Fire Emblem Engage represents a return to the more singular storytelling of past games prior to Fire Emblem Fates. Gone are the multiple stories experienced through various factions. Instead, you have one main story to go through that's more centered on the protagonist. The streamlined experience is a common theme that pervades other aspects of the game. The new Somniel hub gets rid of extracurricular activities such as teaching and serves more as a base for services, unit training and development, and PVP. Combat, meanwhile, while still rock solid, also gets a rewind mechanic so players no longer have to waste time reloading saves. Some might decry the changes as a watering down of the game as well as features from Three Houses. Others will see them as much needed quality-of life additions that strip out the fluff and allow players to concentrate on battles. As such, your mileage and enjoyment of Fire Emblem Engage depends on which side of this debate you fall under.
Nearly seven years after first releasing on Vita, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana holds up incredibly well even today. Despite its old-school aesthetics, the game looks nice and runs especially well on the PS5, thanks to its high and consistent frame rate. Granted, the old-school gameplay might not float the boat of folks who want something more modern. For fans of classic JRPGs, however, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana’s interesting characters combined with its fun action combat and base-building and crafting mechanics make it one of the best games I’ve ever played in the genre.
While One Piece Odyssey doesn’t revolutionize the genre, it does provide a pretty good JRPG experience that proved to be better than I expected. Add the hilarious hijinks of the Straw Hat crew and what you have is an entertaining romp overall. It might not quite satiate the appetites of folks who don’t particularly care about One Piece. If you love Luffy and the gang as well as JRPGs to boot, however, One Piece Odyssey is like hitting two South Birds with one stone.
The Gungrave series harkens back to the heyday of Red Company when the developer was churning out excellent games such as the Sakura Wars and Tengai Makyo series. Nearly two decades later, Gungrave G.O.R.E. returns to a much changed world with different tastes. For its part, Gungrave G.O.R.E. faithfully sticks to the trademark mechanics of the past games. It’s definitely a risky decision as classic Gungrave is an acquired taste that isn’t for everybody. If you loved the old games and protagonist Beyond the Grave’s top-notch drip, however, Gungrave G.O.R.E. is essentially the Gungrave that you know and love.
Kukoos lost pets harkens back to a time when 3D mascot platformers were the bees knees. While it has some rough spots and doesn’t reinvent or revolutionize the genre, the game boasts some solid and, at times, challenging platforming. Add some fun boss fights, four-player multiplayer and an affordable price and you have a game that lovers of old-school platforming just might go cuckoo for.
Marvel’s Midnight Suns provides a fun and addicting experience, especially with its tactical combat. It’s not exactly XCOM. But it also shares that XCOM feel despite the different mechanics. Storytelling and dialogue, meanwhile, perfectly emulates the style of Marvel movies, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. Admittedly, the game's visual aesthetic can feel like you’re playing a mobile game sometimes. The gameplay, however, is quite good and has that familiar Firaxis tactical polish. It’s one of the nice gaming surprises of the year for sure.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion goes the extra mile in bringing back the story of Soldier First Class Zack Fair and how it ultimately shapes several key characters in the FF7 franchise. From its greatly improved visuals and production values to its faster-paced combat, Reunion goes above and beyond even the best remasters out there. Some parts can still feel dated despite its best efforts. Overall, however, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Reunion is a remake done right.
Kratos may not always know best but, boy, does this father know how to serve up some story-driven action in God of War: Ragnarok. The storytelling remains top-notch and the new mechanics help freshen up the previous game’s combat. The game remains highly linear, however, and can feel like you’re playing an interactive movie at times. That being said, its excellent narrative combined with engaging combat makes God of War: Ragnarok worthy to pick up Thor’s hammer from a gaming standpoint.
Star Ocean: The Divine Force is the latest entry in the long-running JRPG series, which has hit some stumbling blocks with its last release. The decision to have dual protagonists is a nice touch, especially given how likable they both are. Combat is also good for folks who prefer a more action-oriented system, with the DUMA mechanics adding even more options for players. The storytelling’s pacing can be uneven and its vast areas can also feel empty at times. Overall, though, it’s a solid addition to the Star Ocean franchise and a step back in the right direction.
Bayonetta 3 is another excellent addition to the franchise that pushes the series’ already excellent gameplay to a whole new level. Storytelling can be a bit uneven and the visuals, while boasting great concept design, can suffer from texture and performance hiccups. Bayonetta 3 delivers where it counts the most, however, and that’s its fast-paced, combo-licious combat. Throw in a new playable character to the mix and you’ve got another entry that can stand toe-to-toe with any of the best action games out there, crying devils included.
Twelve years after it first released, Trails From Zero finally makes it to western shores. Admittedly, the visual inconsistencies between the PS4 version and the graphically superior Switch and PC versions is a bit of a bummer. Despite being more than a decade old, however, Trails From Zero has aged quite well and remains one of the best JRPGs out there. Gamers who especially like classic JRPGs should definitely pick it up.
Yomawari: Lost in the Dark features the franchise’s trademark dichotomy that combines a disarmingly cute art style with disturbing suspense-horror sensibilities. Admittedly, the gameplay can feel a bit repetitive and drawn out as you find yourself constantly running away from things instead of truly confronting your fears. The story, however, is a high point that manages to keep you on your toes while also touching your heart at the same time. Give it a look if you like the Yomawari series or a survival game that’s different from the norm.
Don-chan and the gang are back with another thumping exercise in musicology with Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival. The versus toy mode and the co-op DON-Chan band mode are nice additions to the standard arcade experience that taiko fans know and love. Admittedly, the subscription model that provides access to 583 songs at launch can be polarizing for fans. A diverse set of 76 base songs combined with fun modes, unlockables and tight taiko drumming mechanics, however, make Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival one of the best rhythm games out there right now.
The first Splatoon game was a wonderfully novel experience and Splatoon 2 also managed to build on its framework while still feeling new. In comparison, Splatoon 3 doesn’t feel quite as fresh as those two initial games even with its new additions, opting instead to polish and refine the franchise’s tried-and-true formula. That being said, Splatoon 3 represents the pinnacle of the series’ shooting mechanics, which are further fine-tuned into splatting perfection. Add a campaign with fun and creative bosses as well as engaging multiplayer options and you have another colorful and addicting addition to the franchise.
Like its predecessors in the series, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 likes to go big. Whether it be its story, its large areas and creatures, or gameplay that can stretch well over 100 hours, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 boasts a scope that’s hard to beat. Its scale can admittedly be intimidating and overwhelming at times. The story can also be prone to anime tropes and uneven pacing. Overall, however, the narrative impresses with its poignant take on war and death. Add its fleshed-out gameplay and there’s a lot to love in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 for RPG lovers.
Soul Hackers 2 is another solid entry in the Shin Megami Tensei universe, sharing the devilish traits of the mainline SMT series with some of the jazzy vibes of Persona 4 and 5 sprinkled in between. The simple combat belies a deep customization system for demons and character skills while the game’s excellent cast help lift its story. Admittedly, it’s not quite as fleshed out as Atlus’ best role-playing games. If you like old-school JRPGs with a Shin Megami Tensei twist, however, Soul Hackers 2 is a game that you’ll be dying to play.
Kunio and the gang stake a claim on hot-blooded martial brawling since ancient times with River City Saga: Three Kingdoms. Combat is decidedly old school with pixellated characters to boot. The gameplay can feel a bit repetitive after extended play, which is par for the course for the beat-em-up genre, and can also be a bit of a grind at times. Replay value is solid, however, and fans of classic side-scrolling games will love its old-school fighting roots.
Mario Strikers: Battle League boasts excellent gameplay mechanics as well as item-based hijinks that make it feel more like a survival game at times. Online options are also much improved, including the ability to create your own Strikers Clubs for competing and earning rewards. The focus on competitive online play, however, has made the game less of a compelling offline experience due to a lack of a true campaign as well as various other modes. It’s still a blast when played with friends or online rivals. For folks playing solo by themselves, however, Battle League can be a lonely experience.
Monster Hunter Rise: Sunbreak further builds on the new mechanics introduced by Rise with an assortment of new skills as well as several quality-of-life improvements that further improve the overall Monster Hunter experience. Add the introduction of AI hunting partners — a first in the series — and you have a nice assortment of new things that further move the series forward. The absence of Rampage Mode in Master Rank does make it feel like features have been taken out. The endgame could also be a bit more fleshed out. A great campaign experience combined with excellent combat mechanics, however, makes Sunbreak another worthy addition to the franchise.