By Heath | December 31, 2009 at 2:02 am
A lot of this stuff doesn’t feel like four years ago, but it totally was. Practically five, even.
2005 began with a humbling lesson in how we should and shouldn’t take news. Square Enix was pioneering the now-popular practice of announcing announcements, and had announced that a new game would be announced soon. Rumors of Chrono sequels, Final Fantasy spinoffs, and all manner of things abounded. It was later revealed that the big, earth-shattering mystery game of genre-saving glory was indeed…Grandia III. The lesson is, kids, don’t get too wrapped up in guessing what announcements are going to be. Sit back, relax, and let the real news come when it comes, or you’re likely to be disappointed. Not that Grandia III was bad or anything, but it wasn’t what most people were counting on.
Cute, Korean, and still-popular Maple Story was released in the Spring of 2005. This free-to-play game was fairly unique in that it was a 2D sidescroller, with platforming “jump quests” that could be done for experience and items. Janelle played on and off for years in Canada, and admits that it can be a pretty awful game at times but enjoys it occasionally anyways, especially due to its fast expansions.
Talk to the Handheld
While the Game Boy Advance opened the doors for handheld RPGs to truly be recognized as great games, 2005 would represent a greater opportunity for portables. Late 2004 saw the Nintendo DS become available, and March of 2005 would mark Sony’s entrance into the handheld market. For the first time in about 10 years, Nintendo had some serious competition in the portable dimension. The two exchanged blows like two warriors in some sort of Dragon Ball episode, Nintendo throwing out Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Lost in Blue, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, and LUNAR: Dragon Song to match Sony’s Kingdom of Paradise, Untold Legends, Lord of the Rings Tactics, The Legend of Heroes, and PoPoLoCrois. If you can’t gather from that list, the fight did not live up to its billing, as most of those games were pretty crappy and are unlikely to show up in any “Best of the Decade” countdowns you’ll read. In fact, LUNAR: Dragon Song might be on several “Worst of…” lists.
Despite having less total RPGs, the DS was overall coming out on top of this battle. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow got several rave reviews and demonstrated clever use of the touchscreen, while Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was not as well received as its Game Boy Advance daddy, it showed intuitive use of the DS’s two screens. The PSP, meanwhile, faced criticism due to most of its RPGs coming with staggering load times.
PS2 Still the Dominant Console
The PS2 was in its prime and going stronger than ever; its North American audience would receive more than 20 RPGs in 2005. One of the more notorious among them would be Xenosaga II: Jetsons von Guten Tag or something. A highly anticipated sequel to a game we all still thought was connected to Xenogears, the game changed the art style of its characters from blatantly cartoonish to somewhat more realistic in appearance. Orie House recounted his experience, “I remember playing Xenosaga II and thinking ‘Man, this is a pretty good game,’ but then I got on the internet and found out, no, I was wrong.” In general, the game is looked upon as the black sheep of the Xenosaga series.
Speaking of hyped sequels, Musashi Samurai Legend brought cel-shading and funky music to the PS2 as a follow-up to the PlayStation’s Brave Fencer Musashi. It would be received in so-so fashion. Similarly, Arc the Lad: End of Darkness, yet another sequel, would be largely crapped upon, its optional online play failing to deliver (among other things).
Not a sequel but a series spinoff, Suikoden Tactics surprised everyone. Its story covers ground both before and after Suikoden IV, and as such, Suikoden IV characters show up in Tactics. It was seen overall as a noteworthy tactical RPG, but not a must-buy for fans of that subgenre. With its average-level reception and Suikoden IV‘s stinkbombing before it, many Suikofans were left sweating and worried about what was to become of this franchise.
North America did not commonly receive games from the Ys series, so it was somewhat of a surprise when Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim was released stateside in early 2005. This action RPG may not have had incredibly high sales, but it did deliver fun to those who delved into it.
Sega’s Shining Tears, however, was aptly named, as many people wept for the Shining series upon playing. It was a lot stronger as a multiplayer experience, which might be where Sega got the idea to take the Shining series into the arcades with Shining Force Cross just recently. Shining Force Neo also brought on tears and fits.
Nippon Ichi further established itself as a house of tactical RPGs, developing and publishing Makai Kingdom. Its American publishing branch, NIS America, would meanwhile begin its close relationship with Gust in localizing Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana.
Atlus would release two connected games which function largely as two parts of one game, the Shin Megami Tensei Digital Devil Saga. Dude, theose were intense.
Square Enix would bring Dragon Quest into the 128-bit era with Dragon Quest VIII. For the first time, it could be titled the same in North America as Japan; previously, they had to be called Dragon Warrior because of a copyright conflict. The seamless 3D overworld, beautiful use of cel-shading and cute humor of King Trode earned it widespread praise and quite a few awards. It had plenty of things the good ol’ JRPG genre was built upon, caught up with the times.
Square Enix also brought over Romancing SaGa. This game was definitely not for everyone, but you know who it is for? Me. Critics were mostly “meh” on the game but gave it its props for at least being way better than SaGa Frontier 2. Square Enix having having the balls to bring this game over helped earn the company our “Stateside Publisher of the Year Award” in 2005. Another PS2 remake, therefore somewhat similar to Romancing SaGa, was Wild ARMs Alter Code F. Mostly based on the PlayStation classic Wild ARMs, Rudy and company found themselves in a visually upgraded world that felt very familiar, and yet so different.
Other stuff released on PS2 that year: Stella Deus, Fullmetal Alchemist, Graffiti Kingdom, Champions: Return to Arms, X-Men Legends 2, and Digimon World IV.
The GameCube’s 2005 would pale in comparison to its performance in 2004. It would, at least, introduce the Fire Emblem series to the third dimension with Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. Ever difficult, the tactical RPG series gained some new fans with its first outing on a TV screen in years. The rest of the Cube’s lineup would only consist of the multiplatform X-Men Legends 2 and the forgettable Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness.
Path of Radiance was not the only Fire Emblem game released in ’05, as Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones hit the Game Boy Advance. It looked, sounded, and played remarkably similar to its direct elder, which according to most fans was not a bad thing.
As if showing the new handhelds how it’s done, Game Boy Advance continued to be the object of high-profile RPG releases. Among them would be a long-awaited enhanced port of Final Fantasy IV. Its visuals were sharpened up, but more importantly to longtime fans of the game, it finally got that English script overhaul it needed. I temporarily traded a guy at work Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for this game; I wanted to the trade to stay permanant, but he didn’t. I lose.
Nintendo would stack on Pokémon Emerald and Atlus would bring over a Sting title called Riviera: The Promised Land. Riviera was a very love-it-or-hate-it game due to its very limited inventory, quirky storytelling, and punishing dungeons. It was pleasure for some and pain for others.
To go hand-in-hand with successful MMORPG City of Heroes, Cryptic and NCsoft launched City of Villains on Halloween, 2005. The game has overlapping content with CoH and can be played as its own game or in conjunction with it. Its main draws were the ability to play as supervillains and greater focus on player-versus-player combat.
NCsoft kept rolling in 2005, launching Guild Wars. This game is often labeled as an MMORPG, and there are undeniable similarities, but it’s a slightly different beast in that everything is instanced. I remember the end of the beta, stuff was blowin’ up and there were like fireworks and just, the whole place was goin’ crazy. A decent video is here.
Norrath continued to grow, as both EverQuest games expanded. The original EverQuest got two official expansion packs: Dragons of Norrath in February and Depths of Darkhollow in September. EverQuest II would get bigger on three different occasions, twice with smalltime “Adventure packs” and once with an actual full-on expansion. Adventure packs The Bloodline Chronicles and Splitpaw Saga would preceed the Desert of Flames expansion. EverQuest II would also make headlines in 2005 with the famous /pizza command. With this integration, players could now order a Pizza Hut pizza while in the game.
Blizzard would parody this in World of Warcraft, making a fake news announcement that the /panda command would place an order for Chinese food from the “Pandaren Express.” Hilarity.
SOE would also promote EverQuest II with a “Quest for Antonia” pageant, in which the company would choose a real-life spokesmodel to cosplay as EverQuest II character Antonia Bayle. We were all over it.
Asheron’s Call 2 would see its only expansion in 2005. The game was having community struggles from day one, and the poorly marketed expansion didn’t do much to help. The game would be canceled soon after the expansion’s flop — nobody calling for Asheron. Dungeon Lords would launch amid mixed reviews, the major downpoints being glitches and bugs. It was the subject of many an internet fight.
Mythic gave Dark Age of Camelot a huge makeover with the Catacombs expansion pack, which, due to the magnitude of changes and how it made the game so much more friendly for all players, I rank as one of the better MMO expansion packs ever.
RYL: Path of the Emperor and A3 would hit their North American launches in 2005. These are among the worst MMORPGs of all time. I reviewed A3 at length here, and Janelle express reviewed RYL here. Bad times.
For a long time, many Square fans had been dying for some kind of sequel to Final Fantasy VII. In late 2005, they’d get something not even close to their wish, as Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children would be released on DVD. One gaming magazine (can’t remember which), with an early screenshot of the movie, was declaring that a video game Final Fantasy VII-2 was in the making. Oh, how wrong they were.
The Xbox would receive Jade Empire, a critically acclaimed Bioware RPG with an Asian setting. RPG Land forum member LiQuid! gushed about it for some time after its release, but I’m not sure if he still thinks it’s awesome. In fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything about that game. The hell happened? No seriously, I’m openly asking here, because I didn’t play that one. Has it aged poorly? Email me or something.
Aside from that, 2005 would be yet another down year for Xbox RPGs. Its only other RPG release, X-Men Legends II, was shared with PC, PSP, PS2, and GameCube. It was such a bad year for Xbox, Jade Empire won both our Xbox RPG of the Year AND the runner-up. Yeah.
A bright spot for Microsoft would be the launch of the Xbox 360, truly a next generation console with, as of their launch, no same-gen competition. Long lines and inflated eBay prices were the stories of November of 2005.
An finally, back on PC, a highly anticipated MMORPG called Mourning would end up being a total dud, mostly due to what this MMORPG thread called “unethical business,” which I gotta say, it totally was.