Not having played every game on every platform, I was hesitant to issue genre/platform awards for my "Best Of" individual editor picks. Instead, I opted for one aspect of games that rarely gets award-level attention—costume and character design.
For my picks, I went not for the best graphics, story or gameplay innovation, instead focusing on some of my favorite character designs from the past year. I considered games released in any territory in the past year, not just North American release. That includes two-year-old arcade games and Japan-only (for now) releases.
Read on for my favorite characters and costume choices for the year, with plenty of pictures to illustrate my point. Let me know your picks in the comments.
Muramasa The Demon Blade
Vanillaware's Wii game might not have had the substance to match its excellent style, but the developer deserves kudos for delivering one of the best looking games of the year. It has done similarly spectacular visual work on games like Odin Sphere and GrimGrimoire for the PlayStation 2, but Muramasa: The Demon Blade gave the Wii some rock solid character designs.
Sure, Vanillaware might be pandering a bit, what with the big bottoms and other anatomical liberties, and they almost veer into cat-girl territory, but few games had such a homogeneous, well crafted set of characters, costumes and environments last year.
Tekken 6's Zafina
I'm not a huge fan of the Tekken aesthetic, but Tekken 6's Zafina was the best of the new additions to the Tekken 6 line up. And while I'm a fan of her standard outfit with its serpentine design cues and un-Tekken-like subtlety, it was her butterfly costume designed by Mutsumi Inomata that stood out as my favorite fighting game get up from 2009.
The addition of the horrendous Lars Alexandersson and Alisa Bosconovitch helps elevate Zafina's style, but I'm not complaining.
Hikari no 4 Senshi: Final Fantasy Gaiden
No, Final Fantasy XIII isn't on the list, but Nintendo DS series spin-off Hikari no 4 Senshi: Final Fantasy Gaiden is, despite only seeing a release in Japan in 2009. I love the color palette and cute, but not obscenely cute, character designs which mesh well with the DS's low-fidelity graphics.
I mean, look at all those jobs!
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I know, I know. Drake and Chloe? Aren't they just wearing shirts, jeans and cargo pants? Yes, they are, but Uncharted 2's character designs are brilliantly appropriate across the board. They may not be as ornate or flashy as some of the other choices on this list—or your own—but the realism of the character and costume design in Naughty Dog's PlayStation 3 exclusive help to sell the believability of its cast. That they're all modeled so beautifully from head to toe doesn't hurt.
That Chloe and Elena look so attractive and that Lazarevic looks so evil doesn't hurt either. The cast is sexy and strong when appropriate, not to mention believably human. And they all look good in black.
She may be anatomically impossible, and I never thought I'd be into hirsute women, but PlatinumGames' Bayonetta was my favorite character of 2009. I can't say the same for the rest of the Bayonetta cast, but one look at PlatinumGames' Flickr account shows that Bayonetta's outfit and accessories were layered with loving detail.