My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach
#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

#3 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PS4

I’m not an old school Dragon Quest fan but I’m also not quite a newcomer. I fell in love with Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies back in 2009 on the Nintendo DS, then recently dabbled in the 3DS remakes of Dragon Quest 7 and 8.

The series defiantly sticks to its very traditional JRPG roots, and Dragon Quest 11 is no different. It’a tale as old as time, or at least the mid-80s. You play as the chosen one, an orphan from a small village, where you set off to gather a group of diverse friends and travel across a pristine fantasy land full of monsters and dungeons.

Yet within that seemingly stale plot the world comes alive thanks to Akira Toryiama’s colorful art style and some of the best writing and voice acting I’ve ever seen in a Japanese RPG. Yes there’s a big bad villain out there but it’s really more about the engaging microstories of each town, like the mermaid who fell in love with a sailor, or the kidnappings around a fighting arena. When the main story does pick up it definitely delivers with several legitimately shocking twists, including a stunning moment that gave me fond flashbacks of one of my all-time favorite games, Final Fantasy 6.

The party members are all amazing, memorable characters with their own emotional hangups and narrative arcs. It’s easily my favorite cast since the last good Mass Effect or Dragon Age. All their perceived archetypes defied my expectations. On the surface Sylvando looks like a hyper-homosexual joke, but his bravery, quick wit, and endless optimism makes him my favorite character of the year.

Many RPGs live and die by their combat system and Dragon Quest‘s traditional turn-based battles is simple yet effective. Seeing enemies on the world map gives me the agency to choose when to fight, and not once in my 60 plus hours did I ever feel the need to grind. Each party member has their own skill tree to develop, giving them far more distinct roles and personalities than previous Dragon Quest games of mixing and matching classes, and discovering new combos and synergy remained satisfying throughout the lengthy campaign.

Dragon Quest 11 also includes lots of helpful modern game design features that really makes everything go down smoothly, like the ability to swap out party members in the midst of combat, frequent campsites between towns to rest and heal, and a surprisingly enjoyable and rewarding crafting minigame.

If you’ve ever sighed wistfully and declared that they don’t make them like they used to in regards to traditional RPGs, Dragon Quest 11 is here to grab you by the arm and usher you into a gloriously sincere world of monsters and charm.