The 3DS has another solid year under its belt and it continues to lead the charge as the best-selling handheld for a good reason: there is a wealth of wonderful games in almost every genre. 2014 saw the release of numerous games that deserve special recognition, including Nintendo's own Super Smash Bros., which is a fantastic portable recreation of a series that's traditionally reserved for consoles. It manages to capture the frantic nature of multiplayer combat with minimal sacrifices along the way, and it delivers a competitive experience that's practically unparalleled within the 3DS's library. Square Enix's Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call shone bright as well, offering a bounty of enjoyable music from the entire back catalog of the Final Fantasy series and wrapping it into a nostalgia-soaked rhythm game. With dozens of classic characters to level up and customize thanks to a collection of RPG systems, Curtain Call is a unique blend of elements from a series with a spectacular history at its back, and whether or not you're a fan of Final Fantasy, the number of musical masterpieces laying in wait lifts Curtain Call above the realm of mere fan service.
Ultimately, our debate for the best 3DS game of 2014 came down to two nominees: Shovel Knight and Bravely Default. Both offer excellent experiences that tap into the past of their respective genres, but they also incorporate fresh concepts that make them special games on their own terms. Shovel Knight is a side-scrolling adventure with pseudo-8-bit charm and a super catchy chiptune soundtrack, but it rises above its nostalgic trappings with a funny, lighthearted script and a Dark Souls-like death and resurrection system that's the perfect accompaniment to its above average difficulty. On the other hand, Bravely Default stands out as one of the most inventive and approachable Japanese RPGs to come along in a long time. You charge through a familiar string of towns and dungeons, and it even taps into Final Fantasy's proclivity for plots surrounding god-like crystals, but it revisits these tropes with care and avoids becoming another "me too" RPG.
More importantly, Bravely Default's combat system and presentation are the best arguments for it to take home the award for the best 3DS game of 2014. The ability to sacrifice turns in the present to use in the future gives Bravely Default a unique feel, and though you run the risk of being cut down by your enemies, you may gain an advantage over creatures that are too strong to take down via traditional methods. Bravely Default is an innovative game that also manages to deliver classic elements in a new way, and while it has pacing issues during the latter half, that fact doesn't detract from the dozens of hours of greatness that come before. Weighing these facts against Shovel Knight's positive qualities, we ultimately came to the conclusion that Bravely Default is the best 3DS game to have come out in 2014. It's a fantastic RPG and a wonderful game all around.