Ask the Kliq #16
Every once in a while, you will think about video games and then ask yourself a question that has no rhyme or reason, but that just happened to pop in your head at that exact moment. In some rare instances, not even Google or Wikipedia can provide the answer you need. Sometimes you wouldn’t even need an answer to that question.
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This Week’s Question
This week’s question is pulled straight from the comments section of a previous edition of Ask the Kliq, and comes from Nick. While professing his love for Chrono Trigger and the Black Isle games, he also wants to know what everybody’s favourite RPG is. Since we have a pretty good readership when it comes to that genre, the question was to be expected sooner or later, so what better time to answer it than now?
Let’s make this more formal:
“What is your favourite role-playing game?”
Here are your answers!
It all depends on what you mean by “RPG”.
If you mean JRPGs only, then I’m not sure I can really have a favorite per se, because I haven’t beaten all that many. I suppose I’d have to go with Final Fantasy VII, and that is only because it is the best JRPG I’ve finished. I liked VIII a lot more, but never got around to beating it. Even then, I found the Triple Triad game to be the most interesting thing about it.
I’ve played even less Western RPGs, so I can’t call a favorite there. The best thing I could go with is D&D, but as that is a pen and paper game, I doubt it will be acceptable.
My brand of RPG is the SRPG, and here Final Fantasy Tactics reigns supreme, not just of this genre, but of all games in my eyes. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on the game over more playthroughs then I can remember. I’ve taken the time to make a devastating character in the Calculator class, scoured the deep caverns for the finest weapons and equipment. I even bothered to level Cloud up to level 99 one time, though he was still pretty much useless. Heck, forced rules upon myself such as playing through the game without using the overpowered Orlandu or using Ramza only as a magician.
I can play this game for hours and never feel bored, never feel like I’ve seen it all, and never wish for a different game to play. So, if SRPGs count, then Final Fantasy Tactics is my favorite.
Oh, and Jeanne D’Arc is pretty sweet too.
I’ll go a ahead and assume we’re talking about video game RPG’s, so as to not bore everyone reading with an in-depth discussion of D10 combat systems modified for a supernatural or superhero setting vs. the reliable D20 system, or the inherent fallacies of multi-die gaming system during character creation a la Shadowrun
or Cyberpunk 2020
. Since we’re going with videogames, where all the messy, die-dropping, stat fudging insanity is taken care of by the CPU, there has only really ever been one RPG for me: Fallout
and Fallout 2
The problem I have with most RPGs, especially the typical JRPG, is that you don’t really have a role to play. I forget where I heard it, but the plot of most RPG’s can be summed up as “A group of teenage social outcasts bands together to grind XP until they kill God.” Fallout was one of the first games I’ve played where you actually could be said to play a role. Sure, there was a timed quest in the first game, but once that was out of the way you could play caravan guard, a merchant, even a horrible slaver in the second game. Too many RPG’s, especially the non-MMO’s, only offer one real choice in the narrative-what type of weapon are you going to use? For all the wonderful praise that the Baldur’s Gate series had heaped upon it-most of it quite deserved-the game was completely on-rails. Sure, Fallout‘s story drives towards an ultimate conclusion as well, but the fact that you can choose what to do with the post-apocalyptic hell-hole you are given as a playground helps matters.
The amount of graphic violence that Interplay managed to squeeze into a top-down perspective also must be applauded. Any game where you can stab, shoot, burn, and explode your enemies, and then get hilariously morbid explanations of what just happened, is awesome. With the language filters off, it wasn’t uncommon to see “Critically hit Raider with Gauss Rifle in the Groin, causing 196 points of damage and preventing any further bastards,” or similar comedy.
Fallout as a series really embraced its setting and that may be the ultimate factor in why it is my favorite RPG. The post-apocalyptic wasteland that leapt from a 1950’s idyllic, racist, xenophobic, war-obsessed America was really just that, but with more radiation. The black humor, the constant violence, and a great story mean that I will always be ready to step out of Vault 13 and into the nuclear-blasted remains of America.
This is going to be a strange one: Knights of the Old Republic II
I was never an RPG player during my NES and SNES days. I didn’t even know RPGs existed until I saw Final Fantasy VIII in a magazine and bought it. It was a totally different experience from the avalanche of fighting games and platformers which I exclusively played in my youth.
I had a good run with JRPGs, with Final Fantasy IX and Legend of Legaia being some of my favorite games but during the PS2/Gamcube/Xbox era I gradually drifted into the PC side of gaming thanks to friends getting me addicted to real time strategy games like Age of Empires 2 and Starcraft.
It was then I tried my hand at Knights of the Old Republic II. It and its prequel got great reviews and I like Star Wars so I gave it a shot.
It was like an epiphany. I can choose what I say? I have a choice in the storyline? Weapons have different attributes and don’t just simply get better linearly? And many many more surprises awaited me. Sure all these things are normal for established WRPG players and trivial to seasoned D&D heads but for someone who didn’t know what a “Legend of Zelda” was till Ocarina of Time (Despite owning a NES AND SNES….yeah) this was a huge game changer for me.
You might be wondering why I didn’t pick the first KotOR which is usually considered to be superior. I did play it later and it’s also an amazing game but the sequel was my first taste of WRPG goodness and it left the biggest impression on me.
Usually when people ask me this question, they will phrase it as “What is your favorite RPG besides Final Fantasy
?” I grew up with the series, and I have consistently enjoyed the main games in the franchise. So if I had to pick a handful from among those, I would say VII, I, & VI.
Outside of the FF franchise, I guess it depends on what you would classify as an RPG. Are we talking just a plain turn based RPG? Strategy RPG? Action RPG? I have played many of each, and while I consider most of them to be of high quality, there are only a few that have impacted me significantly throughout the years.
For turn based RPG’s, I can think of a handful off the top of my head. Dragon Warrior holds a lot of memories for me, as I once spent an entire summer grinding Goldmen in my room with the foldout maps on my floor while eating Tombstone pizza. Phantasy Star II I borrowed from a friend along with a Sega CD, a 32X and a handful of games. PSII was the one I ended up playing more than the rest of them combined, though I guess it’s not too hard to do when your only other options are Sewer Shark and Cosmic Carnage. I loved it so much, I bought it off of him for $7. Chrono Trigger was a total package of a game. It had a great story involving a time travel mechanic along with a dozen endings, a fantastic soundtrack, and some of the best turn based gameplay of its era. Xenogears wove an interesting tale with addictive battles that took place in mechs as well as on the ground. You could tell the second half was rushed, but it didn’t matter because the rest of the game more than made up for it. Lost Odyssey proved, at least to me, that you can still make a great JRPG on current gen consoles that didn’t have to rely on gimmicks or western conventions to be enjoyable.
My vote for action RPG’s would have to go to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, as it took a world that I grew up with during the NES and breathed new life into it. But damn that water temple for leaving me clueless for weeks on end. Secret of Mana had the addictiveness of Zelda, but added a three player co-op component to it. Kingdom Hearts II I was rather resistant to at first because of the whole Disney aspect, but I’m glad I played it as the action gameplay is some of the best I’ve seen on a system to date.
My top strategy RPG’s would be Final Fantasy Tactics for its intricate job system, superb storytelling, and endless hours of gameplay. Shining Force was the first of this type of game that I had ever played, and to this day remains one of the best. You didn’t have to worry about equipment breaking or your party members dying permanently or anything like that. Its primary focus is its strategy component and its story, and I enjoyed it for that reason. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is not only my favorite in the franchise, but I hold it above most other games in the genre just for having a huge cast of interesting characters that you could interact with between battles as well as some very rewarding battles that left you wanting to come back for more.
I know I’m probably missing some along the way, but all of the titles I’ve mentioned I either grew up with and have a strong nostalgic attachment to, or my experience as a whole made me look back on it and think “Damn, that was a great game.” I’m sure there will be many more in the years to come and my response will likely be just as vague.
For a non table-top RPG, it has to be able to hide the fact that it is linear. It has to give the illusion of choice and options, at least in a video game environment. There are only so many things you can do, unless you program them as an open sandbox. Even then you’re shorting yourself because most sandbox titles you have to play as the ‘lone gunman’ running around the world trying to fix it yourself. I prefer having party members along with me. As I’ve gotten older, the illusion of choice in JRPGs has become increasingly thin, especially with the release of Final Fantasy XIII
. I’ve become too spoiled with having actual choices, like who lives and who dies, and which team member I want in my party, and who I’ll have that romance with. More traditional RPGs like Dragon Age, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Mass Effect
, and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
have stepped in to fill that void.
Honestly, even with all its flaws, and lack of a proper ending since Lucasarts had it rushed out the door in time for Christmas, I’d have to go with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. While there was this over-arching story of trying to stop the Sith from destroying all life in the Galaxy, there was this great character driven side plot going on where you were trying to figure out who you really were and at the same time trying to get to know these people who kept latching on to you. There were romance options, hell you could turn people against you with one conversation if you weren’t careful. And let’s not forget this wonderful dark tone the second game had.
It does have its flaws, like the lack of a proper ending, but what it has at its heart is everything I look for in an RPG. It engaged me on many levels, brought me in and made an emotional connection, and more importantly it made me feel like I was the character I was playing, taking on a role and making an impact in the universe I was running around in. That’s what a good RPG should do. It should suck you in and make you want to be a part of that world, and unfortunately not many linear RPGs can pull that off half as well as they’d like to.
My choice might make some of our staffers cry, as most people would consider my choice a “beginner’s RPG”, but I have always been partial to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
. I have never been a big RPG player, so having Mario and a familiar universe in the games helped me get emotionally invested in the experienced, and thus, made me look past what I usually don’t like in the genre, such as turn-based battles, micro-managing and leveling up.
Super Mario RPG is another Mario title which I really appreciated, but I find Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has a story that touches more of my interests, and thus, is much more appealing to me. After all, while I play platformers for a reflex challenge, I play RPG’s more for the stories. In that regard, Paper Mario features not only my favourite plumber, but sends him against pirates, on a murder mystery-like case on a train, in space, and even in a pro wrestling federation. That’s right: one of the game’s chapters is spent on building Mario’s status in the ranks of a wrestling circuit in hopes of facing the champion, Rawk Hawk, and gaining the magical star that took home on his title belt. Mario even takes on the disguise of “The Great Gonzales” to accomplish this.
There’s also your Yoshi partner, which you get to name. Mine was named “Vigo”, in honour of the villain from Ghostbusters 2. He was only one of the numerous partners you can use through the game, but the little dinosaur with a mohawk left a big impression on me.
Let’s not forget the second story going on at the same time, which is of Luigi saving another world in the meantime and acquiring his own party of friends. Of course, you don’t see any of it happening, but you can read all about it when you encounter the green plumber after each chapter in the game’s hub world.
I would also like to mention the final stage leading to the boss battle, which is a maze of fights and traps, and the platformer stages featuring Bowser, which featured some of the most hilarious moments ever seen in a Mario game. Finally, there’s the fighting system, which builds on the foundations of the system found in the first Paper Mario game, but perfects it. The crowd in front of which you fight plays a big role, and it’s something original which I haven’t seen in another game since.
It might not be the most difficult game on the Gamecube, but for a lifetime Mario fan, it’s certainly one of the most intriguing.
For me, it’s easily Valkyrie Profile
. It’s not my favourite game of all time (Guardian Heroes
is) but in terms of coming close to achieving perfection, nothing else comes close to Valkyrie Profile
You want story? There is more story in each individual character than most JRPG’s have for the entire game. It’s also extremely faithful to Morse mythology.
You want a non-linear experience? Each time you boot up the game, both the difficulty and a degree of randomness triggers which characters you will get and what missions you can go on. You can also choose which encounters to go on and when.
You like customization? Not only can you customize your team, but each character has several dozen skills and personality traits you can customize. At the end of each chapter you’ll also need to send up a character or three to Valhalla and they will get new story bits based on their new life with the gods. Depending on how you customized them, the story can unfold quite differently.
You like graphics? It’s arguably the best looking game on the PSX.
Are you an Audiophile? Not only is the soundtrack amazing, but the voice cast comes from some of the biggest and best known animes of all time ranging from Slayers to Pokemon. Every voice actor in the game is considered an A level professional in his or her field and you’ll have fun just recognizing voices and making teams based on other characters they’ve voice acted. Might I suggest reforming Team Rocket with Valkyrie?
Hate the usual turn based combat based off of random battles JRPG’s are littered with? You’ll love this. Encounters are controlled by monsters on the field. You can choose to engage, avoid or flee from them. They also do respawn for those of you into munchkin’ing your characters up. Actual combat is set up like turn based battles, but the actual gameplay is a mix of Action and SRPG combat where who attacks when and with what decides whether you live or die.
You want a challenge? BLOOD BANE. That’s all I need to say. It’s up there with Borgan from Eternal Blue on the Sega CD as the hardest boss fight of all time.
Valkyrie Profile was honestly everything I ever wanted from an RPG and then some. I still go back and play it on occasion just to relive the story and character development. Runner ups would be Persona 2: Eternal Punishment for a straight up turn based RPG experience, Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis for an action RPG game (It’s the most faithful game to table top rule until D&D tactics for the PSP and it’s far superior to the SNES game that just uses the branding) and for a tactical game, it’s probably Shining Force 2. For Western RPG’s I’m very old school with titles like Ultima IV, Wizardry and SSI’s D&D games, and my favourite out of all those is The Bard’s Tale.
I tend to distinguish between “greatest” and “favorite” in my mind, as I find that one is not always the same as the other. Just because a game is pretty much the best in its class, overall, doesn’t mean it’s going to be the game I have the best memories of or the game I loved the most or whatever. The reason I bring this up is because if someone asks me “What’s the greatest RPG you’ve ever played?”, the answer to that question will either be Final Fantasy VI
or Fallout 2
, depending on if they mean Western, Eastern, or overall. Final Fantasy VI
is pretty much the greatest JRPG ever made, between the massive character depth for nearly every character introduced, the interesting gameplay mechanics, and the surprising mid-game plot twist, while Fallout 2
is one of the greatest RPG’s of all time simply because it was conceptually and mechanically years ahead of its peers, and still holds up well today.
But they aren’t my favorite.
My favorite is Shining The Holy Ark.
Part of this is because I’m a fan of the Shining series, and have been for a while, but Holy Ark is more than just a component part of its franchise. The game is my favorite because it does so many things that I as a player love and so many things that so many other developers get incredibly wrong. The game, on its face, is little more than a linear dungeon crawling RPG with no overworld map, but it’s a very good linear dungeon crawling RPG, I assure you. The puzzles in the dungeons are interesting and fresh, the presentation is vibrant and well put together, the character and enemy animations are top notch, and the game does some awesome stuff you’ve probably not seen before or since. There’s this whole mechanic based around launching fairies at enemies based on how they’re approaching which gives you a free first strike, for instance, which is weird but incredibly useful once you get the hang of it.
The best part of the game, though, is the ability to switch allies in and out of battle instantly. See, like many modern games with large parties, the game allows you to switch your party members out whenever you see fit, but unlike many of these games, it allows you to do so IN BATTLE. “Oh, big deal”, you’re saying, “Final Fantasy X let me do that too”. Well, first, you should be ashamed for comparing the teammate switching mechanics in Shining The Holy Ark to that crap, and second, no, it didn’t. Final Fantasy X allowed you to sub in a character at the cost of someone’s turn, and only did so because the benefit of doing this was to allow you to level up everyone in one battle, which was frankly overly time consuming and inane. Shining The Holy Ark allows characters to earn experience points WHETHER THEY FIGHT OR NOT, so everyone in your party is competitive without making battles into half hour long affairs, AND it allows you to sub people in and out instantly without burning a turn. “Well where’s the challenge in that?”, you’re saying, because you’ve never played the game, to which I respond, OH BELIEVE ME, there’s a challenge. You will be subbing characters in and out of battle because if you don’t boss monsters will obliterate you and characters will die halfway through dungeons because the game is crafted with this mechanic in mind. Allowing your characters to level up despite not participating in battle and allowing you to sub party members in and out for free isn’t a neat mechanic, it’s something you’ll come to appreciate if you value life because the game is challenging despite these mechanics, and it makes you use them to their fullest possible extent.
If for no other reason, I love the game for that above all else. Sega developed a mechanic that makes things easier while making the game harder instead of coming up with the mechanic and making it hard to use to make the game more challenging. The fact that more developers are either unable or unwilling to do this thing is only slightly less shameful than the fact that people continue to pay money for the stupider games instead of the smarter ones. God bless you, Shining The Holy Ark, you beautiful, poor selling bastard.
For the longest time, my answer to this question was easy: Final Fantasy VI/III
. It was my favourite RPG growing up, by far, and I beat and re-beat it countless times. Eventually, I grew up and played other RPGs. A lot of the games from this era were so good, I also beat them multiple times, a more impressive statistic when one remembers that I was into adulthood now.
Something’s happened as I’ve grown: while those games, I look forward to playing and replaying, I haven’t had the interest in FFVI. It hasn’t aged as well as I thought it would, mainly because of the second half of the game. It’s not because I played it too much – I can’t count how many times I’ve beaten the original Final Fantasy, and I’ve beaten that one again recently – but it’s just not as enticing a game as it was in my youth.
This must be what the next generation went through eventually with Final Fantasy VII.
After considering this question for awhile, I’m afraid I have to take a cop out and pick two answers, both from the PS1 era.
1a) Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Notice I used the “complete” version and not the Sega CD version, which is a good game but flawed in a lot of ways. The Playstation version fixed all of the gameplay flaws of the original, made the story flow better, and truly let the most touching love story I’ve seen in a video game shine through. When Luna was captured by Ghalleon, I *felt* the regret, as if she was ripped from *me*. Saving Luna became a personal mission for *me*, not just Alex Through Me. Their love shone through in everything, even their fighting. It’s also no surprise for those that know us that Aileen and I call each other “my Alex” and “my Luna” every now and then.
Yeah, we’re geeks like that.
Add that on top of a terrific game that didn’t require lots of grinding, but kept the player on their toes, and you have an outstanding RPG for any era, which is why it was re-released this year.
1b) Suikoden II. I went over the Luca Blight battle last week, but there’s more at work here. Suikoden II accomplished three things that put it not only over the top of its peers, but over the top of later Suikoden games as well:
a) It had an outstanding story of friendship, familial love and betrayal, woven together tighter than a strait jacket, but without being pretentious or overstretched. Too many games try to make “deep” stories nowadays that they badly overlap themselves, and end up making a jumbled mess in the process (see: Kojima, Hideo). The story of Suikoden II is more impressive when one considers that…
b) This game has a great story that works perfectly for someone coming in for the first time, but blends perfectly with the original Suikoden. The use of the original Suikoden save was crucial here; not only did it improve certain statistics, but it closed a lot of story holes for those that cared about the characters from the first game. Some characters fought again, others were mentioned in passing, and it wove so beautifully together that a first-time Suikoden player wouldn’t know he was missing anything.
c) Suikoden II took everything that worked about Suikoden 1‘s battle system, kept it in the second game, then either fixed or replaced everything else. In terms of gameplay, Suikoden II is one of the best playing RPGs of any era, with a great balance and some awesome boss battles, from the beginning of the game to the end.
Other Suikoden games were good – I especially liked V – but in terms of what it brings to the table and the effect it has on me even eleven years later, Suikoden II deserves inclusion on this list.
ML Kennedy: Shining Force
. That is all you need to know.
I will leave this week’s closing words to DHGF’s very own Michael O’Reilly, who chipped in with a RPG joke which took me a couple of Google searches to understand. Blame it on my French.
So here’s Michael O’Reilly, on his favourite RPG:
“Well, it used to be the RPG-7, and then after a while I really liked the Panzerfaust, but I’ve recently discovered the Carl Gustav, and I must admit that I’ve taken quite a shine to it.”
Now it’s up to you, our beloved readers, to discuss your favourite role-playing game in the comments section. If you would prefer to leave us a question to answer in a future edition, you’re more than welcome to do so. You can also click on “email the author” at the top of this article and add the subject line “Ask the Kliq”. We’ll put our team right on it.