5) Mugen Souls Z (PS3)
It's easy to dismiss Compile Heart and Idea Factory as laughingstocks, but they have been working to shed that reputation. This year, both Mugen Souls Z and Fairy Fencer F were solid JRPGs; objectively speaking, Fairy Fencer F was the better game, but I gleaned more enjoyment from Mugen Souls Z. It's easy to write off Mugen Souls Z as a stupid little game, but it's surprisingly deep, layered, complex, lengthy, and fun to play. Compile Heart did its homework here and made a concerted effort to address most every major flaw from the first Mugen Souls game. The game is still far from perfect, and Compile Heart has a long way to go before it can stand toe-to-toe with JRPG juggernauts like Square-Enix or Atlus, but Mugen Souls Z and Fairy Fencer F are evidence that Compile Heart is moving the right direction.
4) Child of Light (PS3)
This game may not reinvent the wheel, but it contains everything a good JRPG should have: a lovely fairy-tale plot, killer music, stylish graphics, fun gameplay (I love the Grandia-esque battle engine), and a gentle price of admission. What more could you want?
3) Shin Megami Tensei (iOS)
I never in a million years would have thought that the first Shin Megami Tensei game would be released in English, but this venerable, darkly twisted, and somewhat controversial RPG actually exists on my iPad. Despite its age, Shin Megami Tensei is one of the most uniquely memorable JRPG experiences I've ever known. It may lack the polish of newer Shin Megami Tensei games, but that's what gives it that special "old school cool."
2) Inazuma Eleven (3DS)
Inazuma Eleven was quietly released on the 3DS eShop amidst Bravely Default's looming shadow, and to be honest, I enjoyed it immensely more than Bravely Default. This sports-themed RPG has everything JRPG fans love (including a sweet battle system), coupled with a unique look and flavor based on youth sports films or uplifting sports anime about the ragtag "loser" team of kids with heart overcoming impossible odds to become a strong team. This is not something I see every day in the RPG world, and I hope other RPG fans checked it out as well this year.
1) Revolution 60 (iOS)
When the press demo for Revolution 60 was introduced to us back in 2013, nobody wanted to touch it under the pretense that it was ugly and/or didn't seem all that great. I thought the game looked fine, though, and since this type of game is up my alley, I tried that demo out. I honestly wasn't expecting much, but that little demo was one of the coolest games I played last year, and I waited with bated breath for the full version. The wait was totally worth it, because this full game handily exceeded my expectations and earned a coveted Editor's Choice badge from me. If you have an iOS device, you owe it to yourself to try out this excellent "Mass Effect meets Heavy Rain" game. I've already completed it multiple times, and I'm now on the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment.
Tales of Phantasia (iOS)
Tales of Phantasia is one of my favorite JRPGs of all time, but this port made me absolutely despise it. The horrid touchscreen controls, crippled save system, and various gameplay-breaking tweaks strongarmed players into buying microtransaction content simply to make the game remotely playable. Adding insult to injury was the absence of the Yukari Yoshida vocal theme song that accompanies the poorly-rendered opening movie. Bandai Namco even ceased distribution of the app back in August (probably due to critic and consumer backlash), rendering it completely useless, and while this act of hara-kiri could be seen as merciful, those few unfortunate gamers who invested time and money into the game are now left with lighter wallets and a pathetic piece of digital detritus. Why can't we have nice things, like a proper remake or enhanced port of Tales of Phantasia, perhaps on a console? Bandai Namco could have easily avoided this whole snafu had they, oh I don't know, ported this game properly from the beginning? The Game Boy Advance version of the game was bad, but nothing like this. Players would have paid a reasonable price for a properly localized version of Tales of Phantasia, so this greedy "pay to win" cash-grab version of the game is nothing short of a virtual kick in the teeth.
2014 was definitely a big year for crowdfunding, particularly through the Kickstarter platform. There are several independently-developed RPGs that have not only piqued my interest, but have been successfully funded and are being developed. A few titles I look forward to playing in the future are Celestian Tales: Old North by Ekuator Games (I thoroughly enjoyed the demo), The Meridian Shard by Ultimate Fantasy Studio, and Dragon Fin Soup by Grimm Bros.
Besides what I mentioned in my above writeups (particularly Celestian Tales: Old North), I am also looking forward to Cosmic Star Heroine by Zeboyd Games and hoping for an announcement regarding a western hemisphere release of Legend of Legacy by FuRyu (a development house featuring former Square Enix staff).
Try and get more interviews with voice actors. I had a blast interviewing Jill Melancon and hope to interview more voice actors.