It feels like we’re at that point we get to every few years when loads of big Japanese series get their huge new instalments. The last year-and-a-bit brought us new Persona, Final Fantasy, Tales Of, and NieR! But this year also has some heavy-hitters lined up. There’s more besides, but these are the definite, absolute JRPG must-plays of 2018!
Lost Sphear (PS4, Switch, PC)
No, I definitely don’t mean Lost Spear. The game is absolutely called Lost Sphear with a “h”, and Square Enix have told me more than once to stop emailing them corrections because it’s not a mistake. Developed by Tokyo RPG Factory, Lost Sphear is a spiritual successor of sorts to their debut game, I Am Setsuna.
Tokyo RPG Factory is a development studio put together by Square Enix specifically to make smaller JRPG titles that elicit the feelings of old school JRPGs like earlier Final Fantasy games and Chrono Trigger. Like I Am Setsuna before it, you can expect Lost Sphear to feel mechanically very old school with its Active Time Battle system and overworld design, but with gorgeous modern visuals.
It’s got a more modern looking setting than I Am Setsuna, and the systems have been retooled and changed to make it feel fresh and different. Whether you’re an old school fan looking for a modern take, or someone who wants to see why everyone loves those retro games so much, it’s going to have something to appeal to everyone.
Lost Sphear is releasing on 23rd January for PC, PS4, and Switch!
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (PS4)
Some people would argue that Yakuza is not actually a JRPG series. Those people are wrong. You run around an overworld completing quests and sidequests, levelling up, upgrading your skills and equipment, and even get into random battles as you explore the map. It’s as JRPG as they come.
Releasing last year in Japan, Yakuza 6 is a landmark entry for the series. It’s the first step forward for the series since it explored the past with the Yakuza 0 prequel, and the remake of the first game, Yakuza Kiwami. It’s also the first time a Yakuza game has been developed exclusively for the PlayStation 4, and it utilises the tech to go even harder than before, with stunning visuals, and transitionless battles.
The story is set to be a big one, as it’s a swansong for Yakuza’s main leading man, Kazuma Kiryu. He’s genuinely an icon, and has captured the hearts of many. We’re anxious, but also excited, to see how Kiryu’s story ends.
Yakuza 6 will be releasing 20th March 2018.
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom (PS4, PC)
Believe it or not, it’s been five years since the first Ni No Kuni came west to charm us on PS3. Level-5 certainly haven’t been rushing to get this sequel out the door. Each time we’ve seen it since it was announced it’s been looking better and better. And considering what a visual treat the first game was, that’s really something!
Retaining some former Studio Ghibli staff who collaborated on the first game (and were still part of Studio Ghibili at the time), the visuals, character design, and music still have that Ghibli-esque charm, and it’s a real delight to see in motion. It might be one of the best looking PS4 titles we’ve had the pleasure to get hands on with, in terms of pure art design.
The story takes place hundreds of years after the first game, so you don’t really need an understanding of it to get on board with this one. The combat system is entirely different this time, a more action-based affair that’s very easy to get to grips with. Newcomers will definitely be able to get into this one very easily, and it’s such a beautiful game inside and out that anyone will be able to experience the unique magical world of Ni No Kuni.
Ni No Kuni 2 is coming out 23rd March 2018.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PS4, Switch, 3DS)
With the (pretty good) Dragon Quest IX being released on DS and Dragon Quest X being an MMO, it’s been an insane 14 years since we had a full-on home console Dragon Quest. That’s already reason enough to open your arms to embrace a new game in one of the most popular JRPG series ever made.
Dragon Quest Heroes’ Warriors-style outings already had us primed to see Akira Toriyama’s trademark and brilliant style absolutely pop on PS4, and Dragon Quest XI looks more than happy to deliver, with a huge sprawling adventure set in the brilliantly vibrant and colourful Dragon Quest world.
The Japanese version has already been out for a while, and has been met with rave reviews from the Japanese press and importers alike. A lot of the systems have been kept the same as in other Dragon Quest games, with some nice additions on top to keep it simple, such as a cool combination attack mechanic in battles.
But, more than anything, we’re just super excited to see a whole new Dragon Quest make use of current generation hardware.
Dragon Quest XI is heading west some time in 2018.
Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4, XBO)
Kingdom Hearts 3 was first announced all the way back in E3 2013, and, according to series director Tetsuya Nomura, it’s been in development since 2010. Suffering numerous delays, many Kingdom Hearts fans are sceptical it will arrive in 2018 at all, though Square Enix do seem pretty set on finally meeting this date.
Considering Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in 2005, it’s been an insanely long 13 years since the last main entry in the series.
But you can tell those 13 years have been put to good use. Each time we see the game, the new Kingdom Hearts is looking better than ever. Skipping the PS3 entirely, the step up in what’s possible as you explore these wonderfully crafted Disney worlds is simply incredible.
We already got a little taster of how the game will play with Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and can’t wait to get stuck into the main thing. Everything just seems more fluid than ever before. It’ll play home to series world favourites such as Olympus and Twilight Town, but also add many worlds entirely new to the series, including Tangled, Big Hero 6, and even Toy Story. Combining everything we love about JRPGs like Final Fantasy with the universal childhood love for Disney, Kingdom Hearts 3 is sure to be an unforgettable experience.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is currently set to release in 2018.
Project Octopath Traveler (Switch)
Like Lost Sphear, Square Enix & Acquire’s Switch-exclusive Project Octopath Traveler is another throwback to retro JRPGs, though with its own very unique take. It combines pixelly 2D sprites with 3D environments to give a high-definition retro look that’s simply stunning to behold.
What seem like fairly simple turn-based battles have an extra level of depth with an easy to understand boost system and stun system. Boosting allows you to spend power accumulated over turns to increase the effectiveness of your moves, and stunning allows you to cause enemies to lose turns — so you’re constantly managing the flow of the battles, but in a way that feels super intuitive.
Tying into the name, you start Project Octopath Traveler as one of eight heroes, all who have their own starting point and story, and a unique way they interact with the world. For instance, Olberic, a warrior, can challenge pretty much any character in the world to battle him.
It even has a pretty chunky demo available for free on Switch right now, so you can try it for yourself.
Project Octopath Traveler is schedule to release in 2018.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 (PS4, XBO, Switch)
The most exciting thing about Valkyria Chronicles 4 is that it exists, and is actually going to be heading westward this year. The first game became something of a cult classic, and for good reason — with a beautiful, water-coloured styling, and a really great tactical role-playing system. Set in a very World War 2 inspired world, it dealt with war in a serious way, but also had a whole lot of heart.
Unfortunately, its sequel ended up relegated to being a PSP exclusive, and the third game didn’t even make its way west. After that, the divisive Valkyria Revolution took the series in a different route, that was a step away from what most people loved about the original Valkyria Chronicles.
But with Valkyria Chronicles 4 the series is getting back on track, heading west on all major formats, including (deliciously) Nintendo Switch. The tactical military JRPG is back.
Valkyria Chronicles 4 releases in March in Japan, and later in 2018 for the west.
Fire Emblem (Switch)
To be honest, we don’t really know anything about the new Fire Emblem game that’s heading to Switch, other than it will be coming out this year and will be the next mainline game in the series. The series has been on a roll lately with Fire Emblem Heroes, Fire Emblem Echoes, and Fire Emblem Warriors, but this will be the first new main game in the series since Fire Emblem Fates on 3DS, and the first to come to a home console since the Wii’s Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn back in 2007.
Thanks to the other Fire Emblem support, we’re more ready than ever to be served a fresh helping of mainline Fire Emblem, and can’t wait to see how it turns out on a more powerful system like the Switch.
All we know so far is that Fire Emblem Switch should be releasing this year.
BONUS: A lot of remakes & ports!
JRPGs are so long, that sooner or later you’re gonna miss out on some. But you’re still going to want to play them. And maybe you want to play them on… new consoles? 2018 isn’t only going to be home to some massive brand new JRPGs, but also some great re-releases of older ones.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is bringing the fantastic, criminally underrated game from DS to 3DS; Secret of Mana is getting a delicious graphical makeover for PC, PS4, and PS Vita; and a whole slew of titles are coming to Switch, from the pretty recent YS VIII, to The World Ends With You Final Remix!
What are you most looking forward to playing this year? And what JRPGs would you like to see re-released? Let us know!