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Monday, October 25, 2021

Ten RPGs in need of a remake/remaster (that probably won't get one)

In no particular order.

Darklands (MicroProse, 1992)

Darklands didn't get a ton of attention when it was released back in 1992, but it was actually quite an innovative and unique game for the time, implementing a sense of open-world freedom, choice and tactical combat that many of its competitors wouldn't embrace until years or even decades later.  Taking place in a low-fantasy medieval Germany under rule of the Holy Roman Empire, you would venture across the land in search of fame and fortune, duking it out with all manner of bandits, devilish forces and creatures from folklore, and losing a fight wasn't always an immediate game over - being bested by bandits would have them steal most of your valuables and dump you somewhere, while losing to town guards would get you arrested and imprisoned.  Weapons and armor are probably the most realistically handled in any RPG I've seen; short swords are very quick and effective against most unarmored or lightly-armored foes, for example, but virtually useless against a knight in platemail; using a great hammer, a longbow or even a firearm (rare and expensive as they are) are all better choices there.  'Magic' wasn't really a pervading element (save for the villains), but Alchemy and praying to various saints could grant you the miracles you need to overcome dangers.  Combat itself was also relatively unique, playing like a real-time strategy and having you command your individual characters to take actions, but with the ability to pause and adjust your tactics at any time - like Baldur's Gate but six years early.  Sadly it was denied its due owing to its unimpressive graphics, a number of prominent bugs (in an era where releasing patches to customers was extremely difficult) and its overall repetitive design, but with MicroProse back to making games again, I'd love to see them take another crack at this type of open-ended RPG gameplay.

Final Fantasy II (Square Enix, 1988)

Final Fantasy II is widely considered one of the worst Final Fantasy games, and it's an assessment I largely agree with - the leveling system, while fairly unique for the time, just adds tons more grinding to the game, dragging the pacing to a pained crawl and ensuring that I just spent nearly all of my time in  dungeons running from battles rather than fighting them, as it was far more efficient to have my party members park in front of some weak enemies and hit each other than actually power up in the field as the game intended.  Still, Final Fantasy II isn't completely without merit - it had a surprisingly good, grim storyline for the period, thrusting the player in the midst of a hopeless war against a bloodthirsty empire and trying desperately to turn things around.  The Emperor is also pound-for-pound probably has the most badass, ruthless and effective villain the series has ever had; the guy wipes out something like ninety percent of the planet's population during his crusade, showing that he only values power no matter the cost he has to pay to get it.  And even after you crush him in battle and leave him to die, he conquers hell itself and tears open a portal back to Earth to take another swing at you.  Bad.  Ass.  Granted, I doubt it's high on the list of games fans are demanding a remake of, but if Square Enix can commission a reimagining of the first Final Fantasy and have it look like this, why not do something similar for 2?

Grandia III (Game Arts, 2006)

Grandia is definitely one of my favorite RPG franchises; hell, I listed all three mainline games in my top 100 games of all time.  Admittedly, though, Grandia III is definitely its weakest entry in terms of design and writing, with the plot all but disappearing around the midpoint and several prominent characters getting virtually no explanation for their presence or even motives in working with the big bad.  Still, it's probably my favorite one to play simply because the combat system in the game is brilliant - fast paced, genuinely challenging and working in an air-juggle combo system that is both fun to watch and really lets you rack up the damage; easily one of the most fun and enjoyable I've encountered in any game.  Get a remaster out there that fills in the holes in the story and while you're at it, put Game Arts to work on Grandia IV!


Koudelka (Sacnoth, 2001)

The predecessor to the acclaimed Playstation 2 franchise "Shadow Hearts", Koudelka was an odd mashup of gameplay elements, with the exploration, puzzle solving and visual style of Resident Evil but an RPG-style leveling system and turn-based strategic combat.  The latter definitely worked against the game rather than for it, though - the breakable weapons, the fact that your characters had no defining differences gameplay-wise besides starting stats, and the fact you could just pump all your points into HP, Defense and Magic and steamroll the game, all made it feel rather poorly planned out.  Combat was just arduous rather than entertaining too, forcing you to watch characters slowly shuffle around the field in between each action and watch the same handful of slow, repetitive animations over and over, and the constant leaps in difficulty necessitated hours of grinding to even stand a chance.  Still, the game had a surprisingly good production team behind it, with a lot well-rendered CGI cutscenes, some very detailed visuals, a decent script and even surprisingly good voiceover for the most part.  But the disparate gameplay design was another perfect example of too many cooks spoiling the broth.  I'd love to see it get remade as Hiroki Kikuta originally envisioned it; or at the very least, Sacnoth/Nautilus's publisher doing something with the IP again, as they haven't even attempted any re-releases, merchandise or even entertained the idea of a sequel since the PS2 era.

Mega Man Legends 1/2 (Capcom, 1998)

Mega Man Legends was a promising new turn for the franchise, taking the series into 3D, giving it a creative setting, a colorful and charming cast of characters, and working in some Zelda-like elements - upgrading your character, building weapons out of spare parts, solving puzzles, navigating dungeons and fighting bosses.  All good stuff, but hampered by some clumsy controls (built for the non-analog PS1 controller), frustrating difficulty fluctuations and some generally just dated design elements, like being unable to lock on to enemies and move at the same time.  But the worst part is that we were frustratingly close to seeing a proper update realized - Mega Man Legends 3 was teased for a long time before Capcom abruptly cancelled it, leaving us all high and dry.  Come on guys, there's clearly demand for more of the franchise; hell, you cashed in on it yourselves after Mighty #9 flopped by making Mega Man 11.  Dust off those old design docs, port the Legends series over to Unreal, polish up the controls a bit, and let us enjoy it again!

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Sega, 1991)

Generally regarded as the black sheep of the Phantasy Star franchise, but I've always been a fan of it (and besides, that title rightfully belongs to the appalling Phantasy Star Gaiden on the Game Gear).  It's a uniquely bizarre game with some weird enemy designs, an overall grim tone and a setting that appears to be a standard fantasy world, but quickly delves into heavy science fiction elements too, all with a very human element and some surprisingly good music throughout; I especially like the fact that as more characters join your party, it adds more instruments to the overworld music, gradually changing it from a sad, solemn tune to more hopeful and upbeat.  Not to mention some relatively unique mechanics for 1991 - namely, the ability to view three out of seven potential storylines and four different endings depending upon your choices during the adventure.  Sadly, the game was also rushed, resulting in a lot of dungeons being cut down, enemies going unused and the story being trimmed down a lot from the original script, so it never achieved the same level of acclaim as the others in the series.  I'd definitely love a remake or remaster that fills in the gaps and shows us the full experience that Alisa III has to offer.

Ultima 8: Pagan/Ultima 9: Ascension (Origin Systems, 1994/2000)

 The final two games in the Ultima franchise are regarded as disappointments by most, and while I do think they have some genuine redeeming qualities, I have to agree with the critics for the most part.  Pagan was a bizarre new turn for the series, moving more into being an isometric action-platformer with mouse controls (not a good combination) while trying to retain the puzzle-solving and storytelling aspect of the series.  In the latter it does a slightly better job, though it suffers from being rushed, with large portions of the story and planned dungeons being abruptly dropped or cut completely, not to mention an
extremely anticlimactic showdown with the big bads at the end.  9 at least feels more like a proper Ultima game, with a spanning, seamless world realized in full 3D for the first time in the series and a much more sensible UI and control scheme; however, it was also very rushed, resulting in a lot of bugs, near-constant crashes in some places, and the original storyline being mostly dropped in favor of one that felt for lack of a better word, childish. This was not aided by some very unimpressive voice acting and cringe-worthy dialog ("What's a paladin?"  "What's the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom?" etc), not to mention a lot of laughably trite speechifying.  It was still a fairly fun game to play at the end of the day, but a far cry in storytelling quality from the series' golden days.  That, plus EA abruptly ending support for the game before many of its bugs could be patched, has left it as a disappointing end to the series for most.  Sadly, while Richard Garriott has tried on many occasions to buy back the IP from EA, they're adamantly holding on to it for reasons that only they know, so we may never see Ultima get the sendoff it truly deserves.  But we can always hold on to the glimmer of hope known as "fan remakes", I suppose.

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (Troika, 2004)

VTM: Bloodlines is a fan favorite for its grim atmosphere, dark humor and open-ended gameplay reminiscent of Deus Ex, but it took a lot of fan patches to get there; the game was rushed out by Activision and they disbanded Troika shortly after it debuted, so only one official patch was ever released (which didn't fix many prominent issues the game had).  Even with the amazing fan overhaul it's still not a perfect experience, though - the combat in VTMB is very mediocre (having very weird hit detection and mostly consisting of mindless button-mashing) and the janky physics, spotty enemy AI and lack of alternate means to complete many quests often lead to frustrating roadblocks.  I feel that even just updating it to a newer version of the Source engine could benefit it a lot, but with Activision holding the rights, I doubt it's going to happen.

Xenogears (Squaresoft, 1998)

Xenogears is an RPG loved and hated in about equal measure.  On one hand, it might just be the most impressive cinematic experience ever released in a PS1 disc - the camera work, environments, soundtrack and writing are all lavishly-produced and have some amazing moments that shine even today.  On the other hand, its got some serious pacing issues, repetitious combat, mediocre dungeon design and an uneven tone, as well as the fact that it was released very unfinished, which earns it a lot of ire too.  It was a game that was just a bit too ambitious for its time (and had a few too many cooks in the kitchen), and while Tetsuya Takahashi has tried again to replicate its success with games like Xenosaga and the Xenoblade Chronicles franchises, neither has achieved quite the same level of acclaim as the first one he made under Square.  It'd be a lot of paperwork to sort out all the legalities and reassemble the original dev team, and convincing Nintendo to give a budget worthy of its scope would be a nightmare in itself, but I would love to see a remake that tells the tale of Xenogears as it was originally envisioned.