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Helen's Mysterious Castle


Helen's Mysterious Castle

Playism is known for localizing and publishing odd little gems. One that came across my review pile was Helen's Mysterious Castle, a game made with an older version of RPGMaker. RPGMaker titles tend to get a lot of flak, but this game had a lot of heart and soul, while being challenging enough to keep the player guessing from beginning to end. Not only was it full of intricate maps, but the puzzles were even well thought-out. Again, did I mention this is an RPGMaker game? Yeah, colour me surprised as well.

Helen's Mysterious Castle is one of those smaller titles I tend not to forget about because it offered so much challenge and variety in one very compact package. The battle system is based on a timer, requiring the players to do a little bit of math to get the timing just right, and it shows a lot of creativity. For the price of two dollars, I urge you after reading this feature to go and grab a copy. Its TWO DOLLARS, PEOPLE! - Sam Wachter


Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics


Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics

There have been a lot of variations on the tactical formula over the years, and I've played most of them in one fashion or another. Most of the better variations have seen many iterations, revisions, and clones, but this is one that no one's ever tried to emulate. Kakurenbo Battle Monster Tactics is a weirdly fun blend of stealth action and tactical combat that is openly based on Hide and Seek. It's even in the title, if you wondered what that Japanese word means. Imagine a deep, dark dungeon, with the only light being that which the heroes carry with them. Monsters roam the corridors, but everyone plays by strict rules of vision and line-of-sight. A good lookout spot can win you the battle, while ignoring the shadows can bring ruin.

It's hard to see why no one ever tried something like this in the decade and a half since it was first published for the GameBoy Color. The towns were cookie-cutter and the story was practically non-existent, but the levels more than made up for it in challenge and experience. I still have two copies of this one in my game bag, in the vain hope of finding someone else with a working GameBoy SP who wants to play the game's versus mode. - Michael Baker


Jeanne d'Arc


Jeanne d'Arc

I was late to owning a PlayStation Portable. In fact, it was Editor-in-Chief, Michael Cunningham's insistent fanboying of the system which caused me to buy one so late in its cycle. One of the first titles he recommended I try was Jeanne d'Arc, an SRPG that reimagines the life of Joan of Arc. I was smitten with the idea behind this game, as the Joan of Arc story is a favourite of mine. What I got was one of the most unique reimagining's I'd ever seen.

Jeanne d'Arc is one of those games that offers the perfect blend of great storytelling and engaging combat. It's an SRPG that really requires players to think deeply about position and battle tactics, and it's definitely got a rewarding challenge. This is easily one of my favourite one shot games just because it's the complete package for me in terms of what makes a great SRPG, and it has a musical score and graphical quality that just completes the presentation in such a swoon-worthy way. Jeanne d'Arc is one of those games lost in the grand scheme of RPG history, and it's a shame, because it's near perfection. - Sam Wachter


Lost Odyssey


Lost Odyssey

A console that suffered from a severe lack of JRPGs by the end of its lifecycle, the Xbox 360 was the killer app when it came to the genre at the start of its life versus the PlayStation 3. Spearheading this effort were titles like Namco Bandai's Tales of Vesperia and Eternal Sonata along with two titles from new start-up Mistwalker - formed from ex-Square visionary Hironobu Sakaguchi of Final Fantasy fame. Blue Dragon was the first of these titles, a Dragon Quest-inspired game with character designs by Akira Toriyama. The second was one of my absolute favourite games on the console, Lost Odyssey. If Blue Dragon was based on Dragon Quest, Lost Odyssey was definitely inspired by Sakaguchi's magnum opus of Final Fantasy.

Following a group of immortals known pretty simply as Immortals, the game talks a lot about loss, life, and love. The main character, Caim, also has flashbacks presented in a visual novel style called "The Thousand Years of Dreams" which are different stories of his life. Most are poignant and quite a few got me to cry pretty easily. Sadly the rest of the story falls into Saturday morning cartoon fare, with a pretty uninspired villain and a bit of a contrived conflict in order to move the Immortals towards a goal besides just living. The combat is generic turn-based fare with a row system where front-row characters use their health to defend the back row from attacks. A small active element comes into battle with the Ring System — by holding down the right trigger button, you can get proc different effects of rings that you equip. Most of the customisation comes from learning skills from the mortal characters in the party who learn their skills from crafted rings (that then feed into the Ring System in battle).

Though Mistwalker didn't make any more games for the 360, the impact and influence of Lost Odyssey can be felt in their later games. Both The Last Story for Wii and Terra Battle for mobile phones share much more in common with Lost Odyssey than with Blue Dragon in terms of its character design and atmospheric milieu. The way dialogue is presented in Terra Battle is very akin to that of "The Thousand Years of Dreams". If you enjoy well-crafted characters (minus the main villain) and an engaging turn-based battle system, definitely pick up Lost Odyssey for your 360. It's an excellent addition to a JRPG library that has a lot of heavy hitters on a console that didn't see enough of them. - Shannon Harle



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