Of PS2 RPGs and Sequels

Shin Megami Tensei is franchise moniker but not even as hard-and-fast of one as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. Basically, if SMT is in the game’s title, then you will encounter certain monster designs based on world mythology, the setting is probably going to be modern Japan or some permutation thereof, and the writing is going to be skewed from typical JRPG fare by about 90 degrees. Other minor recurring motifs are demons becoming real through some use or malfuntion of technology, multiple endings that depend on what you did while playing the ame (a full-blown alignment system in some games), and having to use some supernatural force external to yourself (be it demon or Persona) to be successful in combat. Finally: I have never played a Shin Megami Tensei title that had lousy music. Even the 16-bit soundtracks rocked.

Hey, thanks for the description.
I played all the way through and beat Dark Cloud 1, and had a ton of fun. I HATED the super-grindiness of the weapon upgrades after a while, though. You really had to abuse the dungeon levels that had the most weapon xp for your time in order to quickly level the trash weapons with good synth powers.
Does DC2 change the weapon upgrade mechanic at all?

I’m a total SMT nerd, and would like to step in and defend Devil Summoner. Ok, it’s not the best of the series, but it’s a very charming game. The battle system is pretty button-mashey, but you still can fuse demon and actually have to use them to exploit elemental weaknesses.

The best thing about Devil Summoner is its setting : Tokyo in the 30’s is a pretty interesting place, between tradition and western influence. There is a political subtext : the army is a pretty menacing force, and the plot uses a lot of pulp clichés with great humour… You fight zombie-soldiers, Rasputin, you meet yakuzas in bath houses, hot girls in jazz clubs, try to cath a ghost-rickshaw attacking taxis…

The game as a nice adventure game vibe. Not a must play by any means, but if you can get it cheap, definitely worth a try.

I don’t know if you’d call it a roleplaying game but S.L.A.I. is an extremely odd but fun action game with a fleshed out universe backing it up. Do you like robots? Do you like building robots? Do you like the concept of robot fighting leagues and hundreds of persistent named opponents floating through the world? Opponents who talk to you and each other during battles?

I haven’t honestly ever gotten that far into it. The gameplay itself is pretty complex and fast paced but you have to get past training school first and that’s a lot of reading. Still, it has custom designed and painted vehicles with a plethora of parts in that great world context, which reminds me a great deal of Front Mission 3’s actually, and the fun conceit of fighting your way up in the rankings. All the time there’s evolving news about the world and about the league itself.

I never hear anyone talking about it here and just happened to try to start playing it again last night to stave off Space Ranger 2 temptations. It’s just such a neat toy, S.L.A.I. is or, I should say, seems to be. I’ve only gotten so far with it myself.

Front Mission 3 (PS1) is more of a conventional RPG in that there are the usual anime characters and two, not just one, strong storylines. However it’s a tactical RPG where you can build wanzers (mechas) along with developing the skills of your characters (depending on which wanzers and parts they use they can learn special skills they retain).

Like S.L.A.I you get a sense of a huge world beyond the story itself through the game’s use of its own internet complete with all sorts of updating websites and websites with hidden content you can only access if you get ahold of a password. Some reward you with items you can’t get elsewhere but most simply are detailed, crazily detailed, backdrops for the game’s world. There’s email and you can customize your desktop too.

Front Mission 4 (PS2) may not have that deep sense of a world behind it but it does still have wanzeriffic action and much improved graphics.

One of my favorite tactical RPGs for the PS2 is Gladius by Lucas Arts. It’s huge fun in part because it reminds me of old Melee by Metagaming. You fight in arena match after arena match and develop a growing stable of increasingly experienced gladiators with assorted skills and equipment. The tactical variations between arenas keep it quite fresh as do the assortment of foes you’ll encounter.

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter also often gets mentioned as being one of the better PS2 RPGs. Haven’t played it myself yet, but I often see used copies of it for sale so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

Suikoden III and V have their charms, though they tend to be a bit slow to start, loooooong, and grindy in bits. But the stories are good, there’s a recruitment and base-building aspect for the OCD collectors, and strategic battles to occasionally shake things up a bit.

As far as big RPG series go… I recommend all of these:

All of the Atlus R&D 1 RPG titles, including SMT, Digital Devil Saga, etc. etc. etc. These are not story sequels (with the exception of the 2 parts of the Digital Devil Saga) but they share similar game systems and general styles to a greater or lesser extent, not to mention also sharing art assets and a similar underlying sensibility. Devil Summoner is definitely the weakest, due to excessive button mashing and the relatively weak action gameplay, but the story and framework for the button mashing is quite enjoyable. I see that a Devil Summoner sequel came out in Japan, but Atlus hasn’t ported it. As you probably know, Atlus has also published a bunch of other games from other studios, some of which are OK, some of which are truly awful.

Xenosaga - One big continuing story, really. Generally excellent so long as you can survive the long cut-scenes.

Shadow Hearts - Well, the last one isn’t so much of a story sequel, but they all take place in the same wacky world using the same game systems, and there is some bleedover from 1&2 (direct sequels) to 3.

Wild Arms - No continuing story, some of the games are almost indistinguishable in terms of general plot, and the game systems and general framework are mostly pretty similar, so they’re sort of sequels, anyway.

Final Fantasy - Well, I guess so… Of course the stories are mostly unrelated except for X and X-2. I hate X-2 less than some others, it seems, as I thought it was interesting to reprise the locales from X, with somewhat less in the way of prolonged unskippable laughing scenes. I though XII was technically marvelous and beautiful for the PS2, but as a game I give it a meh.

Dragon Quest VIII - Well, only one game in this series was for the PS2, does that count as a sequel? That’s the only one I played. I don’t go into such raptures of joy for this game as some others, but it was pretty good.

Star Ocean - Again, only one in the series for the PS2. I gather this is not a story sequel. I thought parts of this game were wonderful, parts much weaker. I loved the initial SF setting, so why did they insist on throwing it all away for a boring fantasy setting after an hour or so?

Some of the other good non-series JRPGs of note have already been mentioned above. I don’t really consider the various tactical combat games like the excellent Front Mission 4 or the various square-grid Nippon Ichi games to be RPGs, but that is an ongoing argument. The most fun of those Nippon Ichi games was Disgaea for the humor and story, but the one with the best gameplay was I think La Pucelle.

The Digital Devil Saga games are the closest to a conventional party-system RPG. The dungeons are a challenge, though they’re not as hard as Nocturne’s, which is like an evil version of Pokemon.

Devil Summoner is a lot like Parasite Eve in its battle system and such. I liked it.

The Personas are 100±hour slogfests you might not like. I played Persona 3 for about 30 hours and stopped cuz of school, and was nowhere near the top of the 300-floor dungeon in the game.

I forgot about that, but Wild Arms 3 was an exceptional game. I have difficulty remembering what exactly I liked about it, but for some reason the terrible writing and plot was more b movie than actually bad, and I really enjoyed the unholy union of Western genre stuff and traditional jrpg tropes. WA: Alter Code F (the remade original), on the other hand, I was unable to get into despite a dearth of good games at the time it was released.

Funny, I thought Alter Code F was the best in the series, but it’s gone a bit hazy for me now, so maybe I’m mistaken. The last two games in the series did go up a big level in graphics, as I recall.

By the way, for the OP, the nice things about this game series are open world exploration and lots of little random puzzles (especially block puzzles). If neither of those things grabs you, not recommended.

I think there are tons of great RPGs that deserve playing before anyone bothers with the damned Wild Arms series.

Well, I found the remake to be a step back from 3, and a big part of that was returning to low rent polygons as opposed to the cell shading in the third. I probably would have liked it in its own time.

That’s probably true. Still, someone else mentioned it, and I was surprised at how positive my experience with 3 was. Granted, at the time the only RPGs I had left to play were .hack and FF9, so there wasn’t a lot of competition.

Ah, .hack. There are many annoyances in this silly series, but since you remind me, it does deserve to be mentioned. Just the idea of implementing a MMO in a single-player game, along with the forums and other PCs and guild drama and everything, is a hugely amusing conceit.

In fact, .hack is actually better than many crappy MMOs. It’s also great if you really used to love shootemups, but no longer have the reflexes necessary to cope with 10 zillion particles all attacking your ship at the same time. .hack implements a number of beautiful little shmup boss fights, but the cool thing about them is they are easy :)

The narrative frame for the many games in this series is kind of weak. I mean, your friend falls into a coma playing a MMO, and what’s the first thing you decide to do? Yup, you got to play the MMO yourself to get him out of the coma…

It’s also true that the gameplay is grindy and button-mashing.

But all that being said, there is still something that appeals to me about the games. They seem essentially fun and lighthearted in a way that other games mostly don’t match, or don’t sustain. I like the silly MMO world graphics, and especially in the most recent series the shmup game is very pretty.

Oh yeah, and there’s a sort of autoplay CCG thing you can fiddle with too.

Anyhow, I can see that .hack would annoy a lot of people, but I liked it, and it certainly has the largest number of sequels of any of the PS2-specific series noted.

Definitely skip Dark Cloud 1. Other than a few ideas executed better in the sequel, it’s generic as hell.

If they’d taken all of the series and distilled it into one game, I’d consider it. But I liked the first, hated it by the end of the second, and gave up by then. As you say, it’s a great core idea once the standard leaps of logic have been embraced, but it tends to wear past its charms clear into engendering an active dislike. But yeah, probably not a bad one to mess around with, now that they are probably dirt cheap. If I’d had the releases next to each other so it was basically a disc swap I probably wouldn’t have minded as much.

wild arms 5, godawful dialogue in the middle of the game aside, is probably the best of the series. just whack x repeatedly when the main character starts babbling about “climbing the wall” and you’ll be golden.

FWIW, I would recommend playing the first Shadow Hearts game before the second. The plot does tie in a fair amount (though it doesn’t become clear until the second half of Covenant) and the first Shadow Hearts game is a very good game in it’s own right, though you do have to get about five hours in to discover that.

Really? Could you offer some more observations? I skipped 4, so 3 is probably my only point of reference.


Shadow Hearts 1 is pretty terrible, but yes it does enhance Covenant because of the relation in story. I don’t think it’s enough to justify suffering through Shadow Hearts 1, though, and last I checked that game goes for a high price on Ebay. The voice acting is atrocious, the graphics are pretty bad for a PS2 game, and the story is only sometimes redeeming. That’s Covenant’s main weakness - it relies too much on the player having gone through the prequel for its own story to have impact. The other thing that may cause people to dislike it is the silly elements of it - like the flamboyantly gay tailors who dress up the life-sized marionette the old man uses in your party as his weapon.

Covenant is great, but other standalone games deserve play first, like Suikoden III and V.

Sure. The in-game perspective is like Skies of Arcadia, and the dungeon are very puzzle heavy, like the originals. Battles use 4’s awesome hex-based system, and require a pretty extensive use of elemental matchups and buff/debuff skills, ala SMT. The plot is typical animu pap saddled with class war preachiness, but the art and special effects are great, and there’s moments when an SoA-type charm shines through, especially in the characterizations and character-specific B-plots. It’s really polished, has a great soundtrack, and is at least a good 50-60 hours long – shorter than 3, but quite a bit longer than 4 (which is fun for its 2D-esque dungeons but ultimately skippable). I think you’d probably like it quite a bit, especially if you’re a fan of reasonably challenging combat and unorthodox battle systems.

Suikoden 3 is largely garbage for folks who play for mechanics first and animu shenanigans second. The battle system is unimaginably shallow, as is the statistical development of characters (such as there is), and the majority of dungeons and fields are short little linear strips recycled ad nauseum. It’s basically 60 hours of mediocre anime puppet theatre.

Suikoden 5, on the other hand, is great. It’s challenging, has memorable dungeons, and there’s a lot of fights that require you to be pretty savvy with your party customization.