The World of Asian RPGs

Other Japanese RPG Series: Part II

The 32-bit era was the most prolific period for new series. The first Arc the Lad game appeared on Playstation, and was quickly followed by two sequels. The first game featured strategic gameplay system, in which dungeon navigation and battles were performed in turns. Following games expanded upon this formula by combining it with more traditional RPG elements. The games were tied together by storyline and characters. The three games were released as one package entitled Arc the Lad Collection in the West. In later installments the series abandoned the strategic battle system, and even moved into the action RPG realm.

Wild Arms was another series that started its life on Playstation. The first game was set in a semi-medieval world with a slight Wild West atmosphere. It also introduced the concept of special actions the characters could perform in order to solve various puzzles, which became the trademark of the series. The series' four installments were unrelated to each other in plot or characters, and the fourth game replaced the Wild West setting with a post-apocalyptic one, and had a battle system which allowed your characters and enemies to move over a hex-based field.

Koudelka, one of Playstation's last RPG offerings, can be considered a stand-alone game, but its ties with the later Shadow Hearts series are evident. The game combined elements of Asian-style RPG with strategic combat and survival horror. It was set in the late 19th century, and took place entirely in a haunted monastery. Many traditional features such as buying items or NPC conversations were absent, but the gameplay was still focused on turn-based combat with free movement and flexible upgrading of characters. You also had to train your weapon skills in order to become proficient in various types of weapons. The story of "Koudelka" had references to real world occult science, and even featured a historical character. Strong writing and dialogues combined with the interesting combat system and unusual atmosphere made "Koudelka" a very interesting and creative addition to Asian RPGs.

"Koudelka" was followed by Shadow Hearts, which was set in China and Europe of 1913, and had many story references to its predecessor. "Shadow Hearts" was still not really a sequel to "Koudelka", because its gameplay system was much more traditional and involved traveling all over the world and turn-based battles spiced by the Judgment Ring feature, which made you time your attacks in order to increase the damage. Despite its more traditional nature, the real world setting of "Shadow Hearts" gave it a unique flavor, opening many new possibilities for the genre.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant continued directly the story of the predecessor, having the same protagonist. The events of the game took place during the First World War, and more historical figures appeared on the scene. The game took you from Europe to Japan via Russia, concluding the story of the previous game. The cinematic nature of the game and its emotional story were given additional support from the historical setting background and the usage of real life characters.

Lunar series contained only two regular games and one spin-off, but was quite influential and spawned a strong fan community. Lunar: The Silver Star first appeared on Sega CD and was most noticeable for detailed characterization, lively dialogues with bits of humor, and a story line that was primarily dedicated to love. Its sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue had a similar style, and its plot was connected to that of the predecessor. Both games were later re-made with new cut scenes, improved gameplay, and enhanced conversation. Mahou Gakuen Lunar was a spin-off with a lighter story that featured elements from the two other Lunar games.

Grandia series were influenced by Lunar and originated during the 32-bit era, gaining significant popularity. The story line of Grandia was predominantly in light colors, but followed the traditional epic style. The combat system allowed you to cancel enemy moves, and you could also upgrade your magic and weapons by repeatedly using them. Grandia II had a somewhat darker story line and retained the basic ingredients of the predecessor's gameplay. Grandia Xtreme was a spin-off of sorts to the series, mainly focusing on combat, and was criticized by most fans for lack of story and characterization. The latest installment was Grandia III, which was unrelated to its predecessors story-wise, but had a combat system that was nearly identical to the second game.

Metal Max was a RPG series set in an unusual world with post-apocalyptic elements. The trademark of the series has been the ability to navigate, buy, and customize tanks and tank parts, as well as tank combat in addition to regular battles. The series originated on the NES, and the first game was later re-made for SNES to match the graphical quality of the sequel. The third installment was released for Playstation 2.

Lufia series originally contained two games, both for the SNES console, the second being a prequel to the first. The games had traditional setting and story lines, but there were some enhancements in the gameplay area, most notably the usage of items outside of battles, which was required to solve puzzles in the dungeons. The latest Lufia game, Lufia: The Ruins of Lore, appeared on the Game Boy Advance and featured a more refined gameplay with the ability to capture monsters.

The unusual RPG Mother for the NES console was set in modern-day environment and featured children as protagonists. It was followed by EarthBound, known in Japan as "Mother 2", which expanded the features of its predecessor, and was primarily noticeable for its humorous elements.

Eldorado Gate for Dreamcast was a set of seven separately published volumes that comprised one huge game. The first volumes introduced you to the main characters, and you had to play through their personal stories before they met each other in later volumes. The personal stories were quite different, and the unusual part about the main story was the supposedly evil nature of your quest. The gameplay abandoned the concept of leveling up, a cardinal aspect of nearly every RPG, and instead presented an elemental battle system in which your equipment and usage of magic played a major role.

There were numerous games based on the animé series 3x3 Eyes, among them two RPGs: 3x3 Eyes: Seima Kourinden for SNES and 3x3 Eyes: Seima Densetsu for Sega CD. The games were developed independently from each other and do not form a series in the strict meaning of the word. Both games follow closely the story line of the animé, and "Seima Densetsu" tells it from the beginning to the end, summarizing the most important events of the animé and introducing its most significant characters in such a way that the story fits the RPG format. The story proved to be quite a rich material for the genre, and "Seima Densetsu" built upon it an interesting RPG set in modern China, an unusual environment for the genre.

The popular series Star Ocean and Tales Of occupy a special place among Asian RPGs because of their action-based combat. They cannot be called action RPGs in the true sense of the word, because the rest of the gameplay follows the template of turn-based RPGs, including party management, separate screens for battles, etc. The battles in those games take place on a 2D plane, and you navigate the hero in real time, while the rest of the party is controlled by AI. Tales Of... is the larger of the two series, comprising six games, and tends towards light stories set in a standard medieval environment. The three Star Ocean games combine traditional medieval fantasy with sci-fi and space flight elements.

Continued: Stand-alone Japanese RPGs

Table of Contents: The World of Asian RPGs