the simple but malleable character leveling to the many ways you mix things up on the battlefield, Original Sin is a thinking man's turn-based RPG. It also helps that Larian's adventure doesn't take itself too seriously. There's no pomposity here, just quests where you chase talking treasure chests, foil trolling statues and do battle with a zombie called Rob.


Even if it's technically not a Final Fantasy, Bravely Default is the best Final Fantasy in years. If it wasn't for its meandering Groundhog Day-like climax, Silicon Studio's 3DS RPG may have been my game of the year. That climax can take many, many hours to slog through, and hopefully that underlines just how good the main portion is.

Unlike recent Final Fantasies, Bravely Default draws closely from the JRPG series' 2D roots. Yet for all the recognizable elements in stuff like the basic combat system, the job classes and the story, this is a thoroughly modern game. Summoning your 3DS friends' characters, the option to raise or lower encounter rates and fast forwarding through battles - for an archetypal linear JRPG, Bravely Default is as adaptable as Cloud in the Honey Bee Inn.

The true star of the show, though - and I apologize for the broken record routine - is the combat. The Brave/Default system amplifies an already solid base, adding a gambling-like layer to proceedings. Brave essentially raises the stakes on an attack, while Default is a bit like folding, waiting for the right time to show your hand. At first it seems a little twist-or-stick, but it's closer to the measured, pattern-reading strategy of a poker game.

Just like every hand feels important in a good poker session, the Brave/Default system helps make even the smallest fights feel weighty. challenging and tense. Add in the myriad of possibilities in the job system and the four distinctly likable heroes - I'm genuinely making myself want to play it again just typing this out. The hopefully worthy Bravely Second can't be too far from a Western release, right? Right ... ?

Threes

See? It's not all RPGs.

Threes was one of the first games to really consume my time in 2014, so much so ... it may as well have been a RPG. I pushed as hard as possible to merge as many varieties of "3" together, invariably pursuing five-figure scores whenever I had the time.

No doubt there's something absorbing about the esoteric tile-matching design, a sense that if I could just crack it, just work out the magic formula, then all the wonders of the world would come to be mine. But the thing I really love about Threes is its personality or, to be specific the personality of its many personalities. It somehow turns a simple-looking numbers game into a sexy get-together, full of happy-go-lucky, flirty little 3s. In one fell swoop, Threes kills the idea that 4s are the only numbers that play.
[Images: Bandai Namco, Nintendo, Ubisoft, Larian Studios, Sirvo]
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2014 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.

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