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Winner: Kingdom Hearts II
Square Enix | PlayStation 2
Strictly defined, "fan service" is the act of including things in a game not to enhance the gameplay itself, but to excite and amuse the player. It's often considered a bad thing - for example, how many people have you heard raving about Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, an entire disc of titillation-instead-of-real-gameplay fan service?
But fan service done well can be a powerful thing, as Square Enix proved with its Kingdom Hearts games. No cheap panty-shots here - just lovingly-crafted appearances by dozens and dozens of the most beloved characters from not one, but two beloved universes: Final Fantasy and Disney.
It doesn't matter that it doesn't make even a shred of sense - you're flying a spaceship made of gummi bricks, clubbing things with a giant key and having a laugh with a wand-waving duck while you learn that some people are anti-people. None of that matters because teaming up with Mickey Mouse, Cloud Strife, Aerith, Jack Skellington, Tron and more and saving one Disney world after another from classic villains ranging from Maleficent to Sephiroth just friggin'rocks.
Honorable mention: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Konami | Nintendo DS
If you've brandished a whip at all in the past 20 years, your head's bound to explode at all the shout-outs, boss battles and hidden extras the latest Castlevania has tucked away in its nostalgic coffin. And we can prove it.
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