RPG Grind Time – Looking Back On 2016 And What’s Ahead

At year-end, I like to look back and see how it stacked up for the RPG genre. I don’t do this just because it’s part of my job, but also because I enjoy examining trends (open-world RPGs are here to stay) and where things are headed. Trying to put a year into perspective can be difficult. Most of the time, I find myself ricocheting between the highest highs and lowest lows. I’ll never forget the disappointment that washed over me as I reviewed Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithfulness and realized it wouldn’t be the return to glory I desperately wanted. I also look back fondly on my road trip in Final Fantasy XV, and was incredibly relieved that the game showed progress for getting the series back on track. And who could forget the games that surprised you? I didn’t expect Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth or Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE to keep me hooked like they did, but they both had such fun gameplay and captured cultural parts of Japan that I love. 

All-in-all, 2016 was an outstanding year for games, but I still feel like we haven’t hit a “golden year” for RPGs in some time (hopefully next year). Even so, we had some juggernauts launch this year to great success, such as Dark Souls III, The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine, Final Fantasy XV, and Pokemon Sun & Moon. In addition, we had a slew of great niche offerings, from The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II to Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist and the Mysterious Book and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. Developers continued to try new things; Darkest Dungeon is a shining example of this, which has stress levels factor into your sanity as you explore a strange estate. It was one of the more intriguing and different experiences of last year. 

The strategy/RPG genre also showed it’s not wavering anytime soon. Fire Emblem’s MyCastle is one of my favorite additions to the series. Grand Kingdom added new life to the genre; not only in its intriguing battle system that had you managing character placement across three lanes, but also in how it let you create and customize a team to your liking to take online against other players. Like its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 showcased choice and consequence as a compelling gameplay hook, helping keep players invested in its narrative for the long haul. 

As we move forward, I suspect choice and consequence will continue to thrive. There’s something about seeing how you’re impacting the world before you that’s so damn enticing, and as more games experiment with it, it’s only bound to be more fulfilling. RPGs just keep getting bigger and more complex, which is exciting in its own right. The Witcher has been one of the best examples of this in recent years, and CD Projekt RED just keeps raising the bar on what you can expect. Not only was Blood and Wine fantastic, it gave you one last fun journey to cherish with Geralt, and hopefully all the improvements to the interface and gameplay didn’t go unnoticed. Now I’m most intrigued to see what CD Projekt Red will do with Cyberpunk 2077. We haven’t heard much about the game, and I hope CD Projekt Red peels back the curtain a bit this year. I’m ready to see what it can do outside of the Witcher world with everything it’s learned from Geralt’s journey. 

Similarly, I hope Square Enix gives us more on Kingdom Hearts III in 2017. The little gameplay bits shown in trailers and screens have been enticing, but I’d like to see more worlds confirmed (SOME PIXAR, PLEASE). I’d also love for the game to finally be demoed at shows so people can get a feel for it and give feedback. I know Aqua’s adventure in 2.8 is supposed to provide some of that, but I feel like I’m at the point where I need to touch this game to confirm it’s real… I’ve been patiently waiting for far too long. My excitement is also high for Dragon Quest XI, and I can’t wait to find out more about it. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King remains one of my favorite games, and I’ve been dying to dive into a big DQ adventure on a console. That being said, although it sucked missing out on Dragon Quest X (an MMO), at least we finally got Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on 3DS this year, and VIII on 3DS is right around the corner.

I will say, Square Enix restored my faith in its future this year. While flawed, Final Fantasy XV ended up being one of my favorite games because it broke the mold and took chances. Sure, at times it was clear this was Square’s first foray into a more open world, but at least it’s making the leap and not standing still. Noctis and co. are the most I’ve felt connected to a Final Fantasy cast in some time, and I’m glad that director Hajime Tabata wants to keep improving the experience and giving back to its fans. Even when Square Enix missed last year, it was hard to stay mad. For instance, I am Setsuna wasn’t nearly as memorable as I hoped it would be, but I’d like to see what else Tokyo RPG Factory can do. Setsuna just needed to have its own magic and not rely solely on nostalgia; I feel like Tokyo RPG Factory just needs to dig a little deeper, and it could have something great that combines innovation with the RPGs of yore. 

I could sit here and say 2017 looks great for RPGs (and it does), but I don’t want to jinx anything. Instead, I’ll just leave you with which games I think will make the biggest impact on the genre, and as such, I am most excited for: Mass Effect Andromeda, Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Torment: Tides of Numenera, and Nioh. As for titles that I’m anticipating, but don’t think will reach as many people or shake up the genre, there’s Tales of Berseria, Ever Oasis, and Nier Automata. Let’s hope I’m not writing about any of these next year as my big disappointments. 

I’ll close this out by sharing my top five RPGs of 2016. Feel free to share yours in the comments below…now on to 2017!

Personal Top Five RPGs of 2016
The Witcher 3: Blood And Wine
Final Fantasy XV
Fire Emblem Fates
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
Darkest Dungeon 

Honorable mentions: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse 

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