Here at Hardcore Gamer, we’re big fans of JRPGs. In fact, we cut our teeth on the genre and still to this day have an undeniable affinity for them. Having said that, high-def remakes have been a trend for a number of years now; love it or hate it, it doesn’t look like the custom is letting up any time soon. While some scoff at the notion of wasting resources on pre-existing games — instead of allocating those very same efforts to developing new pieces of work — the Japanese roleplaying game is perhaps one of those genres that can benefit most from this industry practice.
With the just-released Tales of Symphonia Chronicles, in addition to upcoming Final Fantasy X HD launch, it’s easy to see that this a market just waiting to be tapped, especially considering the expansive backlog of wonderful JRPGs that could be looked at for this type of endeavor. Yet, despite that giant catalog of worthy potentials, it can be a daunting, overwhelming task to try and figure out which ones deserve such treatment — but that’s where we come into play. We‘re here to tackle the insurmountable task of whittling that list of candidates down to the top 10 titles that should, without a doubt, be given some kind of HD treatment, be it a remake or remaster, and why. Before we get to it, do note that we’re only focusing on console games for this installment; a portables companion piece will follow sometime in the future.
Now, let’s get this thing going.
10. Grandia III (Game Arts | PlayStation 2)
The Grandia franchise is among the most overlooked yet consistently solid JRPGs around. The first installment was a huge success both domestically and internationally upon its 1999 release, and while the second game wasn’t able to topple the mountain of hype that surrounded it, it was still a great roleplaying experience all the same. Then in 2002 the dungeon-crawler Grandia Xtreme was unleashed on the masses — although it was certainly the weakest of the trio of titles released up and to that point, it still managed to rope in a cult-like following of gamers who just couldn’t get enough of that famed Grandia combat engine. Yet, even with the second entry and Xtreme not exactly reaching the same heights as the game that ignited the entire series, they nevertheless did well enough to warrant a third mainstay installment. Grandia III launched on the PlayStation 2 in early 2006 to generally positive ratings thanks to a myriad of factors. Among its many accolades were lush visuals, charming characters and a tight-focused, heartwarming story. When put together, it’s easy to see why Grandia III is such a powerhouse.
But what sets it apart from the rest of the competition — and ultimately why it made this list in the first place — is its ability to unabashedly stick to age-old conventions, ones that gave the genre legs in the first place, while seamlessly blending into the mix a dynamic combat engine that had players frothing at the mouth with excitement. Grandia III‘s battle mechanics are practically unmatched. Thanks in large part to years of scrupulous refinement, the battling is every bit beautiful as it is viscerally frenetic. While not entirely free form, Grandia’s semi-real-time combat is stimulating beyond words, designed to present players with a harmonious balance of strategy and aesthetic pizzazz, complete with aerial combos that are ripped right out of an anime. For its time, and maybe even by today’s standards, Grandia III may very well offer the single greatest combat of any game of its kind.
Seeing the loud colors and wonderful combat animations in glorious high-definition would be a treat for any gamer. It goes without saying that the Grandia games have always encompassed a vibrant color palette, and made excellent use of those hues; thus being able to see it in HD would be an occurrence not otherwise matched by other games.
09. Phantasy Star IV: The End of a Millennium (Sega | Genesis)
Phantasy Star IV’s subtitle is “The End of a Millennium”, and we can’t help but think that such a moniker possessed double meaning for Sega’s coveted roleplaying game. Certainly, PSIV came out at the end of the Genesis’ life; as Sega was preparing for the Saturn’s release, much of their attention in the year 1994 was directed away from their 16-bit baby. However, the system needed a swan song more than anything, as a way to go out with a bang, and it got one in Phantasy Star IV. Without question, the Phantasy Star franchise is a heralded one. Long before it became an online game, PS titles were traditional JRPGs set against true sci-fi backdrops — a type of setting that wasn’t being utilized by developers of the genre all that often in the early 90s. Because of this, Phantasy Star always felt unique — hell, it still does all these years later. But regardless of how great the previous installments were, IV was absolutely the culmination of the series as a whole. It not only pushed the Genesis to its technical limitations, sporting beautiful vistas by way of equally impressive sprite-work, but it pushed its genre as well.
Phantasy Star IV was clearly designed to compete with Squaresoft’s famed Final Fantasy VI, which had been released just four months before PSIV’s February launch. As such, it was a sprawling RPG that was epic in scope and theme; but what the game truly honed in on was its cast of characters. Varied, different, unfitting of any kind of stereotypes, Phantasy Star IV’s troupe truly brought to life the already highly-charged, notwithstanding fairly typical, against-all-odds story that spanned a solid 25 hours. Conceivably what is cherished most about the game, however, is its undeniable, impossible to replicate sense of charm. Phantasy Star IV was a game that was comfortable in its own skin, and because of that, wasn’t afraid to take risks. It never rested on its laurels nor did it use its namesake to capture audiences; it was willing to strike out and make a name for itself on its own terms, disconnected from the flagship that made its very existence possible. Like with us as people, we are at our best when we are able to take chances — to try something new. But we are only ever able to do that if we aren’t scared of failure. Phantasy Star IV never held reservations about what may come from its approach, an approach that felt both conventional and newfangled simultaneously. It understood how to blend old with modern, and was a better game because of it.
People forget about Phantasy Star IV because of when it released, the system to which it was exclusive, as well as its more well-known competitors launching within such close proximity. But remastering, or remaking it — either one we’re okay with — would get it in front of new eyes for sure. This is a game that needs to be played by anyone who has a love affliction with the genre. Therefore, putting it in HD, with the game’s already expert use of colors and large, expressive character sprites, could really make for an eye-popping experience. As the industry continues to dig through the closet of forgotten gems, we can’t think of a better game to excavate than Phantasy Star IV.
08. The Xenosaga Trilogy (Monolith Soft | PlayStation 2)
Alright, so technically that’s like three games in one; but it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to just remaster one, seeing as each installment bleeds over into the next. That aside, there was a lot of talk heading into the first Xenosaga‘s release back in early 2003. Most of this discussion, and subsequent hype, was centered around whether or not Saga would live up to its spiritual predecessor, the time-honored PSX jewel, Xenogears. Although some fans were disappointed with the final product due to its hesitance to tackle the heady philosophical commentary that Gears touched on with such elegance, Xenosaga was still met with very positive reviews, as were episodes II and III for that matter. The games were handed out high marks for rightful reasons though, chief among those awarded honors was its entrancing story, though the argument can be made that its astounding cutscenes were also at the top of the list.
Even though the games never quite soared as high as Gears in terms of narration, it’s apparent regardless that Xenosaga had a profound tale to tell even so. In fact, Saga’s narrative is its primary concern, and as such takes meticulous care of its character development and big-moment hooks that ebb and flow with protracted emotion. How the complex fable unfolds is particularly extraordinary, seemingly always vigilant as to not overwhelm players with too much information, instead allowing the plot to unravel organically and fairly comprehensibly. Once it gets going, after a somewhat slow start, it’s off to the races and players are treated to one hell of a space opera. And it’s this science fiction backdrop that essentially allows Xenosaga to take such liberties and risks in its ideas, forging an extensive story that ends up spanning close to 100-hours when factoring in all three games.
Albeit Xenosaga’s first concern is its storytelling, it’s far from being a one-trick pony like some detractors would have folks believe. In actuality, the games contain extremely strong gameplay standards, granted folks are accepting of the fairly long-established mechanics in-play. In addition to these usual battle trappings, however, was one of the most remembered facets of the system at large: having the opportunity to jump into mechs (called A.G.W.S. units) and lay waste to an entire battlefield. The system borrows much from the “gears” setup found in Xenogears, where players can initiate a number of attacks equal to the amount of Action Points available to them. Naturally, this adds a layer of strategic depth to each scenario, ensuring that every battle is an exciting war of blows. But the gameplay in general, extending outside of battles, is proficient, polished in design and execution. The trilogy just seems to have been given the time needed to deliver a sophisticated experience.
Now, Xenosaga was an exquisite looking game at its launch. Cards on table, it was showered with many compliments for this fact alone. If Namco could capitalize on that sleekness, solely enhancing the pre-existing shine, it would be difficult to differentiate the game from many of today’s titles. It would require a lot of resources to bring the Saga trilogy into the current generation of systems, that much is firm, but it would also be well worth the effort; and with Xenoblade having done so well, and X on the horizon — what better way to enhance the “Xeno” brand than by re-releasing some of the games that gave the franchise such influence in the first place.