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My top ten RPGs of the previous console generation.
This generation of hardware has produced some amazing games of all types, a lot of which I probably haven't played. But there is one genre in particular that is very dear to me that I have done my best to keep up with, the RPG. Weather its Japaneses or the Westen, this genre has provided me and many others with hours upon hours of entertainment. So with the Playstation 4 on the way, I thought, why not make a list about the best of this generation? Or at least, the best that have been released so far. Just remember that, like my last list , these are just my personal picks and not necessarily "the best." So don't freak out if you don't see your favorites. Lets get started, shall we?
10. Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
year released: 2011.
And getting us off to a good start is this wonderful piece of awesome. Reckoning was the brainchild of R.A. Salvatore (who was the principal creator of the world), Todd McFarlane (who designed the characters, monsters and was the overall art director), and Ken Rolston (famous for his work on The Elder Scrolls 3 and 4). The story is set in a world govern by fate, where the mortal races of humans, gnomes, and light and dark elves are locked in a war of survival against the immortal Winter Fey under the leadership of the religiously fanatical Winter Fey Gadflow. When the war starts, things aren't looking too well for the mortals races. Because, well no matter how many they kill, the Winter Fey aren't losing any numbers...that is until you died and were brought back to life. But unlike others in the world, you aren't tied to fate to the tapestry of fate anymore, and you can choose your own destiny. You also now have the ability to alter the fate of others. And that, of course, means that you are now the key to ending the war.
While story suffers from the same flaw of others WRPGs (i.e.: it’s easy to lose the focus of the main plot in the plethora of side quests) and the character development (in the narrative sense) is kinda on the weak side, Amalur still manages to be engaging enough that you actually want to see what happens next. It’s also kind enough to always mark the next story objective so that you can always know where to go to continue. There’s also tons of other stuff you can do. Like joining a faction, for example, that will have dozens of connected side quests that spin out into complete short stories in of themselves. Even the non-faction side quests do this, so it’s easy to get immersed in the world. This immersion is aided by the massive areas to explore, which contains bits of lore for the player to discover, materials for items crafting, caves to explore and other things.
The level up and customization is welcome too. You truly are a blank state, free to build your character into anything you want. There are three skill sets for you to choose from, Might (which correspond to Fighter classes), Finesse (which covers Rogue skills like sneaking and thievery and what have you), and Sorcery (which of course governs magic skills). As you fill in each skill set, you'll unlock more destinies (jobs,) and grow more powerful. You can mix and match anyway you want, however and this can truly unleash devastating power.
But one of the things that truly set Amalur apart is the combat. Unlike many WRPGs, this game takes its combat cues from . In the sense that you has free flowing action, Quick time events and a super mode reminiscent of Kratos' "Rage of Titans." And the results are often exhilarating. God of War
Sadly, the company that made this game, 38 Studios, no longer exists. But this game is still worth picking up. So if you can, do it.
9. Fallout: New Vegas.
Year released: 2010.
platform: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Sure, it’s extremely similar to with the same open world gameplay style, graphics engine and overall feel and post nuclear apocalypse atmosphere. But it’s the little things that made Fallout: New Vegas better than its predecessor. For one thing, there are now factions that you can either get to love or hate you, and that will make affect how other people in the world treat you and affect the story. There's now a survival mode that makes you eat, sleep like you would have to in real life, it takes place around the same area as the first two Fallouts (i.e. in the American west deserts), and there is a better variety of weapons in my opinion. The story is a bit weak though (a courier delivering something of great value is betrayed and buried alive by a gangster who wants said valuable thing and is now the courier out for revenge), but it makes up for it with the abundance of side quests. Fallout 3
Gameplay wise, well it's kind of like a first person shooter, albeit one with a cool aiming system that lets you attack specific parts of the body. You can also do special attacks that are specific to the system. Whether or not you hit it depends on a percentage...basically, this system brings your attacks down to math. Thankfully, you can forgo this system and aim manually. Just bear in mind, whatever you decide to do, your weapons and armor will degrade with repeated use, so you constantly have to do maintenance on them. And when they break, you can't use it again until you get it repaired. You can also craft your own ammo and modify your guns for better performance. One that wasn't in Fallout 3 however, and something that I found very interesting, was the inclusion of gathering plants which you can then craft into things like medicines, poisons and what have you, kinda like in the Elder Scrolls series.
I highly recommend getting the Ultimate Edition, which includes the original game, and off of its downloadable content. Pick it up if you can.
8. Mass Effect Trilogy.
gameplay clip from Mass Effect 2 (PC version).
year released (first game in the series): 2007.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Yeah, I couldn't really pick out just one game in this series to put on the list. Besides, it’s one story told in three parts and together they form a whole so *shrugs*. I don't think I need to tell anyone reading this what Mass Effect is. But just for the hell of it, here's the gist: it takes place far in the future where mankind is just one species in a melting pot of many, you take control of a space marine named Shepherd who, after joining an elite special force called the Specters, discover a threat to Galactic Civilization known as Reapers, gigantic robotic life forms that want to wipe out all life in the galaxy. And now it’s up to you and your crew to stop them. The story is classic Space Opera, and it's done extremely well. The story itself was one of the series big innovations, because the choices you made throughout your adventure affected not only how your crew saw you, but the overall story as well. And not in just the story of one game, oh no, but in the sequels too. Which makes playing through it more than once rather tempting
Gameplay wise, aside from the freedom of choice, the Mass Effect games take their combat cues from third person shooters, most notably Gears of War, with some physic powers (which take the place of magic) thrown in and its heavy on the RPG mayonnaise. It all works and I have nothing more to say on that aspect. What I found infinitely more interesting though, was the interaction that Shepherd has with his crew. In between all the running and shooting, Shepherd and his (or her) crew hang out on his ship the Normandy, and you can go around and talk to them and get to know their stories, which in turn, can lead to things like side quests, and even possible romance. This is what I like because unlike many western developed RPGs, the Mass Effect games doesn't sacrifice story for gameplay, it finds a happy balance between the two. And as a result, it's a shining example of what video games as a narrative medium can actually do.
When I originally played the first game, I hated it. But as I continued to play, it started to grow on me and now I kinda can't get enough. Its low on the list because this series is kinda overrated in my opinion, but overrated or not it still manages to get everything right and is not to be missed. If you haven't played it, then what are you waiting for?
7. Final Fantasy XIII and
Final Fantasy XIII-2
The final chapter in the Final Fantasy XIII saga.
Year released (first game): 2009.
platform: Xbox 360 and PS3.
Final Fantasy has been around forever. And I couldn't get away with, nor did I want to, a list about RPGs without putting one of its games on this list. And XIII and XIII-2 were what I had to choose from. Both are great, but it’s hard to talk about one without talking about the other, because basically they're volume 1 and volume 2. So I chose both. I'm not real sure how to explain the plot without giving too much away, so please just bear with me for a second. The story takes place in a science fantasy world named Cocoon, a moon orbiting the much feared world called Gren Pulse. One day, a massive artifact from said world is discovered on Cocoon and the government decides to purge the town where said artifact was found. And that's where we meet our main characters. Lightening, the strong willed ex-soldier trying to save her younger sister, the happy go lucky optimistic Snow trying to save his fiancé (also Lightning’s younger sister), the ex airship pilot Sazed whose trying to save his son, the annoyingly petulant Hope, the perky Vanille and, finally her tough as nails friend Fang. After coming into contact with the Fal'Cie (basically a god-like being) inside the artifact, our hero's are branded as l'Cie, people chosen by the Fal'Cie to perform a certain task (also known as a "focus"). But since the Fal'Cie aren't always clear on what they want, our heroes have figure out what their task is and, if possible, stop it from happening. Because they've already figured out that it has "Bad stuff is gonna do down" written all over (oh really?).
XIII-2 picks up where the original game left off, and focuses on Lightning's sister, Serah, and newcomer Noel, a boy from the future. Serah is on a search for Lightening, who somehow disappeared after the end of the first game, and then gets caught up in a struggle to save the cosmos itself. And if I reveal more than that my head will explode.
The story of both games is very well told and have interesting, if somewhat confusing, ideas at play. The world is also one of the most well thought out of any single Final Fantasy game. The main cast is sympathetic and well developed. The music is great and over all, it meets the high expectations you expect from the franchise.
The only thing that keeps these games from scoring higher are some questionable game play choices. Although the core gameplay elements from past games of the franchise is still intact (like the Active Time Battle system or ATB, a job system and what have you), there are parts of that left people scratching their heads. I.e: why can't I switch between my party members in the middle of battle in the original when combat seems to be designed around that? Why don't enemies in the original drop money anymore? Why did XIII-2 drop a traditional party structure in favor of an irritating Pokémon-like monster capture mechanic? Things like that. I don't have time to run down all of it, but these and a host of other choices have polarized the fanbase. Nevertheless, both games lay a foundation for future titles to build on. And fans are eagerly awaiting the final chapter of XIII's story: the forthcoming, Lighting Returns.
6. Dark Souls.
Year released: 2011.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
This game is pure EVIL! And I LOVE it! I already talked about this game enough when I reviewed it, so there's no need to go into the finer details again. But suffice to say, Dark Souls is unforgettable. With its cryptic, tapestry like storytelling, intoxicatingly dark atmosphere and punishing difficulty, it brought something to games that had been missing for years, genuine real challenge. What other game in recent memory can you honestly say will kick your butt and make you feel good about it? None. I really don't have anything more to add about this game, so let’s move on.
5. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 Golden.
Year released: 2011.
Platform: Playstation Vita.
Yes, this is admittedly a remake of a Playstation 2 game, but ya know what? It doesn't matter, because Persona 4 is worth my weight in gold. The plot takes place in the Japanese countryside, where a string of weird murders have happened after heavy rain and fog has occurred. There is also a weird TV channel, called the Midnight Channel, that appears on TV at midnight (hence the name). The rumor says that if you stare at the TV while its turned off, the channel will appear and show you your true love. You play as a silent protagonist, a Japanese high schooler, and his friends who have tried to check the validity of these rumors...and you end up witnessing an unsolved murder. And then you find out that you and your friends can actually enter the TV during the Midnight Channel, which is infested with otherworldly monsters. Now your mission is to find the connection between the Midnight Channel, the murders and the Monsters. It’s really weird, but at the same time, it’s awesome, and it's the characters that make it all worthwhile. They are all fully rounded and very interesting to watch develop.
Like its predecessor, the gameplay in Persona 4 is divided up into two major parts, dungeon crawling, and...Everyday life. Ya see, while the solving the connection between the Midnight Channel and the murders is important, you're still playing as a normal Japanese High School Student, and the time not spent fighting monsters is spent doing everyday activities, like hanging out with friends, school clubs holidays and what have you. It might seem boring, but all of these life sim elements actually do have a point. The stronger the bond (or Social Link as it’s called) between you and your friends the stronger the Persona's (magic, basically) you'll be able to create. These elements will also let you shape the protagonist's personality which can affect the story. In other words, these elements allow you to do something that not many RPG's (Japanese or Western) do...actually Role Play. There is also a weather system too that plays an integral part of the story.
The Vita Version brings over just about everything that was great about the original, but it also added many other things, like new Social Links, new difficulty settings, Personas, new music tracks, new areas to explore and events and horde of other stuff that’s too numerous to name here. Honestly, as I see it, this game is pretty much the only reason to buy a Vita, and if you missed the original, then now your chance to correct that.
4. Lost Odyssey.
One of the Dreams: Don't Forget Me Now, Ya Hear?
Year released: 2008.
Platform: Xbox 360.
And now we come to one of the major reasons I actually bought an Xbox 360. It’s one of the earlier titles of the company Mistwalker, and is arguably one of the best post-Final Fantasy games that Hironobu Sakaguchi has ever made. The story takes place in a fantasy world where magic inhabits all living things, but only in the past thirty years has magic suddenly become so powerful that mankind is able to harness it as an energy source, thus leading to a "Magic-Industrial Revolution," which has affected both technology and Society as a whole. You play as an immortal soldier named Kaim Argonar, a man over a thousand years old and suffering from a bad case of amnesia. After a mysterious spike in magical energy causes a devastating meteor crash, Kaim, along with fellow immortal Seth and the dorky mortal mage Jansen, is sent to investigate the possible cause, a massive magical engine called Grand Staff. But things only get more complicated when a tragic encounter with someone from Kaim's past, breaks the clouds of amnesia and reminds Kaim who the real enemy is.
The plot maybe classic JRPG fare, but it's executed so well that it hardly matters. The story is riveting and fully driven by the characters and their development as people. Said development is one of the big reasons why this game is so great, thanks in part to an ingenious feature called "A Thousand Years of Dreams." As you interact with the world, Kaim will see sights, talk to people and what have you that will unlock a memory from long life which you then can view as dream or save for later. But these memories don't play out as cutscenes, at least not in the traditional sense. These are short stories, with text flying on the screen and static graphics like a visual novel. Now would you believe that this is one of the best parts of the game? The stories were penned by Japanese short story writer Kiyoshi Shigematsu (who worked closely with Sakaguchi) and translated into English by Harvard Professor Jay Rubin (most famous for translating the works of novelist Haruki Murakami). The result is some of the best storytelling in gaming (see video on the right for a sample dream). As for the music, two words: Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu brings his signature sound to the game, giving us pieces that is emotionally charged and manages to capture the appropriate mood for every scene.
As far as gameplay goes, anyone who fondly remembers old school RPGs (particularly Final Fantasy 6-10) will feel right at home here. Lost Odyssey stubbornly kept to old school mechanics with its turn based battles, world map, random encounters and what have you. These mechanics still work and I have no problem with them. learning spells and skills depends on whether a character is Immortal or not. Mortal characters like Jansen learn skills by leveling up or buying them in stores or by equipping items, whereas immortal characters, like Kaim and Seth, learn skills by linking with mortal characters and learning their skills or by equipping items. Basically, while some skills are better suited for certain characters, immortal characters are pretty much completely customizable. I don't really have a single bad thing to say about how this game. It's basically everything that the Final Fantasy series has lost. And many, including myself, speculate that this is what Final Fantasy XII would have been like if Sakaguchi hadn't left Square Enix.
Sadly, Lost Odyssey is part of a dying breed of RPG (in America and Europe anyway). Because since its release, the genre has been dominated by western developed titles, leaving most of the good RPGs from Japan unnoticed by mainstream gaming culture... that is until...
3. Xenoblade Chronicles.
Some sidequest gameplay.
Year released: 2012.
Platform: Nintendo Wii.
Made by the same team of geniuses that brought us the classics Xenogears and the Xenosaga Trilogy, Xenobalde Chronicles breathed new life into the JRPG with its open ended world, real-time combat and an engaging story about a war between a robotic race living on one dead giant and the organic races living on another dead giant and the uber laser sword that holds the plot together. The gameplay itself seems to be the biggest innovation here, because Xenoblade actually incorporated some elements of WRPGs into its game play. For example, there’s a "Bond" system in where completing side quests for the inhabitants of any given area (towns usually) will affect how you're perceived by people of the game world and it will also open up new story sequences. This system is also applied to your party members, because they also have a stat that will show how they feel about each other goes up or down depending on how much you use them in battle, giving them gifts or by having heart to heart talks at points scattered around the world.
But beyond all of that, it’s just an excellent game on every level, the story is thematically mature, the characters are fully developed and the game play is excellent. It’s great that Nintendo brought this game over to the states, which originally they weren't going to do. Sadly, though they only released it in limited quantities by making it available exclusively at GameStop. But after this game turned out to be a success, rumors starting flying around that this game might actually get an HD release on the WiiU. I don't know if that’s true or not, but I hope they are. Me personally, though, I rather see an HD version of.....
2. The Last Story.
Syrenne messing with Calista (aka Lisa).
Trailer showing off the combat.
Year released: 2012.
Platform: Nintendo Wii.
And we have yet another masterpiece from Hironobu Sakaguchi and the boys at Mistwalker. The story takes place in a world where the land is dying, its resources have become scares, and the terrain is turning into crystal shaped petals that then float around world. We play as Zael, a member of a mercenary band that has come to one of the last places of humankind's cultural and technological prosperity, the Island of Lazulis, looking for fame and fortune. But then Zael's world get turned on its head when, while on root to the island, he gains a mysterious power known as "Gathering," and then meets the beautiful Calista, the niece and heir of the islands ruling family. What will follows is a story of love, self-discovery, adventure and war that will uncover the mystery of Zael's power and why the land is decaying. It’s a great story with great characters, something that I personally come to expect from the creator of Final Fantasy. I love the characters in this game; they are the driving force behind the story. The romance between Zeal and Calista is well done and doesn't feel tacked on like similar romantic plots do in other games today. It kinda reminds me a little bit of the romance between Squall and Rinoa from Final Fantasy VIII. I also love the members of Zeal's mercenary band, like the enigmatic Dagran, the strong but silent mage Yurick, the laid back but brilliant Lowell, the nature loving but mysterious Mirania, but my favorite of the bunch is Syrenne. She's a strong woman who loves to drink and fight. She's also the funniest character in the whole game, usually at the expense of the other characters (see the first video under the pictures for one of her funniest, and most disturbing, moments).
Gameplay wise, The Last Story has a lot variety, combining elements of action and traditional RPGs, real time strategy, stealth and even some third person shooting. The battles take place in real time but you only have direct control over one character, namely Zeal, while the rest is controlled by the computer. Thankfully, the AI is competent enough to look after itself and doesn't really hinder you that much. Zael's "Gathering" power plays a big part in combat. You use it to draw the enemies’ attention to Zeal so that your party can charge up their spells and special attacks. You also use its "Focus" command to give commands to your party (ordering them to attack a specific monster or inanimate target, heal party members and things of that nature). You'll be doing both all the time, so you'll really need to plan ahead and strategize, but the game is flexible enough that, if your plans go awry, you can adapt and try something else. The stealth elements come into play in that you can get behind cover and move in on the enemy and get their attention with a crossbow to either pick them off (particularly if there is a mage or healer with them), lure them away or lure them into a sneak attack, put them to sleep or make them slip on a banana peel. It’s all fun as heck and you won't be bored. There's also an online multiplayer component where you and 6 friends can either go head to head in an arena style Player VS Player mode or in a co-op mode where you and your friends can take on the games bosses.
The music by Nobuo Uematsu is brilliant, probably his best work outside of the Final Fantasy series in my opinion (yeah, even better than Lost Odyssey). It looks great, it plays great, Hell, The Last Story is an excellent game on every conceivable level. The fact that it’s a Wii game is damned. Xenoblade might have revived the JRPG, but The Last Story is the one that got it right. Honestly, I would have put this game at the top of my list...if it hadn't of been for one game.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
A bit of Skyrim's gamelpay.
Year released: 2011.
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
You know when you're playing a game and you think "ok, I'll just play this for a while before bedtime" and the next time you look up its already dawn? Yeah that is Skyrim. While the story isn't that great in my opinion (You are the chosen hero called the "Dragonborn," out to save the world from the apocalypse at the scaly hands of an all powerful dragon named Alduin and his flying reptilian brothers), what makes Skyrim work is the gameplay. The nonlinear open world gameplay of the previous Elder Scrolls games is still intact, and the elements that worked from the previous game, Oblivion, are brought back (I.e. the players actions will greatly affect the way NPCs react to you, and NPCs have their own schedules). And it’s that freedom that makes Skyrim so fun, you can really be the hero, the villain or whatever you want. Everything you do or don't do will affect the world in some way, shape or form, not matter how small.
And that also applies to how you level up. Unlike previous games in the series, Skyrim has a perk system in where you put a point into a specific skill (like archery and stealth for example) after you level up. This literally lets you play in any way you want, with whatever weapon, skills etc you want. And then there are the Dragons. As you wander around, you'll randomly a Dragon that you can then fight to the death, kinda like a mini-boss fight. After killing it, you'll gain its soul which you can then use to unlock words for your Shouts. Those Shouts are words of power in the language of dragons, which have many different effects and can be found in dungeons around the game world.
The immersion here is just incredible. If you play this long enough, you'll become totally oblivious to the world around you. It just sucks you in and blissfully holds your attention hostage. If you put this game into your machine, it might never come out. I personally have lost count how many hours I've put into it. Nevertheless, Skyrim, like all the games on this list, is not to be missed. Again, I highly recommend getting the recently released Legendary Edition. Which includes the game and all of it downloadable content. You'll be glad you did.
So there ya have it, my top ten RPGs of this console generation. Hope you all enjoyed it. Feel free to let me know what you all think in the comments below.