TAG Mount Rushmore – RPG, Golden Age

Introducing TAG Mount Rushmore

It’s been a while since we discussed our favorite titles from specific genres or time periods. One of our first posts covered fighting games and everything we love about button-mashing. Now that we are more seasoned in writing about games, we’ve decided to introduce a new series: TAG Mount Rushmore!

In this series, we’ll cover our favorite games across different video game eras and genres. To keep ourselves organized, we first defined our own eras. 

We are officially in the twilight years of the 8th generation of video games. On our end, we did some consolidation to come up with four generations from our lifetime.

Golden Age (“The Bit Era”)

This is what we grew up on. A step up from the simplistic Atari graphics, this era brought more pixels to the screen and catchy theme music.
Nintendo Entertainment System | Gameboy | Sega Genesis | Game Gear | Super Nintendo | Other 3rd + 4th gen consoles

3D Age (“The Disc Era”)

Gaming hardware was powerful enough at this stage to combine polygons together to form three-dimensional figures. We were introduced to movement in across three axes plus some additional buttons on our gamepad.
Playstation | Nintendo 64 | Dreamcast | Playstation 2 | Gamecube | Xbox | Other 5th + 6th gen consoles

MMO Age (“The Social Era”)

While Halo had great multiplayer in the prior age, this generation of consoles brought more features to the online gaming experience. Gamers began paying for access to Playstation Network and Xbox Live, creating an ecosystem of sharing the video game realm.
Xbox 360 | Playstation 3 | Wii | Other 7th gen consoles

Present Day (“The Greatness Awaits Era”)

Today’s gamers expect high-quality graphics, deep stories and rich character development. We should be nearing the end of this era and we’re excited to see what comes next.
Wii U | PS4 | Xbox One | Other 8th gen consoles

For future posts, we’ll do a quick reminder of our TAG eras. Let’s get to the featured topic of RPGs!

Role Playing Games

RPGs come in many different shapes and sizes. There are turn-based, action, mass-multiplayer, sandbox, and games that simply have RPG elements included in them. And that’s just the video games. 

RPGs can also come in the form of tabletop games, like the infamous Dungeon and Dragons, or card games like Killer Bunnies

To go a step further, some people like to dress up as characters and literally act as their own RPG. This is known as LARPing.

We’re just here for the video games.

That said, while Fred (Yoshyaes) has a greater love for RPG video games than Julian (Flashfx21), both have favorites from their childhoods. 

The Process

We ranked our favorite Bit Era RPGs individually and then come together to form a combined list. After assigning values for 1st through 4th place, we summed up their total score then ordered this list based on the total. 

Not surprisingly, we had a ton of overlap. In the future, we may bring more of our friends into the voting process to see if that generates a more diverse list. 

Without further ado, here is the TAG Mount Rushmore – Golden Age RPG Edition.

#1. Secret of Mana (SNES, 1993)
Julian (2nd), Fred (1st)

Secret of Mana is one of the top action-RPGs featuring an unlikely trio of protagonists. The game combines a common boy, a princess, and a sprite. 

The main character pulls a sword from a stone, unleashing a crew on monsters into the world. He’s told to visit the Mana Temples in order to collect the full strength of the sword. 

A sorcerer named Thanatos uses some kind of mind control to manipulate the good people of the Empire. Along the journey, they heroes collect weapons and level up their powers in order to defeat Thanatos. 

Julian’s Take: 

Even though I am ranking it 2nd, Secret of Mana, in my eyes is the perfect RPG. By that, I mean it is the perfect balance between traditional RPG elements in leveling, armor, weapons, dialogue, story, etc., while combining a combat system that is enjoyable and realistic. Keeping the fighting out of a battle/arena screens, the player is never removed from the action which leads to a more immersive experience. 

Fred and I beat this game together over the course of about 8 years. We started it one summer while home from college and were unable to finish. We got up to the last boss and got smashed over and over. 

After that summer, life happened and we ended up on different sides of the country. Finally, one winter holiday break while both of us were home visiting our parents, we decided to load the saved state. Following a few hours of playing and leveling up our characters, we obtained the final item needed to defeat the end boss, concluding our Secret of Mana saga. 

I’m surprised more games aren’t created in this image. The ability to switch between characters and drop in and out of the gameplay made this game flexible and fun. Since each character could wield every weapon, the decision to specialize members of your party for specific weapons was a fun addition to the grand strategy.  

Fred’s Take:

Secret of Mana does a fantastic job of creating a sandbox environment at a time when there wasn’t a ton of storage on the game cartridges. I’m a big fan of the real-time fighting system and the charge-up mechanic of the weapons.

It was never clear exactly how much ‘activity’ was required to level up a weapon or magic skill, but it always felt rewarding when one of these leveled up. I also appreciate the fast-travel via Flammie which allows characters to quickly move around the map.

The game certainly has it’s difficult parts, which generally required grinding out levels or using a specific magic combination. Still, SoM never felt “too grindy”. It was just the right amount of battling the same characters and moving on to more difficult beasts.

One of the biggest things for me was that the game freezes time while you opened the wheel-menu. I’m not ashamed to admit that we abused the hell out of this mechanic to spam certain bosses to death. If you like RPGs, this a is a must-play. 

#2. Pokemon Red/Blue (Gameboy, 1998)
Julian (1st) | Fred (4th)

You know the story. You want to be the very best… like no one ever was.

ash ketchum pokemon GIF

Playing the role of a surprisingly young child who leaves home, your quest is to catch all 151 pokemon. Along the way, he defeats gym leaders to earn badges, conquers the Elite Four, thwarts the plans of Team Rocket, and beats the living snot out of his rival at every given opportunity. If you owned a Gameboy, you owned a Pokemon game. 

In 2014, you may have even participated in the wildly popular social experiment, Twitch Plays Pokemon. According to Wikipedia, it holds the Guinness World Record for having “the most participants on a single-player online video game” with 1,165,140.

Julian’s Take: 

Yes, I was alive during the boom of Pokemon and got caught up in the hype. I would be hard pressed to think of someone from my age group who wasn’t. 

The game was just a piece of the larger phenomenon. From the cartoon show, to the toys, and playing (well collecting…who actually played the game with these?) cards. As for the game itself, it has since evolved into a much deeper game. 

However, this first generation took a simple rock-paper-scissors approach and slapped it on a game featuring over a 150 cute pets/death monsters. From the initial choice between Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur and spawn rates of rare Pokemon, each playthrough could be vastly different. 

This literally might be the only turn-based RPG I can tolerate from start to finish. With the added challenges like Nuzlocke and Monotype, I still find reasons to return to play this game.

Image result for wilder meme to this day

Fred’s Take:

It’s a simple premise but is a wildly addicting scenario. I remember spending several hours trying to catch a single Abra. It was all worth it when I had the telekinetic beast in my Pokedex.

Last year, I praised the resilience of the Pokemon franchise. The original game was especially exciting because you could play on the go. It made those long car rides all the more enjoyable.

I like that the major RPG elements of this game are tied to the Pokemon rather than the human. Sure, collecting badges lets you wield stronger monsters, but all the leveling up happened with the little guys in your pokeballs.

The game puts customization into the players’ hands by letting you choose which attacks your squad has. You could create some pretty OP Pokemon by assigning moves from three or four different elements.

One of the next games in my Switch backlog is Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu so hopefully I can compare that to the original sometime soon.

#3. Chrono Trigger (SNES, 1995)
Julian (4th) | Fred (2nd)

Some people say Chrono Trigger is the best Japanese RPG game of all time. Others go further to say it is the best video game, period. This type of praise holding up for over two decades is a testament to how good of a game Square released.

Chrono Trigger did seemingly everything right while introduce new mechanics and concepts. The game had time travel and multiple endings which were influenced by player decisions. Both of these were pioneering concepts for the video game industry. To do something first and also do it right isa rare combination. 

The characters included an “accomplished swordsman” frog and empathetic combat robot, among others. This game aged well so definitely check it out  if you have never had the pleasure.

Rather than watch someone play the game, just enjoy some of the best music ever put into a video game below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEoN_Xe-B-s

Julian’s Take: 

I must admit, I never beat this game. I’m not even sure how far I got. My last memory of the game was fighting a seemingly invincible boss for literally about 20 minutes. I was unsure if I was doing any meaningful damage and exhausted basically all my items to stay alive. I’m confident that wasn’t the boss of the game, though.

Even with that said, the experience that led up to that was magnificent. The story, characters, puzzles, and combat were all top notch.  

Fred’s Take:

I also never beat this one…feels bad.

What feels good though is the combat system. This was one of my first memories of a game which used real-time combat governed by a timer. It forced me to plan a few steps ahead while keeping track of what the enemies were doing.

I like the top-down view of the map, ability for the player to initiate the enemy battles the Tech combos which released devastating damage. It was also really cool to operate in different eras of the world.

#4. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES, 1996)
Julian (3rd) | Fred (unranked)

Taking inspiration from genre leader, Final Fantasy, Super Mario RPG created an experience with a Mario story attached to it. While it had turn-based combat, the view was isometric vs side or top down. 

The battles themselves weren’t derived from random encounters. Instead enemies appeared on the map view and could be avoided when possible, similar to Chrono Trigger. 

Julian’s Take: 

Super Mario RPG is further proof of my theory: X + Mario > X

Explained, adding Mario to pretty much any title makes it instantly better. From the plumber who managed to get kids interest in the less popular sports of golf and tennis, Mario RPG is no exception. 

Compared to other entries on our list, Super Mario RPG was a rather simple RPG. However, the thrill of seeing Mario team up with newcomers Geno and Mallow was an unforgettable experience. 

I never played the unofficial sequel, Paper Mario, but if Nintendo decided to release an iteration on the Switch I would be obligated to check it out.

Fred’s Take:

Mario literally gets to run around bopping enemies on the head with a hammer. There’s more to the game than this, but that’s really all you need. 

It was cool to see faux 3D graphics on a 16-bit system and the game had really humorous writing. 

I also appreciated being to create my own party and the fact that Square let’s Mario team up with his long-time rival, Bowser. Most Mario crossovers are great, and Super Mario RPG is no exception.

Honorable Mentions

Now that you know our list, it would only be right to discuss some honorable mentions before we get our very first hate mail.

Image result for kermit typing gif

Here are some great games that nearly made our list!

  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1991) – This game actually tied in ranking with Super Mario RPG as Fred ranked it 3rd. Introducing a new perspective, this third entry into the Zelda series provides another engaging experience.
  • Final Fantasy IV (SNES, 1991) – What would an RPG list be without a Final Fantasy game? Being synonymous with RPGs, this iteration even ranks among the best of the series
  • Phantasy Star IV (Genesis, 1993) – Before we are accused of having a Nintendo bias, we can’t forget about the consensus best RPG released on the Sega Genesis. The final iteration of a success series, Phantasy Star IV saved the best for last.
  • Secret of Evermore (SNES, 1995) – Similar to Secret of Mana but you had a dog/wolf as a companion instead of humans. Add to this a foraging system and you’ve got another great Square RPG.
  • Shadowrun (Genesis, 1994) – This one had more of a dark plot, with humans transforming into orcs and elves. The game combined detective elements with a unique combat mechanic using a cursor.
  • Shining Force (Genesis, 1992) – Another turn-based tactical role-playing game. What makes this one stand out is how the battles take place in a square grid, kind of like an early version of Mario + Rabbids.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Super Saiya Densetsu (SNES, 1992) – This DBZ title was actually really cool. The combat revolved around using cards and the game had the high-octane attack animations that were consistent with the tv show.
How’d we do?

What grade would you give our Mount Rushmore? Would you change any of our selections? Which game was your favorite RPG from the Bit Era? Let us know in the comments!

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