RPG Grind Time – Three Upcoming RPGs You Should Have On Your Radar

by Kimberley Wallace on Aug 03, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Every time I turn around, it feels like an RPG I need to make time for is on the horizon. At times this can be overwhelming, especially considering the time commitment, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The only way the genre gets better is for developers - big and small - to try new things; the more variety we have, the more opportunities there are to draw new players into the genre and help it prosper. One of my goals with this column has been to talk about a wide array of games. That means touching on everything from the triple-A juggernauts to the smaller gems you might not know much about. Today's column focuses on the latter – three upcoming games that as an RPG fan you should have on your radar. These titles are coming out in the very near future, and they also have one more thing in common – they're all sticking with the tried-and-true turn-based battle system and doing interesting things with it.

Earthlock: Festival of Magic (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC)
Release: September 1 (PC, Xbox One) (PS4, Wii U TBD)

I first came across Earthlock when I was at a Microsoft event at GDC a few years ago. I was so intrigued by it, I immediately added it to our best indie games of GDC that year. The small team at Snowcastle Games is comprised of developers who worked at Ubisoft, LucasArts, and Rockstar North. They've all come together for this passion project with one goal: to create an RPG they'd want to play themselves. Earthlock is inspired by the classic RPGs they played growing up and the team wants to put their own stamp on the genre. The art style and story are inspired by its Scandinavian origin (the studio is located in Oslo, Norway).

In Earthlock, the world of Umbra is in trouble. It's stopped spinning, leaving half in darkness, half in light. To get to the bottom of things, a group of unlikely heroes band together. I played a beta build recently, and the colorful world and turn-based battle system were my favorite parts.

During my demo, I swapped between two different characters' stories, got introduced to two party members (one was called a hogbunny and looked the part!), and made my way through areas such as a moldering swamp, a creepy mansion, and an ancient temple. The adventure begins with Amon, a desert scavenger searching for relics to sell, finding an artifact he wants to learn more about. You also meet Ive, who you can to swap to at any point later in the game. She has a royal upbringing and is joined by stormdog, Taika, who resembles a tiger.

Earthlock has a lot of interesting systems at play. First off, in battles, you swap between two different stances, which give you access to different abilities (swapping costs one turn). Once you build up attacks, you can unleash specials, which do deadly damage or heal up your party. Every character has their own abilities and a talent tree where you can customize their skill sets. In addition, by pairing certain characters together you increase their bonds, lending you combat perks, such as making abilities more powerful. As you can see, you have a lot of control, and the battle system constantly keeps you on your toes.

I enjoyed experimenting with my characters' abilities, especially since attacks have different damage types, such as exploding, slashing, and piercing. Finding out what is most effective against certain baddies can be make-or-break. And just when I thought I was out of systems to master, the game lets you harvest your own ammo with the seeds you find in the world, which provide elemental perks. I only found two party members during my trek, so I'll be interested to see how the game changes once you get a bigger party and can experiment with even more battle skills.

For more on Earthlock: Festival of Magic, check out the official site.

Cosmic Star Heroine (PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC)
Release: Late summer, early fall

I've played a few demos of Cosmic Star Heroine throughout its development, and it just keeps getting better. For those not in the know, this is the most recent game by Zeboyd Games, the developer of Cthulhu Saves the World and episodes three and four of Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. This is Zeboyd Games' most ambitious project yet, and Cosmic Star Heroine feels like the game the two-man team was destined to make as hardcore RPG fans. The team cites Chrono Trigger, Phantasy Star, and Suikoden as inspirations, and you can see that in its many features, such as character combo techniques and building up your own spy headquarters. The 2D graphics and overall style also evoke a nostalgic, 16-bit feeling.

The story follows Alyssa L'Salle, who uncovers a government conspiracy. The government fires back by outing the legendary spy to the public, meaning every enemy now has her on their radar. When you begin the game, she's tasked with destroying potentially dangerous materials near an old research facility, where terrorist activity has been detected. Alyssa soon witnesses the terrorist team being murdered, but not by anything human. Zeboyd said it was influenced by sci-fi films such as Blade Runner and Alien, so you can only imagine what Alyssa will be up against.

The battle system has been the star of every demo I've played. It allows for a lot of strategy and room for experimentation. Most abilities only have one use and then must be recharged. It makes every turn matter. Do you get rid of all your abilities before recharging, or do you prioritize recharging immediately after using one the enemy is most weak to? That doesn't even consider if you should spend a turn buffing to deal more damage the next. Characters also have some nifty skills at their disposal. For instance, one character can use a turn to make an attack hit multiple enemies, while another skill lets her repeat her last turn without recharging. As you battle, you fill a gauge, which, once filled, activates hyper mode. This deals double damage and ailments are more likely to be inflicted. I thought about my moves and enjoyed discovering the fastest ways to take down enemies.

I haven't been able to test it out or see it in a demo yet, but I'm most excited to recruit party members and build up my own headquarters. Zeboyd Games discussed this feature more on a blog post, saying, there should be around 20-25 characters to recruit. The more people you bring in, the more rooms you open in your base, which has three main floors and two smaller floors. Yes, if you're a Suikoden fan, this should scratch that itch.

To learn more about Cosmic Star Heroine, check out Zeboyd Games' official site.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita)

If you've read my review of the first game, or seen my enthusiasm for it on Twitter, you know by now that I'm a big fan of Trails of Cold Steel. It may not have flashy graphics or the best environments, but its Persona-like school and social structure alongside the intriguing political warfare storyline more than make up for it. If you haven't played the first game, you must, especially since the next entry in the trilogy is set for a fall release. Your save data from the first game carries over to Trails of Cold Steel II, meaning the bonds you formed in the first game won't be forgotten. Different cutscenes appear depending on who you cozied up to, and characters also reference past conversations. NPCs that you helped will also remember your efforts.

I've played a few hours of the second entry, and it answers a lot of lingering questions from the first game almost immediately. That being said, there's also lots of twists and surprises in store, and plenty of characters facing their own inner demons. At the start of the game, protagonist Rean and all of his classmates are separated, so you're spending your first hours trying to figure out what has changed since the events of the first game and where you can find your classmates. This offers the opportunity for characters who had minor roles in the last game to join Rean in battle, such as his sister Elise and mercenary Toval. I won't spoil much beyond saying that the civil war is continuing to heat up and bigger threats are looming.

The turn-based combat system remains mostly the same, which is fine by me. I love the variety it offers for every turn, with magic, special attacks, and the linked characters and randomized turn bonuses. Cold Steel II adds a new overdrive mode, which allows linked characters to act uninterrupted for a set amount of turns. It also comes with the handy perk of of fully restoring HP, EP for magic, and CP for specials along with clearing all status abnormalities. You also engage in giant robot battles, which we got our first taste of at the end of the last game. This series just does so many things right, from epic battles to character interactions. I grew to love Class VII and can't wait to see how they face new dilemmas.

To learn more, visit the official site.

I have a feeling we'll have a lot to talk about in the coming months with so many games on the horizon. It's one thing to anticipate them, it's another thing to experience them and discuss our journeys. Hopefully, one of these games caught your eye. Until next time, grind on!