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Xbox 360: The King of RPGs?

A few years ago, when the original Xbox was competing against the Playstation 2, there was one genre that Microsoft just couldn't compete in: RPGs. While Playstation 2 owners were playing RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Suikoden III, Xenosaga, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, Dark Cloud and Kingdom Hearts, Xbox owners kept waiting not just for a "good" RPG to come along but for "any" RPG to come along. Of course, there was the release of Elder Scrolls: Morrowind in the summer of 2002 that filled the void a bit but it was still kind of a niche title for console RPG fans since it was a PC RPG series that most console RPG fans were not familiar with. Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance was another one that came out during that time but the game was more akin to Diablo than an epic RPG like Final Fantasy.

The RPG drought finally ended for Xbox owners with the release of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in July 2003. Finally Xbox owners had an RPG to sink their teeth into. Afterwards came a few other RPGs such as Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords, Sudeki, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, Jade Empire and Fable. Although many of those RPGs were quality titles and generally well-received, Xbox owners still felt like something was missing. What was missing was a TRUE Japanese RPG. The Xbox is now pretty much a dead system and there is still not a single Japanese RPG available on the system in English (unless you push it and really want to count Phantasy Star Online or Shenmue as a traditional Japanese-style RPG).

Obviously, one would think that for a fan of Japanese RPGs, the choice of a next-generation system would be an easy one. You gotta go with Sony! Well, it might not be as simple as it seems. Although the original Xbox has not gotten a single Japanese RPG in its 5+ years of existence, the future looks much brighter for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console.

Only four months after the release of the system, the Xbox 360 got its first RPG with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a masterpiece of an RPG that took graphics to a whole new level and managed to win over quite a few Japanese RPG fans (including yours truly). Two months after that, Final Fantasy XI was released on the system and although it IS a Japanese RPG and it IS a Final Fantasy title, it's still not exactly considered a traditional Japanese-style RPG since it's an MMORPG. However, it does fill a void in the MMORPG realm.

Then, as if that wasn't enough, nine months after the release of the system, a Japanese RPG was actually released in English on a Microsoft console. Enchanted Arms may not be the cream of the crop when it comes to Japanese RPGs but it's still a pretty solid title and a welcome addition for RPG-starved Xbox fans. Since then, another RPG came out in October with the release of Phantasy Star Universe which actually serves as both a single-player RPG and an online RPG. If you've followed so far, this means that a total of 4 RPGs were released within the first year of this system. I'm not sure any console has ever achieved this, except for the Playstation 2 with Ephemeral Fantasia, Summoner, Evergrace and Eternal Ring, which I guess HAVE to be considered RPGs even though they are nowhere near the same league as Oblivion, Final Fantasy XI, Enchanted Arms and Phantasy Star Universe.

This brings us to the future of RPGs on the Xbox 360. Starting in August 2007 and through the rest of the year, 360 owners will be blessed with no fewer than 3 more RPGs: Eternal Sonata, Mass Effect and Blue Dragon. From what we've seen and heard so far, it seems like all 3 of these titles will be quality RPGs or at least we sure hope so. I never thought I'd see the day where I'd have too many RPGs to play on a Microsoft console but that's exactly what's going to happen soon. With RPGs like Lost Odyssey and Fable 2 on the horizon as well, I'm really enthusiastic about the future of the Xbox 360 as a console for RPG fans, which is something that not many people could have predicted a few years ago.

While it appears as though Microsoft is off to a great start with the Xbox 360, there are still many hurdles to be overcome. First and foremost is the fact that the Xbox 360 still does not have a killer RPG from the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series which is pretty much a necessity if it's ever going to be popular in Japan. Until that happens, Microsoft will never really be known as the king of RPGs.

- Eric Farand



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