We’ve seen a “Year of the Rhythm Game,” a “Year of the Indie Game,” a “Year of the Fighting Game,” a “Year of the Bow,” and a year for practically every single gaming genre we have in recent memory. If we were to label 2016 as anything, “Year of the JRPG” is looking to be it with the genre getting some long-overdue recognition, not to mention a much needed push back into prominence.
2016 and possibly the early months of 2017 promise to deliver the best line-up of JRPGs in 20 years! Of course, the Nintendo 3DS is playing host to a strong showing of favorites, leading the charge like it has for the past half-decade.
However, it is the PlayStation 4, with the Xbox One and PCs scoring a few popular ports, that solidifies this year as a turning point for the genre. Japanese studios are making a huge push to get Japanese gamers to start playing games from their consoles again, and if this line-up of future classics can’t do it, then I’m not sure what can.
Let’s start with the home consoles and take a look at what they have to offer. Keep in mind, many of these games are confirmed for a release in Japan, but a few might not be solidified for the English speaking world yet.
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
First, we’ll jump in with an overall list. These are the biggest RPGs coming from Japan for the PlayStation 4.
- Final Fantasy XV
- Persona 5
- Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness
- Dragon Quest XI
- Kingdom Hearts III
- Kingdom Hearts II.8 Final Chapter Prologue
- World of Final Fantasy
- Valkyria: Azure Revolution
- Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
- Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
- Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir
- Tales of Berseria
- Nights of Azure
- Dragon Quest Builders
- Project Setsuna
- Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky
- Meganeptunia Dimension VII
- Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
Five titles easily tower over the rest here, and a crux of this being the best line-up in 20 years rests on how they turn out. Final Fantasy XV, also coming to the Xbox One, tops the list as probably the most important and the most ambitious. Of all the games in development, Square Enix is straying the furthest from the established path with this one, taking a huge gamble on open-world exploration, action-oriented gameplay, boundary pushing graphics, and an overall attempt to bring the series to the modern world.
Persona 5 is also a huge prospect for 2016, further perpetuating the “anime revolution” that the series sent the genre pounding through in the absence of old-fashioned “fantasy.”
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is playing it the safest of all of these, sticking close to the intense action that the series is best known for, and simply doing it with a larger world and a nice coat of HD paint.
The outliers of these “big five” boil down to Kingdom Hearts III and Dragon Quest XI. Both are promising to set the JRPG world on fire, but there is no telling when we’ll be getting Kingdom Hearts III or even if we’ll be getting Dragon Quest XI in the English speaking world.
Afterwards, Japanese studios are opening the flood gates to capitalize on the momentum with smaller titles that will please mostly the niche fans. I’ve got my eyes on Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana as a recent fan of the series and Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky thanks to its Valkyrie Profile roots.
Remasters are also huge this year with Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, Kingdom Hearts II.8 Final Chapter Prologue, and Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir taking top honors in that category.
SEGA returning with Valkyria: Azure Revolution is huge for fans of the cult-series, and Square Enix’s old-school approaches to World of Final Fantasy and Project Setsuna hint that the company is tapping back into its roots.
The rest is a little too “new-age” for me. I haven’t been big on Tales’ direction recently, even if Tales of Berseria is looking to change it up a bit. The annual Ateliers and Meganeptunias of the world have never been my thing, but they have their niche.
And now we get to the other star of the JRPG world, the Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo’s handheld has been the true champion of the genre for quite some time, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to give up that title without a fight.
- Final Fantasy Explorers
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
- Fire Emblem Fates
- Bravely Second: End Layer
- Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past
- Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
- 7th Dragon Code III: VDF
- Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3
- Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final
- Monster Hunter Stories
- Etrian Odyssey V
Both Final Fantasy Explorers and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam have launched to middling results, but it is Fire Emblem Fates that is destined to kickstart the year later this month. With its controversial release method, splitting three campaigns across three separate releases, it is far and away the riskiest title on the portable, maybe even of the year.
Final Fantasy XV definitely still holds that dubious title overall, but if Fire Emblem Fates can follow in the trailblazing footsteps of 2013’s surprise hit, Fire Emblem Awakening, then Nintendo will be rolling in the dough this game will make.
Square Enix is also set for a huge year, looking to capitalize on the momentum of its own 2014 sleeper hit Bravely Default with a larger, more intricate sequel called Bravely Second: End Layer. The game looks to separate the series from its roots as a humble Final Fantasy spin-off and establish it as a long term franchise that can stand on its own feet.
And on a more personal note, Square Enix is also getting back into the business of making Dragon Quest fans happy by finally localizing the Nintendo 3DS remakes of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. Readers will know I petitioned long and hard for these to come to the States, and I couldn’t be happier that these will become the first proper Dragon Quest releases in the States in five years.
The only remaining game confirmed for an English release is 7th Dragon Code III: VDF, which SEGA will finally bring to the States this summer. Three entries have passed without English support, making this a staple year for fans of the obscure franchise.
And three more games are in active development, but have not been confirmed for an English release. Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 is a longshot since the reputation of Dragon Quest in the West still precedes itself. We’ll possibly see this if, and only if, the two remakes are a success. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final is only a matter of time seeing that the previous game was a huge hit for Atlus.
The only big question mark of the bunch is Monster Hunter Stories, Capcom’s seriously fun attempt to take a swipe at Pokemon’s market. Monster Hunter is somewhat popular in the States, but I don’t know if Capcom will be able to justify localizing this one.
Etrian Odyssey V hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Atlus has dropped plenty of hints that it will be announcing the next entry in the popular dungeon crawling series before the end of the year.
Wii U, PS Vita, Indie
We’ll clump these three together since they make up the smallest sections of our list.
- Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem
- Tokyo Xanadu
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II
- Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate
- Cosmic Star Heroine
- Crypt of the NecroDancer
The Wii U doesn’t have the largest selection in the genre, but it does play home to one of the more fascinating releases of the year, Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem. The absurd crossover between the two popular franchises has chosen a very liberal J-Pop setting to sell itself on, and we have yet to see how the game really plays or feels.
So many questions for such a weird release.
Nihon Falcom, seemingly on its lonesome, is giving its all to keep the PS Vita relevant with the release of a few big JRPGs. Localizer XSEED closed out 2015 with the highly anticipated releases of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC and The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. 2016 will follow up with Tokyo Xanadu and The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II.
Neither have been confirmed for a release, but XSEED registering the domain name for Tokyo Xanadu speaks for its release. XSEED also said that the translation for Trails of Cold Steel II is 95 percent finished, meaning it should happen before the end of the year. These are also destined for a PlayStation 3 launch.
Aksys is also stepping up to deliver Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, the first portable game in the series to make it to the West in a long time. Roguelikes are much more popular than when the series debuted in the States back on the Nintendo DS, so it remains to be seen how the classic franchise holds up in the face of modern competition.
And on the indie front, some developers are stepping up to deliver games that revel in the shadows of that retro spirit. One title, Crypt of the NecroDancer just released on PlayStation 4 and PS Vita recently, flawlessly blending Japanese roguelikes with the rhythm game genre.
The best of these looks to be Cosmic Star Heroine, a sci-fi space odyssey highly inspired by Chrono Trigger. Developers Zeboyd Games have a reputation for delivering swift, fun JRPGs, and this is their most ambitious project to date. Be sure to check out their official blog to see how much these guys know about JRPG design. You’ll be surprised.
And I still believe in Liege, a little JRPG that could. It’s been nearly three years since it wrapped up its Kickstarter campaign at $81,489, but slow updates from developer John Rhee show that it is coming along nicely.
And what would the JRPG genre be without older fans wallowing in the past. It’s only February, and we’ve seen plenty of our old favorites find their way onto digital channels. More are bound to be announced as well.
- Breath of Fire III
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
- Dark Cloud 2
- Tales of Symphonia
- Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
- Final Fantasy IX
Personally speaking, the 10-year overdue release of Breath of Fire III on the PSP and PS Vita was worth the wait. Just another step in completing my collection of favorite PlayStation classics on my Vita.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Dark Cloud II jump started the year with releases on Nintendo’s Virtual Console and Sony’s new PlayStation 2 Classics initiative. These retro favorites were the apple of fans’ eyes for many years, and their publishers finally delivered the goods.
And who can forget the re-release of the first Pokemon generation. We’re ecstatic!
And the PC continues to be the place to be for retro JRPG goodness. The Tales of Symphonia port is currently plagued with problems, but it could be the definitive version if Bandai Namco gets around to fixing them. NipponIchi’s retooling of the first Disgaea also holds a lot of promise for the future of the series on a new platform, and promises of Final Fantasy IX still loom over fans.
The recent launch on iOS and mobile suggest it will happen soon.
As 90s as Third Eye Blind?
By sheer volume alone, there is no question about it. This is the best line-up of JRPGs in a very very long time. Even if half of them don’t make their 2016 release date or get their international releases pushed into 2017, we’re still talking hundreds of hours of gaming.
If I were to conclude anything as a comparison though, this is not the same kind of lineup as the late 1990s. There are plenty of excellent titles here, but a good many of them embody the safe and predictable pattern that has defined this latest console generation. Predictable, low risk, and recognizable.
With the exception of Final Fantasy XV and Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, I know exactly what I’m getting myself into with each title above, a train of thought that runs as the antithesis of what PSOne JRPGs were all about, back when Japanese developers were overloaded with budgets and were encouraged to go ballistic with their ideas. The relatively small number of original IP also doesn’t mesh well with the comparison either.
Nothing here is an insane, off-the-wall experiment, and not many are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a JRPG. No survival-horror hybrids like Parasite Eve, no counter-culture SaGa Frontiers, no Metal Gear Solid block-pushing puzzlers like Vagrant Story, no kung-fu Jesus robots from Xenogears. I mean, the dimension jumping Chrono Cross let you fight Fate in the final boss fight alongside a mushroom man, a scarecrow, and a turnip!
If anything, the other most “PlayStation looking” game here is Dragon Quest Builders, taking the JRPG genre and seeing where it could go as a Minecraft hybrid. It’s not a slight against the amazing line-up of 2016, but rather, just a difference between the state of Japan’s position in the industry.
If we’re looking for a comparison, this is probably the best line-up since the early days of the PlayStation 2, perhaps 2002 or 2003, back when Suikoden III, Dark Cloud 2, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Shin Megami Tenseni: Nocturne, Xenosaga Episode 1, Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, Baten Kaitos, Tales of Symphonia, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, Front Mission 4, .hack, and Kingdom Hearts were leeching all of our free time. Each was an ambitious project, but each also came loaded with the familiarity of games that came before it, obviously looking to modernize older ideas in the way 2016 is doing.
No rewriting of the rule books.
Consoles even had a strong showing on the Game Boy Advance backing them up in the same way the Nintendo 3DS does nowadays. Handhelds are a different story, and there is no question about it. 2016 looks great for the Nintendo 3DS. This will be the strongest year that Nintendo’s booming console ever sees. If a new Pokemon title were to slip in for the 20th anniversary this fall, then it’s all over for this world!
But with your home consoles and PCs, 2016 is looking to take it back to the early days of the PlayStation 2, back when ambitions were sky high with the expansive space of DVDs. However, our favorite JRPG studios would have to swallow a few crazy pills and get risque if it wants to match the power of the batty late 90s.