2021 was a fantastic year for Japanese role-playing games. Brand-new main entries in fabled franchises released, new franchises were born, and remakes and spin-offs held their own ground as well.
Here are our ten favorite JRPGs that were released this year that players should check out!
No More Heroes III
It’s wild to see a brand-new, proper No More Heroes game finally come out, since its last main entry released in 2010, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle.
The third main entry—and fifth overall—in the series sees protagonist Travis Touchdown return to his hometown of Santa Destroy. He encounters an alien named Fu and must defend the world by climbing the ladder of the Galactic Superhero Rankings.
This game takes place two years after Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes and nine years after No More Heroes 2. While Travis Strikes Again departed from the typical third-person perspective in favor of a top-down view, No More Heroes 3 returns to the former and delivers everything you’d expect from the franchise: frenetic battles, quirky characters and great music. Die-hard fans of the series will find quite a lot to love here.
No More Heroes 3 is available on Nintendo Switch.
It’s been quite a while since developer Mistwalker made a splash. Best known for its work on the 2007 Xbox 360 exclusive, Lost Odyssey, and 2011’s The Last Story on the Nintendo Wii, Mistwalker released Fantasian this year.
Fantasian follows an amnesiac young man named Leo who gathers a group of various characters on his journey to recover his memories of who he is. A mysterious man named Vam the Malevolent aims to stop him on his quest.
What makes Fantasian stand out here is its battle system. It makes use of the smartphone’s touch controls by allowing characters to control the direction of their attacks. If an enemy has an impenetrable shield and is guarding another enemy behind it, you can arc an attack around the shield to hit the enemy behind.
Fantasian also feels like a traditional old-school JRPG with its turn-based combat and simple equipment system, but also modern with its unique battle mechanics.
Fantasian is available for iOS via Apple Arcade.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
Monster Hunter is an incredibly popular franchise, but some have debated whether to call it an “RPG.” Well, the spin-off Stories series is the answer. It features all the hallmarks of a JRPG and cleverly reworks the mechanics from the mainline Monster Hunter games to give it its own unique identity.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin follows a player character who is the descendent of a legendary Rider named Red. A young woman named Ena gives the player character an egg containing a winged creature called a Rathalos. The journey starts off with the player trying to unravel the mysterious mass disappearances of Rathalos around the world, but eventually delves into something else even more sinister.
The game features turn-based combat with a triangular weakness system between Power-Speed-Technical attacks. There’s also a mechanic similar to Pokemon, where players can capture other creatures’, called Monsties, eggs and hatch them to add to their crew. With an emotional story, fun battle system and enormous post-game content, Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is entertaining for hours on end.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
After the smash hit that was 2017’s Nier: Automata, it was only a matter of time before its prequel, NieR, got the proper attention it deserved. Not technically a remake or a remaster, NieR Replicant is an “upgraded” version of the 2011 game.
It follows a young man who is trying to find a cure for his sister’s disease, called the Black Scrawl. Along the way, he befriends a talking book named Grimoire Weiss, a foul-mouthed woman named Kaine, and an enigmatic boy named Emil. The rest of the story is a rollercoaster and it’s best to experience it first-hand by playing the game.
NieR Replicant improves on its previous iteration by adapting modern gameplay mechanics from NieR: Automata. The battles and controls are smoother, and the movement feels just as slick. Additionally, the game is based off the formerly Japan-exclusive Replicant version of the game, rather than the Gestalt one, which featured an older man as the protagonist instead of a young man. There’s also a new extra ending that borrows from the franchise’s side material.
NieR Replicant is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
A brand-new franchise from BANDAI NAMCO, Scarlet Nexus is a definite surprise this year. Brought to you by the development team behind Tales of Vesperia and Code Vein, Scarlet Nexus delivers a good story with incredibly action-packed gameplay.
Scarlet Nexus has dual protagonists in Yuito Sumeragi and Kasane Randall. They are members of the OSF, or Other Suppression Force and are tasked to fight off mysterious creatures called Others. They both have psychic powers in the form of psychokinesis, which allow them to throw objects at enemies.
Throughout their journeys, they’ll join up with other members of the OSF, allowing them to borrow their psychic powers such as pyrokinesis and teleportation to augment their own abilities in combat. The story takes some exciting turns, making Scarlet Nexus is a fun ride the entire time. There’s even a companion anime!
Scarlet Nexus is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
Persona 5 Strikers
Persona is a series that needs no introduction, especially Persona 5. Persona 5 Strikers is a direct sequel that attempts to shake up the traditional turn-based formula of the series by adapting Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors’ gameplay mechanics. The results are an action-packed RPG that blends together the best of the respective franchises.
Following the events of Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves have a reunion to embark on a summer vacation together. However, the trip eventually leads to the Phantom Thieves saving the world once again. The game introduces a few brand-new characters, including two playable ones to the roster. There are new dungeons called Jails that add to the overall lore of the Persona series.
Many of the mechanics seen in Persona 5, such as Confidants and Persona attacks, transition well into Strikers. While not exactly one-to-one transitions, they are masterful in a way that fits the gameplay and narrative structure of the game. Persona 5 Strikers is one summer road trip you do not want to miss.
Persona 5 Strikers is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
As the ninth entry in the Ys series, it’s incredible how consistent Falcom has been able to make each game a quality title in its own right. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is the latest game in the franchise, as well as chronologically the most recent one. Building on top of the gameplay foundation of 2016’s Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Monstrum Nox provides another great entry into the long-running series.
This time around, series protagonist Adol Christin finds himself in the prison city of Balduq, where he is falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He gains mysterious powers and becomes a supernatural being called a Monstrum. Along with his fellow Monstrum allies and other friends, he ventures to find a way out of the city while also uncovering its dark secrets.
Monstrum Nox introduces traversal mechanics that each Monstrum can use to scale buildings. For example, Adol can zip line across the buildings, while some of his allies can even fly or briefly go underground. It adds a new element that wasn’t explored in previous games. As always, Ys is defined by its fun real-time battles and amazing soundtrack.
Ys: Monstrum Nox is available on Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
NEO: The World Ends with You
It’s amazing to think that we finally got a follow-up to 2007’s The World Ends with You. It was such an experimental title that explored urban youth in Shibuya and utilized the unique dual screen feature on the Nintendo DS. A direct sequel, NEO: The World Ends with You, brings forth a brand-new cast of characters, while also tying up loose ends with old ones.
Set three years after the anime’s modernization of the original game, this sequel follows Rindo Kanade, Fret Furesawa and Nagi Usui, as they are propelled into a deadly Reapers’ Game. They must complete daily tasks in order to avoid being erased from existence. Throughout the journey, they’ll face off against other teams who are competing to do the same, and hopefully find a way to end the Reapers’ Game in Shibuya once and for all.
While the game is now housed on one screen, many elements of the first title are present here as well. You’re able to equip Pins which act as your attacks during battle, as well as check out the various shops around Shibuya for the latest fashion trends.
NEO: The World Ends with You offers such an emotional journey that is everything a fan could ever ask for in a sequel. Its soundtrack is hands down my favorite of any game this year as well.
NEO: The World Ends with You is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
Shin Megami Tensei V
While the Persona series has gained more popularity, the series that it spun off from, Shin Megami Tensei, deserves all the praise it gets. The latest mainline entry, Shin Megami Tensei V, returns to stunning 3D after the fourth game was released on the Nintendo 3DS.
As a high school protagonist, you’re transported to a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo. Just as you’re about to die, a mysterious being called the Nahobino offers you the chance to fuse with him. Doing so grants you incredible god-like powers to fight against the demons scattered across the ruined city. As the Nahobino, it’s up to the protagonist to ascend to Godhood and claim his throne, while deciding how to shape the world in his image.
Shin Megami Tensei V retains the turn-based gameplay and hard difficulty that the series is known for. Like previous entries, you can negotiate with demons to join your party as you progress throughout the game similarly to both Monster Hunter Stories and Pokemon.
What really takes this game to the next level is the addition of a new semi-open world. Its impressive verticality and scale of exploration is truly a sight to behold.
Shin Megami Tensei V is available on Nintendo Switch.
Tales of Arise
The Tales of series hasn’t been nearly as popular in the West as opposed to its contemporaries like Final Fantasy, but Tales of Arise really makes the case as to why it should be. It’s an absolutely gorgeous game with updated visuals and offers some of the most versatile and explosive combat of any recent action game.
The game follows a young man named Alphen who belongs to the Dahnan race, who is enslaved by the technologically superior Renan race. He meets a young woman named Shionne, and together they set off on an adventure to free the Dahnans from Renan rule. Along the way, they’ll encounter other companions who will join the cause.
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Tales of Arise’s real-time battles are even flashier and more bombastic than ever before. There are so many ways to string together combos with different attacks in ways that weren’t possible in previous games. The battle system feels like a huge step up and sets the bar for future entries in the Tales of franchise.
Additionally, the story is a modern Romeo & Juliet-type affair, offering the best romantic subplot in the series since 2005’s Tales of the Abyss.
Tales of Arise is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
And here are my honorable mentions!
- Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade
- Bravely Default 2
- Blue Reflection: Second Light
- Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy
- Fuga: Melodies of Steel
- The Caligula Effect 2
Did you play any of these games? Which ones were your favorites? Let us know! 2021 was an immense year for JRPGs and one that’s undoubtedly hard to beat.
2022 already has some great JRPGs set to release, so let’s see if they stack up!