Tri-Ace games are a little strange — they tend to be more than a little complicated, and Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth is no exception. The atmosphere is arresting — a combination of visuals and music that creates an almost mythic feeling. On top of that, the gameplay is inviting, fast-paced and flashy. As you keep playing though, you'll find things get a little strange. The progression of chapters is odd, combat has a steep learning curve, and hard mode is easier than normal mode. Then again, these things create depth in Valkyrie Profile while establishing identity. Case in point: the game incentivises following orders when ignoring those orders is integral to the story.
Every element of Valkyrie Profile has its own enjoyable quirks and required level of mastery. Valkyrie Profile isn't safe; it is a strange game that gives you freedom and requires you to use it, but when you put the time in to unveil the inner workings of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, what you get is one of the genre's most rewarding experiences.
The series laid dormant for five years following 2005's The Ark of Napishtim, but XSEED finally brought Ys back to North America with the release of Ys SEVEN in 2010. Featuring a world several times larger than that of any previous Ys title, as well a new three-member party system, SEVEN is proof that Falcom can successfully teach an old Dogi — er, dog — new tricks. A sharp localization brings the inhabitants of Altago to life, and the trademark Ys dodge-and-slash gameplay is fully intact, with several difficulty levels catering to players of any skill. Notable for being accessible to newcomers and series veterans alike, Ys SEVEN is an easy recommendation for anyone seeking a quality action RPG.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is easily the best of the ever-growing library of handheld KH games, and a fantastic action RPG besides. Each of the three main characters, despite traversing the same worlds, has their own boss battles, special abilities, and cutscenes — and playing through as each unveils a different piece of a fascinating story that fills in gaps and finally gets some emotional weight behind the conflict with the series' biggest antagonist. While it's still got its fair share of silly dialogue, the overarching plot is almost entirely self-contained and makes for an excellent entry point to potential new players. That it features an utterly addictive character-building system in which new abilities are acquired like cards and fused like Shin Megami Tensei demons is an added bonus on top of the combat. Flashy without being out-of-control, Birth by Sleep's battles are dramatic and easily some of the most exciting to be had on the PSP. Top it off with outstanding graphics and one of the tightest soundtracks around, and this one would be worth picking up right now, if it weren't likely to be featured in HD as part of the inevitable Kingdom Hearts 2.5.
Editor's Note 10/16/2013: Surprising no one, BBSHD was confirmed
just recently as one of the games packaged with Kingdom Hearts HD II.5 ReMix!
Subject to much debate prior to this event, Riviera: The Promised Land found its way into our selection for best RPGs on the PSP. The story of amnesiac angel Ein and his colour-coded friends is an epic one, as he traverses the realm of Riviera to stop fallen angel Ledah and other evils yet to show their faces. Originally a WonderSwan game, Riviera made its way to the GBA before finally arriving in its greatest iteration on PSP.
Like all of Sting's games, Riviera takes traditional JRPG mechanics and turns them on their head. You never directly control Ein's movement; rather you move him via directional choices on each map. Battles are turn-based, but you can only hold a modest selection of weapons that nearly all have limited durability. Hanging onto your best weapons for later or using them to clear space is always a tough choice. Exploration is vital, as it often leads to secret treasures or other bonuses, and each decision has a big impact on play. Replay value is found in abundance.
With such a unique approach to an RPG, Riviera rightly deserves its place among the other epic titles on this list.
While Ys SEVEN took the series in a welcome new direction, Ys: The Oath in Felghana represents Falcom at the height of classic game design. True to the series' roots, this game features Adol Christin as the lone playable character, but outfits him with a repertoire of ability-bestowing magic rings. (Imagine A Link to the Past, but with all of the fat trimmed and the speed kicked up several notches.) Featuring incredibly tight pacing, arguably the best soundtrack in Ys history, and lightning-fast gameplay where skill is paramount, The Oath in Felghana is the action RPG distilled to near-perfection.
Final Fantasy Tactics showed a lot of promise on the original Playstation. Its myriad of classes required thoughtful players who would take their party of squires and chemists and turn them into an army. An army of Ninjas, Wizards, Lancers, and... Calculators. But it also required players who were willing to look past a terrible translation and a foreign control scheme (literally — it used Japanese-style controls), among other things. And even for many players who would have loved the gameplay, that was too much to ask.
10 years later, those players finally got their chance to see what everyone else had been talking about, when Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions was released on PSP. Yes, it had some unfortunate framerate issues during spell animations. But more importantly, it had an amazing new translation, a revamped control scheme, and gorgeous new anime-style cutscenes. These new additions allowed the outstanding gameplay to shine forth without obstacle and produced a game good enough to earn an Editor's Choice award from not one, but three RPGFan reviewers.
When you play Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, you set foot into another world. Yasumi Matsuno, the mastermind behind the Ogre series, is able to do something that is nearly impossible; through the music, visuals, gameplay and story, Matsuno has given Tactics Ogre an unparalleled sense of history and gravitas. The world might be populated by 2D sprites, and the stages are nothing more than a series of disconnected chessboards, and yet the sense of place is so well established that it beckons you deeper into the world. On the island of Valeria, you experience and guide the lives of the heroes in a morally ambiguous setting where doing your duty and being honorable is not always the same as doing what is right. All of this from a game originally released on the Super Nintendo.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together stands out from many of the remakes on the PSP by being the best version of itself. Everything new has its roots in the Tactics Ogre identity by simultaneously maintaining the original's aesthetic and gameplay sensibilities while elevating and modernizing the elements that would undermine the experience. The redrawn art by Akihiko Yoshida and rearranged music by Basiscape are absolutely entrancing. New systems allow players to re-evaluate choices and consequences by redoing actions in combat as well as in the story. These not only enhance player convenience, they fit the world thematically and work as a metaphor for creating remakes — all at the same time. Did I mention that it has of one of the smartest tactical combat and progression systems ever released? Simply put, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together is one of the PSP's greatest RPGs.
I've often said that the best stories are the ones so well-told that even when you know the inevitable conclusion, you're still hoping against hope that somehow things will turn out differently. Crisis Core is one of those stories. Anyone with experience playing Final Fantasy VII knows that Zack Fair meets an untimely and unjust fate, and yet it is his journey that players embarked upon in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Thanks to what is arguably the best character development in the spate of FFVII-related games, Aerith, Zack, and Sephiroth all take on new dimensions and become far more interesting and — more importantly — relatable than they've ever been.
And that's not mentioning the game, which was lengthy, action-packed, and highly customizable. It was also one of the best-looking games on the system, and it featured some outstanding original and remixed (from FFVII and the film Last Order) music. There are a bevy of side missions, special abilities, and other such hidden goodies to sink your teeth into aside from the main story. Along with a unique and entertaining combat system (and one of the greatest fusions of story and gameplay systems I've ever seen in the climax), you've got a game that is undoubtedly one of the PSP's best RPGs, and a worthy successor to the venerable adventures and Cloud & Co.
This unassuming adventure surpassed our wildest expectations when it landed on North American shores in 2011. A basic description of the game does it absolutely no justice; sure, it's a turn-based JRPG with a save-the-realm plot, but the delight is in the details. Trails in the Sky features one of the most vividly realized worlds in any RPG series — one that has been the setting for six games as of this writing — and well-written, endearing characters whose interactions are unfailingly entertaining. The sheer scope of the series is impressive as well, since this 40-hour game represents only the first entry in a critically-acclaimed trilogy, all of which share recurring characters, subplots, and musical motifs. With XSEED and Carpe Fulgur hard at work on Second Chapter, our hunger for more Trails has been reawakened. Earnest, approachable, and dripping with charm, Trails in the Sky is simply one of the best games on the PSP.
It wasn't enough to dive into Tartarus' 160+ floors the first time back in 2007 on the PlayStation 2, nor was it enough to return a year later for more plus an Aigis-centered epilogue. Naturally, it was impossible to resist Persona 3 the third time when Atlus offered a female protagonist option and several fresh social links along with gameplay tweaks introduced by Persona 4 — all giving the player a chance at a new experience. Much like its successor and its Vita port, Persona 3 Portable lost none of its lustre nor charm on Sony's other handheld, even if that charm came wrapped in a nice, cheery death theme.
RPGFan would like to thank Creative Uncut
for the use of several pieces of artwork used in this feature. Creative Uncut hosts tens of thousands of high quality video game artworks covering hundreds of games, so definitely check out their collection
if you're a fan of artwork.