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Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings where I'm on a never-ending quest to find the best of the maligned and forgotten.
Last year, when I put together my list of worthwhile RPGs that are exclusive to the Sega Saturn, I mentioned that the original Playstation hosted the best RPG line-up of its generation. I attributed that statement to the Final Fantasy and Wild Arms series for good reason. The back-to-back releases of the original Wild Arms (my favorite PS1 RPG, for the record) and Final Fantasy 7 in 1997 brought the genre into the mainstream in the US where, on previous consoles, they were seen as a "nerds only" genre.
While the Final Fantasy series was a major cash-cow on the original Playstation, there were plenty of other great RPGs that were unfairly passed up. I'm here to remedy that by bringing eighteen epic quests into the spotlight that deserve another look. As they're on the PS1, they're fully playable on the PS2 and the PS3 as well. Let the journeys begin!
Working Designs making a Zelda-clone? Yes, please! The original Alundra is a beautifully-drawn 2D hack-and-slash with brilliant puzzle dungeons. The fact that the main character can enter the dreams of others leads to several great scenarios.
This obscure Konami release is the weirdest mix of genres I'd ever seen. It's equal parts dungeon crawler, Pokémon trainer, city builder, and... dating sim?!? All these elements work great, and the game stays charming all the way up the tower.
'Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena'
I had mentioned this one in the aforementioned Saturn article, and now I get to elaborate. My mother logged HUNDREDS of hours into Brigandine for a reason. Each of the five playable nations have their own stories and generals, the turn-based battles are constantly challenging, and there are tons of soldiers and monsters to fill your armies. It's Risk taken to the nth degree.
While the original Diablo is also available on the PS1 (with a quite hefty pricetag), Darkstone is a good alternative for dungeon crawling. The eight playable characters are all unique, the combat is fast and fun, it has two-player co-op, and it's dirt cheap. What's not to like?
'The Granstream Saga'
Those who are fans of Illusion of Gaia on the Super Nintendo need to check this one out. The main character Eon is on a quest to keep the floating continents of his world from falling; the story is presented with great original anime. The one-on-one battles are always tense, each playing out like a great movie swordfight.
'Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu'
Yes, this is a blatant Pokémon rip-off, but it's a good blatant Pokémon rip-off. The big addition to the formula is the ability to breed captured monsters to create new ones. If you were ever curious about what would happen if you mated Pikachu and Charmander, check this game out.
If Hammer Films (the company that cast Christopher Lee as Dracula) made an RPG, it'd probably be like Koudelka. Though the story isn't that strong and the voice acting sucks, the atmosphere is excellent for the time, and the strategic combat works well (if a bit simplistic). Check this one out this Halloween.
'Legend of Legaia'
While Wild Arms grabbed all the attention when it came to Sony's first-party RPGs, Legend of Legaia was largely ignored which is a real shame. The writing was great with plenty of very funny interactions among the three lead characters, and the martial arts based combat is very strategic and addictive.
While Persona 5 got every RPG award imaginable on the PS3 and PS4, the original on the PS1 was missed at the time. Of course, people then didn't know what to think about a game where students summoned Personae to fight (or befriend) demons between classes. This was the first Shin Megami Tensei game released in the West and is essential playing.
'Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure'
While too many RPGs try to be moody, Rhapsody is one of the most lighthearted games in the genre. The combat is very easy to pick up, the writing is very funny, and the artwork is bright and colorful. The music is also fantastic; would you expect less from "A Musical Adventure?"
'SaGa Frontier 2'
While the first SaGa Frontier got all the press when it released, the much superior sequel was hardly mentioned. The characters can specialize in almost anything you want, the watercolor art style is just gorgeous, and the story which follows two characters over decades is more epic than usual for the time.
'Saiyuki: Journey West'
This is a weird idea: a tactical RPG based on a 400-year-old Chinese book about a Buddhist monk's journey to India. While a few liberties were taken from the original story Xi You Ji like adding stronger monster allies, they make for more possible strategies to work with and more engaging battles. Jīngcǎi de bǐsài!
'Space Griffon VF-9'
This is what it would be like if an RPG based on Robotech was ever made. The story plays out like a 90s anime, the mech combat reminds me of the classic tank game Battlezone, and the RPG elements are so subtle that some players won't even notice them.
'Tecmo's Deception: Invitation to Darkness'
Here's a doozy: you play a damned prince who gives souls to Satan to gain power to get revenge on your scheming brother. You check out my review for more details, but suffice to say this is a great strategy RPG and torture porn at the same time.
'Threads of Fate'
When Square makes a dungeon crawler, it's almost always unique. While the stories are pretty standard involving reviving a loved one and reclaiming a kingdom, the gameplay makes up for it. The puzzle dungeons are very clever, requiring both characters Rue and Mint to use their distinct abilities to get through them.
'Torneko: The Last Hope'
While the proper entries in the Dragon Quest RPG series are epic adventures, Torneko is a simple dungeon crawler in the same universe that's easy for anyone to pick up and play. It doesn't push any boundaries in terms of graphics or story, but it has a simple charm that's just endearing.
While Konami's Suikoden games got a ton of attention (for good reason), Vandal Hearts deserved it, too. The complex storyline would almost work for Game of Thrones, and the tactical gameplay is easy to pick up but still allows for complex strategies. While the Shining Force games are still my favorite tactical RPGs, this one's a close second.
Now, here's a magical mixture! Combine Working Design's stellar writing, mechs that wouldn't look out of place on Mobile Suit Gundam, and the brilliant tactical gameplay of Shining Force. I'm sure this would've gotten a lot more attention if it hadn't released so close to the PS2 launch.
I'm planning to look for other RPGs that deserve more attention on other consoles. Do any come to mind? Let me know, and game on!