In my last entry I took a break from mentioning RPGs. Since, however, RPGs are my favorite genre, you’re just going to have to live with a few more of them now.
Before we begin, I would like to briefly mention the first two games of both the Suikoden and Wild ARMs series. I have discussed them in more detail elsewhere, but all four are great games.
Lunar & Lunar 2: Originally released on Sega CD, these classic games were once again translated by Working Designs. Therein lies a lot of the appeal of the Lunars: Not only do you get a solid battle system, you also get a fun-filled localization. The voice acting leaves something to be desired, and the translation isn’t always true to the original, but the Lunars were the first games where I enjoyed simply running around talking to people in towns.
The plot is solid, if cliched (possibly because Lunar was a cliche-starter), and overall it’s a great time. Often, when you talk to a townsperson, it won’t be simply a “times are tough” or “I hear there’s a dragon in the ice dungeon” – there will be an actual conversation between that individual and your party.
The Lunars are a little bit on the difficult side if you’re used to, say, the cakewalk that was FFX, but neither will they force you to level. They’re not incredibly expensive, but if you want to try to get the soundtracks that originally came with the games as well, you’ll end up paying more.
Valkyrie Profile: Possibly the most notoriously rare PSX game, Valkyrie Profile’s price is impressive. Although the PSP remake is far easier to find, cheaper, and (reports say) better, the PSX original is still a good game. Whether it’s $100 good, I’m not certain. The cutscenes are well-done, with half-decent voice acting (for the time) and several genuinely sad stories. Multiple endings and a nice skill system will keep you going.
The battle system is a little bit too simple for my taste, but it’s timing-based, making it more Action-RPGish than most. The dungeon exploration is also heavier on action than most RPGs, including some neat maneuvers you can do to reach far-off treasure chests. Unfortunately, you can only experience the entire game on the Hard difficulty setting, which will involve a bit more grinding. Seeing all the characters’ stories and all the dungeons is worth it, though.
Dragon Warrior VII: If you want a difficult, long game, this one’s got your number. Very little of it is new, and it tends to plod on, but this is probably the most hardcore standard RPG I’ve ever seen. You don’t even see one of the main mechanics of the game (the Job system) until about 25 hours in. It’s heavy on the grinding, has no voice acting, and fairly bland 3-d mixed with some nice sprites, but there is always the appeal of a game that is so epic in size. As a plus, it’s about half as expensive as Valkyrie Profile – and you’ll get probably twice the gameplay in a playthrough. Just don’t expect it to be very polished, innovative, or pretty, and do expect it to be difficult and occasionally confusing.
Azure Dreams: Ahh, the Diablo of the Playstation. Yes, I do realize there is in fact a Diablo for the Playstation – but it just doesn’t feel as right as Azure Dreams. If you take a turn-based dungeon crawler, mix in some dating elements, and convert it to a cheesy anime style, you might have something vaguely like this game. For those more experienced among you, Azure Dreams is a Roguelike – each time you move, every monster on the floor moves as well.
This is one of those games I come back to every couple of years. It drags a bit towards the end, making it difficult to want to make any progress. The sim elements keep the game interesting early on, but they are a bit too simple and nothing new. For a dungeon-based game, though, I find it oddly addictive. It also saw a toned-down version released as a Game Boy Color game.
Obviously, there are several more PSX RPGs I haven’t mentioned here. These are only the games I can personally recommend – the PSX had so many games that every so often I hear about a good one I didn’t know existed, to say nothing of the PS2. It may seem a bit strange to play old, pixellated or jaggy games on a shiny new console, but it’s better than letting it collect dust, right?