Top 5 Cult RPG Video Games
Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to RPGs, I am a traditionalist. I prefer my games to be in the JRPG style with the turn-based format. While I do enjoy action-RPGs, I haven’t really gotten to experience the newer western-style RPGs like Bioshock and Fallout/Skyrim. Most of my experience comes from third, fourth, and fifth generation consoles and adapting their statistical engines to create my own pencil and paper style games.
When I think of classic RPGs, the genre seems to be dominated by Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. While Dragon Quest was commercially unsuccessful here until Dragon Quest VIII was released, Final Fantasy has been a household name from almost day one. Final Fantasy VII is probably THE game to get the genre and franchise on the map in a mainstream way. For that, I will always respect the game, but I’ve got some qualms about it that I won’t get into on this post.
This session, I am discussing five of my favorite cult RPGs. It’s truly difficult for me to determine what a cult status is on a lot of things. My Facebook feed mostly consists of people with the same tastes as I have so I often think that my social media representation is a fair representation of the rest of society. Sometimes I am reminded how untrue this is. So, there is possibility that you may be thinking to yourself “That’s not a cult game.” when I mention each one. My only response is… Shut up. Because these are games that didn’t seem to get a lot of exposure and ones that I happened to get some playtime in on. So, here’s my list, starting from “Damn, that’s pretty awesome” to “OMG THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER”:
5. Wild Arms 3 (2002) for PlayStation 2
I had never played the other games in the Wild Arms franchise but I found this game to be very appealing. It was released during a time that cell shading was ruling the animation world of video games. In particular, I liked the way the storyline came together. It’s been a decade plus since I’ve played it but I still have pretty fond memories of the various cool traits the game had.
Each character was completely distinct. They each had their set of tools, guns, and special abilities. What each of the four characters brought to the table was significant as far as backstory and plot development went. I found myself completely engrossed in learning how it would all play into the grand scheme.
The status ailments were particularly interesting because they offered some effects that I had never seen before. “Disease” meant that your character was unable to restore HP and “Amnesia” meant that your character couldn’t gain experience points. Yikes! It added an extra element of frustration which made the game more exciting.
But, quite possibly the coolest thing of all, was the fact that you get to FIGHT WITH A GODDAMN SHIP. That’s right, you get a ship that you can travel in (borrrrinnngg!) and in that ship, you can fight other ships and huge enemies. You buy gear for your ship and it even levels up and gains experience! How dope is that?
The Wild Arms franchise is one that still hasn’t garnered much attention but has been solid from day one. This one is my favorite of that franchise.
4. Kodelka (1999) for PlayStation
“The plot is split up into several storylines that all interwine with each other: the history of the monastery itself as a prison for heretics and political adversaries, where the inmates were ruthlessly tortured and killed; the tragic fate of Charlotte, who was locked up in the monastery from birth and was executed at a young age, never knowing why, who believed she was never loved and now haunts the mansion; and Ogden’s past as the captain of the sunken ship The Princess Alice, his friendship with the kind Elaine and the events occurring after Elaine’s death.” – Wikipedia.org
I first heard of this game while discussing video games with a friend of mine. The part that stuck out the most to me was that it was a tactical grid-style RPG with survival horror elements. The game takes place in 1898 in Wales which removes the ease of technology that often is absent from modern survival horror stories. You always wonder “Why don’t they use their cell phones?” and the cell phone service is suddenly full of “No Signal”, which I suppose is normal far from civilization but, whatever, it’s a convenient plot device that finds its way into too many stories of the genre.
I particularly felt the voice acting was very good. In many ways, this game seemed to outshine Resident Evil in many ways. I felt the spooky aspects were far stronger and I felt much more attached to the characters involved. Both stories involve a fairly complex story arc, which I really appreciate in all forms of media.
I would strongly recommend looking into this game if these aspects are something you enjoy. I recently found out it is the prequel to the Shadow Hearts series, so I may check those out as well.
3. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996) for Super Nintendo
This is THE game that old school RPG hipsters will talk about. I remember picking this game up the day it came out as an 11-year-old. I had loved this style of gaming since I was about 7 and this game meshed up one of my favorite heroes into a style of gaming that I really enjoyed. This game was significant for many reasons. It was a (mostly) 3D action-style RPG that was similar to Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in many ways. Fights only occurred with enemies if you touched them on the map screen, there were no random encounters. This actually made it possible to SKIP some boss battles with some pretty nifty glitches.
The game is known for its humor, the breaking of the fourth wall, and a side of Bowser we had previously never seen. As a team, Mario and Bowser team up to take Bowser’s castle back from the evil Smithy, who is created all kinds of baddies to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. The game is also known for being the first game to employ timed based attacks as opposed to combo-based moves like in Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.
Each character is very distinct in this game as well, employing their own blend of authenticity to the game and making it unique. There are five characters to choose from as the story goes on. Mario is always in the party (duh), but the other two are chosen based on your combat style. Another unique feature was the use of Flower Points which is a pooled resource of magic points as opposed to individual MP that characters typically had. This changes the dynamic in your decision making of how you spend your magic much differently.
This game, despite being very easy, is a great addition to any collection. The game used on Amazon is currently $69.99 so it has financial value in addition to being a fun game. This is not really a game you can grind on, the levels max out at 30 and you can probably easily beat the game at level 22-25. Getting all of the frog coins, mastering the 100 jumps, and defeating Culex behind the secret door are the most satisfying parts of the game. I would highly recommend it to the new gamer as well as the old school gamer.
2. Final Fantasy VI (1994) for Super Nintendo
Before Final Fantasy VII kicked in the door of the video game world and announced that RPGs were taking over, Final Fantasy VI was meekly in the background, collecting a following that would stay untarnished forever. Like Final Fantasy IV, this installments includes a vast cast of characters who come and go and all offer very specific purposes to the storyline. There are many hallmarks of this game that I really enjoyed.
Though Terra is the focal point of the game and considered to be the main character, she really isn’t a main character. She isn’t like Cecil, Cloud, Squall, Zidane, or Tidus where they are almost always prominent in the storyline and action. Terra is the key to bridging the gap between Espers and humans and between magic and those who fear it. As a main focal point, she isn’t ridiculously OP like many main characters can be. Her combat skills aren’t impressive, but they also aren’t completely wimpy the way way that many RPGs tend to make magic casters.
In fact, each character is balanced pretty well to the point that I generally enjoy playing all of them. There are 14 in all to choose from and in the end, only three of them end up being mandatory to the gameplay. Terra isn’t even necessary for the ending credits, but any character you don’t end up getting in the second half is not shown in the ending credits and it doesn’t have the same emotional feeling that you would have.
The game deals with many themes including lost opportunities, being an orphan, solitude, desperation, suicide, loneliness, jealousy, and megalomania. The love story within the game is featured between Celes and Locke, who are tested in the beginning by trust issues and the threat of abandonment. In the end, it’s the reminder of the one who stood by and assisted that keeps the other from going off the deep end (unless you heal Cid of his sickness, then none of that shit happens).
The game features one of the coolest and most diabolical villains ever written. A righthand man to the Emperor, Kefka ends up going power crazy after he discovers the ability to cast ridiculous amounts of magic and simply transcends being a human. In his struggle to maintain power, he ends up breaking the world and ruling the planet by sheer force.
Such a complicated game has its price, though. On a small cartridge, the game was subject to a decision. Either remove some of the plot and characters or alter the coding to make shortcuts to allow the game to continue to be as in depth. Programmers opted for the second option and the game suffers some pretty awesome glitches. There are a few things they never considered. Like, the fact that if you simply don’t save the game from when you first reach the world map to the point that you have an airship and are about to reach the second half of the game and you decide to let your characters die, you revert back to your initial save point and the data retains that you have an airship.
This makes for hilarious points as the game was only able to hold 16 character slots (two belonging to Terra and Locke and two belonging to Kefka and Gestahl for animation purposes). This left 12 character slots, eleven of them being Moogles who eventually transform into the main party when you activate certain events. If you reach events that have your character but they have not been activated from Moogle to human, they remain as Moogles in your party.
This means that temporary characters like Banon, General Leo, and the two ghosts you find on the Phantom Train can now become permanent members of your party. Gogo, a character who can mimic any action another character can do can now pick up the “Possess” skill that the ghosts have and when you fight Kefka, the Possess skill will kill him immediately. The programmers never considered the fact that you could use Possess on a boss and therefore never saw a need to program a safe way to prevent them from being used on bosses.
Simply awesome. I highly recommend you play this game if you love traditional turn-based JRPGs. I find it to the best of the Final Fantasy franchise and I think it is a game that every fan should experience at least once.
1. Xenogears (1998) for Playstation
Now we come to the end. Xenogears. Which is, quite possibly, the greatest game ever made. At its core, the game is a typical ATB style of turn-based combat that incorporates so much more. This includes the use of martial arts combo systems and the use of “Gears” which are huge mechs that have a significant role in the development of the story.
The game employs philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung as well as exploring the concept of Dissociative Identity Disorder (often misnamed Schizophrenia). For its time, 70+ hours on two discs was considered a very long game. With very little side quest opportunities, it may be one of the longest straight forward games I have ever played.
Imagine a world in conflict, countries at war with each other all over. Seems pretty normal, right? Now, imagine that all of this conflict is triggered simply because the upper class elites have control and watch all of this occur for their entertainment. And behind all of that, lies even deeper mysteries. It’s a science fiction odyssey that I can’t even begin to describe.
It’s an amazing game and you need to play it. Seriously, right now. Walk away from the computer and go pick up this game on the Playstation network. It’s like $10.
There’s my list. As always, it’s fun to get out of the music scene a bit to look at some other things. I look forward to seeing everyone else’s Roll the Lists as well as any feedback you may have.