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These role-playing games may have not been the flashiest, and their budgets probably weren’t bursting with dollar signs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t special. We searched far and wide to find a variety of games with RPG elements to feature. Some are purely strategy, others are more action-based, and we even found one with dating sim elements. The following games never achieved the level of recognition they deserved, but maybe one of these diamonds in the rough is just the RPG experience you’ve been craving.
Nier (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)
In 2010, many blockbuster RPGs hit, such as Mass Effect, Fallout New Vegas, and Final Fantasy XIII, but Nier provided a completely unique experience. Nier brings a missing simplicity to the RPG genre. The graphics aren’t flashy and the combat is easy, but Nier still leaves a lasting impression with its well-written characters and story accompanied by a memorable soundtrack. Nier isn’t about a petty adventure; the story centers on a father’s desperate journey to find a cure for his dying daughter. In these heavy moments, Nier has the perfect companions – the feisty Kaine and sarcastic Grimoire Weiss (yes, a book), who both provide banter and genuine friendship. Their humorous dialogue also provides perfect balance throughout Nier’s emotional plight. With characters and a world to overtake you, Nier is easy to get lost in.
Jeanne D’Arc (PlayStation Portable)
Jeanne D’Arc was an experiment for Level-5. Action battle systems had always been their forte, but they weren’t afraid to test the waters with a strategy RPG. It worked in their favor. Jeanne D’ Arc meshes history and fantasy in a thrilling tale, while also providing deep tactical warfare. Even more exciting is being cast in the role of the infamous Joan of Arc with a fantasy-styled France’s future in your hands during the Hundred Years’ War. After all, bringing demons and magic into history only makes things more interesting.
Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PlayStation Portable)
When Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was released in 2011, it quickly climbed its way to fan favorite status. No surprise really, as Nihon Falcom (creators of the Ys series) is the mastermind behind it. But instead of just honing in on the battle system, the developers created charming characters along with witty dialogue leagues above other RPGs. How many games are so detailed that NPCs feel like people and not signposts? Where exploration has the potential to unlock a hidden secret or funny dialogue sequence? Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky put in the extra effort, and it shines through in every town and dungeon.
Radiant Historia (Nintendo DS)
Two words: time travel. Most RPG fans might think of Chrono Trigger, but Radiant Historia proves you can build off what works and make it new again by tweaking the rules. In Radiant Historia, you can travel forward and backward in time, but the game succeeds by allowing you to repeat events and shift between two timelines. Did an event not go the way you expect? Replay the moment again and learn from the other timeline to ultimately forge the right path through the story. Radiant features multiple endings based on your choices. Radiant Historia feels like a classic RPG from the '90s, surged back into the limelight.
Valkyria Chronicles (PlayStation 3)
Strategy RPGs are fun, but few rarely shake up the formula. Thank fully, Valkyria Chronicles wasn’t afraid to alter its systems to make the genre feel new and exciting again. Valkyria Chronicles shifts the standard Strategy RPG gameplay in a big way by giving you real-time control of your characters as they traverse the map. Yes, you're still constrained by strategy standbys of action points and a limited move range, but the real-time combat is incredibly engaging. That's not to say that it's a run-and-gun, since your position and stats take precedence over twitch skills. In an era where SRPGs aren’t ruling the pack, Valkyria Chronicles shows they still can.
[Next Up: a dating sim meets mech warfare and a homage to Zelda....]
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