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Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham's 2008 Halftime Report
1st Half
RPGs Not to Miss
1Rondo of Swords
2Persona 3 Fes
3Lost Odyssey
4Final Fantasy Tactics A2
5Crisis Core - Final Fantasy VII

I would have never expected with a first half littered with big name titles that a little-known tactical RPG from Atlus would have taken me completely by storm. I got my hands on Rondo of Swords and just could not put it down. This little game has been proclaimed as a Fire Emblem wannabe and as a game that is too difficult to complete. I take issue with both of those statements. The graphical aspect of Rondo could easily draw reference to the GBA Fire Emblem titles, but that is where the similarities stop. Rondo of Swords is a hardcore tactical game with a completely unique and engaging combat system that is nothing like anything else to date. Characters attack via paths instead of just moving next to an enemy to smash them. The game is quite challenging, but not to a fault. It just takes time to unlearn what you have learned about tactical RPGs. Rondo of Swords is a criminally underplayed title. Any fan of tactical RPGs would be doing themselves an injustice by not picking this game up.

My second pick is more of a shock to me than it would be fans of the game. I actually bought Persona 3 when it was released last year, but I never did get around to playing it. The release of Persona 3 Fes and the fact that my PS2 was finally free of other games meant that I was finally able to try it out and see if it really lived up to the hype. It does and then some. I'm truly ashamed to have not played this game sooner. The game's story is one of the most believable in recent memory. I'm not saying that I really believe that a Dark Hour exists, merely that the characters all seem very real and act in ways that seem plausible. The addictive aspect of the game's social link system combined with the amazing story is a winning combination. I will easily buy Persona 4 with no hesitation if Atlus deems us worthy.

Third place goes to Lost Odyssey. Where I went into Blue Dragon with hopes higher than the game could possibly have met, I eyed Mistwalker's second big budget North American title with a little more hesitancy. With my expectation lower, I was not disappointed. The game is very solid all the way through. Sadly, the game breaks no new ground in terms of innovation, but it brings a classic RPG feel to the current generation without feeling out of date like so many other games have. The emotional Thousand Years of Dreams sequences, Nobuo Uematsu's outstanding soundtrack, and Jansen help bring Lost Odyssey is the front my gaming picks for the first half.

Though it has only been out for a few days, I'm already addicted to Final Fantasy Tactics A2. While it doesn't quite fill the void that a brand new Final Fantasy Tactics sequel would, it does improve greatly on the addictive nature of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The massive amount of job classes will likely keep me busy for quite some time.

My final entry is Crisis Core. Not for one second do I think that Crisis Core is a perfect game, but despite its faults, it does many things right. The soundtrack is amazing and I cannot get "Why" out of my head. One of the finest Japanese theme songs I've ever listened to, and I've listened to my fair share. The soundtrack combined with the story gaps that Crisis Core fills in helps it to earn this final spot on my list of games not to miss so far this year.

2nd Half
Most Wanted RPGs
1Infinite Undiscovery
2Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled
3The Last Remnant
4ASH - Archaic Sealed Heat
5Final Fantasy IV

The idea of having your actions in a game change the environment sounds like the very definition of a role-playing game. It also sounds like a feat that will be difficult to accomplish in an efficient manner. Doubts aside, claims that Infinite Undiscovery will attempt to do this has me very interested. I like the idea of a fast-paced RPG where there are times when you have to escape from powerful enemies instead of fighting them. I still have a lot of questions like "will this be the first tri-Ace RPG that I really enjoy?" and "can this idea really work as well as they hope?" but I'm excited to find out. The gameplay just sounds so unique.

Traveling to the opposite spectrum to a classic RPG, my second place pick is Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, formerly known as Project Exile. This RPG from start-up company Studio Archcraft appears to focus on story while having a solid foundation for combat and is very appealing to me. The little part of me that always wanted to design my own RPG from the ground up just screams out in joy at the thought of someone actually breaking through and doing just that. With so little known about Black Sigil, there could be many flaws or this could be a fantastic retro-style RPG. Either way, I'm very enthusiastic to get my hands on this.

A new Square Enix IP? This is always a scary proposition, but The Last Remnant appears to have had a lot of effort put into it. From a company with a track record of remaking and porting older titles, seeing a brand new title from them is a appealing. The Last Remnant looks to go beyond just a quick gaming fix between Final Fantasy titles; it appears to be a solid RPG with the potential of growing far beyond this single entry.

Is Archaic Sealed Heat coming to North America after selling horribly in Japan? While Nintendo has neither confirmed or denied its chances, the fact that the ESRB rated the game gave me enough hope to place it on my list. I strongly support innovation within RPGs and ASH looks to bring that in the form of blending a tactical RPG with traditional turn-based combat. The reviews out of Japan were fairly positive from the media, but the sales weren't. Regardless, I would be glad to help support Mistwalker if it means further handheld titles.

Last on my list is the DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. I'm a huge fan of the game, having played every version that's hit North American shores and having imported the Japanese DS version. My only reasoning for this title not being higher on my list is that I've already played it in Japanese and know what to expect. That doesn't change the fact that I'm thrilled to follow Cecil and Kain on this same adventure once more.

I was honestly hoping for a surprise announcement of Persona 4, Luminous Arc II, or Fire Emblem DS, but it just wasn't in the cards. That being said, we do have a rather interesting year in the making so far. While my hopes are not high for big E3 announcements, anything is possible, but for now I shall continue to tout the glory of Rondo of Swords while awaiting Infinite Undiscovery and Black Sigil.

- Macstorm
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