Few games give you more bang for your buck than role playing games. With so many big RPG titles on the verge of release like Demon’s Souls, Alpha Protocol and Dragon Age: Origins, I thought it would be a good idea to recommend some older titles to stretch your RPG muscles and maybe save a few bucks too. Here they are in no particular order: Ten RPGS That Are Still Worth Buying… And Playing.
Xenosaga: Der Wille zur Macht and Xenosaga III: Also Sprach Zarathustra – Playstation 2
In the year T.C. 4767, mankind exists on distant planets and artificial colonies. Humanity has lost the location of Earth, which has been renamed “Lost Jerusalem.” It’s up to Shion Uzuki, her android KOS-MOS and their friends to stop the enemy Gnosis, and find the lost planet Earth.
The Xenosaga series was probably one of the most underrated RPG experiences on the Playstation 2. It never gained the attention of many mainstream RPG fans because it “wasn’t Xenogears:” the series’ spiritual predecessor. Xenosaga was a triumph. Xenosaga felt like someone took Star Wars, blended it with Final Fantasy VII and IX and then added some non-preachy Christian overtones. The end result was an incredibly satisfying epic that will take most players several weeks to finish. Even now as I pass it on my shelves, I feel the one-ring-like urge to slide the discs back into my PS2 and get lost in space for hours.
Unfortunately, Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse was crap. Namco changed voice actors, gameplay style, and character models to a drastic degree. I recommend skipping it. Luckily there is a very detailed wiki page that should satisfy most gamers’ curiosities. If you simply MUST play the game, thankfully the second episode in the series is also the shortest. As for Xenosaga I and III, I can whole-heartedly recommend any fan of JRPGs who misses the “glory days” of role playing to dig up some used copies for yourself.
The Xenosaga series is still relatively affordable compared to some JPRGs of its day. Used copies seem to be in plentiful supply from most online retailers as well. Graphically, they’re not that much of an eyesore by today’s standards, especially Xenosaga III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, thanks to the stylized character models.
Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2– PC
In 1998, most of us in the RPG-playing world were replaying Final Fantasy VII for the 300th time, completely ignoring Aeris from our party systems because we knew she was going to die… again. Some of us almost failed out of college due to chasing women and a minor Ultima Online addiction. But that year is when Bioware smashed onto the RPG scene and started its streak of amazing role playing games, some of which have made this list.
Booting up the game, players were greeted with a customizable character creation screen; one that not only let players choose what they looked like, but they could choose a voice and personality as well. I felt like Milhouse, when all I had done was entered my name.
Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2‘s stories were rich and well developed. The atmosphere was dark and medieval which was a welcome change from the futuristic Final Fantasy VII, the post-apocalyptic Fallout, and the heavy-on-the-action, light-on-the-story Diablo.
To this day, the Baldur’s Gate series is still worth your hard-earned pennies. Brand new copies are plentiful and relatively cheap. Used copies can be found just about anywhere. Graphically, it is no powerhouse, but the 2D, top-down approach never seems to get old for some. The voice acting–though a little over the top at times–is still decent by today’s in-game voice acting standards. And the best part is, you can easily play it on almost ANY laptop or computer still in operation. Personally, I’d love to see these games ported over to the iPhone and Blackberry. They’d make perfect handheld games.
If you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t played the Baldur’s Gate series, it’s never too late to install it and give it a try. If you enjoy Bioware’s formula for Dungeon’s & Dragons-style gameplay, which is present in almost all of their games including Mass Effect, you’ll love playing the one that started it all: Baldur’s Gate.
Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy XII– Playstation and Playstation 2
In the ongoing debate of which is the best Final Fantasy game of all time, gamers are often found in a three way conflict: the Final Fantasy VII fans who claim it was the greatest game of all time, the Final Fantasy VIII who claim it was the greatest RPG fan of all time, and the Final Fantasy X fans who are living in complete denial. No one ever comes to bat for Final Fantasy IX or XII . Not only were they excellent games, but they are still worth buying and they are still worth playing today.
FFIX turned away from the brooding melodramatic heroes of Cloud and Squall and returned to the root of Final Fantasy characterization: the strong-hearted knight; the gentle white mage; the mysterious black mage; the kooky blue mage; the powerful summoner; the cocky thief; the calm and calculating dragoon; and the silent but deadly ninja.
The storyline felt like true adventure across a fully-developed world inhabited with culture and personality-rich cities. Sadly, it was the last Final Fantasy entry to feature a fully controllable airship in an open world map.
Final Fantasy XII received more than its fair share of beatings. Fans rushed to clobber the overly-effeminate Vaan as though he was the little kid who ruined Darth Vader… or twenty-something guy who ruined Darth Vader. Granted, Vaan was a little annoying, but at least he didn’t ruin Darth Vader!
On the flip side of the coin, there were plenty of truly memorable characters like Balthier the Sky Pirate and his sidekick Fran, the incredibly dedicated runaway princess Ashe, and the morally-unshakable Vossler. All of the characters–save for Vaan–had wonderful voice actors filling their roles, making Final Fantasy XII more than your average video game. They made it an experience to remember.
Many were also quick hop on the Hating the Combat System Bandwagon, mostly because it shied away from the turn-based styles of all the Final Fantasies before it. The combat system was (and still is) more than functional. In fact, it made the game more accessible to many non-RPG gamers. The character skill development wasn’t a straightforward level-based interaction. Players molded the characters specialties by purchasing “licenses” in different skill fields. In the end, the characters in Final Fantasy XII weren’t what the developers wanted you to play. They were what you wanted to play. And that’s why FFXII is safely on this list.
FFXII and FFIX are both easily found brand new, and for under $20 apiece. If you’re an RPG gamer and you don’t own these titles yet, shame on you. They are still worth purchasing and playing.
Icewind Dale 1 and 2 – PC
Black Isle Studios developed the Icewind Dale series on Bioware’s Infinity Engine and utilized the tried and true Dungeons & Dragons Second and Third Edition rule sets, giving geeks yet another reason to celebrate PC gaming at the beginning of the decade. The Icewind Dale series wasted no time in tossing gamers into the fray. Create a party. Name your character. Give them stats. Clothe them. Drop them into the action. If you didn’t want to create characters from scratch, you could import characters from previous Dungeons & Dragons-based games or choose prefabricated generic archetype characters supplied by the developers.
Icewind Dale was wonderful.
Dungeon crawling in a party-based system never felt so good. Comparatively, Icewind Dale I, II and their expansions were action-rich in comparison to the story-driven Baldur’s Gate series. Both the music and atmosphere were perfect for fall and winter gaming. Much like Bioshock made you thankful that you were dry, the Icewind Dale series made you thankful you had a thermostat.
Playing Icewind Dale as a single player experience was fantastic, but the game truly shined in D&D style when you played it with others. That case still holds true today. Co-operative play makes everything better, especially when you’re pretending to be a level 14 half-elf thief.
Unfortunately, brand new copies of the ID games will cost you slightly less than your college tuition. Unless you’re a collector hunting down unopened copies, I don’t recommend purchasing these titles as full price. Thankfully, there are plenty of cheap used copies to go around.
Sadly, after the release of Icewind Dale II, Black Isle Studios closed its doors. But every time a door is closed, another window is opened, which leads us to the next entry in this essay.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – PC, Xbox
While Bioware was off creating Jade Empire, a few of the former members of Black Isles studios founded Obsidian Entertainment and started working on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (SWKotOR2tSL).
SWKotOR2tSL took everything that was great about the original and made it better. . . possibly with a midichlorian injection to the spine. Force powers were amped to the extreme on both poles of the force spectrum. You didn’t have to wait to take the weekend crash course to become a Jedi. You were a Jedi right from the word go–though you are sans lightsaber for just a little too long. The supporting cast and characters were better than the original thanks to a nearly Carth-free experience. The combat moves were more dramatic. Even the object models were better, giving players more choices for lightsabers and Jedi robes.
The only thing the original Knights did better than SWKotOR2tSL was one tiny little plot twist at the end. Big deal.
So, if you love Star Wars and RPGs, or you just want an adventure to wash the taste of an accidental viewing of the Phantom Menace out of your mouth, SWKotOR2tSL might be your flavor of Listerine.
Wild Arms – Playstation
Finishing off this list is a game that will have you whistling for days.
While the world was waiting for the release of Final Fantasy VII, some of us grew impatient and bought the first RPG we could find on the Playstation. For the first time in video game history, impatience paid off. Wild Arms was (and still is) a fantastic game. Set in the fantasy world of Filgaia (a mix of the Old West and Medieval Europe), players control the quick draw Rudy, Jack the treasure hunter, and Cecilia the mage on an adventure to save the world from an onslaught of demons.
Most of the game was played in a 2D top-down approach, similar to Final Fantasy VI, but when the game switched to a battle sequence, Wild Arms was rendered in full 3D. Graphically, time has been very brutal to the Wild Arms battle sequences. But the battle system isn’t what made Wild Arms great. It was the clever maps, puzzles, and story which easily rivaled Chrono Trigger and FFVI that made Wild Arms shine.
The best part is, Wild Arms isn’t hard to find. You don’t need to fight with collectors to purchase a brand new copy, and you don’t have to worry about the condition of used Playstation discs, because Wild Arms can be downloaded on the Playstation Network. You can easily pop it into your PSP, or since the 1.70 firmware update, you can now play it on your Playstation 3.