I’m sure everyone knows how it feels to love something that none of your friends seem to have heard of. Whether it’s an obscure book, a niche game or some artsy foreign film, we’ve all been there. In the hope of introducing you to some unforgettable gaming experiences that might have slipped under your radar, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best games that often went overlooked.
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk (PS3, PS Vita)
If I’m being fair, all of Gust’s long-running Atelier franchise is criminally underappreciated. These atypical JRPGs don’t focus on a band of heroes out to save the world, but rather on a novice alchemist or two and their own personal quest – it varies from game to game. Alongside some solid turn-based battling is the franchise’s nuanced and rewarding alchemy system, with which you can create anything from healing items to, with the right know-how and a little luck, weapons that can allow you to beat each game’s superbosses without them even getting a chance to attack. You get out what you put in, and it never gets old.
If they’re all good, why did I pick Atelier Ayesha specifically? There have been more than half a dozen games in the series since Ayesha, but I feel like it’s a definite high point. The darker, more melancholic tone was a huge change from the upbeat Arland trilogy, and the story itself – Ayesha is searching for her sister who disappeared without warning – is personal and compelling, and the cast of characters are entertaining from start to finish. It also has a superb soundtrack, though that’s nothing new from a Gust game.
Digimon World 2 (PS1)
Okay, I’ll admit it, most people know about Digimon, but how many people really got into the games, especially 20 years ago? The video game side of the franchise has seen a resurgence lately with the likes of the fantastic Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth and Digimon World: Next Order, the latter of which felt like a greatly improved and modernised update of the original Digimon World. Despite the recent successes for the series, you can’t go wrong with its classic second outing.
There will always be a special place in my heart for Digimon World 2. It was completely unlike its predecessor, featuring a dungeon-crawling mechanic using an upgradeable, customisable tank-like vehicle, several starter Digimon choices (though I’m sure everyone just picked Agumon) and a story that was full of heart and plenty of plot twists. Like the recent Cyber Sleuth, Digimon World 2 features turn-based battles using a team of three Digimon, and back then few things were cooler than assembling a trio of your favourite ‘mons and exploring the newest dungeon.
Not only was Digimon World 2 released very late in the PS1’s life, but it never even made it to Europe. I’m not holding my breath for another Digimon game like it, but it truly was excellent, and nearly 20 years later I still replay it from time to time.
Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu (PS1)
Like Digimon World 2, this is a fond childhood favourite of mine. It was dismissed by many at the time as a Pokémon clone, though the similarities end at using captured minions to fight for you. In Jade Cocoon, you play as Levant, a young man whose village is blighted by a curse, turning everyone he knows to stone. It’s an RPG, so you know the drill: he has to find a way to save them.
The hook is the monster-taming mechanic, but more specifically its fusion system. Monsters can be combined to create something new, but it isn’t just their stats and abilities that get passed down. A fused minion inherits the appearance of its parents, and this process can be repeated over and over again to create some truly fearsome, adorable or downright repulsive companions. At the time, the variety was mind-blowing, and it’s still pretty damn impressive now.
Also, Jade Cocoon features cutscenes and designs by staff from Studio Ghibli, so it has that going for it too.
Monster Hunter Stories (3DS)
Everybody loves Pokémon, and Monster Hunter isn’t exactly lacking in popularity either, so I’m surprised it took until 2016 to create a hybrid of the two. Unlike typical Monster Hunter games, where you beat up monsters, turn their bodies into better weapons and then kill even bigger monsters; Stories casts you as a Rider, rather than a Hunter. For Riders, monsters are friends, not food. After a creature tainted by the Black Blight attacks your village, you set off with your monster companion to sort things out.
The turn-based battles are plenty of fun, but its befriending and fighting alongside iconic Monster Hunter beasts that’s the real draw here. Yeah, we’ve all beaten up a Rathalos before (or tried to), but fighting alongside one? That’s so much more fun. Hatching new monsters, from common Velocidromes all the way up to mythical Kirin, is an irresistible distraction from the main story, which itself never gets dull. Monster Hunter Stories is all the best bits of a Monster Hunter game but in a lovely RPG package, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions (Wii U)
For me, this game is best summed up like so: I bought a Wii U just to play it, and I do not regret that decision. Originally billed as a crossover between the Shin Megami Tensei (the parent series of Persona) and Fire Emblem, it’s actually more like 90% Persona and 10% Fire Emblem, the latter’s influence limited mostly to your party member’s Persona companions, plus a few story beats, cameos and references here and there.
Persona 5 is rightly regarded as a very stylish game, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions can easily give it a run for its money. If you take the narrative structure of a Persona game, make the Persona companions themselves into Fire Emblem characters (though they’re all from Shadow Dragon or Awakening – no others) and throw in an infectiously catchy J-pop aesthetic, you’ve got Tokyo Mirage Sessions. It’s very clearly a prototype for Persona 5 in some ways, but I got more lasting enjoyment out of it than I did from any mainline Persona game, and that’s saying quite a bit.
Battles are also thrilling and captivating in a way that Persona 5 doesn’t quite match up to, and that makes all the difference in a JRPG.
Velocity 2X (PS4, PS Vita, PC, Xbox One, Switch)
Developer FuturLab first caught my eye when I tried Velocity Ultra on my PS Vita, and from then on I was hooked. Most of their titles before Velocity 2X were compact, lighthearted offerings, best suited to a quick go here and there during a commute or such – and that was great. But Velocity 2X really showcased what the studio was capable of, from the vibrant, sci-fi aesthetic and stellar soundtrack – seriously, give it a listen even if you’ve never played the game – to a badass protagonist and a pretty compelling story to boot.
That hardly scratches the surface, though. Actually playing Velocity 2X is something else, and the sheer depth and polish of the gameplay is beyond what plenty of AAA studios are putting out. The addition of platforming sections added some welcome variety over the original Velocity, and the whole package shines, whether you’re testing your reflexes on one of the Critical Urgency missions or just looking to blast some aliens. People often say overcoming games like Dark Souls gives you a sense of satisfaction, but that’s nothing compared to pulling off a perfect run on a Velocity 2X mission.
Warzone 2100 (PS1, PC)
By the end of the ’90s, the RTS genre already had plenty of giants: Command & Conquer, Age of Empires and Warcraft, to name just a few. Another gem was Warzone 2100, the only game released by long-defunct Pumpkin Studios. Featuring a massive campaign set in a world blighted by nuclear strikes, the player fights for The Project, a restoration movement seeking to, well, bring humanity back from the brink. In your path stand organised scavenger groups, as well as other organisations similar in size and strength to The Project but whose goals may not align with your own.
I loved Warzone 2100 back in 2000 and I still love it now. The story is genuinely gripping, following The Project’s initial struggle against roving scavenger groups to discovering that there’s something far more sinister at work than mere opposing forces. The gameplay is mostly what you’d expect from an RTS of the time – build a base, assemble your forces, crush the enemy – but it’s the unit customisation feature that really makes Warzone stand out. As you research new components and technologies, from different tank treads and bodies to the weapons you mount on them, you can assemble your units in innumerable ways. It never gets old.
If only publisher Eidos hadn’t cancelled their second project, causing Pumpkin to shut down, they may well have gone on to be one of the biggest names in the RTS genre. The game is freeware now, and has received plenty of modding support from the community over the years, so there’s really nothing stopping you from giving it a try!
If you’re a fan of even one of the above games, we are already best friends by virtue of your impeccable taste. If you’ve got any favourites of your own that you feel don’t get the love they deserve, let us know in the comments!