We’ve reached the halfway point of the year, and with it, comes a chance to look back, look forward, and consider which of the Switch’s 2020 releases have been the best RPG experiences this year. Our third-annual SwitchRPG Awards will be held this December, and with it, will come some exciting changes to how our categories are organized and judged, though one category that won’t be going anywhere is our award for RPG of the Year. We’ll be taking a look at the best role-playing experiences, from traditional turn-based RPGs, modern action RPGs, retro remasters, dungeon crawlers, roguelikes, tactical RPGs, and more to see which game stands as the best of the best for 2020.
Today, we’re walking through some of our staff’s favorites from the first half of the year, taking stock of what games currently stand as frontrunners for the 2020 awards. While we still have some big AAA titles yet to come, the games listed below all stand as great examples of not only fantastic RPGs – with the quality storytelling, progression systems, and thoughtful combat we all know and love – but also as stellar games in their own right.
Let’s take a walk through these titles and see who might be a contender come December.
Boot Hill Bounties
Released in April, Boot Hill Bounties was brought to the Switch by indie developer Experimental Gamer Studios. This wild west themed RPG brings a unique “charging active” battle system, subversive (and sometimes insane) story, excellent characters, and other gameplay systems to deliver one of the best indie titles on the Switch this year. While the game’s visuals can be hit or miss for some, there’s not denying the amount of charm and originality at work here. Boot Hill Bounties is a budget RPG well worth checking out, serving as a welcome surprise for fans who pick up this quirky title.
Here’s what our staff has to say about Boot Hill Bounties:
“For me, so far, Boothill Bounties takes the cake for the “most surprising Nintendo Switch title” this year. While I originally picked it up for its pleasing pixel art alone, I ultimately fell for its wacky storyline that took me places I never expected to go. The battle system takes some time to get used to, but it adds a bit of fast-paced excitement to an otherwise slow and fiddly paced game. As a result, Boot Hill Bounties is an easy recommendation on the Nintendo Switch — just be wary of the slow pacing.” – Mike
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
Bug Fables is developer Moonsprout Games’ answer to the question, “Would a tradional Paper Mario game still work today?” With an art style and gameplay mechanics inspired by early entries in the Paper Mario series, Bug Fables manages not only to capture what made those games great – a unique, paper aestheic; action-command, turn-based battles, and a healthy heeping of charm – but also find an identity all its own. The game brings many of its own ideas to the table. With an fleshed out, insect-filled world, excellent side quests, and a simple, but strong central narrative, Bug Fables easily stands toe-to-toe with some of the best RPGs released on Switch this year.
Here’s what our staff has to say about Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling:
“Bug Fables is a title that manages to surpass its predecessors in some ways while offering impressive side-steps in terms of progress in others, resulting in a game that could very well usurp The Thousand-Year Door in my eyes. If you’re looking for something that is so directly inspired by a specific series that it ends up feeling wholly unique as a result, this game is a reminder that Paper Mario doesn’t need to be an RPG anymore, seeing as many others are willing to innovate on its gameplay.” – Evan
Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl GOLD
Based on a manga series running in Japan’s Coro Coro Magazine, Snack World began its life as a 3DS title, before being ported to Switch this year. This light-hearted dungeon crawler features a setting that mashes up modern conveniences with fantastical creatures to slay, treasure to find, and quests to complete. The game ties a number of combat and progression systems together, inserting them into a roguelike dungeon crawling experience that can keep players occupied for hours on end. While this title may not be beloved by all, it was a favorite for many SwitchRPG staff and community members, bringing together players through its sometimes zany story and added online functionality.
Here’s what our staff has to say about Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl GOLD:
“Snack World is a lighthearted adventure that, while self-aware, doesn’t lose sight of the end goal of gaming: to enjoy yourself and have fun. If bashing in the face of the same boss over and over in pursuit of a single item drop is something that you enjoy, then I would say this isn’t a game to miss out on. With a long, single-player story and a large catalog of multiplayer and end-game quests, Snack World has a massive amount of content to satisfy any dungeon crawling fan. Snack World is vastly different and a lot less serious than a lot of the other adventure games I’ve come to enjoy over the years, but it’s definitely going down as a favorite.” – Elias
Star Ocean: First Departure R
Released first on the original Playstation in 1996, then remastered for the PSP in 2007, Star Ocean landed on Switch last December, right at the beginning of our judging period. The game’s mixture of detailed 2D sprites, prerendered backgrounds, and HD effects works masterfully, making it one of the prettiest retro-RPGs currently available on our beloved console. Combine these aesthetics with a solid story, incentives for repeated playthroughs, and a Tales-inspired, action combat system, and you’ve got a fantastic 20-hour adventure to enjoy (and re-enjoy) for just $20 at full price.
Here’s what our staff has to say about Star Ocean: First Departure R:
“In a year already stacked with a number of quality Switch RPG releases, Star Ocean: First Departure R has been a pleasant, budget-friendly surprise. At the reasonable price of $20USD, this 20 hour adventure – bolstered exponentially if you intend to see everything – is sure to satisfy fans of retro JRPGs. Star Ocean: First Departure R certainly shows its age from time-to-time, but it also proves that those years are a non-issue if you’re ultimately having fun. Don’t sleep on this one – it is a journey well worth taking despite its shortcomings.” – Ben
To the Moon
Beginning its life as an RPG-Maker title of all things, To the Moon proved just what can be accomplished when you put those tools in the hands of the right developer. This remastered edition of To the Moon came to Switch early this year, a remains a beautiful, poignant story wrapped in a fantastic, pseudo-RPG package. That package includes all the things we know and love about quality RPGs – a moving soundtrack, quality spritework, engaging puzzles, and of course, the story itself. But where To the Moon stands alone is in its absense of a true combat or character progression system, pushing the boundaries of what could be considered an RPG at all. Whatever side of that debate you fall on, there is no denying that To the Moon remains one of the best games to grace the Switch in 2020.
Here’s what our staff has to say about To the Moon:
“To the Moon is a wonderful game. The story is superb, and the music and visuals are also great. If you’re interested in character-driven storytelling in the video game medium, this game should be one of the top titles on your wishlist. It’s the kind of work that reinforces how good the medium can be at its peak, at least in regards to narrative.” – Aamir
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 won our very first RPG of the Year Award back in 2018, so there’s no doubting that the SwitchRPG community waited with baited breath for Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition to hits shelves after it was announced this year. This remastered edition of one of the best games to hit the Wii brings updated visuals, some improved quality of life features, and an entire, 10-hour bonus story after credits roll. All these are on top of an already densely-packed adventure with an amazing sci-fi setting, compelling characters, and a masterful combat system. Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition stands as a strong contender to repeat its sequel’s success for our 2020 awards.
Here’s what our staff has to say about Xenoblade Chronicles:
“Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, without a doubt, has become one of my favorite Switch RPGs Switch to date. While it may lack some of the complexities found in later entries, it is a testament to the “less is more” adage. This game is packed with content that will easily take you 50+ hours to complete, even if you don’t go “off the deep end” with its multitude of MMO-like side quests. Xenoblade’s unwavering quality – even after almost a decade – proves it’s worthy to stand among the other “greats” of the genre.” – Ben
The games features above only scratch the surface for great RPGs released in 2020. As the Nintendo Switch library continues to grow week after week, it’s status as an RPG powerhouse only grows stronger as well. Games like Ashen, Children of the Zodiarcs, Shinsekai Into the Depths, Trails of Cold Steel 3, and Trials of Mana could all easily have been featured above, as each served as another important entry in the Switch’s RPG portfolio.
Beyond these titles, we still have a huge number of quality RPGs yet to come in the back half of this year. This includes CrossCode (out now!), Bravely Default II, Eastward, Fairy Tail, and Paper Mario: The Origami King. Not to mention that the long awaited release date for RPG Maker MV has finally been announced, which will put a whole host of user-generated content at our fingertips.
Are there any RPGs you’ve played this year that you think deserves a nod? What games are anticipating for the back half of the year? Let us know in the comments!