Some of us have been gaming for a while now and some of us are new to gaming’s fullness, but no matter where you fit in, there is no denying the allure of games from consoles past. Retro gaming is a huge part of the gaming collective, and some of the most epic old school titles are the role playing games of yesteryear. No matter what your favorite flavor of RPG-whether it be Japanese or more Western in nature-nearly every gamer I know has an old-school RPG that they still own a copy of today, and still break out the old console to play it from time to time.
The Bard’s Tale
For anyone who has ever played this game, there is no forgetting it. For those of you that haven’t, you owe it to yourself to try this one out. The controls may not always be the most intuitive, but the hilarity that ensues throughout the game as the Bard, voiced by Cary Elwes ( The Princess Bride, Kiss The Girls ), smartasses and half-asses his way through an adventure of slightly less epic than everyone else’s proportions. Some of the best moments are when he “breaks the fourth wall,” and addresses the narrator or even the player directly. Also the fact that the Bard always seems to find himself in the right place at the wrong time makes for a great game story all the way around.
Eye of the Beholder
This game, released on Sega CD, was actually based around 2nd generation Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rules. It was first person viewpoint game in which you worked your way through dungeons and upgraded your character and solicited non-player characters (up to two) to join your party as you venture deeper into the adventure. Combat and magic happened in real time–which was a sharp contrast to the vast majority of other RPGs of the time. There were over a dozen different monster types to face and over 40 spells to learn. Not too shabby for a system that failed to be nearly as epic as this game was.
I remember my first exposure to Faxanadu was in an episode of Captain N: The Game Master on TV. I remember thinking that the world of Faxanadu seemed more dark and foreboding than other gaming worlds in NES titles. So I decided to give it a whirl. I was young, but I loved games with big stories. Faxanadu does not fall short in that area. By the standards of the day, it was an intense saga about a young elven warrior who returns home to find the kingdom in dismay. As you fight your way through dwarf armies and gain experience and gold, you increase in titles which unlock more things for you to use and buy. Also this game had churches in each town that you received your titles and saved in. If you died in combat, you would return to the most recent church you had visited. All in all it was a wholly impressive game. It wasn’t Legend of Zelda, but it was pretty awesome.
Super Mario RPG
Square Enix was able to create the perfect amalgamation of Final Fantasy and Super Mario world with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars . It had all the benchmark stuff from an epic Final Fantasy game; you could party up, level your characters, and the turn-based combat was spot-on with other RPGs of the day. They even incorporated timed button presses during combat to add multipliers to the attacks efficacy. You also get to use Bowser as an ally for the first time in a Mario game as well as a cloud boy named Mallo, Princess Toadstool, Yoshi and Geno–a doll possessed by an ancient star spirit. As Mario games go, this one has quite possibly the most epic story of any of the Mario titles to date. Couple that with great gameplay and functional features and you have yourself a sweet little RPG that‘s worth playing again and again.
This game released on the Super Nintendo and was created by the ‘dream team’ of RPGs. The three guys that worked on the creation of this title were also responsible for Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest . Later in the development process, RPG music legend Nobuo Uematsu would also join the team, but regardless of the minds involved with its creation, the game definitely stands alone despite the names that the creators are elsewise associated with. This game is about a band of adventurers who travel through time to avert a global catastrophe. It has an excellent combat system and a fairly deep (for the time) level system. But the story is where this game shines. Just when you think you have everything figured out, something jumps out of the woodwork to shock you.
It’s no surprise that Square has dominated the RPG market across multiple platforms. Even though they may not turn nearly as many heads as they once did, they were-and to many still are-the kings of creating awesome RPGs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Kingdom Hearts series. What could be better than non-emo Squaresoft characters? Non-emo Squaresoft characters who get thrust into the world of Walt Disney, where a foe known only as The Heartless is bent on destroying everything. The characters band up with some unlikely heroes. Characters like Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse himself come to your aide. The story is truly epic. The cut scenes and story portions are exqually so and the real-time combat system was the one thing that really separated this title from the others of its day. This game is definitely a hall-of-famer among RPGs.
Breath of Fire III
The reason that this title stood apart from its predecessors is that it was the first in the series to feature three-dimensional characters and worlds as well as voice acting. The story takes place in a land where humans live alongside large creatures. It focuses on Ryu who is the last of a race called The Brood. It is a race of people who are able to transform into very powerful dragons. The fact that you could rotate the camera around the battlefield during combat was a nearly unheard of feature in other titles of the day. On top of that, you gained access to a place called the Fairy Village, a place where you could help it grow and flourish. This would in turn give you access to new items and even in-game features like mini-games. While it may not have been one of the best RPGs ever made, Breath of Fire III certainly has its place among old-schoolers deserving of another go-round.
Final Fantasy VII
Considered by many to be the quintessential RPG title, Final Fantasy VII set the bar for every single RPG title that would follow it, and honestly, there have been only a few titles that have ever even garnered the rabid fan base that this single title has. The story follows Cloud Stryfe and his pals as they battle to stop corporate greed from destroying their world. Looking back now, it kind of makes me wish we had a group of people like this to tackle that very thing today, but maybe without a real-life Sephiroth. That dude was seriously nuts. Anyway, this title had innovative gameplay and a deep and intense story that has since spawned a bevy or spin-off titles in both game format and in film. It has been the spot of much soreness for Final Fantasy fans who want nothing more than to see it redone in modern HD format and released on the current generation of systems. Alas, it will most likely never be.
Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic
If you bought an original Xbox, apart from Halo , the game selection was really kind of lame early on. Then KOTOR hit shelves and Star Wars fans were treated to a side of the universe that they had been unable to experience up to that point. It took them into the distant past of the Star Wars timeline and allowed you to see how the Jedi and Sith existed long before the Galactic Empire and the Rebellion ever came to be. But then, as you played through, not only did you meet seriously cool and memorable characters along the way, you started to get the feeling that there was something more going on than what was on the surface. Something maybe a little more sinister. When you finally got to the end and found out what was really going on, it only made you foam at the mouth all the more when they announced the release of KOTOR II .
Legends of Dragoon
In a world dominated by RPGs made my Squaresoft, everyone thought that if another company made an RPG title for a gaming console it would be sub-par at best. Then Sony Computer Entertainment changed all that with the release of Legends of Dragoon . From the very beginning of the game, you knew that this title was on a mission to give Squaresoft a run for their money, and it succeeded. This game was an incredible romp through an intriguing story of love, hate, vengeance and redemption. At four discs long on the Playstation, there was no doubt that you would get your money’s worth. The turn-based combat was smooth and fluid. The addition of attack bonuses for well-timed button presses was equally as challenging as the game. The CGI cut scenes made for some seriously epic storytelling. This game is yet another old-school heavy hitter that is definitely worth another play…or two.