Star Ocean: Blue Sphere

Blue Sphere is a bumpy experience at times and will test your patience through gigantic, complex dungeons and battles of wildly varying difficulty, but it is absolutely worth sticking with. Even if the story doesn’t offer a ton to chew on, it gives a perfectly valid excuse to jump into another adventure with the SO2 cast while also offering some PAs to give you a bit of a glimpse into what these characters have been up to in the two years since their original journey. It’s a true passion project through and through, and irrefutable passion is something that I believe makes tri-Ace really stand out. No matter what you may think of their games, no matter how unbalanced or weird they might seem, there’s no denying that their games are truly singular experiences. I’ve always had a strong appreciation for their craft, and Blue Sphere was a wonder to explore while also being a prime example of their strengths and weaknesses.

Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls

When everything is going well and you’re able to just play the game, it’s a really fun time and feels like a proper marriage of Castlevania throughout the years. There’s quite a bit to experiment with and you’ll get to test your skills against enemies from several different Castlevania entries, seeing them in a whole new context. Every character feels like they have a distinct enough playstyle and the 5* items do a great job of rewarding you with fun new attacks to use. But all of that comes with a hesitation to recommend this game for a variety of reasons. This isn’t a game you can just pick up and play even if many of its design choices encourage exactly that when it’s finally in your hands. You need to jump onto a specific ecosystem and pay monthly, it’s a game that works best if you’ve played at least eight or nine Castlevania games to completion to appreciate all the throwbacks, and it’s a game that expects you to keep coming back no matter how much it asks you to grind. You can outsmart it in some ways, but ultimately, this is one that you’ll have to chip away at bit by bit to see it through, no matter how much it gets on your nerves.

Numblast

Numblast represents the merits of Japan Studio's approach during the PS3 era while also contrasting with the direction gaming was going in. It's a creative and charming game, but there just isn't much to it. It'll take a good amount of time to become skilled at it, but there are few ways to show off and test your skill in ways that reward such mastery, so for most, it'll probably feel like you're grinding for nothing unless you truly adore the game. There's the glimmer of an entertaining narrative with a great sense of humor, but it isn't given enough time to truly shine. It feels like it would have been perfect for the mobile market, but it failed to make waves there too. For whatever reason, Numblast just didn't stick.

Challenger

Challenger is yet another game to add to the pile of "misunderstood NES games that are actually good but people think are bad because they played them years past their ideal historical contexts" alongside games like Hydlide, Deadly Towers, The Legend of Kage, and Xevious. People playing it for the first time nowadays could easily walk away unimpressed thinking it's just a worse Zelda with some other stuff, but when looked at in the context of 1985, it comes off as something really ahead of the curve. With multiple genres of play, a large world that takes exploration and practice to master, and a flexible difficulty curve for all kinds of players, it's a game that impressed me in short order.

Jaseiken Necromancer

Inspired by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger, Jaseiken Necromancer gives off an appearance of sophistication, seemingly offering a gritty, mature experience you wouldn't get on your aging 8-bit consoles. But in reality, it's no different than all of those Dragon Quest clones, offering remarkably little of interest in terms of mechanics or world building while putting up one heck of a fight the whole way through.