There are 37 games this year. This was one of the toughest years I’ve encountered so far…possibly the toughest. In advance, I’d like to say that making the top 5 list this time around was NOT easy and as a result, a lot of great games totally tied for multiple places. This was a year of many highly successful RPGs.
#5 – Persona 2
The original Persona was revolutionary in many ways, however it doesn’t hold a candle to Persona 2. It was actually a tough call putting this one on the list since you had so many great Squaresoft titles, Ogre Battle 64, and much more, but I’m pleased to say this one is the most traditional and yet not and yet it works. See, in this one, you can negotiate with demons for items, demon contracts, and much more.
Now they’ve had this same thing in previous and current titles, but it’s never been as interesting. Usually it’s quite random in the other titles, in fact. In this one it makes more sense depending on who’s manipulating the conversation, the type of demon you’re attempting to talk to, and much more. There’s also this really interesting rumor system where you can spread a rumor…and it comes true.
Granted, all the Persona titles have a dark side, but this was the first one, in my opinion, to really capture the feel the series would have from thereon.
#4 – Vagrant Story
I’d like to think I’m good at RPGs. That’s not really much of a claim, though. Nowadays, all you need is patience, time, a mindset for grinding, and decent knowledge of common strategy in order to take out just about any RPG. Except in the case of Vagrant Story. VS is HARD because of several reasons that actually make it more fun and interesting.
First off…the workshop. Oh, the workshop. How many countless hours have I spent in ye? There are Resident Evil-style chests that magically hold all kinds of shit including weapon and armor parts, items, and so on and can be accessed from several locations, usually in workshops. The only downside is they hold so MUCH stuff that every time you go to access it, you pretty much need to save and load your game.
The point? Well, Legend of Mana tried this too (and failed in my opinion) where you could forge varying blades, armor sets, and whatever together to create entirely new and modified weapons and armor. Sounds pretty basic, but ultimately it lends itself to an insane amount of customization, upgrading, and much more. That and you pretty much need to in order to make weapons that are purely specialized for taking down certain types of enemies and bosses and switch on the fly.
In fact, the game is probably 90% based around your equipment as you don’t really level up. You KINDA do when you beat bosses, but it’s based on a roulette wheel and therefore not exactly reliable. You can also learn various weapon skills by fighting with them over and over. Naturally, the story, characters, plot twists, and much more are awesome, but why spoil that?
Honestly, this is one of the few Squaresoft titles where they tried something totally different and risky and ended up making something truly amazing. It is definitely worth a playthrough or two (if you can beat it…I still haven’t).
#3 – Skies of Arcadia
There’s an interesting phenomena that occurs with me and RPGs. When a linear RPG becomes open and doesn’t really explain where to go next or what to do, I sometimes find myself lost. It’s equivalent to holding a child’s hand while crossing the street, but suddenly vanishing halfway into the intersection. It MIGHT make sense to cross to the other side yourself, but suddenly the possible avenues of interest seem…infinite.
This has happened in both Dragonquest 8 and 9 shortly after I get my ship. I don’t know what to do. Even in DQ8 where I have a strategy guide and follow diligently, I almost feel betrayed by the game at this point because I know what it WANTS me to do: go explore and have fun. But in a game that goes out of its way to show you where to go and locks you into a dungeon or forest or whatever where you still explore but you feel confined…suddenly it’s like you just broke out of prison and have no game plan whatsoever.
This is especially strange because in games like Oblivion or Fallout 3, I’m fine…but in games that are purely linear, then suddenly cut you loose, I just feel…empty. And that’s why it’s especially important I have this entry on my list. This game isn’t expressedly open, and yet it becomes VERY open quite often as you pilot the skies as an air pirate. Not once did I ever feel lost, confused, or bothered by the idea of such freedom…in fact, it was exhilarating.
There are so many things going right in this game it’s almost ridiculous. Proficiencies, interesting combat system, lots of over the top abilities, traditionally styled, and yet totally innovative in many areas. Arcadia may start off feeling like a Grandia 2 wannabe, but it eventually sprouts its own wings and takes to the sky of adventure! It is an experience you absolutely cannot miss.
#2 – Diablo 2
The first Diablo was a fast-paced dungeon crawler grindfest that anyone could pick up and play. So it stands to reason that Diablo 2 was improved in nearly every way. First off, yes, there are dungeons you can get into, but most of the adventure takes place in the field, which is especially interesting because of how open and quick everything is. Loading different areas is virtually unnoticeable since everything just kinda bleeds into each other.
There are new classes, weather effects, all kinds of awesome new loot, awesome online mode, and plenty more. Especially with how radically changed and improved Diablo 2 was over the original, it’s no wonder so many gamers are psyched for D3…whenever the hell it comes out.
#1 – Deus Ex
If you already know what Deus Ex is, you absolutely do not need me to say more and chances are you will immediately find and reinstall the game by my mere mentioning of it. If you don’t know what it is…crawl out from whatever rock you’ve been living under, sit up, and pay attention. This game is basically a newer and better version of System Shock 2.
I won’t even bother talking about the plot…you should already know it’s good. Basically put this is an open world RPG-style game dealing with cyberpunk government agency stuffs. You’re able to upgrade and augment your character in a variety of ways that are very similar to that of Bioshock, but in my opinion, BETTER. Since it’s open, there are a variety of ways to manipulate the plot, approach various problems, and much more.
This is one of the strongest FPS/RPGs ever made, if not THE strongest. Either you know it or you don’t and if you don’t, PLAY THE FUCKING GAME.
Some people might be wondering why Chrono Cross and Valkyrie Profile didn’t take spots on this list. Trust me, it was a tough call between Valkyrie Profile, Persona 2, and various other titles in the runner ups list…but Chrono Cross was FAR from being on this list in my opinion. And no, it isn’t because it’s not Chrono Trigger 2. You know a game isn’t going very well when the enemies are somewhat interesting, but you really can’t get into any of the main characters.
Secondly, they used a sort of SaGa style level up system that didn’t make a whole lot of sense and felt like it had level caps at times. The combat system is cumbersome and clunky. The techs especially felt like the strategy and overall setup was just plain wrong. And finally, they did the one thing I’ve hated about certain Squaresoft titles since Final Fantasy 8: upgrades.
Look, it’s not like I don’t like upgrades. I mean, come on…it was pretty badass in games like Dark Cloud 2. My problem is I would rather have a setup where you can buy new equipment. Or at the very least, if you’re going to have an upgrade system, make it more like Vagrant Story or whatever where the options are seemingly limitless, not where you have one pre-determined path you MUST follow AND pay money with items that are rare as shit.
Chrono Cross is a game many avid RPGers absolutely fanboy over and I just don’t get it. I mean, I really, really don’t. Maybe it’s because I haven’t beaten it. That’s certainly possible, but I’d like to point out that most RPGs are all about the experience, not the finish line…though it certainly doesn’t HURT to have a good ending. I will certainly be giving it another go soon, but I’m confident in what I’ve chosen and to be fair, there are enough GREAT titles in the runner ups that even if I’m “wrong,” there are plenty of exceptions.
I know SRD will most likely disagree with me on CC being just an okay game, but I seriously couldn’t get into it…and I’ve restarted and tried it over and over again at least 5 times.
Baldur’s Gate 2
Breath of Fire 4
Final Fantasy 9
Front Mission 3
Konung – Legend of the North
Legend of Mana
Might and Magic 8
Ogre Battle 64
SaGa Frontier 2
Threads of Fate
Torneko – The Last Hope
Vampire – The Masquerade – Redemption
Wild Arms 2
Wizards & Warriors