2. inFamous 2
I don't think there's ever been a game that I've so frantically searched for a Collector's Edition of as I did inFamous 2, and I'm not quite sure there'll ever be a game that I'll do it for again. It's not that I dislike them or anything, but I very rarely see the extra value of $40 or so with the little trinkets and soundtracks and such that come with a game to justify it. LittleBigPlanet 2 was the first game this year to convince me that the extra was worth it and not another game could do so until inFamous 2, and maybe it's because of the drastic way I got one at the very last minute, or maybe it's because I just wanted inFamous 2 that much, or a combination of both but when I got my hands on the Collector's Edition of the game it just....it felt right. Just having that (rather large) box in my hands told me that I was doing the right thing, the thing I wanted to be doing, and that kind of self-vindication is something you only experience a few times in life, I suspect.
The story of how I came to possess a box is a pretty straight-forward one, but it was a rollercoaster for me assuredly, as I never quite knew how I was going to get one, but I knew that I was going to. The GameStop that I frequented had stopped taking pre-orders on the Collector's Edition by the time I got into it, and even calling around to the other ones I could possibly, feasibly get to yielded nothing. All theirs were pre-ordered, so my only chance would be if someone decided they didn't want theirs, so I took that challenge and simply waited, counting away the days before release date came to pass. Calling all those same GameStops informed me that I wasn't lucky enough for one of them to have gotten an extra, and it was still within the holding period, so I had more or less resigned myself to just getting the regular version of the game before a thought crossed my mind.
"I wonder if Best Buy has any?"
My distaste (which has since been diluted, but not by this) for Best Buy is known, but the chance at this, at my prize, my goal, was too tempting to pass up so I called 'the' Best Buy I could frequent which was right across the road from the GameStop I go to. "Hey, I was wondering if you had any of the Hero Editions of inFamous 2?" "Hmm....let me check." There was a bit of silence as she walked to the area where everything was before the wonderful news came across the line. "Yeah, we've got a few right here." "That's fantastic. Would you possibly be willing to hold one for me if I was to get there within, oh say, an hour?" "Sure! I just need your name..." etc. etc. True enough, I got there as quickly as possible, went to the customer service desk as instructed and claimed what I had obsessed over for so long. Victory.
And then I, y'know, played the game and it was just as fantastic as the journey of getting it was and even moreso. It was the inFamous I'd gotten to know and love, but improved upon so much that it was in an entirely different league. With the overhaul of the melee system, chaining melee and ranged attacks was actually possible without relying on the Electric Riot Gear method from the original (Polarity Shield + Lightning Blades) so the entire flow of battle shifted dramatically for the better. The progression of powers really spoke to the theme that the game meant to set; that inFamous 1 was truly an origin story and inFamous 2 was the next evolution of that, into seeing Cole actually coming into real, absolute power. Beyond mastering his own powers, Cole expanded his versatility by being able to introduce an entirely different element to his repertoire and those powers were certainly crucial to hitting your stride in being a mobile force of overwhelming power.
I can't imagine playing the game without having access to the Ice Launch or the Firebird Strike eventually as both moves became crucial to the fluid movement that inFamous 2 really really mastered. Getting around wasn't just a breeze, but it was fun just because of all the different ways you could do any given thing. Really, the whole game was fun for that exact reason, but definitely the movement side of it, if you could single out anything, exemplified that. While I did have some grumblings with the story, I think it was still handled fairly well, though I'm very much left wondering just how an inFamous 3 could come about. With any luck, it'll be with as much of a quality jump from 1 to 2, but if we're talking in realistic terms, I should imagine it'll at least keep with the status quo, which I would be just absolutely fine with.
Really, I think inFamous 2's biggest touting point, which is what took it up to the top of my list is that it's a true, honest super hero game that is absolutely fantastic. People point to Arkham Asylum and City as the best examples of good licensed games we've got, and the license just happens to be a super hero one, but aside from that, what else do we have? Obviously [Prototype] which came out at the same time as the original inFamous is a super story, though if you were a super villain or merely an anti hero in [Prototype] is quite another question altogether. Whether [Prototype]'s strength lies within the quality of it's creation or the fun nestled within it's core mechanics is an ever-open debate which leads me to wonder if there are any other super hero, especially original ones, games out there that could be considered 'good' by the general measure? I'm not sure, which means that inFamous, as a series, certainly scratches an itch that's out there and I'm quite thankful for that.
1. Yakuza 4
That Yakuza 4 is my top game might not be a surprise to anyone, especially after Yakuza 3 took my top spot last time by virtue of being a game I never thought I'd get to play in English. (Un?)Fortunately, that was almost never an issue for Yakuza 4 as, quite soon after 3 had been released in the West or perhaps even before that, it was already well known that Sega had every intention of giving us the fourth iteration of the series and were, in fact, doing it as opposed to giving us some Sega-quality trolling about it. It was promised and billed as 'the most complete' localization for the series and followed through with that as well, losing only the minimalist of things in the transition from Japan to America. Among the cuts were the Question and Answer game in the arcade as it was mostly just Japanese History questions and rather than installing a whole new list of questions, they scrapped it and....not a lot else, I don't think. Perhaps a couple quests, but certainly not the 20 or so lost in Yakuza 3's localization.
While some might worry that Yakuza 4 made my top spot by virtue of simply being a Yakuza game, I assure this isn't the case, as anyone who kept up with Kupowered after 4's March release knows that I had several, several, several posts talking about my experiences in Kamurocho and the fun that I had with them, going so far as to reviewing the game for the third (and latest) review. And it was a dangerous thing to do, in a sense, since I was so attached to the game, but it was and still remains my opinion that because I was so engrossed in the game, I was capable of reviewing it well simply because I acknowledged its faults easily, and were able to point them out. I didn't care about those faults, however, as I had scarce few moments during the game where I wasn't grinning ear to ear from the sheer joy that is the fighting system in it. It made for awesome stories, both of unparalleled prowess and simple dumb luck that was nothing short of hilarious.
One such story of the latter variety was when I was the man himself, Kazuma Kiryu, taking on one of the many, many groups of street thugs that you'll run across in your travels. It was fairly routine, I destroyed a couple of them right off so the final two could offer me a little more sport and fun. After beating on the both of them for a little bit, I decided I was going to kick a bike at one to take him out and then probably drop kick the second, because it's...quite enjoyable. So I kick the bike and it goes flying right through the first guy, knocking him out, but where it gets hilarious is when the bike bounces off a railing and nails the final dude in the back, taking him out as well. As it was completely unexpected, I couldn't help but let out a loud laugh and a "Yesssssssssssssssssss" of pure enjoyment, excited beyond all else that that had just happened. That it had been a thing that happened.
In the end, I think it was the multitude of moments like that that Yakuza 4 had to offer me that tipped my opinion in its favor. That and the fact that I was honestly quite impressed with the battle system, since I had initially worried that with four characters, one of them would assuredly be terrible or at least less fun to play than the others, yet was proven completely wrong. Not only is every character an island unto himself in terms of quality in his fighting style, that quality translates not only into ability, but the amount of fun you can have with it if you just think about how to best use everybody. And when I say 'best use everybody', I mean the best way you can, not the way the game wants you to, which is an important distinction to make. No move in the game is 'great' because the game tells you it is, if it's great, it's because you know how to use it. And that is a very, very crucial thing.
So in the end, both of my top games of 2011 were ranked so high because of their fighting systems, mostly, and because those fighting systems were damn fun. Because that's really all we gamers want from our games if fun. There are times when we get more than that, like a beautiful piece of art that is as it is for being simple with no nonsense tacked on, or a wonderful, emotional story that's actually told quite well, but in the end, we want to have an outlet that makes us smile, makes us laugh, and challenges us to give us something to 'win'. Sometimes we measure our fun in the victories we've attained, whether it be in sheer numbers or for the quality of those victories themselves, but we're never at a loss for them. And I think that's been a running theme in my top list here, is that pursuit of victory, which I hadn't even noticed until now. But in the end, it is pretty obvious as we, for all of our bitching and complaining, truly are among the lucky to have these things, these special experiences of games, come to us and impact us as they do.
And I think that's why we try to rate them, however successfully or not that happens, -because- they have such an effect on us. At least, I think that's why I do it, even though it's a very obviously trying thing to do, as I described when it came to these two games. So hats off to you, Sucker Punch, Yakuza Studios, for making these experiences that I quite obviously enjoyed as much as I did. Here's hoping to more quality and more difficult decisions like this for 2012's Game of the Year!