Pokémon never really went out of style, but the franchise has been on people’s minds, thanks to mobile phenomenon Pokémon Go. The augmented reality take on the series is introducing — or reintroducing — thousands of players to the long-running standard-bearer for monster collecting games. Pokémon is essentially like any other turn-based RPG. Like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Quest, you assemble your party, level them up, customize their abilities, and engage in random battles against enemies while exploring your world. The real draw of Pokémon has always been collecting tiny creatures that populate the world. While not quite as common as the standard RPG, there are still quite a few to choose from, all of which benefit from their own unique look and gameplay.
There’s a new pair of Pokémon games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, is coming at the end of the year, but if you’re eager for a new world in which to catch critters right now, there are plenty out there that will fit the bill.
Yo-Kai Watch, a series of Japanese video games with a companion cartoon and manga from RPG developer Level-5, has become a cross-media phenomenon on par with Pokémon in Japan. The series follows Nate, a young boy who has a special watch that lets him hunt and capture Yo-Kai, ghostly entities from Japanese folklore. Players collect Yo-Kai by feeding them the types of food they like, then defeating them in battle with other Yo-Kai they’ve collected. In other words, it’s a lot like Pokémon, but with a distinctly Japanese look and feel.
While fighting enemy Yo-Kai is the core of the franchise, the series presents more variety for those who desire to engage in other activities. If you decide that you need a break from battling, you can take part in a number of different mini games and side quests — fishing, bug catching, etc. — to strengthen your team or obtain new items. The original Yo-Kai Watch has spawned two sequels thus far. The first two games in the series, Yo-Kai Watch and Yo-Kai Watch 2, are currently available on 3DS in the United States and Europe.
Shin Megami Tensei
If the cutesy, cartoon style of Pokémon is a turn off, the Shin Megami Tensei series might be more your speed. Almost all of the series under the larger Megami Tensei umbrella — Persona, Devil Survivor, Devil Summoner, Digital Devil Saga, and Shin Megami Tensei — feature a collection or monster training element that is reminiscent of Pokémon, but built around narrative with mature themes, and dark tales about demons, the occult, and technology.
For those core Pokémon-style collection mechanics, we recommend the core Shin Megami Tensei series. The most recent of the dungeon-crawler RPGs, Shin Megami Tensei IV and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, require you to collect and level up creatures with unique strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. However, instead of simply capturing them, players must convince demons to join them through a dialogue minigame. Once you’ve got them, you can combine your demons to create stronger creatures, or trade your them with other players.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni is a traditional RPG made in conjunction with world-renowned animation studio, Studio Ghibli, known for acclaimed films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies, and Spirited Away. Created by Level-5 — yes, the same Level-5 behind Yo-Kai Watch — Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a whimsical JRPG where players take the role of Oliver, a young boy who enters a magical kingdom in order to save his mother. Along the way, you can recruit, train, and evolve creatures known as “familiars,” who will battle alongside Oliver. Like Pokémon, familiars have specific stats, types, and moves that determine their effectiveness against other types of Familiars.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a deep game with a sweeping storyline, and with well over 300 Familiars to recruit and train, you can get quite a bit out of this charming RPG. Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch is available on PlayStation 3, and a sequel is currently in development for PlayStation 4.
Dragon Quest Monsters
While the main Dragon Quest games mainly feature a static party of customizable characters, the spin-off series Dragon Quest Monsters is all about training, breeding, and battling the iconic monsters of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Quest world. Much like Pokémon, these battles take place between your team and wild monsters, but instead of one-on-one duels, they’re party-based fights much like those in the classic Dragon Quest games. In Dragon Quest Monsters, players tame enemy creatures by feeding them meat, then beating them in combat. Once you collect new monsters, it isn’t necessarily smooth sailing. The game requires you to manage attributes such as their “wildness,” along with their personalities. If a monster’s personality doesn’t mesh well with your strategies in battle, it may refuse to follow your commands. Alternatively, if you’re both on the same page, it may be granted a boost and become more powerful.
Only a few of the Dragon Quest Monsters games have been localized in English, but there are a few titles available on Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS. The latest released outside of Japan is Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, but if you happen to read Japanese, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 came out in March on the 3DS in Japan.
While the other games on this list involve collecting various types of wild monsters, the Suikoden series tasks you with recruiting a large number of warriors to build your own private army. Set in a medieval fantasy world based on Shi Naian’s Chinese epic, Shui Hu Zhuanm, the Suikoden games bear a strong resemblance to more traditional JRPGs — turn-based battles, upgradable stats, and grand plots — but share Pokémon’s collecting elements, though in a different context.
Each game in the series features a protagonist who gathers the “108 stars of destiny,” a group of warriors who are unknowingly on their way to saving the world from some sort of major threat or calamity. Players complete quests and special tasks, while keeping an eye out for the “stars,” who aren’t always the people you’d expect. Once they’ve joined your team, your group makes its home at your stronghold, where you can talk with other characters, customize your party, and buy new gear.
The five Suikoden games and a number of spin-offs have been released across the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and a host of other systems. Most recently, Suikoden II was ported to the Vita and PS3, and is available via the PlayStation Network.