There's something magical about the way the Persona series makes you feel simultaneously like an average school kid and the destined savior of the world. It's a quirky juxtaposition, to be sure — balancing school, friendships, and dungeon crawling with demons — but it works so well. The cast in P4 is endearing and relatable, the murder mystery plot is fun and interesting, the combat and dungeons are refined, and the music is arguably the best in the series. The rural setting also resonates with me in a big way, as it reminds me of the time I spent in Japan during college. The atmosphere and design of Inaba are so pitch perfect that it's almost like I'm back in Japan again, and just like my year abroad, I don't ever want the adventure to end.
I was so obsessed with this game that I bought a Japanese Wii to play it back when it seemed it would never be localized. I imported the European version because I couldn't wait for Nintendo of America to get their act together, and then I went ahead and bought the U.S. release too — because why not? I most recently upgraded to the New 3DS XL for no other reason than to — you guessed it — play Xenoblade. Is the game worth owning so many copies (and consoles)? Absolutely. The world design and sense of scale are fantastic, the story is perhaps Takahashi's most well-realized and complete effort to date, the characters are unique and interesting, and the music is some of the best in RPG history. Only the subpar graphics weigh the game down, and even they can't keep it from being recognized as the masterpiece it truly is.
Final Fantasy XII is not a perfect game, by any means. There are significant pacing problems in the second and third acts, and not all of the characters receive the development they deserve. However, despite its flaws, I still love this game for all the things it does right. The world of Ivalice is vibrant and varied, feeling much more like an actual place inhabited by real people with distinct cultures than most other games in the series. The story is dark and mature in nature, involving politics just as much as it involves the more stereotypical god-like beings known as the Occuria. Many of the characters are complex and interesting, playing with and then challenging our expectations based on the traditional archetypes they represent. The open world combat and tactical nature of the gambit system are a refreshing change of pace from previous entries in the series, and the game's hunts ensure you have plenty of opportunities to improve your skills and hone your strategy even outside of the main story. Finally, Final Fantasy XII has one of my favorite RPG soundtracks of all time. The music is full of beautiful themes for the characters, alliances, even the game itself, and it weaves those themes in and out of different pieces to create a score that feels connected, from cutscene accompaniment to field melodies to battle tunes.
Skies of Arcadia pretty much has it all: a big, interesting world to explore, an engaging storyline, lovable characters, fun combat, and a great score. It's a game that to this day still captures my attention and imagination whenever I see or play it. I keep hoping that we'll one day get an HD remake, not necessarily because the game needs the graphics update, but simply because I want to play it again and relive the good times I had flying the sometimes friendly, sometimes not-so-friendly skies. If you manage to find a copy and have the means to play it, be sure to snatch it up before some crazy air pirates steal this gem of an RPG away from you!
What Xenogears lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in sheer ambition. The story alone is staggering in its scope and complexity, with the game itself representing only one of six episodes originally planned to tell the space epic. The graphics may not look like much now, but I still find the combination of 3D backgrounds with 2D sprites to be charming. The main cast remains distinct and classic even after 17 years of semi-prequels and spiritual successors. The score is one of Yasunori Mitsuda's best, and Small Two of Pieces is still my absolute favorite theme song in a video game. And of course, let us not forget that you can ride around and fight in giant mechs. The gears may seem less exciting and unique now, but for me they were an intriguing novelty and the source of my interest in mechs in general. In short, Xenogears is not a perfect game, but for better or worse, it is the game I think of before all others when the topic of great RPGs comes up.