Yeah, and here's where I really go over the 3-game thing... although I'll try to at least keep it to reasonable numbers. ^^;;
Final Fantasy XII
Yeah, I know, I know, Final Fantasy. I don't care if the series in general is overhyped or if it's cool to hate on it - this is a damn solid game, period. Yeah, probably not for everything, but nothing suits everyone so...
Anyhow, gotta love a game that not only moves to more active combat, but lets you pretty much program your own AI for various party members to boot. The characters are a great too, at least the main character and his sidekick. What? Oh hell no, Vaan is not the main character. I don't care what Squarenix may say about the matter.
Where was I? Oh yes, fun combat system, large world to explore, lots and lots of sidequest/collectible type thingies, Balthier, a ton of customization for your characters, speaking of which did I mention Balthier yet? Oh, and Sky Pirates. C'mon, sign me up!
Okay okay, technically the first two are for the regular Playstation (although even more technically you can play them on the PS2), but 3-5 are all made for this system. They're of varying quality, but I'd say that even the worst of the bunch (IV) is about on par with a "decent" RPG from another (or no) series.
How do I love thee Suikoden series? Let me count the ways. I love thee (ah hell,you, it's easier) for the huuuge number of recruitable characters (many of which are also interesting and fun to boot). I love you for letting me have six people in a party (usually) as opposed to the usual anemic party configurations, and giving me plenty of combat options to actually use with them. I love you for giving me tons and tons of things to collect. I love you for giving me a cool castle (or some sort of base) so that I can actually USE said collectibles for something. *gasp!* I love you for often giving me neat stories, sometimes with really surprising twists. I love you for actually staying within the same world and fleshing it out more, yet at the same time not getting bogged down to the point where you never let anything change. I love you for fun mini-games, and will love you now and forever for the cook-off one in 2 (although that doesn't technically fall under the Ps2 category). I love you for actually giving me non-essential but *fun* characters like detectives, journalists, and so on. And I love you for trying new things from time to time, but generally not trying to fix what's not broken (with the exception of IV, and to some extent III, and you mostly made up for those with V).
Suikoden series, will you marry me?
Er, sorry, got a bit carried away there. But yeah, try them. If you can find the earlier ones for less than an arm, leg, and extraneous pound of flesh.
Shin Megami Tensei series
At which point probably even some moderate gamers say "the what"?
This series is a bit niche, but it really doesn't deserve to be. Er, well, okay, unless you consider minor details like having young protagonists who do things like shoot themselves in the head (although that was only one game!) and where the mainstay is having characters that summon demons to fight for them. Or sometimes turn into demons and eat other demons for power. Whatever!
Okay, now that I've made the games sound evil and weird... okay, they often lean toward the dark side of things. But "demons" in this case can include things like angels or gods as well, and is just a general catch-all for "weird creatures that aren't supposed to exist in our reality" in some ways. So anyhow: these are RPGs in which you play some sort of character (usually a high-school-aged male, but it can vary slightly) from the real world, when all of a sudden things get weird, and the world goes wonky. And said character finds themselves able to work with demons in some way, forming contracts with them and either summoning them to fight in his stead, or fighting along side them, or... whatever. This maybe doesn't sound like the most awesome hook, but the games themselves are solid, some moreso than others (my favorites being the PS2 Persona games and Nocturne), with things like melding demons to create more powerful (and different) demons, balancing school (!) and demon-fighting, collecting items to have new weapons crafted, and just dealing with a story that can be funny, bizarre, dark as hell and light and fluffy in turns.
Probably the most mainstream/accessible of the games are SMT: Persona 3 and 4 (Persona being a sort of sub-series within the series), and I'd say that either one is well worth a spin, to see if you might like the series in general.
As long as you don't mind, like, penis-demons or something. *whistles*
Dark Cloud 2
I've talked about this game before I know, but since it definitely deserves a spot on the list, I get to talk about it again!
Think JRPG. Add in appealing characters (well, maybe the villains could use work), a time-warpy but still interesting story to drive it, and an overall light tone. Throw in extras like photography, getting to make your own inventions out of ideas you've photographed, towns to build and populate from scratch, characters to "recruit" (not to your fighting party but for town population, selling/buying, etc.), a neat and fun weapon evolution system... and you've pretty much got Dark Cloud 2.
Oh yeah, and add a roguelike feel to the mix, with dungeons that change each time you go into them, with different chests to locate, different enemies to kill, etc etc. plus different challenges for you to fulfill in each floor. Plus... ah, nevermind. I'd never be able to do the game justice in a small blurb anyhow. Just assume that it's light, charming, and hella fun, and take it from there.
Tales of the Abyss
I mentioned the Tales of... series in the X-Box 360 section, and again I believe in the PSP bits, but this one is IMHO the best of the bunch. Now, while I tend to immediately prick up my ears and prepare for a purchase whenever I hear a "Tales of" game announced, the quality can vary enough that I wouldn't immediately recommend all of them to someone never having tried the series before. There are a few of the games that apparently had many of the same team working on them however that stand above the rest (Symphonia, Vesperia, Abyss), and if I were to rate them all, this one would probably come out on top.
Tales of the Abyss is a bit odd in a recommended game, in that I fully realize that you will almost definitely want to throttle the main character and have him commit suicide repeatedly in battle for the first part of the game, at least. This however opens up the field for something that's not necessarily seen in all that many RPGs - true character development of the main character, in which he doesn't magically just perform a 180, yet consistently and gradually learns and grows over the course of the game. This IMO makes the annoyance in the beginning well worth it, and is one of the strong points of the game.
The rest of the characters in general are also strong points, and in fact contain one of my favorite video game characters period (Jade Curtiss), although a few dip a bit close to "stereotype" waters (the timid yet competent, cute-loving Tear, the young-but-capable kid character, the spunky female), but they mostly manage to rise above that with character development. The story is also strong - a bit confusing at times, but not to, say, Squarenix levels of incomprehensibility, and it drives home the fact that there are consequences to character actions, even if the outcome is not what the person intended.
The combat system is not as complex as in some games, but still a lot of fun (being another real-time combat system with special moves), and better developed here than in some of the earlier titles. (Combat also brings out one of my favorite quirks of the Tales series - while magical spells can eventualy get quite powerful, they're also a lot like the ones in D&D - start out weaker, take a certain length of time and a lot of talking to cast, and prone to interruption.) While most of the Tales games just allow Cooking as an item-creation skill, this game (much like Vesperia) adds a bit more through the use of special services, although not something that you can just do on the field or as you choose. Add little things like the use of Titles that you can earn for special effects, different special costumes you can earn, Skits that you can trigger in various ways to see yet more character interaction and development, little hidden things that aren't strictly needed to finish the game but that add to the story if you go back at the right time and right place and find them... and you've got quite a game on your hands.
Atelier Iris series
This PS2 section is already way long, but I wouldn't feel right if I ended it without giving a place to one of my more recently found but loved series, the Atelier games. Since I've covered a few of them before, I know, I'll just give a quickish blurb.
The Atelier Iris games are a sub-series of an overall Atelier series, most of which hasn't come out in the States. They involve somewhat "deformed" or at least anime-type sprites rather than more realistic characters, and all of them involve Mana in some form although the form for each game might change - Mana in this series being spirits of a certain element that allow Alchemists to use their power, after a pact is formed. Each game also relies heavily on item creation, sometimes with just items, sometimes with weapons and/or armor as well, although again the actual mechanics may vary at least somewhat.
The games are light, and a lot of fun. Then again I'm a sucker for item creation, so when it's woven so heavily into the whole game, they're already striking at my weakness. The combat system is fun too though - it changes a bit in each game, but usually is turn-based, but with enough choices and weird abilities that you can use to affect things to keep it interesting. The stories are... well, not as deep or dark usually as in some games, but still good enough to work as a backdrop for the gameplay, which is the strength of the series. Oh, and there's always a lot of humor sprinkled throughout, which is almost always a plus.
As a note, all three of the Atelier Iris games are out in the U.S., as well as one of the other games, Mana Khemia (with Mana Khemia 2 coming out in just a couple days). All five are recommended, although that I guess is a bit premature for MK2 since I haven't even played it yet. *cough* There are a couple other games out in the U.S. that are somewhat considered "offshoots" of the Atelier games, Ar Tonelico 1 and 2, but while they have their good points they're also... um... skeevy. -_- Not recommended unless you try and really like the main Atelier games, and are willing to put up with a lot of very thinly veiled sexualization of the female characters. (I tend to be somewhat thicker skinned with such things I think, but even I never did manage to finish either game - the second especially made me in danger of rolling my eyes out of my head. Although I think I recall it being a lot less blatant and annoying in what I played of the first.)
Oh, right, quickish blurb. Sorry about that. Anyhow yeah. Atelier Iris + Mana Khemia games... recommended! Ar Tonelico games... not so much.
Also worthy of mention:
Star Ocean 3, left out because while it's a great game in its own right, part of it is also a slap in the face to longtime fans. Hard to explain without huge spoilers. Plus the other games in the series were in the PSP and 360 lists.
Xenosaga series. While I'd still recommend them for scope, characters and story, there are enough flaws and genre quirks that make them not really for everyone. The series gets a bit schizophrenic between episodes, with not only the style, but the game lengths, focus, and pretty much everything else shifting around. Not to mention I felt like there was a too much of a jump between 2 and 3. And then we won't even talk about the number and length of cutscenes...
Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, which actually makes Chinese history (or perhaps pseudo-history in at least some cases) fun! These are great strategy games, but it seems like no one game in the series is perfect, each doing something annoying. X is probably the closest and might make the list... but it's long enough already.
Two million other games that are probably worthy of mention, but which I just don't have room or brainpower to think of and list them all! I mean seriously, you've got your Dragon Quest games, the other Final Fantasy stuff, Kingdom Hearts, even niche-but-fun stuff like Steambot Chronicles.
Um, yeah. Argh, see, I didn't play much in the way of normal X-Box games, since I picked up the system late, and then was hugely disappointed with the game I did finally buy it for (*coughFablecough*), so I tended to not really deal with it all that much. But to give it at least the ol' college try...
Sad to say, this is the only game that I bought and actually played for X-Box that I really enjoyed and thought was a great game. I'm sure there was more good stuff out there, but I just didn't really get into it, for the reasons mentioned in the console intro. But hey, at least this one was good!
The game is an RPG by BioWare, which if you've played BioWare games before, should tell you most of what you need to know. It has the typical interesting and varied characters and good vs. evil choices that BioWare games tend to have, but unlike most games (BioWare or otherwise), it's actually in the Wuxia style, which is a nice breath of fresh air.
I don't really have all that much to say about the game honestly - mostly because it's been ages since I've played, and I don't remember it in all that much depth. From what I do remember, if Mass Effect was a blend of RPG and FPS, then this would be a blend of RPG and fighting game with the combat system it uses. It wasn't extremely long, but it was fun, with enough things to find, subquests to finish off, characters to flesh out, surprising story twists, and other Fun Stuff.
I also believe you can pick this up via X-Box Live these days so... there ya go.
Knights of the Old Republic (1 & 2)
I'm throwing this in here mostly just to get something else in this section. The thing is, while I own the first one, I haven't actually played it. It's BioWare though, and Star Wars, and I've heard really really good things. Really good things. So... consider this my second, passing-the-word-on-from-others recommendation.
(And I really need to play it myself, I guess it's mostly that I didn't pick it up til late due to the aforementioned problems, and have been worried that going back and playing it after the fact won't be as great. I'm sure it will be but... I just never seem to get around to it.)
Harvest Moon: Magical Melody
Yeah, I'm going a bit overboard probably on the Harvest Moon mentions. But hey... this is my list, and it's one of my favorite series evah so... there we are.
Having already covered a couple of the games in the series, I shouldn't have to say too much about this one. Just that it stands out from many of the games due to the large number of characters, the number of things you can unlock, and the collectible aspect (doing tons of different things throughout your farming career to collect "sprites," and save the Harvest Goddess.) The sprites can be picked up through a whole variety of activities - making friends with various townspeople, participating in or winning at holiday events, farming in different types of weather, raising animals... even drinking certain amounts of booze, so it really gives an incentive to explore all the different aspects of the game.
The graphics for this game are a bit deformed and "kiddy," which might turn some off, but even with that in mind this was one of my favorites of the series until Tree of Tranquility came out, so it's still worth a spin.
Skies of Arcadia: Legends
This is a bit odd to recommend here, since it's a slight altered port of a Dreamcast game. But on the other hand a lot more people are going to be able to play Gamecube versions of games (what with the Wii's backward compatibility and the length of time the original console was around and supported), compared to the Dreamcast, plus there was enough added stuff to the game from what I understand to make the port even better. Well, plus the fact that for whatever reason, I never picked up the Dreamcast version.
So. The game itself - the graphics by now are dated, which is probably one of the main problems to get past, if you tend to mostly play current games. There are a few other minor things - the combat isn't quite as unique and deep as some of the newer games, although it's not shabby, and the random encounter rate is a bit annoyingly high.
That said, the game takes place in a world where the bits of land float in the sky, and people get around in ships that sail the skies, with the game revolving around a handful of "good" (Robin Hood-type) pirates, and their adventures. The story is alright, but it mostly just serves as a backdrop for exploration, building a base and finding and finishing out all the side quests. You get to hunt down and defeat various "evil" pirates, kit out your sky ship as best you can and take part in a lot of ship-to-ship combat, find and report special locations for rewards, collect different objects for side quests, and of course recruit crew members both for your ship (for special abilities and strengths) and for your home base.
So all in all, while the game isn't perfect and is showing its age, it's also deep and innovative for its time, and still worth a play if you can find a copy, and don't mind the older graphics.
I feel a bit odd suggesting this since I've never actually finished it - but the problem wasn't the game itself losing my interest, it was the fact that I ran up against one boss that just continued to kick my butt for some reason, and ended up just never making it past. Blah. So it still gets a shout-out.
While this is an RPG, it's also a lot different in some ways. Well, one main way - rather than using a typical combat system, the game uses cards. Different cards represent different things you can do in combat - defense cards to block attacks (or at least lower the damage they do), with various elements coming into play, attack cards to (duh) attack, "finishing moves" that you can use after certain attack combos, healing cards to, um, let's see, heal (I know, hard to figure out there), and so on. It sounds simplistic and maybe even *gasp* not fun, but it works out to be more interesting than it originally sounds.
Part of the unexpected fun is what they do with the cards in other ways. See, they're not just used for combat - you can capture various items in blank cards, and use them in combat or in other ways. You'll also get various subquests, and will need to use the cards to give a person, say, the item captured in the card to complete the quest.
But the even deeper thing here is that cards evolve, and combine. For instance, you might use a blank magnus to get some milk from a dairy, which you can use for healing in combat, or for various non-combat things. But after a certain amount of time passes that milk will turn into yogurt, which has different uses. After a longer time yet, it turns (IIRC) into cheese, which again has still different uses. Wine, a healing item, can become vinegar, an attack card. Different foods, which are usually healing items, might rot and be used to poison the enemy.
And as I've said, you can also combine cards, but you need to do that in combat, and in certain orders - which might mean keeping completely useless cards in your deck and using them in combat, just to get a better card out of the whole thing at the end. For an example, using a piece of fruit with an "ice" attack card might give you a card of a prepared fruit dish, which gives much greater healing when used in combat. I won't even try to list more, because there are a *ton* of combos, some found through hints in the game, but most just through trial and error and inspiration in combat. This is, frankly, fun and challenging, and adds quirks to combat that you usually don't expect in an RPG.
Aside from the cards, there are other things about the game, such as a story with some major twists, multiple side quests to find and complete. There are a few bad points - some of the characters aren't as interesting as I'd like, and some of the voice acting is almost painful. But all in all, the game's one of the stronger ones for the Gamecube, and defintiely worth playing if you want an RPG with something different to offer.
Tales of Symphonia
Again, I've gone into the Tales games in a couple places already (like just above in the PS2 sections). Suffice to say that this is one of the strongest in the series - I'd put it after Abyss, but about on par with Vesperia. It has some interesting characters, although one at least is... annoying. It's a large game with a lot to find and do, and fun combat - one of the first games of the series where they really started fleshing out the combat system more. If you're looking for an RPG on the Gamecube, you could definitely do worse.
I should maybe have included the DS or Wii sequels for this, but really the main problem with those are that there's not enough different and added to really call for having it listed more places than one. This is the original, and the most bare-bones, but still what got it all started and is worth the place on the list.
The game's definitely different. You play a... well, young adult is the best I can take a stab at it (the characters being in the "kiddy" rag-doll style), who moves into a town inhabited by talking animals. Which sounds silly and childish as the premise for a game, but there's a ton here to love. The game uses the console's clock to keep synchronized with real time, so that the day and night cycles, the months, the holidays, all correspond to the real world. The store opens at given times in the morning, different fish and insects will be available at different times of day, and of course the whole town changes with the seasons.
There's no one real goal for the game - you just work on paying off your house (and then upgrading and paying off the upgrades) by selling items, collect insects, fish, fossils and paintings for the museum, and deck out your house with the furniture that you like. It sounds very simplistic, but it's a lot of fun - not the type of thing you play for hours at a time for days on end, but the type of game instead that you play for a bit each day, for a long long time.
Also worthy of mention:
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which got a ton of hype and is definitely one of the stronger games on the console, but the graphics which I hate and the fact that it just sort of drags on after a while mean that for my own personal list, it just doesn't quite make it on the main list.
Wow, this is starting to reach back, and it's as far as I'll go - honestly I'm already having trouble dredging up the details of some of these, but I'll give it a go! Actually there are only a couple that stand out, while there are a handful of others that I remember fondly but can't quite choose between, so this time there are a lot more of the "also worthies" than the main list.
This is a bit odd for a game list, since in a way it's more a virtual pet than anything. But it was unique enough and innovative enough at the time, and still has enough quirks, that it deserves a spot on the list I think.
For one thing, it's got Leonard Nimoy narrating, which, you know... Leonard Nimoy! For another, it actually uses a microphone to listen to your own voice, recognize certain things it asks you for (like birthdates), and remember them for future use. Which really is still pretty neat.
In this game, you start out with a bunch of small creatures, and slowly raise them until you have one, which you continue to feed by breeding insects and giving them to the creature, regulating the tank temperature, and so on. This is in real time, so basically when you play the game, you start it up and interact with the Seaman maybe twice each day, to make sure you meet its needs. You can also talk to it and interact with it, having it remember various bits of data and bringing them up in conversation, and using the controller to pet it or manipulate various objects.
Somewhat like Animal Crossing on the Gamecube, it's not something that's going to occupy you for huge stretches of time, but instead that is a lot of fun in small bites over a longer stretch. It's quirky and charming, and perhaps best of all, the name is fodder for all sorts of obvious jokes. (Well, okay, maybe not best, but... it's definitely a bonus!)
Industrial Spy: Operation Espionage
This one's probably the oddest one on the list, and I doubt would make various "professional" lists, but I enjoyed it enough at the time and found it quirky enough that I have to throw it in here. Although if I have to be honest, it's more for the potential. The game had some definite flaws - mostly the steep difficulty, which is like trying to read the mind of the developers and simultaneously juggle ten different balls on top of it. And some of the characters are a bit more stereotyped than I'd like. And of course it's a bit dated by now - but since it's a Dreamcast title, that's really to be expected.
But the good points - this is an action title where you control an International team of agents, each member with his or her own strengths or weaknesses. There's some (simplistic) combat, a few psychic abilities, and lots of things to worry about like electronics (for hacking computers and security systems), weapon skills (for those combat moments), demolition ability, chemical abilities, etc etc. You have a series of tasks you can choose to take on, stealing items, sabotage, rescues, a whole slew of things, and you need to pick out a team beforehand and then direct them all in real-time to complete your given mission within the time limit.
Each team member acts simultaneously, so you'll be directing one character while others are going about their task that you've given them previously, or perhaps just standing around and waiting. You'll usually need to switch back and forth between the members fairly often - say, having one hack the computers to unlock the doors around the complex, the other two going through into the north and south areas when the doors are unlocked, one to take control of the security sensors in the south building, the third to move on in to steal a certain object once both other tasks are taken care of. Of course, usually there are a lot more steps involved, and a few wrinkles like security guards or other unexpected problems to deal with.
There are of course other tools to use, like an overall synopsis of the mission and a plan of execution, but there are still challenges - executing everything correctly, dealing with surprises, and switching between the various characters to complete your tasks all in a limited amount of time. Part of the fun though is that there are different ways for different characters to complete the same task - to get past a door, you might use chemicals to destroy the lock, have an explosives expert set a charge to open it, or have a hacker get it unlocked.
In the end, that's pretty much what makes this a fun game and worth playing - you get to pick your own team, and figure out the best way to meet your goals, deal with the unexpected, and bring your team to the best conclusion. It's a tough challenge - maybe a bit too much at times, but it's worth the effort.
Also worthy of mention:
Skies of Arcadia, which doesn't make the list because, well, I haven't actually played this version so don't feel able to put it on the main list. But see the Gamecube section for my thoughts on the slightly upgraded port.
Shenmue, which was also damn innovative and interesting, but I just couldn't manage to keep my interest in it for too long at a time, maybe because it was a bit too directionless. But it's something different - one of the first real "sandbox" games where you pretty much are able to do whatever it is you want to do, although in this case you have certain goals to meet.
Soul Calibur which I want to throw in mostly because I just don't really have any other fighting games, and this was one of the more interesting and fun ones. But since it's my list, and I'm just not the hugest fighting game fan, it doesn't quite make the cut for the main list.
Seventh Cross Evolution reminds me in some ways of Spore - you start out as a tiny single-cell organism and slowly devour other creatures, evolve your creature in different ways and eventually make your way onto land - but from what I recall I lost interest when the game just started feeling too aimless and unfortunately didn't have quite enough depth to keep me going.
Sonic Adventure, which deserves a shout-out just for being a pretty strong launch title, and for taking a simple concept and breathing a bit of new life into it with some RPG elements, and a creature-raising sidegame. It wasn't quite enough again to make the list, but it at least deserves some respect.
(Also: DUDE! What is with all the "S" titles for the Dreamcast?!?)
And... that should do it. The Dreamcast is already straining my memory and my game collection, so I'll avoid trying to go even further back. Although if anyone wants to discuss older games on other systems... be my guest! ;) I might even join in.
For now though... stick a fork in me, I'm done.
(Crossposted to stormfeather_vg once I get it tailored for it and all.)