Not Final Fantasy

Nov 28, 2007

We can all agree that Final Fantasy is the world's favorite RPG series. The problem with its immense popularity is that the number two favorite series, Dragon Quest, is owned by the same company - Square-Enix. Millions of devoted gamers stick to these two franchises (or others created by mega-developer) instead of branching out and trying something that doesn't have "Square" or "Enix" on the box.

But you really should take a chance on something else for a change. Let the other guys shine for just a moment. Dig up a classic that exists solely in the hearts and minds of aging gamers around the world - or play something that was overlooked and buried by another Square media blitz.

Not sure what to try? Have we got a list for you.

Final Fantasy-less title: Suikoden II

Totally Square-free developer: Konami

Why you should ignore Squall and play this: The first two Suikodens were among the most epic games of the PSone era, and Suikoden II was the better of the two. Unfortunately, it was also a 2D RPG that hit stores a week before Final Fantasy VIII, and was therefore doomed. So-so graphics aside, though, it outclassed its flashier rival in just about every way that mattered. Want to lead a ragtag band of adventurers? Suikoden II tasks you with recruiting at least 108 of them, each with a memorable backstory, distinct personality and unique talents to ensure that you actually give a damn about each and every one. Want a cool airship to hang out in? No, you don't - not when you can have a full-sized castle that gradually turns into a palatial fortress with every new face that arrives.

Then there's the immensely satisfying turn-based battle system, which lets you wade into random encounters with a six-person party and smash your enemies with multi-character team attacks. That's bolstered by dramatic, rock-paper-scissors-style duels with major enemies, as well as occasional huge skirmishes between the enemy's army and whatever fanatically loyal soldiers your generals brought along when they joined up. These skirmishes are surprisingly emotional events, considering that they basically amount to electric football, as tiny, man-shaped blobs bounce off each other and die while your officers periodically pop up to ask for orders.

Of course, anyone who's played the game can tell you that it's the story that really makes the experience worthwhile. Suikoden II's plot is complicated, and emotionally wrenching if you let yourself to get sucked in; enemies become friends, friends become tragic villains and you'll watch the story unfold from both sides of the game's war. Fans of the first Suikoden can expect to see a ton of familiar faces show up, and the four distinct endings - one of which is arguably the saddest in RPG history - will give you a reason to play through again. The game's kind of rare, running anywhere from $50-$100 on eBay, but if you can snag a copy, you'll get so attached that you'll forget what a gunblade even is.