1996 is done! This was the last hurrah for Super Famicom (other than the one rogue FE5), with a lot of strong late-period entries. It was also the first real year for the Saturn and Playstation. Time for Game of the Year selection — this is a very arbitrary process that’s mostly based on subjective opinion, and I often prioritize variety over picking the same series repeatedly, so don’t take it too seriously.
The games this year that got an A ranking for me are these seven: Bahamut Lagoon, Der Langrisser FX, Fire Emblem 4, Energy Breaker, Sakura Taisen, Vandal Hearts, Riglord Saga II.
Langrisser has already been GOTY twice, and FX is a remake so I will exclude that. Sakura Taisen is not really an SRPG so I will exclude that as well. Since Riglord Saga was 1995 GotY I’ll avoid picking the sequel. I think I will actually go with Energy Breaker — although it definitely has flaws and some evidence of rushed development, it’s overall a fun game and is a great display of late Super Famicom graphics, music, and presentation. It’s a good sendoff for the SFC (unless Fire Emblem 5 wins 1999?) All seven of the above games are worth playing, though. Here’s the GotY list (which all have English versions, although that’s a coincidence):
1990: Fire Emblem
1992: Just Breed
1993: Super Robot Taisen 3
1994: Langrisser II
1995: Riglord Saga
1996: Energy Breaker
Now here’s a list of 1997 games. The system is Playstation unless otherwise specified. A number of these games are for both Saturn and Playstation; my method is that unless I can find a specific reason to play the Saturn version, I will play the Playstation version instead, but I will check for each game before I start it (and let me know if you know anything about the differences for specific games, or if I missed anything).
- Sangokushi Koumeiden – the second in Koei’s Eiketsuden series; from what I can see it’s very similar in gameplay to Eiketsuden.
- Nage Libre – Rasen no Sokoku – Sequel to the Nage Libre game for SFC. (Like the SFC game, this goes for several hundred dollars on ebay).
- Feda 2 – Sequel to Feda.
- Seikon no Joka – This is based on a light novel series.
- Sparking Feather (PC-FX) – This is the only original PC-FX game I will be playing.
- TILK: The Girl from the Blue Sea – I just discovered this recently.
- Riot Stars
- Atelier Marie – I’ve already played this game so this will just be a review post (I’ll also explain again why I’m including at least the early Atelier games)
- Final Fantasy Tactics – Most likely just a review post, but I might do a challenge run if I feel like it.
- Angel Blade – This is an early release from Nippon-Ichi; it may be their first SRPG.
- Slayers Royal – based on the popular light novel/anime.
- Shinseiden Megaseed: Rebirth Chapter – This is a Banpresto game that looks very similar to the Masou Kishin games; there’s a Creation Chapter that might be a sequel but from what I can tell it was only a manga.
- Langrisser 4 – Everyone tells me I should play the Playstation version of this. But apparently the L4 PSX version is based on the L5 system, so I should probably play the Saturn version?
- Front Mission II – I was somewhat disappointed in FM1 so hopefully this will be an improvement.
- Super Robot Taisen F/F Final – Just a review as usual.
- Mori Motonari – Third game in the Eiketsuden series. This one is based on Japanese sengoku history instead of Chinese, and the gameplay seems to be redone rather than just a copy of Eiketsuden.
- RONDE (Sat) – This is basically the third Majin Tensei game.
- Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3 Final Edition – The first two games in this series were not SRPGs.
- Shining Force III Scenario 1 (Sat) – Many say this is the best SF game by far.
- Ryuki Densho – This is a port of a computer game. There were two more games in this series but they were not ported to consoles.
- BS Fire Emblem: Akaneia Senki – The main reason I’m skipping this is that it’s not fully implemented; this was originally a game done through the Satellite View and the cutscenes are missing.
- Dark Law: Meaning of Death – This does not seem to fit my criteria, but I will be playing it on the SNES side of the blog.
- Master of Monsters: Disciples of Gaia – This game and the next three all fall on the “strategy” rather than the “SRPG” side of the line given my criteria.
- Power Dolls 2
- Wakusei Kokitai Little Cats – I’m not sure this is really an SRPG; it looks to me more like a dating-sim like gameplay with some strategic battles. In any case it gets very poor reviews so probably no point playing it.
Can’t say I’m a fan of your pick lol, especially in such a strong year. Looks like exactly the type of srpg i would hate lol.
My pick is Vandal Hearts, which is to me tactics ogre/fft done right (ie make it more like fire emblem lol). FE4 is #2, would be 1 if it wasn’t such a slog at times. Biggest surprise to me is terra phantastica, that game sounds really cool with how you described, english translation never though.
Not really familiar with the 1997 games. L4, SF3 and Ronde are what i’m most interested in seeing.
I think Terra Phantastica probably would have been GotY if it just weren’t for the horribly slow pacing; it really ground me down by the end and while it’s still a good game, it’s just not top tier.
Vandal Hearts was very good too so that would be a worthy choice.
What’s wrong with Energy Breaker? That game was fantastic all around. Great music, great graphics, above-average story, innovative mechanics, interesting battle setups, and the ability to use the tools you’re given to pull off crazy maneuvers. It was the first SRPG to incorporate an “AP” system, for which it should also be given credit.
FE4 and Vandal Hearts are both great picks as well. Choosing a game for 1996 is incredibly difficult, considering how strong the year was: Bahamut Lagoon, FE4, Sakura Wars, Arc the Lad 2, Energy Breaker, Vandal Hearts, Monstania, Treasure Hunter G (haven’t played it but it looks very good), and Terra Phantastica which also looks pretty good from what Chris showed.
“[Energy Breaker was] a good sendoff for the SFC (unless Fire Emblem 5 wins 1999?)”
I’d say FE5 is the better game, although both FE5 and Energy Breaker were terrific. Some people say it’s the most difficult FE in history, but those people clearly have never played FE12/13 Reverse Lunatic, which are more difficult, but for stupid reasons (thanks Kouhei Maeda).
FE5 has exceptional unit design with characters like Carrion, Dalsin, Ronan, and Marty. It had some great mechanics like capturing, crusader scrolls, dismounting (returning from FE3), skills (returning from FE4), and fatigue, which encouraged intelligent play. It took the best of FE3’s map design and amped it up to 11, with some maps having infinite reinforcements, and others having extremely challenging objectives like the infamous Xavier recruitment. It also had a ranking system, like FE4, which further encourages players to replay and master its systems. It’s not my absolute favorite FE, but it’s very easy to see why the hardcore FE fanbase holds it up as peak FE.
IMO FE4 and FE5 are Shouzou Kaga’s best games. TearRing and Berwick were both very good, but it was clear that once he left IS, Kaga didn’t have anyone to reel him in and temper his eccentricities; whereas Thracia feels challenging, Berwick can just feel like utter BS at times. Conversely, GBA Emblem was very good, but it was clear that without Kaga, IS stopped innovating.
Yeah I love FE5, it is full on Kaga insanity lol. I kinda want to see chris do a blind ironman though that would probably be too mean lol.
Such a shame most of the mechanics were never used again. Capturing and fatigue especially are great additions, allowing you to get almost any item (including stuff you would only get one of in every other game like special staffs) and ensuring you will use around 75% of your army throughout the game.
Not sure what’s so good about those units though. All of them I benched straight away except for dalsin who I eventually replaced with xavier.
Blind ironman would certainly be nuts, lul. Doing a regular blind playthrough would be good IMO. I believe the best way to evaluate games is to play them the way they were intended, i.e. without consulting guides, and only relying upon in-game tutorials + manuals. FE5 is such a unique experience too, that part of the magic is in playing it blind and figuring out its weird things for yourself.
I wouldn’t say that many FE5 units are amazing in terms of being overpowered, but rather that they’re mechanically well-designed; FE5 was arguably peak FE when it comes to unit design. Ronan is one of the only mage-killer archers in all of FE, plus he has movement stars and a movement growth. Dalsin has unique utility as one of the only indoor lance users, which helps save durability on your swords for indoor maps. Carrion is one of the better-designed growth units in all of FE in that he actually pays off really well and has sufficient time to get there, sort of like TearRing Sun or Berwick Faye. Plenty of other characters like Dagdar, Eyvel, Lifis, Macha, Mareeta, Fergus, and Lara have distinguishing factors, too. Marty uniquely is an earlygame unit with high build, allowing you to take advantage of the capture system. That was one of Kaga’s hallmarks: creating game mechanics like capturing, and then creating units who can only work within the framework of those mechanics. You see a similar philosophy with Berwick Chris, whose “magic ass” utility only really works within the framework of Berwick Saga, where mounts have HP.
Personally I don’t mind if certain mechanics are never used again. I think one of the beauties of Kaga’s design is how he keeps things fresh. If every SRPG included things like FE4 marriage, FE3 dismount, FE5 captures, and the like, then these features would not feel unique. There’s so much that can be done within the framework of a SRPG and I love how much of a visionary Kaga is. I wish more developers would do likewise and seek to innovate, because I know it’s possible.
Although I think there can be some fuzziness about how the games were “intended” to be played because for most Japanese RPGs going all the way back to the NES era, the strategy guides were often released the same day as the game and advertised in the instruction manual. For some games you couldn’t even get basic information like the stats of equipment without buying the guide. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was introduced to the idea that you shouldn’t use guides and should try to figure everything out yourself.
My general rule is to use guides for information but not for strategy/tactical instruction. I’ve found that’s how I have the most fun with games.
> Wakusei Kokitai Little Cats
surprisingly naughty title or a typo?
Should have been Koukitai I guess. Title is 惑星攻機隊 りとるキャッツ (“planet attack unit squad Little Cats”)
Googling around, I see Angel Blade listed as developed by either On DiMand or Nippon-Ichi, kinda confusing. I’m a big fan of Disgaea so I’m looking forward to when you hit Nippon-Ichi games 🙂
Nipponichi was the developer, On DiMand the publisher.
Yo Chris, it’s been brought to my attention that there’s a 1993 SRPG for the Sega CD that we somehow missed: Heroic Legend of Arslan. I watched some gameplay footage and looked through a lot of screenshots, and it’s definitely a SRPG. Looks kind of similar to Langrisser, so I’m immediately interested.
I actually did know about that one, but I rejected it because (from what I saw) there is no dynamic growth of characters — you just have a preset party that has fixed stats for each stage. Same reason I didn’t play Metal Jack for the Gameboy.
Aw man, yeah you’re right. I should’ve looked into the footage more closely; I just saw different characters in different stages and assumed it was a RPG.
And I was probably misled by everyone else calling it a “strategy RPG” or “tactical RPG.” I blame hardcore gaming 101 for propagating that myth (everyone else cites them). For claiming to be “hardcore,” they sure do make quite a few factual mistakes. Not as bad as one “journalist” I saw who claimed that Masahiko Yoshimura composed the music for Shining Force 2 (lol) but still…
It’s pretty clear that some people consider a game a “strategy RPG” if it has any kind of continuing storyline and a grid based battle system.
Which is a faulty, over-general definition. It’s why our definitions are much better and meaningful; the term “SRPG” is meaningless and misleading if people use it willy-nilly to describe any game.
The term “RPG” itself tends to be overused and misapplied in so many cases. A lot of people say the Zelda games are RPGs, which they’re not in any sense of the term. They’re action-adventure games. I guess Zelda 2 is arguably an “action RPG,” but that’s the closest the series ever got to true RPG territory.
It’s slightly annoying when people consistently misclassify stuff (because if I order a sandwich and get a roll of sushi, that’s just dumb), but it happens all the time with SRPGs for some reason.
I think you should play the Saturn version of Langrisser 4 because most discussion and review about it are from the PS1 version