I really, really love RPGs. I know it’s extremely unhealthy to love a genre where 40 hours is about the minimum you can expect to put into any given game, but I don’t care. Even today when the genre is filled with games that embody style over substance (lookin’ at you, Final Fantasy XIII) or trade far too much on nostalgia to have an identity of their own, there are still so many games out there that I find myself going back and visiting to remind myself how good the genre can be. Here’s a few that you good folks may not have tried or even heard of in a few cases.
The Dept. Heaven series is…odd, to say the least. It’s a loosely-connected series of games that seem to exist purely to say “no thank you” to genre conventions. The simplest and most accessible one, Riviera: The Promised Land, is a hybrid of RPG combat, point-and-click adventure game exploration and a dating sim. Yggdra Union is a strategy RPG in the vein of Fire Emblem that uses a card-based system for moving and attacking and it’s absolutely bastard hard and very complex but goes some extremely interesting places with the story, questioning the nature of justice and righteousness when it comes to war. Finally, Knights in the Nightmare is one of the single weirdest games I’ve ever played. It’s a turn-based strategy almost like Disgaea, except it’s also a bit real-time and it’s also a bullet-hell shooter. This game is insanely complex and the story is dense and hard to unravel but so worth it if you ever get the hang of it. Riviera and Yggdra Union are available for the Game Boy Advance, while Knights in the Nightmare released on DS, and all eventually got PSP versions. Well worth a look if you want to see some gorgeous art, interesting mechanics and a very unique take on Norse mythology (which I’m a sucker for anyway).
Yes, this one looks pretty childish, I’ll admit that, and it kind of is. But that’s no bad thing! It’s a colourful, lighthearted story and world with some insanely cute graphics and a really cool magic system. Essentially, each character has a magical element, and each element is weak against one element and strong against one element (with the exception of the protagonist, who you can choose to either be light or dark which are neutral to each other). So you’ve already got a fairly complex game of elemental rock-paper-scissors going on there, and to add to that each element has its own planet, which have an orbit you can check on the top screen. Once a character’s planet is in the segment of space correlating to its element, that character gets a healthy boost to its power – but so do any enemies with that element! On top of that you’ve got to make decisions on whether to place characters on the front-line for single-target damage or hide them in the back to dish out area-of-effect spells to multiple targets, and suddenly this seemingly “kiddy” game gets very deep and tactical.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
It might sound silly to put this here, given that the Mario & Luigi series is still receiving entries to this day, but there are still so many people out there who have never tried a Mario & Luigi game, and boy are you missing out. Superstar Saga has some great pixel art and looks totally unlike anything else in the Mario franchise while still retaining its charm, the battle mechanics are so much more engaging than other games thanks to action commands, where you can time button presses to do extra damage or to try and dodge enemy attacks, and some of the funniest writing in a game I’ve ever seen. It’s seriously charming and very fun to play, so absolutely give it a try because you won’t regret it.
Alter A.I.L.A Genesis
It’s been a good few years since I’ve played this one, so forgive me if any of my memories are fuzzy, but this is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi JRPG, which is oddly enough a genre you don’t tend to see all that often in the RPG space. Sure, there are plenty of JRPGs with science-fiction elements, but I’m always surprised at how rare straight-up sci-fi games are amongst the blend of magitech, steampunk and cyberpunk started by Final Fantasy. Anyway, Alter A.I.L.A is a side-scrolling RPG with a pretty cool battle system, an interesting story and lots of well fleshed-out characters. It’s also entirely free, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a go!
Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden
In Barkley, basketball has been outlawed after professional player Charles Barkley performed an illegal technique called the Chaos Dunk to impress his son Hoopz, killing millions. The world’s ballers are being hunted down and killed by an organisation led by Michael Jordan. One of your party members is a cyber-dwarf whose skin has been replaced by basketballs. Instead of save points, you have save hobos. The events of Space Jam are canon. It’s a little bit weird. But it’s hilariously entertaining, and also free, so just try and figure out what cocktail of drugs the devs were on when this was made.
That’s a few of my favourite lesser known RPGs, what are yours? Let us know in the comments!