The first 3 months of a new year are generally a quieter time of the year for gaming releases, and this Winter 2021 is no different. The pandemic hasn’t helped matters here, though with how many games released last season, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Still, there’s a number of exciting Japanese gaming releases to add to your collection in Winter 2021, and we preview them all here for you now.
The Biggest Winter 2021 Game Releases
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy
Atelier Ryza revitalized the flagging Atelier franchise and the fortunes of Gust, the game’s developers, through the power of, eerm, thighs. Lots of comments were made on the characters’ design upon their initial reveal, but the decisions made by Gust both in the design and in creating the most accessible Atelier game so far resulted in the title being the best-selling title in the franchise so far. Naturally, a sequel was soon announced and will be the big Winter 2021 Japanese gaming release for January.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy takes place three years after the events of the first title and Ryza, the only member of her group to remain on Kurken Island, receives a letter from her friend telling her about ruins that may be related to alchemy, along a mysterious request about a glowing stone. As a result, she leaves the island for the royal capital of Ashra-am Baird, leading her on a new adventure as she searches for answers surrounding the mysteries of these ruins and a strange creature she meets along the way.
The game promises to expand on the mechanics of the original title with new field and battle actions, alongside a return of beloved features and easy-to-use synthesis. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy will release on PC and physically on Nintendo Switch and PS4, with a digital-only release of the game being made available on PS5. People who purchase the PS4 version will receive a free PS5 upgrade, and the game will release worldwide on 26 January.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
Following a release in Japan in 2019, one of the biggest Winter 2021 gaming releases for fans of JRPGs is coming from NIS America. International audiences will finally get their hands on the latest title in the Ys franchise when Ys IX: Monstrum Nox releases in the US and Europe this Winter 2021.
Ys IX transports the action to the prison city of Barduke, located in the Gllia Erdlingen region in the northeast area of Esteria. In this city, players will encounter people like the Monstrum, individuals who possess supernatural powers and who you will follow over the course of the adventure. While imprisoned in Balduq, Adol Christin is cursed and becomes a Monstrum, granting him powers he must use to stop the Grimwald Nox from consuming the city.
Nihon Falcom have carved a passionate niche in the market both inside and outside of Japan for their dense JRPG experiences, and players outside of Japan will be able to play the title on PS4 when it releases in North America on 2 February and Europe on 5 February. A Nintendo Switch and PC release will come later in 2021.
Yakuza on Xbox Game Pass
We’re excited to announce that the entire mainline Kiryu Yakuza saga will soon be available on Xbox Game Pass, Windows 10, and Steam!
🐉 The Yakuza Remastered Collection (Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 also available separately) – Jan 28, 2021
🐉 Yakuza 6: The Song of Life – Mar 25, 2021 pic.twitter.com/Xg1ORNE6xv
— RGG Studio (@RGGStudio) December 11, 2020
While this may be more of a port than a new release, it would be remiss not to mention the arrival of a slew of Yakuza titles to Xbox platforms and Xbox Game Pass in early 2021.
While the revitalization of the Yakuza franchise outside of Japan is perhaps one of the most welcome surprises of the last generation of consoles, what’s arguably more surprising is the substantial market the series has found itself on Xbox. Thanks to releases of Yakuza 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2, alongside availability of these titles on Xbox Game Pass on both PC and Xbox platforms, new audiences have been able to experience the games for the very first time, and a portion of the credit for the series’ newfound success has to be given to this greater accessibility and the efforts of both SEGA and Microsoft to make the title available for free for Game Pass subscribers. Still, those who dove into Yakuza on Xbox were unable to play the entire franchise on Xbox or PC… until now.
Following a surprise announcement at The Game Awards last month, Yakuza 3, 4, 5 and 6 will now result in the entire franchise being available on non-PlayStation platforms for the very first time. The Yakuza Remastered Collection, consisting of Yakuza 3, 4 and 5, will be released on 28 January, with a port of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life releasing on 25 March. All these titles will be released on Xbox One (and playable on Xbox Series S and X) and PC, and will be made available on Xbox Game Pass on the same day. If you own an Xbox or play games primarily on PC, there’s no better (or cheaper) way to dive into the Yakuza franchise than this.
Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World-: The Prophecy of the Throne
Joining the upcoming continuation of the Re:Zero anime as part of the Winter 2021 anime season, those who want to engage with the Re:Zero franchise in a gaming capacity are in luck with this what-if adventure title based on the Re:Zero franchise.
Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World: The Prophecy of the Throne takes place during the initial royal selection storyline from the original light novel and anime, but is set to explore a number of what-ifs that allow fans of the series to experience the story fresh, overseen by the original author and light novel illustrator. In this scenario, the royal selection was postponed without reason, with the truth only revealed when they return to the royal capital only to find that a sixth candidate has claimed their stake for the throne. One must be an imposter, and suspicion is immediately cast upon Emilia.
This game will be the first released outside of Japan when it hits Japanese and US stores on 29 January and European stores on 5 February for Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PC.
In celebration of the 4th anniversary of the release of the original Nioh, Nioh Remastered will bring a next-gen sheen to the Koei Tecmo-developed action games on PS5 and PC.
Typically, the Winter 2021 season is a quiet time for new game releases, even if it has gradually become busier in recent years. As a result of most developers loading games into a packed holiday season, fewer releases are typically scheduled for the first few months of the new year. In this relative calm, Koei Tecmo will celebrate the 4th anniversary of the release of the original Nioh by bringing both Nioh and Nioh 2 to PS5. Following the release of the third and final story DLC for Nioh 2 on 17 December, remasters of both Nioh titles with all DLC will be made available on the sold-out next-gen machine.
On 5 February 2021, Nioh 2: The Complete Edition will release on PS4 and bundle Nioh 2 with all of its released DLC packs in one package. Those who purchase this release will receive a free upgrade for Nioh 2 Remastered on PS5, which will release alongside Nioh Remastered on the console on the same day. Both remasters include all DLC. Alongside this, Nioh 2: The Complete Edition will see the title make a PC debut, while the Nioh Collection will bundle both remasters into one single release on PS5. Both remasters include support for 4K resolutions and gameplay up to 120fps, potentially making this a perfect showcase of the power of the PS5.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Nintendo’s major first-party gaming release for Winter 2021 is a port of the most underrated 3D Mario title to date, complete with a brand-new expansion.
Super Mario 3D World was the 3D Mario title for Nintendo’s ill-fated Wii U. The game was scorned for eschewing the open-world 3D gameplay of the likes of Sunshine and 64 for more linear, level-based game design in a 3D environment, yet the resulting game offered a refined, intense experience with an ever-increasing skill ceiling if players wanted to collect all the stars or go for the fastest level completion times. This new release will bring this game to new audiences and will mean that every 3D Mario platformer to date will be available on Nintendo Switch. If that wasn’t enough, a more open-world experience similar to the level design of Super Mario Odyssey has been teased in the form of Bowser’s Fury, and this will be included with the Nintendo Switch re-release.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury will release on Nintendo Switch on 12 February.
Persona 5 Strikers
While Persona 5: Strikers may exist as a Dynasty Warriors-style spin-off of the popular JRPG, thanks to a heavy focus on expanding the story and world of Persona 5, this can almost be regarded as a canonical sequel to the original Persona 5 due to the scope of its content, and is, as a result, one of the biggest gaming releases of Winter 2021.
Set during summer vacation following the events of Persona 5, Joker and Morgan’s return to Tokyo to reunite with the other Phantom Thieves in order to spend summer vacation together. A new spate of mysterious incidents have broken out across Japan, requiring the cast to once again done the masks and head to each of these cities in order to fight against the corruption. Beyond featuring Warriors-style gameplay as opposed to the traditional turn-based gameplay fans may be used to, open traversal sections similar to the daytime sections of Persona 5 are also included in each of the cities our cast visit over the course of the game, such as Sapporo. With new characters and an in-depth story, Persona 5 Strikers has a lot to offer.
If you’re interested in playing the game for yourself, Persona 5 Strikers will launch on PC, Nintendo Switch and PS4 on 23 February 2021.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection
Another surprise announcement at last month’s Game Awards, Ghosts ‘n Goblins will make a proud return on Nintendo Switch this Winter on 25 February 2021.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is a revival of the classic game for a modern audience. The side-scrolling gameplay the classic arcade and retro console title is known for is retained in this new release, with new modern visuals and a newly arranged soundtrack. Still, this isn’t a remake and new ideas have been introduced, such as new items. More difficulty options are also on offer, but if you want to play the game with the hard-as-nails gameplay the series is known for, you can do that.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection will release exclusively on Nintendo Switch on 25 February.
Bravely Default II
The Bravely series returns! Having spawned two successful JRPG releases, reviving turn-based RPG gameplay in the form of Bravely Default and Bravely Second, a new title in the series, Bravely Default II, is set to release on Nintendo Switch. Following a surprise announcement at the 2019 Game Awards and regular updates and demos since, Bravely Defauly II is just a few weeks away from release in this JRPG-heavy series of gaming releases in Winter 2021.
Set in a new world when compared to previous entries, this time taking place on the continent of Excillant, the game follows a quartet of characters that are seeking to return the Crystals to their rightful homes. Their theft has brought the world into chaos with rising temperatures, floods, and a nature out of control, and only their return can fix things. Many mechanics like the Bravely system return here, but are further expanded upon in this new entry. For fans of the series and new players alike, this looks to be a promising new entry in the popular franchise.
Bravely Default II releases exclusively on Nintendo Switch on 25 February.
Love Live! School Idol Festival: After School Activity Wai-Wai! Home Meeting!!
Love Live’s popularity shows no sign of slowing, with Aquors’ fame continuing to grow and new groups within the Love Live franchise also receiving modest levels of success. The mobile rhythm game based on the Love Live franchise has been a major success around the world and even made its way to arcade devices. At the tail end of Winter 2021, gaming fans will soon be able to play this game on their PS4, all without spending a penny.
Love Live! School Idol Festival: After School Activity Wai-Wai! Home Meeting!!, other than having a way-too-long title with way-too-many exclamation points, brings the gameplay of the mobile and arcade experiences to PlayStation devices. The rhythm game is free-to-start with 8 songs and 3 costumes included that can be further expanded upon with in-game purchases. The official website promises 125 songs and 69 costumes, and this could grow as time goes on.
Love Live! School Idol Festival: After School Activity Wai-Wai! Home Meeting!! will release worldwide as a free digital download on 24 March 2021.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town
The latest title in the Story of Seasons franchise tasks you to build up your farm from the ground up, and hits Nintendo Switch at the end of March.
While the farm-cultivating gameplay of previous entries once again makes a return here, this title will see our protagonist take over his old grandfather’s farm as they start a fresh life in Olive Town. However, upon arrival, all that exists is little more than an overgrown forest, and your task is to build up the farm from scratch how you want it, while interacting with the residents of your town. Wild livestock can be tamed and the shape of your farm is entirely customizable, giving players more choice while all other features fans of the series are familiar with are making a return.
Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town is set for release exclusively on Nintendo Switch on 23 March 2021.
Yuji Naka is back! Releasing at the tail end of Winter 2021, Yuji Naka’s latest gaming project is a multi-platform 3D platformer that oozes with charm from every direction.
Balan Wonderworld is a 3D action platformer game developed in-house at Square Enix and directed by Yuji Naka, themed on musical theater. The setting of this adventure is the imaginary world of Wonderworld, where people’s happy and positive memories mix with their restless worries and negativity. The maestro Balan leads Leo and Emma into this world to set them on a journey to find what is precious to do them. Doing so requires our characters to travel through a number of worlds and take advantage of a slew of over 80 colorful costumes that offer unique powers to aid in their adventure.
It’s a charming 3D platforming adventure that I personally can’t wait to explore. Balan Wonderworld will release on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X, Xbox One and Steam on 26 March.
Monster Hunter: Rise
Monster Hunter: Rise sees the Monster Hunter franchise make a grand return to Nintendo platforms with a new and exclusive entry that brings with it new mechanics that switch up the classic gameplay.
The major new mechanic of Monster Hunter: Rise is the Wirebug, a new grappling hook-like gadget that allows the player to swing around the mountainous, open environments at will, even if there is nothing for the Wirebug to attach to. This opens up a number of movement options for your character both in and out of battle, with certain weapons being enhanced by this new feature, as you use the Wirebug in conjunction with your attacks for more impressive combos that deal larger amounts of damage.
This isn’t the only new feature, either, with the Palamute acting as a dog companion that allows you to move at fast speeds around the environment without losing stamina. It joins several new and returning monsters that you can fight against over the course of the game. Refining the well-worn mechanics of the Monster Hunter franchise, there’s more than enough here to please fans of the franchise.
Monster Hunter: Rise will launch exclusively on Nintendo Switch on 26 March 2021.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires
Although the original Dynasty Warriors 9 was met with mixed reviews by critics and fans alike, Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires hopes to address these flaws while offering an expanded version of the original title.
The open-world interpretation and battle mechanic changes that were introduced into the Dynasty Warriors franchise with the ninth entry have been partially stripped away to return to the more strategic structure of previous entries, while still retaining the open-world traversal. The game will also introduce 2-player online co-op and, exclusively on Nintendo Switch, local multiplayer.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires is still scheduled for a Q1 release, but no specific release date has been announced at this time. The game is set for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
Root Film, the latest game in Kadokawa’s Mystery Game brand, following the success of Root Letter, sees players return to Shimane for a new visual novel adventure.
In Root Film, a murder interrupts the scouting location process at the Shimane Mystery Drama Project. As a result of this, filming is paused, and things only spiral out of control from there. Players take the role of 23-year-old Rintaro Yagumo, as his excitement for the casting opportunity given here is interrupted by the murder, and you the player becomes a detective to learn the truth about what’s going on.
Following the game’s Japanese release, Root Film will hit PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in Q1 2021.
The final game I want to highlight that is going to be released in Winter 2021 is a reboot of a Japanese arcade game more than worthy of your attention.
Originally developed by Success for arcades in 1991 before a home console release, this cute scrolling shoot-em-up is being ported to modern consoles and wants to introduce the beloved title to new audiences. This new port is based on the SHARP X68000 version and includes both this original title and a remastered version in 16:9 with new graphics and music.
Cotton Reboot launches on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC in Japan on 25 February, with an international digital and physical release to follow in Q1 2021.
Even as a quieter season, Winter 2021 is promising a lot of exciting Japanese gaming releases regardless of what experiences you’re looking out for. Whether you’re a fan of sprawling JRPGs, visual novels, action games, or something else entirely, Winter 2021 has at least one title that should pique your interest.