- Devil May Cry 3
- Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
- Mother 3
Already a phenomenal game in its own right, Redux makes Strange Journey all the better with gameplay and narrative additions that only serve to enhance what was already present. Alex's presence in the plot adds an extra layer of tragedy to what was already one of the darkest stories in the franchise, and the Womb of Grief is one of the best dungeons in the series, offering a variety of fantastic new bosses, demons, and side-quests to play around with. The lack of Kaneko's original art is certainly a detriment to the overall aesthetic, but the base gameplay and dungeons have been left untouched, ensuring the core experience doesn't stray from the original's vision. Along with being the definitive way to play Strange Journey, Redux stands out as one of the best games in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise all around.
Home to an incredibly immersive world and the best combat on the Nintendo Switch, Astral Chain is a must-play not only for fans of the genre, but the medium as a whole. It is a title that understands the importance of balancing gameplay, story, and style without ever sacrificing substance for anything else. It's more accessible than most PlatinumGames titles without ever having to compromise its core mechanics. The slower start may alienate potential fans but sticking with Astral Chain leads to a surprisingly thematic script, incredibly deep combat, and what might be Platinum's best game to date.
NieR Replicant 1.22 is an outstanding remake and an excellent action RPG in its own right. Combat is fast paced, focused, and well varied between three distinct weapon types and eight magic spells. Dungeons appear simple but their design is deceptively clever, and they carry a Legend of Zelda-esque charm to them. The visuals are greatly improved from the original, from character models to background details. Bosses are downright bombastic, masterfully juggling tense battles with visceral set pieces. The story is simply beautiful, making brilliant use of music to amplify already deeply emotional storytelling. Above all else, Replicant plays into concepts only possible in a video game - leading to a genuinely unforgettable experience. If you only play one game this year, make it NieR Replicant 1.22.
With some of the best designed boss fights this generation, a beautifully rich animation style, and impeccably fine-tuned controls, Cuphead stands out as not only one of the best indie titles on the Nintendo Switch, but one of strongest releases this generation, period
It's very short. Even getting all the main endings can be done in under 20 hours, but aside from that, Undertale is a tour de force to be reckoned with. It's filled with heart, humour, and raw emotion, while never forgetting that it's a game. Its gameplay is just as strong as its stellar writing. Undertale is a crowning achievement in RPGs and games in general.
While it may be the black sheep of the franchise, Ys Origin is also one of the best entries the series has seen, and one of the best action RPGs period. All three playable characters having their own fleshed out and unique play style makes for an incredibly fresh, blood pumping experience that puts other action oriented games to shame. With an excellently written story, a beautiful soundtrack, and a challenging but always fair difficulty, Ys Origin is everything right with the series whilst maintaining an identity entirely of its own.
Ditching the series' ensemble cast in favour of a more personal family drama is one of the best decisions Koei Tecmo has made, and the key feature that elevates Spirit of Sanada to more than just a new entry in the Warriors franchise. The roster is still massive and everyone is playable during free mode, but the story locks down characters by the mission, personalizing the Sanada family over the course of roughly fifty years of Sengoku period history. Multi-stage battles emphasize just how war-torn the Sengoku era was, while offering a breath a fresh air to the traditional series stage format. The combat is as refined as ever and the focus on Masayuki and Yukimura makes for an incredibly intimate story. Spirit of Sanada is, plain and simple, one of best precedents Koei Tecmo has set.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is everything an action RPG could and should be. Genre conventions and traditions are still in play, but they're handled with a delicacy that elevates what would otherwise be tired clichés into imaginative story beats. The narrative is as rich in thematic substance as it is in genuine human interaction, as every NPC is given ample time to grow, while solidarity is emphasized as humanity's best bet at surviving. Lacrimosa of Dana plays like an ideal marriage between Seven and Memories of Celceta, with an equal balance of character building, fast-paced combat, and exploration. NIS America's localization could have used another draft, but it's offset by the franchise's single best story and a host of content to uncover in the base game, along with New Game Plus. Innovative with just enough familiarity, Ys has never been better.
To simply label Nioh as "Souls-like" would be to imply that it is in any way derivative of the Dark Souls formula. It shares its similarities, yes, but Team Ninja has crafted a different beast entirely. William's journey to recover Saoirse runs brilliantly parallel to Japan's journey to recover order. Combat is fluid and variable thanks to quick weapon switching and an emphasis on recovering stamina mid-action instead of simply exhausting it in bursts. The overall presentation and aesthetic of Japan is breath-taking and unforgettable. The enemy variety is lacking, but that's easily overlooked by just how engrossing each boss is. With all the DLC present, Nioh: Complete Edition is an excellent way of experiencing Team Ninja's masterpiece for the first time, or just revisiting William Adams for another trek through Japan.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is one of the finest games on the 3DS, one of the finest RPGs in its genre, and one of the finest remakes of all time. The lack of modification done to the sprites will surely sour some, but it's arguably for the best, as it preserves the aesthetic identity of an already great looking adventure. The amazing combat system is thankfully left untouched, the new scenario offers more than its weight in gameplay, and the optional nature of most of the new content means anyone uninterested in the changes can simply find comfort in an amazing base experience. Radiant Historia was good enough where it didn't need a remake, but it's wonderful it got anyway.
In spite of an ending that arrives too soon, Moonlighter manages to offer an engaging balance of commerce and action up to the very end. There is a natural rhythm to opening the titular shop during the day only to dungeon crawl once night falls. Progression is constant, emphasizing a design philosophy that prioritizes a lack of wasted time above all else. From enhancing weapons to upgrading Rynoka, every piece of gold Will spends is in benefit to not only the player, but also the flow of it all. With surprisingly tight combat and an economy influenced exclusively by the protagonist himself, this is one of the most endearingly creative takes on action-RPGs this generation.
Mega Man 11 not only marks a return to form for the franchise, it serves as a natural evolution of Mega Man's foundation, finally allowing the series to progress into the next generation. On an aesthetic and gameplay level, the series has taken some much needed, and welcome, steps. The art style has an appropriate level of charm and polish, while still evoking a more old school aesthetic, while the new Double Gear system pairs wonderfully with the platformer's tight level design. Mega Man 11 is a magnificent blend of old and new, honouring what came before, while never forgetting to look towards the future.
La-Mulana 2 doesn't reinvent compared to its predecessor, but it doesn't have to. The foundation left behind by the original La-Mulana is strong enough to justify a sequel that, on the whole, follows the same beats as the original. Exploration is deeply satisfying as Eg-Lana is one of the finest crafted worlds in a Metroidvania; puzzles require genuine use of critical thinking more than not; and, while the curve perhaps isn't as refined as in the original, the difficulty provides a consistent challenge from start to finish. La-Mulana 2 is more of the same, in the best way possible.
Dark Souls Remastered on Nintendo Switch may be lacking in the same bells and whistles as its current gen counterparts, but that is hardly a bad thing. As a result of the Switch port taking a more reserved approach, due to technical limitations or otherwise, Dark Souls' visual identity has been kept intact. Audio compression does plague the port, but the main game itself is virtually untouched. While this may not result in a definitive version, the Switch port makes for an excellent return, or even first visit, to Lordran. Dark Souls remains a magnificently designed title with a strong visual and narrative sense of self. There was no reason to fix what wasn't broken, and Dark Souls Remastered on Switch understands that perfectly.