I can't decide what's more amazing: the fact that The Game Formerly Known as Versus XIII is finally out, or that it's as good as it is. Noctis and Friends are an incredibly charming RPG party, and their open world road trip just feels so good to play. That's not to say it's perfect; Final Fantasy XV frequently feels like two (or more) different games stitched together, it fails the Bechdel Test pretty horrendously, and its story is just as nonsensical as you'd expect from a Final Fantasy title. It may not be the Best RPG Ever that fans are waiting for, but it's a damn fine ride, and one that single-handedly rejuvenates a series that was quickly growing irrelevant. I can't wait to see where Square Enix takes the inevitable Final Fantasy XVI.
The first time I saw Dragon Quest Builders, I didn't really know what to think. Dragon Quest is great and Akira Toriyama's monsters are timeless, but Minecraft never appealed to me. Would this be a shameless cash-in, attempting to artificially capture lightning in a bottle? Fortunately, my fears were unfounded; Dragon Quest Builders is an addictive micro-level SimCity for RPG towns. A little direction went a long way to change what would've been a title I had no interest in into one of the most unique and endearing games I played this year. A few archaic mechanics hold Dragon Quest Builders back from being the masterpiece it could be, but hey, that's what sequels are for, right?
In a year like this, it's a testament to Xanadu Next's quality that a PC RPG from 2005 manages to land a spot in my top 5. Falcom's diamond in the rough is as easily digestible as it is compelling, with echoes of Vagrant Story at its highest moments. Quiet and restrained, Xanadu Next proves that JRPGs don't need spectacle and bombast to be captivating. If 2017's Tokyo Xanadu is as fun as Xanadu Next is, we're sure to have a winner on our hands.
The lost chapter of Suda51's Kill The Past trilogy is finally available in English, and it's everything I wanted it to be and more. What I love the most about The Silver Case is its resemblance to underground manga. Its characters are ugly, inside and out; its plot is a dreamlike pastiche of the detective drama; it doesn't shy away from delicate topics. Although it can be impenetrable, The Silver Case wraps up the anxieties of post-bubble, post-Aum Japan to twist them into a tragicomic dadaist nightmare, and it does so admirably.
As if it could've gone any other way. The Legend of Heroes is a series that improves with each successive entry, and Trails of Cold Steel is no different. Taking cues from Persona 4, the Cold Steel duology takes place over the course of a year at Thors Military Academy, where transfer student Rean Schwarzer joins the illustrious Class VII. Initially I was a little taken aback to see yet another JRPG imitating Atlus' runaway hit, but Cold Steel does enough to differentiate itself from Persona while also preserving its identity in the Trails canon. Falcom's world building is second to none, and some of my favorite gaming moments this year have been when Cold Steel paid off plot points raised way back in Trails in the Sky. Don't miss these two.
The end of the Dark Souls trilogy is undoubtedly one of From Software's strongest RPGs. The series' penchant for vast abilities, equipment and skills combine with lessons from the development of Bloodborne to make Dark Souls III the most hyperkinetic and accessible entry in the series yet. Some have criticised the game for being overly referential to the original Dark Souls — and there may be something to that, especially considering how it throws the entirety of Dark Souls II under the bus — but ultimately it feels like a fitting conclusion to a revered saga, and a great note to go out on. Newcomers and old pros alike will find a lot to love here.
Harvest Moon is a series that I could never get into, but always felt intrigued by. I thought Rune Factory would be more up my street, but I had the same problem there. Who would've thought that an indie game developed largely by one person would be the farming RPG I always wanted? Stardew Valley features a staggering amount of activities; aside from farming, there's fishing, relationship-building, dungeon-diving and more; and you can choose to pursue them at your own pace. Alas, Stardew Valley fell by the wayside in a very busy year, but rest assured I'll be putting more time into it over the winter break.
I can hardly believe that my Most Anticipated Title of 2016 turned out to be my most disappointing, but that's just how it is. Prequel Virtue's Last Reward was a wonderfully dark adventure filled with interesting characters and a heart-rending plot, not to mention its pondering of quantum theory and its diabolical puzzles. Back in 2012, Kotaro Uchikoshi and Co. spent the entirety of that game setting up an intricate chessboard of time-travelling dimension-hoppers poised to stop a fanatical death cult from destroying the world through subliminal suicide.
Ending on a cliffhanger, it was a long wait until Zero Time Dilemma this summer, and with it came certain expectations. Unfortunately, the final chapter to the Zero Escape trilogy dropped the ball in almost every way. Organizations, characters and events alluded to in Virtue's Last Reward all went out the window, while existing characters were retconned in baffling and contrived ways. Yes, the puzzles are still there, and they're just as strong as ever, but anyone expecting closure on Free the Soul, Cradle, or Left are out of luck. Zero Time Dilemma is an adequate puzzle adventure when taken on its own, but an incredibly weak end to a largely strong trilogy.
Hey, I'm not made of stone, I'm just as excited as you are. If you've heard me on the podcast, you know I'm a pretty harsh critic of modern Persona, but I am so out of genuine love for it.
More Shin Megami Tensei, as dark and mean as Nocturne was.
A Soulsborne game that resembles BLAME!
SWERY65 and Suda51 team up to fight Dracula and the Wolfman.