Hi folks, Drew from PaXaN here. With the virus taking hold around the world many of us are going into isolation and spending more time in our homes that we might normally do. Inevitably, things might get a bit boring so we spoke with Jay Maksenuk, a close friend of the PaXaN team and Shanghai Super Smash Bros tournament host, and he suggested that we look to our collection of RPGs to get us through these long days. These RPGs are, each in their own way, lengthy titles that will keep you occupied for hours upon end and pay homage to some of gaming’s most beloved characters. With that in mind, here are 5 RPGs to get lost in. Beware of minor spoilers for the following games…
Final Fantasy Series
It would be ill fitting to start a list about RPGs without mentioning the genre titan that is the Final Fantasy series. With over 20 titles in the series it’s no wonder that finding someone who hasn’t played, or at least heard of these games is very improbable. The early games in the series coming from the mind of Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy actually started off as a last ditch effort for the, then struggling, studio Squaresoft. The title itself being designed around the idea of being a ‘last hurrah’ for both the team and the studio, reflecting both the financial state of the company and the emotional state of the director. The first game however was immensely popular with the RPG community, and quickly became one of the company’s bestselling titles in a matter of months. With such a huge success the studio was bound to create yet another title, but this time with some higher expectations. Over the years, the games have seen a multitude of different themes to don but each staying true to the original Squaresoft ethos. The majority of games with this iconic moniker are standalone outings, each with unique characters and settings but each with the same basic plot design at its core, goodies beat baddies and the world keeps spinning. The series is best defined by its recurring gameplay mechanics which have updated themselves with the times, and its adorable mascots the Moogle and the Chocobo. It can be said with a fair amount of validity that this series helped to popularize the RPG genre outside of Japan. With roaring orchestral scores, nuanced and relatable characters, a graphics engine that pushes itself to be as realistic as possible and iconic game mechanics it really is no wonder why this series has become such an industry classic.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Normally when someone thinks of Mario, they imagine a portly, Italian feller with a red cap gobbling down mushrooms and jumping on a Goomba or two. What they may not think of though is a game that takes inspiration from the aforementioned final fantasy series. This is exactly what Mario RPG is, a game with similar settings, mechanics and overall feel as some of the industry’s most beloved titles of an entirely different genre. Possibly even stranger than the idea of an ATB system (Active Time Battle) being used to control our menagerie of heroes is the fact that this game totally works as a premise, it was in short nothing but brilliant. Developed and released for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) back in 1996 our titular hero must team up a cast of characters, including regular antagonist Bowser, to take on a whole new group of villains, the Smithy Gang, and retrieve seven Star Pieces to fix the world and restore the power of wishes. Despite the fusion of Mario and Squaresoft being a match made in heaven, the game actually saw only limited success, due to the release of the N64 and flagship title Mario 64 just a couple of months later. It is actually rather difficult to get hold of a copy of the original game today, with the easiest way being to buy the Super NES Classic console and play it along with the other titles available. With its dedicated cult following Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a game that fans of the series will heartily recommend and a perfect way to whittle away an evening from the comfort of your own sofa.
Tales of Series
Stemming from Bandai Namco’s subsidiary company, Namco Tales Company, the Tales of Series has been delighting JRPG gamers the world over since the mid-90s. Making its debut as a franchise in 1995 on the Super Famicom, the Tales of Series has since seen 16 main entry titles, multiple spin-off games and plenty of supplementary media in the form of manga, anime and even several audio dramas. Following the staple of many JRPGs, the games within this series do not follow on from one another, with only a few exceptions to the more popular releases within the franchise. Newcomers to this series can play the majority of these titles without missing out on too much, however each iteration does contain cameos and easter eggs for long standing fans. Amongst its vast community, it is a widely agreed upon opinion that a newcomer to this series should start with either Tales of Symphonia or Tales of Xillia. Tales of Symphonia was initially released on the Nintendo Gamecube but was later ported to the PS3 as a 20th anniversary package along with its direct sequel, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of a New World. Tales of Xillia however was first released on PS3, also receiving a direct sequel in form of Tales of Xillia 2, however to this date only the initial Tales of Xillia game has made its way to the PS4 market. Looking at the overall story and characters for each title within the series it has to be said that the Tales of Series does not do much to break the JRPG mold which serves as both a blessing and a detriment. Playing through something that is new but has a familiar set of ideals and game mechanics can be relaxing and both the original Japanese and localized voice acting is top notch, complemented by a musical score that elevates the moments of both action and tension throughout the series. That being said it has to be pointed out that there are no ground breaking additions to any of the games within this long running series, so newcomers should be aware that they will very much be playing the DBZ (Dragon Ball Z) of JRPGs in terms of both story and character development predictability. If you are looking to get lost in a variety of 40+ hour games however, then much like DBZ, the Tales of Series offers a comforting and familiar journey.
Chronotrigger is a game near and dear to Editor Jay’s heart. Making its debut on the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1995 this game has been ported to a number of different consoles, including the Nintendo DS, the PS3 and even iOS/Android platforms. Being a product of its time, Chronotrigger sports 2D pixelated graphics as well as a dated, yet dependably charming, 16-bit soundtrack. This alone may be enough to sway newcomers away from this classic. However we here at PaXaN urge you to look beyond the relatively primitive elements and instead look deeper at how both the story and character development very much paved the way for both modern JRPGs and even Western RPGs. For those who have been fortunate enough to experience the story firsthand, you know what we’re talking about. If you haven’t had the chance or have been reluctant to give it a go, we implore you to play through this game. This comes from an era where story was king and it’s unfortunate that many developers nowadays have lost that magic that delighted the hearts and minds of so many gamers. If you are seeking to placate your nostalgia, experience a timeless classic or just waste away the hours traversing through one of the best written stories in the genre then Chronotrigger is the JRPG for you.
The Legend of Dragoon
The Legend of Dragoon is a game that despite its numerous flaws, odd gameplay mechanics and antiquated style of writing, I, Drew, can’t help but personally adore. This title came from a time when having long streaking silver hair and a giant sword was all you needed to be the antagonist of a story. The first release in Japan was for the PS1 in 1999, with western audiences not getting a full release until 2001. Nearing the end of the PS1’s life cycle, The Legend of Dragoon made some questionable choices in terms of its mechanical decisions. Having a similar combat style to the already renowned Final Fantasy series, developers at SCE Japan Studio tried to improve upon certain combat systems. In place of an option to use abilities or skills, each character learns ‘additions’ throughout their time in the game, some locked behind level progression and others through story gates. Individual additions will need to be selected before any combat round from the character menu screen. During combat, various colored boxes will begin to converge on one another when the player decides to attack an enemy. If the player is successful in pressing the corresponding button prompt then they get the chance to perform extra attacks with the number and effect of each attack being different for the various additions each character can learn. At first glance this seems like a relatively easy concept with only one or two button prompts appearing for the initial set of extra attacks, however that number quickly increases and players will find themselves panic mashing the button whenever they wish to kill a bad guy. Where this game shines the most is in its story and the ludicrous writing that comes along with it. Akin to a B-movie fantasy plot, the story whisks our intrepid heroes through a cavalcade of situations, each more predictably pleasing than the next. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect about the story, without giving away any spoilers, is the gall it has to subvert the predictably it seems to build itself upon at several key moments during the game. If nothing else, The Legend of Dragoon plants a sword in your hand, gives you the powers of a dragon and ushers you through a story that is nothing short of wonderfully ridiculous.
And that’s our list! It has long been an industry staple for any RPG to have a lengthy campaign that threatens to eat away at any spare time that you might normally have had. Given the state of things as they are and the world opting to socially distance itself from its own self, we believe these few suggestions may offer some slight distractions from the current chaos. Are there any time sinking RPGs that we missed out on? Do you have any suggestions for a future feature? Leave a like and comment down below and thanks for reading!
Author: Drew Lewis
Editor: Jay Maksenuk
Hi folks, Drew here from PaXaN. I am an up and coming video game journalist looking to inject your daily cravings for virtual screen time with various features on video games and the industry itself. Keep an eye on this space for more news and features on your favourite games both new and old. Have an idea for a feature piece or something you’d like for me to cover? Send me a message on WeChat or email me and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. WeChat ID: DrewAW, Email: [email protected]