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Best Turn-Based RPG
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For well over a decade, the Legend of Heroes series has consistently produced some of the best traditional JRPGs with unique interconnecting stories, but business practicalities have meant that western fans have been denied access to the duo of games set in Crossbell. That’s finally been rectified and The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero maintains the high standards that RPGamers have come to expect, managing to succeed at introducing a new cast of characters while intertwining and resolving storylines from the Sky set of games. Set in a prosperous yet precarious city-state, Trails from Zero centers around a newly formed special branch of the Crossbell police department. Nihon Falcom uses this setup to show the seedy underbelly of Crossbell while slowly peeling back the layers underlying the geopolitical tension that comes from being sandwiched between much larger neighbors. It manages to be both an excellent starting point for new entrants while satisfying longtime fans by filling in the backstories for so many characters that appeared in the Cold Steel series.
Despite being originally released in Japan over a decade ago, the combat still shines as Trails from Zero incorporates positioning, turn order, and elemental weaknesses to provide ample depth without bogging players down with too much minutiae to manage. This is combined with a story that pays off dangling plot threads from earlier entries while also forging a unique path and introducing a new lovable group of underdogs to get behind. Trails from Zero shows that underlying fundamentals — combat, story, and characters — can still elevate a game designed for a bygone handheld system to the top of the genre today.
Merely classifying Chained Echoes as a turn-based RPG is a little like calling the World Cup a bunch of soccer games or Disney simply a production company. There are so many more bells and whistles attached that make the end product stand out as something extraordinary and truly special. The overdrive gauge turns any battle, never mind boss fights, into a tactical juggling act of the highest order. Every decision is a potential make-it-or-break-it moment, with things further enhanced by party members swapping in and out, or suiting up in mech armors to bring a whole new set of rules to the flow of combat. Adding to that an exceedingly well paced narrative, tons of things to do, a delightful 16-bit art style, and fantastic music and Chained Echoes readily ranks as one of the highlights of the year.
Live A Live was not something considered a likely target for a remaster or remake for most Square Enix fans, even for many well versed in unlocalized games of the 16-bit era. Thankfully, decision makers deemed it deserving of a such a treatment and we’re all the better for it. Its battle system may be straightforward on the face of it, but it works with a variety of debuffs and enemies weaknesses, and gets full use across its various protagonists. Moving around the battle field and picking the right attacks is fun and engaging, and the battles never overstay their welcome. There’s a quite a bit of depth to be had as it creatively builds upon it across its wide mix of settings and stories for an experience that feels fully distinct. Despite the age of the original game, Live A Live feels fresh and fans of turn-based RPGs should not pass on the opportunity to finally see what it’s all about.
by Joshua Carpenter, Pascal Tekaia, and Michael Apps