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Back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, ninjas were huge – and for Sega fans, there was no ninja more badass than Joe Musashi. Wielding a seemingly endless supply of shuriken and powerful ninja magic, he started out freeing hostages from a supernatural ninja criminal syndicate, but it wasn’t long before he was fighting the likes of Spider-Man, Batman and (a dead ringer for) Godzilla, seemingly just for the hell of it. Decades ago, his badassery made him one of Sega’s flagship characters, but now he’s slowly becoming a dim memory kept alive only by downloadable ports of his old games.
It’s true that Shinobi (like a couple of other franchises on this list) has already had at least one comeback, in the form of the ultra-hardcore, faintly creepy 2002 reboot. While we could argue that its red-scarfed new protagonist and extreme, wall-running hack-and-slash didn’t really resemble previous Shinobi games at all, our real beef is that it came out almost 10 years ago. Its only sequel, Nightshade (which starred a female ninja and wasn’t quite as good), hit the following year and got middling reviews, and the series has barely been heard from since.
Did the games really sell so poorly that Sega decided to abandon one of its key franchises? Will insane ninja action continue to be defined solely by Ryu Hayabusa, Naruto and the increasingly dull Tenchu cast? We’re not sure, but we do know that a big Shinobi comeback – maybe with a smart developer like Platinum or, say, NINJA THEORY at the helm – would be especially welcome in an era when ninjas are increasingly becoming a sad companion joke to pirates.
Okay, first things first – when we say Shining Force, we’re talking about the old school strategy RPGs, which were like Final Fantasy Tactics but far more accessible. As far as we’re concerned, none of those garbage Action RPGs that mucked up the PlayStation 2 – Shining Tears, Shining Force Neo, Shining Force EXA – ever happened. Those can stay lodged in the bowels of history. We just want the good stuff, which ended in 1998 with the US release of Saturn classic Shining Force III Scenario One .
Yes, the battles were turn-based and took place on a checkerboard grid, but the action was still remarkably easy to hook into and surprisingly tense. The stories were epic-scale sagas in which likable, noble characters were caught up in world-shattering wars.
Speaking of scale, the series went BIG. Shining Force III Scenario One had 27 playable characters, including ninjas, centaurs, mages and a penguin, and you fought using 12 of them at a time. Not four, not six or eight … 12. And the last battle took place in two locations at once, so your army split in two and nearly every single character got to participate at once. And this was just the first in a three-game series, (tragically, Scenarios Two and Three were only released in Japan) whose events, stories and even characters intertwined. Most importantly, Shining Force games had a soul. They were endearing, creative, vibrant, and colossal, and we want them back.
In the Master System/Genesis days, Phantasy Star was one of the biggest RPG series out there. Instead of mythical dragons and enchanted swords, this space-faring series focused on a set of planets in the Algol system and, along with Final Fantasy, helped make console RPGs a sustainable genre outside of Japan. Its successful stretch was lost during the Saturn era (1995-1998), but was later revived as Phantasy Star Online, a beloved, mission-based multiplayer excursion that was truly ahead of its time.
Above: Phantasy Star IV is possibly the best in the entire series… but launched at $100 in 1995. That’s about $150-$200 in today’s market
Since then, online multiplayer has become standard and the MMORPG field is crowded with series attempting to either unseat World of Warcraft or merely survive off the free-to-play crumbs that fall from Blizzard’s gaping maw. You have to be extremely bold to think you can out-MMO WoW, and we don’t think the upcoming, PC-only PSO2 will be the magic game to break the streak. Instead, take this series back to its roots (no Online, no Universe) and craft a character-driven story that ditches missions, character creation and all the other elements that have slowly sucked the humanity out of the series. For eff’s sake, Phantasy Star II is known for a famous character death years before Sephiroth killed Aerith – can we get back to that?
Above: We had the patience for this in 2001. Not so much in 2011
Aesthetically, Final Fantasy XIII actually looks a bit like Phantasy Star – there’s definitely more sci-fi than fantasy there, for sure. A new solo-only PS game could ideally swoop in and gather up those who wanted to like XIII but were turned away by its tortuously slow lead-up to the actual story. In other words, it’s still possible for Sega to reaffirm this series’ position as a major RPG… or it can piss away another quest based, create-a-character mini-MMO and be crushed under WoW’s heel.