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The World of Asian RPGs

Stand-alone Japanese RPGs

To cover in detail each and every Japanese RPG ever released in this article is an impossible task for the author. I also did not want to just write them down as a list, and instead tried to mention the most influential, remarkable, and original ones, based on my knowledge and personal taste. I beg the reader to forgive me if he doesn't find a Japanese RPG of his choice in this section.

During the 8-bit era, there were some interesting RPGs, released mostly for the NES console. Sweet Home was not only one of the first examples of survival horror, but also combined this style with traditional Asian RPG gameplay elements. LaGrange Point and STED: Iseki Wakusei no Yabou were early futuristic RPGs under a strong influence of Phantasy Star series. Last Armageddon was set in a post-apocalyptic world and had you control a party of demons who fought alien invaders. Radia Senki: Reimeihen implemented action-based combat into traditional gameplay of turn-based RPGs, predating Star Ocean and Tales Of... series.

The 16-bit era was generally a very creative time for the genre, and the amount of interesting stand-alone Japanese RPGs of this period (mostly for SNES) was exceptionally high. Live a Live, one of Square's least known RPGs, was a highly original game with many unique features. You played through seven chapters, each one dedicated to a different hero, and taking place in different time periods: medieval Japan, Wild West, near future, etc. Once you completed all the chapters, you could play the eighth one, which tied the seemingly unrelated events of the previous chapters into a coherent story. The final chapter then concluded this story. The many gameplay-based innovations included tactical combat on square grids and usage of unique abilities such as sneaking for different party members. The huge variety in setting and gameplay coupled with a surprisingly powerful, emotional main story line made "Live a Live" one of the most original and creative Asian RPGs in history.

Granhistoria: Genshi Sekaiki was set in a fictional medieval environment with its own exact history timeline. You had the ability to change this history by making choices that were presented to you throughout the game, making the game a rare example of an Asian RPG that made it possible to change parts of the story. The story line involved political conflicts as well as the personal quest of the hero.

Among other interesting RPGs for SNES were Maten Densetsu, set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world with cyberpunk elements and demonic references, strongly influenced by Megaten games in gameplay and design, G.O.D - Mezameyo to Yobu Koe ga Kikoe, in which you played a young boy in modern and futuristic Japan, Gadurin, with Phantasy Star-like mixture of fantasy and sci-fi settings, Emerald Dragon, which featured an unusual dragon protagonist and interesting strategic combat system, and Dark Kingdom, that allowed you to play as a mercenary working for the supposedly evil party.

Turbo CD console had several RPGs beside Tengai Makyou and Cosmic Fantasy series, the most notable one being Aurora Quest: Otaku no Seiza in Another World, a humorous game with elements of parody. On Sega CD, to the most remarkable RPGs belonged Shadowrun, an animé-style game which combined tactical combat with Japanese adventure, quite different from either SNES or Genesis game of the same name, and Illusuion City - Gen'ei Toshi, a futuristic RPG set in China, which was originally released for the MSX computer.

The next two generations were much less productive in high-quality stand-alone RPGs, mostly concentrating on new series and installments of the great franchises. Among noticeable stand-alone games of the 32-bit era period were Blue Breaker: Ken yori mo Hohoemi o and Thousand Arms, both introducing elements of dating sim to the otherwise traditional Asian RPG gameplay.

Panzer Dragoon Saga was one of the most important games for Saturn, and beside its high production values it also introduced some gameplay innovations. There was no party in the game, and the combat had elements of action. Aiming and changing position in time was an essential part of the battles. The overworld navigation was performed by riding a dragon, who also participated in battles.

Skies of Arcadia for Dreamcast was quite a popular game, although it offered no real innovation in story, style, or gameplay system. One of the few additions to the traditional system were the flying ship battles, and ship navigation on the world map and in dungeons.

Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean for GameCube had a very interesting card system, which added an element of luck to the standard turn-based combat formula. All items, including weapons and spells, appeared in form of cards, and each turn had you enter a combination of the cards that were dealt to you. It was also possible to counter attacks with defense items in real time.

Continued: Brief History of Chinese RPGs

Table of Contents: The World of Asian RPGs