So, it is hard to believe, but it has been a quarter century since 1998. I have very fond memories, perhaps my fondest memories, as a gamer are from that year.
While most of my time was spent playing (oh blessed days!) WCW/NWO Revenge, Ocarina of Time, and Golden Eye. I did play some JRPGs of the day on my PlayStation, as well.
Here are some of the JRPGs that stuck out the most (to me) in 1998, and beyond, which were released during that year. There is no particular order here, just a list of games and what they meant to me at the time.
Alundra (Working Designs/PS1)
With The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (my most anticipated game ever) a long ways off from early 1998, Alundra was an interesting proposition for my gaming interests. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until Ocarina of Time’s release that I became interested in action-RPGs. Therefore, I wouldn’t play Alundra until a few years later.
Alundra was the closest (in fact, it is a clone) Zelda like action-RPG available on any 32-64 bit era system. Alundra did have something’s going for it that Zelda, at the time, didn’t. So, if I had played this in 1998, it would have likely been my 2nd favorite game of the year.
It was very difficult. Featuring some head scratching puzzles, and hellish boss battles, Alundra might have been the most difficult Action-RPG on home consoles long before Demon Souls became a thing (on PS3).
The game also featured the excellent Working Designs writing, and a storyline full of death and tragedy. Just the way I like my Action-RPGs!
The Granstream Saga (THQ/PS1)
This my favorite ‘bad’ game ever. The Granstream Saga can be considered a ‘guilty pleasure’ of mine. It is a game that had many flaws, but also, many unique elements to its storyline, gameplay, and visuals.
Marketed as the “First 3-D Action-RPG” ever, The Granstream Saga beat Ocarina of Time (and Brave Fencer Musashi) out of the gates by 3-4 months. Needless to say, I dove into this game with some high expectations.
Unfortunately, The game fell flat on most of these expectations. The Granstream Saga has an amazing storyline that deals with reincarnation, and the game actually lets you decide between two love interests. A choice which directly affects the well done full animated ending. This was something odd in Japanese Role-Playing Games in 1998, and freedom of choice within RPGs coming from that side of the world continues to be a rarity these days.
The problem with said storyline is that it is poorly written, possessing nearly zero character development. Therefore, it is maddening to play such an interesting storyline with so much wasted potential. The game, being an early 3-D PS1 title, also has plenty of 3-D glitches, and missing details (such as character faces on the 3-D models).
But this was 1998, and it was the PlayStation. Within that context, a fully 3-D polygonal game like The Granstream Saga was quite a feat. I must mention that the game’s combat system, which would months later be rendered ‘obsolete’ by Ocarina of Time’s own real time system, was quite fun and impressive at the time of the game’s release.
You could move, block and counter attack in real-time, and in the early days of the 3-D JRPGs this was a welcome change from the inordinate amount of turn based games on the market.
Xenogears might be the one game that rivaled (and some say surpassed) Final Fantasy VII, in terms of the mind-blowing greatness of its storyline. Xenogears was a long awaited title that almost didn’t make it stateside thanks to its ‘mature’ topics, and references to the evils of organized religion.
Xenogears is all about its storyline, and you get about 80 hours of it. The last chunk of the game is greatly rushed (as Squaresoft forced its development team to finish the game, or risk an incomplete release), but when everything else is so well made, and ambitious, a rushed last quarter of the game, is much more forgivable.
Xenogears turn-based combat was fun, and it even featured giant mech battles as a regular part of its gameplay goodness. Some of these battles were action oriented and took place in free-roaming open spaces which added flavor to the rest of the gameplay package.
The game’s music will forever hold a place in the halls of the JRPG music nirvana, and the game’s visuals were top notch in 1998. Low-key, Xenogears might be the best Traditional JRPG of 1990s.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo/N64)
Every other game on this list sat on my tv shelf collecting dust after I first inserted Ocarina’s golden cartridge on my Nintendo 64. Quite simply, there was no game, nothing really, that came close to Ocarina’s grandeur, massive world size, and just plain adventuring fun. In my life there was a ‘before’ Ocarina of Time, and an ‘after’ Ocarina of Time way in which I saw the world of video games.
Nintendo brilliantly translated the Action-RPG formula that it had perfect in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and A Link’s Awakening into the more magical 3rd dimension. Nintendo even added gameplay, and design conventions that would later become a standard in open world games.
I played Ocarina of Time religiously all the way until Twilight Princess in 2006! Talk about the best game of 1998!
Brave Fencer Musashi (Square Soft/PS1)
Given the proximity in which this game was launched to Ocarina of Time, I did not play BFM in 1998. That said, when I did, I found a charming, and humorous action-RPG that was worth a play-through. While I haven’t touched Musashi in years, I would recommend this title to anyone who has an interest in PS1 era JRPGs.
The game also has aged well in terms of monetary value with copies of it going for $200 on Amazon. Musashi was definitely one of the more unique action-RPG experiences available on Sony’s freshman console.
Parasite Eve (Squaresoft/PS1)
Parasite Eve was Square Enix’s attempt at a survival horror RPG. In my opinion, the company succeeded with flying colors. It is hard to envision this now, but once upon a time in the mid to late 1990s, Squaresoft (Now Square Enix), seldom missed the excellence mark with its JRPGs.
Parasite Eve was the company’s first rated ‘M’, and it had a deeper plot than the Resident Evils of the day, and a much more impressive cinematic presence. Parasite Eve was scary, moody, and thought provoking. It was also a fairly short game which bode well for me since I had an addiction to the aforementioned (Nintendo 64) Golden Eye in 1998.
In 2023, I wish Square Enix looks back at their catalogue and deliver a proper remake of this title. I think its storyline would do well today with modern graphics and an epic sound score.
Other Games That I Didn’t List
Suikoden II comes to mind. It wasn’t a big hit back in the day, but it was well received by critics, and it was certainly one of the best JRPGs around. Saturn Fans had Shining Force III to contend with, and Final Fantasy fans had Final Fantasy Tactics which is now regarded as one of the greatest games to bear the Final Fantasy title in history.
There were other 1998 JRPG titles that I didn’t get to play, and would love to experience someday. Let us know which were your favorite RPGs of the 1998 on our social media platforms!
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