As we move towards the inevitable chaos of a console launch, we have a few weeks of time where very little new comes out and we have time to look back. For those of you looking for something to play, I wanted to share with you my picks for the six most underrated console games of this past generation. These are games that I loved that saw very little traction… so if you want something good that you probably haven’t heard much about… here’s your chance.
6 ) Last Remnant
The Last Remnant was one of the very few JRPGs to come out for the Xbox 360. It saw very low success among both critics and audiences, for one completely understandable reason: It is absurdly complicated.
In The Last Remnant you have to manage an unbelievable number of different aspects in combat, and it was overwhelming. A sort of squad oriented turn based RPG. And yes, it is as convoluted as that sounds. But it really does provide an engaging experience – once you get the hang of it, which admittedly takes a while.
You see, not only is the combat filled with a huge variety of actions, squads, and positioning elements that are largely dictated by enemy decisions… but you have a tremendous amount of micromanagement to do. First, you have to organize your squads – figure out which characters you want in each squad and what formation they’re going to use. But beyond that you also have to manage your own character’s equipment, and search for items each squad member asks for.
Once you get beyond the squad organization, there’s also a lot of managing the towns – vendors can unlock items if you donate monster remains to them, but if you keep the remains you can’t break them down into more materials for making and improving gear. And in order to have a good chance of getting the remains in the first place you have to fight large numbers of enemies at the same time which becomes increasingly more difficult as time goes on. And all of this is just scratching the surface of this game’s complexity…
It’s a pity it didn’t do better, but if you’re looking to pass the next few weeks – that’s probably how long this’ll take you. It’s available on the PC as well, so if you don’t have a 360 don’t fret. Give it a try, if you want something to try your brain.
5) Record of Agarest War Zero
My fifth most underrated game of this past generation is another one that suffers a bit from complexity. Record of Agarest War Zero is a value-rich prequel to the niche JRPG Record of Agarest War. Agarest is a very traditional strategy RPG that just takes the planning a bit crazy. As I mentioned in my Impressions post, a single turn sometimes took me 5-10 minutes of planning when I was trying to do things perfectly. And with damage numbers as high as they are, perfection just feels good.
The game presents a rather interesting story, it is held back a bit by the fanservice present in certain side scenes, but overall it is a fascinating story of corruption, betrayal, and salvation. One thing I respect is that the game is not afraid to remove characters from the story by killing them off. It does it in the least disruptive way possible as the game allows you to create Marionettes that can join your party. These Marionettes are basically non-story soldiers for your party that can be either the characters you lost earlier or characters from the first Agarest War allowing for a virtually limitless combination of characters for your party – which is important because the special abilities are derived from combinations of 2 to 6 characters and do some pretty crazy effects.
This game’s available on both major consoles, and it just recently came out on PC as well, so you can get your JRPG fix wherever you want, and it will keep you satisfied for many an hour. Not only is the core story quite long, but it also features a significantly pared down version of the original Record of Agarest known as ‘Digest Mode’. Don’t fear though, ‘pared down’ still means hours and hours of content when talking about an Agarest game.
4) Overlord 1 and 2
The Overlord Series offers an experience that brought back memories of Dungeon Keeper – except in a more action driven space. There’s something intensely satisfying about being the bad guy and having a horde of evil minions doing your bidding. It is made even better by the fact that the minions are adorable.
You have to control the Overlord himself – and he can attack and do some other stuff, but you also have to micromanage your minions to help you take down enemies. The games certainly had their flaws, but they both present very unique and interesting gameplay styles that I haven’t really seen done elsewhere. It’s a pity these games didn’t do better, because I would’ve loved to have seen if they’d managed to perfect these concepts. But as it was, the games were really enjoyable, and certainly worth your time to check out.
3) White Knight Chronicles 1 and 2
Sadly a lot of JRPGs this generation got overshadowed by more mainstream releases and didn’t see success like they deserved. Our number 3 entry is another among their number: White Knight Chronicles. The two WKC games were very heavily story driven, and did something I wish more games would do with regards to their main character. You see, the main character of the game isn’t customizable, but they still give you access to a customizable avatar to represent you – he just happens to be a supporting character that doesn’t play into the story much. It’s a fascinating way to create customization without causing the problems that player customized protagonists can often create.
This also allows for your customized character to be used in their online component – allowing you to go on quests with others. Sadly, the first WKC’s online component has been shut down, but last I checked WKC2’s online functionality is still running, and it’s better because your avatar gets his very own Knight(read: Giant mech) that he can use in some missions in the multiplayer of the second.
While you don’t necessarily need to play the first to experience the second, I do recommend doing so as many of the story threads continue throughout and the story – save the ending – was very compelling. You can find my impressions of White Knight Chronicles here and White Knight Chronicles 2 here.
Our second last entry in this list is one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. This game received more acclaim than most of those on this list, but it still got brushed under the rug a bit.
Catherine is a combination story-driven drama and puzzle game. During the day, you have to try to sort out Vincent’s rapidly disintegrating life with the option present to try to meddle in the lives of some others he knows who are going through their own problems. This part, if it were just on its own, wouldn’t be nearly enough to keep a person interested, although it is rather fascinating in small doses. Fortunately those small doses are interspersed with the night life, where Vincent has to overcome literally nightmarish puzzles in order to survive to wake up the next day.
These puzzles get progressively harder and more brutally punishing as time goes on, but never feel so unforgiving so as to make you want to give up. It’s the perfect balance of challenge and reward that keeps you wanting to come back every night yet managing to still make you eager for the reprieve of the normalcy of the daytime gameplay.
The game features a very small ‘passive’ use of the internet as well. In Catherine, you get asked little moral questions during the nighttime segments – and the game tracks every PSN account’s first answer, and presents you with a graph dictating what percentage of people picked each answer. It’s a small thing, but one that provides a nice touch that fits perfectly within the game. Oh, and if you enjoy the puzzle solving… there’s a competitive mode you unlock after you finish the core story that is a rather fun diversion. If you want to hear more, read my review.
And the #1 most underrated game of this generation…
Nier was released a few years back and was quickly overshadowed by other releases. This is a truly unfortunate fact, as Nier is one of those games that sticks with you. It has a very compelling story, taking place in the Drakengard universe, and it features some fascinating characters. And I’m sure Laura Bailey had a blast playing a character who spent all her time cussing. The game received a great deal of negative feedback for its visuals, which admittedly were a bit dated. But the art style was enough to make up for that for me, even with the fairly drab environments.
Beyond that, the gameplay is a strange mashup of disparate elements with parts reminiscent of a variety of genres all combined to make a surprisingly cohesive action rpg. None of the elements were perfectly crafted, yet they were all fun and they all fit together unbelievably well. Regardless of what type of game you’re looking for you can be fairly certain there will be some ties here for you to appreciate.
But by far the most impressive part of this game… the part that everyone who has played this game remembers fondly: the soundtrack. Nier has one of the most unique and amazing soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a video game. The vocals are haunting and ethereal. You’ll swear they must be from some language you just don’t know… but you’d be wrong – they actually created a musical pseudo-language for this game to create the impression that the lyrics actually meant something. And it just plain works.
If you have ever wondered ‘what would happen if someone mixed x genre with y genre’ this is the game you should play, because it answers nearly every variation of that question… and if you’ve ever just wanted to pay respect to one of the best soundtracks gaming has to offer, well here’s your chance too.
The problem? Nier can be rather difficult to find, but if you look for it, you can find used copies out there for very reasonable prices through places like e-bay. But if you see it, I strongly recommend grabbing it – even if just so you can be one of the few to have had the opportunity to appreciate this interesting game and its incredible soundtrack.
Be sure to check back next week because I’ll have another Shadow’s Six covering some of the most… ahem… noteworthy games of this generation. It’s going to be an entertaining list!