Tales of Berseria
BEST RPGs of 2017
We’ve finally hit the end of 2017, and the year has been jam-packed with releases on every platform. RPG fans in particular have had a lot to be happy about, so it’s time we look back on what the year’s had to offer so far. We’ll be taking a look strictly at RPGs for now, either Western or Japanese on any platform.
The Tales series is one of the longest running JRPG series around, with numerous entries on almost every platform since the PS1. Tales of Berseria, however, manages to take Tales in a darker story direction than ever before. Berseria is a story of revenge, focusing on protagonist Velvet after she’s betrayed by someone close to her and turned into a powerful daemon.
Berseria features many of the hallmarks of the Tales series like a well fleshed out ensemble cast, fast-paced action combat system, story skits, and more. The title constantly calls into question the morality of everyone, both your allies and the enemies, allowing for a story filled with much more gray than the usual good vs. evil we’re used to with Tales games. Amazingly, Tales of Berseria also makes the previous entry, Tales of Zestiria, an even better game by being a prequel that ties up some loose story threads and plot holes. It’s easily one of the best JRPG experiences of the year, and one that only grows deeper and more engaging the further you get.
Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue
BEST RPGs of 2017
Kingdom Hearts fans are eagerly awaiting the release of the Kingdom Hearts III, and the beginning of this year saw one final piece to tide everyone over until then. Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue is an interesting little package with a fair amount of new content for the series.
First and foremost, 2.8 completely remasters the 3DS title Dream Drop Distance, which plays like a dream on PS4. The HD update does wonders for the game, and Kingdom Hearts feels smoother and tighter than ever before. Of course, anyone that played Dream Drop Distance knows the title does quite a bit to set up for Kingdom Hearts III, which leads us right into the new experience included in the package. Fragmentary Passage is a short but worthwhile game included in 2.8 that follows Aqua in the dark world. It’s made using Unreal Engine 4 and, in truth, almost feels like it could function as a demo for the next entry.
The story directly sets things up for Kingdom Hearts III, and if Back Cover is any indication of what we can expect, RPG fans should be excited. As if all that wasn’t enough, 2.8 also throws in a short CG movie that details the story leading up to the mobile title Kingdom Hearts X. This is certainly a package with plenty of content for both Kingdom Hearts fans and anyone looking to get into the series.
BEST RPGs of 2017
Nioh started its life not as a video game, but as a multimedia project based on an unfinished Akira Kurosawa script announced in 2004. Fast forward to 2017 and we’ve got one of the very best Souls-like games to date. Nioh brings a unique Japanese mythology style to the genre, along with a larger emphasis on speed and combos. Nioh tells the story of William, a British sailor who arrives in 1600s Japan in search of an enemy that stole something precious to him.
New challenges and enemies lurk around every corner, and Nioh allows for a lot of variation in combat with its different weapons and styles. One of the more unique aspects gives you three different stances with each weapon: low, medium, and high. These dictate the speed and power of attacks, and learning which stances work best against which enemies is highly important. There’s a ton of content to dig into in Nioh, not only with the main story but with additional side missions, and Twilight Missions that increase the difficulty and remix levels you’ve already played. If you’re looking for a punishingly difficult Souls-like to occupy your time, Nioh’s at the top of its game.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
BEST RPGs of 2017
Horizon: Zero Dawn absolutely blew onto the scene this February, and still remains one of the biggest titles of the year selling over three million copies at this point. It’s a far cry from Guerilla’s other games, the Killzone series, presenting players with a gorgeous and massive open world as well as an engaging female protagonist in Aloy.
Horizon is filled with interesting characters and plenty of twists and turns, but where the game really shines is in its combat. Each of the giant robotic beasts in the game function incredibly different, and Horizon’s gameplay is silky smooth, presenting you with a wealth of options to take down the beasts. The battles in the game are pulse pounding to say the least, and there’s even more of a rush to be found by overriding the mechanical beasts and pitting them against each other.
Much like The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn felt like a breath of fresh air for the open world RPG, and one that tries something different. Aloy and Horizon are here to stay after the game’s success, and we’re already getting a new story expansion this Fall.
BEST RPGs of 2017
The original NieR was definitely an overlooked gem of last generation, albeit with a few obvious flaws. NieR: Automata, however, feels like everything the original could have been and more. Automata casts you as 2B and 9S, two combat androids that are part of the YorHa organization, tasked with retaking Earth from machine lifeforms that almost wiped out humanity.
Combat has been drastically improved from the last game becoming much more fluid and engaging, thanks in no small part to the work of Platinum Games. Where the heart of NieR: Automata really lies, however, is in its storytelling. Automata tells a tragic and heartfelt tale with multiple layers that you uncover as you work towards the game’s multiple endings. There’s absolutely no other RPG like NieR: Automata, and you’re in for one heck of a ride with this title.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
BEST RPGs of 2017
Zelda has always been one of Nintendo’s headlining series, and there’s probably no finer game the Switch could have launched with than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This new Zelda game really did bring some drastic change to the series, opting for an entirely open world that helps give the player a sense of freedom.
After the opening minutes, Breath of the Wild lets you loose into Hyrule, free to go and do whatever you want. It never holds your hand, instead rewarding you with new discoveries and secrets hidden around countless nooks and crannies of the world. Other huge changes like voice acting and breakable weapons make Breath of the Wild the most radically different Zelda game we’ve gotten in years. Most of those changes were certainly welcome, however, as it quickly became one of the highest-rated games of all time.
BEST RPGs of 2017
For years, Persona has been the more accessible spinoff of the Shin Megami Tensei series, but Persona 5 has really catapulted the series into the mainstream. The title bears many similarities to past entries, focusing on misunderstood teenagers, turn-based combat focused on exploiting weaknesses, social link system known as confidants, and the everyday life simulation aspects. Where Persona 5 truly shines as an exemplary RPG, however, is in its visual design and tightening of gameplay mechanics.
Persona 5 oozes style, from the main menus to how your party seamlessly exits a battle. Everything about the game helps give it a unique visual identity that feels distinct, and bolstered by the acid jazz soundtrack. Additionally, Persona 5 takes the core gameplay of the series and tightens it up, making battles smoother and faster, and relating every action you take in the game back to the main story. It’s certainly a huge RPG, clocking in at 100 hours just to finish the story, but across all that time you’ll get to know and love the Phantom Thieves.
Torment: Tides of Numenera
BEST RPGs of 2017
If you miss the isometric RPGs of yesteryear like Baldur’s Gate, then Torment: Tides of Numenera is sure to hit the spot for you. You play the role of someone known as the Last Castoff, a human that was once inhabited by a powerful being, but was suddenly abandoned with no recollection of what happened.
Combat and gameplay is very similar to the game’s predecessor Planescape Torment, but Tides of Numenara puts a huge emphasis on storytelling and choice. There’s a lot of variation in how you can develop your character, with different classes and dialogue trees to choose from. The titles uses something called “Tides” to represent the reactions your character can inspire in others. Each Tide is given an associated color, and there’s a number of concepts that go along with each. The Tide that you manipulate the most in conversation contributes to your legacy, which can alter the bonuses and powers you have access to. What results from all of this is an incredibly varied RPG experience, with a lot of replay value.
Torment: Tides of Numenera is a bit slow to start with, but there’s a strange and fascinating world to be had the further you dig.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
BEST RPGs of 2017
The Fire Emblem series has seen increasing popularity over the years, quickly becoming one of Nintendo’s flagship series, but this time around Intelligent Systems decided to keep things fresh by going back to the past. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a complete remake of the second game in the series, Fire Emblem Gaiden, and boy is it quite the update. For the first time in the series, all story scenes have been completely voiced, leading to a story that contains a bit more gravitas and weight due to the stellar job delivered by the voice cast.
Additionally, gameplay has been completely switched up by allowing players to explore towns and dungeons, and doing away with the weapon triangle, among other things. This all leads to a Fire Emblem experience that still retains the core strategy elements of the series, but feels refreshingly different from what we’ve gotten for years. It may be a remake, but Fire Emblem Echoes has enough updates and improvements to feel like a new experience.
BEST RPGs of 2017
It’s not every day we see a new Nintendo IP, especially one made by Grezzo, the team responsible for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. Ever Oasis is a charming RPG set in a world entirely covered in desert sand. You play as Tethu/Tethi, a young seedling born from the Great Tree. Seedlings are responsible for tending to Oases across the desert, protecting travelers and inhabitants from the dangers of the land. A mysterious force known as chaos has caused almost all of the Oases to vanish, however.
Ever Oasis gives players an interesting combination of action RPG and Animal Crossing style management. You need to recruit different visitors to your Oasis, and get them to build Bloom Booths, which function as different shops or buildings. At the same time, you also need to venture out into the desert to find resources and discover the truth behind Chaos. Despite its cutesy style, there are some deep systems at play in Ever Oasis. Both its charm and depth are sure to keep your 3DS busy for quite a while.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 finished the year off strong for the Nintendo Switch, providing fans with a massive, complex JRPG to dive into. Xenoblade takes place in the world of Alrest, where civilization lives on the backs of massive titans that roam the cloud sea. The game’s story might take awhile to get started, but its lovable cast of characters pulls you into the experience, along with its multi layered gameplay systems.
Combat is much improved this time around, giving you three different Blades to switch between during battle, who each have their owns skills, strengths, and arts to use. There’s so much to see and do in the world of Alrest, with tons of sidequests and things to discover littered around the world. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a fitting way to end the Switch’s first year just as it began, with a gorgeous, open world to explore.
Monster Hunter Stories
The Monster Hunter series is known for being fairly hardcore and complex, but Monster Hunter Stories take a different approach. This adorable RPG is more traditional in its approach, featuring turn-based combat and a larger emphasis on character and story.
The big difference here is that instead of straight up hunting monster, you’ll be capturing them and building a party. Besides fighting alongside them in battle you can also ride your new monster pals around, letting you get through the world much quicker. Monster Hunter Stories certainly bears a resemblance to Pokemon, but it’s one of the better Pokemon-like games to be found. It’s easy to pass this one up in a year full of great RPGs, but it’d really be a shame to do so.
.hack//G.U. Last Recode
The .Hack series saw six different entries release on the PS2, but the G.U. trilogy is the one that garnered the most attention. Still, the series remained fairly niche, and the Last Recode collection provides another chance for RPG fans to try out the games. This collection remasters all three G.U. titles with gorgeous new visuals and improvements to the overall gameplay and combat.
It’s more than a simple remaster, however, as there’s an entirely new fourth volume added to the series, that expands upon the story even more, adding on hours of gameplay. This is easily the best way to experience the strangely meta narrative of the .Hack series.
Divinity Original Sin 2
The first Original Sin impressed longtime fans of CRPGs with its fascinating world, dynamic combat, and well-rounded experience. With Original Sin 2, however, Larian Studios blew everyone away by delivery one of the very best RPGs of the year, if not the last few years. Original Sin 2 once again takes place in the land of Rivellon, torn apart by war and threatened by the ever encroaching void.
Where the game really shines is in its complexity and role-playing systems. There’s a robust character creator that lets you detail your character’s story and background. At the same time there’s some truly fascinating party members and stories to find out about. You can switch at will between your character and the party, and each character can have different interactions with the world and environment. At the same time Original Sin 2 gives you a ton of control over combat, letting you strategize your approach and split up your party to maximize your effectiveness. Divinity Original Sin 2 was an instant hit this year when it released, and it’s easy to see why.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a traditional RPG based off of the popular Battle Chasers comic series. Nightwar is sure to appeal to any fan of the classic ‘90s JRPGs, like Final Fantasy IV. While it is based off of a comic property the game is self contained, meaning you don’t need to know the comics to enjoy it.
Nigthwar sports a gorgeous comic aesthetic propped up with a diverse cast of characters and an expansive world and dungeons to explore. Sticking with tradition there will be a bit of grinding to do, but Nightwar scratches that RPG itch by updating classic features like turn-based combat, grinding, and loot with modern ideas. If you’re looking for a new RPG to fill your time in between big releases, this is a good pick.
Golf Story is a fascinating idea, and one that’s far better than it has any right to be. Yes this is a golf RPG, and one with a fantastic pixel art style and strong writing. Story doesn’t take center stage in Golf Story but it does have a tongue-in-cheek narrative that sees you playing as a young golfer dreaming of going pro, and his journey to get there.
Golf Story features progression systems and new equipment that help make your golfing skills better, which is the main crux of gameplay. The game features a simple two time press system for its golfing, but it layers in complexity with wind speed, course terrain, and obstacles. The best part of Golf Story is just how utterly ridiculous it is, with mole rats stealing golf balls from courses and teenagers getting into a rap battle with the elderly elite of a country club. It’s a huge surprise as a Switch exclusive, and one of the most charming games of the entire year.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
South Park: The Stick of Truth gave us one of the best South Park games ever made, putting the kids into a fantasy game filled with all the raunchy humor you’d expect from the show. The Fractured But Whole switches up the fantasy setting for a superhero aesthetic, and boy does the game run well with that concept.
The superhero theme works incredibly well with South Park’s humor as you can imagine, and the gameplay systems have been tightened up this time around to make for a smoother overall experience. Combat has changed from traditional turn-based to a more tactical grid-based system that puts a big emphasis on placement. It’s a big improvement that helps keep the combat system more dynamic and engaging across the experience. Despite having a fun central narrative, part of the appeal of Fractured But Whole is just being able to run around South Park, finding secrets and interacting with its eccentric characters. There’s plenty to do and see this time, and Fractured But Whole is a definite step up from its predecessor.
Pokemon Ultra Sun and Moon
It’s only been one year since the release of Pokemon Sun and Moon, some of the best entries in the entire franchise, and Nintendo has already delivered an upgraded Pokemon experience. While Ultra Sun and Moon are the same core games as the originals, there’s quite a bit of new content added into the mix. With entirely new story sections and characters Ultra Sun and Moon keeps things fresh, along with new forms for legendary Pokemon and new Ultra Beasts.
There’s also a selection of new activities and sidequests added into the game, like Mantine Surf which lets you ride across the seas of the Alola Region, and Alola Photo Club which lets you snap shots of your trainer and Pokemon in poses. There’s plenty of other changes and additions to keep Ultra Sun and Moon fresh too, making it perfect for anyone wanting more Sun and Moon to jump into, or for anyone that didn’t get a chance to play the originals.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a unique remake in the fact that it completely addresses or fixes nearly every flaw and criticism found in the original game. Ivalice has gotten a new lease on life with the impressive visual update give to The Zodiac Age, and the title’s gameplay has been reworked. The entire RNG of the game has been redone, changing the loot found in chests among other things. At the same time enemy AI has been reworked making bosses and tough enemies harder, as they’ll now focus on taking out your weakest party member.
New additions like the fast forward button and transparent minimap make Final Fantasy XII a much smoother experience, and really make some drastic quality of life improvements. At the same time The Zodiac Age uses the license board system from the International Zodiac Job System version, letting you choose two jobs for each character to focus on, diversifying your party much more than the original game. This is absolutely the best version of Final Fantasy XII to play, and a great way to experience noe of the most overlooked games in the main series.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
The long running Ys series has a history of mysterious stories and fast-paced combat, but Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is one of the strongest entries in the entire franchise. After a shipwreck Adol ends up on the cursed Seiren Island, and has to team up with other survivors to find his way off. Ys VIII’s combat is a step above even its predecessors, as battles flow smoothly allowing you to pull off dazzling combos and special moves. Even so, things are well balanced and decently challenging.
Ys VIII also provides you with a sizable world map to roam around, with plenty to uncover along the way. The biggest change, no doubt, is the game’s more constrained focus on storytelling, opting for a smaller, more personal tale rather than the world shaking ones that came before. Despite being fairly niche, Ys VIII is a title that should appeal to both experience and inexperienced RPG fans, and it’s one of the best of the year.
2017 was a year where Souls-likes really came into their own, distinguishing themselves in unique ways from the series the genre sprouted off of. Deck13 took another stab at the Souls genre with The Surge, taking a few lessons from their previous game Lords of the Fallen. The biggest difference The Surge brings is its dystopian sci-fi setting, a far cry from the usual fantasy fare Souls-likes see.
In the game humanity has exhausted the world’s resources, leading to environmental diseases and a strained society. The Surge’s combat is slow and methodical, based around timing your attacks and taking advantage of animation windows and hit boxes. In the game you use an exoskeleton that you can customize with various parts. At the same time, however, part of combat is focused on dismembering different body parts, and you can focus your attacks on specific parts. The Surge certainly has some issues like an unfocused narrative and strange pacing, but it’s a different enough Souls-like experience that it’s easily worth a go.
Cosmic Star Heroine
In recent years we’ve seen quite a few throwback RPGs, trying to emulate the classic JRPGs of the 90s. This includes I Am Setsuna and Bravely Default, and now Cosmic Star Heroine. The sci-fi RPG takes place in the Zevanii star system, and follows a top galactic government agent named Alyssa L’Salle.
Battles in Cosmic Star Heroine take place right on the field much like Chrono Trigger, instead of taking the party to a random battle. There are 11 playable characters in the game, and a base that you can build letting you recruit different characters that give you various bonuses or even assist in battle. You’ll travel to three different planets in your time with the game, and the retro aesthetic makes Cosmic Star Heroine incredibly charming. It may not have the most developed characters and story, but this throwback RPG is sure to scratch that itch for any fan.
Ever Oasis is a brand new action-RPG from Grezzo, the developers behind Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask 3D. The game takes place in a vast desert world, where beautiful oases are the only protection from a malevolent force known as Chaos. You play as Tethu, a young seedling who with the help of the water spirit Esna creates the last oasis.
The gameplay loop of Ever Oasis involves making expeditions out to the desert to gather various resources that you can supply your shops with. You’ll also be discovering various villages of other creatures, and finding allies to come live at your oasis, making it safer and more of a center for trade. The game combines third-person combat and exploration with some lite base building, letting you construct shops and various amenities within your oasis town. Ever Oasis’ cutesy aesthetic and charming characters help give it personality, and the central mystery about what happened to Tethu’s brother is enough to keep you going, even in the face of some repetitive gameplay segments.
Mario&Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions
The Mario & Luigi games have long been some of the best lite RPGs available on the Game Boy family of systems, and the very first game in the series was given new life on the 3DS this year. Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions gives the original game a visual upgrade, while adding in something completely new.
Superstar Saga’s story remains mostly unchanged, but there are quite a few design changes and improvements made. First and foremost the addition of a second screen with the 3DS lets you do things like display a map that you can add markers to, and see Mario and Luigi’s levels and stats during battle. There’s a ton of other small changes made across the game, along with amiibo support that gives you stamps you can exchange for prizes in the game.
The biggest addition here, of course, comes with Bowser’s Minions. This side story lets you play as Goombas, Koopas, and other grunts under Bowser, and develops alongside the main story of the game. You select which characters to send into battle, but combat plays out automatically as Bowser’s army fights an enemy one. This is one intricate remake that wholly improves on the already great Superstar Saga, and gives enough reasons for old fans to return again.
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
The Etrian Odyssey series has seen numerous releases on the DS and 3DS, all of which are fairly strong JRPGs. Beyond the Myth doesn’t make any drastic overhauls to the series’ formula, but it does refine it and streamline the entire experience.
The most helpful improvements come with the game’s cartography, making it much easier to draw your own maps and detail them, while you’re out exploring dungeons. Combat still revolves around exploiting enemies’ weaknesses, and it’s definitely going to challenge you to last as long as you can. You also have more control over the party you create, customizing their looks, class, and even voice acting.
Etrian Odyssey V certainly isn’t a game for the faint of heart, but if you’re willing to put in the time there’s a deep RPG experience to be had.