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Best Turn-Based RPG
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The Little Tail Bronx series has been a recurring passion project for developer CyberConnect2. Never reaching the notoriety of .hack nor the sales of CyberConnect2’s licensed games, it nevertheless is a series that its developers keeps returning to even it if has never reached the same heights of popularity. Games starring anthropomorphic cats and dogs have never managed to garner broad appeal, but in Fuga: Melodies of Steel, CyberConnect2 has managed to create an outstanding RPG where the mechanics marries into the story in intriguing ways.
Fuga is set in a war-ravaged land invaded by an evil fascist empire. The child survivors of an attack on a village find and board a gigantic tank known as Taranis, and they set out to find and free their family members that were captured by the Berman Empire. The combat has a strategic rock-paper-scissors component where players can choose from three different types of weapons to place in the Taranis’ three turrets. Enemies have weaknesses to different types of weapons allowing players to “break” the enemy thereby moving them back in the turn order and opening up strategic ways of managing encounters. The most fascinating part of the game is the Taranis’ ultimate weapon, the Soul Cannon. Unleashing immense destruction, the Soul Cannon is capable of winning any boss fight with a single shot. However, this power comes with a cost: namely the life of one of the kids. Playing into this, CyberConnect2 has fine-tuned the battles to be difficult enough that players will be faced with the option of stuffing a cute kid into a cannon. This mechanic infuses the game with just a bit of appropriate dread that hangs over everything the player experiences. When combined with a fascinating story bringing everything together, Fuga: Melodies of Steel stands out as the best turn-based RPG experience in 2021.
In addition to rewarding players with additional turns for exploiting enemy weaknesses, Shin Megami Tensei V adds a couple of tweaks to the series’ press-turn battle system, making it feel renewed while keeping its essence. The exclusion of HP-based abilities and the power difference of abilities depending on the demons’ affinities adds another aspect to take into account while selecting party members, while inheriting affinities and abilities from other demons allows for more party personalization. The stars of the show, however, are the Magatsuhi abilities, turning the tables by curing the whole party or guaranteeing critical hits for a whole round, among others. By forcing players to make the most of every turn and use several strategies, the battle system in Shin Megami Tensei V is delightful, challenging, and fun, making it one of the best turn-based games of the year.
It’s hard to believe that a by-the-book JRPG story can hold its own in an era when most games developed by bigger studios are trying to find their own unique style, but Bravely Default II shows that it still can be done. Blending a job system that’s as deep as can be with the heralded Brave and Default battle system where turns can be hoarded or unleashed en masse is a big part of what makes the game amazing. Having a strong localization that really focuses on bringing to life a diverse world for the quartet of heroes to save adds a level of charm that sets the game above many contemporaries. Backed by a killer soundtrack and wrapped in bright, vibrant graphics, Bravely Default II stands above most other 2021 turn-based titles.
by Joshua Carpenter, Luis Mauricio, and Matt Masem