There’s never a shortage of RPGs every year whether they are Japanese or Western. RPGs usually fall under this category due to stellar stories, characters, or memorable settings over groundbreaking gameplay.
Disco Elysium doesn’t just have a fantastic setting, but the characters and story are incredibly engaging and something that had me glued to my monitor for hours on end. I didn’t want to stop playing, and despite having stuff that would make any other game seem boring and slow, it was what kept me coming back for more.
Good ‘ol South Park. One of the granddaddies of television backlash. Before Family Guy was South Park. An adult cartoon featuring four children living in a rural town of South Park, Colorado who run into various antics and adventures. The series is still ongoing and started in 1997. I remember fondly as a kid not being allowed to watch the show unless my parents watched it first, and if it wasn’t too graphic, we could watch a re-run. The Stick of Truth is a turn-based RPG with roots in the show and features the same humor as well.
You play as The New Kid, or Sir Douchebag despite Cartman ignoring whatever you name your character, which is hilarious. You’re a voiceless protagonist that is swept into the children’s D&D game of The Stick of Truth. There are two factions fighting over it, the Elves and the Knights. Your goal is to continuously get the Stick back from the various people who steal it and it leads to one crazy adventure. Throughout the game, you also have to recruit two factions that are the girls and the Goths. This leads to various interesting areas like a UFO where everyone is getting anally probed, to shrinking down to a gnome and battling on the bed your parents are having sex on to crawling into Mr. Slave’s anus and fighting through his intestines. Yeah, it has over-the-top humor that will offend most and is one of the most graphic games I have ever played, but that’s not a bad thing.
Outside of wandering around the town of South Park and discovering the few side quests there are, you can shoot things down and bash open things to find a hidden treasure. Just like any RPG, you have armor, weapons, consumables, and cosmetic items. The weapons and armor come in steadily and I was always happy to have a new weapon that let me hit harder. Depending on the class you choose it will affect what weapons are available in the game as you can only find weapons for that class. There are fast travel points, which are a lifesaver. You have four different abilities you acquire throughout the game such as shoot, buddy commands, shrinking, and using your anal probe to teleport. These are all context-sensitive so you can only use them when you’re allowed, but they give a sense of discovery as you can access parts of the game later on that were blocked before. Your magic consists of…farting. Yes, you fart for magic and you have four magic attacks you learn. Dragonshout, Cup-a-Spell, Nagasaki, and the Sneaky Squeaker. These sound downright hilarious and absurd, but who still doesn’t laugh at fart jokes?
Combat is where the meat of the game is and it’s flawed for sure, but works. You can only have one other person in your party, but the enemies can come at you as large as groups of six. A strategy is key here, especially during boss fights, as you need to balance consumables, magic, power attacks, abilities, and what your partner is capable of. It’s good to know that the Nazi Zombies can’t be grossed out, but are only weak to bleeding. You can hit them all you want, but you will only do 1 point of damage until their bleeding effects stack up. It’s not too hard to figure out and I only died a couple of times through the whole game. Any RPG fan will be able to dive in and understand right away. The combat is surprisingly deep, but these mystery buffs can frustrate some.
The game is also not particularly long-running at 8 hours if you just finish the main quests. It’s a fun story with awesome humor and tons of references to South Park episodes and geek culture. South Park isn’t afraid to be bold and do what it does best. The jabs at right-wing politics are especially funny as well as name brand references and various other things. South Park’s characters have always been memorable and stand the test of time. This is by far the best South Park game ever made and it captures the show perfectly. Of course, the game isn’t for everyone as some of the humor may come off as childish, crude, brash, or just downright offensive, which is fine. Everyone’s sense of humor is different, but that doesn’t stop this from being a bad game. It may be too simple at times, with combat that can drag on too long, but a lot of love and effort was put into this by the guys who made Fallout 2, New Vegas, and Divinity: Original Sin. I can’t complain there.
You’re a mercenary who wants to become a knight in a far-off land with two races at war with each other. On top of that, you accidentally fall in love with the princess and end up in a political war and the savior of the world. Sounds like a typical JRPG doesn’t it? Well it kind of is, but the story is incredibly engaging and I can’t give more away without spoiling it. It takes a little while to pick up, but there were some unexpected plot twists and turns in the story that had me blow through this game in 3 days. That’s how engaging this game is. I wanted to play more and keep going further because I cared about the characters and what they were going to do next.
The Last Story plays a lot different than any other JRPG out there, so much so, I have yet to play one that is like it. The combat system is both real-time and pauses based with deeper strategies slowly unlocking as you progress through the game. What’s great is the game starts off super easy and simple, and I honestly didn’t really get a game over until two-thirds through the game, but then it got really tough and challenging, but just enough to make me think a little and really decide my next decision rather than hacking away blindly. The main mechanic around all of the combat is Zael’s Gathering ability which makes all enemies go towards him. This is needed for strategic reasons as you have magic party members that cast spells on a timer. If they get hit that timer resets, so you need to have all the enemies come towards you and your other melee fighters. This seems like instant death, but their movement slows down and the magic fighters’ cast speed increases double so there are benefits to this. You can also use your gathering as a burst weapon if you get hit enough times.
You can also snap to walls and take cover as well as peak out and hit enemies with your crossbow. This also lets you see enemies’ weaknesses which are mandatory later on when trying to figure out how to kill enemies. Sadly, this isn’t as smooth as it sounds. The controls are really sticky so if you don’t face the wall exactly head-on you won’t get the prompt, and this includes using the wall-run move which is hindered by the camera that is uncontrollable. I also had issues when attacking an enemy by just pressing forward on the C-stick I couldn’t quickly back out or dodge. I would snap the stick back and I would still be attacking and this was usually the main reason why I would die. Speaking of dying, you get 5 lives, and then it’s game over. This sounds like it’s easy, but it works well with this combat system and there were plenty of times I ran out of all 5 lives pretty quickly. You can get more lives during combat with a Revive skill or an item.
Outside of whacking enemies, you can pause the battle by pressing up on the D-pad and choose your main skill, regular skill, retreat to a healing circle, or guard. Your main skill requires a meter to fill up before using it, and to command your party members your command bar must have all bars filled so you can’t abuse it. You can also use these bar segments to use your Gale move which lets you dash around the battlefield knocking enemies over. It’s a very interesting and intricate combat system that you end up mastering by the end of the game or you won’t pass the tough bosses in the last few chapters. They require all of your knowledge of the combat system and learning each party member’s moves and all their strengths.
Every so often the game does change things up by throwing an enemy at you that can only be killed on dry land and heals in water, there are throwables scattered sometimes, and destructible environments to make killing groups a little easier. Once a battle is over you level up and can collect items. These items randomize as you approach them with a slot machine-style spin and range from weapons, armor, and crafting items.
Weapons and armor work a little differently here as you won’t really buy weapons after the first 10 chapters and instead just upgrade the weapons you pick up, and the same goes for armor. I always found a more powerful weapon from a boss or tough enemy and never had issues with that. Thankfully there’s an auto-equip feature, which I love in JRPGs, and does a good job making sure everyone gets what makes them the strongest. I never really had to manually equip anything.
Outside of combat there are some optional chapters you can complete, but honestly, they’re a complete waste of time as the items you get aren’t much better than what you will get during the story and there are no extra plot paths or anything like that. It’s literally just to level up a little bit, but even ground isn’t needed in this game as you level up so quickly during the story. Most of the story is progressed by entering rooms, talking to people, or leaving and coming back to the main castle, most NPCs give you clues as to where to go so that was never a huge problem. There really isn’t much to explore here as many areas repeat a few times and the castle area is rather small equaling to the size of a market center in most games. I wish I could have traveled around more, but the story explains why you don’t really go anywhere and it makes sense.
Let’s talk about the production values a bit. The game looks fantastic for a Wii game with lots of detail, good lighting effects, and huge vistas, but it comes at a huge price. The game slows down to single-digit frames constantly whenever the camera pans out too far or you get a vista shot. Even during combat when there are a lot of effects on screen the game crawls and makes things frustrating as the controls don’t respond during these times. There’s tons of horrible aliasing and the textures are muddy because Mistwalker tried pushing the system way too far. It still looks great but also looks bad because you can see the Wii struggle so hard just to render a single face on the screen and it looks like a GameCube game at best. The voice acting is actually pretty decent for a localized JRPG and like I said earlier, the story is just amazing and memorable.
Overall, The Last Story is a must-play for any Wii owner. It strays far enough away from JRPG tropes to be unique and has enough action gameplay to keep people from getting bored. The lack of grinding needed, engaging story, great characters, and interesting combat is enough to get you through the 20-25 hour story. You do have to forgive the visuals and some minor control issues.
This was a weird year for RPGs. We didn’t get many big names, but the ones we did were lackluster or not the game changers they normally are. However, picking apart the list, we did get some awesome RPGs that are bound to keep you busy for hours.
Persona 5 isn’t just a small improvement over the last game. We get a whole new cast, story, redone combat system, and more streamlined gameplay. Out of all the RPG sequels, this one had the best changes.
I can count on two hands the amount of JRPGs I have actually finished from start to finish. I’m not a completionist with these games as they are long-winded, difficult, and usually very complicated and complex. Golden Sun is no exception. It starts out as a light-hearted easy-going JRPG, but then things turn around quickly once you get into the meat of the game.
That’s not to say Dark Dawn is bad at all, but it’s the only Golden Sun game I’ve actually played. I dabbled in the first game a bit but never got through it. The first things that got me hooked in Dark Dawn were the visuals, some of the best on the system, and the deep combat system. Golden Sun isn’t just about attacks and magic powers. The lore uses elements of the Earth to create Psynergy that each hero can harness and unleash which you will use more than regular attacks. Djinni is little creatures that you can equip to enhance stats, add new synergy powers, and summon giant creatures. The combat system requires quite a bit of strategy and you can’t ignore this Djinn system. You must go around collecting at least half of them or you will never be able to finish the game. This is part of where my issues started to set in.
While combat is deep and complex, and quite fun, the exploration part of Golden Sun is just as deep. Every dungeon is full of puzzles that require you to use your Psynergy powers to pull blocks, grow vines, smash rocks, and slap stuff around. You unlock these powers as you acquire new party members and go along in the game. The game is actually quite large spanning a huge map and a couple dozen dungeons which are quite a lot for a handheld title. Once you get a third through you unlock your ship which allows you to access the rest of this world. There are many towns to explore, people to talk to, and weapons and armor to acquire. I never had an issue always having the most powerful stuff as the game is generous with money during battles. I also found this was the easiest game to level up in, but more on that later.
So, while the first few dungeons were easy and just the right amount of hard to figure out, they became obscure and downright confusing and labyrinthine later on. I actually needed a walkthrough for the last half of the game. I had no idea where to go, or what to do, and the game requires certain objects to be obtained before you can even continue the story. I would never have known this without a walkthrough. When I got to the final boss I actually had to level up 20 whole levels to beat him because I didn’t acquire all the Djinn in the game. I had to compensate with much higher base stats even though I had the most powerful weapons and armor in the game. Thankfully, in the final dungeon, the enemies are really easy and I could level up every two battles which is something I’ve never seen in a JRPG. The 20-level climb took only about 2 hours which is fast compared to most.
How about the story? Well, there’s a lot of lore here and I appreciated all of it, but it’s just really forgettable and not all that interesting. You start out trying to find a bird feather to power a flying machine you broke then you end up saving the world? The dialog and writing are extremely cheesy and cliche and I just wanted everyone to shut up. The characters are nice, but once again, forgettable. I had higher hopes for the story in this series, the lore, and everything is there, but it’s just not very fulfilling.
Overall, Dark Dawn is still one of the best games on the DS and one of the best looking. The graphics are fantastic with clean texture, high res models, and so much detail. The game is just brimming with variety and beautiful locales. I can only recommend this game to the hardest of hardcore JRPG players. The game is so complex and full of optional bosses, hidden weapons, and armor, that won’t appeal to most players. It’s fun and pretty straightforward until about 10 hours in then it gets complex and overwhelming.
Rogue-likes are becoming very popular these days. They are simple and quick challenges with lots of replay value almost like back in the day. You usually have a simple RPG system, combat, and basic level design. Once you die in the game you start all over again, usually in randomly generated dungeons. Rogue-likes are extremely addictive due to their fast-paced nature, but also have a niche fan base due to their brutal difficulty. Coin Crypt takes this concept with a simple UI, 8-bit block graphics similar to Minecraft, as well as an interesting currency system.
In my first playthrough, I didn’t know what to do; there’s no tutorial — you just go. I ran into a baddie and fought him. Your character is holding out a giant hand and in it is a coin that represents a combat move from attack, defend, magic, heal, etc. Holding down the button the coin represents while pressing RT to execute is quite satisfying. After I beat my first baddie I ran around buying coins from coin banks to continue my journey. I then ran into a boss right away and lost due to his higher HP and attack strength.
My second play-through was a little more successful, I wound up filling my bag full of coins and got out of the dungeon 220 coins richer. These coins can be applied to buying new characters and then it’s back at it again. While Coin Crypt is fun to burn away an evening of gaming, I found it tiresome and too simple in the end. It didn’t have a unique style to it like Rogue Legacy or even mobile games like Tallowmere and Mage Gauntlet. The Minecraft art style has been done so many times it’s there now just to attract fans of that game.
Overall, Coin Crypt is a fun rogue-like for people who love quick yet challenging games but don’t expect much more than a neat idea that will burn out in an afternoon.
Vanillaware is known for one of the hardest JRPGs on the PS2, Odin Sphere, and I was very excited upon hearing about the spiritual successor to that game. While Dragon’s Crown isn’t nearly as hard as that game (it’s much more forgiving) it still has a lot of challenges that await you. Dragon’s Crown’s biggest disappointment is its short length. There are almost no main quests and contain mainly side quests (about 50). Once you finish the game you unlock a hard mode and then an Inferno mode. Thankfully the game can be played with up to 4 players so it can be a blast.
The story is about a Crown that has been taken by an Ancient Dragon. Your job is to return this crown to your kingdom and kill the dragon. The story is very light and I know there could have been so much more here. But the super short length makes it impossible for a better story. There are very few cutscenes and not much-spoken dialogue (which is only done by a narrator). Once you jump into the game you can attack, use items, cast spells, and use the right analog stick to move a hand around the screen to collect treasure. You always have a non-fighting thief with you who can pick locks on hidden doors and open chests. Sadly, you can’t change out your equipment during a mission (most levels can be passed in less than 10 minutes). However, at the end of each level is a boss and they increase in difficulty throughout all 8 levels or so. Each level has two bosses at different levels for various players.
Once you finish a mission you can return to town to appraise your items, bury or resurrect bones you find in levels for new AI partners, level up, acquire new quests, and buy runes. Runes are found throughout levels in pairs which need to be matched with runes in your possession. These add various buffs to your party which can turn the tide of a battle. Outside of those main things there’s not much to do besides hit the level cap. The missions are extremely repetitive since you need to find 9 talismans before facing the Ancient Dragon (that’s almost all there is to the entire main quest line) and once you are able to beat the Ancient Dragon (probably when you’re around level 30) you do it all over again on a harder difficulty. It gets kind of boring after a while and extremely tough towards the end. It’s best to go in with actual people since your AI partners can mess things up. Thankfully, unlike Odin Sphere, you have lives and can even pay to keep reviving with your coins. This alleviates some of the frustration.
I just wish there was so much more to this game. It feels so small and claustrophobic. The short levels, the nearly non-existent questline, and story, but at least the characters you pick are fun to use and the controls work well. The art itself is stunning with beautiful water-color backdrops and crazy-looking enemies and bosses. This game is mainly designed for fans of the co-0p arcade RPGs of yesteryear from Capcom. Not much of a story, but tons of combat and enemies to kill and levels to acquire. If you want a story-heavy RPG like The Elder Scrolls or Fable you won’t find that here.
Final Fantasy X was a game in the series that really shifted things around. It broke some common JRPG rules and was a bit all over the place. This was the first JRPG I had ever beaten as a kid and was the first Final Fantasy I ever finished. I have a lot of fond memories of this game and the HD Remaster brought a lot of those back.
The core game hasn’t really been touched, but US gamers will finally get a taste of the tougher International version which adds an expert sphere grid, and Dark Aeons which are the toughest enemies in the game (some have millions of HP). Outside of the game, the game is still the same with great characters that are memorable and beautiful locales. The story is a bit confusing at first but very original – if not very deep. You play as Tidus who is a young man sent forward in time hundreds of years into the future. His original home is now a sacred ruin and a giant being called Sin is destroying humanity. Every 10 years this Sin comes back and the Calm ends. Another summoner must go on a pilgrimage to gather all the Aeons and takedown Sin for another 10-year Calm. Your goal is to put a stop to this cycle. You gather your crew along the way to level up and put an end to all this nonsense.
Before you jump into this game you must have a mindset from when the PS2 first launched. This game was fantastic back in the day and still holds up well. Most JRPG gamers will be thrown off by the Sphere Grid. There is no traditional leveling up where you gain levels. Instead, you acquire AP and get sphere points which allow you to freely upgrade various attributes and skills for each character. The expert sphere grid allows you to use keys to go off your path and learn other abilities from other characters. This is a lot of fun and gives you total freedom over your character.
Outside of the sphere grid is the obvious combat. Yes, there are random battles and some areas are so bad that you hit one every 2-3 seconds; literally. A max of three characters can battle at once with the freedom to swap out. It’s the usual JRPG turn-based battle system but there are overdrives that are crucial to winning boss fights. Characters learn new drives as they battle. Aeons are also essential but only Yuna can send them in. They are large heavy hitters that will take away massive damage and can also be overdriven which is probably the #1 technique to winning tougher boss fights. Like any other JRPG learning enemies’ weaknesses and battling with magic is a must. Some bosses nearly turn into puzzles where you must cast Reflect on them so their healing spell bounces off of them onto you. Some bosses will cast status ailments that can cripple your entire party. If you don’t grind a bit and stay ahead of the game you will struggle.
Outside of battle, there are the Cloister of Trials which are a huge pain and aren’t fun at all. These are puzzles in which you place various spheres to unlock doors. Another huge pain is the Blitzball mini-game. This isn’t fun at all and requires math to actually play. It’s stiff, shallow, and just plain boring. I hated it as a kid and I hate it even now that I know math better. It’s all nearly luck-based and is a roll of the dice. You have almost no control over characters.
FFX is also full of pre-final boss content but there are a lot of requirements to get this stuff. Ultimate weapons are a must-have to do more than the 9,999 HP damage limit. However, they require you to be in certain areas, acquire certain other items, or even get through harder areas that require getting through other areas just to get to that area. Sounds confusing? It is. I spent a good 15 hours just trying to figure all this out and could get only one optional Aeon (Yojimbo). Anima is another optional Aeon but requires getting through a tough boss with the 3 weakest characters (Tidus, Rikku, and Wakka) and then getting all the destruction spheres in every Trial. It’s a huge pain and requires a lot of running around and backtracking and can make you frustrated. You can also monster hunt but this requires training a Chocobo (which is tough as nails to get through) and then capturing the toughest monsters in the game easily requires Ultimate weapons which require more backtracking. It’s a frustrating mess but also somehow extremely satisfying once you do it.
With the main game out of the way let’s talk about visuals. The HD upgrade isn’t exactly what you think. Most of the game has been remodeled and all the main characters are completely redone, however, many monsters and NPCs just had a few passes of texture filtering and that’s it. It really looks ugly in spots but isn’t so bad if you’ve played the game before. I just wish the Japanese voice track was on here since the English voice acting is so terrible and embarrassing to listen to.
Note: Shame on you James Arnold Taylor for your terrible voice acting of Tidus. You’ve done better! Like Ratchet from Ratchet & Clank, Gabriel Logan from the PSP Syphon Filters, even Marty McFly on the Back to the Future adventure games!
To the Moon is a 2D, 16-bit adventure game that follows two scientists who are fulfilling a dying man’s last wish. They use a strange computer to go into his memories to find the link that will allow him to go to the moon. To the Moon has a heartwarming story with a beautiful sweeping musical score, but lacks any type of real gameplay.
The game is broken up into three acts and during the first two, you are walking around John’s memories and have to find five memory links to unlock the shield surrounding time jumping mementos. As you go further into John’s past you find out why he doesn’t know why he wants to go to the moon. There is some memory block and you have to find out what it is and remove it. Finding these memory links only takes a few seconds because you just click on the few items in the small area. Once you remove the shield you play a little puzzle game then on to the next memory. This all just seems like an excuse to add gameplay to an otherwise visual-only adventure.
Through act two you get to interact with two different mini-games which are Whac-a-Mole and a zombie shooting section and each is uninspired and pretty lame. The visuals are, like I said, 16-bit and pretty average. There’s nothing special here visual-wise, and don’t even expect voice acting. The second best thing about the story is the sweeping musical score. This score is beautiful and one of the best ones I have ever heard. I really wish that this game could have been more, but I understand most indie developers have small budgets.
Overall, To the Moon has a story that will tug at your heartstrings, as well as the music, but the gameplay feels like an excuse to extend the 1-hour story to barely four hours. If the gameplay was a little more engaging I wouldn’t complain about it so much, but as it is, stay for the story and you will be entertained.
Soul Sacrifice is one of those games that looks cool but when you start playing you will be completely lost for a while. The game starts out with you being captured and put into a cage with bones everywhere. A book wakes you up and starts talking to you. It’s a journal of a mad sorcerer, and he later explains you need to stop this powerful sorcerer, but in the meantime, you need to level up, gather strong weapons, and learn about his past. The story never really pans out and it is just stretched so thin that you lose track of what’s going on. The presentation is interesting with literal storybook pages and an ominous narrator, but I would have liked something more.
You basically just select a mission and it will tell you what you’re supposed to kill. There are tons of fantastic and memorable lore wrapped around every enemy and battlefield. These stories read out like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I was really hooked and couldn’t wait to read the next one. The enemy designs are really neat and unique as well as the bosses. You can customize your character’s looks, albeit not by much, and then it’s off to equip your weapons. Weapons are arranged in several categories of armor, arm, blood, power, shield, etc. You get weapons why defeating monsters and they are awarded to you. These weapons can be combined with dupes to give you a higher cast count, or they can be fused into new weapons. This is a great idea if the game didn’t constantly throw crappy weapons at you. Halfway through the game and I was still dying several times per boss because I just couldn’t get any powerful weapons. It’s like they all did very little damage. Some bosses and enemies are weaker to certain elements and types. Some bosses you can’t get up close to at all so you need powerful projectile weapons. If you don’t know that going in, you have to restart and re-equip. This trial and error are frustrating and one of Soul Sacrifice’s many flaws.
If that wasn’t enough you are limited by how much you can use each item. You can equip up to six different weapons for each match. Some can be passive for healing, but if you run out of casts you break your weapon and it’s gone forever. You have to use a special vision mode to find hidden regen points for your weapons but they are limited. Several times I ran out of casts for all my weapons and had to restart because I couldn’t beat the boss. Thankfully a special sacrifice power allows you to do massive damage but at the cost of sacrificing something. One power lets you burn everything around you but your skin becomes burned and your defense is halved. To get rid of these conditions you need Librom’s tears and these are only granted every so often by exiting the book and checking his eye. A neat idea, but frustrating nonetheless.
That’s the combat and that is the sole focus of the game. It’s great and fun at first, but very frustrating and monotonous early on. You just fight the same types of battles over and over again and the same enemies as well. The only thing keeping you going on is to see more of the story. I honestly got tired of the side quests and just stuck with the story to get it over with. Another major part of the game is leveling up your health or magic. You can sacrifice or save enemies after they fall by holding L or R. This is a unique idea, but you can be stunned and killed while doing this. Your teammate can fall and you have to resurrect them or sacrifice them for a boost. Once you do this you need Librom’s tears to bring them back. They can revive you thankfully, but many times they died right when I did or vice versa. There’s also an online co-op to solve this issue which really helps, but most people aren’t going to do this.
As it is, Soul Sacrifice suffers from constant repetition and a lack of polish. Not having powerful enough weapons, lackluster customization features, and a weak story kind of hurt this game. The graphics are fantastic, but that isn’t what makes a game good. I was hoping for more variety and more of a cinematic story, not a menu drove battle selector. If this game had more variety and something else besides killing the same enemies forever it would have been one of Vita’s best games.