If hardcore is a thing measured by commitment than no genre is more hardcore than the RPG. Scan any RPG-related forum and you’ll come away with the clear impression that RPG fans are among the most hardcore in the world. Which makes sense, because role-playing games are driven by story and story by character and if your average person is going to be loyal to anything it’s going to be to another person or the closest analogue at hand. And this is the sublime place where role-playing games, more so than any other genre, take us. Like other storied mediums, the best RPGs make us love them.
Unfortunately, when it comes to role-playing games, Android gamers have a few extra hurdles to cross before they can get to the good stuff. Between the greedy IAP schemes that suffuse the world of Android gaming and Google’s lax vetting process, the Android RPG market is glutted with games that are either half-finished or play like the RPG version of Farmville. But guess what? Once again, Hardcore Droid has got your back. We’ve suffered through myriad Diablo-villes. We’ve even paid real money to move across a map (see a horrifyingly sad piece of crap whose name rhymes with schmests and schmorcery). And we did all this so that we might bring you this list—this pocketful of jewels we’re calling: The Most Hardcore Android RPGs of All Time.
The Bard’s Tale
For ‘Droid enthusiasts hardcore about their Western RPGs, it really comes down to a small handful of choices and InXile’s The Bard’s Tale is one of the best of the lot. Inxile’s port of the 2004 classic PC and Console game played like every ‘Droid gamer’s WRPG wish list made real. Of all the Android apps tagged with the RPG moniker, The Bard’s Tale is one of three where the lion’s share of Western RPG cornerstones are solidly set in place. The game features rich character customization via a balanced and functional RPG system, a protagonist who physically changes as he dons new arms and a cool, somewhat unique magic system, wherein the bard (that’s you) conjures one to a few fantasy-themed familiars to assist him as he quests and battles. Though it was a port, we loved it so much that we named it Best RPG of 2012, in our Hardcore Holiday Issue, I wrote: “It’s overall design, a hybrid of open-world and action RPG with aspects of narrative driven adventure games sprinkled into the mix, makes for the best kind of role-playing game,” which still holds true. If you’re both an Android and WRPG fan, go here and download it now. I’m not kidding.
The Bard’s Tale by InXile
This is the only instance where we’ll cite a company rather than a game or series. In Kemco’s case it makes perfect sense. Founded in 1980, the company has literally been around forever; and from then until the early oughts they were primarily developers and publishers of console games. In 2011 they moved into the mobile gaming space with their critically acclaimed and commercially successful Symphony of Eternity, an excellent JRPG that stood as one of our picks for last year’s Most Hardcore RPG list. Since the time of Symphony’s release, Kemco has released title after quality title of JRPG. From the Symphony series to the Alphadia series to individual gems like Grinsia, Kemco has built a reputation for producing quality, mobile-friendly, old-school JRPGs. With the release this winter of Symphony of the Origin and RPG Alphadia 2, Kemco has solidified said reputation as the go-to publisher for fans of the old school, Japanese role-playing game.
As you might imagine the internet’s suffused with reviews lauding the publisher’s myriad RPG efforts. Of all of the reviews we read for this article, we thought that some of Ceruleath Noreleth’s commentary in her review of Symphony of Origin provided a fairly apt summation of Kemco’s entire trove, when she wrote, simply: “It is well thought out, gorgeously executed, and a joy to play.” If you’re a mobile gamer and JRPG fan you owe it to yourself to take one of these games out for a spin.
The Zenonia series is an Android staple best known for its retro-style graphics, hacky-slashy fighting, and fetch-quest-filled gameplay. In its review of the game, Slide-To-Play.com had this to say, “It looks drop-dead gorgeous, and the controls work very well.” If you’re an Action JRPG aficionado, Zenonia 4 is certainly worth a download, but some of us here at Hardcore Droid wish they’d put a little more effort into mixing up the gameplay rather than relying on the traditional Korean RPG formula. If you’re not into the grind typical of that format, then at least you’re only out a couple of hours, but if you’re a fan of games like Ragnarok Online than this will be right up your alley.
Only Zenonia 1-4, you ask? Yup. 5 didn’t make the cut this year. While Zenonia 5 retained most the series’ many charms in terms of gameplay, controls and art direction. A few too many server crashes combined with grubby IAP hooks left it with a median score of 3, when HD’s Meg Stivison reviewed the game back in January. So, sorry about that Gamevil, here’s hoping you move towards a more reasonable freemium model for Zenonia 6.
Although it’s a free to play MMORPG that runs on IAPs, Arcane Legends somehow made our Most Hardcore list. No easy feat.
Having cut their teeth on a handful of MMO titles, developer Spacetime Studios managed to tag all the bases when they created Arcane Legends. While the game’s art direction, controls and role-playing system are not going to win any prizes for originality, each of these elements is well-rendered and produced with great aplomb. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun to play. And lastly, while Hardcore Droid is at war with greedy IAP schemes, from what we can see, players can have hours of fun without spending a dime, so Arcane Legends gets a bona fide pass.
Of the largely positive reviews we scanned for this entry, we thought TouchGen contributor, Matt Dunn’s review summed the game up best: “it’s fun and provides one of the best mobile MMORPG experiences you can find on Android or iOS.”
Need I say more? Again: Final Fantasy III and Square Enix. If you are in the know, this is not the one with the Magitek Armor. That was VI. Square just sold VI as III in America during the SNES days. This is the classic we never got, and it’s well worth every penny and moment you spend. Backstory aside, the game was a huge success with players and critics alike, its delightful story and gameplay prompting PC Mag’s Sascha Segan to write: “FF3 hits all the RPG pleasure buttons, and its difficulty level is refreshing for folks who might find Kemco’s lineup too straightforward.”
Final Fantasy III by SquareEnix
Final Fantasy Dimensions
At 19.99 Final Fantasy Dimensions had better deliver. The good news is that it does so in spades. Not only is Dimensions the spiritual brother of the superb and underappreciated Final Fantasy V, in terms of both quality and content, Dimensions goes a step beyond Squares other mobile offerings, including and expanding upon some of the more fun and innovative aspects of both FF V and the Final Fantasy series in general, such as its implementation and expansion of the jobs system and its unique and compelling approach to narrative. Hardcore Droid couldn’t be happier with such innovations. In his review of Dimensions back in January, HD contributor Travis Fahs gave the game a rare 4.5, writing: “Dimensions is more than just a name. It manages to pull the best elements of the first five Final Fantasy titles, along with some original storytelling ideas and blend them into a game that is genuinely worthy of the name.
Final Fantasy Dimensions by SquareEnix
Avadon: The Black Fortress
For those who spent their days playing Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, Avadon is right up your alley. RPG Fan Review hailed it as a game for, “anybody who pines for the days of the older, massive classics and decries the state of the new streamlined, big-budget RPGs” and gave it their Editor’s Choice Award when the game debuted on PC and Mac . The Android port looks great and plays well, so much so that it’s hard to believe you’re not sitting at your computer playing. Those bellyaching about the sorry state of RPGs need to put their money where their mouth is and pick up this game.
Avadon: The Black Fortress by Spiderweb Software
Aralon: Sword and Shadow
If you want to play an open-world Western role-playing game on your Android then there’s only one game worth mentioning. While it admittedly suffers from an occasional bug or three and the second half feels at times unfinished, Aralon is the real deal. It boasts a functional story, an open 3D world filled with engaging baddies and bits and pieces of story, and it’s backed up by a rich, original role-playing system. Character creation and development come replete with a host of options: three distinct races, seven classes and a decent skill and leveling system. It also boasts day and night cycles, nuanced character customization and a decent selection of weapons and armor. In the final analysis, there’s a definite pleasure to be had in traipsing around a huge open virtual world on the tiny screen. We reviewed it promptly when it finally made its way to the Play Store this February. Hardcore Droid contributor, Travis Fahs gave the game a winning 4 out of 5, writing: “You really won’t find a more robust modern RPG experience on your ‘Droid.”
Aralon: Sword and Shadow by Crescent Moon Games
Oubliette is a challenging and immersive Roguelike that actually predates Rogue. Initially developed by a trio of college students, including John Gaby, the man responsible for the present mobile port. The original iteration was built on a main frame computer in 1977 making Oubliette the 3rd or 4th computer role-playing game ever made. Video game historians can check out our interview with Gaby, in which he discusses Oubliette past and present.
Now that the dungeon crawler has come to Android, the once cumbersome menu system has been ironed out a little, though the learning curve is still very steep. Craig Stern on IndieRPGS.com concurs, stating that the game will likely “pose too much of a challenge for casual gamers who tend to give up quickly. That said, players who enjoy a real challenge, don’t give up easily, and relish a chance to test some real strategies will be generously rewarded.”
Oubliette by Gabysoft