The JRPG's that Time Forgot
Remember there was a time when JRPGs were the new kid on the block with the early consoles like the Super Nintendo and Playstation 1? These marvellously long and involved games were able to enthral players of all ages with their compelling narratives and memorable characters as we followed their journey to save the world or worlds. When most gamers think of successful JRPGs, what normally comes to mind? Nine times out of ten I would bet would be a Final Fantasy title, or hopefully the legendary Chrono Trigger.
Though these games are not undeserving of the praise they get (or hate if you consider the later Final Fantasy titles), the sheer amount of publicity they get in the gaming community has caused a number of equally good JRPGs to be overlooked or, in my opinion, vastly underrated. Time to dust off those old game cases and see what hidden treasures we can find by looking at the JRPG's that time forgot.
Lunar: The Silver Star
Originally released for the Sega CD in 1992, Lunar: The Silver Star became so popular in both Japan and the US that it was remastered three times in that decade alone. For good reason too, since it set in motion a lot of JRPG traits we take for granted now, such as fully animated cutscenes with voice acting plus top notch audio and video playback.
The story follows the adventures of Alex, a young boy who lives on the world of Lunar (a world orbiting a giant blue star), who hopes to become a great hero like his idol Dragon Master Dyne. After discovering an ancient dragon who can sense great potential in Alex the boy sets off to become a Dragon Master, a journey that becomes more dire than it appears when the world is at stake.
This JRPG is a classic, plain and simple. While some characters may seem clichéd, the story is very entertaining and always keeps you guessing on what will happen next.
I’ve already said my piece about the Suikoden series and how underrated it is so I’ll just keep this brief. Out of all the games in the franchise, Suikoden 2 has the best overall story and characters. It also shares the unique traits of its series with not just the turn-based combat but also with large scale battles and even one on one duels.
The story is a complex tale of two childhood friends, torn between two sides of a war and having to choose which is more important to them, their friendship or their belief of what is best for their country and the ones they love. It is a game like this that, the Suikoden series needs to go back to in order to reclaim its roots and get a second chance at stardom.
Legend of Dragoon
Going into the era of 3D RPGs, you had your ground-breaking Final Fantasy 7 setting the standard for three dimensional character models exploring pre-rendered backgrounds. Then you had games like Legend of Dragoon which took said ground breaking ideas, ran with it, and created something all its own. Exploring the environments, following story and side-quest events are still the name of the game here but Legend of Dragoon found a way to shake things up a bit. Turn-based combat was given a bit of twist with the addition of quick time events every time a character moves in to strike, dealing more damage if timed correctly. Once character’s achieve a Dragoon spirit, they are able to use said item to transform into a Dragoon, adding another option to combat increasing attack, defence and magical attacks are increased at the loss of items.
Dart, the protagonist of the story, is just returning from a five year journey in search of the Black Beast, a monster that destroyed his birth home and killed his parents. After being attacked by a dragon, he discovers that his hometown has been raided and his childhood friend Shana has been kidnapped. He sets out to save her, joined by characters he helps along the way, and to discover who is controlling the dragons. While the story entertaining and the world beautiful to look at and explore, I found myself giggling at certain bits of dialogue for how over the top it can be. People who can get easily distracted by bad grammar will not be able to focus reading dialogue since almost every sentence ends in an exclamation point. Yet despite its silliness, it is a great JRPG that is more than worth a look.
Skies of Arcadia
Another Sega made JRPG that didn’t get nearly enough attention it deserved. Skies of Arcadia was released for the Sega Dreamcast in early 2000s, later released for the Nintendo GameCube a few years later. Most of it’s gameplay focused on dungeon crawling, it really captured the feeling of an adventure, as the story follows the air pirate Vyse as he travels the world of Arcadia. Eventually Vyse gets involved in a journey to save the world by finding powerful crystals that are the keys to weapons of mass destruction.
What makes this games special besides the exciting story, is the protagonist. He is a far cry from the brooding, spiky haired badass or the happy go lucky moron who becomes a hero through the sheer force of will. Vyse is a smart, charismatic and optimistic pirate (or Blue Rouge as he is called in the game) who is the glue that holds his companions together in a time of crisis. He also takes a few cues from Robin Hood, in how he fights against the rich and powerful to benefit the weaker and less fortunate. While I haven’t played it myself, I have seen a good bit of it and everyone I talk to who has played it have highly recommended it.
Breath of Fire 4
I admit, that I didn’t hear about the Breath of Fire series until I was in college and by then they had already released their fifth instalment six years ago. While I recommend any of these titles in a heartbeat, the one I always find myself going back to and replaying is Breath of Fire 4. While it is a turn-based RPG with a silent protagonist with the ability to change into a powerful dragon form, there was something about this game that just felt so grand and cinematic. Like it was an epic adventure to end all epic adventures, full of magic, charm and drama that played out naturally as the story continued. You play most of the game as the protagonist, Ryu, but there are also portions were you play as another character Fou-lu (later revealed to be the antagonist) and follow his story. Both perspectives and characters were wonderful to see and I can’t tell you how happy I was when I found out Breath of Fire 4 was released on the Playstation Network.
Believe it or not, Studio Ghibli the studio behind Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and other highly praised Miyazaki films, had their hand in video games before Ni no Kuni. That game was Jade Cocoon, though it was mostly the character designs and animated opening. Jade Cocoon has elements of the typical JRPG, but actually has more in common with monster raising games such as Pokémon and Digimon, since the premise involves travelling through an immense jungle, capturing strange beasts and using them to fight for you. What it does differently is that the player character is given a more active role in combat instead of just standing on the sidelines, and the world of the jungle and the creature that live in it are given an entire mythology as to what they are and their purpose is. Something that the main character discovers more of as his story to become a Cocoon Master unfolds.
Okage: Shadow King
Ever wanted to see a downright parody of the JRPG genre that is full of clever humor and a protagonist silent protagonist whose lines of dialogue are chosen by the player but is constantly ignored by the other characters yet still somehow manages to have a charming and interesting plot? Welcome to Okage: Shadow King. JRPG fans or fans of the Playstation 2 may have a heart attack with the animation and how bad it looks, but fear not, cause the downright quirkiness of this game more than makes up for the unusual style. The story? Well, a boy from a small town, who no one pays attention to (not even his own family) becomes the unwilling slave of Evil King Stan who has lost his power as an Evil King and must travel to world defeating Fake evil kings to restore his power. That alone should be more than enough reason to buy this game. It does have a few problems such as long loading times and an extremely simple turn based battle system that can be downright boring. Yet I dare you try to get fifteen minutes into this game and not be amused by it.
.Hack//GU (All of it)
Anyone who has read my other articles on this site should be well aware of my respect and affection for CyberConnect2’s games. It all started right here, with .Hack//GU. Yes, it is incredibly anime so much to the point that it has had several less than successful anime spin-offs and even a couple manga spin-offs as well. I’ve heard all the gripes certain people have had with this series and how it had to span multiple games and how annoying the battle system could be at times. But you know what? Those problems, to me, is the buzzing of fly on the back of a gigantic Trojan horse of a game. In all honesty, I’m not sure how an JRPG series like Final Fantasy can be talked about to death, where I have never found too many people willing to talk about this series just as much. Which is a shame, due to the fact of its expansive story, relatable characters and how it took a stab at imitating MMORPGs.
The story, from what I can summarize, follows Haseo. One of the many players of an online game called The World:R2. When his close friend Shino is killed by a PKer known as Triedge, her player in the real world goes into a coma. Eager for revenge, Haseo seeks out Triedge to find a way to cure Shino. This proves to be a difficult task when his character is set back to level one after one crippling attack from his sworn enemy. It is these events that kickstart Haseo’s real journey as he discovers the mystery behind the online world and the virtual entity tied to him. Add a mysterious virus that has been also putting players in comas and you’ve got a virtual epic on your hands.
Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis
Easily one of my favorite JRPGs of all time that I never hear any praise for. Mainly due to its homage to common JRPG elements but also finding a way to add something new to keep the genre fresh. Instead of having characters level up through grinding, characters grow in gaining action points in combat and using them to unlock new alchemic recipes in a grow book. These recipes vary from items to use to heal to weapons and equipment to use in battle. The combat is turn-based but with an exciting spin. As more characters join the main group, three of them can be kept in reserve but can be switched out on the fly, whether during a standard turn or even at the end of another character’s combo attack. This keeps the fights exciting while adding some interesting strategy elements.
The story follows Vayne Aurelius, the son of the legendary alchemist Theofratus. Vayne has been living the life of a hermit, since his father mysteriously disappeared years ago. After living alone for years, with only his mana spirit named Sulpher, Vayne is invited to attend the prestigious Al-Revis academy to learn how to be an alchemist. The game follows Vayne’s time at the academy meeting friends, making enemies and discovering the true power of alchemy (literally set with events around school terms, with classes, assignments, days off the whole kit and caboodle). Harry Potter eat your heart out.
Which of these games have you played? What is your favorite? Let us know!