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Last year was a stellar one for gaming fans, with more fresh rubber burning simulations than Le Mans 24 entrants to occupy your free time. If last year was all about the resurgence of the racer, though, we reckon 2016 is shaping up to deliver you a giant mecha-load of Japanese role-playing games, giving you plenty of solid adventures you’ll be sinking hundreds, if not, thousands, of hours into.

Like racing games, the JRPG is almost as old as the medium itself. The genre is known for convoluted plots and battle systems, massive playtimes, sprawling worlds, banging soundtracks and wildly impossible hairstyles a world away from the medieval simulation of Western RPGs like Skyrim or The Witcher 3. The Japanese gaming industry has delivered us countless classics, from Square Enix’s iconic Final Fantasy series to newer sagas like The Legend Of Heroes and Bravely Default.

While the JRPG has taken a bit of a knocking of late – Final Fantasy XIII really was quite spectacularly mediocre, and we’ve been waiting years for a single player sequel to make amends – it’s making a comeback in a big way this year. Old franchises are returning while new ones are poised to make a mark. Even if you’re yet to give a JRPG a go, this year is your best bet with any of these stand-out stars – we take a look at 10 of the best.

Bravely Second: End Layer

Nintendo 3DS gamers were treated to Square Enix’s delightful Bravely Default back in 2012, a surprisingly deep and complex JRPG from the Final Fantasy makers that you could argue really should have just been called Final Fantasy. With its gameplay roots actually in the DS title Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, what started as a sequel evolved into what we now know as Bravely Default and incorporates plenty of what we’re used to from past FF titles, such as FFV’s Job System, which is used to full effect. With high praise and over a million copies sold around the globe, it was only natural that a sequel would be on the cards – and we’re finally able to get our hands on it soon. Bravely Second: End Layer launched in Japan early last year, continuing the story established in the original and introduced new job roles (Pastry chef!), and plenty of addictive role-playing – you’ll be able to get your mitts on it later this month.

Persona 5

Originally slated to launch last year, the slightly-delayed Persona 5 is hotly awaited amongst JRPG aficionados (the last mainline Persona game was released on PS2), but newcomers should be getting hyped too. Part of Atlus’ 20 year old Persona series, itself a part of the larger Megami Taisen franchise, what’s actually the sixth game in the series has built itself up a large following due in part to its solid gameplay, rich lore and fantastical features (it’s part dungeon crawler, part high school simulator) that help set it apart from other JRPGs. After Persona 4’s PS2 debut and revitalised re-launch on the PlayStation Vita, the slick and stylised series is becoming even more so in Persona 5, thanks to the raw graphical grunt of the PlayStation 4 at Atlus’ disposal, making it look more like a high-quality anime adaptation than just a video game, meaning the otaku among you will be pleased. Look forward to summoning your Personas to do battle later this year.

Fire Emblem Fates

If you prefer your handheld JRPGs to be dashed with a layer of strategy instead of wandering around a game map and jumping into random enemy encounters, Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem series is surely for you, with deep Medieval-inspired lore and wicked gameplay – it’s like Final Fantasy Tactics, only much more brutal. The latest Nintendo 3DS game in the series, Fire Emblem Fates, is actually split into three different versions, with distinct characters and storylines in each one. Fates was almost not going to happen, as the previous game, Fire Emblem Awakening, was planned to be the last title in the series due to declining sales – but Awakening was a smash hit around the world, and Nintendo greenlit its 3DS sequel. Look forward to it launching later this month in North America, and Europe sometime soon afterwards.

Genei Ibun Roku #FE

Two heavyweight JRPG franchises crossed over in last December’s Wii U exclusive, Genei Ibun Roku #FE – Shin Megami Taisen and Fire Emblem – and while its focus on Japanese idols and doing battle with foes via the power of J-pop seemed destined to keep it exclusive to the country, it is actually on the way to Western territories later this year. Originally announced three years ago as Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, Atlus took up development duties and crafted a shiny, sparkling RPG that’s set in modern Tokyo and features gameplay elements from both games, along with Fire Emblem characters as summonable Mirages that the main player characters can merge themselves with in combat. Sounds bonkers right? The game itself looks bright, bold and quintessentially Japanese – but it looks like a ton of fun, even if the game’s soundtrack and scantily clad popstar protagonists aren’t quite your cup of tea.

Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Atlus and Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not a new game: it originally launched on the PS2 way back in 2007, but Atlus is bringing it back with a high-def remastered lick of paint for current generation gamers to enjoy. And enjoy they should, as when the game originally launched, it was a breath of fresh air, delivering you a 2D action RPG with gorgeous artwork dosed with brilliant combat mechanics and five playable characters, each with their own interlocking storyline. Throw in a load of Norse mythology on top too, and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine RPG that’s heading to PS3, PS4 and PS Vita this summer.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness

Tri-Ace’s Star Ocean series has been running for decades, and now it’s leaping onto next-gen consoles with a fifth installment, Integrity and Faithlessness. Past titles in the long-running JRPG series have been known for their long, deep and engaging storylines, and we don’t expect that to change with the latest title. Expect a stunning role-playing romp throughout a vast alien landscape, a real-time action battle system and interactive, dynamic cutscenes that seamlessly transition with the game. Square Enix is handling publishing duties, and you can expect to see it pop up on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 later this year – good news for those without a Wii U and envious of Xenoblade Chronicles X.

Valkyria: Azure Revolution

The gorgeous, cel-shaded, anime-looking Valkyria series has been turning heads ever since the first title hit the PlayStation 3 in 2008. Five years on from the third instalment in the series, we’re now being treated to a sequel-cum-spin-off titled Valkyria: Azure Revolution, and it looks simply epic. Media.Vision and Sega are delivering you much of the same strategy-tinged gameplay as before, but with the power of the PlayStation 4, it looks even better than ever with a brand new, bespoke engine that aims to make the game look like it’s a fluid painting, and should contrast well with all the First World War era trench combat we’ve seen in the series to date. Look forward to it launching at the later end of the year – if you missed the original, the first title, Valkyria Chronicles, is being remastered for the PS4 this year too.

Dark Souls III

You'll surely be smashing your pad playing Dark Souls III

Okay, while not your traditional JRPG title, FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is easily as deep and complicated as any other sprawling Japanese game with enormous, Lovecraftian bosses to take down. The action JRPG title has taken the world by storm with its hard as nails gameplay, rewarding system mechanics and fiendish boss encounters; it’s a game like nothing else and the third incarnation looks to be the best yet. With three Dark Souls titles launched in rapid succession, it doesn’t look like FromSoftware’s series is running out of steam any time soon – keep your eyes on this as it exclusively hits next-gen consoles for the first time in the series next month.

Dragon Quest XI

When Squaresoft purchased Enix to become Square Enix back in 2003, not only did it get the company’s crack team of top talent, but it also gained Enix’s legendary Dragon Quest series too, which is one of the longest lasting JRPGs of all time, and rivals Final Fantasy for longevity. Square Enix is still keeping that franchise alive today, with Dragon Quest XI on the way later in 2016. Not much is known about it currently, but you can be sure to expect plenty of common Dragon Quest elements like Slime monsters and character designs by famed Dragon Ball creator, Akira Toriyama. It’s currently in the works for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS – it’s also reported to be one of the first few games to hit Nintendo’s upcoming NX system – and should be touching down later this year, just in time for the series’ 30th anniversary.

Final Fantasy XV

The OG of all JRPGs is back, flipping finally. After more than ten years in development, two generations of consoles and one name change, Final Fantasy XV is destined to launch this year. Originally conceived as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, the game was intended to form part of the Fabula Nova Crystallis sub-series as a PS3-exclusive Final Fantasy XIII spin-off, but after delays, director switches, engine changes and several concept revisions, it wasn’t until 2011 that the title actually moved into the full development phase and eventually became the next mainline Final Fantasy title after the multiplayer-only Final Fantasy XIV. As the main hero Noctis, you’ll be traversing a wide, sprawling open world game with seamless battle sequences, drivable cars and mountable chocobos and a whole crew to road trip around the world with.

Unlike past Final Fantasy titles, XV employs what’s dubbed the Active Cross Battle system, which looks and plays much like a grown-up version of the Kingdom Hearts battle system, letting you get into fights in real time and unleash techniques and attacks with button presses. With an epic, grandiose storyline and what looks to be the best graphics we’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game to date, if Square Enix keeps to its promises and delivers Final Fantasy XV this year, it may well end up being the biggest game of the year, in any genre and by any metric.


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