I’ve had a bit of a fixation lately. If our readers know me by now, it’s clear I’m into Japanese games about numbers. That’s doubly true if they’re handheld. We’ve seen plenty of JRPGs on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s a topic we (I) visited in 2020. But I think now’s an appropriate time to get more specific. Like, barely-living genre specific.
Related: Saviors of Sapphire Wings/Stranger of Sword City Revisited Review | Experience’s Dungeon Experience
For whatever reason, I’ve turned myself on to turn-based, first-person dungeon crawlers lately. This isn’t a new genre for me by any means, with the Etrian Odyssey series on Nintendo DS and all kinds of stuff that popped up on PSP and Vita. I’ve had fun before, but have never been… enthralled as I am now. There’s something about the Switch, and the games on the Switch, that have hit me just right.
The Best First-Person Dungeon Crawlers on Nintendo Switch
That said, there aren’t very many of these games on the Switch. First-person dungeon-crawling is a specific genre that doesn’t exist much outside of niche Japanese game development these days, and this list reflects that. But that’s fine! There’ll be caveats, and a few runners-up, but for the most part I believe I’ve singled out the best options for some truly old school grinding adventures on Nintendo’s latest platform.
Mary Skelter 2 (and 1!)
Mary Skelter is soon to be a three part series, with a localization of the third game announced in March. The best part is that if you’re just joining in now, the first game comes with the second one on Switch as a free download! Mary Skelter is one of those “edgy fairy tale” gimmicks with the likes of Cinderella and Red Riding Hood pulverizing monsters into bright pink goo and uh, absorbing it into their skin to power up?? It gets weird about it too. Like horny weird.
That aside, Mary Skelter is actually pretty up its own ass with a ton of lore stuff going on, and extra materials to support it. The first game has an unlockable light novel localization included that expands on things, and the second game is sort of an AU of the first in a strange way. Basically, this vampire/fairy tale/body horror mess has a lot of thought in it, and there’s a job system too.
And yes, by “horny weird” I mean the kind that happens in otaku-oriented games on touch-based platforms. Luckily, you can comfortably play Mary Skelter without engaging in its worst indulgences.
The Lost Child
Remember El Shaddai? You might not, but it is coming to PC soon so that’s cool. A game vaguely based on Christian mythology, El Shaddai has a whole expanded universe thing going on and The Lost Child is part of it.
Playing as a down on his luck journalist settling for work at an occult rag, you find yourself getting wrapped up into some nasty stuff. But also, there’s monster capturing. A macabre Pokemon in similar vein to Shin Megami Tensei, the weird and strange creatures you battle in Lost Child’s dungeons can be trained, fused and collected.
Lost Child’s storytelling gets pretty goofy, but the gameplay loop is a blast. There’s a lot to be said about first-person dungeon crawling and monster battling intersecting into a grinding sweet spot.
Saviors of Sapphire Wings/Stranger of Sword City
This one came out pretty recently! Experience is a developer that has staked its claim in dungeon-crawling, and these are two of its most recent, refined examples. Both of these games have enough merit and unique features to stand on their own, but as a package there’s a lot of canon-like similarities worth thinking about.
These two games are much more straightforward and old school than many of the other games on this list. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good! If you just wanna get your swords ‘n sorcery on, there’s no better place to start. No gimmicks, just numbers, systems and a bizarre story about large commercial vehicles crashing into alternate dimensions. Okay, maybe a few gimmicks.
Labyrinth of Refrain
NIS America has published most of these, but what about development? The folks over at Nippon Ichi Software finally did make their own, juiced up with all that Disgaea-adjcent art and music. Refrain not only has a ton of focus on some truly wild characters, but it also comes with a strange take on the typical party-building structures you run into with this genre.
Instead of an army of warriors, you instead are pulling the strings on a group of what are essentially magic puppets. You’re managing not only equipment and skills, but individual body parts as well. It’s a strange take, but definitely one that adds an extra dimension of strategizing.
Operencia: The Stolen Sun
I really didn’t want to do all five games on this list with similar stuff, and luckily Zen Studios has a killer dungeon crawler hanging out here. Operencia: The Stolen Sun is more about the mythology of Central Europe, which comes with its own sense of aesthetics, storytelling and gameplay. There are a lot of huge differences from the usual Japanese output, but nevertheless Operencia is one of the best of its kind.
Sega Ages: Phantasy Star
Hey, it’s the best re-release to date of Phantasy Star! The dungeon-crawling is probably the least important part of this game, which is why it isn’t on the list proper. But it’s one of the best Dragon Quest competitors of its time and M2’s port work is astoundingly good.
Shining in the Darkness
It’s just a ROM in the Sega Genesis collection, but it’s still pretty cool!
Class of Heroes: Anniversary Edition
Class of Heroes was one of the best dungeon crawlers on the PSP, with tons of style and interesting classes to play with. Unfortunately there’s no localization in sight for this one so you’ll have to track down the PSP version if you want to play in English.
That’s all for my “justifying all the time I’ve spent recently in Mary Skelter” list feature for today. Hopefully this helps you discover some hidden gems in a genre you may not typically mess with. As always, hit us with your thoughts on Prima Games’ Twitter or Facebook feeds and let us know what you think!