Feature

Year In RPGs For 2012

by Kimberley Wallace on Dec 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM

At the end of every year, I find myself looking back on its role-playing games and examining the trends, highlights, and disappointments. Putting it in perspective, 2012 won’t go down as a pinnacle year for RPGs, but if you look closely, the year held plenty to love.

Operation Rainfall Comes To Fruition

Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story both coming to North America in 2012 was a magnificent feat for RPG fans who campaigned hard for their localization. Operation Rainfall formed in 2011, sparking enthusiasm across the internet for these two Wii titles, but many wondered if the dedication would pay off. Thankfully, it did, and 2012 saw Xenoblade Chronicles hit in April to outstanding praise. Xseed published The Last Story in July with plenty of admiration, though its critical reception wasn’t as unanimous as Xenoblade’s. Not only did these two titles give fans two full-scale RPGs to sink their teeth into, it proved that fans ultimately have a say if they’re passionate enough about niche games. Operation Rainfall also let gamers send off the Wii in style, instead of retiring covered in dust. That’s a feat in its own right. 

The Tales Series Lives Again

Namco Bandai’s Tales series stayed quiet in the U.S. after the Xbox 360’s Tales of Versperia and Wii’s Dawn of the New World in 2008. This stung for fans, especially considering Japan saw a steady flow of new entries. Many feared that Tales would fade away like some other favorite RPG series, but this year proved that the series isn’t going anywhere just yet. In February, an old fan-favorite, Tales of the Abyss, released for 3DS followed by a brand-new console release, Tales of Graces f, in March. Namco Bandai also announced a Tales of Xillia localization scheduled for 2013, proving the series is kicking with plenty of gusto. 

Console RPGs Take The Wheel 

Handhelds have been the preferred platforms for this generation of RPGs, but this year consoles stole the show. Final Fantasy XIII-2 started the year off with a solid offering, followed by adventures from both sides of the Pacific, including Mass Effect 3, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition, Dragon’s Dogma, Xenoblade Chronicles, and The Last Story. This year, consoles also gave some niche RPGs a place to shine – albeit with varying degrees of quality - like Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland, Record of Agarest War 2, and Mugen Souls. Playing RPGs on the big screen and having such a wide variety of them to choose from was a nice change of pace. 

Despite a few games lacking some polish, the console RPG pool was quite solid. Many questioned if Final Fantasy XIII-2 would be a disaster, due to XIII’s longer battles, awkward dialogue, and linearity. While Final Fantasy XIII-2 didn’t fix its issues with storytelling, it enhanced an already great battle system with additional speed and monster recruitment. Here’s to hoping next year’s Lightning Returns gets it in right in the story department. 

Xbox 360 owners also got their hands on The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition, which was more than just a port. It added hours of new content and many gameplay enhancements. CD Projekt RED’s story shows that Geralt doesn’t need to be a hero or a villain to be a fantastic protagonist.

Also impossible to forget is Mass Effect 3, which brought Commander Shepard’s story, a trilogy we stayed vested in for five years, to a close. The game gave us a surprisingly engaging multiplayer component that added a new dynamic to a once solitary experience. These reasons and more catapulted it to our 2012 game of the year award. Love it or hate it, it got you thinking and talking. Lastly, Xenoblade Chronicles and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had such large scopes; both entrenched us in a vast world to make our playground, mimicking an MMO. These are only a few of the quality console RPGs to invade our living rooms; it was a solid year for consoles, indeed. 

[Next Up: Handhelds say goodbye and new ones take their place, PC loot love, MMO innovation, and where 2013 is headed]

Old Handhelds Say Goodbye

In 2012 both the PSP and DS took their last breaths. Atlus supported the PSP to its very end by releasing two titles in the summer: Gungnir and Growlanser: Wayfarer in Time. Considering the Vita released in February, seeing these games come out was a pleasant surprise that gave gamers a chance to experience two under-the-radar strategy/RPG titles. Similarly, the Nintendo DS had one last bit of RPG love with Devil Survivor 2 and Pokémon Black and White 2, which was even more surprising since the 3DS had already been out a year. Releasing these titles so late in both handhelds’ life cycle felt like a great send-off for systems that were premiere RPG destinations. 

New Handhelds Try to Measure Up

Handhelds will continue to be a popular venue for RPG development due to the lighter financial burden, but transitioning to new hardware isn’t always an easy process. The RPG catalogs for both platforms are off to a slow start. The 3DS is older than the Vita, so naturally, we expect to see the RPG library grow beyond ports. While the year opened with another port, Tales of the Abyss 3DS, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and Paper Mario: Sticker Star provided new entries in long-established franchises. Unfortunately, other new titles, such as Heroes of Ruin, didn’t strike the same chord, turning out as an unmemorable, lackluster romp.

The Vita started off with a port, as well. Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention gave strategy/RPG fans a new venue to get their fix. The Vita also stepped up by releasing Ragnarok Odyssey, which had short, handheld-friendly missions combined with tons of customization and fun, fast paced combat. 

The Vita found most of its fanfare with Persona 4 Golden. The passion, dedication, and nostalgia for this enhanced re-release are all noteworthy. I haven’t seen my Twitter feed fill up with such unanimous outpours of devotion... and for a niche JPRG at that. The franchise definitely captured an unwavering place in fans’ hearts, and I hope the high praise instills confidence in Atlus about Persona 5, further inspiring the developers to live up to its legacy. 

PC Fans Get Some Loot Love

No new game could better define what being a PC RPG fan is all about quite like Diablo III... except maybe Torchlight II. Celebration is in order for seeing the loot fest rise again... and boy did it “click” with gamers. Between Diablo III’s streamlined design and Torchlight II’s stalwart, old-school feel, players lost countless hours of sleep in the throes of loot addiction. 

The PC also served as a nostalgia hub, with Xseed’s Ys Origin coming to Steam. This prequel to all Ys titles released in 2005 in Japan, but it never found its way to the American or European market until this year. Legend of Grimrock paid homage to the Might and Magic-style games of decades past, while Penny Arcade’s On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness 3 was a fantastic, short-form nod to the JRPGs of yore.

MMORPGs Innovate

The MMORPG genre saw some big releases this year, including an attempt to dethrone World of Warcraft with Guild Wars 2. With ArenaNet’s subscription-free model and very friendly microtransaction model, gamers had a reason to return - a lifetime pass for admission. Guild Wars 2 also provided gamers with a new way to level up: experience came from everywhere. It didn’t matter if you were exploring, grinding, or crafting, ArenaNet refused to put you on a linear path for gaining levels.

Guild Wars 2 wasn’t the only strike at World of Warcraft; Tera and The Secret World also debuted. Tera brought action-oriented combat to the MMO space in a mature way, while The Secret World focused on creating a narrative in unique ways. None of them took a huge chunk out of the master, with the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria expansion bringing subscription numbers back over 10 million users. Its new addiction? Pokémon-esque pet battles.

The year’s biggest PC surprise, however, was Turbine resurrecting Asheron’s Call II, an MMORPG shut down at the end of 2005. That’s doing something for your fans.

Looking Forward

Plenty of RPG entertainment hit this year, but it’s hard to say 2012 was the best year for the genre. Still, the year had a strong showing with a wide variety of solid games in both the console and PC verse. However, 2013 appears to be much stronger at first glance. As we press on toward a new console generation, there are plenty of RPGs to be excited about: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Tales of Xillia, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titans, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and let’s not forget strategy/RPGs living on with Fire Emblem: Awakening. Where the ride goes from there is anyone’s guess. If any new information surfaced or a release date was set for Final Fantasy Versus XIII or Type-0, that would make the year sweeter.

Check out our RPG of the Year Awards to discover which games from 2012 won out. 

How do you think 2012 stacked up to other years?