I do not hate role playing games. However, they are my least liked genre of game (right up there with racing games). I’ve always been the “Gung-ho” type of gamer: shoot first, ask questions later. Running in and making a mistake, get past it, then do it again. I believe it may have to do with my surroundings growing up. Barely anyone I knew played RPGs; it was all platformers and top-down shooters. I didn’t know Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy even existed!
Is it entirely because of the kids I played games with? Well, no. The number-one sport in the UK is football (soccer), and I am not a fan of that either. Despite all my friends loving it, it did not appeal to me. Platformers however I loved. This is a shame because from the look of it there seems to be some really well developed RPGs out there. My main reason for not being big on them is simply because I have no patience. Unless it was short, vital information, I did not want to read a lot of text in games as a kid. Besides “Thank you Mario! But our Princess is in another castle!” Super Mario Bros gave me all the reading I needed.
I would like to change this and try out some RPGs. But where do I begin? Do I go old or new? I liked the Pokémon series a lot. Maybe because it reminds me of Advance Wars (a normal genre simplified) that’s the reason I was drawn to it. Not serious, very addicting. From the games I played in the series I can see why people enjoy it and have fun with it. Levelling up, discovering new powers, and earning cash. So why is it I can play this franchise but I have trouble getting into any others?
Well Tony, you’re in luck! While I haven’t played every RPG out there, I’m a big fan of the genre and the various sub-genres that have spawned from it in over the years. Maybe it’s the feeling of progression one gets when leveling up, or maybe it’s the sweeping, epic tales these games tell, but RPGs shouldn’t be overlooked by the modern gamer, and I’m here to guide you through the stuff that is (and isn’t) worth your time.
These are my thoughts on the games/series right now. Hopefully in time I can look back at anything negative I wrote about them and laugh. This was not written as a dispute but to get listeners/readers to give input on their thoughts on the genre. Now shut up and read on.
The Final Fantasy Series
Final Fantasy was the first RPG I played (as far as I remember) more precisely, FFVII. At the time a lot of my friends played this and recommended this to me. One friend had this on the PlayStation and PC and sold his PS version to me. I wanted to see the hype for myself. I admit the story kept me going, and levelling up felt good, knowing I was accomplishing something… but DAMN! Levelling up for me took ages and I found no fun in it. I eventually played XIII years later and couldn’t get far without ‘farming’ for strength. I’m pretty sure I’m near the end but I didn’t care enough to finish it.
Final Fantasy is interesting in that while some series stay the same (more on that in the next entry), Final Fantasy isn’t afraid to drastically change things between sequels, which is okay because most of the games in the series don’t have anything to do with each other. (X has a sequel in X-2, and XIII has an upcoming sequel in XIII-2.) Stuff like the first three games and X feature your standard turn-based battle system (each with their own tweaks like swappable party members, interchangeable jobs, and an odd level-up system), where pretty much every game from IV to IX uses the “Active Time Battle” system, where a meter fills up for each character before they can take their next action, and enemies attack periodically, as well. Then there’s the weird stuff like XII (my personal favorite, even if it plays like an MMORPG), and XIII, as well as the actual MMORPGs, XI and IXV which are… sub-par, at best.
The Active Time Battle system might frustrate you (since you want to just get in there and kill), but it’s still a solid system, and you’ve had experience with it before playing VII. Honestly though, you might get a kick out of XII’s battle system, which has no transitions between the field and encounters, has characters that aren’t locked down to specific roles (allowing for lots of customization with the License Board, the way in which characters gain new skills in XII), and there’s constantly action happening. It plays like an MMO, sure, but at least you can control the other members of your party with Gambits, instead of telling your fat-ass mage friend to cast some buffs for you over Skype.
The Dragon Quest Series
This series was off my radar for years. Seriously. I stuck with most of the generic top title names on the NES and would put down games that showed no interest in me faster than I picked them up. Dragon Quest however was nowhere to be seen. I mean, it must have shown up in magazines and my ignorance as a child made me go to the Mega Man or Contra section. When I did find out about these games and the legacy they kept leaving had my curiosity. Enix (now Square-Enix) had a winning formula that RPG fans loved. People have told me that this is a must-play series if I want to get into the genre. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with “puff-puff”.
There’s a reason you don’t remember Dragon Quest all-too-well: Japan’s crazy about it and the English territories? Less so. Heck, the have to release Dragon Quest games on Sunday in Japan just so kids won’t skip school to play them! Of course, there’s also a reason your friends tell you this is a good introduction to RPG games: it’s about as basic as it gets. There’s rarely any fluff and it’s just good old-fashioned turn-based stuff. No Active Time meters, no swapping jobs… just selecting attacks and then selecting enemies to bash in with them. The series pretty much never strays from its winning formula and it’s better for it.
If I were to put my money on a single entry in the series, Dragon Quest VIII is a beautiful little PS2 gem which really make Akira Toriyama’s character designs shine, has excellent British voice-acting and a stellar orchestral soundtrack which re-does the classic tunes. It was developed by Level-5, the same company who would later bring us Professor Layton (they’d done nothing but RPGs before this), and they’re also bringing us the Studio Ghibli RPG “Ni No Kuni” soon.
I never knew a single person that played this as I was growing up, but when magazines did a “these are the best games for this console” article, this game was always included. Another game I wanted to play on the SNES but missed out on. This is the only game on the list that I will play ASAP. I thought the graphics looked great and the music is referenced a lot. Of course this is all from what I’ve seen and heard. Giant Bomb’s Endurance Run on this makes me want to put this on my list of games to get next. If it’s possible to recommend an RPG without playing it than this is the one, which coming from me means this game must be something special.
It really doesn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Chrono Trigger is a goddamn masterwork. It takes everything great about all the RPGs of its time, and bundles them into a time-traveling epic. You get the Active Time Battle system of the (then-current) Final Fantasy titles, Akira Toriyama’s amazing character designs (he worked on Dragon Quest), team-up attacks that weren’t really seen anywhere else, and the ability to travel through time, defeating evil and altering the future for the good of everyone. It’s extremely memorable in that it plays and looks like Final Fantasy VI, but there’s just something indescribably different about it. The fact that it’s been ported to the DS, Virtual Console, and PSN (as a PS1 Classic) means that unless all you have is an Xbox, you have no reason not to have this game. And even then, just download an SNES emulator.
The Disgaea Series (and the Strategy-RPG genre)
They all look alike to me and my ignorance knows no bounds. I never knew for years there are different types of RPGs. The same way Kate looks at fighting games and thinks they’re the same. So when Disgaea caught my eye I thought it could be interesting, for a tactical RPG. What the fuck does that even mean?! Tactical? I thought all RPGs were based on tactics. It saddens me that I never knew how good or bad this game was because I heard no hype for it and I never got to play it… yet…
You never heard the hype for Disgaea because it’s kind of a niche series, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and because of that, it changes a lot of gameplay mechanics for laughs.
Like the fact that you can get to level 9999.
Now, we’re talking about the Tactical-RPG genre, here (or Strategy-RPG, you could say). And you are correct, Tony. RPGs do rely on tactics, but these games especially focus on strategy, in that they’re more like chess: you have to move your characters around a grid and use them to the best of their abilities so they can destroy the opposition with little to no casualties. Remember how you said you played Advance Wars? Congrats, you’ve played an SRPG. Fire Emblem is also one of these, only you need to use your tactics much better than in Advance Wars, since once a character dies in those games, they’re gone for good.
Let’s get back to Disgaea real quick. These games are funny romps through the bizarre underworld, where their backwards rules are put into play. For instance, you get prizes at the hospital as a reward for getting more and more beat-up. You can rig juries so that they’ll pass a law in your favor, granting you helpful abilities. There’s a lot of sub-systems in the Disgaea games and you can delve into them or not, the choice is yours. You wanna grind your characters for hours in the world located inside one of your items (which also powers up the item itself, provided you make it out alive)? Go for it, man! NIS has released a few spin-offs of Disgaea, such as Phantom Brave (which has a way more serious story), and Makai Kingdom (which somehow has a more absurd story!!)
Of course, the genre doesn’t end there. Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the big names in the genre, even if there’s only really three games, but they’re fun and feature a ton of missions for you and your brigade of fighters to take on. The same people also made the fantastic Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre games, with “Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together” being ported to a myriad of systems. As mentioned before, Advance Wars and Fire Emblem are also great examples of the genre. There are also games that use similar systems, but you aren’t confined to a grid (like the aforementioned Makai Kingdom or the PS3 hidden gem Valkyria Chronicles).
Strategy-RPGs require lots of planning and tactics in order to succeed at, so it might not be your style, Tony. But if it helps, Valkyria Chronicles is about as close as you’ll get to an RPG-shooter without crossing the line and swapping the order of the two (in which case, you get something like Bioshock, or a shooter with RPG elements.)
World of Warcraft (and MMORPGs)
Not being big on PC gaming is one of many reasons I never touched WoW. I respect the franchise but cannot see myself getting involved. The massively-multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) did appeal to me for the online multiplayer. Going around with friends and doing challenges made it sound awesome. Unfortunately, I quickly saw how hard-core the fan base was for this game. Just like anything in life you have to start somewhere, but I couldn’t start with this. I could play an RPG alone, lose and laugh it off. Only by playing with friends would this game be demanding to keep me going. With strangers they make strategies so intense I would quit and play anything else just to get away. On top of the average hours gamers play this for a day, I would not have that type of time.
…Yeah, I’m not big on MMOs, either. And I don’t know why! The idea of leveling up and slaying dragons with my friends sounds like a hoot, but every damn MMO I’ve ever played has turned me off and bored me after a couple hours. My friends tried to get me into Runescape multiple times from 7th to 12th grade, I had a very short time with Maplestory one summer, and I played Spiral Knights for a few hours a few months back and quickly lost interest. And there’s really nothing all too wrong with the games themselves… I think it’s just the genre!
And WoW is an entirely different beast. It’s easily the king of the genre and I’m not saying that if you haven’t gotten in, there’s no chance now, but I just know by looking at it that it’s not going to keep my attention for long, either. I mean, I have a girl friend (as in a girl who is a friend, not a girlfriend), who plays WoW religiously, and just sitting in her dorm and watching her play confused the ever-living fuck out of me. I didn’t mind, either, I had some general interest in what she was doing, but the orgy of macro-buttons and abbreviated terms she was using was just causing my brain to go on overload. I’m obsessed with Pokemon; I don’t think I can handle another live-consuming thing that needs me to memorize every inane detail in order to fully enjoy. Now, if they made a Pokemon MMO that played like the games only you could challenge anyone online and run around a giant overworld, I’d lose my shit.
Odin Sphere (and the Action-RPG genre)
Odin Sphere looks impressive, but nothing amazing in my eyes. I may give this a try but it doesn’t stand out from most RPGs that I should look at. Only a few people I know have played it and have given it high praise, saying its storyline and graphics keep you going. Reading up on it, there seems to be a few glitches in the battle mode. Either way, if I was to play this it would not be anytime soon.
Odin Sphere is certainly worth the high praise people give it, but I think a lot of people favor it so much because it’s like finding a hidden gem (which Odin Sphere certainly is). The graphics are beautiful, the score is excellent, and the story is riveting. I’ve said a lot about this game in my review and my Top 5 article, so you already know the story. I think the bigger question here is if gamers like Tony will enjoy action-RPGs, and I think they very much will.
See, action-RPGs take all those stats and things that make leveling up so fun, but they throw out that silly “turn-based” bullshit. You wanna run in and beat the stuffing out of an enemy? Go ahead and do it! No one’s stopping you! In fact, the first action-RPG I can think of is Zelda II on the NES, and that very-well may be the first in the genre. Stuff like ActRaiser carried the torch from there. You’ve got the fantastic Tales series from Namco, and even Mario got in on the act when they came out with Super Paper Mario, which is like if an action-RPG and a platformer had a baby made of pure gold.
Of course, action-RPGs don’t always have to be side-scrollers like Odin Sphere or ActRaiser. Kingdom Hearts is a fantastic example of doing this kind of game justice in three dimensions (even if sometimes Kingdom Hearts just feels like you’re mashing the X button). Heck, pretty much any 3D Zelda game counts, too. You’ve got stuff like Brave Fencer Musashi on the PS1, or even my favorite: The World Ends With You on the DS. If you want to get straight to the action, these kinds of games are right up your alley, Tony.
Now I know there are hundreds more games but these were a few that have crossed my mind. Some I want to play and some I will avoid at all costs. My love of gaming lets me open up to new games and genres I never knew existed or I would like. I really need to give more time to games and see what all the hype was about or what I missed out on… then again, I may continue being an asshole and hating the games you all love.