Chinese astrology declares 2009 the year of the Ox. The DS casts lvl 5 flame on said bovine and declares it the year of the handheld RPG.
Wandering the floors of the Tokyo Game Show you couldn't move for tripping over digitised, spiky-haired heroes and mages in wafty frocks. A few need no introduction - Dragon Quest IX and Crystal Chronicles - but for every Square Enix-confirmed mega hit there are 10 smaller stat-merchants fighting for attention.
Hacking through the swathes of candidates would take more attack points than any mere journalist is privy to, so in the absence of a resident mage we turn our attention to the six RPGs to watch. From space travel to dragon infested lands to slightly pervy costume competitions: these are the games that will shape role-playing next year, broken down into the key categories that define the genre.
Story Back To The Future meets Final Fantasy: a time-hopping yarn that sees the fate of the Guardia kingdom being repeatedly rewritten as time is meddled with.
Hero(es) Crono, a silent, brooding hero. An RPG staple.
RPG Heritage One of Square's greatest SNES hits from a who's who of Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest talent: Sakaguchi, Aoki, Uematsu, Horii, Toriyama: talent overload.
RPF Format Heavily story-led, using Final Fantasy IV's active battle system for combat: attacks governed by a falling time meter.
On your lonesome? Wi-Fi play has been added in the form of online monster battling courtesy of the new Arena of Ages location. You can train a beastie to evolve him into a murder machine.
Eye Candy? A pretty straight port that wouldn't be out of place on the GBA. Still, the animated cutscenes were developed for the 1999 PlayStation port. They're pretty.
Is ice cream used as a weapon? No. We're talking swords, bows and techs (magic). Different character techs can be combined - a system that's borrowed by Sonic Chronicles' POW attacks.
Trivia The SNES original has 13 alternative endings. With the DS's additional dungeon - the Dimensional Vortex - a 14th is attainable. How intriguing...
Inevitable rubbish review pun "Will it leave you trigger happy?"
Princess and Knight
Story There's a 'kingdom' and it's 'under fire'. The title gives a hint as to who's on rescuing duties.
Hero(es) A brave knight who has a secret power and a princess named Mooki. Hence the title.
RPG Heritage Arrives courtesy of Blueside, the Korean bods behind 360 hack-and-slasher, Kingdom Under Fire.
RPG Format With enemies and lots of 'em, this is firmly in the action RPG camp. Blueside promise more enemies than any other DS game. Hordes get!
On your lonesome? This courageous knight is hacking and slashing alone.
Eye Candy? A lovely 2D art style is merged with 3D objects and impressive sprite effects. Here's hoping those enemy masses can move without chugging.
Is ice cream used as a weapon? No. Swords, but swords commanded with stylus work. Expect combat to play a bit like Phantom Hourglass or Ninja Gaiden.
Trivia The game's work-in-progress tagline is: It just takes a pen to shake the world!
Inevitable rubbish review pun "A hard day's knight?"