Introduction by Mike Salbato
When we put out the call for stories last month, we weren't sure what we were going to get. We know how dear RPGFan has been to us, as a labor of love for 20 years. And through comments over the years, from our forums, to email, to our 2017 Reader Survey, we know it's important to many of you too. In fact, it was that survey that helped to inspire this feature: We were so touched by some of the comments we received, but they were only seen by our eyes. We wanted to share your thoughts with the world, and also give our readers/listeners/viewers a stage to share their feelings.
Here, you'll find our favorite selections of the stories that you submitted to us. I've added commentary to each, as I wanted to make sure we've expressed our gratitude for the submissions (and shared any relevant, random nuggets of information). You'll see me express this again further down the page, but we will always continue to try and meet the standards that we've set and that you expect from us. Our sincere thanks go out to everyone who participated, and we hope you stick around for the next 20 years!
by Ben Hourigan
I discovered RPGFan sometime around 2001, while researching my honors thesis in Asian studies, which was about the way Final Fantasy VI, VII, and VIII seemed to respond to perceived social problems among Japanese youth. You can read a paper based on that thesis here. I'd been a fan of JRPGs for about six years at that point, having started by playing Final Fantasy I and IV in emulation on a 486 laptop at high school in Australia, often in the back of a final-year history class. But I had been playing RPGs far longer than that — my first one was the SSI gold-box Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989) on C64, which I can't say I enjoyed that much.
RPGFan was one of the sites I read to deepen my knowledge of JRPGs for fun and research, and to keep on top of what was coming out. Many of the others are now gone (and I can't even remember their names), but RPGFan is still around.
After the honors thesis, I started a PhD in cultural studies on political ideology in the RPG genre, looking at titles as far back as Akalabeth (1979), Richard Garriott's first game, before Ultima I. I dropped out eventually in 2005, which is a long story, but before that, I managed to write around 130,000 words of analysis of games from the very first RPGs up to Final Fantasy X.
That was more than ten years ago now. Since then, I lived in Japan for a year, worked in magazine publishing, and now I am a freelance copywriter and editor living in Southeast Asia. I kept tabs on RPGFan through RSS most of that time, and during an incredibly crazy and rather isolating year of overwork in 2017, I got back into playing RPGs just an hour a day for some much-needed escapism. In the past year, I've worked my way through Trails in the Sky First Chapter, and after reading So You Want to Get Into Ys, most of the Ys series.
Lately, while working, I've been listening to the Retro Encounter podcast from the beginning, and it's reminded me of my love for the genre and its history. When I was a graduate student, I was always struck by how much better the fan community knew and understood video games than academics did, and I think that's almost certainly still true. Hearing the RPGFan team talk about those old games has made me dream of having another crack at the doctorate, not necessarily for the academic career but just to finish the work, perhaps by writing about how RPGs have changed in the decade since I abandoned the task. Thanks for helping to reawaken my old enthusiasm.
Stories like this always make me proud of our team. It's easy to fall prey to the "we're just writing and talking about video games" mindset, but it's always nice to hear the impact our presence can have on people.
by Mohamed Mamoun
I can't believe it's 20 years already!
I still remember the first time I was introduced to RPGFan. It was in 2000 through the UK show Cybernet, where RPGFan was described as one of the best, "if not the only," websites fully dedicated to RPGs. I could not wait to tell my friends in school about it the next morning.
Since then, RPGFan has been my first reference to decide whether or not to purchase any RPG. Personally, the highlight of my memories with RPGFan was when NieR was released in 2010. RPGFan was, in my recollection, the only website that gave the game an excellent review; other websites at the time focused on graphics, control, or something else, while RPGFan highlighted how great the story was. I don't think I would have played NieR and had that amazing experience if not for Patrick Gann's review. So thank you, RPGFan, and I hope we meet again on your 50th anniversary.
NieR seems like one of those games that you're just going to like or you're not. Glad that we helped you discover it! (More importantly, I had no idea we ever got mentioned on a show in the UK.)
I discovered RPGFan through its Random Encounter podcast. I have a rather banal job, so over the years, podcasts have become critical for my mental health. In searching for podcasts that revolved around my interests, I came across Random Encounter and then, once it was created, Rhythm Encounter. Rhythm Encounter, specifically, became my favorite podcast out of all of them, and I soon made a forum account on RPGFan.com just to talk about it. That led me to grow fond of the entire community: the writers/editors and my fellow forum dwellers. The site and its contributors are a staple of my life now, oddly enough. So much so that I actually know the first names of many contributors and often fantasize about being able to contribute myself. There has been many a long drive or slow work day where listening to Rob, Derek, Caitlin, or Alana talk about some cool new game, mechanic, tune, etc. put a smile on my face or made me eager to experience it for myself. I've had so many excellent discussions in the Discord about all manner of subjects, ranging from rotten to religious, wholesome to hellish. When I open my web browser, RPGFan is the first site I go to before checking anywhere else. Don't know what I'd do without you guys. All I would have is GameFAQs. And that's... that's not good for anyone.
Arvis, I'm always glad to hear from you! You've been such a great supporter of what we do here, and your analysis-heavy mega-posts on Rhythm Encounter, especially Music of the Year editions, is something I always enjoy seeing. Anyone contacting us with feedback is welcome, but you always put major effort into doing so, which just means so much to us all.
by Najd Kayali
Where do I begin? Back when I first started playing RPGs, I struggled to find a community that would share my love of the genre, especially since all the people around me were not interested in anything other than FIFA or Tekken — so basically, they were the most primitive and single-minded people you could ever meet. No interest in anything with story, characters, glorious cutscenes or even a grand adventure of any kind. It still is a lonely existence to be an RPG player where I live, and my one and only window to the outside world is, and always will be, RPGFan. I immediately fell in love with the funny but well-constructed reviews, the beautifully detailed music reviews (which I beg you to update them more regularly) and the fact that, unlike other well-known game sites, no game is too Japanese or too irrelevant to be reviewed, which is super awesome and super special to me. For example, I think RPGFan is the only site that ever bothered to review games like the Atelier series or the Hyperdimension Neptunia series with the attention they really deserve.
The music reviews are actually my favorite part because one of the many things that made me fall in love with RPGs is the careful handling of and great attention to the music. The same attention is given to the music reviews here, which handle everything from the instruments used to the quality of the whole soundtrack, although more attention should be given to them since they've become few and far between in recent years. I also like the Facebook page that gives me a chance to express and share my love of the genre that made my life much more bearable during some cruel and tough times. Thank you for all the wonderful times, guys. I really appreciate it, and I truly hope that the upcoming years will be even more beautiful. Lastly, after all these years, I am glad to call myself an RPGFan forever.
Thanks for the kind words, Najd! It's true that recently we haven't had as many people writing music reviews, but thanks to some concentrated efforts, especially from long-time editor Patrick Gann, we've been able to maintain a new review every week. It's not a trivial feat to write a new review on a near-weekly basis, but if we can get to a point where we can deliver more, we will!
by Alex Hunter
So back in 1999, I was looking for a review for an obscure Japan-only RPG, and while I didn't find what I wanted, I stumbled upon the site instead. I have visited RPGFan almost every day (or every other day during slow years...) for almost 20 years now. My love for JRPGs, SRPGs and ARPGs has grown right along with this site, and as a 33-year-old gamer, sometimes I need some help mulling things over. The reviews and previews here are super helpful, and the insight into what could be heading our way always gets me excited. But the thing I am most thankful for is the continued coverage of video game music. The first CD I ever owned was Grand Finale, the FFVI orchestral album. VGM has been a huge part of my life, and I have discovered a lot of it through this site (especially the live concerts, woo-hoo!). Regardless, I owe countless hours of entertainment to RPGFan and its long list of current and past contributors. Thank you all so much!
I've been known to say it often, but I don't think RPGFan Music's breadth can be understated. I've always been amazed and proud of the quality and quantity of reviews in our Music department. And the knowledge that our reviewers bring to the table both in reviews and on podcasts is often humbling for me as I sit here simply thinking, "I don't know what instrument this is, but it's good."
by Rakib Ahmad Khan
I first came into contact with RPGFan through the music side of the site about ten years ago. I loved video game music and was looking for a site with reviews and recommendations, but once I started browsing RPGFan, I found out it also has awesome reviews for RPGs and spectacular special features. And I've never left it since then. I especially loved the year-end music lists and best games list. Since then, I have started writing my own blog, which is mostly about books actually. I have also applied for a post on the site 2-3 times. I got rejected and felt disappointed obviously, but I can't help but be awed at the improved quality over the years and the site still being the best info source for RPGs for me. I would also like to mention that I am still waiting for the 2017 best video game music special feature. Long live RPGFan, and if you keep up like this, I will be with you always.
You know, we really should have ran a post officially stating that we had to pass on Music of the Year for 2017, huh? We've been too short-staffed in Music to be able to deliver something to the standard we've set in previous years. Believe me when I say it is constantly on my mind, and a key area of focus in the near future. I know you're one of many vocal fans we have of our Music features, Rakib, and it's been painful not being able to deliver on them. But I promise we're going to do all that we can to bolster things on that front. Just give us some time.
by Blake Lester
I found this site one day while browsing the internet during the later half of my high school days in 2000. It was everything I really wanted in an RPG-based site, covering various games and their many soundtracks, even the rarest and most out of print stuff — which eventually got me searching online for rare commodities in general like figures and manga, believe it or not. Ever since then I've stuck to the place like glue, always eager to read up on just about any and all news and reviews the staff puts up. The site was, and still is, wonderful, and it felt like I finally found a place where people outside of school understood my love of RPGs.
I don't really want to measure our success as a site in terms of how much money we've helped readers to spend on games (plus figures and manga), but I suppose the larger lesson is in the beginning of your story, Blake: That you found us in 2000, when RPGs were only really starting to become more commonplace in English-speaking countries. Many of us know that feeling of meeting a rare friend who actually knows RPGs, so I'm very happy that RPGFan has been able to play such a role in your life.
(Oh, and the image choice above is partially to go with your mention of rare commodities, and partially because it's my most-sought-after gaming statue. :)
I want to start with my role-playing game experience, and then I will share my story about RPGFan.
Well, I've been playing RPGs since 1998 when I was six years old, and yes it looks weird, but I guess I knew what I was doing. My first RPG was Eye of the Beholder, and I played it on Amiga; the first time, it looked very difficult to learn, because playing an RPG like Eye of the Beholder might be confusing at age six. In time, I discovered a lot more RPGs, like The Bard's Tale, Ambermoon, Dungeon Master II, Ultima VI, etc. These are my Amiga games, and then in 2004, we bought our first desktop PC. With that PC, the retailer gave me some games, and one of them was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This game changed my life, with its lore, soundtrack, and yes that combat system was very annoying, but hey, it was the best open-world RPG I had ever played at the time.
Now we come to the RPGFan part of my story. Two years later (I remember this clearly), I found a review about The Elder Scrolls: Arena on a website called RPGFan. I was stuck in Morrowind, but it wasn't a bad thing; I was just amazed with its lore and atmosphere. Then with that Arena review, I realized that I could actually play Arena too. I searched for a solution to play Arena on Windows XP, found it, and played it for a long time because it was much harder than Morrowind. Then I swapped to Daggerfall, and that was great too because it promised a whole Tamriel, tons of quests, and places. After reading that review, I decided to keep this website on the front page of my browser. I did that because this website made me realize that I can read a lot about RPGs, and I can even write about my experiences in RPGs in my personal blog and other local gaming websites.
Now, RPGFan is still on my front page, and it's the website I always read every day. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to thank you!
It's no secret that we often do much better in our coverage of JRPGs than WRPGs, so I was happy to see your message and how it was WRPG coverage that brought you here, and kept you coming back! It's something we want to do better with in both news and reviews, so we hope to keep delivering on that. Stick around.
I can't remember exactly how I found RPGFan in the mid 2000s, but I do know how I felt when I did. Almost from the first moment I read the site, I thought it was more professional than any fan site out there. It surpassed many of the big sites in terms of quality. And that quality has not changed; if anything, it's become more apparent. Is it serendipity that so many talented writers have been drawn to the site? I do not know.
This content is very meaningful to me personally. I really needed this outlet to see one of my major passions get the attention it deserves. We all know that games are more than just a pastime, and if you're on this site, they most likely have a special place for you. To see them treated with much respect and discussion provides me with something that has become a vital part of the experience. Playing games is one thing, but we as gamers need to reflect on what it was to give them another level of meaning. So with that, I do need RPGFan.
When podcasts were originally popping up, I really wasn't sure what they were. It wasn't until I got a job driving that I gave them their due chance. I didn't know the rabbit hole I was going down the first time I put on Random Encounter and heard Derek and Rob. Along with Retro Encounter, I rely on these shows to get me through the day. Odd as it may seem, each time an episode pops up, it's like being with a group of familiar friends who are eagerly waiting to tell me about their gaming passions, and I adore it. I adore this site.
I still remember the hesitation we had before Rob pushed us to start Random Encounter. Podcasting wasn't new to the world, but it also wasn't quite as big as it would become. Either way, it was a drastic change of pace for us, and we had to figure out what we wanted to do, and how to do it. But people got behind Rob's plan, and it's been exciting to see how the shows have grown. I can't wait to see them evolve further.
by Carsten Wojciechowski
I just stumbled upon your Facebook page a few months ago, and I thought why not give it a try. So I liked the page. Since then, there have been countless posts to read and explore. It feels like coming home to people who think alike about games from my childhood since I am nearing my thirties. It is an absolute blast, and I look forward to much more great content. Reviews are always clean and feel honest, which I very much appreciate; I always consider a review from this site before really thinking about buying a game. Thank you for your good work, and best of wishes for the future.
Being anyone's definitive source for buying advice is certainly a nice ego boost. I'm happy that your tastes align with several of our reviewers enough that we've been able to steer you in directions you like. We'll always approach reviews in as honest a way as we always have, and stories like this continue to validate that choice.
Came for the fanfiction linked from the now frozen-over Icy Brian's RPG Page, stayed for the upcoming listings and in-depth and sometimes hilarious reviews (game and music) that helped me steer clear of the stinkers. I currently have the site as one of five checked routinely on the taskbar, and I look forward to future endeavors both in the industry and on the site I'll hear about things first from. Here's to another twenty years!
Wow, if I needed any reminder of the common website in the late 1990s, there it is! That's not an insult — we literally had animated flame GIFs in our header — but it was just how things were. I remember Icy Brian too, as his site was well-known around these parts. There's really no good reason our little site should have had the legs that it has and persisted through 20 years, but I'm happy we've become such a vital destination for you!
I first came to RPGFan in the summer of 2002 when a user on another message board mentioned the reviews here. I had grown fond of and was active on gaming message boards by then and joined the RPGFan message boards. The RPGFan boards quickly became my favorite online gaming community. I loved the boards back in the day, and I used the main site and the boards to discover a number of great games that I was able to play and that have become longtime favorites. Chief among these are the Fire Emblem games. I'd already heard of them through Marth and Roy's inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Melee, but I would not have tried the games had it not been for Liz Maas telling me about them while I was playing Bahamut Lagoon (another favorite that I heard of through RPGFan). The Fire Emblem series has become one of my main series that I always look out for, right up there with Zelda, Metroid, and Mega Man, even as I've grown older and have less time for video games, and that is because of Liz and RPGFan.
The boards have also always been a great community. They're pretty tame now, but when I first joined, they were wild and raunchy. I have to say I kind of enjoy the boards more now, as it is a pretty tight-knit community despite being smaller than it used to be. I was lucky enough to call a lot of the old users friends back then though, and I do miss seeing a lot of those who have disappeared over the years, especially since they accepted me into the fold back then. I'm glad that Neal is still around and actively posting at least, but I do miss people like Dade, Losfer, Degolas, Marshmallow, Vilnius, Ashton, Eusis, and many others. I don't post as much myself anymore as life often gets in the way, especially since starting a PhD program, but I still consider RPGFan, both the site and the boards, my gaming home online.
Hey, it's Jimmy! Another insanely-long-time reader. I'm so glad you've been one of the rare folks that have been here and part of the community for so very long. Your continued presence has always impressed me, and you even refreshed my own memory with some of those names! Unless I'm mistaken, Dade is still around, and I know Eusis is, at least on Discord, if not the forums. But I miss some of the others too. Vil and Losfer were a huge part of the forums and the old IRC chat back in the day. All this reminiscing makes us sound old, I guess, but as long as we get to age with people we like, it's not really so bad.
by Kenn Council
My story begins in March of 1999. I went to my friend's house one morning and entered his room to see him playing a game with a certain blonde spiked-hair character wearing what seemed to be a purple jumpsuit. As a sports gamer at the time, I thought the game was crap from what I saw him doing. All of a sudden, the screen flashed as he entered battle, and that very same spike-haired blonde stepped forward with a huge sword and summoned a being known as "Neo Bahamut," who unleashed "Giga Flare" — at this point, my mouth was wide open!
I screamed at him, "Dude, what the hell is this game?"
He replied, "Umm, it's Final Fantasy VII. Where have you been man..."
I immediately ran out of his house, went home, grabbed my sister, and we ran down to what was Bradley's at the time. I ran to the electronics section and asked the cashier about Final Fantasy VII. As the words left my mouth, I saw it, but next to it was another Final Fantasy numbered VIII!!!! I bought both but played VIII first because the cover art caught my attention more.
That was almost 20 years ago. Thinking back on it now, I'm getting teary-eyed. Those two games opened the doors to many other RPGs and many adventures with various characters, which helped me battle deep depression and probably saved my life. Thanks for listening to my rant.
I was not prepared for the serious turn at the end here. In fact, I'm not clear what role RPGFan played in this story, haha... But this was an amusing and then touching story about the discovery of RPGs themselves, so there was really no question about whether or not we'd run this one in the feature. Thanks for sharing, Kenn!
by Cage JRPG Fanatic (real name Shaalan Khaled)
Where to begin? Well, let's start with this. First off, I want to say thank you to all the staff who made this site great for 20 years. I remember visiting this site around 2004 because I was looking for a game on the PS2 because our gaming magazine was mainly focusing on bigger titles like FIFA, PES, Resident Evil and Need for Speed, to name a few. The only JRPG they covered was...you guessed it! Final Fantasy. I was cool with that, but I was one of those gamers who loved looking deep in the PS1/PS2 library of JRPGs. Going on the internet was something new and kind of cool. So the first thing I did was type "RPG PS1 Games."
Of course, the first thing I went with was GameFAQs and other sites. I tried to find a site for RPG reviews. But then I searched for a game called Shadow Hearts 2 and a Tales of the Abyss review. RPGFan was the first result. To say I was hooked by this site every day is a huge understatement. This site was so good; I remember using one of my schoolbooks to write down every game coming out in 2004 and 2005! And then I listed every game from "Must Buy" to "Buy Later."
I've been using this method until today. Now, I have a collection thanks to this site. I think you've seen it couple of times here and there. Every time people ask me how I managed to collect these JRPGs, I tell them, "My favorite website (RPGFan) has helped me all these years." I even tell people if they don't know which game to buy, they should visit RPGFan to help them with their choices.
My favorite review is hands down Tales of Rebirth. Not only was it the first import game I ever bought, but it was one of those games that made me mad that it's only in Japan. I kept on reading reviews more than once and just wonder why we didn't get this game in NA?
Sorry for the long text, but I love sharing the good times and especially the same people who helped me to become a collector of something I love like JRPGs. You guys made this guy JRPG Fanatic. So I think that's the best memory for me.
One day, my dream of making RPGFanMiddleEast will come true. But as Guns N' Roses said, "All we need is just a little patience." It will happen one day. Thank you, RPGFan, and hopefully we will celebrate RPGFan's 40th anniversary.
I'm always happy to chat with you guys either on Twitter or the site.
From your biggest fan from Kuwait, Cage JRPG Fanatic.
I'm not going to play favorites with the stories we got on this feature, but I do have to say this is one of my personal favorites. Like I said above, it's nice to hear compliments, but saying "you guys are good" pales in comparison to "I tell everyone about you." We're not a tiny fan site, exactly, but as volunteers, we still have a lot of that indie mindset, so things like this always touch me, and remind me we have more of a reach than that laughably bad RPG site I built before being recruited here. We'll continue to try living up to your ideals!