|Mini RPG reviews and random thoughts.
Here are some ramblings on RPGS that I have finished as well as some issues.
Baldur's Gate (PC)
Three years ago, Baldur's Gate was the biggest game in the PC world. All the reviews I read made it seem like the ultimate RPG. The big problem with Baldur's Gate is that the story only occurs in the beginning and end of the game. 50 hours of the 60+ needed to win the game are about side quests which have little to do with the main story: who you are and who is after you. After the half way point I started losing interest because it was just meaningless side quests. When I finally found out the truth in the end, I didn't even care. There was no build up, no clues.
Another problem is that the game may have huge cities/towns, but they are filled with similar looking people with similar lines when you talk to them. The city of Baldur's gate is very troublesome to explore (the city has 6 areas that each require loading) but most of the buildings are smiliar and the inhabitants say the same thing.
I kind of enjoyed Baldur's Gate but I found it highly overrated and was disappointed no one thought the same. Don’t expect too much and you will enjoy the game.
Summoner has great story and atmosphere. This may be because its also a PS2 game, but it is one of the most memorable RPG games I have played. The last boss fight is one of the best ever. I highly recommend this game. One thing I like about the game are the side quests. Basically you can accomplish the side quests during the main quests and some of them actually have something to do with the main story. Unlike many PC rpgs, there is actual character development and plot development. One fault with the game is that the enemies respawn and if you get lost, it can get irritating. If story in the second half of the game were done better, this game would be an RPG classic. The most overlooked PC RPG.
Look out for the extra movie after the credits. Anyone with fond memories of AD&D will love it.
Very generic RPG using the FF Tactics engine. Every character has short/long range magic etc. There are no more than 8 different types of non boss enemies throughout the game! The game is mercifully short. (20 hours) Stay away.
Final Fantasy 9 (PSX)
Gameplay wise, much better than FF8's horrible gameplay. The characters are much more interesting and much more memorable. Unfortunately, the story is very run of the mill, although executed very well. The story is basically a combination of FF6 and 7. Can't Square come up with any original story? Why can't they create a hero who does not have a memory problem? (Xenogears, FFVI, VII, VIII, IX) The most interesting characters are Vivi and Steiner and Square should have made the stories revolve around them more. There is a lot of potential for political intrigue with 3 kingdoms but everything is so straightforward it is so boring. The first disc is good but playing disc 2 and 3, I get a sense that I've played the game many times. FF9 also suffers from having poor enemy selection. In disc 3 I'm still fighting owls and crabs. I was so happy when I finally fought some giant troll creatures. Insects should stay only in the first 3 hours of every RPG. Worse of all is the final boss. FF8 had crap gameplay but great story and atmosphere. I played 30 hours of FF8 over the weekend because I couldn't wait to see what happens next. Its as if Square only knows how to write one type of story. However, compared to other RPGs out there, FF9 is still pretty good.
Final Fantasy Tactics (PSX)
Great story, great gameplay and great ending. If you have not played Tactics, go and get the game!
I have not finished this game. The reason is this: one can only have 3 members in a group and you have to leave the other members in the beginning of an area. Every member has a skill. I encountered something that needed the skill of someone I left behind so I had to backtrack all the way just to get him. I used the skill to solve the obstacle and moved on. Moments later, I encountered something that needed the skill of the team member I had left behind at the start of the are. I'm pretty pissed with all the backtracking and haven't touched the game for a month.
Even in the beginning of the game there is a lot of running around. A lot of reviews say that the story slowly gets interesting and it does, but all the meaningless back and forth is frustrating. The game uses an FF like engine (real time-turn base) small grid system, ie melee fighters need to move next to enemy to hit them.
Front Misson 3 (PSX)
Front Mission 3 is a strategy RPG with robots. The appeal of the game is that you can customize your robots. You can specialize in missiles/shotgun/machine gun/melee etc. The more you use a certain attack, the better you get. However a few battles, there's no point changing your specialty since you have to start from scratch and basic level attacks do crap damage.
There are two storylines in the game. The story is decent but does not build up to anything. Above average.
Chrono Cross (PSX)
I have no idea why so many reviews speak so highly of Chrono Cross. Your 'magic' is replenished after every battle so just use your strongest magic every time. The battle system is much more like FF and Chrono Trigger. There are something like 30 characters but there's not much story behind each of them. Chrono Trigger had much fewer characters and took the time to develop each of their stories. Not to mention the very boring ending.
Chrono Cross feels more like FF7 1/2. Its still an above average RPG but like most of Square's games, overhyped.
Golden Sun (GBA)
Great graphics and great gameplay. The graphics look a lot like Shining the Holy Ark. Even the characters/enemies/music/S.E. look/sound the same. The battles are fast which is good. IMO, rpg battles should be short because you are going to see hundreds of them. They even have a better assortment of enemies to fight than FF9! Golden Sun uses a summon + materia like system. Basically there are four types of summon creatures to equip and different combinations give you different spells and character classes. The problem is, if you decide to change, your stats will drop a lot. They should have made the classes more balanced so that it is easier to experiment.
The biggest problem with the game is the story. It is your generic run of the mill save the world story, though there's nothing wrong with that. Problem is, you only get into the story at the end of the game. Forgot to mention is game is only chapter one. Shining Force has a run of mill story but the story was always moving, giving you more reason to complete the battle just to see what would happen. I played the game in 1-2 hour sessions because nothing was happening with the story. Worst of all is the dialogue. A lot of the long dialogues are about the most mudane of things. The characters talk to each other as if they ave an IQ of 75. Whoever wrote the story and dialogue should be shot, hanged and then shot again just to make sure.
Golden Sun could be a classic game if only the story and talking were better. Is it worth buying? Its definitely better than most BGA games which are just better looking Gameboy games with the same crap Gameboy gameplay. I sincerely hope part 2 will be a great improvement.
Legend of Dragoon (PSX)
Legend of Dragoon is beautiful game with run of mill story. Actually the concept of the story is interesting, only that the execution of it was lacking. What I loved about it is the battle system. You can do combos by pressing a button at a certain time. The timing is very strict and the longer combos require lots of practice. A friend complained that he found it too hard. I'd admit it can be hard but it was fun and required some skill. Winning the game is not about training but about being able to pull of the combos. Concentration is very important. Legend of Dragoon is a well done RPG with nothing that most gamers have not seen before. However, I greatly enjoyed the challenge of learning and executing the combos consistently.
To Train or not to Train
My idea of a great RPG is one where you do not need to train to beat the game. RPGs are not about skill. You beat an RPG because you put more time into it. If you can't beat a boss, just go and train some more. Because its not a game of skill, my main reason for playing is the story. There are points in RPGs where you have to fight for hours so that you have buy the new weapons/beat the boss etc.
I have two confessions to make: I used a hack to finish FF9. Why? I was at the end of the game and needed huge sums of money to buy lots of equipment and then learn new skills needed to defeat the bosses. Why should I waste a few hours just fighting random battles? Where's the FUN and ENTERTAINMENT in that? My second one is that I used my friend's save game to beat FF8. Why? Squall was level 40 and the rest of characters were at level 20. I didn't have the weapon upgrades and couldn't do the limit breaks. I was stuck fighting a boss . Try as I may, my characters were not powerful enough to defeat them let alone the final boss. I had played through the game without training and looking for weapon upgrades. My characters did basically no damage with their normal attacks. I was so sick of the summons. Since your enemies' levels were based on Squall's, I was screwed.
Langrisser/Shining Force series are one of my favourite RPGs. Firstly the game is very tactical and there is no need to train. Whether I win is not because of my levels or my tactics. Secondly, something always happens after every battle so there's more reason for me to go on. There are people who will spend hours just to get all the magic spells/items or get the golden chocobo etc.
I do feel guilty about FF9 because I feel like I did not complete the game. However, having to train 4 hours just to fight the stupid idea of a boss is no motivation. FF8 I have no regrets. The gameplay sucked and I was sick to hell with guardian force. There was no way I could beat the bosses with guardian force. What's worse is that the game offers no clues on where to get weapon upgrades. You just have to walk around fighting boring random battles hoping the enemy drops it.
RPGs to put it broadly are like interactive movies. More advanced versions of Dragons Lair and older fmv games without the need for reflexes. You just have to press the right button.
PC vs Console
PC gamers critisize console RPGs for being linear. The question is whether PC rpgs are really non linear? I haven't played a lot of PC RPGs I have an idea on what most are like. The best example would be Baldur's Gate. Sure you can be chaotic evil but there's no point. If you're evil everyone will attack you on sight and the shops will raise their prices? There's no point giving me the freedom to be evil when there's nothing to be gained from it.
For a lot of PC games you are given a lot of side quests and the non linear part of it is that you can do it in any order you like. By giving so many side quests, the developers can't concentrate the story and any and they all feel like your run of the mill, kill everything in sight. The only story is the generic looking town person/villager fetch/recue/kill something and the gratitude when you walk back and talk to them. In the end , you still have to do the main quests in order to advance. At the end, Baldur's Gate has only one ending.
PC rpgs don't have character development. Another example would be Might and Magic/Pool of Radiance. You create your characters, do the hundreds of quests and then fight the final boss. There's no story involving your characters' history etc. When the main character in BG found out the truth, there's no emotional responce. They expect the gamer to be the character. That is experice the shock of finding the truth while the on screen character does not. They expect you to 'be' the main character. Computer RPGs are different of AD&D (pen+paper RPGs). You are not playing interacting with autonomous teammates and a game/dungeon master who can change his mind at any time.
There are some RPGs that are different like Fallout but I would consider them the exception rather than rule. I am not saying PC rpgs suck. I am addressing the fact that many PC game review sites tend to look down upon console games and anything that is linear. And these same sites gave high marks to Max Payne and Metal Gear, two very linear games. These sites love RPGs that have over 60 hours of meaningless side quests. You don't read stuff about pacing of story or character development. Again, I'm not against PC rpgs. I'm against their holier than console RPGs attitude.
My top 10 RPGs in no particular order:
1)Final Fantasy Tactics
2)Shining Force 2
4)Lands of Lore (very old but classic PC game)
6)Terra Phantastica (Saturn)
8)Grandia (Saturn version, not the PSX version with pathetic voice acting)
On a side note, I finished FFVI and VII without cheating. :)
- Michael Tham