At the beginning of 2015, I announced that my four-year-old JRPG column, Random Encounters, was coming to an end. The genre had thrived so much, I explained, that it would feel quaint to compartmentalize my JRPG writing in a single weekly column.
[This post originally ran on December 22, 2015]
Nearly a year later, that feels truer than ever. This has been a very good year for anyone who likes Japanese role-playing games, and it’s looking like it’ll be an even better 2016 thanks to some surprise announcements both big and small. (Ni no Kuni II!!!) We might even see some declarations that JRPGs are making a comeback. Good times.
As we enter Year In Review time, let’s do a quick breakdown of the JRPGs I played in 2015:
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC - The second half of the best JRPG of the decade, offering some killer payoffs to plot threads both major and minor. There’s a bit too much backtracking for my tastes, but SC is one of the best games of the year by far.
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD - A very flawed game that I really enjoyed nonetheless thanks to a rhythmic battle system that never got old. Shame about the whole “incoherent plot” thing.
Xenoblade Chronicles X - I’ve only played a few hours of the latest Xenoblade and while it’s certainly more interesting than the first one, the MMO-style world and combat just don’t do it for me.
Final Fantasy XIV - This MMO, on the other hand, certainly does do it for me. I could do without the level grinding, but the writing and presentation are top-notch and I’m stoked to get up to the Heavensward content that was released this year. Plus: Triple Triad!
Tales of Zestiria - You’re not gonna believe this, but Tales of Zestiria is an action-RPG with anime aesthetics, stilted dialogue, hack-n-slash button-mashing combat, a bunch of playable characters, and Apple Gels.
Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae - It’s hard to believe that, after the 2013 re-reveal of Final Fantasy XV, the highly anticipated RPG still isn’t out yet. At least now it feels close to reality. Episode Duscae is a fun little taste of what we’ll hopefully see next year.
Final Fantasy VII (PS4) - Cheat codes make everything better.
Citizens of Earth - This Atlus-published indie game tried pretty hard to emulate Earthbound, but just couldn’t pull it off, unlike...
...Undertale, which is one of the year’s most clever games and a true GOTY contender.
Disgaea 5 - More Disgaea! What else is there to say?
The Legend of Legacy - I really wish this spiritual successor to the SaGa series had been better, but alas, it just didn’t work for me.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight - A very good remake of the dungeon-crawler Etrian Odyssey 2, which isn’t quite as good as Etrian Odyssey 4 but is still a lot of fun.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel - I’ve only played a few minutes of this newest Trails game, which is set in the same world as Trails in the Sky but tells a totally different story. Still, what I’ve seen is compelling, and I’m stoked to jump in once I’m done with SC. (Cold Steel comes out for PS3 and Vita tomorrow—who says 2015 is over for games?)
Add the couple of JRPGs I haven’t spent much time with, like Stella Glow and Oreshika, and you’ve got one hell of a 2015 lineup, with just a few misses and a little something for just about everyone.
Then there were the announcements. During every E3 conference or company stage show I keep track of the “JRPG count” on Twitter; this year’s was virtually impossible thanks to Fire Emblem Fates, Project Setsuna, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Star Ocean 5, Dragon Quest XI, Nier 2, Ni no Kuni II, the Final Fantasy VII remake, Bravely Second, Tales of Berseria, Persona 5, and many many more, all confirmed for western releases.
Writing Random Encounters every week sometimes felt like having to repeatedly justify the genre, to beg publishers for U.S. ports and pen retorts to ignorant folks declaring that JRPGs were extinct or at least not as good as they used to be. After this year—and looking at what’s ahead—that feels less necessary than ever.