This is the last few days of our current gen consoles being the “top of the line” hardware. In only a few short months I’ll be firing up my shiny new PS4 and dreaming about FFXV. The marriage of the Playstation and Playstation 2 with JRPG’s has been one of the major reasons I have enjoyed both of those consoles. But now with the PS3 about to be moved over to the console graveyard (I know that’s harsh, I’m keeping mine at least for a while) I thought it might be interesting to really look at what our current gen consoles provided in the RPG department and ask ourselves a few questions. Namely, what did we get out of this console generation, and what should we expect out of the next? So here is a rundown of all the PS3 RPG’s I played (and a couple 360 games I played before it went Red Ring on me) and my thoughts on what they brought to the table.
Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2
I included both of these titles together, and I know that Lightning Returns is still around the corner, but I think of them in tandem. They both used the most recent version of the beloved ATB battle system, and really ended up being pretty decent games. No, neither of them were perfect, but I personally found both to be in the “must play” category for the current gen JRPG lover. I think that SE did a nice job of showing us that turn-based battle systems don’t have to be boring. (Hyperdimenion Neptunia anyone?) Just because the action doesn’t take place in real time combat doesn’t mean that the system needs to be dull, slow or lacking in style. I would also give XIII some props for leading the way with a great female protagonist in Lightning, who has really become a mascot for SE on this console. Bravo!
White Knight Chronicles, II
I think that Level 5 has taught us something with these two games, and it’s not good: no-one wants to play zillions of ours of mediocre online content. Either be an MMO and create a great online community, or be a game with a story and all the usual fixings. I can’t help but think that these games would have been great if they had focused on one (MMO elements) or the other (story etc.) and instead we got one game that was broken up into two parts, that tells a mediocre story, features a mediocre battle system and an online community that turned off it’s servers faster than you can mute the game’s terrible voice acting. That said, I actually found myself liking this game. The graphics were great, and I loved that you could have a fully customized character AND the usual JRPG cast. Also giant mech’s are always a good thing. Too bad the battle system was kinda dull! I really wanted to love these games:(
Demon Souls, Dark Souls
These two games were probably some of the best on the console. Amazing immersive feel; great online content; awesome end game and plus game content; fantastic battle mechanics and bosses; so much death. I don’t know that I want to go ahead and say that the Souls’ games are the poster child for this gen of RPG’s, but they’re darn close. I can fire up a new character anytime and still feel excited about every encounter and frustrated by every death. What did we learn? Hard can be fun as long as you make it rewarding. Also PvP is pretty great.
Star Ocean The Last Hope International
Where to begin? Great battle system surrounded by lots of crap? Yeah that sounds about right. I love the updates to the International version on the PS3 though. The retro setting and Japanese voices really enhance this one. Too bad the cast is so annoying. I think that the one thing TLH taught me was that the classic JRPG trappings are only good if they are done well. Otherwise its just the same old crap with HD graphics. Smaller maps, more cohesive story, more diverse locations and more save points would have really put this game on the map. It’s a nice addition if you play primarily for the battles, but in the end I’m still craving a next-gen Star Ocean game that feels like SO2.
Two Worlds II
More mediocrity. This is a game that I have given the old college try numerous times. And yet I keep failing. I just can’t seem to care about any of the characters I make or anything they do. It’s not BAD per se, it just leaves no impression. I get the vague sense of having played it before, and it has the occasional bit of charm. In the end it doesn’t add much to the genre, and the bottom line is that other games just do all the same things better…namely:
The Bethesda games (I’m including Fallout 3 and New Vegas in this section as well) I will put together because they all FEEL the same to me. Spooky games, with great open world conent and solid levelling systems make for some amazing role playing. I think that the only real problem with these games is that the sheer amount of content makes them a bit tedious after a while. But that’s a pretty poor criticism. I mean who complains about TOO MUCH content? I guess I just wish they had focused a little more on making each quest line really really good, instead of going for quantity. Great job of nailing the open world solo experience though.
Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Graces f, Tales of Xillia
These games probably contain the best of the JRPG elements to be found on the current gen consoles. While most other series have either gone off the deep end or just disappeared entirely, the Tales games have managed to hang on to the things that make them great: good writing and excellent battle systems. Graces f has by far the best battle system of all the Tales games (in my humble opinion) and I might even suggest it was the best battle system on the whole console if I had to pick just one. Xillila is slightly more enjoyable than Graces only because I like the characters more. Vesperia is a fantastic game which only remains in third place because it still uses the old TP system that I’m personally pretty much done with. Yuri is a refreshing lead character though.
If I had to pick ONE game that I think really nailed the true JRPG experience on the current gen consoles, it would be Lost Odyssey. It just hit all the right notes to me. I mostly enjoyed the cast, and I really loved the lead hero’s back story of immortality. Very creative. The plot unfolded in pretty great fashion as well, with some striking surprises along the way. And while the battle system was a little last gen, the addition of the ring system helped keep things fresh. Great, great game.
Dragon Age Origins
While western in style and themes, DAO is still a blast to play. I think that out of all the next gen games DAO created the best classic fantasy setting. Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Trolls and humans, sorcerors and knights, magic and armor, this was pretty traditional but well crafted gaming. Hard not to enjoy this game, especially the dragon fights! Too bad DA2 was so incredibly bad. I hope Inquisition does better. (Ok, fine, I will admint Skyrim does a better job of the classic fantasy setting than DAO.)
Atelier Rorona, Totori, Ayesha and Meruru
Where to begin? Gust has created a monster with the Atelier games, and is pumping them out at record pace. I barely have time to turn on my PS3 and there is another Gust Alchemy game with a cute protagonist making potions for me to play. I really enjoy the Atelier games except for one thing: the time element. Now don’t get me wrong, I think time management is a cool gameplay mechaninc sometimes. The problems show up when the good ending is only accessible by playing a perfect game. This makes for a really really frustrations series of game saves and loads, and works against the overall enjoyment of the game. Still, the great art direction alone makes the Atelier games worth a look.
Resonance of Fate
I love this game! It’s weird and quirky, has a fun cast, lots of customization, and one of the most original battle systems on the console. I wish the learning curve was a little easier because it made this game very inaccessible to most gamers. Once you figure it out though it is a complete blast to play. I love the overall art direction and smart sense of style that ROF utilized. If you’re willing to dig deep and really learn the system I think there is a lot to love here.
Wow, I have so many powerful feelings about Nier. This is easily the most underrated game on this console generation. I cannot get over how powerful the narrative was, and I think the climax of Nier is by far and away the best ending of any game on this console gen. If you haven’t played Nier go to it! Nier also get’s brownie points for great music and best supporting cast. The only negative’s have to do with the curious case of clothing choices for a particular female lead…
So for the last seven or so years we have been RPGing on the current consoles, but it’s almost time to move on. For some reason, I perpetually felt disappointed by the RPG’s on the ps3 and 360, although when I look back at what was accomplished I have to feel pretty good. I think voice acting and music has grown leaps and bounds in this console generation. I also think that we have seen a new crop of battle systems being developed. Even though I’m not sure they all worked the way we might have hoped, games like Resonance of Fate and Valkyria Chronicles showed us that developers still have some creative impulses left. Another trend that we saw happen with this generation is a move away from FMV’s into story scenes that simply utilize the in-game engine. I personally have mixed feelings about this. The FMV’s in FFX for example were so exciting to watch, but I like the fuller integration we see in the storytelling in games like Xillia or FFXIII. Another bravo for this gen would be the many female leads we are seeing. Lightning, the Atelier cast, Milla from Xillia are all strong examples and I think it’s a good thing. The option to choose a fem-shepherd in the Mass Effect games is another example of progress in this area. Other changes have been simply wonderful: save anywhere; making random encounters obsolete; character customization; DLC (yeah I know it’s a mixed bag); online integration.
In summary, I think it was a pretty solid console gen. We had some of the old style gameplay, some new systems, lots of improvements, and a diverse library of games to choose from.
No we didn’t see the massive library that the ps2 era provided, but more and more I’m finding myself putting down my ps2 controller and firing up a current gen rpg, not because I want to be current, but just because the newer games are simply better. This is a promising reality! I’m getting even more excited about the Next-Gen happening soon. How about you?