First, happy holidays! I want to personally thank you all for being the cool RPG fans that you are and sharing your passion for this amazing genre with me – especially for taking the time to read this post amid the holiday fever. Towards the end of the year, I always look forward to looking back and evaluating how it has developed compared to others. This year was surely unpredictable, with lots of surprises and outstanding games. Whenever we approach a new generation of consoles, things are slowly getting worse and the quantity and quality of the releases often follow. However, this year came out lively and it succeeds more than disappointing. Fire Emblem: Three houses, the outer worlds, Disco Elysium and Kingdom Hearts III made sure that this year didn’t go down. Let’s dive deeper into the great games that defined 2019.
The best of 2019
At first glance, this appears to be a drier year for RPG releases, but it seems we have more quality than quantity. The year started with one of the most anticipated RPGs: Kingdom Hearts III. Kingdom Hearts III had some big shoes to fill. The fans had been waiting for a big mainline entry since 2006. Fortunately, they had many other installments to let them know where the conspiracy was going. We have been playing these entries on handhelds or remastered collections for years. Kingdom Hearts III brings us back to the main stage and enables larger worlds, more action-packed moves and above all large character meetings. And in true Nomura fashion, there were still many questions that will hopefully be highlighted by the new Re: Mind expansion.
Square Enix had a strong year, followed by Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. With fantastic music, spectacular dungeons (cough, Amaurot cough) and exciting boss fights, our own Dan Tack called it in his review “the best expansion for Square Enix’s MMORPG so far”. Fire Emblem: Three Houses started just a few weeks later and quickly became a hit. Intelligent systems have brought more social elements into this entry and it has paid off, especially if you as a professor of your chosen house (Black Eagles for life!) Have a personal part in the story. I have never seen Fire Emblem so popular, which is very impressive since the series was about to be canceled when Awakening arrived.
Next came the investigative RPG Disco Elysium, which surprised and excited so many people that it quickly became a competitor in the GotY discussion. It turns out that an unlikely detective who doesn’t live his best life can take you on quite an adventure. It helps that it is interrupted by fantastic dialogues, a complex world and an effective representation of the warlike facets of your own mind.
A few weeks later, JRPG fans were spoiled with The Legend of Heroes: Traces of Cold Steel III. The third entry in this four-game arc offered more of what people loved: big boss fights, great character interactions, and crazy twists in the storyline. The title also brought a new elixir of life with a new Class VII that is worth expanding the fantastic combat system and improving the quality of life. Falcom continues to focus on expanding its world and characters in a fascinating way, while offering an RPG with a classic feel and a modern feel.
At about the same time, the Outer Worlds started, opening up another trend we’ve seen this year: games that focus on what it’s about rather than trying to keep up with the Joneses. The Outer Worlds felt like part of Mass Effect, part of Fallout, and that was perfectly fine as these are experiences that people want. The Outer Worlds have also done a wonderful job of experiencing humor and interesting dilemmas in their absurd, crumbling space colony.
All of this was followed by the last big release of the year: Pokemon Sword & Shield, which people had a strong opinion of before it even got into their hands. Sword & Shield has broken new ground as the first main game on a home console, but the introduction of The Wild Area and Dynamax mechanics and the return of gyms in the form of a sports arena have shown that Game Freak still has tricks up its sleeve.
Before we finish this section, I have a few other highlights. Square Enix continued to support the SaGa series by localizing the previously unpublished romance Saga 3 and Scarlet Grace for the West. In Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth we got a great start for the 3DS and some exciting remasters in Tales of Vesperia, Catherine Full Body, Final Fantasy VIII and Star Ocean: First Departure, to name just a few. And Shenmue III finally saw the light of the world, although it wasn’t exactly amazing. I always think it’s a victory when fans who are so passionate about something fulfill their wish. Plus, Jeff Cork will be mad at me if I don’t plug in here that Dragon Quest Builders 2 is wonderful and you should be playing it. Anyway, I hope this section reminded you of RPGs that you might have missed, or makes you happy to think about the year.
What’s at the door
2020 is a difficult year as we switch to new consoles, which means that most games have either not been announced or are the last to emerge from our current generation. However, some major RPGs, such as Final Fantasy VII Remake and Cyberpunk 2077, are still on the way there. Both look very promising and could very well take the genre to new heights. And that’s hardly all that is on deck: Nioh 2, Tales of Arise, Trials of Mana, Wasteland 3, Bravely Default II, Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 and Persona 5 Royal are just a few of which games we know. I share all of these titles because at first glance it looks like there are only a few RPGs on the way, but there is definitely more than you think when you get to grips with them. A new generation of consoles usually brings more innovation and growth to the genre, and I’m excited to see what comes. What about you?