Apparently this is the year I play lots of Sega SRPGs.

Having recently completed Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love for the PS2 and posted a corresponding review of it, I've come to the realization that by sheer luck, I've been playing more SRPGs this year than I ever expected, let alone ones made just by Sega. It's an interesting turn of events for me, mostly because I've typically had disdain for the genre in general. Save for the rare gems like Devil Survivor, SRPGs and I have never really been on friendly terms since I've found most of the standouts to be too overtly complex and math-heavy for my liking. Disgaea was probably the most unfortunate case for me; I wanted to really like that game since I can appreciate something deliberately stupid and insane and yet the gameplay just didn't click with me. Maybe it was just my inexperience with the genre, but it felt like more often than not, I was being punished for making certain moves because of entirely unforseeable consequences later on. Perhaps if I went back and tried it again now, I'd have a better grasp of the mechanics and find myself actually liking it, but as it was, prior to this year, SRPGs were among the few types of games I rarely, if ever ventured into.
 
And yet this year found me completing Valkyria Chronicles, its PSP sequel, and Sakura Wars: So Long My Love. All of them were games I enjoyed to varying extents. They all have their problems, but as someone not really expecting much out of any of them when I started down this trend, it's still a surprising accomplishment that they actually managed to hold my attention and, more importantly, be fun. This is probably because all of three of the games are fairly unusual for the genre, or at least how I understand. The one thing I've wanted more RPGs to do for a long time is actually incorporate teamwork dynamics into the fundamental gameplay. Since most RPGs have storylines revolving around you forming a group and working towards some common good, it only makes sense to me that the gameplay should accommodate that to some extent. Thankfully, a lot of developers, not just ones from Japan, but all over the world, seem to be thinking the same thing and slowly teamwork is becoming something that's just as important to the gameplay as it is to the story. For me, the inclusion of that feature isn't a guarantee that I'll automatically enjoy a game that has it, but it nonetheless makes the proceedings feel that much more real and consequential when it's done right.
 
It's also interesting that I played Valkyria Chronicles 1, 2, and Sakura Wars in particular, as it provides a sort of illumination about how Sega is trying to shake things up in the SRPG genre in its own way. Sakura Wars is obviously the oldest and least refined of the bunch, but a lot of the fundamental elements that would help greatly define the tone and gameplay of Valkyria Wars are clearly inherited from it. The idea of character relationships having significant implications on the battlefield is something all three games share. Welkin and his crew can't survive without good coordination between friends and teammates in Valkyria Chronicles and likewise, Sakura Wars' Shinjiro Taiga has to befriend (or possibly date) his teammates in order to maximize their potential on the battlefront. Although all three games treat the underlying mechanics very differently, with Sakura Wars relying heavily on dialog choices and Valkyria Chronicles favoring pre-defined relationships in tandem with malleable character potentials, the underlying mentality still intrigues me greatly. The idea of teams being treated as quasi-living, dynamic units of people in the games lends the proceedings a great sense of humanism, something most games don't even attempt to achieve to begin with.
 
Although I didn't mention it in my review, I actually played through Sakura Wars twice in my time with the game over the past two-ish weeks. While part of that was just motivated by the ability to fast forward through the text on consecutive runs to view other endings, I had also come away from completing my first playthrough of the game with a respect for what it did in its narrative and gameplay. There were certainly things I still found at fault with it, hence the three-star rating, but it still did enough things right that, just one more time, I wanted to see what new sides of the characters I could unveil in new plot and dialog paths, even if they're based in very time-tested archetypes. Was there more to the sexually ambiguous (potentially even transexual?) Subaru than what I found during my pursuit of another character? What if I actually got off on the right food Anri, the eternally stubborn clerk behind the souvenir store's counter? It's that sort of personal hook into a game that makes me hope that camaraderie and teamwork-centric gameplay becomes more standard in RPGs as time goes on because it's when a game pulls that off that the characters you control on the screen actually start to feel more genuine and developed and not just pixels and polygons like everything else on the screen. That notion excites me to no end.

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Posted by Pepsiman

Having recently completed Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love for the PS2 and posted a corresponding review of it, I've come to the realization that by sheer luck, I've been playing more SRPGs this year than I ever expected, let alone ones made just by Sega. It's an interesting turn of events for me, mostly because I've typically had disdain for the genre in general. Save for the rare gems like Devil Survivor, SRPGs and I have never really been on friendly terms since I've found most of the standouts to be too overtly complex and math-heavy for my liking. Disgaea was probably the most unfortunate case for me; I wanted to really like that game since I can appreciate something deliberately stupid and insane and yet the gameplay just didn't click with me. Maybe it was just my inexperience with the genre, but it felt like more often than not, I was being punished for making certain moves because of entirely unforseeable consequences later on. Perhaps if I went back and tried it again now, I'd have a better grasp of the mechanics and find myself actually liking it, but as it was, prior to this year, SRPGs were among the few types of games I rarely, if ever ventured into.
 
And yet this year found me completing Valkyria Chronicles, its PSP sequel, and Sakura Wars: So Long My Love. All of them were games I enjoyed to varying extents. They all have their problems, but as someone not really expecting much out of any of them when I started down this trend, it's still a surprising accomplishment that they actually managed to hold my attention and, more importantly, be fun. This is probably because all of three of the games are fairly unusual for the genre, or at least how I understand. The one thing I've wanted more RPGs to do for a long time is actually incorporate teamwork dynamics into the fundamental gameplay. Since most RPGs have storylines revolving around you forming a group and working towards some common good, it only makes sense to me that the gameplay should accommodate that to some extent. Thankfully, a lot of developers, not just ones from Japan, but all over the world, seem to be thinking the same thing and slowly teamwork is becoming something that's just as important to the gameplay as it is to the story. For me, the inclusion of that feature isn't a guarantee that I'll automatically enjoy a game that has it, but it nonetheless makes the proceedings feel that much more real and consequential when it's done right.
 
It's also interesting that I played Valkyria Chronicles 1, 2, and Sakura Wars in particular, as it provides a sort of illumination about how Sega is trying to shake things up in the SRPG genre in its own way. Sakura Wars is obviously the oldest and least refined of the bunch, but a lot of the fundamental elements that would help greatly define the tone and gameplay of Valkyria Wars are clearly inherited from it. The idea of character relationships having significant implications on the battlefield is something all three games share. Welkin and his crew can't survive without good coordination between friends and teammates in Valkyria Chronicles and likewise, Sakura Wars' Shinjiro Taiga has to befriend (or possibly date) his teammates in order to maximize their potential on the battlefront. Although all three games treat the underlying mechanics very differently, with Sakura Wars relying heavily on dialog choices and Valkyria Chronicles favoring pre-defined relationships in tandem with malleable character potentials, the underlying mentality still intrigues me greatly. The idea of teams being treated as quasi-living, dynamic units of people in the games lends the proceedings a great sense of humanism, something most games don't even attempt to achieve to begin with.
 
Although I didn't mention it in my review, I actually played through Sakura Wars twice in my time with the game over the past two-ish weeks. While part of that was just motivated by the ability to fast forward through the text on consecutive runs to view other endings, I had also come away from completing my first playthrough of the game with a respect for what it did in its narrative and gameplay. There were certainly things I still found at fault with it, hence the three-star rating, but it still did enough things right that, just one more time, I wanted to see what new sides of the characters I could unveil in new plot and dialog paths, even if they're based in very time-tested archetypes. Was there more to the sexually ambiguous (potentially even transexual?) Subaru than what I found during my pursuit of another character? What if I actually got off on the right food Anri, the eternally stubborn clerk behind the souvenir store's counter? It's that sort of personal hook into a game that makes me hope that camaraderie and teamwork-centric gameplay becomes more standard in RPGs as time goes on because it's when a game pulls that off that the characters you control on the screen actually start to feel more genuine and developed and not just pixels and polygons like everything else on the screen. That notion excites me to no end.

Posted by Video_Game_King

"...save for the rare gems like Devil Survivor..."
 
Did you really think you could get that past me :P?
 
On subject, though, I feel like I haven't been playing enough strategy RPGs this year. Sad, since I love the crap out of that genre.

Posted by Shirogane

Seems like i'm just like you. I've had an immense hatred of SRPGS, and TBS in general. I've started to like some. Now considering that i've contributed to quite a large proportion of the Civ V playtime of the GB and AnimeVice steam groups, that says a lot about the latter. 
SRPGs i think are more because of how different they are now. They used to be so slow and boring that i just couldn't stand them. The way most of them are designed now is totally different. 
 
While on that topic, does Resonance of Fate/End of Enternity count as an SRPG?
Posted by Pepsiman
@Video_Game_King: I was fully aware that line could attract your attention. :)
 
Out of curiosity, since you seem to have prior experience with the genre, do you have any recommendations for a more skeptical person like me? I'd really like to enjoy more of the genre, but like I wrote, I just haven't been on the most friendly of terms with it most of the time.
 
@Shirogane: I think Resonance of Fate could count as an SRPG, although it works so differently compared to other games in the genre that I'm not sure it falls solely in that genre. I've only played the Japanese demo of it, so I can't be entirely certain; I actually keep meaning to get a copy of it at some point so I can keep going with it since I found the game to be pretty intriguing.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Pepsiman: 
 
I have the same problem with RTSes. You'd know that if you read my Starcraft blog. But you didn't, mainly because I never bothered writing it :P.
 
Anyway, I know that you're expecting this from me, but Fire Emblem is an excellent way to get into the genre. It's pretty basic, compared to other SRPGs, but still satisfying as hell. Hint, though: death is permanent, prepare to reset a buttload of times.
 
Then again, about half of SRPGs today are palette swaps with Final Fantasy Tactics (which was already a palette swap with Tactics Ogre), so it may help to start in that neck of the woods. It's more complex than Fire Emblem, but still fairly manageable, even with all the useless frills (you're never gonna send troops off to the mines, ever).
Posted by Pepsiman
@Video_Game_King: I did actually play through a good chunk of the first English Fire Emblem on the GBA a while back and really liked it. For some reason I forgot that was an SRPG, probably because I don't usually think of Intelligent Systems' games as being like, as you said, palette swaps of FFT. I should probably get around to finishing that at some point like a number of other games I have in the backlog. But thanks for the suggestions. Do you happen to have any experience with the Growlanser games, out of curiosity? The brazen Atlus fan in me has been curious about those for a while, but haven't gotten around to actually trying them out yet.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Pepsiman: 
 
No, but I do have experience with the Langrisser games, and I consider that close enough :P.
Posted by LordAndrew

Regardless of whether or not it's a good game, Devil Survivor should never appear in the same sentence as the word "friendly". :P
 
I think I was following So Long My Love right up until the point where it actually came out, at which point I promptly forgot it existed. And here I am looking at the PlayStation 2 release calendar and assuming that 2010 didn't have any good PS2 games!

Edited by mutha3
@Pepsiman said:

 
Out of curiosity, since you seem to have prior experience with the genre, do you have any recommendations for a more skeptical person like me? I'd really like to enjoy more of the genre, but like I wrote, I just haven't been on the most friendly of terms with it most of the time.
 


I'm gonna second VGking's Fire emblem reccomendation. Those games are pretty sweet. I'd reccommend starting out with Path of Radiance for the gamecube. Its a great place to start in both difficulty and map design.


 
And I strongly dislike what FFT did to the SRPG genre(Devil Survivor suffers from this too) ever since that game came out, SRPG developers suddenly stopped, you know, actually having map Design. Most SRPG's are pretty much glorified number crunchers. A real shame:( FE is awesome, though.
Posted by mutha3
@Pepsiman said:
The brazen Atlus fan in me has been curious about those for a while, but haven't gotten around to actually trying them out yet. "
its a larger scale Fire Emblem clone, without the polish and map design you'd expect from Int Sys. Pretty sweet clone, I gotta say! I miss that time:( when every  SRPG  was a Fire Emblem clone, as opposed to a FFT clone.
Edited by Pepsiman
@mutha3:  Much obliged for your thoughts on this. I'm glad I'm not the only one that dislikes the number-crunching norm that SRPGs have become. I'll have to make sure to give more time and attention to both games soon!
Posted by Video_Game_King
@mutha3: 
 
On your map complaint, I'd suggest Phantom Brave. Yea, it's an FFT clone, but since you don't move on a grid, position is more important than in other FFT-esque games. It's an interesting game, and not just for that reason. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: pedophile cutscene. (I posted that video for two reasons: as a preview of my next blog, and because I don't want to see that damn clip again.)
Posted by mutha3
@Pepsiman: 
 
I aim to please*curtsy*
 
Speaking of SRPG's, I remember a fairly unconventional one: Knights in the Nightmare. It has almost no map design to speak of, neither does it have number crunching.how? 
 
ts a bullet-hell turn-based Strategy role playing game. Almost impossible to explain in words, but believe me when I say its unlike anything I've ever played before.
@Video_Game_King said:

" @mutha3: 
 
On your map complaint, I'd suggest Phantom Brave. Yea, it's an FFT clone, but since you don't move on a grid, position is more important than in other FFT-esque games. It's an interesting game, and not just for that reason. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: pedophile cutscene. (I posted that video for two reasons: as a preview of my next blog, and because I don't want to see that damn clip again.) "

Thanks for the recommendation, but I've already played that one! I liked it, and it was certainly better in terms of map design then most modern SRPGs, but I still felt it suffered from FFT-syndrom. there was still a larger focus on number-crunching then on actual strategy. I liked how it made you more dependent of the map  itself with the confining aspect, though.
 
As for the "story" I have only one thing to say:................wat
 
The characters and the events that happened weren't even that weird, it was just so weirdly paced and written. Oooh and the voice acting. Jesus.
Edited by Video_Game_King
@mutha3: 
 
Huh? Have you played Another Marona? Here. You have been warned. Also, that reminded me that the translation errs a bit on the literal side, since the Japanese word for pedophile is literally "child lover."
Posted by mutha3
@Video_Game_King said:
" @mutha3: 
 
Huh? Have you played Another Marona? Here. You have been warned. Also, that reminded me that the translation errs a bit on the literal side, since the Japanese word for pedophile is literally "child lover." "
Hmmm...? 
 
What's so weird about that scene? 
 
Its obviously just playing up  Ashe( or whatever his name is) overprotection of Marona as a joke. By having it be misinterpreted by the others.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@mutha3: 
 
Well, it comes out of nowhere with no build-up whatsoever, and it's completely random. It doesn't come across as a joke where I laugh; it's more a joke where I wonder what the hell I'm looking at. It just makes me feel awkward as hell for having to deal with it. Besides, she doesn't have a basis for any of it, and nobody thought of him like that before (or will think of him like that afterward).
Posted by mutha3
@Video_Game_King said:

" @mutha3:   Well, it comes out of nowhere with no build-up whatsoever, and it's completely random. It doesn't come across as a joke where I laugh; it's more a joke where I wonder what the hell I'm looking at. It just makes me feel awkward as hell for having to deal with it. Besides, she doesn't have a basis for any of it, and nobody thought of him like that before (or will think of him like that afterward). "

That's.....pretty much what I said:P
 


 
As for the "story" I have only one thing to say:................wat
 
The characters and the events that happened weren't even that weird, it was just so weirdly paced and written. Oooh and the voice acting. Jesus.

The event of Ashe being accused as a pedophile isn't that weird if you look at your average JRPG. Especially since its played as a gag.
 
Its just SO shittly paced and written that most scenes leave you scratching your head, wondering what happened.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@mutha3: 
 
I play A LOT of JRPGs, and that's still weird. I don't recall Sazh being played up as a pedophile for that one part of the game.
 
Wait, are you suggesting that the game has some type of story? It doesn't. It's just a series of nothingness that ends with a final boss.
Edited by mutha3
@Video_Game_King said:

" @mutha3:   I play A LOT of JRPGs, and that's still weird. I don't recall Sazh being played up as a pedophile for that one part of the game. 

*shrug* I dunno, you've got old men drooling over 14 year girls with skirts all the time in JRPG's and anime. And really, for the most part what happens is fairly standard JRPG stuff.
 


 Wait, are you suggesting that the game has some type of story? It doesn't. It's just a series of nothingness that ends with a final boss. "

 
Note the quotation marks:P
Posted by Video_Game_King
@mutha3: 
 
Wait, what? Where are the old men drooling over 14 year old girls....outside Dragon Ball? And how do skirts change anything?
 
Would've helped if you pointed out which post had the quotes.
Edited by mutha3
@Video_Game_King said:

" @mutha3:   Wait, what? Where are the old men drooling over 14 year old girls....outside Dragon Ball? And how do skirts change anything? 

 Are we honestly including Anime into this? Because, I can name 90% of the anime out there. If we're not:  La Pucelle Tactics and Phantasy Star Universe  are two games which have the Old Pervet trope as a major character, and if we start to look at NPC which reference it, we're looking at nearly every rpg ever made including Mother 3 and, Hell, pokemon.
 
Its a common-ass trope in japanese culture.
 

 
 Would've helped if you pointed out which post had the quotes. "

The one you just repsonded too: 


 
 As for the "story" I have only one thing to say:................wat
 
The characters and the events that happened weren't even that weird, it was just so weirdly paced and written. Oooh and the voice acting. Jesus. 

Posted by Video_Game_King
@mutha3: 
 
No, we're not including anime, since my anime knowledge only goes up to Avatar.
Posted by Pepsiman
@Video_Game_King:  @mutha3: I just want you two to know that I had a mild scare when I woke up today and found no less than 10 new messages sitting in my inbox. Usually that sort of thing only happens if I cause a shitstorm on the forums, so I was wondering what I'd done this time. But then I saw it was too. I'm chill with that. Carry on.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Pepsiman: 
 
You live in Colorado, right? Then why'd you wake up at 2 in the afternoon? Or, if you're in Japan, why 5 AM? You're either up really early, or really late.
Posted by Pepsiman
@Video_Game_King:  I'm a night owl by nature. I'll let you decide for yourself where I'm currently living, though. It makes things... funner, I suppose.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@Pepsiman: 
 
It's Colorado, isn't it? You've left hints.
Posted by Pepsiman
@Video_Game_King:  The profile itself says Boulder and beings as Colorado has the only prominent city named Boulder in the country as far as I know, I'd say you're right on the money with that.
Posted by mutha3
@Pepsiman said:
" @Video_Game_King:  @mutha3: I just want you two to know that I had a mild scare when I woke up today and found no less than 10 new messages sitting in my inbox. Usually that sort of thing only happens if I cause a shitstorm on the forums, so I was wondering what I'd done this time. But then I saw it was too. I'm chill with that. Carry on. "
Like I said, 
 
I aim to please*curtsy*