And here we thought 2011 was a busy year for gaming. A glimpse into 2012 ensures one thing: you had better polish off your 2011 backlog, because this year is only going to add to it once again. Coming our way are not only new entries from a number of huge franchises, but also some brand new IPs, and less popular yet still critically acclaimed series have wormed their way into the schedule. Although many release dates have yet to be pinned down, chances are if you are an RPG fan at all, you will end up with at least one new purchase before June hits.
We couldn't fit everything into our top 12, of course, but that doesn't mean there aren't other potential gems to look forward to in the next 12 months. Atelier Meruru, for example, wraps up GUST's popular Arland trilogy (and NIS America has other niche titles covered too); Xbox 360 players will finally get their hands on RPGFan's 2011 Game of the Year
; and Atlus USA is showing love to PSP owners and fans of both Sting games and the Growlanser series alike. As the year progresses, we can only wait and see what else is in store for RPG fans. Read on to find out what we're most excited for and share your thoughts. What are you anxious to play this year?
Please note that the top 12 are listed by release date.
There is no denying that Final Fantasy XIII is one of the most polarizing games among series fans. It has many elements that seem counterintuitive such as the rigid-linearity and battles that mostly play themselves. These factors turned off some JRPG fans, but there were still those who liked the title for what it was and enjoyed the ride. Nonetheless, Final Fantasy XIII still had its share of problems, and there was skepticism when a direct sequel was announced. However, based on E3 impressions and positive reception in Japan, it looks like Square Enix got it together and learned from their mistakes. It addresses some of the biggest faults of its predecessor such as having more a more open world to explore and plenty of NPCs to interact with. The battle system's core is intact, but with several tweaks to add involvement and excitement. If the available demo on PS3 and 360 is any indication of the game's improvements and additions, Final Fantasy XIII-2 is shaping up to be a much better game than XIII with loads of potential.
At this point, you've probably gotten your hands on the demo for 38 Studios' and Big Huge Games' first RPG. With that taste of the game, we're hoping you're as excited for the game as we are. It's clear that the staff behind Reckoning is devoted and loving of the title that they've created, merging a fast-based, action-y battle system with hardcore RPG elements and an interesting level-up system. With the ability to shape fate to your will in a world bound by it, your freedom is at your beck and call. With history by R. A. Salvatore, artwork from Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, and gameplay design by Ken Rolston, there's a dream team of developers here, and we're confident their first title is going to be a great one.
Devil Survivor 2 bears the burden of not only sharing the name of the acclaimed Devil Survivor, but also the well-reputed Shin Megami Tensei title. Fortunately, SMT games rarely miss and Atlus has a reputation for developing and publishing AAA products – a claim few other Japanese industry leaders can still make. From what we've seen, DS2 capitalizes on the same style and plot that made the first installment so successful. What's more, the difficult choices and purposeful battles should keep the high tension that jaded RPG veterans crave. If the sequel boasts the same non-linearity and dreary mood of impending death, Devil Survivor 2 will satiate fans and lure in newcomers.
There are all kinds of Commander Shepards out there. Some were born on Earth, others grew up on a colony or have even spent all their lives among the stars. Surveys yielded that most are male, but plenty are female. A few prefer human companions, some are mesmerized by the beautiful Asari, still others prefer to get close to aliens a little more scaly, or even masked. Shepard can be peaceful and diplomatic, or let democracy flow from the barrel of his (or her) gun. But every version of the Commander has one thing in common: in Mass Effect 3 they go up against the Reapers to save Earth and the galaxy. BioWare is bringing back the RPG elements that fans missed, not to mention mixing things up with a co-op mode and Kinect functionality. With the promise of all your major decisions and relationships coming into play, whichever way you decide to close the trilogy, the final chapter should be nothing short of epic.
North American Tales fans have always been a little slighted when it comes to their favorite RPG series; missing out on games like Tales of Destiny II (not to be confused with Tales of Eternia) and Tales of Hearts, but instead handed "consolation prizes" like Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. So when Namco Bandai stepped up to announce that Tales of Graces f
would make it to North America, it was a victory for all involved. The stakes are higher this generation; we're craving those quality console JRPGs more than ever. A fire we want is ignited again. Beyond that, the Tales series has that special charm that many games can't seem to replicate; there's a reason the series has such a dedicated fanbase. Much of this has to do with the series never failing to establish the bond between the core characters: they'll banter and then unconditionally support each other like a family. So, Asbel Lhant and company, are you ready for the challenge? Is your fight going to bring us back to happier times, or will you bring us into new JRPG territory and set a new standard? We're guessing it's going to be a little bit of both.
Playing solely Western RPGs for months at a time leaves a certain hollow in the RPG fan that can only be filled with a quality Japanese RPG. In an era of decline for the genre, the promise of the next great JRPG can, therefore, be treated as quite the event. Those fortunate enough to have already played Xenoblade Chronicles have applauded the game's vast world, engaging combat, and rousing soundtrack. In fact, just about everything else that makes a JRPG tick has been praised, making this one of the most anticipated RPGs of 2012 for those who have yet to experience Shulk's story.
There's hardly a thing we can say about Blizzard's forthcoming RPG juggernaut that hasn't already been said. It's been over ten years since Lord of Destruction and there have since been countless outstanding games in the genre that this series helped define. The weight of expectation is heavy upon Diablo III, but if what we've seen is any indication, Blizzard isn't balking at the challenge. Featuring a radically revamped skill and progression system, retooled combat that hopes to reduce the emphasis on potion attrition, five incredibly distinct classes, and a bold new take on in-game shopping via a real-money auction house, the game certainly seems poised to take the hack-and-slash world by storm. Only time will tell if it can succeed, but the cards certainly seem stacked in its favor. Now, how about a release date?
The original Torchlight shocked the gaming universe in 2009. Runic Games came from out of nowhere to produce a title that was much more than a Diablo clone – it was Diablo style gameplay perfected. Every last bit of design from sound to animation was poured into making each click of the mouse as satisfying as possible, and the result was one of the most addictive games in years. The only thing missing was multiplayer, and Runic promised to deliver that with Torchlight II. Development on this one took longer than expected, but what has been shown of the game reveals that Torchlight II has evolved into something far more than "Torchlight Multiplayer Edition" – new classes, graphical improvements, and even more brilliantly distilled action RPG fun could be on the horizon for this title in 2012.
Square Enix's newest portable Final Fantasy entry is literally one of the biggest PlayStation Portable titles, with all of Final Fantasy Type-0's content spread out over two UMDs. Originally known as Final Fantasy Agito XIII, the game underwent its name change as its focus in the Fabula Nova Crystallis mythology shifted towards mankind rather than the deities. Type-0 tells a darker-than-usual Final Fantasy tale encompassing a full-scale war between four powerful nations, with a dose of magic and mythological beasts to go along with the military prowess. From everything we've seen leading up to its Japanese release last fall, Type-0 comes equipped with a large cast, a beautifully composed soundtrack, deep gameplay and some of the most impressive graphics on a portable system. In whatever format Square Enix chooses to bring this overseas, Final Fantasy Type-0 brings a lot of promise.
When the first Kingdom Hearts game launched, few could have imagined its massive success and incredibly rapid proliferation. In the course of only a few years, it has become one of Square Enix's biggest franchises, but spin-off fatigue may be setting in. Being the sixth spin-off title in a series with only two main installments so far, Dream Drop Distance has a lot to prove. Will it buck the trend of rehashing content that has plagued the series for some time now? The plot certainly seems poised to take the series to new ground, but will there be meaningful developments, such as those in Birth by Sleep, or will we be teased again with an empty lead-in for "the next game," like the disappointing Re:Coded? The addition of a monster-raising mechanic, a combat system that looks to expand on some of the series' best ideas, as well as a mix of old and new worlds to explore are all good signs. We can only hope that Square Enix has built a great game with fresh new content to stave off the creeping sense of spin-off fatigue, and so far, things are looking good.
For years, we have watched Studio Ghibli movies and been mesmerized by the breathtaking art style, but that's merely part of the attraction. It's the stories these films tell that have invaded our hearts with their deeper truths. It's hard to walk away from a Ghibli film and ever feel the same again. So imagine our delight when Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was announced for US release. After all, Ghibli's track record alone is enough to get giddy over, but add in developer Level-5, whose Dark Cloud and Professor Layton games resonate with many RPG fans, and suddenly there's a lot of promise here. We're hoping the two companies' cooperation can bring together the startling impact of a Ghibli film and the addictive gameplay of a Level-5 title. Seeing a Ghibli property in a game truly is a dream come true for long time fans – for once we're not just seeing a product, we're actually interacting with it. Now that's something special.
It's hard to believe that South Park has been around as long as RPGFan, but the numbers are right in front of us: it debuted in 1997, and the series has touched video games several times but it's never really been done right. Acclaim's abuse of the license in creating several sub-par titles is well known, but Stone and Parker never stepped into the development themselves... until now. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, known for Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas, and Dungeon Siege III, the newest South Park game is a new beast – an RPG where you can explore with the kids of South Park, enjoy dialogue trees, and battle opponents in a system not unlike Mario & Luigi. It's intriguing for anyone who's a fan, and we're incredibly interested in seeing more details regarding this incredibly non-standard mashup. Obsidian's got a good track record and, with the creators on board, we imagine this one will turn out pretty well. No word yet, though, on if potions are replaced by Cheesy Poofs.
These last three games have yet to be announced for North America, but most of us desperately hope they will be. Come on publishers, bring us these titles!
Lately, Nintendo of America + RPGs has felt like pulling teeth with gamers. Many North American gamers had given up hope that Xenoblade Chronicles (a Wii exclusive) would see the light of day here and were miffed that Europe got it first. Mistwalker's The Last Story (also a Wii exclusive) holds the promise of the classic Final Fantasy games fans love, along with good Nobuo Uematsu music. The Last Story is a game that RPG-starved Wii owners have been clamoring for ever since it was announced alongside Xenoblade Chronicles. Xenoblade Chronicles is coming to North America and we hope The Last Story follows suit.
Although Bandai Namco's Tales is a ubiquitous series in Japan, it's still fresh and desirable in North America. Some great Tales games never got the green light in North America and gamers on this side of the world hope to receive what import gamers say may be the best game in the franchise. It looks gorgeous, the gameplay seems to have evolved, and those who've gotten their hands on it say positive things about the story. There hasn't been much excitement for JRPGs in a long time, and this title certainly seems worth the excitement. But that enthusiasm cannot become anticipation to fuel preorders unless a North American release is in the cards. So how about it, Namco Bandai?
Along with Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, dungeon crawler Pandora's Tower is another quality title that RPG-starved Wii owners have been dying to play. With Xenoblade Chronicles finally seeing a North American release, we can only hope that the other titles make the jump as well. The Wii would boast three exclusive RPGs, and with title exclusivity being a rarity nowadays, this would greatly fulfill the desires of Wii-owning RPG fans. So how about it, Nintendo? Will you unleash the full power of the RPG triple threat unto North American gamers?