After a tough week at school with multiple papers and midterms, I was able to play a significant amount of Final Fantasy XIII-2 this past weekend. I’m really enjoying the game and as I’m nearing completion of the main quest it got me thinking about how many other awesome RPGs are coming throughout 2012. While every year has its share of great RPG’s, 2012 seems to be more crowded than recent years especially since many long awaited games are finally coming out.

With that in mind, I want to highlight several of the reasons why RPG fans should be paying close attention to 2012. After all, years like this don’t come along very often.

Huge Western RPGs

Kingdoms of Amalur is just the beginning of the awesome Western RPGs in 2012. Obviously the biggest RPG for many this year will be Mass Effect 3. With the conclusion of the trilogy, it will be exciting to see how the choices you made across the first two shapes the ultimate fate of the universe and how the relationships fostered with your crew play out. Xbox fans in particular can also look forward to the port of the highly acclaimed Witcher 2. I’ve always been intrigued by the Witcher games, so I’m hoping to try this one now that it is on a console. Another fantastic RPG should be Darksiders II. While the first game was more of a cross between Zelda and God of War, Darksiders II is going to be closer to an RPG like Diablo because of the loot system. The added complexity to the base game should make Darksiders II one of the strongest games of the year.

PC gamers should be incredibly excited as the long awaited Diablo III is finally coming out this year. The base foundation of Diablo is incredibly addicting, and it appears that the many small changes should be able to iron out the minor annoyances and make a great game even better. While Diablo II was very repetitive at times, the new approach to make more abilities useful should make combat more exciting this time around. I’m pleased that you are now able to re-allocate skill points since it was always frustrating to find out you weren’t making a good character until it was too late.

These are just a few of the big Western RPGs for this year. What is interesting is that the latter half of the year is a bit of mystery for the most part. While we can expect other Western RPG action to be found in places like Skyrim DLC and the South Park game, holiday 2012 doesn’t appear to have its Western RPG champion yet. Maybe Bioware and Bethesda will step in to fill the void with Dragon Age 3 or Fallout 4. Who knows, but guessing what is ahead is part of the fun.

The Tales Series Returns

I am incredibly excited that there is finally going to be a new Tales game released in America. Tales of Vesperia released in August of 2008 and there hasn’t been a new game since.  Japan on the other hand, has received three main entries in the series in addition to various remakes and spin offs. Though it has been a long wait, the Tales series is going to return in a big way in 2012. First there is the 3DS port of Tales of the Abyss that just recently came out. It is a fan favorite entry that I’ve never played before so I’m incredibly excited to finally play it. Following the Abyss port in March is the long awaited Tales of Graces F. While it is frustrating the original Wii version never came out, Tales of Graces F is the enhanced PS3 edition of Graces that features a huge additional 10 hour epilogue to the main quest.

If you never played any Tales game before, the most important thing to know is that each entry is always incredibly lengthy, boasts solid RPG gameplay throughout, and most importantly places a huge emphasis on character development. Like the Final Fantasy games, every entry has a new world, story, and battle system, so you can jump into any game without knowledge of the previous ones. Needless to say it is awesome to finally start getting the Tales games again and hopefully these two releases signal that the incredible Tales of Xillia should come over as well.

The Return of AAA JRPGs

It seems that this console generation has largely killed the big AAA JRPGs of old leaving only the Final Fantasy series and handheld releases to fill that void. However hope is on the horizon as two of the largest JRPGs have arisen to challenge the disappointing trend.

Xenoblade, which incidentally is my most anticipated game of 2012, is finally going to come out in North America in April. Taking place on the beautiful dead remains of two titanic god-like entities, the focus of Xenoblade is primarily on exploration. The enormous scale is especially impressive since there are no invisible walls in the game. In other words, if you can see it, you can get there. Xenoblade avoids many of the many pitfalls of JRPGs and offers significant advancements to the basic formula culminating in what should be the ultimate JRPG. The graphics are beautiful, the music is awesome, the story should be strong and sophisticated, and the gameplay looks completely fantastic.

The other AAA JRPG in 2012 is Ni No Kuni. If you haven’t heard of it, the reason this game is definitely one to watch is because it is the team up between developer Level 5 and Studio Ghibli. Level-5 is responsible for the Professor Layton series and helped develop both Dragon Quest VIII and IX. While not a perfect metaphor, Studio Ghibli is essentially the Japanese equivalent of Pixar. With this kind of team up, there are big expectations in place for Ni No Kuni. While trailers have made it seem like a standard JRPG in some respects, it will be interesting to see if the story lives up to Studio Ghibli’s standard. If so, Ni No Kuni should be a spectacular experience.

Handheld Fun

Handhelds have been host to plenty of RPGs this generation, and 2012 will have some truly epic ones. The new Kingdom Hearts 3D should be arriving relatively soon (It comes out in March in Japan) and it looks awesome. It took over five years but the story is finally advancing while the gameplay expands on what made Birth by Sleep so much fun to play. Really though, I’m just excited to finally have a new Kingdom Hearts game with Sora and friends as the lead characters (Re: Coded doesn’t count!). The 3DS is also getting the bizarrely named Bravely Default Flying Fairy which should be cool since it is a Square RPG in the style of Final Fantasy V.

The PSP and Vita are getting not one but two RPGs from Vanillaware. I’m a huge fan of Vanillaware games so I’m incredibly excited for both Grand Knight’s History (whenever it comes out) and Dragon’s Crown. I don’t really know too much about either game, but I’m fully confident in Vanillaware to deliver unique experiences you can’t get from anyone else.

Revisiting the Past

One of the great things about RPGs is that a great story never really grows old. Technically every year plays host to this, but in 2012 there are more options than ever to play through some of the classics and modern classics again or for the first time. With downloadable services like the Virtual Console, PSN, etc. you can get many of the greatest games of all time for relatively dirt cheap. More and more games are added all the time which is awesome.

2012 also boasts quite a few games that are going to be remastered and rereleased. One of my favorite Final Fantasy games, FFX, is getting an HD remastering later this year for both PS3 and Vita. While Final Fantasy X will be mostly the same, other rereleases such as the Persona 4 Vita edition are significantly altered to provide new content and experiences.

The Unknown

There are quite a few games that may come out 2012 but at this time there is no way to be sure. Probably the one most likely to come out in North America is Final Fantasy Type-0. Everything about the game looks awesome, and while nothing has been officially announced, in the latest interviews it was said the team is working on the international version of Type-0. My theory for this game is that because the PSP is clearly on the way out, the international version of the game will be a Vita version of the title. The graphics could be sharper, it wouldn’t have to be spread across two UMDs, and it could still work on the Vita since, according to the director, when played on a Vita the online multiplayer component still works. With no official announcement yet made anything could change, but this one seems likely to make it over from Japan.

Another release that is a bit less likely is a North American edition of the Wii’s other huge RPG, The Last Story. The game marks the first time Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, is directing a game since Final Fantasy V. Last year, around the game’s release, I saw one hour of footage of the game in action from a live stream of the Japanese release press conference. From that footage, I always now describe The Last Story as Gears of War meets Final Fantasy. That may seem like a really odd comparison, but what I mean by that is it is the presentation of a Gears game injected into a JRPG. You often transition in out of cover just like Gears of War, but of course instead of guns you are wielding swords, magic and crossbows. The graphics look like a 360 game in spite of being on the Wii and it is very cinematic in presentation. Of course, unlike the Gears games, there should be an incredibly strong story to back up the gameplay. What may halt The Last Story from coming out is if Xenoblade doesn’t sell well and because The Last Story does contain a multiplayer component Nintendo needs to support servers. Still because it is coming out in Europe and is thus already translated into English, it could come out.

The last game that I want to focus on is of course Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Announced at the same time as the original game, Versus XIII seems no closer to ever coming out. I really hope it does, because Kingdom Hearts gameplay paired with a more mature setting and theme should be incredible. Since it is the same team responsible for both Kingdom Hearts and The World Ends With You, I sincerely believe whatever story drives the game should be awesome. In the meantime I guess we can keep watching the same eight minute trailer from last year in anticipation.

Everything Else

Despite everything I just wrote, I still haven’t come close to mentioning every reason why fans of RPGs should be excited for 2012. There are plenty of other awesome games that are already confirmed to be coming out that I didn’t talk about and many more yet to be revealed. Perhaps there is too much coming out this year, but I consider that a good problem to have.

I’d love to hear what you think so be sure to share your thoughts!