Along with the flood of remakes and ports of the year, 2008 also saw some very original RPGs. Some were impossible to understand until you played them and others left you wondering why it's taken so long to see a game like this before. Here are our most original games of 2008.
Enough can never be said about The World Ends With You's originality. There's the modern-day setting with the ability to shift fashion trends. There's the bizarre and unique premise of a parallel universe full of newly deceased people trying desperately for a second chance at life. There's the dual-screen, touch-based battle system. There's the urban soundtrack. There isn't an aspect of this Square Enix title that doesn't flip some cliché of the RPG genre on its head. The best part is that it all fits. It's not just original for the sake of it, as it feels refreshing instead of gimmicky. Definitely a breath of fresh air from all the remakes and ports the company released in the same year.
There isn't much about Baroque that is not original. The setting is an alternate future where reality itself has been shredded and distorted. The resulting world features disturbingly animated foes that are twisted amalgamations of flesh and metal, monochrome colors, a heavy grain filter on the screen, and a warped group of insane NPCs who are just as likely to lie to you as they are to assist you. The plot is progressed by entering the game's one dungeon repeatedly until the unknown conditions for triggering the next story segment are met. The background score is mostly choral chanting and mechanical clanking rather than anything resembling music. The items found in the dungeon are never described — you are expected to try everything out to see if it helps, hinders, or outright kills you. They range from unusual objects like music boxes and parasites to more standard ones like swords and armor. Health is regained by eating monster flesh, and in a pinch rotten flesh can be eaten to restore life and lower your stats. It's like Sting took every aspect of the game, tried to see how messed up and bizarre it could be made, then built an addictive dungeon crawler around it.
Given the costs of production today, few publishers and developers are willing to take a risk on a new, untried formula. However, that did not stop Sega from making one of the most original battle systems seen this year. Valkyria Chronicles's unique battle system is best described as a combination of turn based strategy RPG and first person shooter. On paper it looks questionable, but once in front of the game, there is no denying that these elements go together like peanut butter and jelly. The outstanding presentation, a rarity in RPGs, contributes in making Valkyria Chronicles one of the most original RPGs of 2008.
by Glenn Wilson, Ethan Pipher, Phillip Willis, Michael Cunningham