Sunday, 17 May 2015

Exploring PS3 JRPG's

I would like to believe that I hold no bias towards any one videogame console manufacturer; I’ve owned a variety of consoles over the years from all the major players and my current set-up beneath the TV could be described as an example of console equality. Except…I am a little bias towards one specific set of consoles: the Playstation family. There are various reasons for this but chief among them is that I love RPG’s and Playstation consoles have always been better served than most when it comes to both the quality and quantity of role playing experiences.

The Playstation 3 is no different to its illustrious forerunners and the equally impressive catalogue of RPG’s available for them but it’s my personal opinion that the RPG landscape is quite different on the PS3. For starters, the Final Fantasy series lost its impact thanks to a series of games that divided fans like never before, there were no Dragon Quest, Valkyrie Profile or Shin Megami Tensei titles available and games involving big names such as Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu were made exclusively for other consoles (Lost Odyssey, The Last Story, Blue Dragon).

So where did this leave the RPG fan who owned a PS3 then? Well – for once – owning multiple consoles was a potential necessity but it fell to the more niche developers and publishers such as Nippon Ichi Software to fill the void and boy did they do that. Developing in-house while also continuing to publish games from developer Gust, NIS’ output on the PS3 was staggering in both quantity and regularity and easily dwarfed their PS2 library of cult classic RPG’s. In fact, it was difficult to keep up with all the new Nippon Ichi releases due to the amount released on a yearly basis and the fact that such releases were barely publicised meaning that it was a return to doing your own research and grabbing games before they disappeared. Heck, despite the presence of the PS4, NIS are still relentlessly releasing games on the PS3 at the same pace. For this, PS3 owners can be thankful because before NIS took a bigger role in self-publishing their games in Europe, it fell to the likes of Koei to make them available and while they did a great job in localising low-key games, we missed a lot of stuff. So if you can look beyond writing games off based on their cutesy, anime image and be prepared to give the gameplay a fair trial then it’s easy to build a huge RPG collection on the PS3.

For example, cult strategy series Disgaea received three new games on the PS3 and Gust’s Atelier series currently stands at six releases with more still to come. Brand-new NIS series’ also began life on the PS3 including the likes of Mugen Souls, Time and Eternity and The Witch and the Hundred Knight. Additionally there were two crossover RPG’s – Cross Edge and Trinity Universe – which brought Nippon Ichi and Gust characters face-to-face with characters from Capcom and Idea Factory.

In the world of RPG’s that aren’t so niche, there are still some high quality games available that publishers did their best to push and make widely available such as Level 5’s Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a beautiful RPG with visuals and cut-scenes all produced by Studio Ghibli (you can imagine how great this game looks if you are a Ghibli fan) and Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles. The latter is one of the few games from my stockpile that I have gotten around to fully completing and it really is deserving of its lofty reputation.

Combining an RPG-like storyline with turn-based strategy, Valkyria Chronicles feels like nothing else. With free movement of selected units, various unit types and plenty of scope for easy-to-orchestrate tactics, the gameplay is a real winner. The story though is arguably a big selling point and it focuses on the fictional continent of Europa in the year 1935 where the second Europan War (E.W. II) is breaking out between the Federation and the Empire with the neutral land of Gallia caught in between and targeted by the Empire for its rich resources. The player assumes control of a cast of likeable characters fighting for Gallia and there is real depth to said characters and plenty of ways for the players to relate to them. Visually the game resembles higher end anime with a painterly style around the edges and as such doesn’t fall into the trap of having crazy bright-haired characters with huge breasts or suffocating dosages of innuendo or perverted moments usually present in JRPG’s. Obviously the story is a thinly-disguised take on World War II with the Empire not too dissimilar to Nazi Germany and the persecuted Darcsen race drawing similarities to the Jewish people but you won’t care about that; what you will care about are the characters, their back stories, their reasons for fighting and their believable personalities. The game also comments on the horrors/tragedies of war and the loss incurred as a result of one ruler’s desire for supremacy. Best of all, the game is still widely available brand-new at fair prices and should definitely be explored by all PS3 owners. Two sequels followed for the PSP and do a solid job of continuing the story with new characters and are enjoyable if not on the same level of the original.
Namco Bandai also stepped up to the plate for PS3 owners with several entries into the popular ‘Tales of’ series. With no Tales games getting localised for Europe on the PS2 and the well-regarded Tales of Vesperia being an unexpected Xbox 360 exclusive (a PS3 version was later released but only in Japan), things looked bleak for Tales fans with PS3s beneath their TVs but Namco hit back with four titles that could be played nowhere other than on the PS3, suddenly making the 360 exclusivity of Vesperia far less of a coup. First up was Tales of Graces F and this was quickly followed by Tales of Xillia, a very enjoyable RPG continuing the series’ staple of real-time battles that favour player skill as well as traditional character levels and equipment properties. Xillia is particularly noteworthy for having two playable protagonists with the player experiencing exclusive events depending on which character they choose at the start of the game. The story has its share of stereotypical characters but the cast settles into a comfortable middle ground between being clichéd and truly unique so you may not care about them but it’s possible to at least like your party. Exhilarating battle music, plenty of side-events and an interesting plot add to Xillia’s charms and while I would hesitate to call it a classic, I personally loved the game and consider it to be one of my PS3 favourites.

Following Xillia, Namco saw fit to put out a HD compilation of the much-loved Gamecube RPG Tales of Symphonia and its decidedly less-loved Wii sequel, Dawn of the New World. There were some criticisms of the technical quality of this pack but having another, more affordable chance to play one of the Gamecube’s priciest games on newer hardware was a nice treat. Having the sequel on the same disc (for better or for worse) was a bonus as was the availability of a nice collector’s edition boxset though it has to be said that the European edition isn’t up to the same quality as the US version. Hot on the heels of Tales of Symphonia Chronicles was Tales of Xillia 2, a direct sequel to the original that continues the story with new and returning characters but Namco isn’t finished there as Tales of Zestria will be the fifth Playstation 3 Tales game when it eventually hits stores, concluding an impressive contribution to the PS3’s RPG library.
It should also be noted that the Playstation Store has some great digital content available in the form of classics such as Final Fantasy VII, Suikoden and many other amazing RPG’s from years gone by that are waiting to be re-played or discovered by those who missed out first time around (and let’s face it, paying approximately £4 for Suikoden compared to what the physical PS1 game sells for is a steal). It’s perhaps not fair to include re-releases in the PS3’s RPG range but when you can play them on the same machine as modern disc-based releases then why not? It all adds up to the PS3 being a fantastic platform for RPG fans if they are prepared to try out some new franchises or trade the previous big names in for some niche action which may well surprise in a good way.


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