The Best of the Best
Cam: Suikoden III, Tales of the Abyss
OK, I know, people are probably tired of hearing about my love for Suikoden III but I don’t really care. I mean, where else will you have 108 characters to recruit and a story told in multiple different points of view? You just don’t see that in modern games and honestly, you didn’t see it much on the PS2 either. This game featured everything you would expect from an epic RPG, building upon the success of the series and creating a lasting experience for anyone who played it. Oh, and did I mention that you get to build and expand a castle? If there was one thing you could say wrong about the game, it was that it had to end; though that didn’t stop me from going back and replaying it to the tune of 10 times completed.
My favorite Tales of game in the entire series, with Symphonia coming in a close second. Tales of the Abyss just had this really interesting story that knew exactly when to pull you in and then punch you in the gut. The story was made even better by some really excellent characters that grew in depth along with the story. I remember the scene where Luke fon Fabre cut his hair and completely transformed his character. And don’t even get me started on that ending, which left me with some killer allergies.
Erren: Final Fantasy XII, Persona 4
You might have expected Final Fantasy X to be here, given the game’s popularity as a gateway title and one of the first PS2 games that launched the success of the hardware following launch. But no, I’m here to talk about Final Fantasy XII which is, in my opinion of course, one of the best Final Fantasy titles to date and certainly one of the most ambitious.
So why XII? To put it simply, the game was ahead of its time in many respects. From its visuals, to large world design and cast of characters with a more serious story, FFXII was the game the franchise should have taken point with. While, yes, the plot does get a little wonky in the later parts the overall presentation, astounding localization and lore built into the game is what sets it above the rest.
What can I say about Persona 4 that hasn’t already been said enough? Persona 4 was one of those games that came out well after the end of the PS2’s heights, but that in itself matters very little. The game is quality and any self-respecting fan of RPGs — Japanese or otherwise — should take a look if they haven’t already. Persona 4 is all about style and underneath its anime aesthetics is a story steeped in mystery and padded along by a traditional turn-based battle system so many people, including myself, still love. Persona 4 represents a lot of things from RPGs past, but it also catapults things into the future with its social systems and colorful cast of characters.
The Ones That Almost Got Away
Cam: Stella Deus, Shadow Hearts Covenant
I know that Heath Hindman is going to see this and lose his mind, but what can I do? Stella Deus was a game that really caught me by surprise. I remember seeing the cover art and thinking: holy crap! This looks like shit! However, I picked it up anyway and found myself in this engaging strategy RPG full of interesting characters and a solid story. Everything about the game just worked for me, even down to it’s completely grey scale look. Sure, the game wasn’t as deep as other SRPGs like Disgaea or FF Tactics, but that didn’t stop it from being just as interesting.
I remember seeing Shadow Hearts Covenant on the shelf at GameStop and Blockbuster and continually passing on it since I didn’t care much for the original Shadow Hearts. However, one day I finally caved in and just picked it up. Boy, was I happy I did, because it was an experience I just didn’t expect. Covenant just had this enchanting story set in a modern day world that really got me hooked in. Everything else at the time was very much a fantasy setting and while this game had plenty of fantasy aspects, it was that dark and gritty World War I setting that just sealed the deal for me. The combat was also thoroughly enjoyable and the pacing of the story, along with the depth of the characters was very well done.
Erren: Rogue Galaxy, Soul Nomad
Developer Level-5 tends to get its share of hate from certain circles around the internet, but in all honesty I was really surprised by Rogue Galaxy. I picked it up on a whim after seeing the game on store shelves shortly after launch and was really impressed with what I first saw despite the game not receiving much hype — if any — at the time. The game itself is surprisingly deep, with a number of systems, fun action-paced gameply and a story that kept me wanting more.
The thing that lured me into checking out Soul Nomad was the art and story. I’m a sucker for those things and a quick skim of the Japanese version told me that I might possibly be interested in those things when the North American version came around. Suffice to say, my speculations were correct and Soul Nomad was a surprisingly entertaining game. With multiple paths and characters to explore and a strategy RPG system in a similar vein to Disgaea, Soul Nomad was a fun little game that deserved a bit more attention than what it got.
Memories, Sweet Memories
Cam: I actually remember having trouble finding a PS2 at launch and having to settle for an original Xbox. I just remember playing my Xbox, and having fun, but I was lacking my RPG fix so badly. Once I was able to get my hands on a PS2, I quickly sold my Xbox and never looked back. There was never a dull moment with my PS2, as I always had a new epic adventure just waiting to be played.
As for a game-specific memory, it has to be the first time I played Persona 3. I remember I had just picked up the game from the story when my friend Brian invited me to his house, so I of course took it with me. So here we are at his house with like eight other people, I pop in the game and there goes Yukari Takeba putting a gun to hear head, pulling the trigger, and summoning her Persona. That is, about the time the whole room went silent until I hear this “WTF is this game, dude?” Let’s just say, I wasn’t ever invited back after that experience.
Erren: The PS2 will always hold the greatest nostalgia for me, despite owning other systems years before it. I remember wanting a PS2 for Christmas around launch because… well, it was the cool thing to do at the time. Little did I know the wealth of games to come and the eventual precursor that would send me down the RPG-lover’s path with it.
My favorite memory will always be that of when I received a copy of Final Fantasy X and put it into my PS2 for the first time. I remember not having a memory card at the time, so I had to leave the game on or play from the beginning every time I restarted the system. The game blew me away — it was my first real experience with a game of that visual quality and voice acting. At the time I was impressed with how the in-game cut-scenes resembled much of the CG graphics! Of course, in retrospect they’re not anywhere close but to my young mind it was something special. It was the presentation of Final Fantasy X that really made me grow to love and appreciate the PS2 and RPG genre. Without it I may have not continued to explore the genre as I do today.
What were your favorite memories, games, and sleeper hits you almost passed up on? Let us know in the comments.
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