As I've covered elsewhere, 2014 was a very good year for RPGs. Between Divinity: Original Sin, Bravely Default, and Dragon Age: Inquisition, fans of every roleplaying persuasion came away feeling happy and fulfilled. And yet, for all of that, 2015 may be even better.
Just a cursory glance over the year's upcoming releases ought to get RPG fans' mouths watering. Here are just a few of the highlights:
Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (March 17)
Don't let Final Fantasy Type-0 HD's humble origins as a PSP game deceive you: This is a full-blooded RPG with some very deep system. North American fans howled when it failed to appear outside of Japan in 2011, and now their wishes are being granted in the best way possible with a remastered release for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (though not the Vita... sigh).
For those who haven't played it yet (i.e. the majority of North America), Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is a mission-based RPG with a real-time action combat system that is fainly reminiscent of the one in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. A large part of its charm lies in its sizable cast, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the large-scale battles that play out across the world. Jeremy called it the series' "bridge to next-gen" in his preview, which is worth checking. Suffice it to say, Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is an intriguing dark horse release for the always busy month of March.
Bloodborne (March 24)
Since the runaway success of Dark Souls in 2011, Hidetaka Miyazaki has toiled behind the scenes while the rest of From Software focused on a sequel. The fruits of his labor is Bloodborne, a gothic Action RPG in which a terrible disease transforms its victims into beasts. Despite the thematic differences, Bloodborne will have much in common with the Souls series, with the notable addition of guns, which can be used as a sort of high-powered riposte.
Bloodborne stands to benefit from the transition to the PlayStation 4, which makes it possible for Miyazaki to populate his intricate levels with even more monsters than usual while retaining a stable framerate (always a bit of a bugbear for the series). What will be interesting is seeing how the faster-paced combat goes over with the fans who are used to the more tactical approach favored Souls games. My guess is it will go over just fine.
Our resident Souls superfan Bob Mackey had this to say about Bloodborne in an August preview, "I felt the same hooks that made me such a huge fan of the Souls series: Each death presented an opportunity to ponder my mistakes, and generate strategies to avoid repeating them on my next attempt. If FromSoftware can manage to keep up the momentum seen in this early stage of the game, Bloodborne could be one of the greatest console-exclusive games of this generation."
Sounds like it'll be a keeper.
Persona 5 (Fall)
Ah yes, the big one. Not to put too much pressure on Atlus or anything, but I've got this game pegged as a potential Game of the Year candidate. Persona 4 Golden was just a wonderful game, one of my favorites in years, and I expect Persona 5 to be little different. Roughly five years in the making, I expect Atlus to do their utmost to ensure that the latest entry in what has become their golden franchise is as good as it can be.
Not much is known about Persona 5 at this point other than that its central theme is to be "freedom" and that its primary color is red (as opposed to blue and yellow for Persona 3 and 4). Like its predecessors, it will be set in a Japanese high school, though its apt to have large differences in its structure. Personally, I'm really excited. Persona perfectly straddles the magical line between depth and accessibility, and the series is known for its challenging and entertaining stories. It's going to be a big one.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (May 19)
Despite having a very good reputation, The Witcher has long flown under the radar among even RPG enthusiasts. Much of that is due to The Witcher being a PC RPG first and a console RPG second. However, that will not be the case with The Witcher 3, which will receive a simultaneous worldwide release in May 2015 on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
The Witcher 3 is best-known for its deep story focusing on politics and intrigue, which it marries with an enjoyable action combat system and plenty of customization. Always one of the better looking RPGs around, The Witcher 3 looks like it will outdo itself in this version with a vast world to explore and gorgeous natural landscapes. In fact, Witcher 3's splendor may be a large part of why it's coming out in 2015 instead of 2014, as CD Projekt RED has been quite clear in their desire to put out a game free of the technical troubles that have plagued other releases. But 2014's loss is 2015's gain, as it were.
Less whimsical and harder-edged than other RPGs, The Witcher 3 has a chance to capitalize on the mania for Game of Thrones that has taken hold since its original release. With that, it has a chance to finally be recognized as one of the best RPGs of the year, and possibly even the generation.
And the Rest
Even beyond the four hard-hitting RPGs listed above, there's a lot of reason for roleplaying enthusiasts to be excited for 2015. Assuming it actually makes it out on time (which it could with Hajime Tabata now at the helm), Final Fantasy XV has a chance to be in the conversation for the year's best RPG. That's on top of the crowd-funded ventures Torment: Tides of Numenera and Pillars of Eternity—both of which capitalize on the deep affection for isometric RPGs from the '90s.
One trend to watch out for in 2015 is the attempt by independent developers to borrow from the success of Dark Souls. One such example is Salt and Sanctuary, which reimagines the Souls series as a 2D side-scrolling action game with some excellent art. It is being developed by Ska Studios, the outfit previously responsible for the popular indie The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai.
Another potential indie sleeper is Darkest Dungeon, which Bob and I praised as our favorite game in the Indie Megabooth during our trip to PAX 2014. A dungeon crawler with eye-catching art, Darkest Dungeon stands out for the way it emphasizes survival over combat (though the combat is pretty good too), encouraging players to keep one eye on their party's psychological health as they plunge deeper and deeper into the depths of the earth. I really can't wait to play this one.
On top of all these games, there are the usual high-quality RPGs waiting to come out of nowhere and surprise. We have entered an unusually rich period for RPGs, with only open-world action games really able to match them for sheer quality. And even then, they can't match the quantity of excellent RPGs, which appear in all shapes and sizes.
With the likes of Persona 5 and Witcher 3 on the horizon, and plenty of potential sleepers including Pillars of Eternity and Darkest Dungeon, 2015 looks to be even better for RPGs than usual. Get ready, because it's going to be a fun year.