Game developers know that most RPG players don't have the time or money to play every RPG on the market. Armed with that knowledge, they realize that their game franchises must provide exciting gameplay with each new title. This year, our readers selected three games from popular series as having the best gameplay of 2004's RPG lineup. While each game has seemingly little in common, they all follow the tried and true formula of adding innovative gameplay elements while keeping the best features from previous titles.
Namco earned the top gameplay honors for bringing the legendary gameplay of the Tales series to the GameCube with Tales of Symphonia. Without a doubt, the strength of the Tales series has always been in its unique real-time battle system. While the AI is certainly smart enough to control the other members of your party, the real fun of the battle system becomes most apparent when up to three other players take control of characters--something more easily accomplished on the GameCube with its four controller ports as standard.
Bringing Tales gameplay to the GameCube is certainly laudable on its own, but Namco deserves exceptional praise for all of the new features it dreamed up for Tales of Symphonia. Chock full of mini-games, optional dungeons and bosses, worthwhile side quests, and deep character customization, Tales of Symphonia has even more enthralling gameplay than its predecessors. And if all this isn't enough to keep players entertained for dozens of hours, a difficulty selection feature provides an extra challenge and makes future run-throughs as fun as the first.
Five years after Star Ocean: The Second Story arrived in North America, fans of the series finally had another chance for some of that non-stop gameplay with the release of Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. As anyone who has played the PlayStation title knows, Star Ocean is well known for delivering fast-paced gameplay that only gets better as a game progresses. The third title in the series introduced some incredible innovations including huge battles that could span several screens and a controversial concept known as MP death that forces a player to keep an eye on each character's magical health in addition to his or her physical health. With a plethora of character skills to learn, side quests to uncover, and the return of old favorites including item creation, players say that Till the End of Time deserves the number two spot in the gameplay category.
Rounding out the reader gameplay awards in third place is the World War II era RPG, Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The third title by Aruze in this series (including Koudelka and the first Shadow Hearts), Shadow Hearts: Covenant marks the return of one of the most unique battle systems ever seen in an RPG. Players with especially dexterous fingers will have the most success using the Judgement Ring which, when stopped in its rotation at the precise moment, will allow characters to unleash stronger attacks. Each character possesses a multitude of unique abilities, some of which appear only in devastating multi-character combos. With the recent announcement the next game in the series, gamers will have even more Shadow Hearts gameplay goodness to look forward to later this year.
by Nick Ferris