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RPG Land Remembers 2002

By Heath | December 9, 2009 at 9:37 am

Wanna feel old? The following is about games that came out seven friggin’ years ago. The memories, they are bittersweet.

Hold My Hand
We begin 2002’s edition of our journey through the decade with a look at the controllers of the time. Of the consoles to launch in the decade to this point, almost every single one would have many critics of its controller. The GameCube, to an even greater extent than Nintendo’s N64 before it, would be the subject of many comments like “Yeah but I can’t play with that goofy-ass controller.” The Xbox console was made fun of for being ridiculous in size, and its controller even moreso. The positioning of its buttons posed an additional problem for a great many gamers. The Dreamcast’s controller size also earned it a bit of mockery; that, and its design required the cord to come from the backside instead of the traditional front (requiring a mighty bend to go back towards the console). The Game Boy Advance, while a portable and therefore its own controller, was critiqued for not being self-lit, as even the prior generation’s Sega Game Gear had that. It seemed the only system to get away scott free on the controller department was the PlayStation 2, for which Sony used the exact same design as its daddy.

Speaking of which…
Speaking of holding hands, remember when there was virtually no competition for handheld gaming? This was the world of 2002, for sure. The Game Boy Advance would have a good year in 2002, launching Breath of Fire II, Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, Mega Man Battle Network 2, a Robopon sequel, and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance in the first six months.
The latter half would put Phantasy Star Collection and Lord of the Rings into the hands of gamers, as well as Car Battler Joe, the game with the greatest title of all time. Perhaps this lineup was marred only by LUNAR Legend and an awful Dragon Ball Z RPG.

(Pillow) Fight!
Kings Field IV: The Ancient City and a port of the Dreamcast’s Grandia II would headline PS2’s charge in the first parts of the year. Of the other three then-active console competitors, none would have an RPG answer until the GameCube’s Lost Kingdoms arrived in April, and most would say it was hardly worth remembering. Heck, this whole first half of 2002 is kind of a snoozefest.
The PC would represent well in 2002’s first half, sending The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind into the hands of sandbox lovers in May. The Xbox would get this game a month later, and as with most Elder Scrolls games, it was met with reviews that read more like guitar solos played while riding the back of a Pterodactyl. And rightly so, because if I remember correctly, the game featured a world beyond anything the series had seen and allowed so much freedom, one could actually play a guitar solo while riding a Pterodactyl. Might & Magic IX, clickfest Dungeon Siege, and the legendary Neverwinter Nights would also be released on the Windows platform during this time.

The original PlayStation, having handed to torch to PS2, would only see a singular RPG release that year, with Arc the Lad Collection, localized by Working Designs.

Realization of loss
In January of 2002, the the console war claimed the life of the Dreamcast. Sega announced that it would pull the plug on the machine’s international support as of that March, making NHL 2K2 its last official stateside release, and meaning late 2001’s Phantasy Star Online Version 2 would be its last RPG.

2002 would also be a year of picking up and moving on without new RPGs for some other machines that delivered so many good times in the past. While we had no way of knowing at the time, it would turn out that 2001’s Paper Mario would be the last RPG to be released on N64 and Lufia: The Legend Returns would end up being the final Game Boy Color RPG.

(For real this time) Fight!
PC continued to shine in the second half of 2002, dropping Arx Fatalis (a port of which appeared on Xbox as well), Icewind Dale II, and Divine Divinity, among others. Its MMORPG scene would see new game Asheron’s Call 2 burst onto the scene with sadly little fanfare, but space-age MMO Earth and Beyond had enough positivity about it to balance that out. Naturally, existing online RPGs got expansion; Anarchy Online got Notum Wars, EverQuest players got Planes of Power, and Dark Age of Camelot expanded with Shrouded Isles. For those wanting an MMORPG, PC was the only place to be.

The Xbox would share Arx Fatalis with PC, and also feature the exclusive Metal Dungeon, which I apologize for including in this piece, as many would rather forget that game. But the ‘box would also awkwardly end up with the only version of Shenmue II to be relesed stateside. The Dreamcast version of Shenmue II was released in Japan, and then in Europe with Japanese voices and English subtitles/menus, but Microsoft got itself an Xbox exclusive in North America, much to the discontent of Dreamcast owners who’d played the original.

But the Ghost of Dreamcast would not stop haunting the new consoles with Shenmue II on Xbox and Grandia II on PS2. In October, the GameCube would get Phantasy Star Online Versions I&II bundled into one game and playable online via the GameCube Broadband Adaptor. One-upping its Dreamcast version, up to four players could cooperate on the same console as well. In December, Evolution Worlds, a two-in-one double port of Evolution and Evolution 2 for Dreamcast, would come out in December.
Other consoles now out and doing their thang, Sony knew it needed to build up the PS2’s RPG library. RPGs undeniably being part of its victory in the previous console war, it was essential to do so, or face the tables being turned (PlayStation exclusives had included almost every Squaresoft title, Legend of Dragoon, Star Ocean 2, a pair each of Breath of Fire, Suikoden, Wild ARMs, and several others).
While the first half of 2002 kinda saw the PC running the RPG show, the PS2 would finally begin to fill the original’s shoes in the second half, unleashing a flurry of RPGs in September and October. Wild ARMs would make its PS2 debut during this time, with the cel-shaded Wild ARMs 3. Filgaia was dying again, but at least this time it looked cartoonishly adorable.

Another “3,” Suikoden III would feature a trifecta of parties for the player to switch control of. In this way, players viewed some of the same events two or three different ways; the game’s story all tying together like it did was overall seen as an interesting way to lead the Suikoden series into this new generation. Suikoden III would also feature undoubedtly the best intro video of the year.
Grandia Xtreme, a more dungeon and battle-focused take on the Grandia series was enjoyed by fans of dungeon crawlers thanks to its battle system, but largely snubbed overall, as the demographic that bought it tended to expect a better, more detailed story than was present in this game calling itself Grandia.

The year would mark the combination of two of entertainment’s biggest names: Disney and Squaresoft. In Kingdom Hearts, Square would draw up some original characters and toss them into a new world that frequently intersected with classic Disney locales and characters. Adding to that, numerous Final Fantasy characters would show up to take part in this action RPG’s story. At one point, Goofy and Donald are running around fighting Cloud Strife in the Disney Hercules stadium. It’s motherloving bizarre.
Kingdom Hearts also seemed to propagate the idea that a keyblade is somehow superior to a gunblade. My neighbor and I tested this theory in a fight; I was allowed to use a gun, and he was allowed to use keys. One of us is alive to write an article about it.

Legend of Legaia would get a sequel with Legaia 2: Duel Saga. As before, this game would feature battles that looked like something out of a fighting game but handled like straight JRPG. Summoner 2, like Legaia 2, was a medicore sequel to a medicore game, and both would be fogotten under the trampling of the giants of the year.

RPG System of the Year 2002: PC. Some truly great new RPGs, including new MMORPGs were introduced in this year. Those that had been out already got quality expansions to boot, and PC was pretty much the only machine letting out good RPGs for the first six months of the year.

Things get crazy in 2003. Just ridiculous.

Relevant Links:
RPG Land Remembers 2003
RPG Land Remembers 2001
RPG Land Remembers 2000
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Topics: Games of the Decade, Specials