We know all about the Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests, and Xenoblades on Nintendo Switch. But sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the big-name RPGs and miss out on the full panoply begging to be explored. Sometimes, star-crossed release dates eclipse a launch, or maybe the competition just crowds them out. Whatever the reason, if you’re wanting to venture off the beaten path to find your next best Switch RPG, we’ve got several overlooked gems to help you out.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
Nihon Falcom’s been on the RPG scene since before Square finaled its first fantasy and Enix put the Dragonlord to the sword. Yet Ys, one of its longest-running franchises, has remained largely unknown in the West. And that’s a shame. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a shipwreck story set on the seemingly deserted island of Seiren. Adol Christin and his fellow survivors try to find a way off the island while also surviving in general and uncovering the story behind the mysterious Dana haunting Adol’s dreams. These unfold around a series of smaller events with the supporting cast, a cast brushed with Falcom’s signature attention to detail. It strikes a fine balance between big and small, which ultimately makes the bigger narrative events hit that much harder.
Ys is as much about gameplay as story, though. Exploration takes center stage here, as in most Ys games. The Isle of Seiren is vast. Though you’re gated off from exploring all of it at once, that’s actually a good thing. Finally accessing new areas and finding new monsters to test your mettle against is oh-so-satisfying. It features some of the most satisfying action RPG combat of this generation too. Each character specializes in a specific weapon type, and by lucky happenstance, each enemy happens to be weak against one of those types. How you form your party, prioritize skill development, and allocate limited resources for improving gear often determines your chances of survival in this gem of an overlooked Switch RPG.
Heroland isn’t like most RPGs you’ve played before, as we noted in our preview. It sprang forth from some minds involved with EarthBound, and it carries with it the same quirkiness, irreverence, and charm that makes that series special to many. You play as a theme park guide whom your first guest, Prince Elric, dubs Lucky. The game is part commentary on working life and (big) part parody of RPGs and gaming in particular. And it’s hilarious in a way games rarely manage to pull off, which we went over a bit before Heroland launched.
Your goal is taking guests on fantastical adventures and leading them through fights against other park members dressed up as RPG enemies. In a twist on the usual formula, your role is much more passive. You literally guide your party of four’s actions, periodically breaking into combat to use an item, issue an order, or suggest a skill. You can only interfere when an ATB-like meter is full, so you need to plan your actions — and party — in advance. That, weapon durability, and enemy types all get more important as you progress. It’s surprisingly complex for a seemingly fluffy RPG.
Rune Factory 4 Special
Rune Factory 4 Special is the best in its series and one of the best Switch RPGs. Rune Factory 4 is a Harvest Moon spinoff that combines farming-and-life sim with exploration, deeper story, crafting, and action RPG combat. Part of its strength is how it balances all these things just right. There’s always something to do (which we can’t say for every farm sim on the market), and the world unfolds at just the right pace. The story hits the usual JRPG notes — amnesia, magic, end of the world — but it’s made interesting by the charming characters you’ll meet. These range from a dragon who may or may not always tell you the full truth and a noblewoman haunted by a mischievous spirit, to a chef who devours his meals before patrons ever get them and almost anything else in between. It’s a delightful, eclectic cast brought to life by XSEED’s characteristically snappy localization.
Pillars of Eternity
“Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin 2” is a pretty common question, and the answer tends to favor the latter. It’s true DOS2 does a lot of things different than Pillars of Eternity: Complete Edition. However, you can’t beat PoE if you want a classic PC RPG with all the modern conveniences. Unlike Divinity, the story isn’t locked behind character creation. You’re free to create whatever you want and still get the full range of the narrative. How that unfolds depends entirely on your choices. Nearly everything you say and do impacts the story and other characters. There’s a lot of story to experience too, since the Switch version has all previously released content.
Also unlike Divinity, Pillars of Eternity uses a somewhat real-time combat system. You can pause it and access menus or issue commands. But the bulk of the fighting takes place in real time. That means you’re always on your toes, keeping up with party movement and formations and juggling a number of different factors that all relate to your success — or untimely death. Pillars of Eternity is definitely one of the most difficult RPGs on our list here, if only because there’s so much to get to grips with. But once you’re comfortable with how it works, very few RPGs come close to being as rewarding. It definitely shouldn’t stay an overlooked Switch RPG for long.
World of Final Fantasy Maxima
Yes, this is a Final Fantasy, but an overlooked one. World of Final Fantasy debuted rather quietly on Nintendo Switch complete with the Maxima update. Maybe that’s not surprising, given its status as a spinoff. But there’s a lot to love about World of Final Fantasy. It follows two siblings as they step into a strange new world, a world full of references, critters, and characters spanning the entire Final Fantasy series. The story is largely fluff, but it’s the cameos and gameplay we come here for anyway.
World of Final Fantasy combines elements of FF combat with Pokémon-like monster catching; the monsters here are mostly your usual Final Fantasy creatures, but called “mirages.” Then it wraps all that around a literal stacking mechanic where your abilities and skills are augmented based on how you stack your Mirages. Customizing your party can get pretty deep thanks to all that. Best of all is when favorites like Yuna or Squall show up, and Maxima lets that happen more often thanks to the protagonists’ new Champion ability. It’s true World of Final Fantasy isn’t as deep or mechanically complex as some RPGs out there, but it proves lighthearted games can still count among the best Switch RPGs.
Shadows of Adam
Not everyone has the time for an RPG that lasts 40 hours or more. Shadows of Adam offers a more succinct retro experience that is over in 12-16 hours, while providing beautiful pixel art and some adventurous callbacks to Mystic Quest on Super Nintendo. The combat system also encourages you to regularly mix up your strategy for victory, which isn’t always a given in RPGs. Our review will tell you everything to expect from your bite-sized adventure with Shadows of Adam.
These are just some of the best Switch RPGs out there that usually get overlooked, but we also think these are among the best. Is there another excellent overlooked Switch RPG out there? Let us know in the comments!