September 11, 2016 Now that the current generation of home consoles is well and truly in swing, it's safe to say that the sun has finally started to set on the PlayStation 3. But that doesn't mean it's all over yet; in fact, it's the perfect time to look back at the PS3's excellent Classics library of digital PS1 and PS2 titles.
Our editorial department put their collective heads together to vote on the staggering range of retro RPGs that Sony made available between 2006 and 2016, and they came up with a list of the 30 crucial offerings worth your time. And, of course, a good deal of these titles are also playable on PSP and/or PS Vita!
Sixteen years after the Dunan Unification War of Suikoden II, conflict has reached the northern Grassland territory. The Zexen army has invaded, rending control of the area from its indigenous people and slaughtering any and all who stand up against them. It is on this battlefield that three Stars of Destiny meet: the mercenary leader Geddoe, Chris of the Zexen Knights, and Hugo, a child of the Karaya Clan. Each on a different side of the conflict, these three will change the face of the world forever.
The first fully 3D Suikoden title also happened to be the last one that series creator Yoshitaka Murayama worked on before leaving Konami. Suikoden III is best known for its brilliant Trinity Sight System, which allows players a Rashōmon-esque view of the Grasslands war from all sides. Suikoden III may be a little smaller in scope than its predecessors, but it still manages to be an unforgettable experience with 108 unique characters to recruit to your cause.
The reason so many people are excited for Persona 5 comes down to this beauty of a game. After the success of Persona 3, Atlus produced their most competent and accessible entry to date, overhauling some of the more outdated mechanics and introducing a quirky and upbeat world where a string of murders and the ability to transport yourself through a TV screen is the norm. It fine-tunes everything Persona 3 did right, but makes it more user friendly. You can now control every character in your party, and the collection of Personas is now easier than ever. Persona 4's fantastic cast of characters will keep you entertained throughout this murder-mystery— it doesn't matter whether you're studying for exams, helping out a fox or battling shadows in a strip club, this game is guaranteed to occupy your time for hours. Persona 4 Golden might improve on everything again, but if you're lacking a handheld to play it on, Persona 4 is where the frenzy started, and you'd be silly not to give it a go.
Final Fantasy VII might be the least surprising entry on our list, and for good reason. Not only does it sit firmly in the upper echelon of best RPGs of all time, it's widely considered one of the greatest video games ever made. It pretty much hit on all of the right notes when it was released in 1997. The first Final Fantasy game released in 3D, its pre-rendered backgrounds, CGI cutscenes, and blocky, deformed character models were in stark contrast to the limited sprites of 16-bit era. The music by Nobuo Uematsu was absolutely phenomenal. The introduction of the Materia magic system did away with character classes and allowed for fully customizable (albeit cookie-cutter) party members. Despite some localization issues, the story was truly epic and filled with memorable characters, including possibly the most infamous RPG villain of all time. The dual struggles of the protagonist and antagonist to come to terms with their identities played well off of each other, leading to a satisfying conclusion and one of gaming's most memorable final battles. The story also touched on some interesting topics, though sometimes indirectly, such as ecoterrorism and bioethics. The critical and commercial success of FFVII in the West also paved the way for publishers to take chances on bringing more JRPGs to western audiences. If nothing else, that fact alone makes FFVII one of the most influential titles in gaming history.
When Sony Computer Entertainment released The Legend of Dragoon in the US in 2000, it did so within a newly booming Western JRPG market opened up by Square's Final Fantasy series. As such, it was in direct competition with a series and developer that had been firmly established for years and just hitting its stride. The result, as you can imagine, was that poor LoD never really had a shot at coming close to the success (or money maker) that was Final Fantasy. Still, LoD is perfectly capable of standing on its own merits. The graphics and cinematic sequences were top notch for the time, the limited voice acting strong, the story (though slow to get going) immersive and ultimately satisfying, and the combat engaging and fun. LoD's Addition system provided a new spin on battles that broke away from the 'select-Attack-then-watch-the-action' syndrome that was a staple of JRPGs and required the player to be active and continuously engaged. It was also fairly challenging at times and players couldn't generally coast through the game after a certain point like some of its contemporaries. It certainly had it's issues, namely the uneven translation, but LoD provided enough charm that it's achieved cult classic status among PlayStation JRPG fans. It's a shame that this series has been left to gather dust on the shelf. How about a remake or, better yet, The Legend of Dragoon 2?
It's baffling how mismanaged the Parasite Eve franchise has been when the first game was so unbelievably good. Parasite Eve 2 has its fair share of fans (the less said about The 3rd Birthday, the better), but the original Parasite Eve is one of the best examples of its premise, which is the combination of the mechanics of a Squaresoft RPG with the cinematic flair of a Hollywood blockbuster, with a dusting of survival horror added for good measure. The result is a game that doesn't sacrifice depth for the sake of its brevity. Sure, you can breeze right through Parasite Eve in about ten hours, but throw in a couple of nifty hidden secrets and a challenging bonus dungeon, and you could find yourself investing much more time into this 32-bit rendering of New York City. And while it's trying to imitate cheesy Hollywood schlock, the story here is actually pretty engaging, with a healthy dose of Cronenburg-esque body horror and JRPG sensibilities congealing together to create an unforgettable experience. Our Retro Encounter crew did a whole podcast series on Parasite Eve if you need any further convincing that you absolutely need to play this PlayStation classic.
Here it is, folks: The game that codified every Megami Tensei title that has come after it. The first mainline SMT title to see an official Western release, Nocturne is a sprawling beast of a game set in the blasted desert of post-apocalyptic Tokyo, a land that has folded in on itself like the interior of a globe, governed by the light of a demonic sun. It's in this lawless world of demons, gods, ghosts, and dolls that the Demi-Fiend — what was once a boy, turned demonic abomination — struggles against his harsh environment, both killing and enticing demons to his side.
Nocturne is an extremely open-ended game, in which your choices determine your alignment and your ending path. However, alignment isn't as simple as Good vs. Evil, as a large range of ideologies are open for you to pursue. Whether you wish to return the world to its previous state, rule the new world with an iron fist, or march to the depths of Hades to join the ranks of Lucifer himself, the choice is yours, and you're in for one hell of a ride.
Before Famitsu was handing out perfect scores (40/40) like candy, Vagrant Story was one of the early winners. Despite being a departure from his usual tactical RPGs (Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre), game designer Yasumi Matsuno brought to life an incredible 3rd-person dungeon crawler that was a strange, but well-functioning hybrid of action and turn-based RPG. Exploration and movement are also key throughout this single-player, single-character journey. The hero, Ashley Riot, spends the entirety of the game in the ancient/forgotten/forbidden city of Leá Monde. But Ashley's never alone for long, though the humans he encounters between the beasts and the undead are more often hostile than friendly. There's a mystery unraveling throughout the story, and the "villains" are not always who you may think they are. Top it all off with a cohesive visual environment and a stellar soundtrack by Matsuno's musical BFF, Hitoshi Sakimoto, and you have an unforgettable RPG from Square's 32-bit era.
When a developer takes a classic series like Mega Man and gives it a new twist, you never know if they'll end up creating something messy and terrible, or fun and original. Fortunately, the amazing Mega Man Legends definitely falls into the latter category. Mega Man Legends takes the lovable characters of the series and places them in a whole new world that is not only fun to explore, but filled to the brim with interesting characters and stories to uncover. From the wacky hijinks of the Bonne family to the mysterious depths of the dig sites, there's much to love about this game and its sequel, which is also available on PSN. It's a shame that the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 means we'll never see the intended conclusion to this series, but what we've got is pretty good.
The Mana series has always been known for its colorful world, great music, and action-based combat that made it stand out from the other JRPGs of the time. Legend of Mana improved upon all of those aspects, but took its own liberties with its story and gameplay. Unlike previous Mana titles, the narrative and gameplay of Legend of Mana were very open-ended: You could go where you wanted, finish the stories you felt were important, and even complete the game before seeing everything the game offered. In the world of JRPGs this was almost unheard of, but for Legend of Mana, it made its world feel alive, and filled that need to explore and adventure at your own pace that its JRPG contemporaries lacked. Legend of Mana is classic that is worth your time, but give it time to grow on you as it might not be what you're expecting out of the box.
Disgaea is a strategy RPG of extremes. Special attacks regularly annihilate entire planets. Players can level characters up to 9,999, reincarnate them back to level 1 (with higher stats), then do it again. Or level up equipment. Or increase enemy levels by bribing lawmakers. Or wipe out dozens of enemies at once with exploding rainbow tiles. The story's final boss is only level 90, but there is a plethora of post-game content; Disgaea encourages its players to exploit its absurd systems and throws level-4000 bonus bosses at them as incentive.
But looking beyond the huge numbers and over-the-top skills, Disgaea is full of personality and charm. Sure, the demon prince Laharl starts out an immature brat, but with help from his companions Etna and Flonne he undergoes real growth during his journey to become Overlord. On the surface Disgaea is an absurd anime-styled strategy RPG, but also boasts surprising depth in its RPG systems and tells a story with several poignant notes. Plus, you can throw incendiary penguins at space marines. That's pretty satisfying.