Nintendo Switch Indies: 5 Must-Play RPGs
I don’t know what it is about people but as a general rule it sure does seem that we have a fondness for compiling lists! And whether it’s writing ad nauseum about my favorite Switch games, standout tunes from a particular RPG (maker), or my most wanted Switch ports, I’m clearly no exception. This time around, I’ve decided to set my sights on a category of games that have suffered no loss of love on the Nintendo Switch: indie games, or ‘Nindies’ as they’ve been cleverly–and somewhat inaccurately–marketed, and particularly those of the role-playing variety (what else?).
With a library that boasts of hundreds (thousands?) of independently developed games on its platform, the breadth and variety of high-quality titles from small studios that have managed to earn a name for themselves on Nintendo’s sales-crushing hardware is one of the best arguments out there that we live in a ‘golden age’ of video games (this is especially true where us self-proclaimed Nintendo fanboys and girls are concerned). The fact that a game like Stardew Valley can continue to move units in the day and age of Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X gives me, someone who continues to view the relatively simplistic pixel art of the 16 and 32-bit era with endless affection, immense optimism for the future.
Now, before I jump into the following list of five indie RPGs that I earnestly believe everyone reading this ought to own, or at least play, there are a few clarifications that I feel it necessary to put forth. However, if you don’t care to read the following preamble, you can click here to skip ahead to the main event.
A Few Clarifications
It should go without saying that as a single individual with limited time and money, I can’t possibly be expected to have an opinion—much less play—every great indie RPG that has found its way to the Switch. It’s inevitable that you’ll find something missing, a gem that you think ought to have made the list but didn’t. It’s also possible that I’ve played that very game and, though liking it (or even thinking it was great), couldn’t manage to fit it into my top five (for instance, the Ori games). Or perhaps I’ve completed it but personally didn’t really enjoy it all that much (viz., Undertale). More likely, however, is that I just haven’t gotten around to playing it at all.
With thirty-some-odd indie games in my collection that I have plowed through from start to finish, around one-third of these being RPG-related in some capacity, I’d like to think that I’m fairly picky in selecting games to purchase. More or less all of the games that I own had to satisfy one of two preconditions in persuading me to pull the trigger, though often both criteria were met: they must appear unique or intriguing from the jump, or they should be generally well-received by gaming enthusiasts across the board. Accordingly, you should feel confident that the games I’ve listed here are among ‘the cream of the crop’ of all that the Switch has to offer, indie or otherwise.
I’d even put forward the claim that these are the best indie RPGs available on the Switch right now. Regardless, they’re my favorites. How I determined which games should make the list or what order they ought to appear is, needless to say, largely subjective. There is a lot of latitude in terms of how video games can be evaluated, whether from the perspective that these are first and foremost works of art as opposed to products made chiefly for the purposes of entertainment consumption… or somewhere in-between these non-mutually exclusive alternatives. In my opinion, while so-called art games tend to leave deeper and more lasting impressions, my overall judgment on a game usually boils down to whether or not I had fun playing it. To me, that’s the ultimate point of video games, the reason that keeps me coming back to whatever title, genre, or piece of hardware is in question. Everything else, while useful in supplementing this central purpose, is secondary (if you disagree, let me know in the comments!).
Happily, for each of the games that follow, art direction was every bit as laudable as the actual gameplay, addictive and gratifying as they all were. While they might not all win awards for originality, each near flawlessly executes a succinct vision where the divergent paths of video games-as-art and video games-as-a-service beautifully intersect.
Now, if you’re a regular reader here at SwitchRPG, you may already know that while we primarily stick to covering RPGs, our definition for what this term precisely encompasses oftentimes extends to games typically viewed as being outside of the genre. It’s not unusual for a game’s inclusion of core ‘RPG elements’ to suffice as an excuse for one of our staff to cover it. This very concept of ‘RPG elements’ itself tends to be fluid. In my mind, it may include things such as the way customization within a game is handled, i.e. how upgrades are procured; whether weapons and/or items are crafted, bought, or found. Further, how does character progression ensue? If there is anything like EXP and levelling up involved, ability slots, skill trees, etc., then I’m liable to think of the game as having borrowed some of its sensibilities from more traditional RPG experiences and thus, where this outlet is concerned, it warrants coverage.
This is why we sometimes review and discuss games like UnderMine, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, or Ori and the Will of the Wisps, despite these games usually falling into the categories of ‘Rogue-like’ and ‘Metroidvania,’ respectively. It’s why I referenced the Ori games earlier and why I felt justified including the games that I have below.
With all that said, if you’re looking for an indie RPG in the vein of a Pokemon or Dragon Quest, that is, a traditional turned-based or strategy title, there may be some great ones out there but none made the following list. However, if you just want something great to play, or to recommend to a friend, that has aspects heavily influenced by the RPG genre but itself isn’t stereotypical of what the term ‘RPG’ implies (if there is such a stereotype), then I can say one thing: I’m proud of the diversity found in this particular selection of games. Each one is not only an experience that I would bill as ‘Great’ and well-worth every penny of its discounted price, every game is also vastly different from the next. But as I am now beginning to explicitly speak about the individual games in question, let’s spare no more time and get straight to it.
(The release dates given refer only to when the titles debuted on the Nintendo Switch).
5. Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King
Release Date: December 21, 2017
File Size: 436 MB
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
Developer: Castle Pixel
It seems virtually impossible for me to go a single article without some reference to The Legend of Zelda series, and my inclusion of Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King on this list can’t but further prolong this tendency. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss Blossom Tales as a mere ‘Zelda clone.’ Described by its lead writer as a game ‘made by Nintendo fans for Nintendo fans,’ Blossom Tales proudly wears its inspiration on its sleeve, even making an explicit and nicely timed reference at one point to ‘the brave elf boy who lived in a magical land called H-‘ (the character who is speaking is interrupted before he can finish).
It’s really astounding what the team at Pennsylvania, USA-based Castle Pixel was able to achieve in this treasure of a game. While the quest, which sees you take control of a cute little sprite warrioress named Lily, only takes 15-20 hours to complete, the developers managed to cram into it everything you could possibly hope for, assuming that open-world adventures featuring real-time combat, puzzle-filled dungeons, and loads of collectible items and upgrades are your thing. For me, it felt like a unique opportunity to relive the sense of childlike bliss that I derived from the Game Boy Color Zeldas way back when but now within the context of a brand new and exciting domain, the Kingdom of Blossom.
Here the entirely fresh cast of faces and locations ensured that my adventure never seemed too much like ground previously treaded. And to the extent that it did feel familiar, given the close proximity that its gameplay shares with those top-down, 2-D exploits of ‘the brave elf boy,’ it was a welcome return. A return to what exactly? To a simpler time in my life, for sure, but especially in gaming; a time when developers invited players into their worlds but didn’t hold their hands too much or spell everything out through a graphical realism that left nothing for the mind to create on its own. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the groundbreaking technology on display in so many modern video games. Yet, it is to say that the simplicity of countless games from yesteryear, and many indie games at present, captures a time which I’ll never grow tired of revisiting, particularly so long as indie developers like Castle Pixel keep presenting the opportunity through endeavors as well-crafted as Blossom Tales.
I could gush about the game at length: it’s colorful and imaginative pixel art, its killer retro soundtrack, the joys of finding a well-hidden heart piece or mowing down countless monsters, whether with sword, bow and arrow, or a snazzy magic spell. It’s all the more impressive too when I consider that this game was designed by just a handful of extremely talented people. Nevertheless, I’ll refrain from saying more as we have other games to which to attend and besides, Phil Pinyan already wrote about the game extensively in his SwitchRPG review. As might be expected, I fully concur with his verdict: this is a great game and one that every Switch owner should give a try.
Release Date: September 17, 2020
File Size: 5.8 GB
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Developer: Supergiant Games
If you haven’t heard of Hades since it simultaneously launched on the Switch and PC last September, maybe you’ve been sleeping under a rock these past nine months. Or perhaps, like the game’s protagonist, Zagreus, you’ve been confined deep within the dark caverns of the Earth’s underbelly, only now just re-emerging into the land of the living. First, welcome back. Second, let’s talk some Hades!
Actually, I must first confess: the initial hours that I spent with the game didn’t immediately win me over. In fact, I was somewhat skeptical of Hades’ premise even before purchasing it, having never played a ‘Rogue-like’ or ‘Rogue-lite’ nor fully understanding what these oft-thrown around labels really entailed. What persuaded me to give this particular ‘Rogue-lite’ a go was the massive hype that surrounded its release, earning developer Supergiant Games a chorus of praise as well as multiple awards and even more nominations. Created by a team of fewer than twenty people situated out of San Francisco, USA, upon release Hades instantly slayed its way into Game of the Year conversations alongside colossally budgeted titles like the Playstation 4’s The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, and Final Fantasy VII Remake.
When I did finally step forth into its stylish recreation of the ancient Greek underworld, I found myself impressed on a number of fronts: its spectacular hand-painted 2-D visuals, absolutely stellar writing and voice-acting (a point that can’t be overstated), and a rocking soundtrack composed by Darren Korb, the man who was also responsible for bringing Zagreus to life. His voice, that is. The task of freeing Zagreus from the clutches of his callous father and the hordes of undead which he controls is up to you to achieve.
And let it be known, that achievement is no easy task, at least not at the start. Part of the reason for my initial ambivalence towards Hades, which I expressed awhile back in one of our Weekend Gaming Playlists, was the sheer repetitiveness of its main proposition. You see, the crux of Hades is rather simple. You have to successfully break out of the Underworld, traversing a series of randomly generated chambers and fending off demonic legions, and after a few challenging boss encounters, you will have succeeded. But along the way, in your various escape attempts, rest assured that you will die… many, many times. This is by design and is necessary for improving your chances the next time around. When you do eventually reach the surface, you’ll be compelled to repeat the process all over again, multiple times, which is how you further the story and unlock increasingly powerful new weapons as the enemies themselves become stronger, depending upon your penchant for raising the stakes. Higher risks involve higher rewards.
The catch is that the bulk of the upgrades you receive in any single escape attempt don’t remain after you’ve died. This also ensures that every future attempt plays out different from the last.
In my early runs, when premature death was all but a forgone conclusion, I struggled to understand how so many other players spoke of the hundreds of hours that they anticipated pouring into Hades. I felt that the real-time combat was good, no doubt, and the variety of weapons and ‘boons’—special powers granted by the Greek gods and goddesses you meet during your triumphs—were especially enjoyable. And as someone who went on a reading kick a few years back and devoured thousands of pages of classical Greek literature (hence, my name) before traveling to Athens and the surrounding regions to see the majesty of the country’s ancient temples firsthand, I seriously appreciated the copious amounts of research that Supergiant Games poured into the dialogue; the distinct flavor interjected into each of the game’s eccentric personalities is occasionally genuinely humorous and always thoughtful.
But still… I didn’t quite get it.
Then, gradually, that little obnoxious troll in the back of my head, the one who sometimes manifests himself in Youtube comment sections and internet message boards, that halfwit imploring you to ‘git gud’ when you merely want some honest-to-god help or, at a minimum, a little sympathy, slowly began to fade away as those two useless words became reality. Everything began to click. I ‘got good’ enough so that escaping the Underworld no longer seemed like an impossible task but instead a tremendously satisfying one. Where it was formerly difficult for me to play through more than one or two escape attempts in a single sitting, it became inconceivable to put the game down after no less than three or four. And in the course of a month or so I sank well over one hundred hours into the game.
That about sums up my journey through Hades. Its utterly phenomenal gameplay loop is as addictingly sweet as nectar and grows on you like the infectious arts of Aphrodite. I obviously can’t say that other ‘Rogue-lites’ would draw me in as effectively as did the Olympic gods of Supergiant Games’ masterpiece, and though I think I understand the genre better, I’m not sure that I’m entirely sold on the essential concept behind ‘Rogue-likes’ yet. But I do know one thing: I loved Hades, and if you haven’t played it yet, you should. No, you must!
Before you do, though, why not check out our fantastic SwitchRPG review by Kierra Lanier?
Release Date: July 9, 2020
File Size: 1.8 GB
Publisher: Deck 13
Developer: Radical Fish Games
It must’ve been only a matter of days after its debut but I was straight away enamored with CrossCode the moment that my eyes happened to stumble upon its dazzling SNES-esque visuals on the eShop’s ‘Recent Releases’ section. For me, the art style represented by this game (and one other on this list) is what I consider to be quintessential video game eye candy. That’s right, you can take your ‘teraflops’ and ‘ray-tracing’ and all that next-gen sorcery and shove it up your…
Ahem. Sorry, I got carried away. And I was mostly kidding about that. None of my bile, obviously, is directed at the Super Switch Pro or whatever Nintendo’s rumored successor, supposedly to be confirmed any second now for the past two years (if it hasn’t been already by the time you’re reading this), turns out to be called. Either way, I’m sure it will be awesome!
But anyhow, what was I saying? Ah, yes. I just want more games that look like CrossCode! I admit, as someone who exclusively owns a Nintendo Switch, I slightly envy the raw power exhibited in current AAA games that I know I’ll never get to play. Still, I really adore games like CrossCode, notably those sporting a top-down, 2-D perspective and a colorful, pixelated world, rich in fine details that really illuminate the love and attention that went into every facet of their design. These games, which filled the 16-bit era, can only bring a sort of cheer to one’s mood. And if I were philosopher-king—which, thankfully, I’m not—it would be a crime that more games don’t aim for the beauty found manifest in a jewel like CrossCode.
That said, the purity of its exterior couldn’t have prepared me for the challenges that Radical Fish Games, a studio based out of Saarbrücken, Germany and consisting of fewer than fifteen game developers, had in store. An action-RPG at heart, CrossCode’s inception began with RPGMaker 2000 but, as evidenced by the final product, morphed into something that far outsized not only that particular software but the RPG genre itself. Make no bones about it, the focal point of CrossCode’s combat is somewhere between old-school The Legend of Zelda and Secret of Mana, though without the latter’s numerous flaws. The game is also so much more ambitious.
CrossCode is an action-RPG but it’s also a puzzler. There are a handful of dungeons containing all of the trials that you’d expect from a well-designed action-adventure game: a series of rooms and locked doors that require the besting of numerous foes, blocks that must be pushed onto switches, and one enigmatic head-scratcher after another that must be solved before whatever mechanism tied to it will permit entry to the next obstacle in your path. In each labyrinth, which fans of the Zelda series will find recognizable in terms of their basic pattern (though in sheer size and difficulty CrossCode’s dungeons excel anything that has come before in Nintendo’s flagship franchise), various skills are acquired which become integral to advancement. Radical Fish Games does a fantastic job of introducing new gameplay mechanics, whether involving previously unseen enemy or puzzle types, and then building upon them in increasingly complex and mind-bending ways.
CrossCode is an action-RPG but it’s also a platformer. You’ll find countless treasure chests scattered about the stunning terrains of CrossWorld, the game-within-a-game where most of the quest unfolds, frequently looming over you on the ledge of a cliff that will take you this way and that as you feverishly navigate the adjoining areas to finally reach it. To put it mildly, nothing in this game comes easy.
Nearly every item, puzzle, boss encounter, or piece of obtainable equipment will require patience, dedication, and careful reasoning on your part. The developers make much of this quite a bit less painless with an extremely useful compendium to help you keep track of sidequests or tradable materials that you might need for better weapons, but your journey is still often a test of endurance and wit.
And then there’s the story, its single-player campaign taking place within the world of a pseudo-MMORPG that contains hordes of NPCs who speak and act the part, making you feel as if you were running alongside hundreds of other actual players. It’s not the most compelling or emotionally impactful narrative by any stretch of the imagination, however, it has a lot of appeal, particularly for me because it’s so untypical of the standard ‘save-the-world-from-X’ claptrap that too many RPG epics boringly emulate.
I could go on and on about any one of these points but I’d be remiss to write another SwitchRPG review when Rich has already covered everything that I’d want to say and more. As might be expected, the 80 hours that I invested in CrossCode when it launched last summer were some of the most memorable moments that I experienced in a game all year and I can’t wait for the upcoming post-game DLC that Radical Fish Games plans to release for all consoles between now and the end of 2021.
CrossCode is an action-RPG but… yeah, I know that I’m repeating myself, but it’s also a crowning achievement of independent game development and, to my mind, far too underappreciated. If you have yet to jump into CrossWorlds–the game-within-this-game–you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.
2. Hollow Knight
Release Date: June 12, 2018
File Size: 5.3 GB
Publisher: Team Cherry
Developer: Team Cherry
I vow to keep my remarks on these next two entries briefer than the two that preceded, but please don’t mistake this as tepidness on my end. The placement of both of these titles at the top of my list should tell you how much I adore them and besides, what more can one say about the splendor that is Hollow Knight which hasn’t already been said countless times before since the game launched on the PC in 2017 and the Nintendo Switch the following year?
Created by Team Cherry, a small group of incredibly talented artists that call Adelaide, Australia home, Hollow Knight was among the first handful of indie games that I purchased for the Switch and it remains one of my favorites.
A ‘Metroidvania’ to its core, Hollow Knight has long been cited as one of the premier releases within its genre, and for me there is none better. The game radiates charisma in multiple respects and perhaps the most obvious to note first is the unique art style of Hallownest, the once transplendent underground abode of insects both big and small, cuddly and creepy, that now appears to be a lonely, abandoned lair for the lost and demented. The graphical appeal of its dark and gloomy ruins was an initial point of seduction, and the game’s atmospherics impressed all the more the deeper that I immersed myself in its subterranean world. But actually, virtually every aspect of this game set off my ‘feelers’ once I picked up my controller and found myself unable to put it down.
The music, typically led by a somber combination of piano and violin, really feeds into the sense of desolation that permeates every corner of the game’s numerous tunnels and arthropodic sanctuaries. The overall design of Hallownest is extremely alluring, never suffering a dull moment, and the platforming that goes along with exploring it is as tight to control as they come. This applies to the combat as well, which also touches upon my most beloved feature of Hollow Knight: its progression system.
The game is replete with upgrades, including spells, abilities, and ‘nail arts’, but none are so satisfying to collect and experiment with then the ‘Charms.’ I won’t go into detail here but if you’ve played Hollow Knight you’ll know that its handling of rewards and specifically the various enhancements offered by the Charms are a pure joy to utilize, particularly as you try out different combinations to ascertain which are most effective on any given enemy. The developers totally nailed the gameplay (pun intended), especially in this regard, and have raised the bar to the extent that any ‘Metroidvania’ that releases nowadays has to be measured against Team Cherry’s tour de force.
The last thing I’ll say about Hollow Knight, specifically as it concerns combat, is beware: this game is no walk in the park. Certain aspects of the gameplay have been favorably compared to the Dark Souls series (a reference I didn’t fully appreciate until very recently), and while the two do share some similarities, one thing that almost everyone who has played through both games will agree upon is that each offer their fair share of difficulties. Having spent nearly 60 hours in Hallownest, there were some foes that I simply had to ignore, content that I had at least finished the game with a 102% completion rate. Seriously, though, screw Troupe Master Grimm.
With all that said, I implore you to check out our SwitchRPG review—wait, wha? Oh dear, it appears that the game has never been reviewed by our staff. How this oversight could have occurred, I do not know, but worry not, I have a direct line to our corporate offices and will get to the bottom of this matter as quickly as possible. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet played Hollow Knight, there is one thing that you can do:
Buy it! Now!
And watch out for the highly anticipated sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, dropping sometime… in the (hopefully near) future!
1. Stardew Valley
Release Date: October 5, 2017
File Size: 1.5 GB
Publisher: Concerned Ape
Developer: Concerned Ape
Stardew Valley is easily the game that takes my number one slot. If you’ve held out on this title because you’re the type of person who categorically hates ‘farming sims’ then, regrettably, nothing that I am going to say here is likely going to change your opinion. But, I might add, it’s a damn shame. Stardew Valley really represents the epitome of gaming perfection on so many levels.
Built from the ground up by a single individual hailing from Seattle, USA, Eric ‘ConcerpedApe’ Barone handled everything from writing the game’s heartfelt dialogue, composing its endearing soundtrack, and designing every minute pixel that fills out the game’s gorgeous 16-bit scenery.
I’ve always been a sucker for farming sims, but nothing since my time with Harvest Moon 64 had ever been able to capture the comatose bliss that I underwent while playing that classic as a child back in 1999. Nothing, that is, until Stardew Valley.
The game literally oozes charm. If there is a video game equivalent to comfort food, this is it. And as enjoyable as I find the prospect of creating and organizing a productive homestead out of a barren plot of land, Stardew Valley offers so much more to do, whether it be fishing, mingling with the townsfolk, or exploring the nearby mines and using your sword or club to beat slimes and bugs senseless. Yes, the game even has proper action-RPG fighting sequences(!).
Stardew Valley is truly one of those games that I wish I could revisit again for the first time with a fresh pair of eyes. The characters that I encountered, their problems that I helped solve, it all had a relatability to it that filled me with a sense of something more profound, or perhaps mere nostalgia. Whatever it was, I knew that the feelings its saccharine situations engendered within me marked Stardew Valley as one of those rare gaming experiences that come too few and far between.
Eric Barone has even generously updated the game on numerous occasions with free DLC, the most recent to arrive on the Switch this past February, and these have included no small additions; I’m talking an entirely brand new farming biome, additional areas to explore, plus online and local co-op modes that weren’t available when I first sank around 90 hours living the simple life in the Valley towards the latter half of 2018.
In other words, if anyone has needed an excuse to play Stardew Valley for the first time, or merely return to a neglected farm, ConcernedApe keeps presenting plenty of reasons to justify your rendezvous. If you’re still on the fence, though, don’t just take it from me! Perhaps our SwitchRPG review from Firestorm back in 2019 can persuade you to finally give this game the light of day that it—like the extensive repairs beckoning forth from Pelican Town’s decrepit Community Center—so badly deserves.
There you have it! My top five indie recommendations for anyone who is looking for something even tangentially related to the RPG genre, covering a variety of gameplay types, from action-adventure, action-RPG, puzzler, platormer, ‘Rogue-lite’, ‘Metroidvania’, and the good ‘ol farming simulator. And the best part of all? You can own this entire collection of indie classics for less than $100, together they’ll take up less than 15 GB of storage on your hard drive, and you’ll be guaranteed to have hundreds of hours of quality gaming to indulge in over the next several months. With E3 just around the corner and a slew of new games being readied for announcement, is there a better time to catch up on some oldies that you may have missed out on?
Or maybe I’ve missed out on something? I’d love to know, so drop a comment!
Until next time, then… sayonara!