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Glenn "7thCircle" Wilson's 2008 Halftime Report
1st Half
RPGs Not to Miss
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In the last year or two, the small handful of publishers localizing Japanese RPGs for us English speakers have revved up their engines and are now firing on all cylinders, releasing JRPGs in America like crazy. More JPRGs have come out in the last six months than what would previously come out in a year. Atlus and Square Enix lead the pack, having each released over five games so far in 2008. Being human, and thus requiring things like sleep, food, and a job to provide them, I have yet to play all of the twenty or so RPGs which have come out this year, but I will quickly run down the most important ones.

First is both the best game and the best value. Persona 3 was easily my favorite game in 2007, and P3:FES is like an expansion pack with countless tiny additions and gameplay tweaks along with a new 30 hour long campaign. Chances are that anyone reading individual staff halftime reports on RPGamer has also read volumes about P3 and its excellence. Etrian Odyssey II, however, is such a niche game that it could wrongfully coast under many a reader's radar. Much was made of Etrian Odyssey's difficulty, but it was the exploration, openness and variety of the possible party formations, and constant feel of discovery that made it great. Etrian Odyssey II takes the same proven formula into a new labyrinth, rearranges the classes, and makes some minor gameplay changes and interface improvements.

Moving away from expansion-like games, Lost Odyssey is a completely new RPG produced by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Honestly, I have yet to play it, but so many praises were heaped upon it that Lost Odyssey became the straw that broke the camel's back -- largely because of this one game, I finally purchased a Xbox 360 and will be picking the system up the first week of July. Likewise, I have yet to experience Final Fantasy Tactics A2, it not being available yet, although I can fully recommend it based on the strength of the first two Final Fantasy Tactics games. The last unmissable title is Baroque. Like Etrian Odyssey II, it is a niche game, however, unlike Etrian Odyssey II, the harsh difficulty is a legitimate reason for people to shun it. Personally, I loved the game, and have already written out my thoughts on it here.

2nd Half
Most Wanted RPGs
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Planned for release in the second half of this year are several remakes and ports of highly rated games, a few new entries in established series, plus a large number of original IPs. I expect the upcoming months' gaming highlights to come from Japanese dream development teams and Western RPG developers.

Bethesda Game Studios is one of the few top-tier, successful development studios still creating Western-style RPGs with open, nonlinear gameplay. Oblivion's world was expansive and beautiful, but the numerous quests were each individually linear. In my imagination, Fallout 3 will combine the Fallout series' truly nonlinear plot, quests, and NPC interactions with Oblivion's large and gorgeous world. I think Bethesda can do it, and if it is done to perfection, this could realistically be one of the best video games ever made.

Like Bethesda, BioWare is a Western RPG developer with a rich past who somehow weathered the PC storm and managed not to go bankrupt earlier this decade when it was the trendy thing to do. I expect Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood to be similar to Super Mario RPG: a game created by experienced RPG makers who take an unlikely license and craft a unique, excellent game out of it. I am particularly excited as a BioWare fan, since this opens the door for them to keep creating DS titles, and hence possibly develop more than one game every two years.

ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat and Little King's Story are two RPGs each created by a dream mix of recognized Japanese game designers. ASH is a tactical RPG, which is a subgenre I can never get enough of, and Little King's Story is a simulation. To put it bluntly, Japanese game studios are awful at creating simulations, and when I'm in the mood for simming, I always pick up a Western game. Hopefully, Little King's Story will be a glorious exception.

Last is Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, the little engine that could. Created by a small, new developer, it made my list mostly out of wishful thinking and a love for new IPs. Please be great! I want you to be great!

In short, I am genuinely excited about this year. While that may sound like a normal statement coming from a media-type, it is unusual for me; I rarely succumb to hype for games which are not out yet. So take care, appreciate a good time for RPGs when it hits, and keep a list of games you did not have time to play for when it ends.

~7thCircle
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