By Heath | January 10, 2010 at 4:52 am
2006 would mark the end of the GameCube’s floptastic RPG run. It definitely had its gems over the years, most of them arriving in 2004, but overall, the system just didn’t have an RPG collection capable of stacking up against the PS2, PC, or oddly enough, maybe even the Game Boy Advance (depending who you ask). Harvest Moon: Magical Melody and Baten Kaitos Origins would be the RPGs standing at the pier and seeing the Cube off into the sunset. A prequel to the 2004 sleeper hit, Baten Kaitos Origins again used a card-based battle system. There were big changes, though, namely greater emphasis on combos and all party members now drawing from one deck instead of all having their own decks.
But for all the GameCube’s RPG shortcomings, the Xbox would still even be a step behind. Microsoft’s console would claim only the multiplatform Marvel Ultimate Alliance to punctuate its RPG roster in 2006.
On the bright side, console RPG fans could still look to the PS2 to meet their needs, as it provided MS Saga, Tales of Legendia, Wild ARMs 4, Drakengard 2, and…wow, I’m sorry, I’m naming off a bunch of bad or so-so ones. (Actually, I personally liked Wild ARMs 4 a lot, but its rception among WA fans in general was pretty poor.) I really felt like a jerk when Bandai sent me MS Saga — a game I was very excited for — and I played it and had to send them the lackluster review. It’s one of the tough situations you find yourself in as a game journalist; I love the people at Bandai (now Namco Bandai), and liked some things about the game, but overall I had to be honest with myself and with my readers and tell it how it was. Ayay.
Sony’s second console would provide some goodies though, although some were highly divisive. This popular video review of the critically acclaimed Kingdom Hearts II is an example of such division. Those within the Gust niche would get an Atelier Iris sequel thanks to NIS America’s publishing, and NIS America would further deliver Disgaea 2 to those hungering for another tactical RPG.
Somewhat higher profile RPGs Tales of the Abyss and Suikoden V would see their North American releases in 2006, and both were greeted as being among their series’ top games. The same can be said of Xenosaga III, though sadly, it was too little too late. What was originally supposed to be six games was nerfed to three, with Also Sprach Terminator to be the last of them. With how surprisingly good the game turned out, many series followers were sad to see it end.
Square Enix was gunning for a huge year in 2006. The company launched:
- Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, a “gun action role-playing shooter” or something, follow-up to the crazily popular Final Fantasy VII starring Vincent, for PS2.
- Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, a PS2 prequel to tri-Ace and Enix’s rare and incredibly expensive PlayStation title of six years prior.
- Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, a PSP port with new CG cutscenes. This would come as relief to many gamers curious about the original but driven away because of its triple-digit price tag. It was also our PSP RPG of the year in 2006.
- Final Fantasy XII, the first main-series, offline Final Fantasy title in five years.
- Grandia III, the object of a huge hypefest the year before.
- Children of Mana, which would provide a noteworthy multiplayer experience.
- A DS remake of Final Fantasy III
- A GBA enhanced port of Final Fantasy V
- Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, a handheld DQ spinoff starring Toriyama’s most iconic monster.
Like most things, the results of these were mixed. Dirge of Cerberus, constantly mispronounced “Dirge of Sir-bee-us” by a coworker I had at the time, was not received well, and many fans were a little upset at being “teased” with all this Final Fantasy VII material, with none of it being what they actually wanted: either a true (standard RPG) sequel starring more members of the original cast, or a high-tech remake of the PSX game.
Grandia III, with the huge hype leading up to it, delivered an experience technically beyond those of the previous iterations, though series fans don’t tend to remember it as the standout Grandia title. Valkyrie Profile 2, on the other hand, was received quite well, its story and gameplay being lauded by droves Valkyrie Profile fans. People could hardly believe their eyes when the first images came forth to announce this game, and in large part, the fans were not disappointed.
Final Fantasy XII was yet another divisive Final Fantasy game. It put players in a world more wide-open than most previous FF games, and set the characters as players within a story greater than themselves instead of a story centralized around them. As one fan’s trash is another fan’s treasure, the game garnered rave reviews typical of a Final Fantasy game, though the common fan seemed a little more likely to be displeased and cite Vaan’s abs as the most memorable character.
Outside of console territory, PC was having a solid year. Although there’d be ports on Xbox 360 and PS3, the definitive version of critically beloved The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion would be for the PC. Something watched with much interest and cautious optimism was Dungeons and Dragons Online, developed by Turbine of Asheron’s Call fame. The concept was drawn up with the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset 3.5 in mind, with Turbine working jointly with Wizards of the Coast to iron out the game’s concept. Michael liked it.
Speaking of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, Neverwinter Nights II would arrive in stores on Halloween, 2006, two and a half years after its initial announcement. It would arrive in Europe and Australia in November. Developer Obsidian’s Feargus Urquhart had noted that he felt something had been missing in the recent RPGs of the time, and he wanted to hearken back to the days of Ultima. He also noted gaining inspiration from Baldur’s Gate II, which many will attest is not a bad idea.
A Tale in the Desert 3 should not be forgotten, at least by RPG Land, as it was our MMORPG of the year in ’06. God bless the blue layout days.
Additionally, existing popular PC games would expand, with Guild Wars: Factions, Dark Age of Camelot: Labyrinth of the Minotaur, Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht Urhgan (also for PS2), EverQuest: Prophecy of Ro and The Serpent’s Spine, EverQuest II: Kingdom of Sky and The Fallen Dynasty, and Anarchy Online: Lost Eden.
Handhelds would not be left out of the fun. The Game Boy Advance, still having a decent time in ’06, would be the scene of a Tales of Phantasia remake, though said game would not be without its shortcomings. Atlus USA was a big supporter of the GBA that year, delivering a pair of Summon Night: Swordcraft Story games, a pair of Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation titles, and Yggdra Union. Yggdra’s story would win it an award from us that year.
The Final Fantasy series would bust out an enhanced port and total remake of two games whose original versions didn’t make it into the English language. The Game Boy Advance would house Final Fantasy V, now updated with higher resolution and a fresh translation. It looked and played way better than its PlayStation port, and included a (now-requisite) bonus dungeon. Nintendo DS, meanwhile, would receive a 3D remake of Final Fantasy III, which would be the first official release of the game outside of Japan. Grabbing it after rabid anticipation, a lot of fans complained about the game’s difficulty, job system, and required level grinding. Yep, it’s as divisive as any Final Fantasy should be.
Also on the DS, Atlus USA would release the quirky Contact, which initially drew some Mother (Earthbound) series comparisons and was notable for drastically different graphical styles across the two screens. A new Castlevania, entitled Portrait of Ruin, continued the story started by Castlevania: Bloodlines and took place during World War II. With the ability to switch back and forth between two characters and explore new locations by way of jumping into paintings in Dracula’s castle, the game was a big hit.
The Pokémon series would delve into new territory with Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team (DS) and Red Rescue Team (GBA). These took Pokémon into the territory of Chunsoft’s popular Mysterious Dungeon games, which are similar to infamously difficult Nethack and Rogue. You may know Shiren as a popular figure in this realm. The players’ human character falls into the body of a Pokémon (determined by a pre-game personality quiz) and unique in the series, the player will directly control the monsters. Upon defeat, players can be rescued by others, even those with the opposite version of the game, via codes. The games were fine for what they were, but for those expecting a catch-em-all type of adventure, the game did not deliver. Ah well. I liked it though. Pokémon Ranger would sell well, but prove a somewhat unpopular departure from the gameplay of the main series.
Sony’s PSP would still be largely the target of a lot of criticism about its RPGs’ load times, as well as the proportion of them that were ports, such as the above-mentioned Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth. Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim was a fine enough game, dragged down by long load times. If an RPG somehow didn’t have those things, it seemed to come out as crap anyway, with examples being the ridiculously bad Astonishia Story, wholly average Blade Dancer, and lame Legend of Heroes II. Ports of PS2 games that hadn’t previously made it stateside, Generation of Chaos and Spectral Souls, would claim both of the complaints with their asinine load times and forgettable gameplay.
Always a big event, 2006 saw the releases of two new consoles. Xbox and GameCube having been outclassed in the previous generation, the war was about to begin anew, this time with Microsoft claiming a one-year jump on the others. PlayStation 3 was heavily critiqued before its launch for a number of reasons, mostly its intimidating price tag of $600 for the 60-gig system or $500 for the 20-gig system. Just the same, they sold like hotcakes during November and December, complete with the whole deal of people sleeping outside of stores in order to secure a good spot in line. It was funny and sad to hear stories of people who slept in a tent on a sidewalk to get a PS3 or Wii, only for the store to not have enough to go around.
Nintendo Wii would see similar launch success. Seemingly for a whole friggin’ year after its release, it was tough as hell to find a Wii in a retail store. Priced well below the competition, featuring motion controls, coming with a game bundled in, and sporting the always-popular first-party Nintendo names, Nintendo was clearly bouncing back from GameCube’s sub-standard run.
Neither of the new consoles were of much good in terms of RPGs, though. A forgettable Untold Legends game and the multiplatform Marvel Ultimate Alliance would be all the PS3 provided in 2006, while the Wii wouldn’t get a single RPG until almost halfway through 2007.
Xbox 360 owners could play the unremarkable Enchanted Arms, multiplatform Marvel Ultimate Alliance, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (shared with PC), and the online-only Final Fantasy XI (freshly ported from PC and PS2).
Where RPGs were concerned, the glory most certainly didn’t come quickly upon the entrance to the new generation.
New consoles indeed, but how long till they’d start cranking out some decent RPGs? Check back (hopefully) soon for 2007.
RPG System of he year 2006: PC. Quality expansions all around, and the Neverwinter Nights II + Oblivion combination is not to be trifled with.