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Short RPGs for fun and profit

posted on May 28th, 2008 by chris

Almost a month ago, Persona 3: FES was released. It not only contains the definitive version of my favorite RPG, but it has an extra “epilogue” chapter as well.

This is a cause for much rejoicing. I started playing it immediately, and so far I’d say I would pay the $30 just for the improved first game. But herein lies the problem, and the crux of this article: It has been a month and I am still playing it. Not only that, I’m still in the first section; the remake.

I love RPGs. I love playing lots of RPGs. But I also like having time for other, trivial things, like working, sleeping, eating, and the occasional shower. Most games in the genre are long; sometimes the length necessary for fleshing out the story, but more often it is just padding. Over the past couple of years alone, I’ve completed more than a few RPGs that clocked in at 60 or more hours. While I like a great story, I also like to finish the stories and this kind of length just isn’t very conducive to that.

So here I’ve put together a few suggestions of games that aren’t quite as insurmountable in scale. And it goes without saying that because I recommend these games, they all have good music. Playing through all of these in succession would take me about as long as Persona 3.

Final Fantasy Legend: The first Game Boy RPG may not be the most complex game, but there are still a few good reasons to recommend it. First – it’s among the shortest on the list, at a little over 10 hours long. It is exploration-oriented and the tower around which the game revolves has more than a few mysterious rooms that serve no purpose other than to give the game atmosphere. Practically no characterization, but who cares when most of your party is disposable? If there’s a weapon you can think of, you can get your hands on it – you may well be chainsawing through wizards or gunning down dragons with heavy artillery.

Suikoden (1 & 2): Both of these games are short and sweet. If you haven’t played them before, they may take you 20 and 25 hours respectively – if you really take your time. Each has a huge cast of characters, many of which are entertaining, in a semi-realistic setting. These two are miniature war epics, so you can expect larger-than-life heroes with reasonable motivations. What’s more, they build on each other somewhat – though good separately, they are even better when played in succession.

Good news – the first Suikoden is rumored to be coming out for PSN sometime soon.
Bad news – Suikoden 2 is very expensive.

Persona 1: Unlike its incredibly lengthy successors, the first entry is surprisingly short. I finished it in around 25 hours. Great characters (including a particularly good villain) round out an original story and atmosphere, but battles are unnecessarily complex. It’s a pretty rare and expensive game, but Atlus has been kind to us lately – perhaps they’ll negotiate a PSN deal?

Destiny of an Emperor: If you like to fight, fight, fight with a whole ton of names, a good deal of strategy, and a dozen or so ruthless warlords, here is the NES game for you. Based in an alternate history of Three Kingdoms where the “good guys” do everything and can’t be beat, it’s light on plot. It does have recruitable enemy generals and some hidden content, though. Because of those features and the very fast pace of the game, it remains pretty accessible today.

Chrono Trigger: I generally avoid the “usual suspects” because if you are on the internet, you read a dozen recommendations for them every day. Chrono Trigger really is great – even Jay agrees! CT may well be the longest game on the list, but its pace and overall quality stand out. If you can, play the SNES version since the PSX remake has annoying load times.

These are just a few of the short RPGs I’ve enjoyed. If you branch out into the 30+ hour range, dozens of RPGs would join this list. Thankfully, we haven’t seen many that are longer than Persona 3. While I like the idea of a game that would use over a hundred hours to develop a really amazing story, I don’t know if I could bring myself to play any game for that long.

7 Comments

  1. lordyuanshu said on May 30, 2008:

    I agree with you Niahak, this is my pet peeve with RPG’s nowadays…they’re just all so damn long. I just finished up FES (just the Journey part mind you) in around 100 hours.

  2. pat said on May 30, 2008:

    100 hours? geez, that would take me a year.

  3. TrueTallus said on June 2, 2008:

    Persona 3 isn’t just your favorite RPG on PS2, it’s your favorite RPG EVER? That’s some high praise coming from an aficionado. Guess I’ll have to stop worrying that it can’t possibly keep being as fun and fresh as I’ve found it so far and plunge back into it- there’s so much to do and the game is clearly so long that I put it on hold for fear I wasn’t playing it right and missing so many opportunity that the game would be crippled later. Maybe I’ve played to many survival horror games, but the natural limitations in place by having a schedule make me feel like I’m letting parts of the game slip that are invaluable because I want to be everywhere and do everything. I’m already four or five weeks into the in-game school year and I still feel like I’m scrabbling around madly trying to get my a routine down while the world passes me by. I suppose it’s a sign of a good game though, when it’s so full that you actually can’t do everything you want to do because there isn’t the time to do it:)

    As far as your actual list goes, Chris, FFL is an RPG for the original green and grey gameboy, right? Am I correct in assuming that it will work in my GBA SP?

    I also wanted to add another potential good short RPG to the list for those who are interested. If played the right way (only fighting random encounter when you want to because you should never, outside of the very beginning and a couple of minutes in the prison as Zach, have to) FF8 is a great RPG that clocks in at about 20 hours. You can enjoy all the shining (though now dated) presentation and charming angst of Square’s finest condensed to a it’s base elements of story and exploration without having to fight any unnecessary battles.

  4. chris said on June 2, 2008:

    TT: My favorite RPG tends to shift around, but for the past year or so it’s been hovering pretty close to P3. The game is slow for a while, but it has the best characters of any RPG I’ve seen. Unfortunately it’s just so huge it’s hard to imagine playing through it again for a year or so. In the end that might make it somewhat less appealing.

    FFL will work on a GBA SP.

    On another note, P3:FES is the only game where I’ve seen packaging understate the number of hours. I remember fondly when CT’s packaging claimed it had 60 hours of gameplay (or something ridiculous), then I finished it in less than half that. P3 claims to have 70 hours of gameplay, but I think my first playthrough was a bit longer.

    I need to get a copy of FF8. That and FF9 I haven’t played through all the way, and I want to at some point.

  5. jay said on June 2, 2008:

    FF8…shudder…

    Panzer Dragoon Saga is about 15 hours long and widely available. No, wait, the other thing. Painfully rare.

  6. GnaM said on June 4, 2008:

    I wholly agree with the length of RPG’s being the problem. However, I don’t think the solution is short overall games, I think the solution is to cut down on the filler and the needless repetition. So much of most RPG’s are not “quality time” spent on things like story, strategy, and exploration, but time spent on things like repeating the same mindless random encounters over and over, grinding levels, and farming items. I’d prefer RPG’s to trim the filler out and focus more on the meat.

  7. chris said on June 4, 2008:

    GnaM: I agree entirely. Grinding is something I don’t really like – but then, I don’t like games to be really easy either – a choice between grinding and working out a strategy is okay with me, because I enjoy strategy.

    Shorter games alone aren’t the answer – my favorite RPG is P3 and it’s large in scale. With less “filler” (particularly the worst kinds – load times, for example) games can be made a lot better without getting too long.

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