Mike Moehnke's Top RPGs Not on the Staff List
Top RPGs Not
on the Staff List
1Skies of Arcadia
22) Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation
33) Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2
44) Sakura Wars 3
55) Fire Emblem
66) Golden Sun & Golden Sun: The Lost Age
77) Riviera: The Promised Land
88) Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
9Shining Force: Res. of the Dark Dragon
10Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

The Dreamcast led a short life, but a lot of fine games populated it. For RPGamers Skies of Arcadia was definitely a sight that soared high on the system. It did so much right (compelling characters, fine music, fascinating environments, and a joy of exploration that is seldom seen) that its high random encounter rate was forgivable. Sega even attempted to bring the game to a new audience with its GameCube port, and succeeded in giving a second system a highlight of its RPG library. It may not have been on the most successful console, but Skies picked up a loyal audience that pants for more to this day.

Atlus knew it had a tough sell when it brought Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation out in English. The title is evidence of that, since Japanese words scare away most average North American consumers. It didn't help that the Game Boy Advance was eclipsed by the DS by the summer of 2006, and a 2002 GBA release wasn't going to catch many eyes. Anyone who bothered to pick this game up despite the odds against it found an excellent, superb, engrossing, addictive, sumptuous tactical RPG that rewards replay resplendently, with some of the catchiest character themes around.

In many ways, what applies to its predecessor applies to the sequel. Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation 2 looked better though (2004 instead of 2002 vintage), and did what many sequels do, added more of what made the first a success. More characters, robots, and customization options on both were delivered. The challenge was also increased, which will flummox and frustrate some, but to the tactical RPG diehards will simply be a goad to play more.

I'm only including one import on this list to keep it focused. Sakura Wars 3, had it come out in English, would have attracted an audience on the Dreamcast without a doubt. Its tactical combat may not be particularly challenging, but it certainly is entertaining. As in its two predecessors, its character interactions are the heart of the game, and the cast of Sakura Wars 3 is a blast to spend time with. It may not be an easy import, but anyone who made the effort was rewarded in spades.

The first Fire Emblem to make it across the Pacific may not be the best in its series, but that doesn't stop it from being a darn fine tactical RPG. It begs replay, both to achieve victory without unnecessary loss and from another character's very unique perspective. The game is simple to play and rewarding to master, a tactical RPG delight.

The releases of the Golden Sun games may have been separated by over a year (in North America) but these games definitely tell one complete story, to the point where he team from the first game can be imported to the second by a password so large that merely writing it down takes ten minutes. The story gets good in the second game, but the puzzles Camelot used throughout are the real draw, though the combat at least looks pretty darn good. Taken as a whole, this is an ambitious and successful project that still was open to expansion...

Sting games, with the exception of the Evolution series, always do something different and break the JRPG mold. Riviera's lack of freedom to move about except through menus and decided dating sim elements may have turned off many, but this is another late-period GBA game that deserved better. It received a PSP port later that did indeed bring it to an expanded audience, and this immensely charming and replayable game is a lot of fun to play over and over.

Let's face it, in its first few months the Game Boy Advance wasn't a good platform for RPGs. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon may not have been the traditional RPG some pined for, but its superb ability to drain the hours away in search of a way to actually beat each confounding boss must be congratulated. Its magic system may have been dependent partly on luck to even acquire and the original GBA may have made seeing certain areas much more challenging than it needed to be, but the immense replay value of the game and its grasp of what makes for compelling action kept it in cartridge slots for a long time.

Here we find the only tactical Shining Force title to make its way over the ocean in the entire decade, Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon. Yes, let it remind all of how this series did bring gratifying, accessible tactical action to the masses. Verily, it did improve upon areas of its Genesis forbear, with late-arriving characters in the original being given a chance to shine with grace. Truly, though it did err in areas when compared with its source, the results found within do justify its existence most fully. Most lamentable is its apparent lack of success, for the masses seem not to care for the Shining Force name anymore, and thus it has befallen that no more have enjoyable tactical games such as these been seen.

The Castlevania series has seen a lot of handheld entries, and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin didn't get the same level of acclaim all the earlier ones did. Yes, there are a lot of somewhat recycled backdrops later in the game, but that's hardly reason to denigrate. Jonathan and Charlotte are useful in different situations, the game strikes a good level of challenge without being overwhelming, it has some of the best music in a series known for that aspect, its environments vary quite a bit from the usual locale of Dracula's castle, and it continues the addictive tradition of making it fun to kill enemies repeatedly.

- Mike Moehnke
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