Editorial: Five PS2 JRPGs I need to play, before it's too late
(continued from previous page) ...that Shin Megami Tensei's limited Western clout had more than a little to do with it. 2005 was a busy gaming year for me besides, with Soulcalibur III and Shadow of the Colossus planted firmly in my disc tray. That's a poor excuse for a game whose character customization apparently closely resembles Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid (a thought which has me ready to drop everything and play this game immediately).
Release date: January 30, 2007
Developer: Level-5, SCE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB: T for Teen
Level-5's space opera didn't come to North America until 2007, the first complete calendar year of the PlayStation 3's existence and a time when many PlayStation gamers were beginning to eye up the future and turn a blind eye to the last deluge of great PS2 games. Rogue Galaxy is one of them, for boundless depth, a soaring narrative, and an innovate approach to battles that saw a seamless transition between exploring and fighting. No random encounters, no loading screens, and no limits to the places you could go and things you could see.
Thankfully, there was plenty to do AND see in Rogue Galaxy. Gameplay systems abound, and a yarn was spun of adventure and pirating on the high seas of the infinite unknown. For these reasons and more, I regret not tearing my eyes away from my shiny new PS3 to give this one a shot. While I ripped through games like Resistance: Fall of Man and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, my RPG-loving inner self yearned for the chance to play Rogue Galaxy. I never made that leap, and as the game continues to fall into obscurity, there are few gaming oversights that I more deeply regret.
DRAGON QUEST VIII: JOURNEY OF THE CURSED KING
Release date: November 15, 2005
Publisher: Square Enix
ESRB: T for Teen
The eighth installment in the venerable Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest franchise is actually a bit misplaced on this list, for I HAVE actually played it. In fact, I own it, having purchased it in 2005 not only for the gorgeous artwork of Akira Toriyama and its time-honored turn-based gameplay, but for the included demo of Final Fantasy XII. To my great shame, I have logged dozens of hours in Dragon Quest VIII over multiple attempted playthroughs, but never have I finished it, nor even advanced past the halfway mark.
In this case, I can testify for the sheer quality of the game, and the fact that it stands tall as one of the most polished JRPGs of all time. It's a sweeping epic across a wide-open world just waiting to be explored. That same world is populated by a cast of genuinely funny, relatable characters. The localization is impressive, the battle system is accessible yet challenging, and the game's cel-shaded visuals positively pop nearly a decade later.
Level-5 has never failed to impress on PS2, and Dragon Quest VIII might be its very best. I absolutely cannot wait to begin this game anew, and this time, see it through to the very end.
XENOSAGA (Ep. I - III)
Release date: February 25, 2003 (Episode I)
Developer: Monolith Soft
ESRB: T for Teen
PlayStation veterans will recognize the name "Xeno-", but while Xenosaga is the spiritual successor to the original PlayStation's Xenogears, it's another beast entirely. That beast is one of cinematic splendor and narrative ambition, of philosophy and science-fiction. The former two are things I cherish in modern gaming, and the latter two make Xenosaga one of the most unique JRPGs around.
That said, with uniqueness comes divisiveness, and not every critic fell hard for Xenosaga's brand of insanely long cutscenes and heavy story exposition. The philosophical underpinnings of Friedrich Nietzsche are referenced heavily throughout the trilogy, and anyone with a desire to play all three should be ready for a somewhat weak second installment. Still, everything I've read about the story of Xenosaga has me itching for a chance to experience all three episodes, especially alongside three battle systems that each make changes to and innovate upon that of the prior installment.
A war with an alien race, a mysterious power held by a legendary artifact, tensions and relationships wrapped up in a plan to change humanity's fate; the stage is set for a JRPG masterpiece, and I can't wait to find ... (continued on next page)