Top 5 RPGs of 2013

There were some fantastic RPGs released in 2013. From stellar entries in long running series, to some fresh new experiences. The Nintendo 3DS had a great year and some of its best games are reflected in this list. Unfortunately there are a few quality RPGs I have yet to play so please leave some thoughts on your favourite RPGs of 2013 in comments.
1. – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds –
A true triumph of game design, A Link Between Worlds manages to rekindle memories of one of the greatest games of all time while also reinventing the classic Zelda franchise. Focusing on straightforward design lets the gameplay really shine as the combat is fast and fluid and the dungeon puzzles are creative, imaginative and rewarding. The fresh elements include the item rental system and Link’s ability to turn into a painting and merge into walls. These seemingly simple mechanics completely change the way you play the game as the world is yours to explore very early on and not only do you have to think about puzzles from the top down view, but sometimes the answers can only be achieved by looking at them from a completely different perspective. The 3D effect also adds to the gameplay in a meaningful way. This is Nintendo at the top of their game.
Zelda ALBW Battle
2. – Bravely Default –
While the start of a new series, this game feels like the direction the classic Final Fantasy series could have taken in recent years and what a game it is. Bravely Default features beautiful hand-drawn backgrounds, an exciting and strategic new take on tradition turn-based combat, a robust customisable job system, fully explorable world map, charming and interesting characters, brilliant soundtrack, memorable villains and a story centered around crystals and saving the world. It perfectly combines the spirit, freedom and customisation from the SNES era Final Fantasy instalments with the presentation, atmosphere and character development of the PS1 era titles. If this sounds like the things you look for in an RPG, you need to play this game.
Bravely Default Ship
3. – Fire Emblem: Awakening –   
While Fire Emblem is a long running series, not all of its entries have been released in English or really gained any mainstream success, that is until this brilliant title. An in-depth strategy RPG at its core, Awakening also features the ability to create your own character, manage interactions and relationships between the enormous amount of party members, superb presentation, substantial addition content and an engaging story with great dialogue and character development. The experience and difficulty is adjustable making it approachable to new players, while also keeping its hardcore gameplay the series is known for. A game that will keep you coming back for a long time.
Fire Emblem Awakening Battle
4. – Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix –
A high definition update to a PS2 classic. While the original Kingdom Hearts is the gem of this collection it also includes the PS2 remake of Kingdom Hearts: Chains of Memories and cutscenes from the Nintendo DS spinoff Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days. The first game in the series is still a fantastic action RPG expertly combining some of Disney’s greatest animated movies with popular Final Fantasy characters connecting it all with an entertaining original story, superb voice acting, fun real time combat system and a fantastic soundtrack. Whether you are playing this for the first time or reliving fond memories this is a great collection and will get you ready for 2.5 Remix coming in 2014.
Kingdom Hearts Sora Riku
5. – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch –  
A combination from acclaimed RPG maker Level 5 and famed anime company Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni features some of the best visuals you will ever see in a video game. The art direction and animation will draw you into the magical world, but you will stay to explore the imaginative locations, quirky characters, intriguing story and unique battle system that combines real-time action with menu commands and monster collecting. A whimsical adventure that is both charming and inviting.
Ni No Kuni Forest

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Preview: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda is an absolute classic video game series and the SNES master piece A Link to the Past is not only seen as one of the best instalments, but one of the best games ever made. It is a daunting task to go back and revisit such a classic, but over 20 years after it’s release Nintendo are making a sequel for the Nintendo 3DS.
Zelda ALBW Hyrule
A Link Between Worlds harkens back to 2D top-down style of it’s predecessor featuring a bright and colourful Hyrule over world to explore, contrasted against a new take on the Dark World with the dreary alternate land of Lorule. For players who miss the classic style top down RPGs this looks like a great game to bring back that old magic. Even the character designs have a unique look that makes the game feel like a modern day SNES game. A Link Between Worlds will also use the 3D effect of the hardware to add verticality and depth to the visuals including making effects jump out of the screen at the player.
 Zelda ALBW Link Jump
While A Link Between Worlds features many returning elements from the revered SNES game, it is also looking to add innovations of its own. The original Legend of Zelda allowed the player to explore the world any way they wished, choosing which dungeons to complete in which order and A Link Between Worlds is expanding on that concept. Recent games in the series have been known to hold the players hand, but in this game the player can rent or buy whatever items they want from the mysterious merchant and challenge any dungeon, in any order depending on what items they need for the task.
 Zelda ALBW Boss
Another new feature that is set to turn the gameplay on its head, is Link’s ability to become a painting and merge with walls. This changes the perspective of the camera, enabling the player to access other areas, dodge enemies, find hidden secrets and travel between the two alternate worlds.
 Zelda ALBW Merge
Set generations after the events of A Link to the Past, the pointy eared hero is again off to save Princess Zelda and Hyrule. If you loved the SNES masterpiece or have longed for another epic 2D Zelda adventure, then you should be interested in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

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Why Square Enix Should Look To Final Fantasy IX

Regardless of your opinion on the current Final Fantasy games, (or Square Enix in general) everyone can agree that the newer games are becoming less and less like the classic RPGs so many people cherish.  This is understandable because times have changed and more importantly some of the original creators are no longer involved with the series, so it makes sense they won’t feel the same.

Final Fantasy IX Bahamut

A problem arises though when long term fans of the series no longer enjoy the direction the developers are taking Final Fantasy, the games themselves are no longer earning the critical praise they once were and the attempts to “attract new fans” to the series is not proving successful. It seems Square Enix wants to return Final Fantasy to it’s former glory, but are not sure of the right way to do so.

Final Fantasy IX Looks

Recent attempts from the developers at Square Enix seem to have been based around trying to emulate what made Final Fantasy VII so popular. Unfortunately the idea that Square Enix seems to have about why everyone loves Final Fantasy VII in the first place is far from the actual reason from the fans themselves.

So is there a better option? Well as much as Final Fantasy VII is my favourite RPG of all time, I think Square Enix should instead look to Final Fantasy IX and its design as a way to create a Final Fantasy that everyone can enjoy.

Final Fantasy IX AirshipsI have been recently replaying through Final Fantasy IX and the first thing I noticed is how well it bridges the gap between the older 2D games of FF1-6 and (at the time of its release) the modern 3D games of FF7-8. Final Fantasy IX had the soul and character of the SNES games, but utilises the graphics, mechanics and gameplay systems expected of the modern hardware it was designed for. Hironobu Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is the “closest to (his) ideal view of what Final Fantasy should be” and having played all of the single-player titles in the main series it is easy to see why.

Final Fantasy IX Alexandria Party

The other thing I noticed was how many features Final Fantasy IX incorporated that I think are missing from the newest iterations in the series. Final Fantasy IX returned the series to a more medieval fantasy setting after the futuristic worlds of the games that preceded it and it was a breath of fresh air. Imagination ran wild as instead of using trains or cars to travel world, you could ride on the back of the giant insect-like Gargants through tunnels and instead of having all the characters being humans, you had a variety of different races such as anthropomorphic rats from Burmecia or faceless Black Mages. Final Fantasy IX’s world was full of interesting locations that were new, inventive and a joy to discover. Not only was it artistically beautiful, but there were so many secrets to uncover, which encouraged exploration and curiosity.
Final Fantasy IX Character Concepts
The other area Final Fantasy IX excelled in was its characters, and more importantly their growth and development. Playing the game again, the attention to detail with each character is exceptional. When you entered a new place the party would split up and you could find them off doing their own thing. Vivi would be wandering around like a lost child, while Steiner would be in the weapon shop checking out the latest armour. Without spoon-feeding the player, you could understand what made these characters tick and it made them all the more relatable.
Final Fantasy IX Vivi Life
Of course the story itself also did a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life. For all the action packed moments such as the mid-air chase through South Gate or the epic battle of the Eidolons between Bahamut and Alexander, Final Fantasy IX had just as many quiet heartfelt ones such as Vivi talking through his fear of death with one of the Black Mages or when Zidane tells Garnet the reason why he decided to go with her at Madain Sari. Not only were the main characters developed well, but many of the non-playable characters had their own story arcs and even the main antagonist Kuja is introduced early and stays all the way to the end, dealing with his own mortality. The strength of Final Fantasy IX narrative lies in the fact that its characters deal with real human emotions; fear of death, loneliness, identity, self worth and belonging. While more recent games have featured stories with needlessly complicated plots, the relative simplicity of Final Fantasy IX made it all the more human.
Final Fantasy IX Life Goes On
This straight forward approach to design also worked in the gameplay systems. While newer customisation and battle systems seem to strive to be a complex as possible, Final Fantasy IX made them simple and effective. Equipping weapons, armour and accessories let you learn new abilities and every character had a unique skillset that made experimenting with different party combinations and strategies fun and engaging. Instead of having all your characters as blank states that could be switched around interchangeably, you had to change your strategy on the fly depending on which characters were currently accessible, forcing the player to learn how to best utilise each character effectively. Final Fantasy IX is one of the only RPGs where I regularly changed my party and used different combinations depending on what part of the story I was up to.
Final Fantasy IX Battle
Many see Final Fantasy IX as a reflection on what the series used to be, but it should be also seen as the perfect blueprint to move the series forward while staying true to its spirit.

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Review: Why You Should Play Suikoden II

Suikoden II is a turn-based RPG for the PlayStation that showcased a magnificent political narrative, over 100 playable characters to recruit and featured three different types of combat.

Suikoden II Duel

Set years after the events of the first Suikoden game, this sequel improves upon the good ideas of the original and blends them into an impressive and epic RPG. Released in an age when 3D was the next big thing and developers were pushing themselves to understand the new technology, Suikoden II featured a 2D world with highly detailed and expressive character sprites that works very well to convey the emotional narrative. This is a fantastic looking 2D RPG.

Suikoden II Jowy

The story focuses on the invading army of Highland lead by the destructive Prince Luca Blight and the various City States of Jowston. The two main characters fight both together and apart against Highland to bring peace to the land. The relationship between the silent protagonist and childhood friend Jowy is the highlight of the story and the character development and plot twists are extremely emotional. Rarely are characters written with this much depth and complexity. The scope of the narrative allows for an unbelievable 108 unique playable characters to recruit to your party, with many memorable and unique faces.

Suikoden II Luca

The Suikoden series is known for utilising three different types of combat and the second game uses them all wonderfully. The regular turn-based battles allow for up to six-characters with unique partner attacks and magic rune spells. The second combat system is one-on-one duels, with each character choosing between three attack options and the winner decided in a rock-paper-scissors style. The last combat type is massive grid style tactical battles similar to the Fire Emblem series. The stakes are higher in these battles and if characters are killed they stay dead in the storyline. Suikoden II has a plethora of game play features and also includes great mini-games such as the addicting cooking competition.

Suikoden II Dragon

Just like the rest of the game, the music of Suikoden II is epic and ambitious. The “Opening Theme” sets the standard hitting magnificent highs and lows, while the ethereal “Reminiscence” is a beautiful melody. With all the quality soundtracks from the PlayStation era RPGs, Suikoden II stands tall with the best of them.

Suikoden II Last Words

Suikoden II is a classic and rare RPG. If you wish to play an RPG with an intriguing story, over 100 characters to recruit and massive battles then you should play Suikoden II.

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Top 5 Boss Battles from Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII will be remembered for it’s great characters, atmosphere and narrative, but another aspect that really stands out is the memorable boss battles. All the way from the Guard Scorpion at the very beginning of the game to the final showdown in the Northern Cave you better be ready for action. Here are the Top 5 Boss Battles from Final Fantasy VII:

  1. – Rufus Shrina –

The opening hours of Final Fantasy VII is filled with more memorable moments than most games have in their entirety. You bomb two Mako Reactors, meet Aeris, dress in drag in the Wall Market to sneak into Don Corneo’s Mansion, narrowly escape the plate being dropped on Sector 7 and then infiltrate Shrina HQ to find the President murdered by what appears to be Sephiroth. This all leads up to an epic one-on-one showdown on the roof of Shrina HQ between Cloud and the President’s son Rufus. The introduction of Rufus, his speech and the fight all make up a fantastic experience. If you didn’t know much about RPGs you could have been mistaken into thinking this was nearing the end of the game, when in fact it had only just begun!

Final Fantasy VII Cloud Vs Rufus Battle

  1. – Jenova LIFE –

Final Fantasy VII has an unparalleled knack of building up tension and then throwing an epic boss battle at you when your emotions are high. There is no better example of this, than after working your way through the mysterious City of Ancients in search of Aeris, to then witness her sudden death at the hands of the heartless Sephiroth, to then be confronted with an intense battle against another form of Jenova. You hardly get a chance to catch your breath or comprehend what just happened when you are forced to fight for your lives. The emotional rollercoaster is complete when you realise the normal boss battle music when fighting Jenova is not playing, but rather the beautiful Aeris’ Theme instead, a spectacular design choice from the developers.

Final Fantasy Jenova LIFE

  1. – Sephiroth –

After battling your way through the Northern Cave and one last gathering of the party, it’s time to face the final challenge: defeat Sephiroth and release Holy to allow it to try and save the planet. Sephiroth’s first two forms are the real challenge and the angelic second form utilises the lengthy cinematic Super Nova attack that destroys entire planets just to try and stop you. The final battle is just Cloud and a human Sephiroth facing off as Cloud unleashes his ultimate attack, Omnislash to end Sephiroth once and for all. Even though the last battle is unlosable, it is every bit as satisfying as you can feel all of Cloud’s anger, sadness and resentment spill out as he finally settles the score after all those years.

Final Fantasy VII Cloud Omnislash

  1. – Ruby/ Emerald WEAPON –

Final Fantasy VII has a few optional boss battles, but none come close to the complexity of these two WEAPONs. While some of the other battles on this list are memorable because of the storyline that surrounds them, Ruby and Emerald WEAPON are here because of the challenge they present and the strategies needed to cover come them. Final Fantasy VII has a deep and rewarding combat and customisation system and you need to have a strong grasp of how to master it if you are to have any chance of being victorious in these battles. Both offer different tricks such as Ruby being able to permanently knock party members out of the fight or Emerald’s attack that hits harder depending on how many materia you have equipped on each character. The ultimate boss battles in Final Fantasy VII.

Final Fantasy VII Ruby Emerald WEAPON

  1. – Demons Gate –

Fought in the Temple of Ancients, this is a terrifying and difficult boss battle. It is likely the toughest battle at that stage of the game and will really challenge the player’s ability. The design is intimidating and there is a real sense of urgency to the fight as Demons Gate is fast and has some devastating attacks such as Demon Rush. It is a great accomplishment to see the end of this battle and it feels like the start of many more challenging bosses to come.

Final Fantasy VII Demons Gate

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Why I’m Excited for Kingdom Hearts 3

When the original Kingdom Hearts was released on the PlayStation 2 over 10 years ago I wasn’t playing video games much at the time. I had completed and loved Final Fantasy X but other hobbies had taken my interest. I saw an advertisement for Kingdom Hearts on TV (it was 2002 remember!) and it enchanted me straight away. It had a great atmosphere and story, a fun combat system, a nice throwback to Disney animated films and of course cameos from Final Fantasy characters from my favourite games ever!

Kingdom Hearts 3 Sora

Fast forward over the years and I played Kingdom Hearts 2 which was also great and even the PlayStation Portable entry Birth By Sleep which I also enjoyed. There were many other side stories that have been made that I just haven’t had the same interest in compared to the original and never played. There was something about the simplicity of the first game and I hadn’t felt that way about the series since then. The development team that made Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 have been working on Final Fantasy Verses XIII (newly changed to Final Fantasy XV) for at least the last five years so a new mainline entry seemed forever away. That all changed with the recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 in development by the studio that made Birth By Sleep overseen by original director Tetsuya Nomura.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Battle

For whatever reason, the announcement trailer has got me excited all over again about Kingdom Hearts. Whether it was the new graphics engine that looks fantastic, new worlds to explore or just the promise of the conclusion to the storyline of the mainline trilogy my imagination quickly thought of all the things I hoped Kingdom Hearts 3 could be.

Firstly, getting back to playing as Sora on the big screen with an evolution of the crazy action battle system the series is known for. I have always enjoyed turn-based RPGs more, but the Kingdom Hearts real-time battles have delivered some tense fights and I clearly remember the amount of effort and attempts it took to best Sephiroth in the original or the epic battle against the 1000 heartless with the aid of Cloud and Squall in the sequel.

Kingdom Hearts 2 1000 Heartless Battle

Then I thought about all the returning and hopefully new Final Fantasy characters they could include and to see them in the new updated, but still stylised graphics. I’m sure Cloud will return (hopefully more in line with his original appearance, with the hair flick and more cheery personality intact) and maybe the introduction of characters from other games not originally designed by Nomura such as Terra from Final Fantasy VI, Zidane from Final Fantasy IX or even Ramza and Delita from Final Fantasy Tactics.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Sora Artwork

Lastly, with the storyline focusing on searching for the “Seven Guardians of Light” I hope it can get back to a more straightforward narrative like the first game, travelling from world to world (with new appearances from Disney films) and just piece each part of the story together to end in a massive final keyblade battle between Sora and the forces of light, against series antagonist Master Xehanort and the darkness!

Anybody else excited for the possibilities?

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Review: Why You Should Play Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG for the PlayStation 2 that featured the bizarre, but magical combination of classic Disney characters with Squaresoft’s own Final Fantasy characters.

Kingdom Hearts Cloud

Kingdom Hearts created a universe where characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and Peter Pan co-existed with Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. It didn’t just rest on the popularity of Disney’s timeless characters and settings though, expertly mixing it together featuring an entertaining original story, fun real time combat system, high quality voice acting and an amazing soundtrack. Kingdom Hearts was so unpredictable, yet so ingenious.

Kingdom Hearts Sora and Kairi

The story focuses mostly on original characters, while leaving the Disney and Final Fantasy characters as cameos, which works extremely well as it lets Kingdom Hearts stand on its own two feet. The main character Sora is tasked with using the Keyblade to travel to different worlds and protect them from being consumed by the dark creatures known as the Heartless. The story evolves from the light verse darkness theme and provides many twists and turns such as your allies becoming enemies. The locations are also a highlight as each new world brings a classic Disney film to life.

Kingdom Hearts Goofy and Donald

Unlike most of the RPGs Squaresoft were releasing at the time, battles in Kingdom Hearts are in real time with the player having full control over Sora, who is joined by Donald and Goofy (plus other Disney characters) as computer controlled party members. The combat system still has plenty of depth as Sora can attack with his Keyblade, cast magic spells, use special techniques, jump, fly and even use summons. Despite the bright and colourful look of the games graphics, some bosses are very difficult and require the player to master all of their abilities such as an optional fight against the infamous Sephiroth in the Hercules’ Olympus Colosseum.

Kingdom Hearts Sora Vs Riku

Kingdom Hearts excels in its voice acting, as the main characters are brought to life by Hollywood actors and many of the Disney characters have their original voice talent. Adding to the fantastic audio experience is the impressive soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura who carefully blends arrangements of iconic Disney melodies with memorable original compositions such as “Dearly Beloved” and “Hollow Bastion”.

Kingdom Hearts Ansem

Kingdom Hearts is a wonderful mix of originality and nostalgia. If you wish to play an action RPG with thrilling game play and memorable characters then you should play Kingdom Hearts.

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