1997 was quite a year in the world of video games. Especially for RPG fans
around the world. As many of you know, a good RPG was hard to find back
before 1997. Certainly you could pick up Final Fantasy III or Phantasy Star
IV, but the problem was the amount of time that came between these RPGs. A
good RPG took 60 hours to beat, but the distance between Final Fantasy III
and Chrono Trigger was nearly a year. What was an RPG fanatic to do?!
So 1997 came along, and our friends at Square released a little title we all
know as Final Fantasy VII. This game, as far as I'm concerned, will
probably always be the greatest RPG in history. Not because of the story
and the characters and the game play (which many seem to be turning sour on
these days, I really liked FFVII, and still love it), but because of what it
did. It broke the barrier. It showed these corporate big wigs up in the
tall skyscrapers that RPGs sell too, and the month that all of this went
down, video game companies immediately started their preparations to out
duel the Square hit. So 1998 would bring us several classic titles right?
Yes. So the RPG of the Year award is debatable?
You bet it is. With 1998 coming to a close, RPG fans have had much to sing
about. For the first time ever, the Role Playing Games have had such a good
quality, that the award for RPG of the Year is a complete toss up! For the
past few years, now World Superpower, Square has dominated this category
with titles like Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger (Which was Nintendo
Power's Game of the Year, voted in by the players, by the way) and last
year's mega hit, Final Fantasy VII. This year, however, Square's back is
against the wall, and there's some new hitters stepping to the plate.
Arcade companies like Namco and Capcom have thrown their hats into the ring,
while RPG staple companies such as Atlus and Working Designs, like always,
have been busting their humps to bring us the best possible games. Here are
the contenders out there for this title:
Final Fantasy Tactics (Square- PSX)
Saga Frontier (Square- PSX)
Parasite Eve (Square- PSX)
Xenogears (Square- PSX)
Breath of Fire 3 (Capcom- PSX)
Tales of Destiny (Namco- PSX)
Azure Dreams (Konami- PSX)
Kartia (Atlus- PSX)
Brigandine (Atlus- PSX)
Tactics Ogre (Atlus- PSX)
Granstream Saga (THQ- PSX)
Lunar: Silver Star Story (Working Designs- PSX)
Panzer Dragoon Saga (Sega- Saturn)
Shining Force III (Sega- Saturn)
Quest 64 (THQ- N64)
Whew! That's quite a list! The longest ever! You'll notice I left out
adventure games, such at Alundra (Working Designs- PSX), Magic Knight
RayEarth (Working Designs- Saturn), Brave Fencer Musashiden (Square- PSX),
and of course, Zelda 64 (Nintendo- N64). Simply, I view these as what the
are, action adventure games with a touch of role playing. I honestly
shouldn't include the strategy RPG titles, such as Final Fantasy Tactics and
Shining Force III, but after the year we're having, I think they deserve it!
So, there is our list of contenders. Each game has its ups and downs, and
most certainly has it's fans. However, I think when it's all said and done,
everyone should be able to agree on two titles as the top two contenders for
RPG of the Year. Of course, I'm talking about Square's own XenoGears, and
Working Designs' Lunar: Silver Star Story. Which one will win? Well, I've
broken down each game into some categories below to show my view on the
games, and which of the two I think will walk away with the trophy. So
without any further delay....
Xenogears- Hand drawn anime characters on fully rotatable polygonal
backgrounds. The anime in this game is very nicely drawn, with a lot of
detail. The mechs, or "Gears", are also polygonal, and done so very well
too. Square's graphics team never ceases to amaze me.
Lunar- Everything's hand drawn here. The character sprites, the
backgrounds, the spell effects, everything. The anime (which boasts more
than XenoGears, by the way) is stunning. The backgrounds are absolutely
Advantage- Xenogears. Lunar's character and enemy sprites appear a little
too 16 bittish to be competing with XenoGears. It's been a long time since
Square's been out dueled in this area. Although, neither of these games
live up to the graphical excellence of Final Fantasy VII.
Xenogears- A very good score. It's worth owning the soundtrack to, as well.
While not as good as say the Final Fantasy Tactics score released earlier in
the year, this is still a good set of tracks. Better than 90% of the RPGs
Lunar- Also a good score. The opening intro music is lovely, and Victor
Ireland can write music from time to time ;). This is also worth owning the
soundtrack to. I also like the idea that this is not just a remixed score.
It's almost a totally different set of music.
Advantage- Xenogears. This is a close call, and I'm probably going to take
some heat for it, but I honestly think that Square did it again here. I
don't know if all their composers hang around Nobuo Uematsu's place or what,
but they always put out a very good soundtrack with all their games.
Xenogears- Completely new and unique, like nothing anyone has ever played.
Sound familiar? It should if you're a Square fan. Square is extremely
talented in taking battle systems, improving them, and then improving them
on top of that as they go along. In XenoGears it's a combo system. Damage
done is based upon the combination of the buttons you push. Special combos,
or "Deathblows" are learned by experimenting with certain button
combinations. Don't worry though, the deathblows are all preprogrammed, and
once you learn one, you can't really forget it. The Gear battle system is
pretty solid as well, although not as cool as the actually person battles.
The Gears draw upon the knowledge that their pilots already know and execute
them to the best of their ability on the battle field, of sorts. It's hard
to explain, but very cool, and darn right addictive!
Lunar- "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That's what best sums up the
approach of Lunar. Very standard, easy to learn, but quite solid. Magic is
based upon certain characters. You actually have healers and wizards
(someone tell me where Final Fantasy went wrong in this regard?), and
warriors. Nothing to elaborate or fancy, but honestly, does it really need
to be overhauled?
Advantage- Xenogears. That system is just so addicting! One of the most
addicting battle systems I've ever played with (excluding Dragon Force and
Final Fantasy Tactics, of course). You'll sit there for hours pounding
different buttons, seeing what you can learn to do and how cool they look on
the battle field (some of those deathblows are too sweet). Taking nothing
away from Lunar's battle system, but Square did a lovely job on XenoGears.
Hats off to ‘em.
Xenogears: A surprisingly good translation from Square. Many were worried
that the religious overtones in this game would bring Mr. Censorship out of
his hole, but let's give Square credit for sticking to their guns and
putting out a pretty good translation. However, the anime dubbing is
absolutely pathetic. It's been some time since I've seen such a bad job of
anime dubbing. It's like an animated Jackie Chan movie at times. I
certainly hope Square learns from their mistakes on this one and does a
better job next trip around.
Lunar: What else would you expect from Working Designs? They only translate
their games 500 million separate times to catch every spelling error and
misprint possible. They are also extremely talented and pretty good anime
Advantage- Lunar. I dare someone to find me a better translated game than a
Working Designs title. You just won't find it, guys. Working Designs is a
the best of the best in this area.
Xenogears: Not bad, but not as good as Final Fantasy VII either. After
putting together such a band of loved characters like Cloud, Tifa and
Aerith, you'd think that they'd bring out some good ones for this one too.
While Elly has a good plotline behind her (which backs up my claim that
females always make the best RPG characters) and you just have to love Bart,
some of the other characters, like Rico and Maria, have a hard time fitting
into your scheme of things. (And while I'm at it, I'd like to say what a
stupid name Fei Fong Wong is.) Someone told me that they think the
XenoGears characters are more believable than characters from say, Final
Fantasy VII. Well, I don't know about you but I don't play RPGs for
believability, and what's so believable about a gun toting man of god, a
screwy mutant and a cutesy pink thing anyway? :) So this batch of characters
isn't bad, but it's not the best either. A good portion of the characters
needed some overhauls.
Lunar: Good characters. Very good characters. There's no grey area here,
you love or hate ‘em. You'll love Jessica, and hate Nash, or something to
that effect. I'm glad to see that Alex's "Crono Syndrome" (the main
character never says anything, just nods and shakes his head like an idiot,
this term was made popular around the time of Chrono Trigger) has been
cured, and actually has a personality. These characters also have an
attitude, and all fit in very well.
Advantage- Lunar. Now we're getting into the meat and potatoes portion of
the RPGs. If you don't have good characters, you just don't have a good
RPG. While XenoGears did give it a good run, with some cool characters,
Lunar hits you with a entire cast of stellar characters. Ghaleon is by far
one of the slickest bad guys you'll ever lay eyes on. Stick him in the
baddie hall of fame with Magus and Sephiroth kiddies, because this guy a
baaaaad man. (And his voice is so..so..calculating! You can just imagine
how wicked he really is!)
Xenogears: As I mentioned before, I am so happy to see Square stick to their
guns with this game. It's no big mystery where all these religious
references come from, and you can change the names around all you want, but
we still know the story :). I love this storyline, it's very slick. Square
has nothing to be ashamed of, even if the religious activists come down on
them. This is a top notch storyline! The plot twists are great, and all
around just a winner. I also can't help but think that some of the themes
in this game was "borrowed" from the Japanese Anime series, Neon Genesis
Evangelion. This isn't a bad thing, of course, Evangelion kicks total butt,
but it did remind me of the series in some parts.
Lunar: Also a winner. A big winner, in fact. Lunar's strong points have
always been in the storyline. The few references that you'll find from
other stories or religions will be very slight here, because this storyline
and everything leading up to it is 100% original home grown material, boys
and girls. Superb twists, and like a good punch, you'll never see it
comin'. (Unless, of course, you're a Lunar Alumni, like me ;D.)
Advantage: Lunar. This is the closest race. Honestly, dividing these two
up against each other is like slamming a Ferrari and a Porshe head to head.
Why do it? But in the end, I find that Lunar's storyline is more original.
XenoGears, however, is still a top notch RPG story. I just think towards
the end, Lunar boasts a better storyline.
So the 1998 RPG of the Year is...Lunar: Silver Star Story! A great game,
especially when matched up against such a good line up of RPGs this year.
None of the companies this year have anything to be ashamed of with their
releases (Except maybe THQ, Quest 64 just flat out sucked), and 1999
promises to be even better with Lunar 2, Final Fantasy VIII, Dragon Quest
VII, Suikoden 2, and who knows what else!?
These are games, that while I really enjoyed them, I don't think they'll be
taking home the hardware this year. My hat's off to the companies who
released them though. I hope we see more of these titles in the coming
Final Fantasy Tactics (Square- PSX)- The absolute most addicting game I've
played since Dragon Force. The battle system, which I normally don't like,
is mixed in well with the Final Fantasy V job system, and you'll stayed
glued to your ‘sets trying to learn all the skills for all the character
Why it didn't win- The story was good, but the characters were hard to
distinguish (since they all looked pretty much the same..the noseless
wonders. Lucia proves Lunar women don't have nipples, and FFT shows that FF
characters don't have noses. It goes hand in hand). Otherwise it's a
wonderful game, and should be owned by any RPG fan.
Panzer Dragoon Saga (Sega- Saturn)- Next to XenoGears, the Panzer Saga
battle system is the next most inventive. I really liked the way this game
looked and played. The story was strong too, but not as involved as some of
the other RPGs out there. You can get lost quickly, and not really know
what's going down.
Why it didn't win- Well, first of all, it was easy and short. While the
battle system was inventive, it was also pretty easy to figure out. The
characters were also somewhat bland. Also there's an item called
"Stolarium." Naming anything in an RPG after RPG Nazi, Bernie Stolar, is
like pouring lemon juice on a paper cut. Just the text "Stolarium"
appearing on my screen made me want to vomit.
Tales of Destiny (Namco- PSX)- Like Lunar, Tales of Destiny relies on a very
strong central storyline and excellent characters. This is a must buy for
any die hard RPG fan. You will fall in love with the characters and the
swordians, and continue playing for the very deep storyline. Also, the
translation is very solid.
Why it didn't win- Unfortunately, that's all it had. The battle and magic
system were original, but too qwirky to use. The graphics were not as good
either. Plus it kind of annoyed me that the intro was all done in that
awesome Japanese anime, but during the game there were no cut scenes.
Parasite Eve- (Square- PSX)- Like it's sister Square game, XenoGears,
Parasite Eve boasts one of those totally neato battle systems. Similar to
THQ's Grandsteam Saga, it plays like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy were
shoved into a blender. The storyline is pretty interesting as well, no
matter what the rags say. Plus, the graphics are just plain outstanding.
This will be a big seller, and a hit, because it'll draw in fans of the
Resident Evil series as well as RPGers.
Why it didn't win- Too easy. You might die once or twice, and most of the
time, the death results in a silly mistake, not because you weren't strong
enough. Too short. Unfortunately, when they stuck Final Fantasy and
Resident Evil in the blender, the length of the game came out RE. It's a
15~20 hour game, if that long. Most of the characters seemed to be a waste
too. Out of the entire cast, I only really found Aya and Eve interesting.
(Although you have to love Daniel, who I call "Shaft.") So it's a good
start, but not up to speed with a Lunar or XenoGears.
Let me say again though, that comparing these two great games head to head,
and showing that Working Designs has made a better RPG this year than
Square, isn't really the point. The point is that while I honestly think
that Lunar is better, that doesn't mean that XenoGears sucks, because it
doesn't. XenoGears is a stellar game, and without a doubt, if you claim to
be an RPG fan and you don't like XenoGears, then you're just flat out not an
I think that it's a great thing that we even have a debate for who will walk
away with the award this year, considering in past years it's been a pretty
big blow out. Final Fantasy VII, who didn't see that one coming? Best
selling RPG in the history of the world, how could it not win? Anyway, I'd
like to congratulate and thank all the companies who took the time and made
the effort to make that list of 15 games I posted above. These guys took
the time and put in the effort to translate and put together some of the
best experiences we've ever had for our consoles. Wether you're a Nintendo
Nerd, a Sega Advocate or even a Playstation Pinhead, (can you tell I am a
multiplatformer? :) ) I think that these companies deserve a lot of praise
for their fine works they put through this year. I look forward to 1999,
and hopefully even a bigger debate next year. Oh how I love a good debate!
Bring on Final Fantasy VIII, Lunar 2, Suikoden 2, Dragon Quest VII and
Grandia. I'm ready for ‘em!