October 16, 2013 Over the years, those of us who love RPGs have spent a lot of time with Sony's consoles. The PlayStation 2, for example, was the undeniable king of home consoles for RPGFans of its time. However, when it comes to handhelds, the PlayStation Portable faced an uphill climb from the day it was released. In Japan, it came on the scene just 10 days after Nintendo's DS, but the gap was three months longer in the US. And although both consoles had great features, the DS went on to outsell the PSP two to one.
But hey, sales, schmales. The PSP may not have seen quite as much love from gamers, but the fact that it was more similar to home consoles than the competition meant that it was a more familiar platform for developers. As a result, it saw not only some great ports of older games, but also great new games and portable versions of new games as they came out. Whether we spent more time during this handheld generation with Nintendo or not, there was plenty to love on the PSP. And it is with this in mind that we present our picks for RPGFan's top 20 PSP games.
The PSP brought a lot of remakes from its home console siblings into the hands of players on the go. Some of them included a lot of rework, while others chose to not mess with the good thing that the original game was. Star Ocean: Second Evolution is one of the latter, although it did feature updates to the battle system to keep things fresh. It looks good, it sounds great, it's fun, and that earns it a place in our list.
Level-5's alternate history take on the legacy of Jeanne D'Arc (that's Joan of Arc for all you heathens out there) was one of the PSP's earliest RPG heavy-hitters, and many of us here at RPGFan fondly remember the game's entertaining combination of customization and combat. While the story eventually took the fantasy road, it's hard to deny that this strategy RPG had the right combination of Level-5 magic, strategy, and character-building. The charm of tactically triumphing over the foes of France as heroes like Jeanne and Gilles de Rais is pretty undeniable, and that's why we knew this one had to make our top 20 for the PSP.
"Tradition with a twist" is the best way to describe the Wild Arms series. The games don't reinvent the wheel regarding JRPG conventions, but they put unique spins on those conventions, such as the incorporation of wild west/ cowboy elements. In much the same way, Wild Arms XF does not reinvent the SRPG genre, but it offers a gameplay experience that requires a different line of thinking from SRPGs cut from the Final Fantasy Tactics cloth. The hex-based system, evolved from that of Wild Arms 4, offers more strategic options than typical square-based movement, and mission objectives vary greatly. Beyond the usual "kill all foes" and "kill the boss" objectives are other objectives such as stealth missions, escape missions, bodyguard missions, and more. Sometimes battles feel more like solving puzzles than waging wars, and that's what makes XF stand out from the SRPG pack.
The "tradition with a twist" maxim also holds true for the plot, in that it plays with RPG conventions in clever ways. In perhaps the best plot in the Wild Arms series, straight-shooting heroine Clarissa Arwin grapples with the dilemma of whether some lies are worth living if it helps the greater good. Identity is a common theme in JRPGs, but this is a different take than the usual amnesia device. Also unique is that while most JRPG protagonists are guys who are oblivious to a girl's affections, here the protagonist is a girl who's oblivious to a boy's affections. The other main characters and many side characters are compelling as well, making for an engaging adventure. Couple all this with an absolutely rousing soundtrack and you have one of the best SRPGs for the PSP.
Marvel's action RPGs may have been a somewhat risky choice before the first X-Men Legends, but after its success, we got a second in that series plus two Marvel Ultimate Alliance games. They weren't all masterpieces of gaming, but they were all fun. And on the PSP, X-Men Legends II was the peak of that fun. Players got to vanquish foes as nearly two dozen well-known characters, and any fan of Marvel comics was bound to find a team of four that they loved. And although it sounds strange to say so now, it provided at least as much fun as the home console version at a time when that was not generally a realistic expectation.
Lunar: Silver Star Harmony is a remake of the first Lunar game localized by XSEED. This remake offered beautifully upgraded graphics and freshly arranged music, making an already lovely looking and sounding game look and sound even better. The cast of voice actors is different from the Playstation version, but they do an excellent job; akin to seeing a beloved Broadway play acted by two different casts. XSEED also did a great job on freshening up the localization. The Working Designs humor is still there, but anachronistic 1990s pop culture references are absent, making for a more timeless narrative. The controversial design choice of more streamlined dungeons and less punishing difficulty keep Silver Star Harmony from ranking higher, but it always and forever remains an exceedingly charming RPG classic that any genre fan will adore.
There is only one game in RPGFan's review annals classified as a "??? RPG," and that game is Half-Minute Hero. Its originality won it PSP Game of the Year honors in 2009, where it was aptly described as "blowing a raspberry in the face of convention." Half-Minute Hero is one of those rare RPGs that genuinely took everything we thought we knew about Japanese-style RPGs and flipped it upside down. Instead of an epic quest spanning tens of hours, Half-Minute Hero offers quests that cram every RPG convention from talking to NPCs in town to battling nasty bosses into bite size chunks never longer than a couple of minutes. Along with the RPG mode, there are other gameplay modes that include bite-size RTS missions, action missions, even "king of the hill/ protect the VIP" missions.
This satirically funny game was not afraid to march to the beat of its own drummer and the end result was a uniquely fun, refreshing, and memorable experience that cannot be efffectively described. Half-Minute Hero is truly a game tha'ts more than the sum of its parts, and its wacky originality handily earns it a spot as one of the PSP's top 20 RPGs.
Believe it or not, Ys I & II have been ported to more systems than Final Fantasy III. Since these two games were originally released on the PC-88 in the late 1980s, they have been re-released over and over; each new version utilizing a different art style and soundtrack. Because these two games each represent half of a single story, they tend to be packaged together, and this latest release (dubbed Ys I & II Chronicles) is easily the best one yet. The unusual "bump combat" system may not be the most compelling way to fight enemies, but in terms of story, music, and atmosphere, there's something relentlessly fascinating about the early days of Ys. We would recommend later games in the series before giving these classics a try, but they're still very playable. Besides, with the Vita's Ys: Memories of Celceta on the horizon, Ys I & II Chronicles makes for a great history lesson.
Final Fantasy IV is one of the most prolific RPGs of all time, having seen many remakes, updates and rereleases. Fans will argue over which release is the best, but having updated sprites, the entire sequel and a brand new interquel ensures that Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection is the most comprehensive. Once you start playing The Complete Collection, it doesn't take long to remember all of FFIV's best qualities. The sequels, The After Years and Interlude, take what you know about FFIV and flip it around, delivering a unique take on the world, characters and systems. While none of the games available have the deepest story or gameplay in the genre, the quests of Cecil and his son Ceodore are epic, endearing, and goofy in equal measure. Final Fantasy IV was a masterpiece when it was released in 1991, and it continues to be fun and relevant thanks to the ability to revisit it in collections like this one.
Perhaps the only game that has ever started and ended with the same battle, Zettai Hero Project: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman came out of nowhere to be one of the truly great games on PSP. Its storyline is both mature and humorous, with characters who go through true story arcs to become people who you really want to root for. Its unusual form of turn-based strategy kept things fresh even for veterans of the genre, and with great music, voice acting, and visuals, what is there not to love?
The Disgaea series, with its over-the-over-the top leveling and damage-dealing possibilities, can be a divisive series among RPG players. But you don't have to shoot for level 9999 to enjoy Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days. In fact, it's probably better if you don't spend your time that way, because you could miss out on the second plotline written specifically for this PSP port, in which Axel, the self-styled "Dark Hero," is fleshed out as a much more interesting character than he was shown to be in the original Playstation 2 game. But no matter how you play, it's easy to find at least one of Disgaea 2's many gameplay options that you'll enjoy for as long as you choose to play.