A while back I did a list of my favorite underrated SNES RPG’s, and it got me in a most nostalgic mood. As great as the Super Nintendo era was for my favorite genre, the PlayStation ushered in a literal Golden Age for RPGs. Smash hits like Final Fantasy VII & Tactics, Chrono Cross, Grandia and Legend of Dragoon affirmed my faith in the role-playing genre, but I’d like to highlight some of my personal favorites that went under the radar. Any of these ring a bell for anybody?
This was the first non-Final Fantasy RPG that I remember digging into as kid, and it instantly became a favorite of mine. An interesting non-linear introduction allowed you to choose the way your protagonists met up, with each of the three utilizing unique abilities that filled specific roles in combat. I loved the spell creation system, and finding a new ARM for Rudy was always exhilarating. A variety of puzzle-solving tools became available to each character, and were used often in the smart puzzles the game threw at you. My favorite was a guitar that could be used in certain spots to summon secret bosses. A art-style that resembles a low-def Borderlands was pleasing at the time, and the soundtrack still stands out to me as one of the most criminally overlooked gems anywhere. I never got into the sequels, but the original was a masterpiece.
Star Ocean II
I had never heard of the Star Ocean series before I picked up this game, but the back of the box looked cool and I found it for like ten bucks at a secondhand game store (guide included!) while on a field trip, so I figured I would give it a whirl. Wow. It scares me to think that I was that close to never playing this game, as it is incredible. The real-time combat was unfairly fun to exploit, and a large, diverse cast of characters that I actually wanted to use ensured I never got bored. I’m glad I had a guide, because that game is HUGE. Multiple optional dungeons and side-quests, upgradeable skills both in and out of combat (cooking and pickpocketing are two that stand out) and enough content that you would need two full playthroughs (at least) to even get close to seeing everything this game has to offer. It was my love for this game, and nothing else, that made me stick through the first few hours of The Last Hope to discover that it wasn’t actually bad either.
Final Fantasy IX
I know, I know. How can a Final Fantasy game possibly be on this list? I know the series is about as well-known as you can get, but I always thought that IX was an underrated entry in the vaunted series. Excluding the turd of a protagonist that Zidane was, FFIX did a lot of things right. The equipment-based skill system was leaps and bounds above VIII’s draw system, most of the characters were much cooler than Zidane and a bevy of fun extras were littered around the world. I specifically recall a world-spanning chocobo hunt that had you searching the world map for a specific screenshot, then digging around until you found the next map. Admittadly, I hated IX the first time I tried it. That whole opening just didn’t catch me. But, for some reason, I gave it another try, and ended up beating it. In retrospect, I’m glad I did.
Legend of Legaia
One of the more obscure titles on the list, Legaia sticks out to me because of two reasons. One, it featured an intersting combat system that worked much like a fighting game. The player input series of commands to physically attack; there was no simple fight option. Secondly, it had this cool story concept of The Mist, which despite releasing 8 years after the Stephen King novella of the same name, nobody had ever done before ever. It was cool; it added a whole fog-of-war layer to the world map, and was a decent hook for the story. It didn’t exactly blaze new trails or transform the genre, but it was a respectable game with a unique combat system, more than a lot of the RPG’s of the day could boast.