365 days may seem like a whole lot of time, but when the year finally wraps up, we fully realize just how many of those hours and minutes we frittered away. And, with games being one of the most time-consuming forms of entertainment out there, playing everything you want to over the course of a year stands as a nearly impossible task.
But we’re not here to judge—merely to enlighten. Odds are, you haven’t had a chance to touch any of the following releases most folks overlooked. If you have some free hours this holiday season—or even the early days of 2017—consider giving these games you probably missed a well-deserved look.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
The Ace Attorney series may not have the biggest audience—to the point where every new release in America feels like an outright miracle—but its fans remain completely devoted. And this fall, the Ace Attorney faithful received a great surprise in the form of the sixth official game, Spirit of Justice. Though series creator Shu Takumi has since moved on to concentrate on Ace Attorney spin-offs, the series’ “B” team delivered some A-plus work with this great sequel.
While most Ace Attorney games fall back on the same contradiction-discovering courtroom antics, this latest entry keeps things fresh by dropping the cast of characters into a completely different setting with some new, disruptive rules. What follows is a long (we’re talking 30-35 hours), twisting story that works in every protagonist to date and ties up some lingering loose ends in incredibly rewarding ways. Even if you’ve never played an Ace Attorney game before, the charming characters, fantastic music, complex mysteries, and great presentation should definitely draw you in.
I Am Setsuna
If you’re old enough to remember Square’s great RPGs of the 1990s—or simply a fan of retro games—I Am Setsuna should definitely appeal to you. Essentially, Square-Enix studio Tokyo RPG Factory engineered this game to draw directly from the past. If you think it looks a lot like the 1995 RPG classic Chrono Trigger, you’re not seeing things: I Am Setsuna basically amounts to a spiritual sequel.
That’s not to say I Am Setsuna completely devotes itself to aping past RPGs, though. Tokyo RPG Factory made some pretty bold choices to give their retro throwback its own distinct identity. For one, it takes place in a land of endless winter, which no RPG has really attempted before. And to accentuate this frigid setting, I Am Setsuna’s soundtrack is comprised completely of piano music. I Am Setsuna may not be the best choice if you’re trying to forget about the brutal winter weather, but it still holds up as one of 2016’s better RPGs most people didn’t get a chance to play.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen PC Port
When Dragon’s Dogma originally released in 2012, most people shrugged. While it reviewed well, Dragon’s Dogma had the misfortune to arrive in the wake of Skyrim, so the prospect of a huge, Western-style RPG made by a Japanese developer like Capcom didn’t make for a convincing sales pitch. After its lackluster launch, Dragon’s Dogma seemed destined to go down in history as a forgotten game.
Thankfully, Capcom managed to save Dragon’s Dogma from being a footnote in gaming history with their PC port, released way back in January. Not only does this port expose the game to a whole new audience, it also presents a version of Dragon’s Dogma that feels like what the original release was shooting for. While Dragon’s Dogma looked fine on last-gen hardware, its large, detailed open world definitely pushed these older consoles to their absolute limits. With the PC port, you don’t even need a new-ish rig to experience Dragon’s Dogma in full 60 FPS glory. And since this release comes with the DLC content included, you’re looking at a ton of RPG content to dig into.
Pocket Card Jockey
Pokemon developer Game Freak obviously makes plenty of bank with their cash cow, but this financial success also gives them the luxury to dabble in other genres. And Pocket Card Jockey is about as far away from Pokemon as you can get… or any other game, for that matter. This strange mash-up mixes solitaire with horse racing for one of the most undeniably addictive gaming experiences of 2016. If this all sounds preposterous, then it’s clear you haven’t let Pocket Card Jockey sink its hooks into you yet.
In Pocket Card Jockey, you play simplified speed solitaire as a sort of metaphor for horse racing; match cards successfully, and your horse will stand a better chance of winning. That’s really only scraping the surface, though, as Pocket Card Jockey takes horse racing very seriously. And it offers some RPG elements, too, as your horses can be leveled up and trained to be better at hauling hooves across the racetrack. With its premise that stands as one of the strangest gaming concepts in 2016, this budget-priced 3DS digital release remains a charming and absolutely addictive experience.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
The title “Odin Sphere Leifthrasir” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but this little release holds up as one of the more unsung RPGs of 2016. And if the title sounds familiar to you, Odin Sphere originally released in 2007 for the PlayStation 2. Thanks to its incredibly late release date—the PS3 had launched the previous fall—Odin Sphere’s amazing 2D art stands above just about anything else from that console generation. Unfortunately, it tried to pull off things a little too ambitious for the PS2 hardware, and those massive, high-resolution sprites tended to cause intolerable slowdown when too many of them appeared on the screen at once.
Nearly 10 years later, Atlus gave us a complete overhaul of this flawed game with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir. Thanks to the power of better hardware, Odin Sphere runs exactly as intended: smooth as butter. And Atlus saw fit to improve more than performance, as this HD remake of sorts now features several gameplay tweaks that greatly improve on the original. If you missed Odin Sphere during its original release, and want to play a big, beautiful RPG that plays out like an old-school brawler, seek out this improved version of a modern classic. But don’t try to pronounce “Leifthrasir” in public without the proper training.