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Robert Lashley: A Great Year for JRPGs

Columns By Robert Lashley on December 29, 2016

A Great Year for JRPGs

Earlier this week we posted our awards here at MMORPG. Just like everything else someone casts a critical eye on these are subjective. Next week I’ll break down my vote for the awards and why I voted for each game in each category. That way you can either further agree with me more or decide that I’m really cuckoo. But first I wanted to jump into a conversation that took place in the comments that my name was pulled into.

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It really wasn’t that great of a year for MMORPGs in general. There were a number of asian conversions released upon the west but most of them aren’t worth the time to talk about. This was however a spectacular year for gaming in general. While we didn’t have any smash hits like we did in 2015 with the Witcher III and Metal Gear Solid V we had handfuls of solid games across more genres than we did 2015. One of those genres that was jam packed with quality games was the JRPG.

A reader, who shall remain nameless, in the comments section of the award feature called out the staff for not playing enough online games and wondered if I was the only one playing them. Along came Editor in Chief Bill Murphy and threw me under a bus stating that I probably played the least. That got me to thinking maybe I had. I played 100s of hours of Black Desert Online, and not all of it was AFK fishing. I dove back into Final Fantasy XIV for a bit and played around 300 hours all together in World of Warcraft Legion. Other than that unless it was for a review I didn’t play a lot of MMOs. Most of my time this year was devoted to reviewing a lot of other games for the site. Of those games the JRPGs continually impressed me.

In no particular order this year we saw Tales of Zestiria, World of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Explorers, Final Fantasy XV, Monster Hunter Generations, I am Setsuna, Dragon Quest Builders, Star Ocean V, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Fire Emblem Fates, Dragon Warrior VII for the 3DS, and if you want to stretch the list another month into December of 2015 we could add Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Not everyone of those games was a smash hit but that is a solid list of 12 games spanning the PC, PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360, and Wii U. It is hard to argue this list doesn’t represent something for almost everyone that enjoys RPGs.

The giant amongst the bunch and the most recent is Final Fantasy XV. There is a lot to love about this game. The combat is a refreshing change of pace for the series. The graphics are beautiful, even more so on a PS4 Pro and a 4K TV. Argue all you want about the differences between checkerboarding, upscaling, true 4K or not this game looks great and sets a standard for what a RPG on the PS4 pro can look like and how it can perform. Some players have a few gripes over the story and it’s hard to disagree with them. One of the later chapters of the game did fall flat and what was probably meant to be a major revelation by a party member turned into more of a “so what” moment. Beyond that the game was fantastic.

One of the most innovative JRPGs of the year is another Square Enix property, Dragon Quest Builders. I loved that this game offered you a lot of freedom but did give you a bit of a to do list. It stops you from getting indecision paralysis but allows you to run off the beaten path and do things your own way. If you are into builder games and love the Dragon Quest IP this game is a can’t miss for you.

Dragon Quest VII, Fragments of the Forgotten Past, finally was revamped and re-released for the Nintendo 3DS in the second half of this year. After a few false starts I finally set this game down. I just can’t get into it. I find the camera really off putting. It’s out of position on the world map when the character is close to objects and gets hidden off the screen. I hope this doesn’t happen in VIII which is due to be re-released on the 3DS the beginning of next year. It’s currently sitting with an 81 on metacritic so it could just be me.

I’m currently playing through Tales of Zestiria for the second time. I’m really looking forward to reviewing Tales of Berseria next month and I’m using Z in the meantime to scratch that itch. Looking back on my original score I’d have to say that I still agree with it. It’s a good game if not a little uninspired.

Monster Hunter Generations is another one I played for a bit but ultimately took a pass on. But hey, it’s Monster Hunter. People eat this franchise up. I’m more interested in the new Monster Hunter Stories Capcom has headed to the 3DS.

Speaking of Monster Hunters, if you love Final Fantasy and like Monster Hunters you’ll probably dig Final Fantasy Explorers. Much the same way that Dragon Quest Builders made the builders genre its own thing, Explorers takes the hunters design and adds a good bit of Final Fantasy fan service to make it a fresh take on a solid design. I’d really recommend you use the New 3DS to play this game if not you’ll have some serious claw hands from trying to control the camera.

After a long drought we saw another Star Ocean released this year. Integrity and Faithlessness kind of received a bum rap. Everyone was hoping for a spectacular game and we only got a decent to good one. It was also shorter than the 100 hour slogfests that Star Ocean is known for. I managed to complete it in a little over 30 hours. A game of this length doesn’t really bother me but you can tell it’s not what most players of the franchise are used to and there was some serious backlash over it. Something tells me it could be a long time before we see a Star Ocean 6.

Fire Emblem Fates once again proved that Intelligent Systems are the masters at creating tactical JRPGs. My biggest complaint about this game is that it was chopped up into three pieces and sold as three separate games. Three games comes with a hefty price tag but it’s hard to argue that you aren’t getting value for your money with how good the games actually are.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. This is the only game on the list that I actually didn’t play. It’s carrying an 8.0 on Metacritic and it is a music game. If you like JRPGs and music games maybe this one is for you.

The one game that actually came out in 2015 I’m including on this list because it’s probably one of the best JRPGs most people have never played. Xenoblade Chronicles X has the misfortune of being stuck on the Wii U. A console that instantly doomed it to poor sales. If only this game would have been on the PS4 instead. It has some really stellar online features too that make this game even better if your friends are playing. But that’s assuming your friends own a Wii U. If you own a Wii U that means statistically your friends probably don’t. The best news to come out of all of this is designers are said to have their hands involved with making the new Zelda. Even more reason to get excited about jumping back into Hyrule.

Last but not least there was the call to the golden era of JRPGs on the Super Nintendo, I am Setsuna. The game fell a little short of its lofty goal of capturing that Chrono Trigger vibe but it was a good game in its own right. I hope we see more from Tokyo RPG Factory in the future.

So yeah, I played a lot of offline games this year. A lot of good, if not great, JRPGs and had a ton of fun in the process. This list isn’t all inclusive but I hope it helps illustrated why I think JRPGs had a fantastic year. If I missed any that truly stood out to you please let me know in the comments below.

Robert Lashley / Rob is a Staff Writer and jack of all trades for MMORPG.com. When he isn’t blinding people with the glare from his head in front of a camera you can chase him down on Twitter, PSN, XBL, and Nintendo @rant_on_rob.

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