My New Favourite RPG Merchant

I've had a favourite RPG merchant for years now. 15 years to be precise. Here's a quote, see if you can guess who it was:

"What ails you, my friend?"

Got it? Yep, it's Pepin, the mild-mannered healer from Diablo. Responsible for the trading of various healing pots and of course, sorting out whatever it was that was ailing you when you returned to Tristram. I liked the cut of Pepin's jib. He didn't give it a shit that the lord of hell was about to rise up and destroy the world, he just wanted to know how you were doing.

However, Pepin's 15-year stint at number one has finally been ended. Ended permanently. Pepin's days as my most favourite RPG merchant have come abrubptly to an end.

After 15-years at the top, Pepin has finally fallen foul to progress.

Who is this new pretender who has usurped Pepin and his unfazing philanthropy? Who could possibly surpass he who tends to what ails you?

Well he's sardonic, he's pessimistic, he's derisive, he loves pots (like Pepin before him) - his is called Yulia and he's delightfully camp and catty but he's the shining light by which nearly all Dark Souls player secure their earliest, most coveted treasure...and his name? Well...he doesn't actually have one, it's the 'Undead Merchant' in the Undead Burg who I have personally named, Bob. And here he is:

You could kill him for an Uchigatana, but if you do, expect me to invade your world and avenge his death.

Stuck in the Undead Burg for something like eight hours I talked to Bob a lot. With the Taurus Demon repeatedly handing my arse to me and with my increasing frustration leading to unnecessary deaths at the hands of the sword thrusting, axe swinging, firebomb throwing, crossbow shooting, spear stabbing, knife fighting dissidents of the 'Burg, I visited him for comic relief whenever I felt my frequent failures were getting to me.

'Oh, there you are.' he'd say with unnerving surprise.

'Where else would I be?' I'd respond in turn, 'Fucking Taurus Demon keeps smashing my back doors in with his giant hammer.'

'Nee hee hee hee hee hee!' Quite.

I spoke to him so much I perfected an impression of him. It's flawless. You should hear it. He loved me when I bought firebombs:

'Oh...thank you very much!'

He hated me when I was just browsing:

'Throw me a bone will you.' He quips as I walk away for the umpteenth time without buying anything. Throw me a bone, Bob, throw me a bone, I'm your only frickin' customer and Huey, Luey, Duey and Donald downstairs would have eaten your face years ago had I not killed them all several hundred times.

Anyway, for all his mocking, he really grew on me. When I bought 20 firebombs off him to deal with the 'Burg Black Knight, he endeared himself to me. When I bought the Shortbow and 300 arrows off him to kill the Hellkite Dragon and secure the Drake Sword post Taurus Demon, he cemented his well earned place at the apex of my RPG merchant list.

It's been a while since I've seen Bob now.

'Oh, there you are.' He sneered, on a rare visit last night. "Where have you been hiding?" I'd been busying myself progressing through the game to finally arrive in Anor Londo, but what was this? NEW DIALOGUE! I was delighted. Bob - in the way that a decrepid old uncle that no-one in the family really likes to visit and who knows that's how the family feels about him - had missed me!

Behind that crusty face and underneath his tough exterior, Bob loves you. And admit it to yourself, you love Bob too. You probably wouldn't have the Drake Sword without him.

200 attack, early in the game. You owe it all to, Bob.

Here's to you, Bob, the Undead Merchant.


Top 3 JRPG Villains

I conducted a miniature poll on Twitter last night to try and discover who people's favourite JRPG villains were. There were some fairly obvious candidates from the Final Fantasy series in particular but I was heartened to see some JRPG fans pulling less obvious villains from games such as Baten Kaitos and Shadow Hearts.

That being said, honourable mentions will go to Emporer Mateus Palamecia (Final Fantasy II), Magus (Chrono Trigger) and Adachi (Shin Megami Tensei) for receiving the odd vote here and there but here are Twitter's (well my followers at least) top three JRPG villains and their most evil moments....MWUHAHAHAHA!!!

3. Albert Simon - Shadow Hearts

Best quote:
"I can see... Not perfectly, but I can see the future in store for this world... A few foolish elite will soon bring a tragedy which will inflict great misery upon us all!"

What's his childhood trauma? Following his release from a Vatican prison, Simon had convinced himself that there was no hope for the human race amdist all it's corruption and that the best course of action would be to destroy the world.

How was he planning to do that? By summoning God himself to come down and blow it all up.

Did he succeed? Yes and no. He summoned God but Yuri and co er, killed him/her/it. Yes, in Shadow Hearts you kill God. Nietzsche would have a field day with that! Ultimately though, the world remained intact.

Murder, kidnap and dismemberment all in the first four minutes of the game.

2. Sephiroth - Final Fantasy VII

Best Quote:
"Tell me what you cherish most. Give me the pleasure of taking it away."

What's his childhood trauma? Definite mother issues, a possible necropheliac with an Oedipus complex, things were never going to pan out happily for one of the broodiest, most self-reflecting villains in Final Fantasy history. Turns out to be the result of a biological experiment, doesn't take too kindly to the news, goes on rampage with the intention of destroying the world.

How was he planning to do that? By summoning a big fuck off meteor to obliterate everything to the point where he can merge with the lifestream, use the planet as his cosmic hoverboard and basically become a God.

Did he succeed? Like all of them, he came so close. He did summon Meteor and all looked pretty bleak for the Earth. Fortunately, between Cloud and co, the protective nature of the lifestream and Aeris' final act of summoning Holy to protect the planet, the Earth is saved and everyone is happy...well, except those living in Midgar which was pretty much obliterated.

It's almost cool to hate FFVII now, but the fact this scene still gives me goosebumps is a testament to its fantastic story. Plus, Aeris, you got merked.

1. Kefka - Final Fantasy VI

Best Quote: "I will destroy everything! I will create a monument to non-existence!"

What's his childhood trauma? First human to be infused with magic which unfortunately led him to become a magic wielding psychopath. Sympathisers would have you believe he was a victim of circumstance but it's the fact that Kefka was just evil for the sake of being evil which made him believe he could bring about the end of the world.

How was he planning to do that? Well! By using the power of the espers to raise a floating continent and ultimately to become a God, smiting the millions who refused to worship him.

Did he succeed? He did you know! Not only did he become a God, he also near destroyed the world below the floating continent which became known as the 'World of Ruin'. Ultimately he is defeated and things start returning to normal but he succeeds in mass genocide, ascencion to a higher plane of being and almost total destruction of the world.

Kefka loved to poison a water supply. His capacity for genocidal behaviour progresses exponentially!

So, there you have it. The top three JRPG baddies as chosen by some people on Twitter. Kefka is a worthy winner! Of the three villains here, he probably did the most damage!


Five RPGs That Deserve a Remake

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to completely ignore Final Fantasy VII as a remake I’d like to see because it goes without saying. There are plenty of other games deserving of a hi-def or up-to-date reimagining and some of the heavyweights have already undergone highly successful updates.

Square Enix have arguably led the way in this respect with titles like Final Fantasy III & IV both receiving beautifully realised versions on the Nintendo DS. Not content with those offerings, Star Ocean: The First Departure (a remake of Enix’s original Star Ocean and never released outside of Japan on SNES) was a defining example of how to bring previously unreleased content to a worldwide audience in creative way by using the Star Ocean 2 PS1 engine.

‘So why won’t they do FFVII!?!’ the fan boys cry, ‘stop wasting money on remakes no one cares about’. For me, the blinkered whining of the FFVII generation. It doesn’t matter if they do or they don’t. There are plenty of other retro RPGs worthy of remaking in the world and here are my top five.

5. Terranigma – Enix – SNES, 1996 to DS or 3DS
Arguably one of the greatest RPGs on the SNES, Terranigma for me is the definitive retro action RPG. Better than Zelda. Better than Secret of Mana. The story of Ark and his endeavours to resurrect a dead world is one of the most beautiful, thought provoking games on the system. While I think remaking it on a format like the PS3 or Xbox 360 would run into problems around technical constraints as Kitase has cited for the much mooted FFVII remake, perhaps a DS (or why not 3DS?) facelift would allow RPG fans to experience a game that some never will in favour of less engaging or accomplished console counterparts.

A Final Fantasy IV-esque 3D engine would complement Terranigma’s contrasting environments and the groundbreaking menu system from which Fable 3 borrowed so much, would look magnificent. Throw in updated cut-scenes and more accurately translated dialogue and I’d challenge any RPG fan not to be at the very least, curious.

Triple changing, ice throwing bosses look much better in 3D.

4. Shadowrun – FASA Interactive – SNES, 1994 to Nintendo Wii
Alright. The Wii isn’t exactly the hardcore RPG fan’s console of choice, despite it having at least seven or eight very good reasons to own one but the simple mechanics present in the FASA’s brilliant SNES game would transfer seamlessly to Nintendo’s hardware. Movement would be controlled using the Nunchuk while the Wii Remote would be used to manoeuvre Jake’s cursor over attackers before holding the trigger down to fire.

The updated hardware would bring with it a generational overhaul in graphical quality, obviously, and Seattle’s 2051, cyberpunk style vibe could be breathtakingly recreated. Imagine Gotham City mixed with elements of Blade Runner and Lord of the Rings and you’ll start to build a mental picture of how this could look. The original captured the conflicting gothic and futuristic nature of FASA’s IP and now Jordan Weissman has reclaimed creative rights from Microsoft, maybe they’ll hear my plea and do this. I’m not holding my breath though!

Imagine Jake's Karmic exploits using a control scheme surely intended for the Wii! #aheadofitstime

3. Baldur’s Gate – Bioware – PC, 1998 to PC
Forget your Xbox 360 and PS3 version straight away. I don’t want what could possibly be the greatest remake ever envisaged dumbed down for consoles. I want it high end, performance hungry, specifically for PCs and possibly in 3D. I want the whole world completely redesigned using something resembling the engine CDP are using for The Witcher 2. That probably wouldn’t happen but I can dream.

Many PC RPG fans regard Baldur’s Gate as not only genre defining but one of the most engrossing RPGs ever to be developed. I’m firmly in that camp and while in terms of WRPGs I enjoyed Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age: Origins as much, if not more, there’s no doubt in my mind Baldur’s Gate Unleashed (as I’m tentatively dubbing it) would show some naysaying gamers that a traditional approach to role-playing can be just as much fun (more for many) as any of its contemporaries.

Look out for the trailer's Michael Jackson moment, answers on a postcard.

2. Chrono Cross – Square – PS1, 1999 to PSN and XBLA
Honestly Square Enix, I don’t even need you to sex this one up a lot for me. Just give it a HD makeover or something and whack it up on PSN and XBLA. I will pay you twenty English pounds for it. I will recommend it to all my friends. I will wax lyrical about how it was one of the greatest RPGs of a generation and how you never released it in Europe along with it’s equally good predecessor, Chrono Trigger. I’ll tell them all about the wealth of talent involved in the development and let them draw the natural conclusion that their £20 would be well invested.

The story is timeless and while the PS1 visuals are obviously a little dated, giving the game a facelift and throwing it out to the masses to me is a more appealing prospect than simply whacking the original version up on PS1 to be downloaded on impulse at £7.99. Chrono Cross, like Chrono Trigger is one of those timeless RPGs that fans of the genre should be required to experience.

Great trailer, sadly lacking in upskirt.

1. Final Fantasy VI – Square – SNES, 1996 to Xbox 360 and PS3
Ok, so ignoring what I said about technical constraints with regards to Terranigma above, if there is any other game in the Final Fantasy pantheon more deserving of a remake than its more famous younger brother, it’s Final Fantasy VI. I think it would be less probable than a FFVII remake in terms of the game’s virtual square footage, but if it was somehow possible to squeeze the world map and world of ruin in FFVI along with the cast of wonderful player characters and mixed bag of colourful and sinister foes (of which one of the most quotable gave this blog its name) onto a couple of blu-rays, it’d be absolutely amazing.

If there is a game in the series that out steampunks FFVII, it would be FFVI. If there was a game in the series which had a storyline possibly more gut-wrenching and evocative, it would be FFVI. Imagine the glowing embers of the ruined world blowing around Locke’s feet as he comes to terms with the destruction of Narshe or the HD animations of Terra’s Magitek suit during the opening exchanges. We were teased with the possibilities way back when FFVI was rereleased onto Playstation 1 with brand new CG intro but that was the closest we’ll ever probably come. To be honest, I’d settle for the DS FFIII and FFIV treatment for this game, as long as they sandwiched FFV in somewhere too.

The opening sequence to FFVI on PSone led idiots to believe the entire game looked like this.

So, that’s my top five. It goes without saying that it won’t be everybody’s top five. Let me know if you’ve played any retro RPGs recently you’d love to see get a remake.


Rare and Expensive: RPGs You'll Pay Top Whack For

I spend quite a sizeable portion of my free time scouring eBay for retro RPGs I can get at a reasonable price. I find the whole activity quite a zen experience and regularly reach inner equilibrium by finding myself a good deal. However, my income is disappointly finite and justifying spending hundreds of pounds for a retro game is not really an option.

The most money I have ever spent myself on a retro RPG, so not including gifts, was £54.99 on a copy of Legend of Dragoon on Playstation 1. You may think that's an extortionate amount of money to spend on something that was released 11 years ago but it's small fry compared to some of the exceptionally rare retro RPGs haunting the second hand market.

The emergence of classic RPGs on platforms like PSN, XBLA and on Apple devices has started to drive second prices of those available down, but there are still hundreds of rare games out there that will never see a re-release and will continue to rise in price.

So if you are a new or intermediate collector, looking for a jewel in the crown of your RPG collection, here are my top five most wanted retro RPGs that I'll probably never be able to afford/justify.

5. Lufia & The Fortress of Doom - SNES - Taito, 1993
The first game in the Lufia series maybe didn't receive the critical acclaim lavished on Secret of Mana or Final Fantasy but there is still a place for it on any collector's shelf. The game never received a PAL outing and when searching for this, take care not to be confused with the PAL game 'Lufia'. This is actually, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals called 'Lufia' in Europe for the above reason.

They're called the Sinistrals, an apt name as their intentions are wholly sinister

Expect to pay anything from about £80 upwards. These don't drop on eBay that regularly, so when they're boxed, more often on than not they're on a buy it now deal.

4. Secret of Mana 2/Seiken Densetsu 3 - SNES - Square, 1995
The much anticipated sequel to Secret of Mana, never received an English translation or a release outside of Japan yet you can still find copies of it on the bay for silly money. After a small amount of research I've ascertained that the NTSC US and PAL copies of 'Secret of Mana 2' are in fact custom built carts with a very accomplished translation of the game loaded on. Others have gone to the trouble of making some rather lovely packaging for it too.

Secret of Mana 2. The secret is, it's a fake.

If you've got money to burn, and I'm talking anything up to £225, then by all means pick this up. For me though, there's just something a little bit wrong about charging people hundreds of pounds for something that was knocked up in the bedroom of someone with far too much time on their hands.

3. Harvest Moon - SNES - Natsume/Nintendo, 1997/1998
Harvest Moon is one of those rare games you probably didn't realise was that rare if you owned it back in the day. Well, I hope for your sake if you did own it, you kept hold of it as the orignal 'farmville' is now one of the rarest, most expensive RPGs in the SNES RPG library. Latest iterations have never quite managed to capture the magic of the original despite all being decent games in their own right. I guess there's a lot to be said for the charm of 16-bit bovines.

It's a scientific fact that praying only works in video games.

Boxed copies fetch well over £100, with the cartridge alone going for in excess of £60 minimum. If you manage to track down a factory sealed copy with Nintendo seal be prepared to part with a sizeable percentage of your annual salary as seen in this auction for over £1100.

2. Chrono Trigger - SNES - Square, 1995
Without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest JRPG of all time. In my mind, nothing in the genre will ever surpass Chrono Trigger in terms of narrative and RPG design excellence. When you consider the talent involved in developing this game, it's easy to understand why it's still regarded as one of the best RPGs around. Kitase, Matsui, Sakaguchi, Toriyama, Uematsu, Horii, Tokita. If you haven't played what is essentially a game crafted from a genre defining dream team and aren't inspired too by the names listed then I'm not really sure why you're reading this blog.

No jokes. No half-baked captions. Boxed/Complete it's every collector's dream.

Don't hope to find this cheap. I saw the packaging alone go for just over £32 on ebay last week and finding a complete edition, NTSC only obviously as the game never released in Europe on SNES, will hit your wallet for at least £80. I think even then you're doing well. If new/sealed is more your bag, expect sellers to name their price. Currently shipping for a cool £731...

1. Earthbound - SNES- Nintendo, 1995
This is the holy grail for me. The one game that I need in my collection more than I need oxygen. It is, purely and simply, the pinnacle of any RPG collectors collection. If it isn't, then they're doing something horribly wrong. If you want to buy a copy of Earthbound (which is actually Mother 2, Mother 1 was never released outside of Japan) then please ensure the copy you buy is 100% complete with manual, map etc, but most importantly it MUST HAVE the scratch and sniff cards. If it doesn't, DO NOT BUY. Simple as. The scratch and sniff is one of the reasons you will pay top whack for this game and people will try and sell the game for the same price without. General rule: NO HOT DOG MUSTARD, NO SALE.

A present day RPG with bicycles, baseball bats and I assume, Bin Laden. Save the world.

You want this? You really want it? Cart only. £80 please. But you don't want that, you want the full package, otherwise, what's the point? Well, that'll be around £300. Don't believe me? Check this auction out. Two days left and we're already at £201. Brand new/sealed? A price? Name it basically. I'd estimate around £2,500 but feel free to prove me wrong.

Yep, they're all SNES games. Don't be surprised. If you ever want to make me jealous, feel free to post unboxing videos of you with your game in the comments thread. I won't hate you, I'll just post nude pictures of your Earthbound Zero. Fnar Fnar.

Until next time....


MIA. Me. Not the shithouse singer.

What the bloody hell have I been doing for the past four months? The Octopus has been sat here, thoroughly un-teased since Christmas! Not that such negligence threatened to break the seventh seal or render an apocalyptic tear in the space-time continuum but still, I've failed myself. And my two followers. Will they ever forgive me?

It has been ridiculous since getting back from the Xmas break in January though. We launched about a year's worth of games in eight weeks, went to number one in the all formats with TDU2 and invaded Libya (NATO not Namco Bandai).

Ridge Racer 3D and Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive both launched last Friday (25th March),
bookending a whirlwind start to the year. Now I've caught my breath, might be time to start updating this again.

Where to start though? I'm so out of the loop, I haven't even picked up Dragon Age 2 yet or downloaded Mass Effect 2: Arrival. The latter will be rectified shortly, the former...well...having read a dozen or so reviews, I've decided to wait until the price drops. I have it on good authority from some trusted DA:O fans in the industry that DA2 just doesn't match up.

One thing I am looking forward to getting stuck into though is the lengthily named, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together for PSP. Having worked on Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 though - a title with such a long name it threw OXM's page design for the review into disarray - I'm hardly in a position to criticise other publishers' overblown game titles.

If you fancy a bit of SRPG gaming though, definitely pick up Tactics Ogre. It never released in Europe and is widely regarded by fans of the genre as one of the most challenging games of its kind. You can pick it up new from Game for £11.99 at the moment.

Tomorrow also sees the launch of The 3rd Birthday from Square Enix, the third in the Parasite Eve series, featuring the return of much loved heroine, Aya Brea. It's the latest in a string of planned PSP releases from Square Enix (get the Twisted Version!) all ticking RPG lovers' boxes. Also slated are Dissidia Final Fantasy Duoce....bollocks to it, I'm not typing that out...and Lord of Arcana.

We've just released Gods Eater Burst and the Crisis Core-esque, Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive to add a bit of variety to the SE dominated PSP line-up but it certainly feels like the platform is having a mini-resurgence. Happy days for me, I spend a large portion of my life on a train and a bit of handheld RPG fun sure beats playing Klondyke on my blackberry.

Anyway, I've got a ton of gaming to get through, not least because I went apeshit on ebay last month and bought about 15 retro titles: Evolution on Dreamcast, Breath of Fire III, IV and Dragon Quarter, Mechwarrior on Snes, Cool Spot on Snes, Boktai for GBA...the list goes on. I've got my eyes on a copy of Robotrek by Enix....it will be mine.

Bottom line is, lots more gaming in the coming months to generate lots more mindless musings.


My Top 5 RPGs for 2011

2010 has been the year of the RPG. Fans have literally been showered in love from some of the genre's most prolifically awesome studios.

Bioware and Square Enix kicked off the 2010 single player marathon (which according to the EA president is dead by the way!) early on with Mass Effect 2 and Final Fantasy XIII respectively. Hot on their heels were Atlus with Demon's Souls before Square Enix again fought for our free time with the summer hit, Dragon Quest IX.

Anyone who thought the RPG torrent would lay off for a while after that was mistaken as Bethesda released Fallout: New Vegas in October, taking gamers back to their favourite post-apocalyptic sandbox. Camelot bookended the year with Golden Sun: Dark Dawn last week and while some may argue the game's title is an ominous portent of the genre's offerings in 2011, I've hardly had to clutch at straws to find the five RPGs I'm most looking forward to next year.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Cynics, at this point, would accuse me of a shameless plug. An opportunity for me to tell the 200 odd people who have stumbled across this blog looking for pictures of Ultros to put on their Christmas cards, about one of Namco Bandai's big titles for next year. Well pooh pooh to you. I am so looking forward to this game that I am going to the trouble of assembling a PC powerful enough to play it, my masterpiece will be ready in January. CD Projekt Red's, on May 17th.

I'm not going to say too much about it but players will find themselves reprising the role of Geralt to tackle a new evil. TW2 has been built around a completely new proprietary game engine as CDP move away from the Bioware engine they used in the previous game. This has allowed them to produce the RPG experience they wanted to make and they're keen to point out, that the only thing that limits them is their imagination.

Here's a nice gameplay trailer to get you started. This one doesn't have boobies.

If that's peaked your interest, head on over to www.gamingunion.net and check out Lee Bradley's preview from Gamescom 2010.

Dragon Age 2
Let's be honest, Dragon Age: Origins wasn't as amazing as my experiences of it suggested it to be. I absolutely loved it, but when I think about all the needless chat and the fairly non-evolved combat system, I do ask myself why. Nevertheless, I mainlined that game. I finished it four times. I unlocked every achievement bar 'Traveller' on the launch version and have made a significant dent in the updates and expansions. Did I get bored of it after a while? Maybe. Having played it solidly for about six-months straight though, it's probably no surprise. My girlfriend even bet me, at the height of my addiction, that I couldn't put it in a drawer and leave it for a week. Well, she was right, I buckled after four days because I just couldn't get enough of decapitating Darkspawn with twin swords. Dragon Age: Origins, despite it's flaws, is my favourite WRPG of all time, overtaking previous front-runner, Planescape.

And now they've made a sequel...I had a little play at the Eurogamer Expo and wasn't disappointed. Now our main character, Hawke, speaks, the combat plays out more like an action RPG and less like an old school, top down style, turn-based RPG and the visuals are even more impressive than before. It remains to be seen whether everyone in Dragon Age 2 wears the same underwear though. I've asked a few people but I think they're all under NDA.

So Hawke is a survivor of the Blight, one who escaped Lothering with his family before it was overrun shortly after the Battle of Ostagar. His gender and class can be customised and he interacts with other characters using a dialogue wheel similar to the one seen in Mass Effect 2. DA2 is set in the Free Marches, a new area in the Dragon Age universe and will span over a ten-year period with the decisions you make for Hawke, affecting the world in dramatic ways. Fans will be pleased to hear their save-game data from DA:O will be compatible in DA2 with decisions having an impact on the game play. Check out the Rise to Power trailer:

More violent than your average student riot. Bring on the decapitations! Yeah, you heard me Lorraine Kelly, de-cap-i-tay-shuns.

The 3rd Birthday
I know, I know...who even plays their PSP anymore? Well, apparently, the Japanese do and Square Enix are well aware of it. Their early 2011 line-up is a treasure trove of handheld adventuring with The 3rd Birthday spearheading a PSP lineup which includes a remake of Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together and Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy. As a huge fan of Parasite Eve 2, I'm looking forward to being reunited with Aya Brea, even if she has lost her memory. Cue groans from the JRPG haters.

Slated for a Spring launch, The 3rd Birthday's most interesting new feature is the 'Overdive' system. This allows the player to jump into the bodies of friendly party members in order to exploit enemy weakpoints and sustain tactical advantages throughout the game's third-person combat system. This feature also allows Aya to jump into the minds of the Twisted (the creatures wreaking havoc in Manhattan) and cause them fatal damage. RPG elements remain in what is essentially an action game, with Aya able to level up through gaining experience points which she can use to upgrade existing abilities or learn new ones.

With Yoshinori Kitase involved, as Executive Producer and with Square Enix's track record for producing exciting and engaging handheld games, The 3rd Birthday looks likely to be a welcome distraction for commuting RPG fans such as myself. The combat system looks engaging and fresh, the visuals hold up very well for a PSP game and Square Enix's expertise in characterisation and story telling should ensure a captivating gaming experience. Now, Squenix, if you wouldn't mind localising Parasite Eve and whacking it up on the PSN store, I'd be most grateful!

Potential for tentacle rape? You never know.

Gameon.co.uk had hands-on with The 3rd Birthday at Gamescom, you can check out their preview here.

The Last Story
One word should be enough for most RPG fans to get excited about The Last Story: Sakaguchi. Most will know him as the genius who created the Final Fantasy series and looking through his credits is to peruse a list of RPGs which are essential gaming for fans of the genre. He's had a hit on nearly every major format and The Last Story will be his and Mistwalker's first outing on Nintendo Wii. Will this be the title that sees hardcore Wii owners dusting off their consoles for an all new RPG adventure? I wonder how I can get the Wii I sold to my mother back...

Sakaguchi has claimed in the past that he had concentrated mainly on the battle system at first, before implementing the kind of story that only he could. IGN recently deduced he has done this twice before: Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy VII. Excited yet? There isn't a massive amount of info available to English speakers about The Last Story, however from IGNs preview it looks like it will be Final Fantasy XII-esque with a mix of turn-based and real-time combat. Main character, Elza, acts effectively as a tank with his 'Gathering' ability, drawing enemy attention while his comrades charge spells and heal allies. Spells themselves will have a lasting effect on the battlefield, leaving area affected circles which players can use to their advantage. Cast an ice-spell and any player characters within the circle will have their attacks infused with ice. Sounds like tactics and experimenting will be the order of the day with this system and it's one which - as a lover of turn based combat - intrigues me greatly.

I'd have to confess to knowing very little about the story other than that Elza and his band of companions are mercenaries who have arrived on Ruli Island looking for work. I've only seen trailers, but just the talent involved in this game is enough to shoot The Last Story into my top 5 RPGs for 2011. I just hope it gets a PAL release which at the time of the writing, has not been announced.

Epically incomprehensible. Still, I can't wait.

The best way to keep up to date with The Last Story is to follow @mistwalker on twitter where Sakaguchi frequently updates and interacts with fans. For a summary of the development blog and some of his more relevant tweets (sunsets and lego characters not included!) check out andriasang.com's article, posted on 9th December.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
It's for titles like this, I'm sure, that Square Enix acquired Eidos. Though the company has found a fanbase for traditionally Japanese RPGs in the west, that support does appear to be waning. Many fans voiced angry opinions over Final Fantasy XIII and Front Mission Evolved, franchises some consider to have been ruined in an attempt at 'Westernising' them. For the record, in the case of Final Fantasy XIII this is an opinion I do not share. The jury is still out for me on FME. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution though, Square Enix finally have the WRPG they need to challenge the BioBethehemoth.

Developed by Eidos Montreal, DE:HR is a prequel taking place 25 years before the original Deus Ex at a point in the timeline where nanotech enhancements haven't been developed and cybernetic augmentation is all the rage. Deus Ex is typically Cyberpunk and it looks incredible. I was a pen and paper RPG nut in my teens and the Deus Ex series has historically captured the conspiracy and power-hungry corporations vibe that was so well told in R. Talisorian Games' Cyberpunk universe.

It looks to be a return to form for the series as it's brand of first-person action, decision making and RPG elements will delight fans and draw new players into its web of intrigue. Playing the role of Adam Jansen, the cybernetically enhanced corporate militia-man will be an intriguing blend of combat, stealth and social and technological skills where players will have a range of options available to them to progress through the story. It's been said you can play through the entire game without having to kill anything other than a boss! Good for me, because I'm shit at FPSs.

RPGs, it's ok to be scared. Deus Ex could dominate Q1.

This is coming early 2011. For a bit more insight and a developer Q&A check out Adam Cook's post on Godisageek.com from last month.

Well that's it and in case you were wondering, they're in no particular order. While there isn't the range of RPGs releasing in 2011 that we saw in 2010 there is still plenty to get excited about. I haven't even mentioned Diablo III which according to an allegedly leaked report, could be out at the end of 2011. I also haven't mentioned Knights of the Old Republic, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Dungeon Siege III or the numerous other potentially good RPGs slated for next year.

I'm sure as we go into the new year more titles will emerge. We'll just have to wait and see!


R³PG (Recommended Retro RPG) - Shadowrun - SNES

As a teenager, my capacity to waste time was a refined form of artistry. The sheer amount of things I could do to distract myself away from more important things like homework and household chores was staggering. You could hardly call my youth misspent though, I didn't hang around in parks with gangs of other teens drinking White Lightning and yelling abuse at the elderly. No sir. I would be sitting around a table with some friends playing any one of many pen and paper RPGs. Ok, so you could call it misspent and possibly a little sad, but hey.

Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, Cyberpunk, Cybergeneration, Dungeons and Dragons, all featured in our sessions. At one point I even got around to making my own pen and paper RPG up. My favourite distraction out of all of them though, was Shadowrun. Blade Runner meets Lord of the Rings is the best way to describe it and FASA Corporation had spent years building a painstakingly detailed futuristic fantasy world for us to enjoy. The recent release on Xbox 360 was unfortunately the latest in a string of damning blows to a series that had started well on SNES then gone into nosedive with releases on the Megadrive and MEGA CD, so let's focus on the positives eh?

Shadowrun - SNES

  • Buy from: eBay
  • Expect to pay: £35-£70
  • Gamerankings score: 74.5%
Shadowrun was first released in Europe on SNES back in 1994 - a year which I will always remember as the year England didn't qualify for the World Cup! - by Data East and developed by Beam Software and FASA Interactive, the latter being the studio headed up by Shadowrun creator and serial entrepreneur Jordan Weisman. What Shadowrun offered was an accurate recreation of Weisman's pen and paper creation as you took the role of Jake Armitage on a journey of deceit and self-discovery.

The game begins dramatically. A cut scene using the in-game engine shows Jake being set upon by hitmen who, for reasons you'll find out later in the game, have come to kill him. A shapeshifter intervenes as Jake is left for dead, by casting a spell. Next thing you know, Jake wakes up in the city morgue with nothing but a scrap of paper and the clothes on his back, his memory competely blank.

Shadowrun's intro. What Boromir's death would have looked like in a pixelated reinactation circa 2050.

What follows is a story of murder, double-crossing and ultimately the neutralisation of a large corporation headed up by the evil mastermind, Drake. One of the first things Jake discovers is that someone has planted a bomb in his head, nice of them wasn't it? It's a race against time early on for Jake to have the bomb deactivated and removed so he can continue with his quest. There will be guns for hire along the way who will follow you until they die (and then respawn in whatever seedy Seattle hole you picked them up in).

The Shadowrun world isn't as large as most RPGs of the same era, but then again, it was a completely different proposition. There was no world map, no airships, nothing remotely resembling a chocobo, it was all set in the city of Seattle and you would make your way around on foot and via the Metro system. The areas were portrayed as grimy, seedy looking backstreets, dark cemeteries and foreboding junk yards where trouble awaits Jake around every corner. Trouble in the form of zombies, vampires, orcs, elves, humans, dragons, spirits, robots and everything else you'd expect from a Shadowrun licensed game. Combat played out with a cursor you would have to guide over enemies before hammering the face buttons as quickly as possible to inflict damage. Later on, you learn magic which can help Jake in a variety of ways. The invisibility spell was a favourite of mine and absolutely critical at certain points in the game.

Watch out for snipers, in Shadowrun, they hide out in bins. Yes, all the snipers are homeless.

Information is a key area of the gameplay in Shadowrun and is cleverly executed. You will collect keywords as you progress through the game, starting with the scrap of paper you get at the beginning. When you talk to the right person about a keyword, another will be unlocked until you eventually clear that particular thread of the story. It's a fantastic way of keeping the player guessing and encouraging logical thought.

One of the most interesting features in Shadowrun at the time of release was 'The Matrix', or what we'd refer to in 2009 as the 'hyper-mega-inter-web-a-tron'. It was basically a minesweeper style minigame which required you to navigate a virtual representation of yourself through firewalls and file servers to procure some sort of reward. This usually came in the form of Nuyen (the in-game currency of which you'll need A LOT!) or information.

'The Matrix'. Keanu's in there somewhere, pulling the same face he's been pulling since Bill and Ted.

One of my favourite things about this game is the soundtrack. At first, it's totally cheesey, wannabe sci-fi, synthesised fluff, but after a while, it really grows on you and sticks in your head to the point where you'll be humming it as you go about your daily grind. It lends weight to the atmosphere and fits in brilliantly with the mood of the game. It was the antithesis of the score for your generic RPG at the time and while it doesn't possess the orchestral depth of Final Fantasy VI or the diversified tones of Terranigma, it does sit well in it's sci-fi niche.

It should be pointed out that this game is fairly tricky to come across these days. It's become something of a cult classic for a few reasons: it's the only good Shadowrun they ever made, the ending alluded to Shadowrun 2 (which has never seen the light of day) and for all the fans of the Shadowrun pen and paper game, it was the closest you could get to an interactive recreation of the source material. As such, you'll probably shell out at least £35 for it boxed, any less and you're doing well for a PAL copy but it really is well worth the investment. It's highly likely that this game will continue to grow in value if you can find a copy in reasonable condition.

Interestingly, Weisman's new company, Smith and Tinker, have reclaimed the rights to future Shadowrun games (and other FASA licenses such as MechWarrior) from Microsoft, so the chances of a second instalment without the threat of interference from a higher power is possible. Personally, I'd like to see a similar game produced for Wii and DS which would suit the combat system perfectly, we'll see though. In the meantime, dust off your SNES and check this out.