Adriaan den Ouden's Most Unlikely RPGs
Most Unlikely RPGs
1Kingdom Hearts
2Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
3Final Fantasy XI
4Odin Sphere
5Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

While there were a lot of really amazing RPGs released over the past ten years, others were amazing simply because they existed at all. Every so often, a game would come out whose existence was so improbable, nobody could possibly have predicted it. These aren't games that showed innovation or originality in their design; rather, they're games whose very existence is bizarre.

To start things off we have Square Enix's much-loved 2002 RPG Kingdom Hearts. To say that this game was improbable is an understatement. If you'd taken a poll of cross-over games people would like to see, nobody would ever have mentioned Final Fantasy and Disney. What's even more surprising is that this unlikely game became a break-out hit, and now sits as one of Square Enix's three primary franchises, alongside the likes of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy itself. Since the original 2002 game, there has been a sequel and two spin-off titles released in North America, with a third spin-off due this year.

Square Enix and Disney made strange bedfellows, but there was another pairing of minds that was equally unlikely. Canadian developer BioWare, creator of such popular WRPGs as Mass Effect, Baldur's Gate, and Knights of the Old Republic, teamed up with SEGA to create an RPG based on the latter's beloved mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. The resulting game was Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, and while the overall quality of the end product is debatable, seeing a western developer not only take on a game based on a Japanese character, but embrace Japanese RPG design philosophies as well, was truly remarkable.

The third game on this list was not only unlikely, but also sparked more than its fair share of controversy. Final Fantasy XI Online in many ways broke one of the most famous RPG series by turning a main franchise entry into an MMORPG. Although the idea of the Final Fantasy universe going online someday was not all that hard to predict, it was the inclusion of "XI" at the end of its title that threw people for a loop. Some people believed that Final Fantasy XI Online would prove to be a side project to the actual Final Fantasy XI, but ultimately that was a false hope. Final Fantasy XI ultimately stands apart from its series counterparts, but it will soon be joined by Final Fantasy XIV Online later this year.

One thing that the last ten years has brought with it is the near-complete abandonment of 2D visuals in console games. While some companies like Nippon Ichi Software have tried to keep sprite-based games alive, most have abandoned the practice completely, and those that cling to it generally find their visuals subpar when compared to 3D offerings. Vanillaware's 2007 action RPG Odin Sphere tried to change that. Making use of hand-painted "sprites" and hand-drawn animations, Odin Sphere proved that a 2D game could look as attractive as any 3D game, and in many ways more so. Performance issues aside, Odin Sphere was a fantastic revival of 2D art in video games, and the game sparked two more similar titles from the same developer, GrimGrimoire and Muramasa: The Demon Blade.

Finally, this last, Electronic Arts-developed game is one that a lot of people probably forgot about, and justifiably so. It wasn't particularly memorable. The most memorable aspect of it was, in fact, its complete unoriginality. Lord of the Rings: The Third Age was a movie tie-in game that told a side story in the Lord of the Rings universe, making extensive use of short vignettes from the feature films. An RPG as a movie tie-in is unusual enough, but even more unusual is that the game was a complete rip-off of Final Fantasy X, and not even a cleverly disguised one. The combat system was nearly identical, right down to the user interface and HUD. So to recap, The Third Age is a western-developed JRPG movie tie-in side story that unabashedly rips off another popular game. If that's not unlikely, I don't know what is.

- Adriaan den Ouden
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