A few weeks ago, during my Final Fantasy X post, I mentioned that I had planned to write about RPGs. A few other things popped up in the meantime but I’ve finally gotten around to it. No doubt you’ve figured out by now I love RPGs, especially JRPGs. I did name my blog after a move from Final Fantasy VIII. RPGs make up a sizeable portion of my collection, whether its traditional turn-based ones, tactical ones or action ones. I’m always on the lookout for more, with my most recent acquisition being Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout. I love to immerse myself in their worlds, lore, characters and history. The only issue with them is that they are a time sink. The most recent one I’ve completed, Wild Arms, took over 30 hours, which is a little short for a JRPG. Dragon Quest XI, on the other hand, took well over 100 hours. I do enjoy trying to best the hidden dungeons, secret bosses and trying to obtain every powerful weapon or spell. There are times, though, where I’ll finish the main plot but not really continue with the post-game content. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the one that pops out the most for this. I love discovering new RPGs that I may have missed, even if they do cost a pretty penny to obtain. Shatteredglass 23 on Twitter has introduced me to all sorts of new ones that I missed and I’d recommend giving them a follow if you love RPGs too.
I have documented in previous posts about how I was introduced to the genre. It all started with a gaming magazine, a second-hand book store and a cheap copy of Final Fantasy VII. In truth, this wasn’t the first time I’d played and RPG (it was my first JRPG though). As a child, I would rent Sega Master System games from my local rental store and one of these was Golden Axe Warrior. For some, Golden Axe Warrior and The Legend of Zelda are more action adventure than action RPG but I’ve always though of them as skirting the line. They are set in fantastical worlds where you can power-up your hero, fight dangerous monsters and save the world but I digress. Golden Axe Warrior is a spin-off of the popular Golden Axe beat’em up series. Here, you attempt to stop Death Adder by collecting nine crystals. I remember never getting far in it and not having a clue how to play it. There was no internet, I had no magazines and no one in school played it so I was stumped. It didn’t really matter as at the time I was more into Alex Kidd and failing to get anywhere with Back to the Future Part II. I would have another brush with an action RPG a few years later. My cousins had a Super Nintendo with a collection of games. These included Super Mario Word, Donkey Kong Country 3, Super Mario Kart and an unusual little game called Terranigma. I was curious about this one as the artwork on the label looked amazing. For anyone unfamiliar with this, it’s the third entry in the Soul Blazer trilogy, not released in North America. The game looks wonderful and controls really well, with you able to level up your hero as you go on. I tried with this one, making it slowly through but never really got far as I didn’t own it. I did love how the overworld looked, with you starting off in the underworld. A few years later, I would track down Soul Blazer, Illusion of Time and Terranigma so I could dive back into the worlds once more. I still haven’t been able to get my hands on Golden Axe Warrior.
The PlayStation era would bring through an explosion of RPGs for me. Outside of Final Fantasy VII, I would collect the other Final Fantasy games that were available as well as Alundra, Grandia, Vagrant Story and Breath of Fire IV. Not a massive collection but it has to be remembered we missed out on a lot of games including Super Mario RPG, Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross and Dragon Quest. This would even continue into the PlayStation 2 era were we missed out on Wild Arms Alter Code F, Grandia III and Suikoden III. I didn’t mind as the games we did get were varied and fantastic. The Final Fantasy games were all unique experiences with differing battle systems, from the job system of the original to the draw system of Final Fantasy VIII. They were epic adventures with plenty to discover. The Adventures of Alundra was a fun action RPG but I never made it far. The puzzles were tricky and the game was difficult. I did get far with Alundra 2 but never finished it. It dropped the dark themes of the original and the graphical style for a 3D environment and a quirky story. For many, it was a significant step down but I still enjoyed it. Then there was Grandia, which I loved. A huge adventure of exploration where you’ll discover the mysteries of the world. It’s combat and level up system were also interesting. The combat featured an action bar, where you could cancel out enemy moves. Magic and weapon skills increased the more you used them and certain magic types could be levelled up to unlock hybrid moves. When the PlayStation 2 dropped, I would grab Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2, Grandia II, Dragon Quest and Marvel Ultimate Alliance the moment they dropped. The Final Fantasy series continued with its great form and Grandia II brought us a new world to explore. Dragon Quest VIII, as it was known in other regions, was the first time we got the series in Europe. It was amazing, from the colourful world, to the crafting system and even the voice acting was top notch. Kingdom Hearts introduced an action combat style with characters from Disney and Final Fantasy. It was a strange hybrid that just worked. I remember hounding stores for ages waiting on the second game as it had been delayed. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a nice surprise. I had picked it up after enjoying X-Men Legends II on the Xbox. I would also expand my horizons in this gen. I took a risk on Unlimited Saga, which I didn’t care for, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Rogue Galaxy and Summoner 2. Rogue Galaxy is well worth tracking down as it’s a lovely action RPG with a loveable cast and an amazing art stye. I would also pick up an Xbox at this time and enjoy games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Fable, The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Sudeki. Both Star Wars KOTOR and Jade Empire were developed by Bioware. Star Wars KOTOR is set long before the films, where you’ll be thrust into a Sith plot. It makes excellent use of the Star Wars license, bringing a sense of familiarity to a new adventure. Funnily enough, I picked this one up by chance. I had gone in to buy WWF Raw 2 from PC World. It was marked at €50 but they had reduced it to €25 as it was the last one. I then grabbed Star Wars KOTOR to see if it was reduced and bingo, it was. Turns out it was the better game. After loving Star Wars KOTOR, I was excited for Bioware’s Jade Empire. Its combat style is slightly different, as well as its mission structure, but the wonderful world kept me hooked right to the end. Many are familiar with Lionhead Studio’s Fable series, a set of action RPGs set in the mythical world of Albion. Here you can be the hero of the world or an absolute bastard. It was a game that overpromised, leading to a bit of disappointment but its humour, art style and sound more than makes up for it. Morrowind was another game I sort of stumbled onto. My cousin recommended it and not really knowing much about the series, I dived head first into it. I instantly got lost in its vast world and without a guide, I just plodded along. At least I didn’t kill any quest givers. Sudeki is an odd one to describe. Its an action RPG with FPS elements, depending on who you pick. I never finished it and it’s been so long I can’t really remember much of it. I wouldn’t neglect handhelds in this generation either. I managed to score some exciting Pokémon games, including Yellow, Gold, Ruby and FireRed. I also stumbled across Golden Sun. Developed by Camelot, your party of four set out to stop Felix activating lighthouses and releasing Alchemy. Its art style is very reminiscent of JRPGs from the 16-bit era, with plenty of secrets to discover. You can find new Djinn to help you in combat or to solve puzzles. It was actually half of the story, with the second half told in Golden Sun: The Lost Age. I didn’t own this one at the time so I couldn’t finish the story.
With the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS, we got a slew of new RPGs to play. Final Fantasy would again make an appearance but we would also get Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey from the mind of Hironobu Sakaguchi. Both are JRPGs, with Blue Dragon taking a light-hearted approach while Lost Odyssey being much more serious. Lost Odyssey had a unique battle mechanic in the form of immortal characters. These characters will automatically revive after several turns, adding a new layer of strategy. Its story (and the short stories you find) are melodramatic, set against the backdrop of a warring world. This generation gave me the chance to experience the Tales of series for the first time with Tales of Vesperia and I instantly fell in love. Its art direction, character designs, subplots and overall story were a beauty to behold. It spurned me on to track down as many others as I could find. Each was set in their own world, with their own characters. The combat system remained the same but each character had their own style, abilities and spells. In terms of other RPGs, this generation introduced me to Fallout as well as the first (and only) Elder Scrolls game I’ve finished. Fallout 3 interested me but I was always unsure as to whether I would like it or not seeing as Morrowind confused me in places. I picked up Oblivion cheap and really loved it so I said I would try Fallout 3. I got it one Christmas but took ages to play it. I was instantly hooked on the capital wastelands, its many secrets and its unique lore. I also loved the VATS system. To this day, it’s the only Fallout game I’ve completed despite buying the rest of them as they came out. On the handheld side, outside of the usual Pokémon greatness, I finally managed to experience Chrono Trigger. It saddened me that we had missed out on this great game for so long. The beautiful story, lovingly designed characters and multiple endings would have kept me hooked in the Super Nintendo or PlayStation days. Another great thing about this generation was the explosion of availability. It was my first foray into online shopping, when you could get games relatively cheap. As a result, it allowed me to go back and purchase games I had missed. These included Dragon Quest IV-VI, Wild Arms, the Suikoden series, Skies of Arcadia, Paper Mario, Phantasy Star and Shining Force. My collection ballooned but I’m delighted to have them, even if I haven’t played them all.
Even today, I still love to pick up RPGs. Outside of the usual Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games, which I adore, I’ve tried the isometric Torment: Tides of Numenera, the first time I’ve ever played this type of genre, the indy classic Cosmic Star Heroine, Persona 5, my first introduction to the series, and Battle Chasers: Nightwar. I’ve also added the Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series to my collection but haven’t played them… yet. It’s a genre I’ll always love because of its world building, unique stories, loveable characters, varied combat systems and true escapism. The only issue is time but I always make sure to get one in every now and again. What are your favourite RPGs? What ones would you recommend?