As you wonderful listeners have already heard (since you most certainly are tuning in to our podcasts), Ryan and I both like RPGs. While we both play each type, I tend to prefer RPGs of Japanese origin, and he fancies those of western birth. Whatever our preferences may be, we both benefit from recommending games to each other. Maybe you can too.
Here are some of my favorite JRPG’s in recent memory. I tried to avoid picking games from series that are already very well-known like Paper Mario, Fire Emblem, Tales of, and Demon’s/Dark Souls (It’s an RPG from Japan, Ryan. That’s the only condition it needs to meet). Also avoided were older games that everyone and their dog have already played, like Chrono Trigger, older FF games, Skies of Arcadia, that sort of stuff. And let’s face it, there’s a plethora of games I’ve never played that you probably have. Hopefully this list can spark some interest in those who are looking for a new game, people who’ve lost interest of become jaded with JRPG’s and their often-times formulaic structure, or maybe inspire you to tell me why I’m so wrong and game X is 100 times better than anything I said.
[Disclaimer: Xenoblade Chronicles not included since I have yet to play it, starting it soon. Golden Sun: TLA not included, although it’s one of my personal favorites, because it isn’t as interesting as some of the others. Harvest Moon 64 not included because want this to be less than 20 pages long]
First, some background. Yggdra Union comes from the Dept. Heaven series, a lesser known series developed by Sting. Each game takes place in the same Universe, but they can occur in any time/place/plane of existence within said Universe, so the connections between the entries are usually loose with a few easter eggs scattered here and there. Additionally, the gameplay mechanics for each entry are wildly different, each game creating a whole new experience (for better or for worse). Riviera leans more towards your traditional turn-based RPG with emphasis on item management, Knights in the Nightmare is a bullet-hell/RPG mash-up, and the upcoming Gungnir looks like an SRPG akin to Disgaea.
Yggdra Union is the second game in the series, and is the most unique strategy RPG I’ve played (for better!). The basics are all intact, select your units, move them on the map, engage the enemies, use tactics/strategy/brute force to win the battle. The hook comes from the ability to link your units as the goofy subtitle suggests (“We’ll Never Fight Alone!”). You and the enemy can only initiate one battle each turn, but each battle draws in more units based on the type of unit that is fighting. For example, a female Valkyrie engages a male bandit. The Valkyrie is joined by any unit within 2 spaces of her in a + pattern, the Valkyrie being the center, while the bandit receives a similar bonus with an X pattern. 1-on-1 battles can quickly become 5-on-5, and if you play your cards right (literally, since you pick a card to decide each turn’s movement and attack power), you can create some mismatches and dominate your opponent.
The gameplay is addicting, and as you go on it keeps adding little tweaks. The story holds its own as well. You start off as the titular princess Yggdra, looking to regain her conquered kingdom. It’s a typical good vs. evil affair, with the princess distributing her justice to the usurpers, but it twists that around halfway through the game as you find yourself on the warpath to other countries. Chalking up the horrors of war as “the Justice of the Holy Sword” doesn’t have the same effect on the conquered as it does as rallying cry for your army. It’s been done before, but it’s pulled of pretty nicely, so the story doesn’t detract from the stellar gameplay at all. If you’re looking for an interesting take on the SRPG genre, don’t hesitate to pick this up.