Xenoblade Chronicles is a massive game. Hearing gamers talk about spending over a hundred hours playing it is somewhat intimidating and might even scare some away, but whatever you do don't let it. Xenoblade is a fantastic experience filled with dynamic and loveable characters, a gigantic world to explore, a story full of twists and turns, and a real-time battle system to tie everything together. And it's worth every minute you spend with it. Those first few hours might be overwhelming with all of the quests that get thrown at you and trying to figure out how best to juggle skills in combat, but once you get your head wrapped around Xenoblade's depth, there is so much there, and it's all wonderful.
What's incredible is how close North America came to never getting Xenoblade Chronicles. It was first revealed quietly in 2009 via a trailer tossed into an E3 press kit with no further details. Shortly thereafter, it was renamed from Monado: The Beginning of the World to Xenoblade in Japan where it was finally released in 2010. After much debate on whether the game would ever see an English release, Nintendo of Europe stepped up and localized the game in 2011. Many North American RPGamers imported the UK version, a fan campaign began petitioning Nintendo of America to release the game, and eventually everything fell into place early in 2012 when NoA launched Xenoblade to a limited retail release.
While the game has a few issues, especially the clumsy UI, there is just so much it does right that it's hard to complain. The world is huge and you get rewarded in experience points simply for exploring and finding new areas. Quests are often streamlined where once you find all the items someone sent you out into the wilderness to hunt down, you automatically obtain your quest reward on the spot without having to backtrack. But if you ever want to travel back to a prior location, you only need to bring up the map and select any prior landmark and you're there. Not to mention you can save anywhere, which is nothing new to the Western RPG world, but is more the exception than the norm for Japanese-developed RPGs. All of these things combine to create a masterful experience that takes the top spot as RPGamer's RPG of the Year for 2012.
Second place is this year goes in a slightly different direction. Borderlands, while a visually impressive and solid quest-oriented first-person-shooter, was not without some issues. This grandiose title featured a clunky inventory system, predictable AI, and a story so thin that it raised more eyebrows than questions. Thankfully, Borderlands 2 manages to improve nearly all of the negatives that were holding the original sandbox shooter back while retaining the fun multiplayer-oriented nature and violence that brought it notoriety in the first place. Not much has actually changed about Pandora itself, but with the Vault now open the story has a chance to take center stage. Player characters, antagonists, and NPCs now feature robust personalities, and the level of humor for everything from minor quests to Achievements has been cranked to the max. Additional players mean more loot and more fun, new guns mean cooler UIs and more impressive kills, and of course Claptrap makes a grand return. This is one sequel that manages to do everything a sequel should.
In a year with a number of epic-length console contenders, who would have guessed that this little DS crossover strategy title would land in the top three? The wide appeal and easy accessibility of Pokémon Conquest led it to rate highly amongst the RPGamer staff. Pokémon fans found Conquest to be a fresh take on the series, while Nobunaga's Ambition fans appreciated the lighthearted take on their favourite characters. The addictive combination of quick battles and a huge amount of content led to many, many staff hours being poured into Pokémon Conquest. Activity Log doesn't lie, man.