Five Essential RPGs for the Eclectic Adventurer – Part One
This week, the staff of SwitchRPG are taking you on a grand tour through our favorite RPGs on the Nintendo Switch- so far, anyway. While each list is subjective to the author in question, we believe these lists represent the cream of the crop – games that every RPG fan should take a serious look at, and consider picking up.
Every adventurer knows that each game on a console possesses unique gameplay, lore, world building, and structure, but how can you choose what to play in a world where we have so much to choose from? Here we’ll go over five titles that span the spectrum of the RPG experience on Switch so that almost any kind of Adventurer can find something to enjoy!
1. For the Creative Adventurer: Dragon Quest Builders 2
In one of the most astonishing mash-ups ever to grace a screen, Square Enix gave us the wonderfully blended experience of Dragon Quest x Minecraft in Dragon Quest Builders. While the first game was a great success and saw a port to the Switch, the sequel expanded upon the framework of an already amazing premise. With more recipes for crafting, more weapons to bash monsters with, and more RPG elements than ever before, Dragon Quest Builders 2 picks up from the first game (which was already a gem) and polishes up the experience to a lustrous gleam.
Dragon Quest Builders 2 starts you out on an abandoned island after a shipwreck that leaves few survivors — yourself, a bossy lass named Lulu, as well as the enigmatic Malroth, who would much rather deliver vicious thwackings than build -anything- thank you very much! Soon you’re sailing the seas and exploring the world to bring back supplies and people to flesh out your own island paradise, all the while attempting to keep the terrible Children of Hargon- who cannot stand building in any capacity- at bay.
This adventure is massive, with a main campaign that boasts well over 40 hours of adventuring if you should keep yourself from getting sidetracked. The full experience is a wonderful walk through what Dragon Quest has to offer: vicious monster battles, a wonderful array of items and equipment, and a vibrant world that is rich in history and lore. The NPC’s have cheery banter that reflects on the unique humor that is Dragon Quest: terrible puns, dad jokes, and monsters with their charming speech patterns that make the world feel truly real and alive.
Crafting is relaxing and rewarding. All of your townspeople appreciate every new building you create: from increasing sleeping space to making a bathroom or a kitchen, they’ll shower you with admiration in the form of little hearts, which can be spent to learn even more recipes that can increase your amount of buildable items. The catalog available in game is massive — there are an incredible amount of blocks and decorative items that can be utilized to make unique creations, and the inclusion of multiplayer makes the work of building massive structures even easier, though your townsfolk alone will chip in should you have the proper blueprint to show them the way.
For fans of creative games, Dragon Quest Builders 2 is not a title to let slip through your fingers. You don’t have to play the previous game to enjoy it, as the story is only very loosely tied to the original with no real important references. While those who have played Dragon Quest games before will enjoy the myriad references and callbacks to the older games in the series, this entry is approachable enough that players who have never even experienced Dragon Quest in any form could enjoy it.
2. For the Classic-loving Adventurer: Octopath Traveler
Octopath Traveler has proven to be a very polarizing game. It took some of the most beloved traits of classic RPG experiences and attempted to make them new again. With its unique “HD 2D” art style, the crisp and beautiful sprite work for characters and backgrounds adds character to this whimsical story, making it feel like a playable pop-up book. The battle system, while complex, allows for rich gameplay that both challenges and immerses player in the experience.
Octopath Traveler allows you to choose a main protagonist from the get-go, who will remain as your lead character throughout their campaign. While you can pick up the seven remaining playable characters at any time, what you choose to do from the outset is entirely up to you. You can grab as many or as few additional party members as you’d like, and experience their personal stories at your own pace. This makes for an experience not dissimilar to Romancing SaGa or Suikoden titles — the ability to pick up and work on a character arc and move through when you feel like it. The freedom of choice is liberating.
Each character’s story is self-contained, so there is limited interaction between your party members. While some small cutscenes between the characters do occur, it has little impact on the story. This does have a significant impact on the feel of the world, which can be seen as a little disjointed and detached. Why are these people traveling together if they are not united in their goals? What makes this realistically work? This argument has been a source of debate among many players, but there are many facets of Octopath that make it a truly good title despite this disconnect in the group.
Dynamic difficulty has always been a balancing system that has been hard to implement, and even harder to get players to enjoy. Titles like Final Fantasy VIII did this well, with monsters and bosses leveling up with your characters, making battles stay challenging regardless of your location in the overworld. Need to go back toward the beginning of the game? The monsters there are stronger now, with new abilities and magic! The same premise applies here: monsters and bosses scale with you, and they scale even harder depending on your party size. The more characters you have at your disposal, the more the fights will throw at you. This makes the game retain its challenge for players that genuinely appreciate combat systems that make you work.
Combat itself is one of the main draws to this title. While players of turn-based games will immediately recognized the familiar-seeming system, Square Enix has masterfully implemented a battle system that (while drawing from the Bravely Default series) offers enough changes to keep things fresh. Each party member can equip different weapon types and have access to different types of elemental damage. This is one of the most important aspects of party composition, because almost every monster and boss fight in the game has a weakness to either certain weapons or certain elements. Hitting something with enough of that damage type in succession causes them to enter a “Break” state where they lose out on a turn and take increased damage. This gives opportunities to strategize combat and let loose swaths of damage.
Octopath is a rich experience, full of exploration, difficult battles, and wonderful character customization options. While players who seek a rich and enveloping story may feel a bit put out, I would recommend this game to anyone that enjoys a grand adventure with a challenging battle system.
3. For the Cooperative-Play Adventurer: Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
The Tales of series has a rich history, spanning all the way back to the Super Nintendo with Tales of Phantasia. Since then, almost twenty titles have been released, each with a unique story and added elements to gameplay. The Tales of series has seen most of its mainline titles localized for Western audiences, but there has been a significant lack of translation for spin-off titles. Tales of Vesperia was originally released for the Xbox 360 in an effort to draw the RPG player base to the platform. Sadly, Xbox did not gain a lot of traction in the East, and as a result, did not get much further support from many Japanese developers.
This Switch port arrived arrived with new content: unreleased DLC costumes, two additional playable characters, and more minigames, bosses, and music. The game also received updated HD graphics, a treatment that many RPGs have received in the last couple of years. The upscaling is done well, causing the distinct anime art style that Tales of has become known for to look incredibly fluid on Switch in both handheld and docked modes. This port doesn’t seem to be afflicted with as many performance issues as more demanding titles, but one might encounter some graphical stuttering in the overworld map.
This particular story is set in a world that is dependent on an ancient technology to meet their daily needs, but our protagonists soon find that this dependency isn’t exactly the best thing for the world. There’s a lot of story here to unravel, and our main character Yuri has incredibly character growth throughout the adventure. The expanded story in this port is a wonderful experience for players who have experienced the original game back on the Xbox 360, but also serves as a great entry point for anyone that has never played a Tales game before.
Mechanically, the Tales series employs a unique action combat system, often allowing 1-4 players to fight alongside one another during battles that feature multiple characters in the game. While only the first player can traverse towns and overworld areas in Tales of Vesperia, this does make this game a wonderful experience for cooperative play. Each person can customize the setup of their party member by binding different abilities to their controller, allowing for unique setups and the tailoring of gameplay to each person’s preference. The game also allows for the learning of skills from weapons, which can augment character parameters as well as allowing unique mutations of skills already learned by party members.
Tales of Vesperia is a large-scale adventure with 40-50 hours of gameplay. There is the ability to use a New Game Plus feature, which allows certain elements to carry over to another campaign. Tales games use a system called GRADE, which is a score given after each battle that increases based on performance. GRADE has a lot of use in New Game Plus, so the replay value of Tales games are often strikingly high compared to some other games in the same vein.
Tales of Vesperia is a quest for justice, with a group of young adventurers that exemplify purpose and what it is to do the right thing. Players who enjoy deep story and political intrigue will be right at home with this title, and hopefully will include a friend or two along for the journey.
4. For the Adventurer Lost in Thought: The World Ends With You: Final Remix
The World Ends With You (TWEWY) was originally released for the Nintendo DS back in 2007. The game has been ported to mobile devices, which is what this Switch port is also based upon. This title is entirely played through either touch screen or motion controls, meaning that fans of the traditional handheld experience might be disappointed to know that they’ll be using a finger or stylus instead, but will likely acclimate to the changes sooner than they realize.
Set in the Shibuya prefecture of Tokyo, Japan, the game opens up with the main character Neku awakening in the middle of a bustling streetful of people. It doesn’t take him long to realize that no one can see or hear him, and he’s surprised to find that the world around him is now plagued by strange creatures- and they can -definitely- see him. In the throes of battle, he reluctantly forges a bond with a girl named Shiki, and together they try to make sense of the world around them. Shiki has some knowledge to offer: They’re dead, and playing the Reaper’s Game, meaning they have to survive and complete the daily tasks given to them in an effort to win back the chance at life again.
TWEWY has a very unique set of systems that set it apart from other games: the combat employs the use of “Psyches,” which are unique fashionable pins that Neku can wear in battle. Everything you equip to your players matters, as even clothes and accessories increase stats and provide unique set bonuses when equipped. While fashion may not be something that many players fancy in real life, in this version of Shibuya brands matter more than ever before, influencing the effectiveness of the pins you wear in battle if you also wear clothes of the corresponding brand.
TWEWY has one of the most satisfying examples of character growth that has ever been seen in gaming: an angsty teen who is contained within himself is thrown into adversity over and over, and instead of coming out as more withdrawn into himself, Neku starts to see the value of other people and those peoples’ experiences. While originally only setting out to get back what was lost to him, ends up putting himself on the line for other people later in the game, which would not have been possible without significant change of heart. The Reapers’ Game itself seems to have a level of complexity that is hard to understand at first, but the foundation of the Underground (The alternative Shibuya) begins to unravel the more the player pushes forward. This allows for a sense of immersion as well as instilling a drive to figure things out — What exactly is the motivation behind the Reapers’ Game? Why can’t Neku remember what led up to his death? What is going on behind the scenes?
The World Ends With You is a piece of art most likely enjoyed by players who enjoy philosophical concepts and seeing the humanity of characters. The growth of Neku alone is a compelling enough story to follow, and the mysteries surrounding the Reapers’ Game are numerous and perplexing in a way that will keep you guessing about what really is going on in the shadows.
5. For the Adventurer That Wants to See the World: Xenoblade Chronicles 2
The original Xenoblade Chronicles pushed its home platform, the Wii, to its limits. With a huge, sprawling world and a story to match, players could not get enough of Xenoblade. As with predecessor Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a standalone adventure with only loose ties to the original game, along with a couple of cameo appearances from past characters that have no real effect on the story whatsoever.
Our adventure follows a young teen named Rex, who makes his living on the back of his Titan friend by salvaging items from the Cloud Sea. Titans play a huge role in the world of Alrest: civilizations thrive on their very backs, whose survival is only possible because of the existence of these beings. Rex is quickly thrown into a huge conflict involving the Aegis, a legendary blade (and cute girl) that slept beneath the Sea for hundreds of years. The Aegis, now known as Pyra, soon forms a bond with Rex and the two set off to reach the mythical land of Elysium atop the World Tree.
The world of Alrest is filled to the brim with beautiful places and dangerous creatures. Sight after sight will have you moving your camera around in awe, marveling over the Switch’s capability to output such visually appealing environments. Alrest is a tough world to conquer, and adventurers will need to keep an eye out for powerful creatures. Many monsters are capable of destroying any pipsqueak within striking distance with a single half-hearted blow. This makes for a perilous adventure, sure, but also one where the right amount of caution can still allow you to traverse through areas you have absolutely zero business being in quite yet.
The combat system is action oriented, with skills, or Arts, being assigned to certain buttons that can combo off of one another as well as produce status effects, which can -also- combo off of one another. This products an enjoyable combat experience that is made even more fun with my personal favorite mechanic: Blades. Blades are born from a unique type of stone called a Core Crystal, which can be resonated with by those worthy of being a “Driver” of them. Core Crystals are scattered all over Alrest and sometimes dropped by wildlife, providing a game of chance where Rex or some other party member can resonate with the Core Crystal to get a new blade.
Blades correspond to different elements and roles: a Water blade could be a tank, DPS, or a healer type, but so, too, could a Wind-element blade. Blades have differing levels of rarity, with those on the rarest end of the scale being unique with more distinct, humanoid features that set them apart from their common peers. Acquisition of rare blades is a slightly frustrating game of chance, but one that yields incredible potential for rewards. Up to three blades can be set to a Driver and can be swapped out during combat to make best use of their unique abilities.
The main quest of finding Elysium is complicated by the fact that a rival group would do almost anything to get a hold of the Aegis Pyra’s incredible power. This spirals into a complex story that, while easy to follow, can be a bit daunting for players unfamiliar with the RPG genre’s propensity for deep and convoluted gameplay and narrative. Luckily, quests and objectives can be looked at any time within the game’s various menus so that even fledgling questers can keep up.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a massive game that can easily soak up your time. Even with sticking to the main story, you can sink 60 hours into the game effortlessly, and those that like to complete all sidequests and objectives could see a playtime like mine at over 200 hours. (Apparently, there’s some sick puppy named Evan Bee who has over 400 hours logged- ed.) A game this large may seem daunting to some, but if you’re looking for an adventure that will stick with you over the years, this is certainly the experience you’d want. The story alone is riveting, and the progression of the characters is heartwarming and, at times, the saddest thing you’ll ever have experienced in an RPG.
The Nintendo Switch has quickly amassed a huge collection of wonderful games in the RPG genre, spanning every nook and cranny of the spectrum. All players should be able to find something to enjoy in the ever-growing library, from relaxing titles like Stardew Valley to frantic action-packed undertakings such as Astral Chain. I hope that if you’ve not had a chance to play one of these games, that this dive into what they have to offer has piqued your interest. There’s definitely something out there for you, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this look!