2016 is going to be an amazing year for JRPGs

Tokyo Game Show is all wrapped up for this year, and if there’s one important takeaway from it, it’s that 2016 is looking amazing for fans of Japanese games, and JRPGs in particular. Between new announcements, new footage for previously-announced games, and one delay that everyone saw coming, this year’s TGS gave us a lot to look forward to next year.

Persona 5 (PS4, PS3)

Summer 2016 (Japan); TBA 2016 (North America)

The big one; the first entirely new Persona game since Persona 4 came out in 2008. This was originally due out this year, but a delay was announced at TGS, surprising no one. It’s hard to be mad, though, because it looks so damn good that I’m ready to give Atlus as much time as they need to get it just right.

Everything about this looks decidedly Persona-esque, but with a very fresh take on what the franchise means. It has its own distinctive visual style, a new story that sounds like some sort of mashup of Persona and Lupin III, fantastic music, the familiar Persona turn-based combat style, new platformer elements, interesting characters… This will be one of the highlights of 2016, without a doubt.

Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xbox One)

TBA 2016 (Worldwide)

Another one of next year’s big hitters, but one I’m a bit more reserved about. I love Final Fantasy, but from what I’ve read, seen, and played of Final Fantasy XV, this is looking more and more like Final Fantasy XIII, a departure from the norm, which is fine, but also a departure from what I like about the series, which makes it hard for me to get excited.

There’s no doubt that it will be big, beautiful, and will sell like hotcakes, that’s for certain. People will love it, and that’s great. Me? I’m not convinced, yet.

World of Final Fantasy (PS4, Vita)

2016 (Worldwide)

Now THIS is the Final Fantasy I’m looking forward to. With a bestiary as iconic as Final Fantasy’s, I’m surprised it took 25 years to get a monster-collecting RPG spinoff (Pokemon, Dragon Quest Monsters, etc), but it’s finally on the way. More importantly, it looks like it’s shaping up to be an excellent game.

At its core is a story about sibling heroes whisked off to world called Grymoire to find, befriend, and collect “Mirages” – aka monsters.  It’s very much being made with a family audience in mind, so it should be a welcome change from the grimdark aesthetic that pervades games (though, admittedly, this is less of an issue with Japanese games). At the same time, it’s being directed by Hiroki Chiba, the scenario writer for the likes of Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy VIII, so don’t expect the cutesy presentation to mean a simple, childish story. I’m expecting something like Kingdom Hearts or Pokemon – child-friendly and accessible, but thematically rich and mature.

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness (PS4, PS3)

February 25, 2016 (Japan); TBA 2016 (North America & Europe)

Now this is a game I’m there for, 100%. This will be a day-0ne import for me, especially with the gorgeous Collector’s Edition that Square Enix unveiled at TGS. I’ve loved Star Ocean for a long time, and though Star Ocean 4 was a bit average, everything I’ve seen for Star Ocean 5 hints at a return to form.

Where Star Ocean 4 was kind of generic and soulless, Star Ocean 5 looks to be full of heart. It will be full of JRPG tropes, no doubt – all Star Ocean games have been – but it’s looking like there’ll be interesting, compelling likeable characters underneath those cliches, which is what Star Ocean 4 lacked. The combat that’s been shown looks deep and exciting, the worlds look beautiful, we’re getting a proper Private Action system again… Things are looking good for Star Ocean fans.

Star Ocean: Second Evolution (PS4, Vita)

TBA 2016 (Japan)

This is a port of a remake, but it’s still something that I’m looking forward to a lot – and I know I’m not alone. Star Ocean 2 is the highlight of a great series, but even with the PSP remake that came out in 2009, it’s difficult to come by. The original PS1 game is rare, sought after, and pricey as a result, and while the remake is a bit easier to track down, you can’t play it on anything but a PSP. Making matters worse, there have been no digital releases of either version.

So, the porting of Star Ocean: Second Evolution to PlayStation 4 and PS Vita is great news. I’m a little bit surprised that they’re only doing Second Evolution though, and a package that includes both that and Star Ocean: First Departure (the PSP remake of the first game) seems like an obvious direction to go. I guess Square Enix aren’t quite ready to commit whole heartedly to this idea, but if Second Evolution sells well on the new consoles, I’m sure we’ll see First Departure make the jump before long.

Note: This video is for the original PSP release from 2008.

Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna

Early 2016 (Japan); TBA 2016 (North America & Europe)

The first project from Tokyo RPG Factory, a Square Enix-owned developer set up with the express purpose of creating JRPGs that capture the spirit and emotion of the genre’s heyday. Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna (which translates to The Sorrow of Sacrifice and Snow, though there’s no official English title yet) was announced at E3 earlier this year as Project Setsuna, but TGS gave us a first look at the game in motion.

It looks a lot like Bravely Default; which is to say, it looks really good, and like it will admirably capture the developers’ goal of getting that ’90s RPG feel. There’s a good old-fashioned Active Time Battle system, a world map, top-down perspective, beautiful art, and lovely music. The tone of the trailers and art give me high expectations of the narrative too, so unless something goes horribly wrong, all the pieces are there for a wonderful, classic-styled JRPG.

Dragon Quest Builders (PS4, PS3, Vita)

January 28, 2016 (Japan)

There are plenty of jokes being made about Dragon Quest Builders being a shameless clone of Minecraft, but while the inspiration is clear as night and day, I’m confident that Builders will be more than capable of carving its own niche. Minecraft is, to me, too much of a sandbox. The almost complete lack of structure means you can do just about anything you want, but it also means that if you’re not visually or mechanically creative (like me), it’s hard to get into.

Dragon Quest Builders looks to offer a similar sense of creativity, but within a more structured environment. The story and RPG elements look to give the game a sense of place that Minecraft lacks, where building is a means to an end, and not just something to do because you can. I’m more excited about Builders than I’ve ever been for Minecraft.

Dragon Quest XI (PS4, 3DS)

TBA 2016 (Japan)

I’ve been playing a lot of Dragon Quest lately, thanks to the Android ports. Despite its relative lack of presence outside Japan, especially compared to Final Fantasy, it’s a really great series. One of the most fascinating things is that, even though it now spans six console generations and will see its 30th anniversary next year, the Dragon Quest series has remained impressively consistent. It’s grown and evolved dramatically – the difference between even just Dragon Quest and Dragon Quest III is stark – but thanks to a core creative team, its presentation and overall feel hasn’t wavered.

Dragon Quest XI looks to continue that trend. Platforming and climbing mechanics will add a new dimension to exploration, and there’ll be a new story with new characters, but the core of the game looks to remain as it always has. This is a good thing.

And so many more…

Those are just the really big games; there are so, so many others on the calendar for next year. SaGa Scarlet Grace, the first new full-fledged game in the excellent SaGa series in over a decade. Exist Archive, a platformer / action RPG from Spike Chunsoft and tri-Ace. Two new Monster Hunter games – Monster Hunter X, and the more narrative-focused Monster Hunter Stories. The English release of Yo-Kai Watch, a monster collecting RPG from Level-5 that’s reached Pokemon-like levels of popularity in Japan. Ni-Oh, a game from Koei Tecmo that looks essentially like Dark Souls but in Sengoku-era Japan. Toukiden 2. English releases of Project X Zone 2Bravely Second, and Yoru no Nai Kuni. Another remake of the first Seiken Densetsu / Final Fantasy Adventure. Final Fantasy Type-0 Online. The PS4 release of Phantasy Star Online 2. 

And this is just the stuff that’s been announced.

Yes, 2016 is looking like a very good year for JRPG fans.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.