Best RPGs you haven’t played part… uhh the next one.

Posted: August 27, 2014 by ryanlecocq in Features

This time I’m going to focus on games that were fairly mainstream, but got immediately overshadowed by other games or newer systems.  As a result, many of these games went under the radar of many players.  If you’re in that camp where you’ve played all the Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Tales and other big franchises and are looking for more, here ya go.  These are mostly Playstation games as that’s what I’ve been into replaying lately.  You can get the first 3 on PSN

 

Grandia

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In Japan, the original Grandia was the first great RPG for PSX when it was released in 1997 (before Final Fantasy VII).  In the West, Grandia was not localized until 1999, post FFVII and at about the same time as Final Fantasy VIII.  So naturally it was overshadowed by these two games that were considered the peak of RPG graphics and gameplay at the time.  One thing I find when I look back at games in hindsight, is that what seemed like the biggest leap back then seems irrelevant now.  I regret not playing this game when it came out and being one of the many people that passed it up for flashier titles.  Grandia is an excellent example of the culmination of the 90s era of RPGs.  While Final Fantasy was already going towards more streamlined combat and linear gameplay, Grandia is a really polished old-school RPG.

From dungeon crawling to in-depth combat mechanics, Grandia has everything you would expect from a JRPG and does most of it well.  The English dub is a bit silly, which you can consider either nostalgic or annoying.  Other than that, Grandia is totally playable to anyone who doesn’t mind going back to the days before auto-save and checkpoints.  Many people have only played Grandia 2, as it was one of very few good Dreamcast RPGs.  I would definitely recommend playing the first one as the second was not all that and better.  Each of Grandia’s sequels gave more concessions to modern standards and became more generic as a result.

 

The Legend of Dragoon

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This game is probably the most valiant effort ever to take on Final Fantasy head on.  Sony put millions into trying to make a game as impressive as Final Fantasy VII.  In many ways they succeeded, but by the time the game released, Final Fantasy VIII was out and IX was incoming.  While a few of us have fond memories of this game and are die-hard fans, it was overall much less successful than Sony had hoped.  If you’ve played all of the other great PSX RPGs, you must consider this one.  In almost every way, LoD feels like an ‘also ran’, but it’s so close to being as polished as a Final Fantasy game that it’s excellent in its’ own right.

LoD features many combat mechanics similar to Final Fantasy, like timing based attacks and special powerful moves unique to each character.  Dragons take the place of Final Fantasy’s powerful summons and the interface will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a few Squaresoft games.  Strangely the best reason I can suggest this game for is that it’s actually not Final Fantasy.  It’s like Final Fantasy, but the characters weren’t designed by Amano or Nomura.  The music isn’t by Uematsu, but it’s still really good.  Basically, you get that big budget feel of playing a Final Fantasy game, but made by completely different people so you don’t get that “oh another Final Fantasy” feeling when playing it.  There really haven’t been a lot of attempts to make an RPG on the scale and budget of Final Fantasy, so it’s worth playing the ones that turned out decent.

 

Vagrant Story

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I mentioned Parasite Eve in an earlier article, so I have to mention Vagrant Story.  Basically you have the battle system of Parasite Eve, put into the medieval world of Final Fantasy Tactics.  Although Vagrant Story has a pretty cool plot and some great music, it’s really all about the combat and loot.  In a rare release for Square, Vagrant Story is a total dungeon crawler.  It was released at the same time as the PS2, so no surprise the game went under the radar for many.

Vagrant Story is probably one of the most under-appreciated dungeon crawlers of the 32-bit era.  Concepts like terrain tactics and elaborate environmental traps evolved here from their 16-bit roots to what we see today in games like Dark Souls.  The tactical, timing-based combat of this game will actually get your heart pumping more often than not.  Every room is a miniature puzzle and battlefield, often combining the two elements at once.  Then you go through a door and do it again, or maybe you fight an enormous boss.  Between the long sections of hostile territory are workshops where you can save and get into the game’s deep crafting system.  Not only is the crafting complex, it’s required.  If you randomly equip whatever you find, it may be possible to finish the game, but I doubt it.  You will find a lot of enemies that you do 1 damage to.  Customizing gear not only makes it better, but adds attacks and buffs you can use during combat.  It’s a very deep game, but well worth the 10-15 hours or so it takes to complete.

 

Shadow Tower Abyss

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I really hesitate to put this game on the list, as it’s difficult to obtain.  If you don’t speak Japanese, your only option is to look around the internet for the fan-translated iso and play it on an emulator.  The translation is excellent and the game is very playable on PCSX2.  If you’re not familiar, Shadow Tower is the short series of games that From Software did between King’s Field and Demon’s Souls.  This entry is the game they made immediately before Demon’s Souls and bridges the final gap between the Field and Souls games.  Abyss plays a lot like a Souls game, but in the first person view of King’s Field.  I’m a huge From Software fan, so when I found out there was a ‘missing link’ in the series, I had to track it down and I was not disappointed.

If you’ve played a Souls game, this will be pretty easy to get into.  You travel around a series of catacombs and labyrinths, killing monsters and taking their souls.  You use those souls to level up and buy stuff.  Every so often you get to hubs that let you rest and travel between areas.  I’m a big fan of games that are ‘lost prototypes’ for later games, so I got a kick out of playing the proto Demon’s Souls.  It also has kind of an Indiana Jones, 1930s explorer vibe going which was also cool.  If you can still find the download for the English version, I would highly recommend playing this.

 

BONUS:  Another obscure reason you should play Parasite Eve

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You may have heard that there was an early concept for Final Fantasy VII that took place in New York City and featured a character named Detective Joe.  Little known fact:  Parasite Eve is actually the indirect brainchild of that scrapped concept.  There must have been enough concept art and pre-production into it that Square decided not to waste it.  So they pulled a bunch of staff members from other teams and had them put together a game taking place in New York and featuring technologies in development for other square projects.  So Parasite Eve is actually a combination of a design for a scrapped Final Fantasy, the battle system of Vagrant Story, the early CG tech of Final Fantasy VIII and also a sequel to a popular horror novel.  Amazing that it even turned out good by cult standards with that kind of pedigree.  It did though and I would highly recommend this very atypical classic Squaresoft game.

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