Retrograding Mailbag 12.27.02

Hey everyone. I promised a mailbag edition if a ton of you wrote me, and here it is. I received nearly 100 emails from my RPG column, about two dozen from the Pokemon and Robotech column and about a dozen have come in for Phantasy Star. I’ve decided to mainly go with letter from my top ten simply because I got swamped by it. I got mail from damn near everyone including other 411 staff such as Jay Bower and Bebito, a writer from a VG magazine, and even a letter from Squaresoft! But the latter isn’t going in the column simply because it’s hype and tripe. However I only got two letters complaining about the column, and a few more saying I was harsh to Final Fantasy, but those same writers did agree the series was overrated, and so it just shows you that opinions are just that. I was very happy to see people realized I wasn’t taking myself OR my opinions seriously

Now, let’s read your letters. But before we do, I want you to know I responded to everyone who did write me. You took the time, and it was only fair that I should do the same, but I’m not correcting your grammar or spelling. :-P

Hey, I really enjoyed the column, just thought I’d let you know. Now, I’m one of those that would fall into the casual RPG players. I love playing RPGs, but I don’t do it very often. But, reading what you were saying about Final Fantasy, I do agree, although it’s the RPG series I mainly play. But I was thinking of another reason why it appeals to the casual player, not just the graphics. Ever since FF7, they’ve had the love aspect of it down. Boy falls for girl, girl falls for boy, all that stuff. That can easily bring in the casual female players too, the type that might not be likely to play RPGs otherwise.

And another thing, where was Breath Of Fire on your list?! lol.. sorry, had to chime in. The game was pretty good, in my opinion. But, you’re the expert.. lol

Josh Rodrigues

Okay, This is here for a couple of reasons. I have a problem with the love aspect drawing in chicks to Final Fantasy. My fiancee loves the games and her reasons are that it’s pretty, and you can be practically brain dead and still be able to play the game. That it requires no thought. I asked a few other female friends that I know play games and they gave me the same answer. Love wasn’t involved, although it is a good Hypothesis as to why so many girls like the series. Before someone accuses me of asking bimbo’s, I asked everyone from podiatrists to analytical chemists. Like I said, it’s a good possibility, but then Lunar and Grandia would be major sellers as well.

As for Breath of Fire, It’s a fine game and would make a top twenty, it just wasn’t top ten worthy IMO. I’m no expert, I’m just lucky enough to have friends in the biz and to know enough Japanese to play import games.

Hey, just giving you a little feedback on your Column,

My local cable company used to offer a service called “Sega Channel”, in
which you could basically “download” and play a monthly-changing selection of
games for your Sega Genesis. Well, in their RPG section, they had both
Shining Force games and Phantasy Star III .Needless to say, I lost several
hours of my life beating all 3 in a month’s time. Shining Force 2 is the best
RPG ever, in my view. I must have replayed that game 5 times, and NEVER got
sick of it. It was a pretty long time ago, but I vividly remember being
COMPLETELY swerved by the Oddler (was that his name? I’m thinking of the
“blind” kid) heel turn. I also remember taking FOREVER on the Camiela battle
(I must have tried 6 or 7 times).

On the other side, I tried playing FF7 a second time after beating it, and I
didn’t get much farther than out of Midgar when I said “Screw this”. It
wasn’t strong enough for me to warrant a second run of it. Sure, I was
completely blown away the first time by all the graphics, and mini-games and
bells and whistles, but by the second time….well, sometimes, less is more.
I admit I had no freaking clue about your top couple of picks, but I’ll be
sure to check ’em out, as anything listed higher than Shining Force warrants
a look.

Awesome column, keep up the great work!


I miss the Sega channel. As usual, Sega was innovative, and it cost them in the checkbook. It’s why the VG industry is one that is very conservative in terms of the risk department. But it’s good to see other companies that Sega now trying things that haven’t been done before.

Plus my favorite turn in SF2 was Lemon’s double switch, from heroic knight to Heel Red Baron back to Face Vampire Warlord, but that’s just me.

Finally, a lot of you had no idea about some of the games that I mentioned. One made me feel super old by saying they had never heard of the SSI Advanced Dungeon and Dragons Video game series. Christ people, I’m only 25! I do not need a midlife crisis here.

loved that Muto-Hayabusa note, I can see it now
Muto: Go Articuno!
Hayabusa: Ha! Your Articuno is no match for my Ampharos. Ampharos, Zap Cannon!
Muto: Nooooooooo!!!!!!!!
Pretty Funny Stuff.
Tack Angel

I love Ampharos simply because it’s a tribute to Phillip K Dick. It starts as an Electric Sheep people. If you don’t get the reference, than Harrison Ford will come and kick your ass.

I just read your Top 10 RPGs list on, and I have to say one thing about it…
Thank you.
Not only for talking about THE most overrated RPG series of all time, but for making me remember all the classics that I grew up with and loved. It was a huge trip down memory lane recalling Shining Force, Sword of Vermillion, Lufia, Phantasy Stars II – IV, and the Ogre series…
But to see Persona/Shin Megami Tensei as #2… man, that put a HUGE smile on my face!!!
I got my tattoo artist onto Persona when he praised Final Fantasy VIII up and down to me when he got it. I had the first Persona beaten, so I let him borrow it for a month. He came back with two observations…
1) The Pharmacy Song is the greatest RPG song of all time.
2) Persona had TONS more replay value, interesting plot twists, and gameplay than FF VIII had.
He’s so Shin-Megamied out, that he’s constantly drawing new tattoo ideas based on the series. He and I are both writing to Atlus to see if they’ll bring Shin Megami Tensei NINE to the U.S. in some way, shape or form. This series DESERVES what Final Fantasy’s getting in terms of recognition and fame.
Thanks for writing that piece…
Bob Grinsell
Derry, NH

See, I feel that the Velvet Room song from Persona is the best VG song ever written, but I’m a sucker for Opera. And he’s right. Shin Megami/Persona is the series to beat considering you can get the Persona ones in English. Well, two of them. I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people who went out and bought games based on my top ten list, and that actually worried me a bit, because I’m just one guy. Don’t ever let one source influence your buying, even me. And even if it was to by Eye of the Beholder or the Phantasy Star Collection. But in regards to Persona and Persona: YES! LET ME INFLUENCE YOU! NO ONE ELSE WILL TALK ABOUT THESE GAMES! GO! GO! GO! BUY! BUY! BUY! NOW! NOW! NOW!

Alright. I have to say right off the bat, I’ve played all these games. And all ARE better than Final Fantasy. but I can’t believe you’d forget the epic storylines and continuations that are the Suikoden series from Konami. 108+ characters every game. An intricate castle building system. The king of mini-games in RPGs. Backgrounds for every character even if some are left unsaid unless you go to the detective. But other than that. I COMPLETELY agree with your list. And its nice to see someone include Pokemon for what it is. A fine RPG with some interesting ideas.

Damon Muraida

A lot of Pro Pokemon responses to my list. Very cool to see. My fiancee got me a copy of Pokemon Ruby for Xmas and so I’m getting started on that baby. And also good to see someone
other than me has played all these! As for Suikoden, this was the series most wanted on the list. But again, it just didn’t make the top ten. And to show you what I had past the top ten, here is:

11. HYLYDE!!! (Whoever remembers this series better email me ASAP!)
12. Suikoden
13. Arc the Lad
14. Shining in the Darkness/Shining the Holy Arc
15. Ultima

(Breath of Fire was 17 just for your information)

You have quite the chip on your shoulder about Square. Beyond the game reviews, your column sounds like the angry hate e-mail you wrote about expecting.

Chris W

Well, this is one of the two “anti my column” letters. No, it’s not the one from Square. I have to say that considering I enjoy the Mana series and love Threads of Fate, I can’t be all anti-Square. As I said in my article, Final Fantasy is good, but nowhere near great. It’s highly overrated and it’s about time the US and UK started to look past what Sony and TV tells you to buy. I picked up a UK version of the OPM magazine a few days ago for my fiancee as it had a disc with 27 games on it, and the whole mag was nothing put Final Fantasy fan fiction, praise, art and cock sucking. No journalism at all. Totally disgusted and even my FF loving lady found the mag a bit zealotry. But it’s really the only RPG you can get over here, and we’ll be talking about crappy European VG practices and distribution laws in a later issue.

Firstly let me say that I really enjoyed your article, especially knowing that someone else out there appreciates the genius that is the Shin Megami series.
A few random thoughts for you on your list in no particular order…..
You could have included Arc the Lad as there is a Wonderswan Color version that was released earlier this year, whether or not it deserves to be included is another story…
You mention Dragon Quest but no mention of the spin-off dungeon bashes starring Torneko??
Including Lunar is a bit of a stretch of your formula, its the same game just with some extra FMV stuff, unless of course if you include Lunar 2 as part of the equation…
No mention of the Breath of Fire or Suikoden series? Admittedly the BoF games are very much a play by numbers RPG series the Suikoden stuff is a very good example of standard RPG clichés being turned into a good game, plus its been on 3 systems, (Saturn, PS1 and PS2) so could have been included.
You add the Shining series but forgot to talk about the Nintendo version, namely Fire Emblem, the classic strat-rpg series of games which again could have been included…
Star Ocean on only 1 system are you sure? I thought it has been out on the Snes and the PS1 with 3 coming out in 3 months…
Last point of this rambling message, in your follow up column it would be nice if you could mention the great work that has been done on translating Sakura Taisen, I know because its the only way that I could play it! The one I used was but I’m sure there must be others out there…
Even with these points, I’m looking forward to reading your next article

1. Again, Arc just doesn’t make the top ten.
2. Torenko plays differently from Dragon Quest/Warrior, so it didn’t get a mention. I love the Mysterious Dungeon games though
3. In Lunar I include Silver Star, Eternal Blue, and the never released in the US but should be if you email Working Designs and Ubi Soft to death, LUNAR: MAGICAL SCHOOL. Seriously. I think I’m the only American to ever beat this game. Even Gamefaqs doesn’t have a full FAQ on this puppy.
4. BOF and Suikoden answers are above.
5. Fire Emblem need to be on more than one console. I don’t remember it being on more than one. If it had been, it would have been on the top 20 though. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the series though.
6. Consider the translation site noted. However, I do not support Emulators so this isn’t an endorsement of using them. It’s an endorsement of translating Sakura Taisen, the greatest RPG series ever. Robots, Sleaze, musical numbers, and demons!

Retro-Grading 12.21.02 had to be one of the best columns I’ve ever read. You
lived up to your promise of listing ten great RPGs that are head and shoulders
above Final Fantasy. Thanks to you, I plan to add Tactics Ogre GBA to my
collection soon. Your choice of Sakura Taisen as #1 was an interesting one.
I’ve heard about the series for a while, and have been patiently waiting for an
English translation. I’m still holding my breath.

Just a couple of observations. You misspelled ‘play’ in the paragraph where you
mentioned Shadowrun and Clock Tower. The misspelling was a minute distraction
to an otherwise great article, so be sure to hit that spell check before you
submit to Pankonin. Also, you missed a < /I > tag after you mentioned Grandia
as your #9 choice, making the rest of your article italicized.

Again, great job with the article!


Yay! Another converts to better games. And I agree, typos get by me, especially in the html region. Which is horrible considering how long I’ve been a professional writer. Damn spell checker! It’s supposed to make life easier!

Where was the review for Phantasy Star 3 in your
review of the Phantasy Star Collection for the
Gameboy Advance? It was missing from your

Jesse Baker

No idea how that happened actually. I sent the reviews to Chris with PS3 on there. Yet when I saw it on 411, it was gone. Guessing a slight error somewhere occurred, probably in the sending. Our emails HATE each other.


I’ve been reading your artilces on 411 for… well, since you’ve been doing them now. I got lazy and didn’t respond to the article about the games better than the FF series. So I’ll start with comments on that.
First off, I think the article is good, but a little harsh. I’ve been replaying some of the FF games, and in looking back, I found FFVI (FF3) to be much worse than I remembered, but FFIX to be much more incredible. Second, I think your criteria for listing the games was a bit too strict. You yourself chose not to put Valkerie Profile in the list because it lacked a sequel/wasn’t part of a series. Great games don’t need to be part of a series to be remembered. That being said, you left out Xenogears, which some Squaresoft geeks consider the greatest RPG ever. I think that’s true until you get to disk 2. You also neglected to mention Shining in the Darkness, which was the first “Shining” game before Shining Force started up. I give you much praise for realizing how awesome the Persona series is.
Last thing, which is why I stopped reading the PS review article partway. I’m a big fan of the PS series, and was dissappointed by PSO, in that it’s really not a PS game. I mean, sure, it has the name, but it’s just Sci-fi Everquest. Anyway, you keep saying that PS1 was the first console RPG, and that’s not true; it’s the second. Sega put out a console RPG before PS1 entitled Miracle Warriors.
Miracle Warriors is one of the most difficult RPG’s ever made. Unlike later RPGs, hit points were measured by a bar, you didn’t have a nice number to tell you how healthy you were. I believe your main character was a barbarian type guy, and you recruit a thief-type guy, an amazon warrior, and a pirate to help you save the land from evil. The graphics were color intense, but this was the 80’s and the first RPG, so it’s acceptable. Anyway, look it up if you have time. I’m also 95% certain that it predates PS1 as the first RPG.
Anyway, that’s all.

Matt Weinberg

According to my friends at Sega, Phantasy Star did actually come before Miracle Warriors and so I have to go with the official ruling there. Truth be told I consider the Atari/DC comics series Swordquest to be the first ever RPG series ever made, but that would have to fall under action-adventure with most people As well, the list was about franchises, not individual games. I got that question a lot, which surprised me considering I mentioned that twice before the list began. I can totally see why people would want me to talk about individual games, and maybe some day I’ll do that.

Again, I consider Shining in the Darkness, Shining Wisdom, and Shining the Holy Arc separate from the Shining Force series in the same way I consider Golden Sun separate from it. The former are different styles of play, while the latter is a totally different series with nothing in common except the developers and art style.

I hate Xenogears. Of course, that admission will make me look even more anti-games with shiny graphics, but I just find Xenogears and Xenosaga to be attempts at ripping off the Shin Megami series like FF rips off every other RPG. Did I mention Mint from Threads of Fate is a great character and she deserves sequels?

I was disappointed with PSO as well, but mainly due to costs. I loved Sega (And Xbox live) shutting out mod chippers and cheaters though.

Well, I’m glad I put the PScollection on my wish list for Christmas.
Having played just a bit of PS1 I like it already. I’ve never actually played a first-person dungeon game before but I suppose I’ll have to get used to it, Eye of the Beholder I wished for my birthday(12/31, lots of presents in one week yahoo!)
Oh this will also be the first the Sega game I ever had. I’m sort of Nintendo loyalist and damn am I glad I got the GBA even if the first year or so sucked gaming wise Golden Sun was it really(whenver that was released).
Anyway you mention imports as well as some in jokes on Japan. I take it you speak/read the language then.
So did you ever thave to get braces, bveacuse that would be pretty hard for a vampire, wouldn’t it?
By the way, where’s the review for PS3?
I really like the collection though, it brings me back to the days of Dragon Warrior on the NES.
Thanks for reviewing GBA games by the way, it’s really needed. 100 million units and no reviews (although that’s total GB, GBC, and GBA, oh well)?

Yes, I know enough Japanese to get by, but I am by no means fluent. I also speak Japanese far better than I write it.

Enough with the vampire jokes people! My name makes the word Dracula and I look like Vampire Hunter D without a symbiote for a hand. I get enough vampire jokes IRL thank you.

Again, I have no idea what happened to the PS3 review, so here it is, my first ever errata! Also, there’s a bit missing off the PS2 review, so I’ll include that too. No idea what happened again people. Hopefully a screw up like this will be the rarity!

So I’ll say goodbye with the PS3 review and the 411 for the PS2 review. See you with new columns after the New Year starts!

RATINGS for Phantasy Star 2

Gameplay: 10
Sound: 6
Fun Factor: 10

The 411: It’s the game nearly every RPG after it has ripped off in terms of story, engine, graphics, gameplay, tactics, etc, etc, etc… If you’re a casual gamer or hardcore psycho, you owe it to yourself and your GBA to play this. It may be old, it may be unheard by people under 21, but god damn, it is the RPG that made RPG’s cool, the game that Made Sega the Video game equivalent to ECW, and made people chuck out their Player’s handbooks and twenty sided dice for digital imagery and battery powered hack n’ slash. And this of course brings us to…

PHANTASY STAR 3: Generations of Doom

AH yes, the red headed stepchild of the Phantasy star genre. PS3 wasn’t made by anyone ven remotely involved with the prior Phantasy Stars and had only niggling things in common with the previous ones, such as Technique names, mesetas for money, and Dark Force. There’s also a big controversy in the time line from this game thanks to translation errors and the fact that once again, a different team was used for this game. A large group of PS fanatics have wasted time and energy mapping out a PS timeline showing that PS4 happens 9 years before this game. It’s odd, has some merit, but according to the Phantasy Star Online guide, the series chronology happens numericaly, and I’ll go with the companies official word instead of fan boys any day.

There’s a lot of neat things about this game even if purists consider PS3 a bastard child of the series. The first is that the game looks eerrily like Sword of Vermillion, one of the best RPG’s ever made, and that’s not a bad thing. There are also all new monsters, most of which look pretty damn cool. Finally, acne ridden geeks of all ages got their wish with virtual sex in this game. You start off as Rhys who has his amnesia ridden bride kidnapped the day of their wedding. In your quest to find her, you mett up with another girl who gets the hots for you, and at the end of part 1, you decide who you are going to make electric whoopie with. Whoever you pick nets you a distinctly different child who you play as in Part 2, who also has to pick a young woman to shag, and it each bride nets you one of two playible characters. So this aspect alone gives you massive replay value as yousee what happens when your spread your genes around. Gregor Mendel would be proud. (I swear to god, all of you better get that last reference, or you’re all going back to 4th grade science class.)

That’s really the nutshell of the game. It’s like a mirror universe Phantasy star where some things are familiar and make sense while others pop out of the blue and leave you wondering who made this game. PS3 is a good game however, it just doesn’t fit in compared to parts 1,2,and 4.

Things that annoy me: SUPER SLOW WALKING SPEED. Ick. Massive random battles. Ick. Paying money to save your game instead of quick save features. ICK! A very different and clunky battle system fromt he first two games. Big Ick. And worst of all, a story and cut scenes that goes on it’s own when every other RPG on the planet forces you to press a button to have them continue. BIG ICK! I missed stuff every time I looked up to see where the driver was. Truly, Digital Eclipse did not design PS3 for actual travel.

Good things about the game: Various character and attack combos. A detailed tech list. 9 speeds for talking. A well thought out item/status screen. Brilliantly laid out towns that prevent you from having to figure out where everything is.

You’re going to be seeing that PS3 is hit or miss on a lot of things. And that’s typical of the PS franchise. Good to know somethings don’t change.

Like I said, it’s 16 bit graphics at it’s best. It looks and feels like Vermillion, and the game takes full advantage of the GBA’s colour pallete. It was incredible back in the day of the Sega Genesis, and it’s still managed to hold up beautifully now. Character profiles are distinct and excellent, even if Rhys looks like he has major Constipation. Monsters are more realistic than ever, and Dark Force is a great looking end boss.

Okay, the music isn’t the best, but they really improved the sound effects here. Oh, and Ps3 has the familiar SEGA!’ when you choose it. Ah, sweet nostalgia.

Okay, the music truly isn’t that bad. It’s good, and would be great with other RPG’s. It just doesn’t hold up to the sounds of his ancestors, and that’s PS3’s biggest problem. If any other name had been slapped on the poor bastard, it would have been a decently popular game. But compared to PS2, it was a poor sibling. But as you’ll see below, this game does have a better overall score than PS1, so it really is worth picking up and playing and ignoring the anti-PS3 hype some older grumpier gamers like myself tend to have for this game.


The first game that lets you make babies, a ton of replay value, and some great battles and even a decent story line means PS3 will probably be the game you play again and again on this collection, simply to get all the kids made and played with, especially since they all give you different endings. (Not much difference, but hey, it was 1 bit people!) PS2 is by far better, but it’s the same story again and again, and although it’s a great story, it’s not going to change, no matter what liars run around saying they had Nei beat a certain mid game boss by herself!

Gameplay: 5.0
Graphics: 10.0
Sound: 8.0
Fun Factor: 7.0
Overall: 7.5

The 411: Ps3 is the longest, most versatle, and by far weirdest of the PS games on this collections. It’s a shock to the system after the first two, but still manages to be a good play, even today. I do suggest playing the games in order to find the storyline continuing through all three games, but your heart will be stuck on Ps2, I guarantee you.

The 411 for the collection:

3 great games for 30$. This game should be the hottest selling GBA title out there…if Sega and THQ actually publicized it was out! Seriously, you have hundreds of hours of fun on one cart! One of the greatest franchises ever made! And stories! Actual stories behind the games! If you can honestly give me a reason you wouldn’t want this game (other than you hate RPG games), I’d have to hear it so I can sigh in disbelief and sadness. as always people. Next week we look at Eye of the Beholder and possibly Lunar Legends, depending on how long my EotB rant is.