In any given year, no matter how hard you try, staying on top of all the games that come out is nearly impossible. As an RPG fan, this is an especially difficult feat since the majority of these experiences are long hauls, demanding patience and focus. It’s hard to even have time to think about the latest and greatest, let alone have the time to really indulge in them.
I often like to look back on the year and see what the genre offered, and I’m always surprised at how many RPGs seem to fall to the wayside shortly after their release. Here are some RPGs from this year I felt faded from the public eye much too quickly and shouldn’t be overlooked. Who knows? You just might find your next great RPG here, or at least a few titles to add to your wishlist.
Sakura Wars (PS4)
The series may have had its heyday in the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast days, but Sega’s soft reboot of the series oozes charm and personality as you try to restore a failing Tokyo theater to its former glory. Sakura Wars is a blend of visual novel, dating sim, and mech-centric combat, and isn’t afraid to be silly and lean into its over-the-top spectacle. One minute you’ll be selecting dialogue options to build a bond with your teammates, the next you’ll be in a mech shooting down waves of enemies and chaining ridiculous combos. As I said in my review, “Sakura Wars is a hard experience to put in words, but that experience doesn’t come around often. It is a captivating ride, striking a great balance between its funny and heartwarming moments. Just like the struggling theater group, the performance doesn’t always come together exactly as planned, but it has so much heart and charisma to leave the audience wanting an encore.”
Wasteland 3 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
If you enjoy making decisions and seeing the consequences unfold around you, look no further than Wasteland 3. Just don’t expect for the choices to be easy or your trip to Colorado Springs to be a happy one. This is a bleak adventure with no right or wrong way to approach situations; you simply have to decide what your moral compass can take. However, rest assured what you do has meaning and impact on this post-apocalyptic landscape. Building up your Ranger headquarters by forging alliances and recruiting combatants to your side is one satisfying endeavour. Combat, which revolves around action points and putting together a group with varied skill sets, only multiples your decisions and second-guessing. Our own Dan Tack called it a solid CRPG in his review, emphasizing: “Wasteland 3 makes you feel the weight of your actions in an unforgiving world.”
Trials Of Mana (PS4, Switch, PC)
Square Enix hasn’t had the best track record recently with the Mana series, and the Secret of Mana remake was pretty disappointing, but Trials of Mana at least showed steps in the right direction (if you can ignore the hilariously bad voice acting). While not the strongest entry on this list, Trials of Mana is still an entertaining RPG and is the most fun I’ve had with the series in a long time thanks to great boss battles, smooth combat, and cool ways to upgrade your characters. It’s a linear, straightforward experience, but that’s hardly a bad thing, as there’s a lot of charm in its classical feel. The combat is really the star of the show, allowing you to bring together your three party members for big combos and to cancel attacks by striking at the right moment. The satisfaction on the battlefield makes up for some of its other shortcomings. You can read more in my review here.
Ikenfell (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
Ikenfell is a feel-good RPG that places you in an amusing world of mischievous students attending a magic academy. The turn-based combat focuses on timing mechanics to power your spells and block incoming attacks, but it has even further depth in how you use your abilities, whether it’s knocking enemies back, using buffs on your allies, or levitating baddies only to drop them to the ground for big damage. With tons of items to collect, big bosses to battle, and cool locations to explore, Ikenfell has all the trappings of a great RPG, but it also has a heartwarming story about friendship and love. If that’s not enough, cats are everywhere and it has a stellar soundtrack from the composers behind Steven Universe.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV (PS4)
If you’ve been following the Cold Steel series, you know it’s been a wild ride – and the arc’s final entry only adds to the chaos. Several mysteries that have been hinted at since Trails in the Sky finally get resolved here, with the largest cast and most side quests in series’ history, so you can get the most of the world and characters that inhabit it. As the Erebonian Empire once again pushes toward war, our hero Rean is facing his inner demons, forcing the old and new Class VII to come together and stand against the growing threats. Producer Toshihiro Kondo promises an epic finale for fans, saying it’s “unlike anything ever seen thus far in any JRPG.” Basically, if you’ve been following the series up until this point, you’re in for a treat, so don’t forget to find the time (a lot of time … this is a dense RPG) to reach your long-awaited conclusion. The PS4 version is the only one currently available. The game lands on Switch and PC in 2021.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PS4)
Vanillaware’s (Odin Sphere, Dragon’s Crown) latest is a large part visual novel with strategy/RPG combat on the side. It’s not the standard RPG experience, but its unique elements make it worthy of a spot on this list. The narrative-heavy journey feels like a love letter to sci-fi, pulling from all corners of the genre. You can spot direct inspirations from everything such as The War of the Worlds to The Terminator, and it somehow all works together well. The bonkers story about time travel and students powering giant armored suits to face off against aliens is complemented by the gorgeous art style we’ve come to expect from Vanillaware. The tactical combat may not be a highlight, but the story and character interactions more than make up for it. As Joe Juba said in his review: “[Vanillaware] jumps into the deep end with a story that takes inspiration from the genre’s most iconic works. While that doesn’t result in the most original plot, it is still a fun and ambitious experience that combines high-school drama and huge robots in a (mostly) beautiful package.”