Nintendo and their successful line of Nintendo 3DS handhelds have helped further mutate the JRPG into a portable genre. Cheap development costs, huge attachment rates in their native land, and relatively easy localization, it's a wonder any company even considers a console JRPG to be a viable prospect anymore.
Old school vets from the SNES and PlayStation era might bemoan that fact, but those lost glory days are never coming back. Bomb after bomb after lukewarm letdown seem to have finally convinced most developers that pumping funds into massive adventures just isn't worth it when the trend points to audiences that want games that are streamlined, short, easy, and playable on the go. The occasional success is hardly worth the risk of sinking an entire company, and the handheld market is the place to make even the smallest games thrive.
Which is where the Nintendo 3DS has yet to truly pick up the slack. Its predecessor carved out its own little niche by being the place for JRPG fans to get their fix, and the 3DS has offered a few light doses of good old fashioned Japanese adventures over the two years of its existence. However, 2013 is the year all that changes as the increasingly popular handheld finally takes up the torch as king of the JRPG genre.
Here are a few reasons why…
Games Available Now
An eShop only title from Level 5, Crimson Shroud slipped under the radar at the very end of 2012, but we'll still give it a mention considering the talent behind it. Yasumi Matsuno is a long time RPG developer with titles like Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy XII under his belt.
Crimson Shroud does an impressive job of carrying on his legacy of politically motivated stories and unfathomably deep RPG mechanics. More importantly, it takes the idea that RPGs evolved from Dungeons and Dragons and board games a little too seriously, rolling dice to calculate damage and creating characters and battles that actually look like game pieces. Not the best title in his library, but decent enough to get the year rolling.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Oh man, the first big JRPG of 2012 released earlier in the year, and the bar might have been set a little too high. Nintendo's latest game in their secretly influential SRPG series has set the handheld world on fire with excellent reviews and surprisingly strong sales figures. Check out our review.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is for gamers who enjoy solid strategy gameplay and that driving urge of just "one more turn." Hopefully, the exposure Fire Emblem: Awakening has given the series can finally give the unreleased games Nintendo has been holding back a chance to shine in America.
The 25th Anniversary is still two years off, though, so I'll be patiently waiting for a compilation.
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
Just hitting the market this past week, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legend of the Titan has brought the uncompromising formula established in the first three games to the Nintendo 3DS. These punishing throwbacks to the early days of first-person dungeon crawling channel the likes of Wizardry and Might and Magic.
Much like the traditionally difficult Fire Emblem, this game also comes with an easy mode, so newcomers should have no problem jumping in and having fun. However, it's the longtime fans who take pleasure in experimenting with a variety of job classes, strategizing against difficult bosses, and grinding to the point of exhaustion that will get the most out of this gem.
Don't let the cute art style fool you; Etrian Odyssey IV is not for the faint of heart.
Confirmed for 2013
Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers
Square Enix has been doing a horrible job fending off the rising power of Atlus. Final Fantasy might still be the most celebrated series in the genre, but in terms of prominence on the market and all around critical reception, the Shin Megami Tensei games have risen to the task of challenging the traditional giant.
Soul Hackers is a port of an old 1997 SEGA Saturn that has never been translated in English. With the recent surge in popularity, Atlus has done everything it can to catch up new fans with the older games in the series, bringing over many titles we'd never have thought were possible a decade ago.
While not a huge departure from the series' now well known first-person dungeon crawling and forming pacts with wayward demons, it's a solid title for those interested in a quick history lesson. It will be released on April 16th.
Pokémon X and Y
Nintendo is finally breaking the mold of its ultra-popular monster raising series by bringing it into 3D. No longer will we be navigating towns from a birds eye view, but instead we'll be traversing fully rendered urban centers and talking to 3D models instead of sprites. It's worked for some series and backfired on others, but I have a feeling Game Freak can pull it off without a hitch.
In the meantime, the core game remains. A whole new generation of increasingly awkward monsters are available for the catching, and there will be a new team of over-confident gym leaders you'll need to rob of their badges.
Nintendo is releasing the entry worldwide this October.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Not much is known about Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, but a lot can be assumed from the previous four games in the series. Lots of clever dialog, insane stories, deep timing-based battle systems, and those adorable mumbling sound-bytes used for Mario and Luigi's voices.
I'm not too keen on the new art style, but if it plays anything like the previous games, it's a sure fire winner. Nintendo has estimated a Q2/Q3 release for this one, so expect it around the summer or holiday season, I'd say.
Unannounced, but likely…
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy
The director might be teasing a localization, but Square Enix has yet to officially announce anything regarding their latest original IP.
Originally a sequel to the minor DS hit Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Bravely Heart: Flying Fairy doesn't distance itself as far from its big brother series as much as The World Ends With You, but anything new from the Japanese branch of Square Enix at this point is a welcome sight.
Reviews and sales in Japan are showing a promising game with enough old-school mechanics, characters, and plot-lines to please longtime fans wanting a trip back to the classic days
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Sure, the Shin Megami Tensei series has taken off, but there's only one problem. The main series still remains relatively unknown with side-series like Persona, Devil Survivor, Digital Devil Saga and Devil Summoner getting all the star treatment.
To date, only one game in the main series has seen a release in America: Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. It was released to solid reviews back in 2004 on the PlayStation 2. Since then, only an Antarctic centered semi-sequel named Strange Journey was released on the DS.
This latest game looks promising and is currently the most highly anticipated title in Japan for when it gets released in May. No American release has been set yet, but this title coming to America is assured. The only question that remains is when. I have a feeling Soul Hackers might push this one into the holiday season, or maybe 2014.
Dragon Quest VII
Square Enix might be getting experimental these days with their Final Fantasy franchise, iPhone games, and Western franchises, but despite how far they travel from their roots, one thing will always remain constant: Dragon Quest. If you need something old-fashioned, charming, and exciting without all the demons, brutal dungeons, and complicated plots, then Square Enix is still the place to turn.
Square Enix finally completely porting all of the older games in their longest-running series to handhelds in Japan just this year. To nobody's surprise, the port of the PlayStation classic, Dragon Quest VII, broke records and re-established its position in Japan after Dragon Quest X's disappointing figures.
No official word yet, but given that all three ports on the DS made it Stateside, this will most likely see a release over here before the end of the year as well.
And if these excellent looking games are not enough, why not explore a few remaining gems from the original Nintendo DS JRPG catalog.