When it comes to electronic entertainment, role playing games are a breed apart. The genre is essentially a digital translation of the classic pen-and-paper nerd hobby that crosses Tolkien-inspired fantasy with lots of mathematics and perpetual virginity. It’s the nerdiest of nerd pastimes.
I’ve always loved the imagination and character building that’s associated with the pen and paper games, but find the math and social interaction tiresome. That is to say that the increased sophistication video games have afforded to solitary role-playing has been a life-altering. A whole wide world all to myself. Digital bliss.
So I always make it my business to play as many different kinds of RPGs as I can for whatever console(s) I own. I love a good shooter and always keep an eye on the fighting scene as well as keeping on the lookout for anything else that piques my interest, but at the end of the day, I always trend hard toward games with role-playing elements. But here’s the thing about that: most of them are long. Like, REALLY long. Lllllllllloooooooonnnnnnnggggggggggg, if you will. And that’s not mentioning other headaches that spring up from time to time.
Since most of the last generation was a nonstop barrage of quality titles, there were some really great ones that I never got around to finishing, and it continually eats my brain. Sometimes I try to go back and pick up where I left off, and am often sharply reminded that one thing that sets RPG’s apart is the intense dedication it takes to master one. Picking a game you were 50 hours or so deep into after having being away for a few months is not like riding a bike. It’s like forgetting how to swim and being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool. So here are the five best role playing games from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era that I was too lame to beat.
A real one of a kind tactical RPG exclusive for the Xbox 360 with possibly the best premise (and worst camera) ever. Okay, picture you joining a ragtag squad of anime misfits fighting the Axis in World War II. Now imagine the Nazis are vampires, zombies, and demons and your squad consists of werewolves, Frankenstein’s Monster, Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, a firestarter, and Jack the Ripper, amongst other awesomeness. Werewolves with rocket launchers taking on Panzers should sell you by itself, but as a mix of Penny Dreadful, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Saving Private Ryan with gameplay somewhat similar to Valkyria Chronicles (without the real-time elements) you are just wrong for not having played this game.
The thing about this game is it is gruelingly difficult. I mean that in the best way; permanent character deaths and one-hit kills are around every corner, but the fact that you can’t save mid-battle was what eventually led me to move on. A lot of the 27 main missions can take hours and even if you are in a position to win, one bad turn of luck can take out your re-animator -the only one who can revive casualties- making a restart a good idea. This is a game for the hardcore for sure, and I love it for that, but damn, guys, maybe allow a save or two per mission, yeah?
Another tactical RPG, this one of truly epic length; reportedly about 100 hours for just the story. This is a particularly great concept because it’s pretty much five adventures in one. The game takes place over multiple generations, beginning with a typical hero and his party and branching out from there. You see, the ladies in your party are potential love interests and based on your dialogue decisions you can garner favor with each. When you get to the end of your 20 hour or so quest and save the day, you can take a bride. The game then picks up in the next generation with the offspring of your hero and his love as the new protagonist and the cycle begins anew. It’s pretty great.
Considering that each generation after the first has several possibilities for its lead hero depending on the genetic combos, the replayability is significant. It’s a shame the game is so long that only the hardest of the hardcore gamers are going to make it through multiple playthroughs. I was well into the third generation (about 50-60 hours) and I wasn’t really sure about some things regarding story events so I made the mistake of reading some of a FAQ. I saw that I had missed a lot of story content in the past generations because it was dependent on being at a specific place on a specific date and the game itself gives you no indication of these things.
Realizing the missed memories I’d never have with my beloved former comrades, and realizing I’d have to spend the rest of the game with an FAQ in my lap to catch everything I wanted to see, and that’s no way to game. I decided to take a break from the complicated game for a while. When I finished my next title in line and came back, I realized I had no clue what was going on. I’ve currently got the PS3-exclusive sequel sitting on my desk, ready for when I finish with my current title. Wish me luck.
If there’s one title on this list that I really should have beaten, it’s this one. It was well-balanced, incredibly unique, great characters, featured probably the best battle system of the last gen hands down, and is apparently not insanely long at a mere 60 hours or so. But, you know, stuff happens. As I recall, this one ran up against a major release (possibly BioWare-related) and got tossed aside before I reached the end. And I just never got back around to it.
Resonance of Fate’s dystopian future is somewhat Final Fantasy-esque, but the combat consists of fast-paced semi-turn-based gun battles that would make John Woo blush. Your trio of heroes dashes and leaps across the arenas raining double-fisted lead and shrapnel death on enemies individually and in badass delta attacks. You also get to mod your weapons to RIDICULOUS levels. Probably more than anything else, this is a must-play for RPG enthusiasts looking for an exciting new approach to RPG combat.
Square Enix’s attempt at an original new title was sadly hobbled by its Final Fantasy XIII ambitions and is in need of a do-over that it will almost certainly never get. This is a tragedy, because with some more TLC from its dev, this could have possibly been the best JRPG of the decade. It suffered from distractingly delayed texture loading, too few memorable characters, and horrific unbalances, but at its core it had a battle system that I would kill to see catch on. Kind of a cross between Ogre Battle and Kingdom Under Fire with a massively cinematic twist. I remember reading that funding was pulled in mid-development to divert towards FFXIII, resulting in Square releasing a lesser, un-finished game for the 360 that they never even bothered porting to the PS3 as planned and that is just tragic.
The Last Remnant had the exciting, visceral, large scale battles where your party members fought according to their skills and the camera switched to wherever the action was. While this took some of the accustomed interactivity from the player, it still managed to keep even a control freak like me engaged if not riveted. Unfortunately, some of the enemies were just plain cheap and unbalanced.
I remember towards the end of the first disc (it’s two discs long) I bulled my way through a particularly long and harrowing dungeon to meet an overpowered boss that would turn my own fallen parties against me. And here I was without the items I needed. I found it too much of a pain to even find my way back out of the dungeon and its respawned enemies to get to a store and threw in the towel like a total wuss. I still want to go back and start it over sometime, though. This game deserves another shot.
Disgaea 3: The Absence of Justice
Out of all the games on this list, this PS3 exclusive is the one I invested the least in, but I still had a great time with it before it made me want to smash it to bits. Disgaea is yet another tactical RPG, this time from a running series. It takes place in Hell and you play a demon in high school assembling beasties to do beastly things. What sets it apart from most other RPGs is the focus of the story is on comedy, which makes the tone really refreshing. For the first 15-20 hours at least, before you notice most of the jokes are repeating on a loop.
But it definitely wasn’t the repetitive Emeril Lagasse references or the delightfully psychotic (and adorable) princess or the class delinquent (which in Hell, means she’s actually really nice while the honor students are bastards) that turned me off of Disgaea 3. It was repeated random unfairness wiping out hours of progress. You see, the best way to level up in the game (and power up your favorite items) is to explore the randomly generated dungeons inside of the items. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get out except for once every ten battles and no saving is allowed so you rolls your dice and you takes your chances.
This makes for great tension and risk/reward, and I accept that. But after kicking ass for hours and gaining tons of levels and rare loot, being randomly transported to a room full of characters to talk to and having one of them start a fight when everyone in the room is countless levels ahead of you and you can neither damage them nor escape from them as they effortlessly mow you down with ridiculous damage is complete, unadulterated, controller-throwing, fuck you bullshit. Difficult situations is one thing. Literally impossible ones is another. And there’s way too much of that going around for those who dare to explore. Absence of Justice indeed.
I had a fight in my head between this and Bethesda’s other amazing game I couldn’t finish, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The reason I went with Fallout was because not finishing Oblivion was a technicality. I poured probably 100 hours into that one doing everything EXCEPT the main story because to progress it, they wanted me to do some boring crap like close a bunch of Oblivion gates in every major city. Do that pointless busywork, or take over the assassin’s guild: gee, I wonder which sounds like more fun? Fallout 3 was an equally awesome game with a much better story, and it had a much more interesting fatal flaw that led me to move on before its time was through.
Like in Elder Scrolls, I took my sweet time getting around to story missions. In this case, it was nothing against the story, but there was just so much to do and explore. Investigating random Republican cannibal communities, committing slaver genocide, engaging in Super Mutant wars, ghoul busting, and defending settlements from invaders was just too much fun. I finally got around to following the story after several dozen hours and I started noticing that I was no longer receiving experience. The hell is this fuckery?
Yeeeeeeaaaaaah, so it turns out that one of the best RPG’s of its era had a really low level cap. You hit level 25, collect your ultimate perk, and that’s it. No more character advancement for you. It seems weird that this would be a dealbreaker for me; so much to do, so much to see, so much fun to be had with slow-motion dismemberment and all that. But somehow, this really bugged me. Although playing an awesome video game should be its own reward, suddenly all of the things I was doing felt pointless. So much so, that I moved on. Call it a casualty of the Skinner Box effect.