Thursday, December 31

Top 20 / Best Indie RPG Games on Nintendo Switch


[Last Updated: 12/31/20] While there are a few very high profile major RPG titles now on Switch there has been a steady flow of great indie titles in the space as well, though not all of them are cut from the same cloth by any means. From action to turn-based, traditional to more unique these indies have you covered for options.

Stardew Valley - Possibly one of the most successful indie games ever made by a single developer Stardew Valley is wonderfully calming and varied. After inheriting your grandfather's farm you'll need to rebuild it, whether focusing on crops, livestock, or some combination of both. If you're more inclined to spend your time fishing or hitting the mines for loot and glory you can also enjoy those tasks to keep things from getting stale. Rounded out with a pleasant collection of characters, seasonal events, and a whole lot of charm Stardew Valley is very easy to sink hours into once it gets its "Just one more day" hooks in you.


Children of Morta - While I have played (and generally enjoyed) a ton of roguelikes of all flavors on the Switch I can’t say any of them has been quite like Children of Morta. Played from a top-down perspective and with a serious dungeon crawling style it’s challenging, has an absolutely fantastic art style, and features multiple character classes to play that are each viable and have distinctive feels. The run-to-run progression, opportunities that represent risk and/or reward, and unpredictability of precisely what you may face are all on point as well but what pushes the game the extra mile for me are the quick but poignant story threads you’ll slowly encounter as you get further in. At its core this is a game with family themes and beats and for me it really amplified the connection I have to both the game and its characters. That extra degree of care is uncommon in the genre and it really elevates it to the top tier of roguelikes. If you’re down to grit your teeth a bit and eat it on one run and then find success by the skin of your teeth the next Children of Morta is a terrific example of what roguelikes are capable of in talented hands.


Bastion - While people with access to other systems may well have played Bastion before since it's been around for a number of years, it still is absolutely a great title that doesn't feel at all dated on the Switch. Very much an action-oriented RPG similar to a classic like Secret of Mana, in Bastion you'll slowly accumulate a variety of weapons that you can then upgrade and customize your combat with as they each make the game play pretty differently. While the art is fantastic its the solid gameplay and the ever-present narrator, telling the game's story in real time, that make it a memorable title.


Pillars of Eternity - Damn RPG lovers, the Switch has been a terrific return to Nintendo fully delivering a variety of options in this genre. Pillars of Eternity further solidifies that statement, providing a deep, satisfying, and even challenging experience depending on how you set things up. What makes it stand out is that this isn’t another JRPG, it’s a conversion of a more classic PC RPG, with a different perspective and feel, going with an isometric view and pausable real-time combat. The struggle to make the interface friendly for console moving from mouse and keyboard is real, getting the hang of navigating menus and hitting every possible screen you’ll need to manage your characters and gear can take some time. Once you settle in though it’s a very satisfying experience that should appeal to a pretty wide audience.


Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns - While fans of the old school original game likely won’t even need to read this review, it’s worth noting that though some elements of this classic from the DS may be a little behind the current curve you can still easily see how it blazed a trail for the concept of a Match-3 Battle RPG genre. While perhaps the story would best be considered serviceable by RPG standards it does manage to throw a pretty wide variety of enemies and challenges at you, requiring you not only to be smart with your puzzle matching but also show some strategy in how you use the class skills you’ll acquire over the course of the game and dictated by a variety of choices you’ll make. Once you’ve unlocked all of the buildings the game has to offer you’ll have the choice to grind and acquire new skills and perks, all while changing up the puzzle formula just enough to keep things from feeling too redundant. Throw in multiple base classes that give you an incentive to play through the game multiple times with different strategies and the game offers hours of smart and satisfying strategic play for puzzle fans.


Indivisible - Probably one of the things I appreciate most in an indie game is for it to surprise me, and with its unwillingness to be constrained by a clear single genre Indivisible absolutely does that. Blending elements of a platforming adventure, an RPG, and even some Metroidvania exploration, it’s not quite like anything else I’ve played and that’s usually a good thing. Strict traditional turn-based combat tends to be dull to me so in particular it’s the pretty active combat in the game that I came to appreciate the more I played. You’ll certainly get into a consistent rhythm, working attack patterns you find most successful. But, there’s just enough strategy to what could just be a button-mashing mess to make it interesting in terms of who you attack with how, when, and then chaining into someone else. To sweeten the deal further I have to say that I really enjoyed the game’s characters, with the quality of the writing and voice acting their interactions just rang a bit more true than I typically see in an RPG. They’re still pretty traditional in their roles at the core but they have some genuine personality and that was a real driver for me to return and see where the story took things next. While genre purists may look at this as a hodge podge mutt of an experience I appreciate the mix and am hoping to see more in this vein in the future.


The Outer Worlds - Before fully getting into why I think this is an excellent title, and a breath of fresh air I’ve been needing on Switch, we’ll get to the elephant in the room. I have no doubts that like many titles at this degree of polish and high quality that playing it on Switch is the least optimum experience, and perhaps if you have the opportunity to play it elsewhere (assuming portability isn’t primarily what you’re looking for), that would be a better bet. There are absolutely signs of visual quirks and stutters you’ll run into but they didn’t make me enjoy the game less so we’re moving on. One of the series I’ve been aching for on Switch is Fallout. Both 3 and New Vegas are some of my favorite games from PC and after seeing Skyrim work so admirably on Switch it seemed like it would have happened. In lieu of them coming to the platform my desire for their experience has been quite fully sated by The Outer Worlds though. Better yet, while the gameplay is very reminiscent of that series (explore, build your stats in whatever direction you like, slow the action down to maximize your effectiveness) what then sets The Outer World Apart is its tone, world, and writing. Certainly removing the post-Apocalyptic world from the formula makes things a bit lighter but there’s genuine humor and a well-formed set of characters to interact with here that feel special and a bit next-level over what Bethesda has typically delivered. The Switch is by no means the ideal way to experience this title, and though convenient handheld play makes further compromises, but to ignore how well-made and enjoyable this title is through only that lens does this title a great disservice.


Rune Factory 4 Special - With a bit of a window remaining until the release of Animal Crossing, if you’ve been looking for something relaxing and structured to occupy your attention you’ll be in luck with Rune Factory. This more fantasy-inspired spin-off Harvest Moon series certainly has an unusual premise, with you literally falling into acting as a Prince and put in charge of a small town and its people. Through taking on errands, planting and cultivating your fields, tackling combat to ward off different threats, and more, you’ll gain new opportunities to enhance your character, encourage more tourists to come to your town, and develop relationships with your citizens. As with all titles of this kind the core experiences tend to get repetitive but that doesn’t detract from them being enjoyable and relaxing all the same. If you’re a fan of the likes of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing but have never dipped your toe into this series it seems like the perfect opportunity to do so.


The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse - While when I got the chance to play The Swords of Ditto at PAX East I was impressed by its visuals and weird weapons, I didn’t get enough time with it to appreciate how terrific the overall experience was. Based on what I understand Switch owners got a bit lucky as the game with the expansion seems to be an improvement on all fronts in terms of accessibility and variety, giving us the best experience right out of the gate. While the DNA of Zelda games is obviously present, Ditto is thoroughly its own game, standing apart from that series not only visually but with plenty of its own ideas as well. If you’re looking for a world to explore full of discovery, some unusual characters, and plenty of surprises it’s easy to recommend, just be patient with it as you’re getting started.


Crown Trick - Among the many genres and subgenres roguelikes have managed to infiltrate I can’t say that a tactical turn-based adventure-ish RPG is one I’ve run across to this point. If there can be more compelling examples along the lines of Crown Trick I’ll just say now I’m all for it. This is a title I originally saw at PAX East and left me feeling iffy about the affair. Whether that was just that the demo wasn’t structured quite right, or the time allowed didn’t really allow me to dig in I don’t know, but the more time I’ve spent with it the more it has impressed me. There’s absolutely a learning curve for understanding what makes the game tick, especially when it comes to fighting bosses. It’s amazing how survivable encounters with tough enemies can be if you’re patient, observe the environment and your opportunities there well, and make effective use of multiple spells and abilities you’re able to have at your disposal. Attack, move, set up Spell A, blink (your ability to teleport away or out of trouble), Spell B, attack, attack, move, and repeat is similar to how many of my battles played out. Elemental damage plays a huge role in things and that’s where the environment comes in. I found I tended to have my battles play out in only a subset of my environment and if I’d moved further in even more opportunities would have presented themselves so don’t hesitate to move around and see what you have at your disposal if your enemies look too formidable. Summed up Crown Trick looks fantastic, plays very smart, has a fair amount of great risk and reward opportunity, and presents a roguelike challenge that feels fresh and addictive. It’s definitely worth a look.  
 

Golf Story - While perhaps the hype train for Golf Story got a little too far ahead of itself pre-launch Golf Story still ended up being a very charming and somewhat goofy RPG. While its golf mechanics aren't quite up to the standards of the best the Mario Golf series had to offer they do a fine job of giving you the control you'll need to conquer the game's diverse set of courses. Not surprisingly most problems here are solved with your clubs generally but some of the more creative and silly sequences try to keep it from getting too repetitive and predictable. A thoroughly enjoyable RPG all around.


Battle Chasers: Nightwar - While this RPG is turn-based and has more of a classic JRPG feel to it, there's no question that its comic book art inspired look and style are thoroughly Western. You'll need to choose which party members work best for you as you level them up and make them more powerful. The visuals easily help it to stand out as the game has a great sense of flair to keep the journey engaging and exciting.


Moonlighter - One part Zelda-esque combat and dungeon exploration and another part shop simulator Moonlighter is a title that looks great and plays in a truly unique way. By night you'll go into dungeons in search of adventure and loot that you'll then need to carefully price to sell for the best price possible in your shop by day. You can then use your money to improve your shop, attract new vendors to town (including a blacksmith and armorer you'll very much need), and upgrade your gear to let you take on progressively tougher challenges.


Nexomon: Extinction - While there have been a few stabs at taking on Game Freak and the Big N’s mega-franchise they’ve tended to be at the higher-dollar level with other big companies trying to jumpstart their own franchises-to-be with visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads. I’d say some have fared better than others in that space but none has had anywhere near the sheer longevity of Pokemon. Finally, with Nexomon: Extinction, we’re seeing an upstart indie take it on and deliver it to market at a very modest $20 price point. How does it stack up? Well, if you’re expecting the bells and whistles to make it more akin to the current generation games you’ll find it lacking, but if perhaps you’re a lapsed fan who has walked away for a few years or just prefer the classic era of Poke-titles I’d say you’re in for a real treat. Granted, there’s no mistaking the degree the overall concept, progression, and feel of the combat are heavily borrowed but to its credit Nexomon at least flexes its muscles in enough places that it distinguishes itself. In particular I really enjoyed the curveballs in the story, the often highly self-aware sense of humor, and just the general flow and feel of the dialogue that makes up the connective tissue between battling, capturing, and cultivating your team. If you’ve ever been a Poke-fan or perhaps were always nervous to spend the cash to take the plunge for the first time, Nexomon is a satisfying and well-made indie-fied version of the franchise that’s worth checking out.  
 

Masquerada: Songs and Shadows - In terms of downsides I’d say there aren’t many with the primary concern being whether you’re looking for something that’s heavily story and lore-driven or not. The story is absolutely the star here, with the visual presentation, lore, and voice acting working together to deliver an experience that feels pretty fresh. That said, if you were hoping for a bit more action it’s a mixed bag, not being particularly bad but definitely taking a back seat in terms of quality to the elements of storytelling. Load times can be a nuisance, especially when you’ll sometimes move through areas that seem to serve no purpose other than to connect areas visually, but they aren’t so awful that it brings the experience down. If you’ve been seeking out an RPG that looks great but breaks away from the pack in terms of its storytelling and general feel, Masquerada is absolutely a game worth checking out.


Cardpocalypse - While deck building and battling games were never something I got into physically, I’ll admit that in the digital space they’ve managed to get me pretty hooked. While we’re still somehow waiting on the well-known Hearthstone to make its way to Switch (I hope), with smart titles like Cardpocalypse available it hasn’t been too painful to wait. What makes the title notable is the schoolyard RPG aspect of it, where you’ll play the new kid in town trying to make friends and build a solid deck along the way. If you’re just looking to get down to business you’ll have the option to do that as well to a degree, but the joy here is in navigating Jess through the travails of Elementary School clique politics with some smart deck building and opportunities for customization along the way.


Joe Dever's Lone Wolf - Very much the dark horse on this list Joe Dever's Lone Wolf is just a thoroughly different kind of experience. Playing out like a mix of a Choose Your Own Adventure story and mixing choices you make in the story with action sequences you'll then fight out connected to the story beats it's thoroughly unique. The combat itself also takes some getting used to but once it clicks I also found it to be pretty engaging. While it won't be for everyone I appreciate its attempt to strike out on a path of its own and would be thrilled to see a sequel with some refinements.


Darkest Dungeon - Fans of tough games have no doubt already heard plenty about this dark and difficult RPG experience with a roguelike unpredictable twist. In Darkest Dungeon the act of completing the dungeon doesn't simply return everyone in your party to normal, the toll of the adventure can have serious and debilitating effects on the people you're trying to work with. Try not to get too attached to anyone, while you can invest in keeping them sane you won't be able to save them all. Managing your party's sanity here can be just as challenging as the monsters in the dungeons themselves.


Monster Sanctuary [Nindie Choice!] - When you create a franchise as successful as the Pokemon series it’s inevitable that there will be a long line of imitators. Developers from indies all the way to publishers have taken a crack at the formula with varied success but in broad terms to this point it has been notable how little variation there has been in the bulk of attempts. Where Monster Sanctuary first and most notably succeeds is in changing just enough by moving to combining the tried-and-true monster collection and combat with a Metroidvania-esque hook to its exploration. Perhaps it’s a relatively small change, but for me it provided a different and more engaging sense of exploration to help distract from the pretty well-known grind that you’d typically associate with games in this style. Also worth noting is that once you begin to assemble your team the depth and diversity of your various creatures’ skill trees is pretty impressive and perhaps bordering on overwhelming. You can go wide with many skills to work with, narrow with fewer but more potent skills, or even hyper-focused on one particular tree to make a powerhouse in a specific area. Then, further mixing and matching your team line-up to suit the enemies you’ll face you can really be potent in combat. It by no means reinvents the genre but it shows a depth of effort to break away from what you’d typically expect to deliver a more unique experience.


YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG - As a whole while I found YIIK thoroughly different and quirky a fun way I can also see where those traits likely make it a love / hate proposition for people. If you’re really hoping for a more traditional experience you’ll likely be frustrated with the entire package, story, combat, and all. If, however, you have the indie spirit and appreciate experiments that may not always pan out but that are at least fresh this could really click for you as well. At least being able to somewhat relate to and understand the attitudes of some characters and the game’s approach I found it to be fun and I’d be fascinated to see what will come next from this developer having been provided feedback on this this title and running with that to try out something in a similar vein.


This list will continue to grow and be pruned as time goes on, as well as numerous other lists that try to keep track of all of the best titles the Nintendo Switch has to offer in the Indie space!