DeadEndThe other day, I was talking on AIM to a dashing man who may or may not determine the writing assignments here for Blast, and my calling him “dashing” is in no way an attempt to curry favor.‚  Anyway, the subject of RPGs came up, and since it is my favorite genre, I had plenty to say.‚  The query posed was a seemingly simple one: What were my 10 favorite RPGs, any system, from any time?

I actually found it pretty hard to limit myself, and eventually spit out about 15 different ones. ‚ The subject is so complex and the games so great (in my mind) that I could probably do a post on each game on my list.‚  I mean, just yesterday Marc did an entire post on Final Fantasy VII, which definitely makes my list of best RPGs and probably my Top Five of all-time.

Therefore, in an attempt to edit myself prematurely, I’m going to focus on the inverse today “" The five WORST role-playing games I’ve played.‚  (Note that I did qualify the preceding statement with “I’ve played” so fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, most of the SaGa and Tales games are safe.)‚  I did not include old NES games that were meant primarily as action-adventure games with some role-playing elements (so you’re safe, Deadly Towers and Hydlide) or games that weren’t “officially” released in the United States (Final Fantasy 2j or Earthbound Zero, although that’s a decent game anyway).‚  The list, in no particular order:

I just loved when Frodo killed wolves in the book.

I just loved when Frodo killed wolves in the book.

– The Lord of the Rings: Volume 1, SNES.‚  Much like Peter Jackson’s trilogy stands as the definitive work that the bad, 1980s animated films pale against, so goes the SNES version vs. the modern games.‚  The action-adventure-RPG fails in every aspect.

Released by Interplay in 1994, The Lord of the Rings’ programmers somehow decided that Tolkien’s original work, which is admittedly dry in some spots, would be better if it was simplified.‚  Unfortunately, their judgment was pretty piss-poor in terms of what they chose to remove.‚  For example, gone is Bilbo’s somewhat terrifying reluctance to part with the ring at the start of the tale, and in its place is a simple sentence about how “it’s hard to give up.”‚  Sigh.

Stealing a page from the book of the Angry Video Game Nerd (NSFW), remember how awesome it was when Frodo fought a shitload of wolves in the Shire?‚  Oh, you don’t remember how awesome it is because that never happened?‚  Yeah, me either.‚  But like the video game version of Back to the Future, which has you dodging bees and garbage cans and plate glass windows, Lord of the Rings SNES has little to do with its literary or film counterparts.‚  As the full name implies, it covers the first third of the trilogy, but because of dismal sales, I imagine the other installments were never made.

I could overlook this aspect, except that the rest of the game is a steaming pile as well.‚  You only control Frodo, but all of the other characters of the fellowship join you.‚  How can that be?‚  Well, while you walk around, they’re given free reign.‚  Unlike, say, Secret of Mana, there is nothing stopping Gimli and Legolas from wandering off-screen and getting killed by a goblin or troll.‚  And this will happen constantly, because the AI is ridiculous.‚  You can hold the L-button to “control” your other characters, but this prevents Frodo from walking, and it controls all of them at once.‚  This is an issue when you have as many as eight or nine people in your party.

By the way, death is permanent in The Lord of the Rings.‚  In the words of Ivan Drago, if Pippin dies, then he dies.‚  There is no way to revive him.‚  Combine this with the idiotic AI, and it’s impossible to make it through the entire game with all of the fellowship intact without some serious luck.

There are plenty of other “fail” aspects to The Lord of the Rings.‚  Even though it is a SNES game and thus a cartridge, there are long pauses when switching areas and accessing the menu.‚  You can’t chose who equips what; if you acquire a new piece of equipment, the most “important” character (in the order of Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, Sam, Pippin and Merry, roughly) inherits it.‚  All of the character sprites are tiny, and it would be impossible to tell the hobbits apart, except that they wear different colors.‚  You do a bunch of crap “" exploring caves near the Shire and Bree for stones to open up the way in the Mines of Moria “" that isn’t in the book or the movies.‚  Even if you let everyone else die, Frodo and/or Aragorn can easily power their way through the computer’s also stupid AI.‚  The last battle is against the Balrog, but you can kill it if Gandalf dies.

There are two reasons to play The Lord of the Rings.‚  One, the sound is pretty good.‚  And two, Tom Bombadil is still the man.‚  He is the only character who doesn’t lose a god damn thing from book to game.‚  He still is a merry fellow, bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow; none have ever caught him yet, for Tom, he is the master, and his songs are stronger songs, and his feet are faster.

BeyondTheBeyond– Beyond the Beyond, PSX.‚  According to Wikipedia, this game now has attained a sort of cult following, although I don’t know why.‚  It bears the distinction of being the first RPG released for the PSX, but this doesn’t excuse its inferior quality.‚  The game is actually OK in the graphics and sound department, as it looks like it belongs in Sega’s Shining series.

Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end.‚  The gameplay is plodding, with the double whammy of a high encounter rate and long, meandering dungeons.‚  Enemy magicians are especially overpowering, as group-effecting spells can wipe you out in a single round.‚  Your own magicians aren’t as lucky, because there isn’t a ton of MP to go around, and you often have to save it up for healing and fighting boss characters.‚  Nothing comes easy, and all of these gameplay and battle system issues have nothing to do with its debut status.

Also, as I mentioned in my review of Black Sigil last week (yay for self-pimping!), one of Beyond the Beyond’s major characters is cursed for a good portion of the game.‚  It is as if you have a confused character in your party the entire time. There is a one-in-three chance that he attacks, freezes up or takes damage each time he does something.‚  The whole “cursed” thing is the insult-to-injury, pointy stick rammed into the eye socket aspect of Beyond the Beyond that pushes it from below average to cringeworthy.

This skull randomly tells you things in The Black Gate.  It is cheesier than you imagine.

This skull randomly tells you things in The Black Gate. It is cheesier than you imagine.

– The SNES Ultima games.‚  Yeah, I’m just doing a group entry for them, but if I have to mention one, let’s go with The Black Gate, the seventh installment.‚  It features a top-down, three-fourths perspective that makes me somewhat sick to my stomach while playing.‚  The font used by the game doesn’t help matters either, as its slightly-cursive tint, small size and prodigious length makes it hard to read.‚  The other SNES Ultimas at least have a legible font, although they all seem to use the horrible perspective.

The Black Gate is the usual non-linear sort of game primarily featured in the Ultima series, but the dizzying perspective and better alternatives on the SNES “" like a decent port of Might and Magic III “" allow it to earn its place on this list.‚  Besides, being non-linear isn’t the problem, as Quest for the Avatar is an underrated gem for the NES, and very first, plain old Ultima is serviceable.

LegendOfMana– Legend of Mana, PSX.‚  Here is the secret to beating Legend of Mana: Have a pulse.‚  If your lungs work, then you should be able to stream roll your way through the game.‚  Even if you are a corpse, or some sort of ethereal being that only has limited possession skills, you should still be able to handle it.

Basically, the only requirement to beating Legend of Mana is having a working thumb with which to press the attack button.‚  (In fact, by reading the preceding paragraph the game might have rewarded you with an extra level or two.)‚  It bears little in common with the great Secret of Mana, and nothing in common with the quirky, comical and underrated Secret of Evermore.

"And then I had to go allllll the way uphill to the market..."

"And then I had to go allllll the way uphill to the market..."

– Lagoon, SNES.‚  If you’re wondering why there are so many SNES games between this list and the section below, it’s because the success of some legitimately great games “" Final Fantasy 2 and 3, Chrono Trigger, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Dragon Quest 5 and 6 in Japan “" caused some developers to just dump mediocre games on the market.

The people behind 1991’s Lagoon probably noted (or bet on) the success A Link to the Past to propel their paltry title to some increased sales.‚  Lagoon is an adventure-RPG; Zelda with hit points and equipment, or a more RPG-ish version of the PSX and DS Castlevania games.‚  Like Beyond the Beyond, it was one of the first titles for console, but this doesn’t excuse its sins; Final Fantasy 2 came out in the same year and that’s still great.

No, Lagoon would still suck if it came out in 1791, although the villagers of Salem would get some sick enjoyment out of screaming “Witch!” at its strange, rectangular form before burning it atop a stack of actual witches.‚  Your character can only move in the four compass directions, which is a problem when you’re trying to dodge fireballs and other attacks from the game’s later bosses.

In addition to the lethargic movement, combat is hurt by the minuscule attack range of your character.‚  A swing from your sword has enough range to disturb some flies in your general area, and not much else.‚  The hit detection is generally poor, and makes Lagoon frustratingly hard.

As suggested by my picture selection, the dialogue is nothing to write home about either.‚  Most villagers will prattle on about any old thing.‚  And yes, your character is called Nasir.‚  Hot, I know.‚  The only names of major characters I like less in the various RPGs I’ve played are Ashley from Vagrant Story and Poo from Earthbound.‚  (Maybe that list can be next.‚  A man can dream…)

– Also at least considered, seriously or fleetingly, for this list: 7th Saga, Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, Brain Lord (since Enix somehow got that stateside instead of Dragon Warrior 5 or 6), Brandish, Breath of Fire 2 (the SNES version with the high encounter rate, minimal experience gains and low gold drops), Chrono Cross, Drakkhen, Final Fantasy (yes, seriously), Final Fantasy Legend 1 and 2, Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest, Final Fantasy X-2, Grandia Xtreme, Harvest Moon, The Legend of Dragoon, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, Lufia: The Ruins of Lore, Magna Carta, Ogre Battle, Paladin’s Quest, Pinball Quest, Romancing SaGa 3, Shadow Hearts 3: From the New World, Spell Craft, the numerous bad Star Trek games, Suikoden IV, Uncharted Waters, Vagrant Story and Valkyrie Profile.

About The Author

Stephen Greenwell combines the classic style of a 1950s robot with the dynamic flair of a 1970s street pimp. In his spare time, he plays video games, writes and thinks way too much about sports. E-mail him at [email protected] .

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