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Games of the Year 2013

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2013 was an amazing year for gamers. It seemed like a critically-acclaimed blockbuster was released every couple of months, not to mention record-breaking sales of two new consoles in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. As everyone tends to do at the end of the year, it is time to make a best-of list:

Disclaimer: I have not played every released game from 2013, only games that I have had a substantial amount of time with are eligible.

5) Pokemon X, Nintendo 3DS
Something has to be said about a 17 year-old franchise that still shatters sales records. Pokemon X decided to finally implement 3D graphics and the results are glorious. The fully animated battles in the third dimension are great eye candy on the 3DS, and the strategy elements are as deep as ever. EV training is no longer under the surface but very much in the open for players to utilize via mini-games and other activities. Lastly, the game features many of the Pokemon from generation 1 (Blue, Red, and Yellow) so older fans like myself can feel nostalgic as they play through the game. That goes a long way, trust me.

4) Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Xbox 360 PlayStation 3 and PC
Looking for a good time? This game is a true video game. It is primarily about the gameplay experience and the feeling that it evokes in the player. There is a story to be had about an evil organization harvesting child brains to build killer cyborgs, but that is not why one is to play this game. You play this game because it is the purest action title of the year. You use your sword to lop off limbs, battle insane bosses that test your wits and combat skill, all to a dynamic heavy metal/rock soundtrack that compliments the gameplay with stellar guitar riffs. This game is action-packed and meant to be replayed and mastered.

[Regarding the next two games: I have not been able to put one ahead of the other so they are tied for third/second]

3/2) The Last of Us, PlayStation 3
Naughty Dog has wowed me...again. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of my most satisfying gaming experiences of all time. Fast gunplay, crafty enemy AI, and Hollywood-style cinematic set pieces. However, it was a game that satisfied my fingers primarily (I'll elaborate in a sec). Last of Us is a game that satisfies my fingers, head, and heart. It satisfies my fingers because the gameplay requires skilled aiming under pressure, context button presses in combat and all that jazz. It satisfies my head because of its strictness. Every encounter is tense, whether with the zombie-like infected or murderous human foes. Staying hidden is key, as is utilizing traps to stay alive.
The game punishes hard for mistakes so using your head is imperative. Lastly, it satisfies my heart because of the story told. The emotions that the narrative invoked in me were varied. I laughed at tough phrases uttered by the characters, lamented the death of some of the less fortunate characters, and simply cared about what was happening. Not since Mass Effect have I been so emotionally invested in what was happening in a video game. Maybe even more so than Mass Effect because Last of Us' cast is so human, in both a literal sense and in a "what makes us human? sense." They make mistakes, they are flawed, aren't always sure what to do...look, I'll stop here because I can go on forever about Last of Us.

3/2) Grand Theft Auto V, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
This is a titan of game. It's the biggest, most dense video game sandbox that I have ever played in. The sheer technical prowess of this game earns it a spot on any list. Instead of the basic "go here, 'oh no the deal went wrong,' kill everyone and make it out alive" mission structure, the campaign missions are more varied than in any GTA title before it, keeping the gameplay fresh. Introducing heists into the game have added depth to the experience. Planning, choosing crew members, and executing different methods during heists keeps the player returning. This is also the first GTA game with three protagonists, each with their own special skills and social circles.
GTA Online had a rocky start (to say the least) but eventually became the gargantuan multiplayer experience Rockstar Games promised. Participating in mayhem with your friends makes the game infinitely more fun. Creating your own races, participating in co-op missions, creating an online crew (gang), and raking group selfies is but a fraction of the fun that GTA Online affords you, and there is more content on the way.

1) Fire Emblem: Awakening, Nintendo 3DS
My game of the year, HANDS DOWN. As the latest entry in Nintendo's lesser known but critically-acclaimed strategy RPG franchise, this game has it all. The soundtrack is perfect and appropriate. It feels adventurous when it needs to be, and somber when the scene calls for it. The story (all the writing in general, especially the dialogue) is spectacular and epic, as it spans multiple continents, and the characters have, well, character. The rendered cutscenes are beautiful and make me long for an animated feature film.
Now, the part where Awakening truly shines, the gameplay. Being a strategy RPG title, one can expect extreme complexity. Managing weapons and items is the name of the game, in addition to managing character relationships, which lead to marriage, and thus, children. All the behind the scenes management translates into your success (or failure) on the battlefield. Better equipment obviously means more efficient combat prowess. Pairing people up in battle based on the strength of their relationship results in a devastatingly destructive demise for your enemies (Married couples obliterate people). When a character dies, they are dead for the remainder of the game, meaning that players need to be careful and attentive in battle.
The best part about the complexity of the gameplay is that the game's tutorials are top notch. Understanding any aspect of the game is a couple of taps away on the touch screen. This is a now-buy for all 3DS owners and a must-play for anyone who enjoys a lengthly, fulfilling gameplay journey.

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