The Sega Dreamcast was not necessarily known for its wide library of great RPGs. Perhaps, this (the DC’s small RPG library) was due to a short lived life cycle, and to Sony’s dominance in that genre.
Still, Sega’s final machine did have some real gems, and we have taken up the task of listing the very best five according to critics of the era.
Editor’s note: The Shenmue series is not included in this list for two reasons. First, there is the “Shenmue is not an RPG” take that might have some validity. And second, Metacritic does not have the original Shenmue in its database, so it would be unfair for me to just list Shenmue II, while omitting the original.
In this case it was just best to leave the two games out (and avoid two separate controversies). In case you are curious, Shenmue II would have come in at number four in this listing.
*Some games were not taken into consideration as Metacritic does not list them.
5. Record of Lodoss War (2000) – Metacritic Score: 76
Having done an article about this game a few days ago, and reading your positive comments about it, there is no doubt in my mind that Record of Loddoss belongs here. As a diablo clone with a decent story set in Record of Lodoss’ fascinating universe, RoLW did not break the mold in the action-RPG genre.
Instead, the game offered hundreds (if not thousands) of enemies to kill, challenging bosses to conquer, and a gigantic world (by 1990s standards) to explore. Its poor frame rate (things did slow to a crawl) might have been a reason for critics not consistently scoring this game within the 80s range.
However, if you wanted pure hack, and slash action-RPG goodness on the Dreamcast, you couldn’t go wrong with the Record of Lodoss War: Advent of Cardice.
4. Phantasy Star Online Ver. 2 (2001) – Metacritic Score: 80
This is basically the same as the original game, but with new content, a raised level cap (200), improved systems, and new modes. Phantasy Star Online showed that action-RPGs could work over the net on consoles.
Ver 2. is a refinement of a winning formula that had players exploring an uncharted planet (in groups of 4) either online or offline. Players can customize their own avatar by choosing its race, skill set, appearance, etc.
3. Phantasy Star Online (2001) – Metacritic Score: 89
The Dreamcast shipped (in America) with a 56k Modem (Ah! The days of the good old dial-up!), and the system needed titles to justify the modem’s existence. While Phantasy Star Online arrived too late to make any palpable difference in the Dreamcast’s ill-fated fortunes, it was certainly an important title from a historic perspective.
Phantasy Star Online introduced DC console gamers to the world of online RPG gaming, and many became enchanted within a few hours of exploring this beautiful virtual world. At the time, games like Everquest were popular on PC, PSO offered us (console “peasants”) the opportunity to socialize with friends while killing monsters and seeking treasures within a virtual fantasy land.
While it wasn’t a perfect experience, critics and gamers alike recognized what PSO was trying to achieve, and I believe that its 89 rating was more than justified.
2. Grandia II (2000) – Metacritic: 90
A lot of people don’t know this, but Grandia II sold better (200,000 copies to 90,000) than Skies of Arcadia (which is why we eventually got Grandia III). In terms of greatness, I believe Arcadia is the better title, but Grandia II was an amazing game in its own right.
The poor sales on the Dreamcast are a reflection of the system’s own massive commercial struggles, and the fact that the vast majority of J-RPG fans waited to purchase PlayStation 2 instead.
Grandia II on the Dreamcast was a blast (the PS2 port is an abomination in terms of visuals and performance). Grandia II featured beautiful visuals, incredible voice acting, the innovative fast paced turn based system that the first game pioneered, and an engrossing character driven tale.
Grandia II was one of the best reasons to own a DC for JRPG fans at the time.
1. Skies of Arcadia (2000) – Metacritic: 93
Skies of Arcadia is criminally underrated (by a large segment of gamers), largely because no one has played the game. Thankfully, critics recognized it for the absolute masterpiece that it is. Skies of Arcadia is not only the greatest Dreamcast RPG ever, but it also has a strong case for being the very best J-RPG from that PS2/Xbox/DC/GC era.
Skies of Arcadia, at least to me, back in 2000 was the most magical game that I had played since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Its visuals were jaw-dropping, and the open skies (or illusion of it) made it one of the more daring adventures of its time.
I did not even mind the high frequency of random encounters (they only helped my party to get stronger), or the lack of voice acting, Skies of Arcadia was exactly everything that a J-RPG was supposed to be: A visually stunning adventure fueled by likable characters, that had been trusted into a world saving quest while being persecuted by the Evil Valuan Empire.
Truly, the stuff of cliches, but Skies of Arcadia made it feel fresh.
Even the ship battles (which at times were too drawn out) were fun, for the most part. Vyse, Fina, and Aika’s quest deserves a play-through by any self respecting JRPG fan.
Unfortunately, Sega has all but forgotten this property, and if there was ever an RPG from the Golden Era that deserved a remake/remaster, it is this one. I will beat the drums for a Skies of Arcadia remaster ’til the day that I die, as I truly want this on Switch to play at my leisure in HD.
The critics weren’t wrong here, Skies of Arcadia is the Dreamcast’s greatest RPG (some would say ‘game’) of all time.
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