5 PlayStation JRPGs That Dared to Defy
We’ve all seen the lists before. Greatest RPGs Ever. Greatest RPGs on X Console. Greatest RPGs of the Year/Decade/Generation/etc. I can’t promise this one will be entirely unique; what I can promise is that each game featured on this list will be unique in its own right. After all, that’s what this list is about: unique RPGs.
Before we begin, allow me to lay down the stipulations for the list. First of all, given that this list aims to highlight unique games, mega franchises like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are disqualified. While there is occasionally innovation in these games, comparatively speaking, there is not enough to justify these games appearing here. Secondly, hybrid genres will be limited here. You will see some cross-genre RPGs on here, but in order to be considered, the game must be at its core a role-playing game with a plethora of role-playing elements. Games like BioShock and Borderlands, while mottled with RPG elements, are more shooters and thus have no business on this list. Thirdly, this list is exclusive to titles that have appeared on PlayStation consoles.
Lastly, I remind you this is my list. This is not to purport that these are in any way the greatest RPGs that meet the aforementioned prerequisites. This is simply a list of my favorites given the requirements, or at least the ones I feel best fit these requirements. Now, let’s have some fun, shall we?
5. Valkyria Chronicles (PlayStation 3)
For me, there was plenty to love about this game and plenty to hate. However, given the nature of this list, I feel vindicated in including it and highlighting the good. First off, the setting of the game is quite different than one might expect from a JRPG. Rather than returning to the roots of the genre (medieval European settings) or conforming to modern, futuristic/sci-fi RPGs, Sega opted for a World War II-inspired conflict. Featuring a motley squadron of (mostly) youths defending their small country against an incursion from one of the continent’s superpowers, the story is perhaps not as dark as a tale of this nature rightly warrants, but it has an undeniable charm and proves quite uplifting in the end.
The gameplay is nothing to balk at, either. Putting a new spin on the SRPG genre, Valkyria Chronicles delivers something just different enough to keep it fresh without becoming alienating. Though the enemy AI is laughable enough to never warrant needing more than the allotted moves to complete your objective, earning the highest rating on each stage is another matter entirely, and could keep players occupied for quite some time.
4. Parasite Eve (PlayStation)
Were I better versed in the RPG genre (games such as Vagrant Story and Radiata Stories have escaped my grasp), this game may not be on this list. In all honesty, I didn’t walk away from this game with the impression that it was an outstanding game. That is not to say it was bad, but the true reason it squeezes its way into this list is for its sheer obscurity. From the game’s odd setting to its (possibly) weirder combat system that combines mild shooter elements with plenty of role-playing goodness, this game will stand out in the mind of anyone who’s played it simply because it’s too different not to.
Of all things, the main character, Aya Brea, is a police officer for the NYPD who gets caught up in a horrific biological freakshow. This game from Square (then Squaresoft), actually a (sort of) sequel to a novel of the same name, spawned two sequels, the first for the PlayStation and the second for PlayStation Portable.
3. Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria (PlayStation 2)
In every way possible, this is inferior to its antecedent. Given Valkyrie Profile is an absolutely mind-blowing game, that is not much of an insult to Silmeria. In fact, tri-Ace crafted quite a game that received unwarranted negligence just as its predecessor did. While not the masterpiece that Valkyrie Profile was, it stands on its own two feet for the same reasons as the original: incomparable gameplay and a mind-twisting story that, while not possessing the same charm as the original, manages to offer more surprises that make it nearly as satisfying.
The gameplay features plenty of side-scrolling platforming just like its older sister, but the combat has received an overhaul, featuring a system I have yet to stumble across in any other game (save elements that were in the original). While peculiar by all accounts, I found myself enjoying it far more than I initially thought I would. For me, however, it really is the plot that makes the game worth playing through, though perhaps not so much if you haven’t played through the original. Much of the shock factor will likely be absent otherwise.
2. Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories (PlayStation 2/PlayStation 3)
This is flirting with the aforementioned prerequisites a little too much, perhaps, but Kingdom Hearts is by and large considered an Action RPG, so I’ll let it slide for this entry. Re:Chain of Memories (originally released as Chain of Memories for Game Boy Advance before being revamped for PlayStation 2, and later, PlayStation 3) is by no means my favorite in the franchise. It earns a spot on this list for one simple reason: the combat system. While often more frustrating than enjoyable, it cannot be denied nothing like it had been done before (or has been done since). The way the card system dictated the entire game (including the story) was truly impressive, and being forced to shuffle through decks during combat kept me on my toes for nearly the entire playthrough. The added element of synthesizing cards to create stronger cards was a nice touch, as well.
Fortunately, I played this game early enough during the series’ lifespan to not be annoyed by the multitude of side plots that now dominate the franchise. Therefore, I found this game’s story more appealing than later installments, if for no other reason than my infatuation with Organization XIII. Unlike 358/2 Days and Coded, this game’s plot also seemed necessary to the overall story, which secures its spot in this list.
1. Valkyrie Profile/Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (PlayStation/PlayStation Portable)
Given my praise for the sequel, this one should come as no surprise. Far and away one of the greatest JRPGs to grace the world of gaming, Valkyrie Profile has all the bravura and ingenuity one could ask for in a game. Rather loosely based on Norse mythology and following the onuses of a valkyrie named Lenneth, the game combines a three-dimensional world map, side-scrolling platforming, and one hundred percent unique role-playing combat to deliver one of the biggest achievements in JRPG history that somehow attains seamless gameplay despite its eclecticism.
Of course, a JRPG couldn’t rightly be labeled so without ample story elements, and Valkyrie Profile yet again stands apart from all others in this regard. Though the game features an overarching story beautifully woven into the narrative, it is the myriad playable characters’ individual tales—veritable short stories within the game—that really stood out to me, some moving, others harrowing or heroic. Truly a game for the ages, Valkyrie Profile is a rare gem indeed, but one that demands to be experienced.