Joseph’s 5 Most Anticipated JRPGs
2017 was a great year for Japanese role-playing games. We saw the release of the long awaited fifth entry in the Persona franchise; Tokyo Xanadu finally made it stateside; Fire Emblem was present in the form of a 3DS remake of the 1992 Fire Emblem Gaiden, which had previously never been released outside of Japan; Final Fantasy XII received a remaster of its own that added tons of new gameplay content; and, to top it all off, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 arrived just in time for the Holidays. Not all JRPGs in 2017 were created equal though, as we saw several disappointments in the form of Valkyria Revolution, Summon Night 6, and Tales of Berseria.
However, now that we’re already one month into 2018, the time for looking back is over. Instead, let’s turn attention to the future. At present date, the lineup of JRPGs coming to North America in 2018 isn’t as strong as last year’s, but there are still plenty of exciting games on the horizon, including some that are probably a few years off from actually getting into the hands of gamers. And as the unofficial, interim JRPG expert around here, I’m taking it upon myself to assemble a list of the ones I’m most excited about.
Kingdom Hearts 3
In all likelihood, Kingdom Hearts 3 will not release in 2018. But Kingdom Hearts 3 is a game that many people (myself included) have been waiting over ten years for, and it feels like this is finally the year we’re going to see a light at the end of this proverbial tunnel in the form of an actual release date. The numerous amount of side-games that have released since Kingdom Hearts 2 did in 2006 may have done more harm than good by convoluting an already confusing story while also diluting some of the hype for this third entry in the franchise, but despite all this, after one watches snippets of gameplay video showing Kingdom Hearts protagonist Sora battling heartless in HD alongside Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, it’s hard not get excited all over again.
Project Octopath Traveler
Square Enix found success in harking back to the days of old school turn-based JRPG’s with its 3DS exclusive Bravely Default, and now looks to repeat themselves on Nintendo’s latest console with a brand new IP. Project Octopath Traveler still doesn’t have a official name, but the demo that was made available to the public did a good of job allowing players to see what the game was all about. While it retains a combat system similar to Bravely Default, including a reworked version of the Brave/Default mechanic that allows players to gamble future turns or save them up if they prefer, it is apparent quickly through Project Octopath Traveler’s writing and art style that it is intended to be a much grittier game than Bravely Default ever was. I’m for one glad for this, because as much as I did like Bravely Default, it did bog itself down in its own goofiness (don’t even get me started on its sequel, Bravely Second), so playing an old school Sqaure Enix JRPG with more serious characters and darker storylines is something I’m very much looking forward to experiencing.
Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
Trails of Cold Steel I and II are two of the best JRPGs I’ve had the pleasure of playing; featuring a large cast of likeable and well-developed characters, a wealth of a world building, a plot filled with twists, competing factions, and political intrigue, and a constantly evolving combat system. Unfortunately, they’ve been mostly overlooked by all but the most devout JRPG connoisseurs. This is partially because the first two games were only available on the PlayStation Vita and 3. Before you start questioning why being on the PlayStation 3 would cause them to be overlook, I should also mention that these games came out in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and to be even more overt, let me also remind you the PlayStation 4 released in 2013. This third entry in the series, though, will be available to a much larger market as it will be releasing exclusively on the PlayStation 4. While this does mean the game will lack the portability the Vita versions of the first two games offered and you won’t be able you to carry over your save data, this much needed move to the current generation of consoles does allow for a bigger and better looking game. Picking up several years after the last game, Trails of Cold Steel III continues to center around protagonist Rean Schwarzer, whom after graduating from Thors Military Academy has now become a teacher himself and is responsible for grooming a brand new crop of green students. Officially, the game has not been announced for North America yet, but with the game already out in the wild in Japan, I anticipate an announcement soon.
Dark Souls meets anime? Sounds good to me. Code Vein follows in the long line of Souls-esque games to release over the last few years, and while few of them have been able to capture exactly what makes FromSoftware’s challenging combat so rewarding, I’m still willing to give Code Vein a chance. To further that point, from the gameplay video I’ve seen the combat in Code Vein does appear more hack-and-slash and less methodical than the Souls games are, but the art style and seemingly clearer storytelling structure work in the game’s favor. I also like that Code Vein is putting focus on its characters, something that’s not exactly in FromSoftware’s wheelhouse. Giving the player a roster of distinctive companions to take along into battle or acquire items or skills from, the more these characters interact with you the higher their affinity for you increases, which will make them more willing to open up about themselves while also giving providing you in-game benefits, too.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
The original Valkyria Chronicles released in 2008 to little fanfare, though it quickly earned its status as one of the most robust tactical strategy games around. Unfortunately, sales did not match the reception the game was given by critics and those who did play it. Two sequels were subsequently released on the PlayStation Portable, however, one of them didn’t even make it out of Japan. The franchise was then dormant until just recently when Sega released a spin-off that ditched the original’s tactical strategy gameplay for a more action-focused approach. The results? Valkyria Revolution was universally panned. However, Sega has seemingly learned the error of their ways as they are finally delivering the game every fan has been asking for. Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks to be a return to form for the franchise, brining back the tactical strategy elements and storybook-esque art style that made the original so good. The game will also hopefully improve upon the narrative issues that held back the original, namely its hokey characters, one-dimensional villains, and predictable twists. If the developers can accomplice that, Valkyria Chronicles 4 could be a dark house candidate for game-of-the-year.