From Tales to Dragon Quest to a brand flippin’ new Persona, this has been a stellar year for Japanese role-playing games. We’ve come a long way from the dark days of, like, 2012.
Perhaps this year’s biggest news for anyone who cares even the slightest about JRPGs is the success of Nintendo’s Switch. For nearly a decade, as Japanese gamers eschewed consoles for things they could play on the subway, many Japanese developers have leaned toward the PSP, 3DS, Vita, and mobile phones. As a result, we’ve seen some sacrifices in quality and ambition. But now there’s a bridge solution—the Switch, a console that has the portability of an iPhone without all the baggage.
We’re already seeing major JRPG developers like Square Enix and Atlus embrace the Switch, with exclusives like Octopath Traveler and Shin Megami Tensei V expected to be among next year’s biggest JRPGs. Thanks to the Switch’s massive success, I’d expect to see that pattern continue.
But what about the games that launched this year? As is annual tradition, here are all of the JRPGs I played in 2017:
Dragon Quest VIII - This 3DS remake of a 2004 PS2 game got me frustrated in that old-school, “time to lose all your progress!” way. But it’s a good port of the best Dragon Quest game (at least until DQXI comes around). Now we just need it on Switch?
Tales of Berseria - I haven’t yet finished the newest entry in Namco’s comfort-food Tales series, but from the 12ish hours I’ve played so far, I think Berseria is the best one in years. Starring a demonic lady named Velvet and a cast of equally dark colleagues, Tales of Berseria has an interesting story and an addictive combat system.
Nier Automata - One of the year’s most fascinating games, Nier Automata is a great string of ideas that I’d like more if it were, say, 30% shorter. Bloat aside, Nier deserves all the love it’s received this year. This is an RPG with good writing, a stellar soundtrack, and some strong questions about what it means to be a robot.
Persona 5 - Few games are as sleek, as stylish as Atlus’s fifth mainline Persona, and few games are as good as creating a world you want to soak up. I want to go back.
Cosmic Star Heroine - Crossing a Chrono Trigger-ish battle system with a Phantasy Star-ish setting, this JRPG by the folks at Zeboyd Games (Cthulhu Saves The World) had some nasty bugs when it launched but is more stable now. Worth checking out.
Valkyria Revolution - This spinoff to the Valkyria Chronicles series is best forgotten, especially in the wake of news that a proper Valkyria Chronicles 4 will be out next year.
Ever Oasis - Ever Oasis, which came out for the 3DS this summer, is a rote action-RPG with flat combat and few redeeming characteristics.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age - This PS4 remake of Final Fantasy XII is well worth playing, whether you have fond memories of the original or you missed out. FFXII takes some patience, but once you get the hang of its unique mechanics, it remains one of the best Final Fantasy games of all time.
Ys VIII - I didn’t spend much time with this one, but apparently the localization was so bad, publisher NIS America is redoing the script and releasing a brand new one as a free update. Amazing.
Etrian Odyssey V - I was a little disappointed by the fifth entry in Atlus’s classic map-making and dungeon-crawling series. Etrian Odyssey V brings few innovations to the formula and doesn’t offer much that we haven’t seen so many times before.
Xenoblade 2 - Far worse than its predecessor in every way, the latest game from Monolith Soft has terrible characters, a boring story, and tedious sidequests.
I haven’t played Dragon Quest Heroes II, because mindless hack-and-slashing really isn’t my thing. My gaming laptop died this year, preventing me from spending any time with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd, though that’ll be first on my list when I buy a new gaming PC in 2018. I skipped Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, didn’t have time to play enough Final Fantasy XIV to get to Stormblood, and missed out on Tokyo Xanadu, although that might be up my alley. TBD.
Farewell, JRPGs of 2017. We’ll see you all next year on the Switch.