PSN's classic JRPGs: What holds up?

Jason Schreier
J. Schreier|11.11.11

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Jason Schreier
November 11th, 2011
PSN's classic JRPGs: What holds up?
This is a column by Jason Schreier dedicated to the analysis (and occasional mocking) of his favorite genre, the Japanese role-playing game. Whether it's because they're too antiquated or just too niche, he believes JRPGs don't get enough attention in the gaming industry today. It's time to change that.

"Hey Jason," you say, an innocent twinkle in your eye. "I've never played any old-school JRPGs. Where should I start? Which are the best ones? Do any of them hold up in 2011?"

Excellent questions, my hypothetical friend. There are plenty of ways to get your paws on the classics, but it can be tough for newbies to tell exactly which ones are worth playing. You could try asking a more experienced JRPG fan, but he might be too blinded by nostalgia to discern whether or not his favorite game has aged well.

So to help you sort through the chaos, I'll be delving back into a whole bunch of old JRPGs over the next couple of weeks. I'll spend about 30-60 minutes with each one -- certainly not enough time to properly review a game, but enough to get a feel for whether it holds up today, and how it compares to my memories of it.

Today we'll start with the PlayStation Store, a veritable treasure trove of classic JRPGs.

Suikoden (PSN, $6, PSP/PlayStation 3)

Konami's oddly-titled Suikoden series has evolved into a cult classic over the past few years, spawning several sequels and a dedicated fanbase thanks to its engaging world and politics-packed stories. The first game in the series is no exception, allowing you to collect characters, build up your own castle and shape the course of your country's history.

Suikoden's translation is shoddy at best and catastrophic at worst. The game is packed with more incoherent sentences than a Justin Bieber fan's twitter account. Still, the water-colored backgrounds and two-dimensional sprites look lovely and the game is fast-paced enough to zip you through the 15-20 hours it will take you to finish it. Some gamers attacked Suikoden for not following the 3D trend when it was first released in the U.S. in 1996, but that may be the very reason it holds up so well today.

Does it hold up? YES.

Grandia (PSN, $10, PSP/PlayStation 3)
To some fans and critics, Grandia felt aged even when it first came to the U.S. as a Sega Saturn port in 1999. Movement felt kind of clunky, but the quirky RPG was still praised for its charming squad of heroes and solid localization.

Unsurprisingly, Grandia still feels aged in 2011. Menu loading times are two seconds too long, and the music can be repetitive and grating. The voice acting is especially horrendous -- spend a few seconds listening to Grandia's actors talk and you will never make fun of Heavy Rain's "JAASSSSOOONNNNN"s again.

Does it hold up? NO.

Chrono Cross (PSN, $10, PSP/PlayStation 3)
It's tough to make a sequel to one of the most beloved RPGs in history without disappointing at least a few fans. Square's Chrono Cross was lauded for its creative world and beautiful soundtrack, but many have complained about its unnecessarily large cast of characters and somewhat convoluted story.

Those strengths and weaknesses are both still prevalent today. The music is still lovely. The world is still beautiful (though individual sprites look jagged and blurry). The number of characters is still overwhelming. Walking around with the directional pad can feel a little bit unresponsive. Still, if you're looking for an entertaining albeit way-too-easy JRPG, Chrono Cross remains a great bet.

Does it hold up? YES.

Xenogears (PSN, $10, PSP/PlayStation 3)
Some consider Xenogears one of gaming's greatest stories, and for good reason. This sci-fi RPG is long, convoluted and poignant. New players might have a hard time keeping track of the never-ending barrage of names and places, but if you give the story a chance to grip you, it will.

Xenogears might move a little bit slowly for modern gamers' attention spans, but it still looks good. The rhythm of its combat system is more harmonious than even some of 2011's new titles. The one downside? The. Dialogue. Boxes. Take. Forever. To. Load.

Does it hold up? YES.

Next week, we'll hit the Wii's Virtual Console. Stay tuned!

Jason Schreier is a freelance writer/editor based out of NYC. He's a contributing writer for and occasionally writes for a number of other sites and publications, including Edge Magazine, the Onion News Network and G4TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasonschreier.
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