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The pioneer – Final Fantasy VII | 1997 | PS1
Some have argued that FFVII was overrated, but there was never any doubt in our minds. Almost every aspect of it was a monumental step up from Final Fantasy VI. Its beautiful 3D environments, a convoluted plot that pulled on the heartstrings, and sheer damn length stunned gamers worldwide. Character development was pushed further than it had ever been, and despite the dodgy half size character models, comically lacking half of their facial features, they generated genuine emotional attachment. So much so that people are still trying to find ways to resurrect Aeris, while Cloud has gone on to be the archetype for every RPG hero since. Single handedly responsible for making RPGs mainstream in the West.
Raising the bar – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion | 2006 | PC |Xbox 360 | PS3
A slap in the face to anyone who thinks offline means linear, the two most pertinent questions when faced with Oblivion are “where to start?” and “when to stop?” This is a game where you can do practically anything, from stealing horses and playing gladiators to joining guilds, protecting innocents and, in one particularly bad case of karma, contracting vampirism. Such breadth of content is balanced by two new mechanics – the monsters strength varies depending on yours (much more successful than the similar system in FFVIII ), so they always present a challenge, but no area is ever off limits because you are too weak; and there are no levels. Skills are honed by using them, encouraging you to do all manner of obscure tasks. Which partially justifies our penchant for stealing horses. Don’t forget the story – for once in a good RPG, that is very easy.
Above:  Final Fantasy VII;  The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion;  Metal Dungeon;  Final Fantasy XIII
Scraping the barrel – Metal Dungeon | 2002 | Xbox
Metal Dungeon appears little more than a wolf in lambs clothing, masquerading as an RPG but being anything but. Sure, you wander around for a bit until you run into an invisible random monster, then switch to a specific battle screen for fisticuffs. Boxes ticked so far. But it is entirely devoid of plot, or any opportunity to explore. There are only 2 cut-scenes in the entire game. There are no towns, no people, no world. The entire game takes place inside the ten titular dungeons, all accessed from the menu screen, all of which are fashioned in the same monochrome metal rectangle. Does the combat system save it? Only if it would let your characters turn the gun on themselves.
Keep your eyes peeled for – Final Fantasy XIII | PS3
Remember the combat from the Final Fantasy Advent Children movie? That’s what the bods at Square-Enix are planning for the next installment of the FF franchise. Be very excited.