ROLE CALL: OPM's Guide to every RPG on the PS one!

by Gary Steinman (OPM #55 (Apr 02), p.48)
(typed up here by Kenneth Whitten)

DISCLAIMER: This article and the words in it are the words of Gary Steinman, of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine, and the opinions given on each game are his, not mine. (Indeed, on some games I happen to disagree with him entirely.) My opinion, of the games I own, can be found at here. Also, the article and its contents are copyrighted by OPM and are used here without permission, but retaining their original form and given due credit. A quick reference chart for this article can be found here. Ratings given for each game are on a scale of five (5). A few games which OPM has not chanced to review are Not Rated (NR). Lastly, in the interests of good taste and compliance with my site host's TOS, I have slightly altered or dashed-out a few words of questionable acceptability.

According to our calculations, if you were to devote two hours of your life every single day to playing PS one RPGs, it'd take you four years, three months, two weeks, and five days to actually finish them all. Of course, that's only if you play all 78 of them - something we don't recommend. So to help you navigate through this massive library of RPGs, we've put together a quick but comprehensive look at every PS One RPG out there. Even if you've already upgraded to a PS2, you'll surely want to pick up some of the better RPGs that you missed the first time around.




15 MUST-PLAY RPGs


CHRONO CROSS
Maybe the greatest PS one RPG, Chrono Cross is pure magic - a near-perfect game for Chrono Trigger fans and newbies alike. Everything is just right: The story grabs hold and never lets go, the battle system is deep and rewarding, the graphics are stunning, and the music is masterful. (5)

DRAGON WARRIOR VII
If you're an RPG purist, you already know what this game is about. If not, play it for a clinic on how RPGs used to be made. DWVII offers up a quest in the classic mold, short on pyrotechnics and melodrama but long on gameplay and traditional storytelling. (4.5)

FINAL FANTASY VII
The game that brought RPGs to the masses and kickstarted a revolution in the genre, FFVII remains the favorite PS one Final Fantasy among OPM readers thanks to its cinematic story and brilliant gameplay. Worth playing again just to relive the magic. (5)

FINAL FANTASY VIII
Marking yet another evolutionary leap forward, FFVIII's stunning graphics and bittersweet love story charmed millions of gamers. But others sniffed at the awkward magic/stats system and recoiled from the melodrama overload. (5)

FINAL FANTASY IX
OPM's favorite Final Fantasy, FFIX returned to the series' fantasy roots, offering up an unforgettable cast of characters along with a much-needed dose of humor. The well-balanced gameplay made it the perfect way to end the millennium in style. (5)

FINAL FANTASY TACTICS
Sporting an overly steep learning curve, Tactics is also a richly rewarding experience. The massively deep Jobs system lets you customize your characters in near-infinite ways. With a solid 100 hours of tactical battles, FFT will keep you enthralled, despite its messy translation and horrible ending. (4)

FRONT MISSION 3
One of the few strategy RPGs that measures up to FF Tactics, FM3 steers clear of fantasy in favor of a futuristic mech-based game. This one has a gentle learning curve, though, easing you into the complex tactical battles and deep customization options. (4.5)

GRANDIA
The Saturn's answer to Final Fantasy - until it was ported over to the PS one! Grandia fans still debate the merits of their favorite battle system, saying it easily tops Final Fantasy's. It's so good that you might actually seek out random combat in this game. (4.5)

THE LEGEND OF DRAGOON
In many ways, a Final Fantasy clone - but with a big difference. The combat system is built around timed button presses that require your full attention and just a bit more skill than the typical turn-based fare. (4.5)

LUNAR: SILVER STAR STORY COMPLETE
The Sega CD classic hits the PS one, and it's even better the second time around. The battle system is a strategic delight, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the game is loaded with extras. Sure, the graphics are crusty, but who cares when a game is this good? (4.5)

STAR OCEAN: THE SECOND STORY
Take everything you've wanted in an RPG, throw in the kitchen sink (and dishwasher too), and you've got Star Ocean. With tons to customize, as well as a branching story and real-time battles, this game is immense. (4.5)

SUIKODEN
One of the first PS one RPGs, and still one of the best. The game is pure fun, thanks to its zippy battles and diverse miniquests. The best part: find and recruit a whopping 108 characters to join your revolution! (NR)

VAGRANT STORY
A majestic presentation and stirring storyline make this one a feast for the senses. The chain-based combat system gets mixed reviews, though: Some love it, but others found it monotonous and frustrating. (3.5)

VALKYRIE PROFILE
Valkyrie Profile's combo-based battle system and constantly changing cast of warriors prove that RPG combat can be innovative and fun. Lush 2D graphics and sweeping music round out this overlooked gem. (4)

XENOGEARS
With a story that tackles all kinds of weighty issues (like, say, God and religion), Xenogears gave players lots to think about. But it isn't just a head game: The battle system, with its hand-to-hand combat and giant mech fights, is an absolute blast. (4)




BREEDING RPGs


DIGIMON WORLD 2
A rather dull RPG, but Digimon fans might get a kick out of the limited monster-breeding aspects. Key word: "might". (2)

DRAGONSEEDS
Repulsive graphics, pathetically simple gameplay (it's basically the same two minigames over and over) and shallow combat relegated this game to the bargain bin the day it came out. (2)

JADE COCOON
On its surface this is a traditional RPG, with a rich story, gorgeous graphics and plenty of random battles. But the real meat of Jade Cocoon lies in raising your captured monsters and then merging them to form stronger pets. Fans of Pokémon-style games will love this, but less-patient gamers are likely to get bored with the constant battles and repetitive dungeons. (3.5)

MONSTER SEED
Horrible dialogue, uninspired monsters, mediocre music and too much trial-and-error gameplay make Monster Seed a game for hardcore breeding fans only. (NR)

MONSTER RANCHER
Breed monsters using your CD collection, including everything from music albums to computer discs to other PlayStation games. Spend years training and battling your virtual pet, in hopes of reaching the highest level. It's highly addictive (if a bit repetitive), with near-unlimited gameplay. Heck, you'll have a blast just uncovering all the special monsters coded into specific discs! And, believe us, you're likely to develop a soft spot for your critters - to the point where you'll even shed a tear when they move on to the Great Monster Ranch in the Sky. (NR)

MONSTER RANCHER 2
Merely more of the same? Maybe - but Monster Rancher 2 improves on its predecessor with a better battle system, a new side-story element and even more monsters. If you're gonna buy only one of these games today, stick with the sequel. (4)




SOMETHING DIFFERENT


HARVEST MOON: BACK TO NATURE
More than just a farming game, Harvest Moon is like a whole-life simulator. Sure, you spend the bulk of your time tilling the soil, rotating crops, and tending to your livestock, but the real fun comes in wooing the ladies and interacting with all the townsfolk. A unique and rewarding game for anyone patient enough to commit to this sometimes repetitive and slow-paced but wholly open-ended game. (3.5)

RHAPSODY: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE
Just what you've always wanted: a musical (as in Julie Andrews, Sound of Music - not PaRappa, mind you) RPG. Starring a girl who has to save the prince, Rhapsody is full of endearingly cheesy songs that'll surely get you grinning. The writing is absolutely inspired as well, with a delightfully b----y tone that mature players will enjoy. It's not much of a game, though, and it's tough to find in stores. (3)

TAIL OF THE SUN
OK, so this isn't really an RPG. It's also not much of, well, anything else. But the thing is, Gary bought this game way back in the day (pre-OPM, of course) because all the ads claimed it was an RPG. Instead, he got a game starring a tribe of cavemen that wanders aimlessly in search of God-knows-what. Cavemen who literally fall asleep, leaving you staring agape at the TV screen, wondering what the heck is going on. Gary's shrink recently revealed that this game is the root of all of his current social dysfunction. (NR)

THOUSAND ARMS
The battle system is too simple. The story is predictable. The interface is clunky. So what sets this apart from the mass of mediocre RPGs? The dating-sim aspects, for starters. In fact, your abilities will grow and develop depending on how well you do with the ladies. Best played with Ascii's now-discontinued one-handed controller. (4)

RPG MAKER
More than most gamers, RPG fans have this driving desire to make their own games. That's where RPG Maker comes in. If the name doesn't explain it, then we will: You can literally build your own RPGs, then save them to a memory card and play through them at your leisure. It's a bit overwhelming at first and requires a real time investment, but it's well worth the effort. (4.5)




RETRO REDUX


FINAL FANTASY ANTHOLOGY
Two Final Fantasies for the price of one? You can't beat that - especially when one is FFVI, often cited by long-time fans as the best of the series. You also get FFV (released for the first time in the U.S.), which, while short on story, is long on gameplay thanks to the revolutionary "Job" system. (4.5)

FINAL FANTASY CHRONICLES
More than just a Final Fantasy collection, Chronicles includes Chrono Trigger along with an improved FFIV. Both are classics that stand the test of time. Just be warned: Trigger suffers from some insufferable load times. (4)

LUNAR 2: ETERNAL BLUE COMPLETE
As good as the first Lunar remake, but we still like Silver Star Story better. This one is tougher, though, so if you're looking for a real challenge, be sure to check it out. (4)

OGRE BATTLE: LIMITED ED.
An odd strategy game that has a rabid cult following. We don't like it because we never felt in control of the action. There's too much happening at once, none of it fun. (NR)

TACTICS OGRE
Developed by the same team responsible for the brilliant Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre lets you take control of even more characters during battles and has eight different endings. A worthy choice if you can see past the 16-bit graphics. (3.5)




STRATEGY RPGs


ARC THE LAD COLLECTION
Working Designs put together an amazingly massive collection, including three main games, a side game, a documentary disc and other goodies. All the games are a bit on the simple side, but they're good fun with some witty dialogue shoehorned in. A great value. (4)

BRIGANDINE
Although it's got the requisite depth of a good strategy RPG, Brigandine's slow pacing and dated graphics hold this back from greatness. Still, a solid title for fans of the genre. (3.5)

HOSHIGAMI: RUINING BLUE EARTH
With a graphics style that brings to mind Final Fantasy Tactics, this game came with high expectations. But the gameplay is so cheap, unbalanced and just plain old unfun that it should be avoided at all costs. (2.5)

KARTIA
Deceptively simple battles, characters designed by the venerated Yoshitaka Amano, and a two-player head-to-head mode make this a solid choice for dabblers into this sometimes-too-complex genre. (4)

MASTER OF MONSTERS
Weak enemy A.I. robs this game of any challenge. Throw in last-gen graphics and a clunky interface, and you've got a recipe for boredom. The only saving grace: a decent multiplayer mode for up to four players. (NR)

SAIYUKI: JOURNEY WEST
One of the better strategy games of the past year, Saiyuki skews a bit younger than FF Tactics, but it comes darn close to replicating those classic strategic battles. (3.5)

VANDAL HEARTS
This still stands as an OPM favorite thanks to its fine balance of strategic depth and straightforward gameplay. Despite its severely dated graphics, Vandal Hearts is a perfect introduction to this complex genre. (NR)

VANDAL HEARTS II
Rather than just offering more of the same pick-up-and-play strategizing of its predecessor, VHII added a new simultaneous-movement feature. The result? It's more challenging, but also a lot more frustrating. We still prefer the first one, ugly graphics and all. (3.5)

VANGUARD BANDITS
What's this? A mech-based strategy game brought to us by Working Designs? That's gotta rule! Well, not quite. See, they forgot to add a key element: strategy. Instead, we're left with boring, drawn-out battles where patience is all you need to win. (2.5)




ACTION RPGs


ALUNDRA
A sprawling Zelda-like adventure (the 16-bit Zelda, that is), all in 2D, with Working Designs' unique brand of humor and writing wedged in - yep, it's easy to see why this is a fanboy favorite. (4.5)

ALUNDRA 2
So it's Alundra 2. But there's no Alundra. And none of that 2D classic goodness of the first Alundra. In fact, this game has almost nothing in common with its predecessor, save the name. (3)

BLOOD OMEN: LEGACY OF KAIN
Unlike the adventure stylings of the later Kain titles, Blood Omen is a straight-up 2D action RPG. And it was a brilliant game - if you can handle constant, mind-numbing load times. (NR)

BRAVE FENCER MUSASHI
Square's lighthearted game challenges the thumb as well as the mind with a nice array of platform-style elements, arcadey combat and clever puzzles. (4)

CHOCOBO'S DUNGEON 2
An old-school dungeon crawl starring a cast of cutesy critters of Final Fantasy fame. The randomly generated dungeons are solid enough, but this is best for younger gamers. (2.5)

DARKSTONE
A not-so-pretty $10 Diablo clone that really surprised us. It's a great value, thanks to its depth and replayability. (3.5)

DIABLO
This hack-n-slasher manages to stay true to the PC classic. Even better, the PlayStation version also includes a Gauntlet-style two-player mode. (4)

DRAGON VALOR
A derivative arcadey action game with barely enough fixings to give it a push into the RPG category. A quick and forgettable diversion. (3)

PARASITE EVE II
More Resident Evil than "cinematic RPG," Parasite Eve II straddles the survival-horror genre, just barely maintaining its status as an action RPG. A short game, but one of the best of its kind. (4.5)

MONKEY HERO
Monkeys are supposed to be a gas - but not in this case. This Zelda clone does just about everything in its power to keep you from enjoying yourself, tripping you up with a nasty banana peel of terrible graphics and horrible control. (2)

THREADS OF FATE
Not quite as good as Musashi, but a solid effort nonetheless. Threads of Fate has two separate but intertwined quests, interesting puzzles and engaging combat. The story's a bit juvenile, though. (3.5)

TORNEKO: THE LAST HOPE
Another dungeon crawl, but unlike Chocobo's Dungeon 2, this one isn't worth playing, even for fans of the genre. What's more, Torneko has one of the worst save systems ever. Yech. (2)




TRADITIONAL RPGs


AZURE DREAMS
Offering an eclectic mix of gameplay styles (part action/RPG, part strategy, part virtual pet, with a taste of dating sim thrown in), Azure Dreams has its hardcore fans. But we found it falls far short of its ambitions, suffering from lackluster graphics and repetitive gameplay. (3)

BREATH OF FIRE III
Always solid but never anything special, the Breath of Fire series had its relevance back when there were far fewer RPGs to choose among. This third chapter is yet another decent game, but nothing special. (3.5)

BREATH OF FIRE IV
Another chapter in the Breath of Fire series, and once again Capcom has produced a solid but derivative game. This time around, though, the combat is much better, thanks to the option to swap in party members during battles. (3.5)

GRANSTREAM SAGA
A profoundly average RPG. The pluses: crisp, clean 3D graphics, anime cutscenes and a nifty overhead perspective. The negatives: poor translation, repetitive (but nicely done) real-time combat and limited, linear gameplay. (3)

GUARDIAN'S CRUSADE
Colorful graphics, wacky writing and a unique premise might lead you to think this game has a lot to offer - but think again. The quest is too short, your everpresent companion monster "Baby" lives up to its name, and the gameplay is as shallow as a drunken fratboy. (3)

KING'S FIELD
An innovative game when it was released, King's Field features 3D graphics and a unique first-person perspective. But with each passing year, this game gets more and more dull. Combat is a chore and the action is painfully slow. (NR)

KING'S FIELD II
More of the same. 'Nuff said. (NR)

KOUDELKA
Koudelka's richly atmospheric and haunting 19th century story sets it apart from most RPGs, but the battles are ugly, bland and unbalanced. With some more polish, this could have been great. (3)

LEGEND OF LEGAIA
Legaia's humor provides a nice change from the majority of RPGs that take themselves far too seriously. The battle system is also a breath of fresh air, with an innovative method for chaining attacks together. Too bad those battles are so frequent and take so darn long! (4)

LEGEND OF MANA
Fans of the SNES classic Secret of Mana were in for a severe letdown when Square finally released this long-awaited followup. Mana had no central plotline, depriving you of a reason to continue playing - which was sorely needed given the awful combat system. (2.5)

PARASITE EVE
Square dubbed this a "cinematic RPG," hoping to create a new subgenre. Though that label never stuck, Parasite Eve did manage to offer a grisly but gorgeous sci-fi thriller with a unique hybrid real-time/turn-based combat engine. (4)

PERSONA
Persona gained a cult following due to its modern-day setting, absurd dialogue and the oddball option to chat with monsters rather than fight them. It never really pulls together like its sequel, but in those early PlayStation days it offered something remarkably different. (NR)

PERSONA 2: ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
Moody, modern and macabre, Persona 2 has a deep battle system that in some ways resembles a real-time strategy. But the real fun comes from the heavy story, full of murder, betrayal and mystical mumbo-jumbo. Give it a try. (4)

SAGA FRONTIER
Square's first attempt at crafting a nonlinear RPG fell flat, but we felt it was unfairly crucified by far too many critics. Yes, the story is jumbled and unfocused, and the battle system is clumsy, but the lighthearted feel and the beautiful backgrounds make it worth a passing glance. (3.5)

SAGA FRONTIER 2
What a difference a sequel makes! Saga Frontier 2 looks fantastic, with rich, colorful backdrops that resemble watercolor paintings. The story is even better, with branching pathways that weave together during several centuries and involve generations of characters. The combat, though, quickly gets dull and repetitive. (3.5)

SHADOW MADNESS
The first traditional PS RPG developed here in the U.S., Shadow Madness has a story that rivals even the best Japanese titles. Too bad the graphics and the combat are so mediocre that they make this one a task to play. (2.5)

SUIKODEN II
By the time it came out, this game's graphics were hopelessly dated compared with the current crop of RPGs. Yet Suikoden II is just as magical as its predecessor, and even lets you use your save file from the first game to bring back certain characters. (4)

TALES OF DESTINY
Namco captured the flavor and fun of classic RPGs with this decidedly old-school affair. The action-oriented battle system gives you full control over your main character (the others are computer controlled) and plays out like a stripped-down fighter. (4)

TALES OF DESTINY II
Much better looking than its prequel, but somehow not quite as fun. A decent choice if you're a fan of the first one. (3.5)

WILD ARMS
A solid early entry into the PS one RPG field - but unless you're a big fan of Wild West-inspired role-playing games, this one doesn't quite hold up. Good, but nothing special. (NR)

WILD ARMS 2
Like the first one, Wild Arms 2 is a mildly satisfying game - you'll enjoy it while playing it, but you're likely to walk away from gaming sessions feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Still, it's the perfect kind of game to play in between the bigger releases. (3.5)




5 WORST RPGs


BATTLE HUNTER
A review quote: "With its dreary levels, tedious gameplay and awkward setup, Battle Hunter is a real snoozer - the kind of game that causes the eyes to glaze over while the brain desperately searches for any random thought that's more amusing than this." (1.5)

BEYOND THE BEYOND
The first traditional PS one RPG, Beyond the Beyond is one of the worst ever. (NR)

DIGIMON WORLD
Even Digi-fans will recoil at this awful mess. The worst part: battles in which your Digimon actually ignore you. (1.5)

ETERNAL EYES
From our review: "Part strategy, part RPG, part monster collector/breeder game, Eternal Eyes disappoints on all counts." An unredeemingly boring game. (1.5)

SHADOW TOWER
Another review quote: "There are plenty of bad games, but only a special few can be considered truly horrible.... Only masochists and freakishly loyal King's Field fans should even consider renting this pile; everyone else stay the heck away." (.5)




This ends my transcript of Gary Steinman's article. Click here to return to my games page, or here to return to my home page.