Michael A. Cunningham's Picks

The first half of 2014 didn't do much to impress me. Sure we got Bravely Default, Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD, and a Vita version of Borderlands 2, but two of those were previously released games. Thankfully, the second half of 2014 has a little more diversity. I also backed Pillars of Eternity and Wastelands 2, but I'm waiting on these two to convince me to dive fully into PC gaming. For now, here are five upcoming RPGs I'm ready to play now.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Round 1: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One) - Official Site
Pub: EA | Dev: BioWare | Release: 11.18.2014 (NA), 11.21.2014 (EU)

Dragon Age: Origins is an all-time favorite due to how perfectly I felt it handled the role-playing experience. Party members would support you or possibly leave or attack you based on the decisions you made in the game. Choices made in the game mattered in a way that few other games manage, and it all felt right. And then the rushed mess that was Dragon Age II came out and soured all that I enjoyed about the first game. Now, as we approach the third game in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition, I'm once again excited at the direction BioWare seems to be taking in not trying to rush out of the gate.

Players take on the role of the Inquisitor and are offered the option of being a male or female in any of the four playable races. Unlike the time players spent trapped inside Kirkwall, this time there are two whole continents to be traversed. And of course romanceable party members will be returning, and hopefully the BioWare devs will stick true to their promise of making the character interactions more meaningful this time around.

Though this game cuts ties from the main characters of the prior two games, there will still be plenty of crossover. BioWare has promised a method of transferring choices made in the previous games into Inquisition, but exactly how that works has yet to be revealed. If this game truly combines the best features of the series so far like it seems to be doing, Dragon Age: Inquisition could be a very special experience.

Cosmic Star Heroine

Round 2: Cosmic Star Heroine (Mac, PC, PS4, Vita) - Official Site
Pub: Zeboyd Games | Dev: Zeboyd Games | Release: Q4.2014

Cosmic Star Heroine is the fifth RPG developed by the two-man studio, Zeboyd Games. Following up the two part finale of Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, this sci-fi title is a completely original experience from Zeboyd. Much like Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World before it, players will be exploring an original world, but Cosmic Star Heroine is a more serious spy adventure and not a parody.

Cosmic Star Heroine is a 2D Japanese-style, turn-based RPG with combat that takes place directly on the world map. There will be multiple party members to choose from to fill the four-person battle party, and these characters will be able to perform combo techniques with one another. There will even be a headquarters where inactive party members get to hang out when not in the active party. Zeboyd has stated that the plan is to break away from the town-dungeon-boss cycle of many RPGs and to take into consideration inspirations from games like Final Fantasy VI where there were multi-party dungeons and other more interesting scenarios.

This Kickstarter success will be available on PC, Mac, and Sony systems for the first time when it launches on PlayStation 4 and Vita as well. It will be interesting to see how Zeboyd handles making the studio's largest game to date while tackling a more serious story. The team has proven successful in the past, so my hopes are high for this one.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment

Round 3: Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (Vita) - Official Site
Pub: Bandai Namco Games | Dev: Bandai Namco Games | Release: 08.19.2014 (NA), 08.20.2014 (EU)

As a fan of MMOs, but someone who doesn't have much time to spend playing them, it's always nice to see a single-player game dive into an MMO setting. In Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment, players control the main character Kirito who is trapped inside of an MMORPG. In the world of Sword Art Online, dying in the game means dying in real life, so Kirito is obviously looking to find a way to escape that fate.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment is a very action heavy game with lots of features found in MMOs such as side quests, character skill customization, and plenty of choice in weaponry. Players will also have a party member that will follow them into dungeons and help in combat. There are also dating sim elements where Kirito can go on dates with the female characters in the game. Another interesting feature is the game's multiplayer mode where players have the option of joining up with three others to tackle the dangers of Aincrad tower together. This is completely optional, as the game is playable entirely solo.

For those who didn't want to wait on this release, there is an Asian version of the game available to import with English menus and dialogue, but the translation quality is less than stellar. Thankfully, gamers patient enough to wait on the digital-only North American and European versions will also be able to play Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, a graphically updated version of the PSP game released before Hollow Fragment. This package looks like a fun time killer if nothing else.

Lords of the Fallen

Round 4: Lords of the Fallen (PC, PS4, Xbox One) - Official Site
Pub: CI Games | Dev: CI Games | Release: 10.28.2014 (NA), 10.31.2014 (EU)

Lords of the Fallen is still a bit of a mystery despite hands-on impressions and even an interview with the game's producer, Tomasz Gop, conducted by our own Emanuel Merino at E3 2014. What we do know is that the game stars Harkyn, a criminal seeking redemption. Harkyn's facial features and physical appearance cannot be changed, but he can start off as either a warrior, rogue, or cleric. These classes are not locked in once chosen, as players can mix and match weapons and skills to make their Harkyn unique in combat. While many have compared Lords of the Fallen to Dark Souls, there is much more of a direct story focus here.

What is still unknown is exactly how much customization there is to combat and skills, but players can change their armor and weapons to increase defense or allow for faster movement. Early gameplay impressions show off brutally challenging combat where you die often, but are able to respawn quickly at a nearby checkpoint. This immediately drew yet another comparison to the Souls games, as these checkpoints can be used to refill Harkyn's health. Unlike Dark Souls, enemies do not come back when players restore their health, just when they die. There is also talk about Harkyn being able to seduce ladies during his adventures, but we still don't know exactly what form that will take.

At this point in time there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Lords of the Fallen, but it has an allure to it. The challenging combat, seemingly robust character customization, and its focus on story make it one to watch this fall. The biggest question still left to answer is whether all of these features pan out or if it turns out to be a shallow copy of Dark Souls.

 Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

Round 5: Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (Vita) - Official Site
Pub: Sony | Dev: Mars, Alfa System | Release: Q4.2014

In 1999, Sony published an Alfa System-developed PlayStation RPG in Japan titled Ore no Shikabane o Koete Yuke. In this title, players are not only responsible for leading a party on an adventure, but are in charge of multiple generations of characters. This game was remade in 2011 for the PlayStation Portable, but like the original it was never released in English. Now in 2014, Sony has once again returned to this series with Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines, a brand new installment on PlayStation Vita, and this one is getting localized.

Oreshika is a beautiful, watercolor-styled RPGs with a focus on building up characters across generations due to a cursed bloodline. This means that it's best not get too attached to party members, as they only have a two (in-game) year lifespan before they will need to be married off to deities or characters from other lands. Traits and skills will be passed down to the children in order to progress. The game also features a job system with eight starting jobs: Swordsman, Archer, Naginata, Spearman, Dancer, Destroyer, Monk, Cannoneer. Each of these jobs offers a different style of combat which adds to the game's variety, plus there is also the promise of more advanced jobs as things progress.

There is more to this title than simply following a group of adventures on a quest to save the world. The generation system is quite appealing, but it's hard to say if the cast will leave as much of a lasting impression with having to change characters throughout. That said, the most worrying part about Oreshika is the lack of a confirmed 2014 English release. The Japanese version just launched in the middle of July, so there's no guarantee of a quick turnaround for this year, but it looks to be worth the wait either way.

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