Switch Turns Four – Part Six
Over the course of March, the SwitchRPG team will be creating and sharing a variety of Switch RPG content in honor of the console turning four this month! Next up, Evan’s picks!
When I previously announced that I would be stepping away from a position as a writer for this website, I’ll admit I didn’t expect the process of doing so to be quite as difficult as it has been. There have been a number of new additions to the site, and the staff seems primed to take content in new and exciting directions, and that makes me want to stay. Even writing down those words makes me realize how much I love this opportunity to have a voice and contribute to discussion of my favorite genre and preferred gaming platform.
Perhaps the pandemic has negatively impacted my desire to complete video games, or perhaps I’m just feeling burnt out in a variety of ways, but as I move forward, I think about all that I have accomplished as a member of the site in the past three years. I wrote a pretty staggering 87 reviews and 73 articles, many of which I’m proud of. Despite having my views challenged and redefined by the commentary I’ve offered in comparison with the larger gaming world, and that has both made me feel validated as well as deeply disappointed in myself, and sometimes – only sometimes – disappointed in others.
So I suppose, if you’re reading this, you might wonder why I’m still hanging around. The truth is, I wouldn’t have ever showed up for this gig in the first place if it weren’t for the efforts of our lovely site founder, Ben. I had been writing my own independent blog about video games for a few months, consistently posting my work, and it managed to catch his attention, likely because it had a strong Nintendo bent. I’m fairly certain I had also followed the Twitter account at that point, so I don’t want it to sound like my joining the site was entirely based on my talent. But Ben very clearly did see something in me, and after writing a few articles and reviewing a bad game – which just got a sequel, by the way, and I hope that is better – I was a member of the staff. It was exciting.
That doesn’t really answer the question of “why are you still here, though?” And if you’re starting to get frustrated with my meandering pace, I’ll cut to the chase: I definitely wouldn’t still be here if it weren’t for Ben. He continues to be a shining example of what this community represents, which is a group of individuals who really love RPGs. I mean, sure, the guy has written way too many articles about SaGa, but outside of being critical of game design, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him tear down an individual for their taste. Not even me, and I have really weird tastes!
So here’s to you, Ben. And with that being said, let’s talk about RPGs on the Switch.
Four RPGs I Need to Play
STAR OCEAN First Departure R
Having picked up this title when it went on sale, this is more of an admission of my increasingly depressing backlog of titles. In truth, I have Vampyr, Shining Resonance Refrain – another title on this list – and even more to catch up on, and these are all games that I’d very much like to get into… but work, and life, and some of my other creative projects always seem to get in the way.
With Star Ocean in particular, the game comes from a series I have always had a passing interest in as a Phantasy Star fan. Additionally, our staff actually reviewed the title for the site previously with some glowing praise and pertinent points of interest, such as a straightforward experience and action combat system. When I do come back to this one, expect that I’ll share my impressions.
Shadows of Adam
Another RPG previously reviewed on our site, the reason I’m calling this title out is that it highlights the fact that even smaller indie games are being consumed by my backlog. Shadows of Adam isn’t a terribly long title, but it hearkens back to retro aesthetics with a modern twist, a concept I truly enjoy when executed properly in titles like Cosmic Star Heroine. Judging by the praise this title has received as well as developer Something Classic Games’s future efforts in Quartet, I want to make sure I’ve played this in anticipation for whatever they might release in the future.
Ring Fit Adventure
…Ring Fit keeps me honest.
Having played a good two months of this title on release, I found my interaction with it slope off towards the summer of 2020, mostly because I was out walking and hiking rather than doing indoor exercise. In another sense, I’ve also turned my boot-ups of Ring Fit into an exclusively exercise-based affair, opting to use the custom workout function rather than progress through the story, which becomes a bit more tedious than I’d like to admit as it goes on. Not that I’m particularly invested in the story or characters, but I should keep checking in on this title so that I can reap the physical rewards.
Wintermoor Tactics Club
As a hesitant fan of tactics titles, I feel as if I’ve slept on this title massively after seeing a number of positive impressions on it late last year. The premise seems delightfully novel, and while the other titles on this list are meant to represent bigger ideas about the nature of my backlog and otherwise, this is one title that I simply want to play and enjoy.
Four RPGs I’m Looking Forward Towards
Shin Megami Tensei V
I’ve made my love of the Shin Megami Tensei series and Atlus’s work on the 3DS no secret throughout my time on this site, so it should similarly come as no surprise that my hype for this new installment is through the roof. I felt many of the design decisions and improvements made to the fundamental gameplay of SMTIV were greatly improved in it’s spin-off Apocalypse, and with a remaster of Nocturne coming out sooner this year to whet my appetite for the series, I’m anticipating that excitement will only grow as 2021 goes on. I’ve been waiting four years already! Give it to me now!
Rune Factory 5
Although I’ve previously harped on my dislike of the systems utilized in Rune Factory 4 on the 3DS, I won’t deny that I’m looking forward to the series next installment on the Switch. To me, farm and life sims are a bit too tame, but Rune Factory’s dungeon crawling and combat mechanics – basic as they may be – have convinced me previously to fall into the cyclical grind of farming, selling, building relationships with townspeople, and delving into dungeons. Here’s hoping some more quality of life improvements and perhaps some new mechanics can make this fifth entry into something I can appreciate a bit more.
Kingdoms of Amateur Re-Reckoning
So this is a title that I was always vaguely curious about back during its initial release nine years ago, yikes, do I feel old. A friend of mine gushed about the combat, and while I haven’t always enjoyed R.A. Salvatore’s writing, I will admit that having an actual author creating the story for an RPG is an exciting prospect. In any case, it’s always been a point of interest for me, and I’m eagerly looking forward to exploring this kingdom when it releases later this month.
Monster Hunter Rise
It’s been a while since I’ve jumped back into the world of Monster Hunter, having last played 4 Ultimate on the 3DS and absolutely adored my experience. However, having reviewed and played a bit of God Eater 3 for the Nintendo Switch, I realized how much I really missed this series. While I could have – and likely should have – invested in Generations Ultimate if I wanted a reliable online experience for the Switch, I’m really excited to experiment with new movement options, an interconnected world, and most importantly, a slew of new monsters. This also means a bit of relearning in terms of Monster Hunter menu navigation on a new controller, which is… something I’m not really eagerly anticipating.
Four Disappointing RPGs
Pokemon Sword and Shield
I’ll be honest, I’ve been expecting less and less from the Pokemon series as I’ve grown older and become further from the target audience age. But after a lukewarm experience in Pokemon Sun and Moon, I was expecting Sword and Shield to be only slightly less impressive. I ended up being intoxicated by the potential of raids, and not necessarily the scope and scale of the game, which I already found underwhelming.
So imagine my surprise when I found these games to be even worse than I expected. I’m not talking about the limited Pokedex or the low-resolution environmental textures. Pokemon Sword and Shield were extremely linear, meatless games with storylines and characters that felt absolutely unbearable. When you have one of the most iconic and profitable brands on the planet and your game looks, sounds, and plays worse than a Dragon Quest title – which does have basic gameplay and aesthetics but at least looks as if it belongs on current-generation hardware – my only question lies not in why Game Freak perpetuates low-effort titles like the last few Pokemon iterations, but instead with consumers. Don’t you want a better Pokemon game…?
Little Town Hero
This is also a Game Freak joint, which should perhaps reveal my opinions on this developer’s recent output. What I will say is that Little Town Hero has extremely engaging gameplay foundations that are wasted on its subpar character models, narrative, and absolutely massive-scale battle scenarios. While one might say that a game that is all-gameplay is an exciting prospect, this title’s skirmishes with massive monsters end up taking upwards of thirty to forty minutes, and that’s once you’ve “solved” the puzzle that these creatures present. This is an insane amount of time, and it makes the few, smaller skirmishes feel all that much more enjoyable and preferable as things become more complex and drawn out as the game goes on.
Simply put, Little Town Hero does have some ambitious ideas, but it squanders them on characters and scenarios that can’t hold their weight. I appreciate the attempt at a unique card-battling concept, but this needed a bit more time in the oven.
The entries on this list are from two publishers in particular, so that should also give an indication of my feelings towards their output on the Switch. With that said, I have no sympathy or sense of goodwill towards Square Enix.
Oninaki was supposed to be Tokyo RPG Factory’s big comeback. While the developers more or less achieved their goals with I Am Setsuna in 2016, Lost Sphear left something to be desired, and Oninaki was a pivot in a new direction towards action combat and aesthetics. Unfortunately, the game feels poorly paced, lacking the intrigue and novelty that should be inherent in its inventive premise. The combat is slow and lacks complexity in any scenario outside of boss fights, and the expansive leveling system for each weapon makes each feel underpowered upon pickup and tedious to grind up in order to feel competent. All of this, in addition to the gorgeous 2D art that is sorely underutilized, makes Oninaki feel like another great idea in the vein of Little Town Hero that fails to be compelling in many of the same ways. I wonder if Tokyo RPG Factory will get another opportunity to shine after this.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition
Listen, I love Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. I have been this game’s biggest fan on this site since first coming on to the staff. So obviously, my hype was at insane levels when this HD Remaster was announced for the Switch. So long as they kept things faithful to the original, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, online functionality, apparently. While the game is just as much a joy to play in single player, the online experience was miserable upon launch, due to the asinine idea that players wouldn’t wish to keep a party together across multiple dungeons. That’s… sort of the point of putting together a caravan, right? In any case, players had to rejoin a lobby each time the host journeyed to a new dungeon, making the whole experience all the more tedious. This just about killed any enjoyment one might get from playing the title, and though Square Enix would address this issue later in an update, the lack of truly local co-op play would serve as a continuous point of criticism from those hoping to get into the game. If Square Enix refuses to return to this sub-series in the future due to how this entry performed, it is entirely due to how they handled its launch and online systems, and not because the gameplay is flawed or less-than great. A shame, because this should have been the co-op RPG experience of the year.
Four Favorite RPGs
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
It’s strange that one of my favorite RPG experiences on the Switch was a port of an old, last-gen title, but here we are. Dragon’s Dogma has all the things I like in a dark fantasy RPG- snappy combat, titanic monsters that can be grappled, a bleak and harsh overworld, an ambiguously subtle narrative with plenty of freedom to explore in-between quests… and that’s not even factoring in the wild post-game areas and DLC expansion, which is included in this release. If you’ve picked this title up during any of Capcom’s 50% off sales, you’ve made a steal, but even at its basic price of thirty dollars, it feels almost unfair to own this immensely unique title. I hope every day that its success on Switch and Netflix adaptation result in a proper sequel, and I hope that I’ll be able to play it, because this title is just too quirky and enjoyable to ignore.
Hand of Fate 2
If the Switch turning four gives me the opportunity to trot out some of my favorites for yet another segment of unabashed, enthusiastic gushing, then so be it. Simply put, it’s a good thing Hand of Fate 2 is brutally difficult and features unforgiving, luck-based mechanics, because I don’t want to stop playing it. This game pulls out just about all the stops when it comes to tabletop mechanics: dice rolls, random card selections, roulettes, grid-based environmental traversal, weird precision pendulum machines… the list actually stops there. Seeing all these challenges presented to you, however, might blow your mind and make you wonder if you can ever make progress. Slowly but surely, you’ll learn when and how these mechanics appear and familiarize yourself with your own deck of “saved” cards, which you can slip into scenarios in order to tip the odds in your favor. Similarly, you can level up cards by continuing to use them, unlocking new and powerful alternatives that can help you overcome the increasingly difficult challenges that present themselves throughout the game’s sprawling campaign. If you’re still hungering for more, there is an infinite adventure mode and a number of DLC campaigns you can add to the base experience in order to get new and exciting party members and items.
The last thing that I’ll say is this – if you’re put off by the amount of tabletop jargon and luck-based discussion I’ve espoused so far, just know that actual combat in Hand of Fate 2 is action-based, and it is also extremely methodical and difficult but intensely rewarding. There are very few games that scratch nearly every itch I have for this genre, but this is certainly one of them.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
Ever since playing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the GameCube way back when, all I’ve wanted was to have a worthy successor in terms of combat complexity, narrative, and aesthetic charm. While many Paper Mario titles have attempted to rise to the occasion, I have found them all to be disappointing. Luckily, I am not alone in my desires, and where Intelligent Systems has failed, Moonsprout Games has succeeded.
Bug Fables is not exactly like Paper Mario, and I wouldn’t want that. It changes combat in fundamental ways and buffs up both damage output and total health points. What Bug Fables does is offer just as much – if not more – custom options to players as The Thousand Year Door did, with an expansive medal system that allows for a variety of builds and a party of three extremely unique characters who fit vastly different roles.
In addition, the game features an engaging world and heartfelt narrative that offer twists, turns, and jokes in healthy amounts throughout. Lastly, the game has a plethora of side content that makes its world all the more exciting and dangerous to explore, and the addition of a hard mode modifier right out of the gate allows seasoned turn-based veterans a chance to test their skills against brutal enemies. As a longtime Paper Mario fan, I can finally put that series to rest and look forward to a game worthy of being Bug Fables’ successor, instead.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
I could have gone with some more obvious picks for this last entry. Yes, I’ve logged hundreds of hours into Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Yes, I’ve attempted to Slay the Spire more times than I’d like to admit, and managed to do so only a slim percentage of that number. No, I will not include Breath of the Wild on this list, because Zelda isn’t an RPG. But you know what is…?
To say that Mario + Rabbids could have been an absolute train wreck is maybe the safest bet anyone could have made prior to its unveiling, but upon seeing what this tactics title offered in terms of challenge and charm, opinions would soon turn. This near-impossible combination of Mario characters, strategy gameplay, and Rabbids – just plain Rabbids – manages to work extremely well, and it’s most definitely due to the passion and the joy those at Ubisoft felt in translating key Mario mechanics and iconography into this game world. Whether you’re vaulting off of other characters and bouncing on enemy heads, sliding into them for an extra bit of damage here or there, or freely exploring battlefields and predicting the wild combinations that exist in its environmental hazards and topographical details, Mario + Rabbids is just a plain, good time. There are bosses both familiar and unique, jokes that are surprisingly good-mannered, and a vast number of optional missions and scenario objectives to explore.
The cherry on the proverbial cake here is a delightful Donkey Kong expansion that introduces smart ideas that make sense for that character, as well, and by the end of this experience, I would gladly take a tactics title featuring any Nintendo IP from this team. There’s nothing quite like Mario + Rabbids in terms of Nintendo crossovers, and I’m not sure there ever will be, but what does exist is delightful, weird, and most importantly, fun.