The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure

Continuing after Trails from Zero, Trails to Azure is another amazing title in the series that is full of unrelenting momentum. While it has slower moments, Azure differentiates itself from previous entries mostly with its pacing. Instead of saving the juiciest plot/character moments for the last 10 or so hours of the game, Azure hits the ground running and rarely lets up. Each chapter has something captivating happen that pushes the plot forward. It gives the game a sense of excitement in its pacing that honestly surprised me. If you played and enjoyed Trails from Zero, don’t miss this.

Grim Dawn

When it’s time to turn my brain off, Grim Dawn has always been there for me. It’s an isometric dungeon crawler in the vein of Diablo where you build a character in order to mow down endless hordes of evil humans, demons, cosmic abominations, and more. Grim Dawn’s story is only there to give a flimsy preface to the coming hours of murder and mayhem. While quite entertaining for a time, and a quality entry in the action RPG genre, it can turn into a slog once one becomes bored of trying to gain power just for its own sake.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered is not perfect. It doesn’t improve upon the original’s multiplayer, the menu system is a bit clunky, and it’s in need of some quality of life features. Despite this, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the game. Cozy is the best word to describe FFCCR. It delivers gratifying exploration, an amazing soundtrack (I have a new fascination with the crumhorn), and a minimalist story with charming and sometimes melancholy themes of memories and family. FFCCR is a warm cup of hot chocolate while nestled in a blanket after a long day of work.

428: Shibuya Scramble

428 is a live-action visual novel that combines text, photographs, and video clips to tell a story of kidnapping,overcoming personal struggles, the difficulties of selling a shady weight loss drug as a part-time cat mascot, and more.  It tasks the player with guiding five protagonists through their own separate but often intersecting stories via a slightly confusing flowchart system. Navigating the characters past bad endings is a fun puzzle thanks to the plot’s strength at balancing seriousness with humor.  It is a highly recommended title with a well developed cast and story full of personality and charm.  

The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero

This fourth chapter of the “Trails of” series satisfyingly balances plot payoff from previous games with the introduction of a new cast and setting. It follows police officer Lloyd Bannings’ efforts to understand and root out the corruption in his hometown. It is a strong turn-based RPG with the slow-paced world building of a first arc title familiar to veterans of the series. While a strongly recommended title, Trails from Zero not a perfect place for new players to jump into the series. Many of the plot points will be lost on players who have not played the Sky trilogy.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

Trails of Cold Steel is a turn-based RPG best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Its plot has the player follow a group of military academy students as they confront the issues plaguing their home nation of Erobonia. Despite being the sixth chapter of the “Trails of” series, Cold Steel can serve as an adequate series introduction that will leave the player with just as many questions as it does answers. Definitely give it a go if you enjoy a game that relishes in slow-burn world-building (some may argue too slow), numerous NPCs to chat with, and simple but engaging combat.

Control

Control stars Jesse Faden as she wades through the paranormal oddities of the Oldest House while searching for her brother. It’s a mysterious yet engaging plot that’s unhurried in its progression. Gameplay consists of two parts: the first involves light exploration to soak in the unsettling atmosphere while reading left behind notes, listening to audio logs, and watching videos. The second is terrific gunplay supplemented by a catalog of psychic powers. You’ll enjoy unraveling the secrets of a teleporting rubber duck or a seemingly homicidal refrigerator but you’ll need to be patient with the sometimes annoying checkpoints and occasional difficulty spikes.

Tokyo Xanadu eX+

Take the story structure and numerous gameplay systems from Trails of Cold Steel, replace the turn-based combat with fast-paced action, and you’ll have an idea of what Tokyo Xanadu eX+ is. The story follows high schooler Kou Tokisaka as he investigates paranormal occurrences in Tokyo. Expect a plot dealing with the common JRPG theme of the power of friendship, supplemented by a fantastic Falcom soundtrack. The gameplay loop involves city exploration, bonding with NPCs and your party, and Falcom flavored dungeon traversal/combat. Overall, it’s anime JRPG comfort food. Nothing too surprising, but a lengthy and wholesome adventure nonetheless.

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception is 80% slow-burn kinetic visual novel and 20% tactical RPG. MoD is the first part of a story about identity, deception, and war, told through the eyes of an amnesiac protagonist as he learns about the world around him and his place in it. The actual gameplay tasks the player with individually controlling each unique party member through turn-based battle scenarios as the story calls for it. It’s well worth playing to fall in love with the memorable characters and vastly detailed world and plot more so than the sparsely used tactical gameplay.