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Sleeper RPGs: 10 Games You Shouldn’t Miss

by Kimberley Wallace on Aug 17, 2012 at 11:00 AM

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....]

Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (Wii/PlayStation 2)

If you’re looking for something completely different from your RPG, look no further than Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love. Not only does it have dating sim elements, but it also splits the gameplay into two phases: tactical and visual novel. So Long, My Love features plenty of dialogue choice – so much that the journey differs completely depending on the player. Add in the exploration of 1920s New York while you romance and get to know an eclectic cast of ladies, and what’s not to like? If that’s not enough, tactical mech gameplay keeps combat exciting. These mechs don’t have many limitations; some of the missions even take place in the air. So Long, My Love is a fun ride, and one I recommend for those jaded with typical RPGs.

Brave Story: New Traveler (PlayStation Portable)

Brave Story: New Traveler has inherent charm thanks to Tatsuya, a gamer thrown right into his own gaming adventure. Now add in a traditional RPG that uses combination attacks in the vein of Chrono Trigger, and the formula is solid. Building stronger bonds with party members also grants you cooperative attacks. It also adds something different to gameplay with choices; your character’s starting statistics are based off your answers to personality-based questions. Who said all choices had to be story-driven? Brave Story provided PSP gamers with their first quality RPG built for the platform. With a distinct lack of UMD load times, dipping framerates, and awkward dialogue, Brave Story is one of the hidden PSP classics.

3D Dot Game Heroes (PlayStation 3)

Do you want to take a trip down memory lane? 3D Dot Game Heroes wants to provide you with the opportunity. Not only does it pay homage to old-school game design, but the game is heavily inspired by the original Legend of Zelda. Sometimes embracing the past and what fired our love for gaming is exactly what we need. Relying on the gameplay formula from the NES era of Zelda, 3D Dot Game Heroes adopts plenty of its standbys – boomerangs, bows, hookshots, etc. However, it does have one thing that Link would be jealous of – a massive sword that can take up half the screen when swung. 3D Dot Heroes might not shake things up for the genre, but it sure does capture an era that served as a foundation for modern RPGs.

Arc Rise Fantasia (Wii)

Arc Rise Fantasia proves that presentation isn’t everything. That’s evident in its spotty voice acting as seen here, but it still manages to captivate. Do you like Tales games? Traditional battle systems? Need a story that stands for something? Arc Rise Fantasia has something for you, capturing the heart and soul of the JRPG wonderfully. But brace yourself for some challenging boss battles that shake the very core of your gaming ego. Arc Rise Fantasia's movement-based combat system requires strategic use of your action points and not just spamming the attack command. The game is far from perfect, but any game that can keep you guessing with its story and turn the traditional battle system on its head for the better is worth a shot. 

The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road (Nintendo DS)

Trying to recreate a tale that’s so widely known can be tough. But if you can transport people straight to a world that’s long been a part of their memories, you’ve done something magical. Media.Vision isn’t afraid to play off nostalgia for The Wizard of Oz in Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, but where they win you over is in its stylus-based, Dragon Quest-inspired gameplay. Using the stylus to run your way up roads and avoid enemies remains a unique gameplay element. A mix of old-school battles with the DS’ stylus capabilities provides a fantastic blend of old and new.  Plus, seeing a darker spin on the Wizard of OZ tale is an extra bonus.