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By Michael A. Cunningham

2013 is looking to have a great second half in terms of RPG releases, and these here are just the games on handhelds. Not only is there a lot coming, the variety is great. HD remasters, sequels to classics, and great original games are all hitting before too long. Here are ten of the most interesting to keep an eye on.

Dragon Fantasy Book II

Dragon Fantasy Book II (Vita, PS3) - Official Site
Pub: Muteki Corp | Dev: Muteki Corp | Release: 2013

The first book of Dragon Fantasy was upgraded from its iOS roots and released for Vita earlier in the year. While it adapted to the handheld quite nicely, we can't help but be even more excited for Dragon Fantasy Book II, an original release for Sony's systems (Vita/PS3).

In this version, the graphics have undergone a significant upgrade and battles now take place on screen instead of via random encounters. A new quest/bounty hunt system has been added, complete with a quest log. The story is also one continuous tale instead of episodic like the original. The story is still lighthearted and the cast charming, Mr. Rock Monster seems to still be having marital troubles, and the music is still enjoyable. On top of everything else there is ship combat, which is somewhat reminiscent of battles in Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

Not only does Book II shake things up, but it keeps the best parts of the original. The fact that Ogden and crew will still never see a game over screen is especially nice, since progress loss is mitigated. All these make for one heck of an old school RPG; something there is not near enough of these days.


Dragon's Crown

Dragon's Crown (Vita, PS3) - Official Site
Pub: Atlus USA | Dev: Vanillaware | Release: 08.06.2013 (NA), Fall 2013 (EU)

The latest from Vanillaware merges a side-scrolling beat-em-up with an RPG. In Dragon's Crown players can team with up to three others to do battle in this unique brawler via online co-op. Options include the well-protected Fighter, a female warrior using two-handed weapons called the Amazon, the magic-focused Wizard, the lithe female Elf archer, the short and powerful Dwarf, and the Sorceress, a well-endowed master of dark magic.

One of the biggest focuses of Dragon's Crown has been its lovely hand-drawn art style. While beautiful and colorful, the character designs have been the main draw for better or worse. The Amazon and Sorceress have received a bit of scrutiny for being females in overly revealing outfits. Despite this, many RPGamers are still looking forward to the opportunity to team up with their friends to hack up monsters when the game releases. While co-op doesn't work across systems, Vita owners can still do battle together when Atlus USA releases this in August.


Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl (3DS) - Official Site
Pub: Atlus USA | Dev: Atlus | Release: 10.01.2013

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a retelling of the first Etrian Odyssey, but it goes far beyond a standard remake. Where the original DS game was an adventure with a player-created party, this new version features a brand new story mode starring the millennium girl, Frederica. For the first time, players will be given a party with their own unique personalities and stories as they venture through the land of Etria. The traditional first-person dungeon crawling gameplay is still intact, complete with FOEs, challenging combat, and all the control improvements found in the latest release, Etrian Odyssey IV.

For those who would rather stick with the traditional Etrian style, players can ditch the story mode and opt to play the game with their own characters. Regardless of which path is taken, all of the improvements will be available, so even players who have played the original Etrian Odyssey will have something new this time around.


Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD

Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD (Vita, PS3) - Official Site
Pub: Square Enix | Dev: Square Enix | Release: 2013

While far from being new, the Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD release remains at the top of many RPGamers' most wanted lists. Though a combined package on PS3, the Vita versions will be separate releases. Despite being announced almost two years ago, Square Enix is still being sketchy about the details of the portable versions. What is known is that both games will be based off the International versions and will contain new bonus scenarios.

This means that even those who have already experienced the originals will now be able to replay both games with additional features never before released in North America. FFX offers a new, more open sphere grid and dark versions of the game's aeons. FFX-2 will feature new dresspheres and a monster capture system, but there is no confirmation on whether it will include the Last Mission epilogue. Kitase did at least confirm that saves will transfer between the PS3 and Vita versions. Other than that, Square Enix is still being tight lipped on its first Vita-developed game, but hopefully we should know more before too long.


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) - Official Site
Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Nintendo EAD | Release: 11.2013

I've joked many times about wanting a sequel to A Link to the Past. For Nintendo to go back and create another game based on one of my childhood favorites would be a dream come true. I never really expected it to happen, but now it has.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds hits the Nintendo 3DS later this year and offers a fresh new take on the A Link to the Past world. In the screenshots and trailers for the game, we've seen many familiar areas and enemies, but there is new content here as well. Link can bounce between levels and even flatten himself against walls to move around, and that's just for starters. Combining these new features with the dual worlds concept of the original is looking to be an interesting experience. A Link to the Past is an iconic game, so this means that A Link Between Worlds has some big shoes to fill, but from what we've seen so far it seems to be hitting all the right notes.


Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS) - Official Site
Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Nintendo EAD | Release: 08.11.2013 (NA), 07.12.2013 (EU)

Nintendo has never been shy with Mario spin-offs and a few of them have even been RPGs. Where the Paper Mario games have veered away from the RPG realm, the Mario & Luigi series has remained firmly planted in that camp. The fourth and latest game in the series is Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and this time Luigi is not only in the spotlight, he's the setting.

While players still control both brothers in turn-based combat, parts of the game are set inside the mind of a sleeping Luigi. What this means is we finally get to see the timid brother's thoughts and how he sees himself. Dreamy Luigi longs to be a larger than life hero, so players might just find themselves controlling the green warrior in a one-on-one dream battle against a giant building. Along with this crazy setting, we can expect the usual hilarity from the Nintendo localization staff with a lot of inside jokes and bumbling characters. This lighthearted RPG series is always good for a laugh.


Pokémon X/Y

Pokémon X/Y (3DS) - Official Site
Pub: Nintendo | Dev: Game Freak | Release: 10.12.2013

The Pokémon series might not be well-known for breaking new ground, but this latest release is doing just that in a few areas. The pair of Pokémon X & Y are the first in the series for the Nintendo 3DS and will be the first to feature 3D polygons. Along with that is the ability to move in any direction. The pair will also be getting a simultaneous global release, a first not only for the series, but for any retail Nintendo release. These might not seem like much, but for a series as grounded as Pokémon has been, these are important steps forward.

Longtime fans of the series need not worry about too much change, though, as creature catching and monster battling are still completely intact. Players will began by selecting one of three starter Pokémon: a grass-type named Chespin, a fire-type called Fennekin, and a water-type known as Froakie. After selecting your starter, it's once again off to battle other trainers in an effort to become the greatest Pokémon trainer around. So even if the game formula is still the same old Pokémon setup, Nintendo is at least moving forward on a few fronts.


Rune Factory 4

Rune Factory 4 (3DS) - Official Site
Pub: XSEED Games | Dev: Neversoft | Release: Summer 2013

The Rune Factory series has really come into its own over the past few years. It initially branched off from the Harvest Moon farm life sims, but instead of strictly running a farm it allows players the chance to explore dungeons. So instead of simply worrying about trying to raise crops and attract a mate, players now battle and capture monsters while crawling through dangerous caverns. Now in this fourth main entry, yet sixth overall game in the series, Rune Factory 4 ventures onto the 3DS with a few new features.

One of the biggest changes this time around is the ability to play as either a male or female protagonist. This means that there are separate sets of love interests based on gender selection. As the game begins, the main character is mistaken for royalty and placed in charge of the town. From here, players can woo mates, raise crops, promote tourism, and battle through dungeons with a party of townsfolk. Rune Factory 4 is a huge experience with lots of different options, so those wanting to pretend to farm, virtually fall in love, or just explore dungeons would do well to check this game out.


Valhalla Knights 3

Valhalla Knights 3 (Vita) - Official Site
Pub: XSEED Games | Dev: Marvelous | Release: Fall 2013

Valhalla Knights 3 is seeking to redeem the series on the Vita with a new developer this fall. This release offers a party of seven characters and a variety of customization options. There are seven races including robots, halflings, and beastmen, and twenty job classes to choose from. The game is quest-focused, as players will accept a request and then venture out into the wild to complete it.

These quests will have players battling foes on-screen with no random encounters. Combat takes place inside a circled off area after engaging the enemy. Players can swap between these seven party members at any time and perform special attacks via shortcuts on the D-pad. Performing combos is also encouraged into order to gain greater experience. The game also features a comprehensive crafting system and seven versus seven online multiplayer. Online battles net the player points that can be used to buy new equipment.

There is also a bit of risqué content in Valhalla Knights 3's Red Light District. Here, players encounter vendors who can be groped via touch screen controls. There are even implied sexual encounters if the proper conditions are met. Barring any unforeseen issues, there are no plans to edit out any of this content.


Ys: Memories of Celceta

Ys: Memories of Celceta (Vita) - Official Site
Pub: XSEED Games | Dev: Nihon Falcom | Release: Fall 2013

Ys has been a long-running action RPG series from Nihon Falcom with a somewhat confusing numbering history. While not exactly a remake, Ys: Memories of Celceta is a reimagining of Ys IV. It replaces the original game as a canon entry as this version is actually developed by Falcom directly. At the start of the game, series hero Adol finds himself in a massive forest with no memory of his past or how he ended up in Celceta. After proving himself in combat, Adol is recruited to map the vast sea of trees that fill the land.

Building on the Ys Seven battle system, Adol can be joined in battle by two others and players can swap between any of the three at any point. Combat is fast and offers a configurable AI for party members, a guard system, and a variety of skills for each character. Exploration is a major focus here, as Celceta's overworld is larger than any other Ys game so far. Ys games typically offer a variety of challenges in combat, especially with boss battles, and this game is no different. There is a boss rush mode for those seeking to prove their skills in combat outside of the main story. Anyone wanting a furious action RPG will want to keep an eye on this when it hits the Vita later this fall.


Honorable Mentions
Those are just the highlights. There are other RPGs on the way, but many of those are ports or are more likely for a 2014 release. Regardless, there is a lot of RPG goodness on the way before the end of the year.
Atelier Meruru Plus: The Apprentice of Arland Inazuma Eleven 3 Rainbow Moon
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