Dragon Quest IX
EU release: July 23
Millions have already sold in Japan, so there’s no doubt that the latest Dragon Quest will top the July charts. The guts are as traditional RPG as you can imagine, but there are now social aspects that open up this previously solitary experience to a much wider audience. Customize your character, unlock new skills and maps, even share data between your friends’ save files to see how your party stacks up against theirs. Best of all, the entire campaign supports 4-player co-op, so you’re also sharing the experience of playing through the story, not just a list of stats and charts. It probably won’t explode like it did in Japan, but expect DQIX to perform quite well.
NCAA Football 11
Platforms: PS3, 360, PS2
EU release: Fall 2010
Above: Some players think NCAA is better than Madden because college football is inherently superior – but you have to care about football to have an opinion on that
For those who are hardcore about their college football, this mind-bogglingly detailed football sim is a no-brainer. The hyper-accurate playbooks, and improvements like formation-specific auto-substitutions and auto-loading custom rosters, will have you frothing at the mouth. Even casual fans should be wowed by the broadcast-quality, ESPN-style presentation.
In fact, thanks to its incredible depth and zealous fans, NCAA unintentionally offers some of its greatest value to anti-devotees of college football. Feel like getting stinking drunk and savagely trash-talking strangers – many of whom will be frat guys – over the internet until their heads explode? Buy this. Trust us: No other game this year will be more packed with screamingly passionate fanboys for you to harass into a frothing rage. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel that actually has no water inside. Just be careful, Mr. Griefer – once you get involved, you might find yourself actually getting sucked into the gameplay. [Ed note: Go Salukis!]
Disciples III: Renaissance
EU release: Out now
You’re forgiven if you’re wondering how there’s a third iteration in a series you’ve never heard of before. Number III is a very PC-ish, turn-based, hex-grid fantasy-battle game in which you conquer those foolish enough to oppose you in three campaigns from three perspectives: the Empire, the Legion of the Damned (hmm, bad guys maybe?), and the Elven Alliance (can’t have fantasy without those ever-fascinating elves). This is for strategy gamers who find RTS games too fast – the combat is deliberate enough to bore the impatient. Disciples also may upset fans of the series (wherever they may be) by eschewing gorgeous painted 2D sprites for the obligatory 3D “upgrade.”
Platforms: PS3, 360
EU release: TBA
Love the style and wit of Monkey Island, but craving something, well… new? Ron Gilbert, who created the pirate adventures with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, has a second game hitting Xbox Live Arcade this month that combines the classic LucasArts charm with another nostalgic piece of 1990s gaming: Diablo hack 'n slashing. If slaughtering goblins and philosophizing with cows in the same play session sounds about right to you, then DeathSpank could be all you need in July.
Need for Speed World
EU release: TBA
Someone had to make a racing MMO, so why not Need for Speed? Aside from having an acronym dangerously close to being not safe for work, NFSW is notable for being free to play, with microtransactions being a purely optional method of gaining perks. We hope that not paying will still be competitive. Either way, fooling around in a free-roaming network of roads with other players and setting up impromptu races sounds like non-grindy fun. We’ve played it, and so far, what we’ve seen made us want to play more.
Arc Rise Fantasia
EU release: TBA
At first pass, this looks like yet another typical JRPG. Dig in a bit deeper, and you’ll find… well, that it does embody several stereotypical JRPG traits, but it also comes with a rather promising pedigree. One key mind from Tales of Symphonia (arguably the GameCube’s best RPG) is lending his talents to Fantasia, and the music comes from Yasunori Mitsuda – you may know his work from Chrono Trigger, Xenosaga, Luminous Arc and several other turn-based RPGs. Looks like respectable stuff, as long as spiky-haired anime men don’t scare you away.