Video Madness (VI): The Best VRPGs I’ve Ever Played

And here we go with a larger list of my favorite Video Role Playing Games (VRPGs). As with the previous set, there is no order to it and I have finished all on the list at least once.

Bear in mind that this, as with my movie reviews, is based solely on story and characters.  I don’t go into game-play hardly at all as I gush embarrassing praise.


Final Fantasy VI, VII and IX

Tifa from Final Fantasy 7: One of my favorite heroines from the series

We’re just going to get the first two out of the way right here.  I’ve gushed enough about both of them through this series so you really should know what I like about them  Interesting characters, enough control to give the illusion you have a hand on things (so long as you don’t think about it too much) and kick ass stories, it’s no wonder they keep bringing either of these back (as well as some clamoring for remakes.

Final Fantasy IX, however, is another matter.  It really doesn’t have the same level of control the other two have.  Yet the story of Zidane and his attempts to help the Princess Dagger (not her real name) stop a terrible war is as engrossing and entertaining as the earlier two.  So too are the characters, all interesting and unique in the series history.

If I might be a little petty, this is, as far as I can see, the last truly great Final Fantasy game.  Oh, X is very good, don’t get me wrong.  It just doesn’t have the charm of the earlier games.

And XII… Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, save I played it but never finished.  Again, that might say something.

Be that as it may, if I could only play three Final Fantasy Games, these would be they.


Planescape: Torment

Morte – A head above every other companion. Through skullduggery, no doubt.

The ultimate VRPG about an amnesiac protagonist, Planescape: Torment follows the quest of the Nameless One as he struggles to shed an unwanted immortality from his person.  To do this he travels across several strange dimensions and acquires a party of truly odd characters, including a philosopher succubus, what looks like a walking TV set, and a floating skull.  By the time he finishes, he learns far, far too much about himself.

This is without a doubt one of the best Dungeons & Dragons games I have ever played.  Even with its undoubtedly dated graphics, I look forward to playing it again once I finish with a few other projects.  Worth seeking out, and currently easy to lay hands on, along with several other excellent games.


Growlanser 2

(Okay, all the ones that came to the USA)
Charlone from Growlanser 2 – Subordinate knights shouldn’t be this pretty.

Again, here is a game I’ve already gushed about for far too long.  Can’t be helped.  I love this game.  I love this series.  I keep hoping the whole set comes over to America.

The other two (3 and I believe 5) don’t have the same appeal as the Growlanser 2, but that might be the order I played them in.  5 has special meaning for me, as it’s the only VRPG I have ever played featuring Academy Award winner Lou Gossett Jr.

Really.

Of course, by the time his character had come up, I had the voices turned off, but he was there, damn it.  And that’s pretty darn cool.


Vandal Hearts 2

(And Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment)
Black Friday can be a trying time, but Sword Boy was certain he’d get the latest iPod for Little Jimmy this Christmas.

When ever I pick up a Vandal Hearts game I know I’ll be in for challenging Tactical RPG.  There will also be interesting characters and multiple endings of some sort or another.

It will also be one of the most depressing games I’ll play.

Seriously.  Childhood friends will turn to prostitution.  Innocents will be slaughtered in front of their loves ones.  Suicide and suggested gang rapes abound.  Then the game will stop being so God damn cheerful.

Needless to say I really, really want to get the good ending whenever I play.

Which was why Vandal Hearts: Fires of Judgement was a little disappointing.  Only two endings and they’re relationship based.  Still, a great game in a great series that doesn’t come out often enough.

(Vandal Hearts the first probably belongs on this list, but I forgot most of what I loved about it.  CURSE YOU OLD AGE!)


Final Fantasy Tactics

Ramza – Nothing nice ever happens to this kid…

All Ramza Beoulve wants to do is be a credit to his family name.  However, his sense of honor puts him at odds with his brothers, costs him his best friend, and makes him a heretic in the eyes of his church.  Which, as it turns out, is fine, as pretty much everything Ramza has ever known is wrong…

While I love Growlanser and Vandal Hearts with all my heart, Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the best Tatical RPGs ever made.  Near perfect game play, compelling story, the works.  Still very much the one to beat even after all these years.

Except… it does have its issues.  For instance it does contain some of the most redamndiculous boss battles ever.  Then there’s a game breaking character you acquire as the plot progresses.  Oh, and the nasty habit of characters becoming mindless drones the moment they enter your party.

Still, I love this game and enjoy my time with it.


Lunar: Silver Star Story

(now Lunar: Silver Star Harmony)
An animated sequence featuring Luna singing Wi...
Luna – Sing, sister, sing.

What, I gush and gush about this game and you think I’m not going to bring it up again?  Puh-lease.

This is the story of Alex, who wants to be a Dragonmaster just like his hero Dyne.  He sets out to do just that, accompanied by his childhood sweetheart, Luna.  Unfortunately, the two run into the Wizard Ghaleon, who recognizes Luna for what she truly is.  Recognizes her, and will stop at nothing to possess her.

There are a lot of stories in which Hero A must save Maiden B from the clutches of Evil C.  For instance, see Final Fantasy Tactics, which plays this little song a few times before it’s finished.  However, I would say that Lunar does the best job of it.  Mainly because it has Luna to accompany the player for so long, allowing the player to develop an attachment to her and a concern for her fate that doesn’t always come through with these games.

Sure this game is as linear as hell.  Sure the player marches to the game designer’s drum.  That doesn’t keep Lunar: Silver Star Story from being one of the best VRPGs out there.


Wild Arms and Wild Arms 3

Clive from Wild ARMS 3 – It’s been a while, but I remember him as being as cool as hell.

Wild ARMS was the first VRPG I bought for the Playstation.  I bought it instead of Final Fantasy 7.  I also bought it as a Christmas present to myself, which makes me a horrible, horrible person.

In any case, these Western (as in cowboys and gunplay) VRPGs have never been ones for innovation.  In fact, in some ways they almost seem to be setting the genre back, what with the later games ludicrous search feature.  (We’ll poke Brother Eric on this one and see if we can’t get a rant about not finding cities and towns on a world map without hitting a button).

However, I have as a rule enjoyed the games I’ve played.  The stories tend to be fun and the puzzles that sometimes goes with them tend to be entertaining.

Though… well..,  I don’t care for the even installments in the series.  The second saddled me with a boring romance that irritated me enough to not want to ever play it again.  The fourth on the other hand was out and out depressing.  The ending alone ade me want to play Vandal Hearts for some laughs…


Front Mission 3

Rate of Fire Up One… what?

I can’t believe I almost finished this list without mentioning Front Mission 3.

Whelp, that’s done.  Time to…

Okay, okay, okay.  There’s probably no real reason for this game to be on this list.  While it does have a branching storyline, the branch is based on something trivial at the start of the game.  You are on rails through out the game (though on occasion a choice you make will have a limited effect on how things go) and the character advancing mechanics aren’t very good.

Still, the futuristic adventures of Kazuki Takemura and Ryogo Kusama tickle me.  The combat (done via giant robots) I enjoy.  And maybe that’s enough.

The sometimes stilted dialogue doesn’t hurt, either…


Chrono Trigger

Merle – So much trouble caused, and all because she left home for the first time…

Once upon a time, I had a little money and the choice of two games on the horizon.  Both games looked very good to me, but I could only get one.  The other, unfortunately, would have to be purchased later, or, more likely a rental.  Maybe.

I chose the one that would be released first.  Simple.  Easy.  The money was apparently burning a hole in a pocket.  The day approached…

And then the company behind the games, Square, switched the released dates.  Me, I just shrugged my shoulders.  As I said, both games looked very good to me.

Thus is the story of how I almost bough Secret of Evermore, a game I previously rated as one of the worst games I ever played, instead of Chrono Trigger, one of the best VRPGs ever made.

For some reason I find that earth shattering.  Because this game means quite a bit to me.

It’s the story of Chrono, a young man who meets a pretty girl at a carnival, watches as the girl gets sucked into a time vortex, then has to rescue said girl from a grandfather paradox she accidentally causes.  You know, typical VRPG stuff.  And this doesn’t even get into the evil Elder God that will end his world in a thousand years time.  Just a little thing, that.

For the most part, this is the perfect example of an Inconsequential Fluid plot, with little choices changing little in the way of plot but having the feel of big consequences.  Towards the end it loosens up a bit in terms of player choice, leading to not one but four possible endings.  Five if you count the Bad Ending.

Filled with interesting characters and an excellent story, Chrono Trigger remains one of the best games ever made.


Honorary Mentions

Now this leaves out a whole slew of potential titles, doesn’t it?  No Dragon Quest.  No Baldur’s Gate.  I’m sure there’s others.

Why not them?

I dunno.  I like them.  I just don’t like them like them.

Lists like this are so subjective.  I almost forgot to put in Lunar, if you can believe that.

Still, these are the games I have fond memories of.  These are the games that I have played repeatedly.  And no doubt will again.


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