The 2016 RPG of the Year

2016 was a year of upheaval for RPGs. Long established franchises changed their formulas in significant ways. We saw the ultra-hard Dark Souls III captivate difficulty junkies the world over, a return to isometric greatness in Tyranny, an attempt to mimic the greatness of Chrono Trigger with I Am Setsuna, and a return to space in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness.

In a year filled with so many big names in a genre that has become so diverse in style and mechanics, the final entries on this list are bound to strike some fans as controversial. But, hey, having too many good RPGs to create a list that everybody agrees on is a good problem to have.

Here are the best RPGs of 2016.

Runner-Up: Deus-Ex: Mankind Divided

While its take on microtransactions rubbed some fans the wrong way and itss usage of augmented citizens as a stand-in for real-world race politics felt sloppy to some critics, Deux-Ex: Mankind Divided was still a fun game and a worthy entry to the Deus-Ex franchise. Finally delivering on its promise to allow you to overcome every challenge in the game without combat (yes, even the bosses), Mankind Divided accomplishes something that few other games have. It allows you to play it in your unique style.

We called Deus Ex: Mankind Divided a mature and engrossing sci-fi experience, and we are hard pressed to think of a sci-fi RPG better than it from 2016. If you are a longtime fan of the series you definitely don’t want to pass this one up.

Runner-Up: Pokemon Sun and Moon

Pokemon Sun and Moon was the riskiest Pokemon title to come out in some time. It removed gyms, badges, and HMs, and streamlined progress through handy shortcuts and redesigned menus. It had a compelling and surprisingly dark plot for a Pokemon game and a fantastic new environment in the Alola Islands that hid all sorts of secrets. It keeps you playing for hours at a time and not just because the “catch em all” formula is addictive.

And so far we have all been playing just a portion of the game. January will bring us new in-game events, Pokemon giveaways, and integration with Pokemon Go. At that point, you won’t just be traveling around Alola to catch em’ all, but around your city block as well. We called Pokemon Sun and Moon a perfect way to celebrate Pokemon’s 20th anniversary, and we stand by that statement. Whether you are a veteran trainer raised on Red and Blue, or a newcomer just introduced to the series via Pokemon Go, Pokemon Sun and Moon is an undeniably delightful experience that just about anyone can enjoy.

Runner-Up: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

While Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE may have been a runner-up for the best RPG of the year award, it certainly won the award for “just crazy enough to work.” A crossover game between Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei done in Persona style is strange enough. A Wii U RPG coming out at the end of the Wii U’s life cycle is even stranger. But Tokyo Mirage Sessions is strangest because of its dedication to form. In a world where the traditional JRPG has faded into the background in order to let its open world ARPG inspired brothers take the stage, Tokyo Mirage Sessions has the courage to be as Japanese as it can possibly be.

In the game you’ll wander around Shibuya, shop at the 109 building, participate in idol competitions, and even go on dates with internet personalities who call vocaloids their waifus. All this light-hearted anime goodness creates a fantastic contrast with the darker undertones of the game’s central plot, which concerns a mysterious otherworldly force sapping people of their life-force and a magical other-world alluded to be the Fire-Emblem world made up of every failed Fire Emblem game. It has a fantastic battle system, enthralling dungeons, a wonderful character progression system, and a truly innovative “session” mechanic that allows characters from outside your battle party to participate.

In our review we said “If the NX and Persona 5 weren’t coming out so soon, I’d even call this a killer app for RPG fans, a reason to purchase a Wii U if you haven’t yet.” In fact, this game might have taken first place this year, if it were on a more easily accessible platform.

Winner: Final Fantasy XV

Another divisive choice in the RPG genre, Final Fantasy XV is a massive departure from the Final Fantasy formula we have come to know and love. The turn-based battles and high-fantasy settings of Final Fantasies past have gone away in favor of a more modern, open-world setting. FFXV isn’t without its flaws, and has been criticized for its somewhat shallow battle system and its plot, which requires watching a companion movie and anime series to fully understand.

But what Final Fantasy XV is, is a character study. It’s a way to show the relationships between four distinct characters on the most important road trip of their lives. Everything you do, from random side-quests to eating food at a diner, is tied in to the relationship of these four main characters. It feels real, in a “filtered through a lens of a spikey haired anime protagonist” sort of way. If a role-playing game is defined by the roles you play, then it’s easy to see why Final Fantasy XV takes our top slot.

But there’s so much more to praise Final Fantasy XV for. It’s easily one of the year’s prettiest games, that’s for sure. The environments, monsters, and summons are breathtaking. It’s also a game that is setting new standards in post-release support. In fact, it’s literally altering its in-game content in response to fan outcry. This makes it one of the first RPGs ever to re-design its central single-player experience and update it due to user feedback! That’s something all games should strive for.

While it may not be as quirky as Tokyo Mirage Sessions, as charming as Pokemon Sun and Moon, or as mechanically diverse as Deus-Ex: Mankind Divided, Final Fantasy XV is solid all-around RPG package that is just getting better post-launch. But even beyond its qualities and flaws, it’s impossible to leave out how important Final Fantasy XV is culturally. For ages Final Fantasy has been synonymous with the RPG genre, but in recent times Final Fantasy fans have been starved for a quality Final Fantasy experience. Will Final Fantasy XV’s success usher in a new age of JRPGs? Has it regained the RPG throne? We will have to see what comes out of the genre in 2017 to find out.

Congratulations to Final Fantasy XV!