Top Ten KEMCO Games on the Nintendo Switch
Love them or hate them, KEMCO RPGs are a staple of the Nintendo eShop, popping up with new titles every couple of months that may titillate or bore you, depending on your inclination. In fact, many RPG fans have written off the publisher entirely, considering their games to be no better than “RPG Maker Shovelware.”
But the SwitchRPG staff would be remiss if we ignored the genuinely great titles KEMCO and its partner developers have put out on the Switch over the last four years. These titles run the gamut from innovative to cliche, with varying degrees of successful execution and originality.
We believe the ten games listed below (and surely a few others we haven’t gotten to play yet) represent not only the best KEMCO RPGs currently on the eShop, but some of the best budget RPG experiences to be found on the Switch. So join us on a brief tour of the great games KEMCO has to offer.
10. Marenian Tavern Story: Patty and the Hungry God
Coming in at number 10 on our list, Marenian Tavern Story (MTS) is one of the more unique titles published by KEMCO. MTS is an RPG that teaches us that more than just obesity can come from consuming an exorbitant amount of food. From the same team that brought Adventure Bar Story to the 3DS a few years back, MTS weaves together a variety of gameplay elements to create a goulash of systems, combining turn-based combat, resource management, shop management, and some life simulation thrown in to serve as its herbs and spices. Together, they create an enjoyable (if sometimes shallow) package.
MTS tells the story of siblings Patty and Gino, upper middle-class children of the owner of a five-star tavern in the town of Marenia. Their lives are simple and enjoyable, until Gino accidentally breaks an obelisk honoring Coco, the God of Poverty. This Pikachu wannabe responds by possessing Gino, ruining the family business, and demanding you sate his hunger. Patty sets out, with the help of some folks in town, to build a new restaurant up from scratch, gathering ingredients, creating recipes, and feeding hungry customers to rebuild their family’s finances and get the God of Poverty to leave her brother’s body.
Getting the player’s life back on track is done through a three-step process: gathering ingredients, cooking, and running the tavern. The gathering portion has your team going to various locations and collecting materials, and that is accomplished by a combination of buying sundries from local shops, harvesting nodes out in the field, and killing enemies in turn-based battles. The player can then return to the tavern and cook dishes from a massive library of recipes, before ultimately selling them that evening at the bar. Naturally, Marenian Tavern Story goes pretty far off the beaten path in comparison to the standard KEMCO RPG affair, both narratively and mechanically. While its newfangled mechanics aren’t exceptionally deep, it does enough interesting things to make it an easy recommendation for fans of both simulation titles and RPGs.
9. Asdivine Hearts
Asdivine is KEMCO’s longest running series of interconnected games, developed by frequent partner EXE Create. Asdivine Hearts is one of the earliest entries in this series, and it serves as template or starting point, mechanically speaking, for many other KEMCO games that came after it. The game’s combat system and game engine has been rehashed and remixed frequently over the years, in both Asdivine games and other EXE Creates properties. Party members line up in a simple 3×3 grid, fighting against a band of enemies aligned on a 2×3 one. Attacks and special abilities, which are split between character-specific skills and schools of magic available to all characters, hit enemies on that grid in a few different attack shapes. The overworld, towns, and story are relatively simple, but dungeons are generally well paced with a nice dose of secrets hidden along the way. KEMCO staples like autobattle and equipment upgrades are readily available here, but the difficulty is balanced enough that you can’t just breeze through every encounter or boss fight.
Perhaps the best mechanical element in the game is the rubix system, used for upgrading characters and learning new magic abilities. Each rubix functions as a container for variably shaped jewels, which can be arranged on a grid to grant your character certain upgrades. This may come in the form of increasing base stats, gaining elemental or status effect resistances, or allowing your character to learn branches of magic outside of what they learn naturally. It’s a novel take on a familiar RPG mechanic, and is executed well enough to help you customize your characters in both the short and long term. Each character grows to take on specific roles in your party, while also being adaptable to tackle specific challenges as they arise.
The story of Asdivine Hearts follows two orphans who get caught up in a game of cat and mouse with the world’s light deity (who had become a literal cat after being banished from the heavens). The light deity is being hunted by servants of its shadowy counterpart, who has upset the balance of the world by becoming the world’s only god. Our orphans protect the light deity, dubbed “Felix” in his cat form, and gather a band of other party members to restore Felix to his former glory and bring balance back to the world. The story is well paced and balances its light-hearted and serious elements successfully. If anything negative can be said, it’s that the main characters tend to fall squarely into familiar tropes, leaving Asdivine Hearts as a passable entry in KEMCO’s catalog, but far from the best. It outshines other Asdivine games our team has played, though some of the later titles may have usurped its spot as best in the series.
8. Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom
Like Marenian Tavern Story did before it, Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom aims to break up the KEMCO mechanic meta by providing a twist on the traditional gameplay loop. Instead of running a successful tavern, however, players are tasked with building up a blacksmith shop which has fallen into our young hero’s hands after his father was sent off to war, never to return. As the kingdom’s court blacksmith, the player must balance meeting the demands of the royal arms (ie. advancing the plot), all while making ends meet through selling excess gear at the shop.
In terms of gameplay, it is quite similar to Marenian Tavern Story: collect materials by slaying monsters and through various gathering nodes, take it back to the shop and get to crafting, before finally fulfilling the requirements of the royal army and/or your shop’s own needs. The biggest difference here lies in the overall quality of the narrative – whereas Marenian very much bends the confines of realism, Blacksmith of the Sand Kingdom provides a far more believable story and supporting cast, making it all feel more relatable thus more impactful to the player. While you very much have to be in the right mindset to fully appreciate Rideon’s unique take on the traditional KEMCO formula, it ultimately offers a surprisingly addictive gameplay loop.
7. Bonds of the Skies
Bonds of the Skies, an early RPG by developer Hit Point Co., is an almost perfect example of a budget RPG done right. Running between 5-10 hours in total length, Bonds of the Skies gets its story moving quickly and hardly slows down from start to finish. The difficulty curve is finely tuned to continually present a modest challenge without the need for excessive grinding, and the story unfolds at a satisfying pace that keeps you engaged with your characters and the overall lore of the game world. Even character movement in towns and dungeons is high speed, allowing you to waste no time on filler content. Combine these elements with a solid soundtrack and quality pixel art and character portraits, and Bonds of the Skies easily presents itself as a high value budget RPG with no noticeable drawbacks.
The story of Bonds of the Skies focuses on the Grimoas, demigods of the ancient world who controlled the elements and drew power from the prayers of common citizens. When one of the Grimoas finds a means of weakening his peers – encouraging them to create additional demigods by sacrificing part of their own power – he throws the balance of power in the world off kilter. As years pass, the people begin to doubt the Grimoas’ power, and their prayers wane. The main storyline of our tale begins when a young man, Eil, becomes bonded to the Grimoa of Wind, setting out on a journey to reawaken belief in the Grimoas, restore the power of his partner, and bring balance back to the world. Along the way, he will meet additional adventurers, recruit more Grimoas, and go on to challenge the dark forces behind the betrayal so many years ago.
Mechanics-wise, Bonds of the Skies deploys a traditional turn-based combat system from a first person perspective. Characters and Grimoas level up individually, unlocking new skills in parallel to each other. Each character can be paired with one Grimoa at a time, with each Grimoa bringing a bank of abilities and stat bonuses which can be equipped using resource points. Affinity between a character and their partner Grimoas also grows over time, enhancing their ability to work together. This progression system is reminiscent of the GFs from Final Fantasy VIII, though considerably simplified and easier to understand. Overall, these gameplay elements work well together and contribute to making Bonds of the Skies one of the best offerings from KEMCO and Hit Point Co.
6. Fernz Gate
Beloved by KEMCO superfans, Fernz Gate is perhaps the most quintessentially “KEMCO” game to appear on our list. Built by the prolific developers at EXE Create, Fernz Gate uses the same rote gameplay engine that appears over and over in their titles. Spritework is basic, enemy designs are safe repeats found in games coming both before and after the game’s release, and combat relies on a familiar 2×2 grid for enemy formations, elemental weaknesses, stat boosts, and common status effects. Sprinkle in EXE Create staples like an arena, weapon crafting system, and other side content, and you’ve got a core recipe that is shared across numerous titles in their library.
What sets Fernz Gate apart, however, is a combination of a unique story premise and new gameplay innovations that might reappear further down the list. These innovations include the Buddy System, where characters are paired together in combat, sharing a health bar, stat bonuses, and status effects. The lead character in each pairing can have their abilities boosted by their partner, or combine elemental spells together to create new, more powerful attacks. Monster buddies can be collected throughout the game who bring unique abilities and stat bonuses as well. These buddies can also be sent to the “Secret House,” another innovative feature that allows buddies to be deployed on assignments for experience and special currency, or else set on a pedestal to bestow special benefits to your entire party. The Secret House can also be used to plant stat-boosting seeds which grow into special fruit that significantly increases their effects. These extra layers of content allow you to further customize your party and create a more unique (and sometimes extremely easy) gameplay experience. Thankfully, the game comes with variable difficulty settings and a wealth of post-game content to put those high stats and bonuses to good use.
Story-wise, the game is set in an alternate dimension called Fernland, where people from other worlds are whisked unexpectedly for short periods of time. Fernland is a world of peace and plenty, overseen by a kindly goddess who guides Outworlders during their stay. However, when an evil being known as the Overlord arrives in Fernland, he uses his mana-stealing powers to absorb or corrupt Fernland’s inhabitants, unleashing monsters and preventing Outworlders from leaving its shores. Into this corrupted paradise comes Alex, a boy from a world not unlike our own, who struggles to find his place in a world of magic, swordplay, heroes, and villains. As the story progresses, however, Alex moves from a reluctant outsider in Fernland’s conflict to being one of its central figures. Despite being placed in a unique setting, Alex’s character arc does sound painfully familiar at first glance. And indeed, there are moments in the game that feel downright cliche. However, the final act of the story pays off for Alex, his supporting cast, and even the Overlord himself in spectacular fashion, becoming one of KEMCO’s most inspiring tales.
5. Monochrome Order
The prolific developers who partner with KEMCO don’t always follow a standard formula when building their games, and Monochrome Order is one of the best examples of this fact. Where many EXE Create and Hit Point Co. games can be tracked along common design lineages, games like Monochrome Order come along and upset the balance. Monochrome Order is easily the most unique of the traditional JRPGs found on this list, and a strong contender for being one of the best games in KEMCO’s library.
In Monochrome Order, you take on the role of an Arbiter, a person who has been bestowed by the power of Creation itself to help the denizens of the world resolve conflicts, whether they be political, interpersonal, or even financial in nature. The Arbiter offers their Judgements, and the people listen. From a gameplay perspective, this means that each subquest found in the game comes with a difficult moral choice that will have players agonizing over philosophical quandaries and ethical minefields. Capital punishment, euthanasia, labor rights, medical quarantine, revenge, greed, poverty, love, marriage – nothing is off limits. Each choice you make not only results in small item rewards, but also affects the game world itself – increasing random encounters on the world map when you lower the Peace, reducing shop prices when your choices benefit the economy, and limiting which party members you can recruit and use based on your Arbiter’s reputation. Combine this fantastic subplot system with a branching main story with five possible endings, and you’ve got an RPG that delivers on the promise of making choices matter.
Outside this core design philosophy, Monochrome Order also boasts a solid turn-based combat system and diverse cast of recruitable characters. Unique elements include a hold command that allows your character regeneration their limited mana pools, charge up their next attack, or defend (along with speeding up your next turn order), staged status effects that increase in potency when applied twice to enemy characters (and your own), and an elemental weakness system that affects by enemy characters and party members alike (forcing careful party formation). Layer in a series of combination attacks, a modest difficulty curve, and a limited resource pool, and you’ll find yourself consistently engaged despite the apparent simplicity of the systems at play. For an added bonus, each run through the game will likely result in different party members joining your team, giving you a unique experience each time you return to the game to see a new ending.
4. Monster Viator
While most Hit Point Co. games follow a fairly standard formula codified in Bonds of the Skies, a few wander off the beaten path into more experimental territory. Our last entry, Monochrome Order, does this in a big way. Monster Viator, meanwhile, stays true to form while still mixing up Hit Point Co.’s traditional, SNES-inspired gameplay mechanics.
The premise of Monster Viator will remind players of Nintendo’s biggest cash cow, the Pokemon franchise, but deviates from that inspiration in several critical ways. While you may battle and recruit monster characters into your party, the variety does not come close to even the first generation of Pokemon titles, and the remainder of the story stays closer to Hit Point Co.’s usual fare. The combination, however, leaves you with a solid, 16-bit inspired RPG that incorporates monster catching to offer some nice party variety and character customization. Many monsters are acquired simply by going through the main story, though several more can be found off the beaten path. In addition, you’ll be suping up your party by enhancing equipment and using special passive bonuses called camira. Each camira offers a powerful and creative way to customize your character, and you will find yourself alternating between running a standard build for leveling your party versus using a custom loadout for facing specific challenges.
The story of Monster Viator, meanwhile, continues this trend of combining monster catcher tropes with standard RPG elements. For much of the game, the story focuses not on some overwhelming force of evil, but on growing your party, challenging rivals, and episodic story beats. Overlaid on this Pokemon-esque plotline, however, is an amnesia storyline that slowly unveils your protagonists’ history and purpose in life. The story is by no means innovative, but it services the core RPG mechanics well, and when combined with solid audio / visual design and the aforementioned progression and customization systems, you’re left with one of, if not the best Hit Point Co. game on the Switch.
3. Alvastia Chronicles
Alvastia Chronicles could have easily been another by-the-numbers KEMCO RPG, but turned out to be anything but. Starting with its unique take on the silent protagonist, who is a literal mute as a result of their traumatic past, the game is a shining example of a main character and supporting cast done right. It’s quite common in the realm of KEMCO RPGs for various characters to come off as, well, simply trying too hard to be unique and interesting.
From the mute protagonist and his sister, Elmia, to the beautiful (and powerful) ogre Raine, and even the resident horndog, Gil, everyone has their moments in the spotlight, and aren’t blatantly trying to capture the player’s attention. While the overarching plot leaves a bit to be desired – basically a knockoff “four elemental fiends” bit – it manages to do a lot more things right than wrong.
This notion extends well beyond the narrative, into both the aesthetics and gameplay. Utilizing a pseudo-8-bit palette and a zoomed-in perspective akin to its predecessor, Dragon Sinker, Alvastia Chronicles easily manages to keep things visually interesting without resorting to overly flashy graphics. Players can lead the charge into combat with not four party members, but technically three teams of four party members alongside intelligently designed enemy assets. There are a plethora of companions that can join Alan in combat — even a bonafide cudgel! If that doesn’t scream “play me now,” then I don’t know what will! All kidding aside, Alvastia Chronicles is easily one of the most uniform and tightly-bound experiences that KEMCO currently offers on the Switch.
2. Miden Tower
A strong contender for number one on our list, Miden Tower is one of the most ambitious games to come out of EXE Create’s RPG factory, utilizing their rote assets in ways that create one of their most satisfying experiences. As with many games in EXE Create’s catalog, Miden Tower forgos the world map for a point-and-click map of various destinations and biomes within the titular Miden Tower. In each area, the player will encounter increasingly dangerous threats that go a long way in keeping the game feeling fresh, even as your party rapidly advances in power. Unlike Fernz Gate, Alvastia Chronicles, and several other KEMCO titles, it takes a long time for your party to truly feel overpowered in this outing and even then, true power creep only happens if you leverage the game’s various bonus features effectively. A stat-growth item farm, weapon synthesis system, character customization, and more all combine to give you both variety and challenge.
These elements all play directly into the game’s battle system, which masterfully advances EXE Create’s now familiar 3×3 grid battle system. As with other titles, Miden Tower sees players use both a standard list of elemental spells and unique character abilities to engage with the enemy party. Abilities can hit single targets or affect enemies in a specific shape of squares on the grid, along with adding various status effects, stat changes, turn delays, and elemental effects. Due to the game’s solid difficulty curve, these secondary effects all feel effective and necessary to keep your party alive. Perhaps the biggest innovation here, however, is how the remainder of the grid is utilized. Various party members (and some enemies) can summon totems to the battlefield, which provide additional attackers, stat bonuses to adjacent squares, and – most importantly – an extra target for enemies to focus on. Given that most of the boss battles in Miden Tower feature a horde of powerful opponents, rather than one superstrong baddie, learning the proper strategy for deploying these totems is essential for success.
Game mechanics aside, though, it’s the story of Miden Tower that really makes it a contender for the top of our list. The titular tower was created when a village of powerful mages desired to remove themselves from the outside world, preventing their abilities from being exploited by a power hungry monarch. Many years later, the tower finds itself under attack, royal forces slowly taking over the bottom floors of the tower, killing its inhabitants and usurping their power for themselves. Valen, the game’s protagonist, lost his family in this struggle, and when introduced the player, is hell-bent on revenge. Valen is a shockingly serious and dramatic character to find in the center of a KEMCO RPG, having little patience for the silliness that sometimes comes along for the ride once the story gets going. While the narrative does eventually soften Valen’s cold heart through his connections to other party members, the player can never fully forget his vengeful spirit, and this dynamic plays out to the very end – especially so in the game’s bold and dramatic normal ending.
All these elements come together to create not just a great KEMCO game, but a great RPG, period.
1. Dragon Sinker
Finally, we reach the top of our list, the favorite KEMCO RPG among SwitchRPG staff – Dragon Sinker. This is the first in a series of 8-bit inspired RPGs from EXE Create, the latest of which (Alvastia Chronicles) appeared earlier in our list. Dragon Sinker masterfully combines elements from its 8-bit inspirations, a deep, but simple class system, humorous dialogue, satisfying combat, and a core gameplay loop that keeps players coming back for more. The core innovation in Dragon Sinker – as in many other EXE Create Games – is the ability to add more than the standard 3-5 characters to your party. Here, players control three full parties of four members each, swapping followers in and out behind the game’s three main characters. Combined with the ever-expanding class system, Dragon Sinker gives players the freedom to customize characters and parties to their heart’s desire, and even allows them to swap between parties mid-battle, leading to some fantastic strategies to meet specific challenges.
The heroes of Dragon Sinker, who lead each of the three parties, are Abram (a human prince), Mia (an elven mage), and Bowen (a dwarven warrior), who over the course of the story must put aside petty racial and cultural differences to slay the dragon Wyrmvang, who has held the world captive for 100 years. This central narrative harkens directly back to the simplistic plotlines found in many 8-bit era RPGs, but it is executed with modern humor and charm. Abram, our silent protagonist, is given dialogue options through the story that let’s the player decide whether or not to play him as a straight hero or as a comically bigoted fool. These dialogue options also lead to some running gags throughout the story that bring some levity to what might have been a rote adventure.
Music, sound, and visuals all work together in Dragon Sinker to immediately capture the nostalgia of playing a classic JRPG. The world is colorful and well populated – with a fairly linear path story-wise – which nonetheless offers a variety of side quests, optional dungeons, and secrets to be found. Easily the most enrapturing gameplay feature is the class system, which not only gives players the chance to master jobs and acquire permanent, passive abilities to customize each character, but also gives special bonuses to parties that bring together the right classes. Given the right combination, a party may generate extra job points, increase their attack power, get hp and mp boosts every turn, and more. Combined with the game’s combat system, which uses the ever-present 2×2 monster grid to increase tactical variety, and you end up with a deceptively simple game that can keep players engaged from start to finish.
While this game does not reach the same highs of our number two pick, it also completely bypasses many of the lows even Miden Tower struggles to avoid. Dragon Sinker is a rock solid RPG full of fun, nostalgia, interesting systems, endearing characters, and a steady challenge right to the end.
Given the extensive and ever-growing list of KEMCO RPGs coming in month after month, we have every reason to believe that there are more fantastic RPGs in this publisher’s catalog. While the company can certainly produce games of questionable quality, they still put out many of the best budget RPGs available on the Switch year after year. We highly encourage readers to check out the titles listed above, especially when they go on sale (which is often!).
And if you yourself are a KEMCO superfan, please let us know what some of your favorites are in the comments. Our team is always on the lookout for a great budget RPG, and at least for the KEMCO fans who contributed to this list, we are always eager to see what other titles can scratch that budget RPG itch.