RPGs, Old and New – Two RPGs, a quick Review

dark-spireboxI’ve been spending some quality time with my new DSi lately playing through games of a favorite genre, the role playing game. However, that genre is quite broad and can often be placed into two camps, what I call old-school RPGs (as could be found in the 80s and 90s on computers) and ones commonly found on modern console systems often made in Japan, sometimes abbreviated jRPGs. While playing through The Dark Spire and Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier . Even the length of the names gives you a clue as to which is which. The Dark Spire is an homage to old-school RPGs while Super Robot Taisen is through and through jRPG. Both games have their advantages and disadvantages, but I more often found myself drawn to The Dark Spire.

The Dark Spire is old school in almost every way. Roll up a party of four characters from various races and four different character classes. Equip them at the store and then head into the Tower, the game’s only dungeon type setting. As you quest, the characters gain experience and can level up their skills, classes, and even their raw ability scores. In fact, the game is so retro RPG, there is even a special mode that displays the Tower dungeon in a truly ugly line-drawn outline manner. Play with that mode (along with accompanying low-tech sound) and the full game’s somewhat weak graphics seem a whole lot better.

Explore the dungeon and your party gets more powerful, eventually unlocking special hybrid classes (one for each possible pair of 4 classes) as well as new equipment. What draws me to the title again and again is how well it captures the RPG games of my formative years. Explore a 22×22 square dungeon, watching out for traps and wandering monsters. Talk to any non-monsters you see and collect every item you find, you never know when something will be useful later. There are a few quests to do on every level of the tower, primarily fetch something or go kill something and return, but there are also a number of puzzles. Everything from a door that tells a riddle, to more elaborate puzzles requiring multiple parts to be brought together to make a whole. Perhaps the most elaborate one being one to turn on the elevator which requires several items from multiple different floors, but makes travel much easier as a result. Some puzzles are easier than others, but as long as you stay away from online cheat sites they can provide a bit of thinking to solve. They tend to be trickier than current run-of-the-mill puzzles found in more modern style games. All in all, The Dark Spire has been fun to play on its own merits, but it has also provided me with a stroll down memory lane as I relive days of my youth exploring grid-based dungeons on the computer.


Memory can be a tricky thing, however. Some of the game provides me with enjoyable nostalgia, while other bits remind me of how frustrating those old games could be. One of the worst was dealing with map exploration. Thankfully, the game has an auto-map to help map out your progress. It keeps itself reigned in, however, in that you are not told your own location on the map (although a handy spell will tell you.) This is quite important if you ever run into a teleportation or rotating floor square. Perhaps the worst offenders are the wandering monsters. While they can be useful if you feel like powerlevelling your characters, if you want to get from one place to another (and that is a BIG part of the game, as shortcuts through the tower only appear after you complete a large section) you will be dealing with a lot of random monsters. Sure, you can simply “run away” but that doesn’t always work and the game would have been nicer if totally outmatched opponents wouldn’t even bother to attack when my party is wandering past. Despite these drawbacks, I can’t recommend the game highly enough for anyone wanting to relive some old 80’s RPGs or anyone wanting to see the roots of video RPGs in the vein of Wizardry and the Bard’s Tale.

In contrast, I’ve also been playing a fair bit of Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier. (Can we agree to call it Taisen OG for short?) This jRPG paints a stark contrast to The Dark Spire. Combat is roughly turn based, but you need to press buttons repeatedly during combat to use all your abilities. There are no character creation options, no choices to be made. New character are gained as you meet them on your story. As character increase in level, they do gain new abilities, but these are fixed and there are no decisions that need to be made. All of this is typical for the jRPG genre and can be attributed to style differences rather than a failure on the part of the game. (My personal preferences aside.) What jRPGs lack in character customization and deep strategy, they tend to make up with deep storylines and character development. Taisen OG has some depth and a moderately interesting story of warping between worlds trying to avoid the start of another multiverse war. Unfortunately, the characters are rather two-dimensional. The male protagonist (and his female android sidekick) adventure around, slowly gaining more female companions. Presumably in a nod to the game’s target demographic, these females tend to be rather well endowed. The dialogue isn’t much better, with wry comments and innuendo enough for several games of this type. I can only suffer through so many mammary gland references per game without feeling that the game is meant for a “less” mature audience. To add insult to injury, several of the combat cut scenes are just plain offensive. Why does the android have to lose half her outfit when she uses a special attack? Why does the well-endowed girl have to actually “bounce” around when delivering her power attack? Clearly a game meant for a special sort of crowd. The game is rated T for teen but seems to try to push the envelope without showing anything that would make it an M.

To be clear, this isn’t a terrible game. It is a solid jRPG title, but has a somewhat weak story. If you can get past the mammary references, there is a bit of humor to be had, and the fight animations are very well done and exciting to watch. If the game had taken itself just a tad bit more seriously, I would be able to recommend it. As it stands, it should be avoided, if for no other reason than to prevent such juvenile treatment of half of the world’s population.


The two role playing games come down to the fundamental differences of classic PC RPGs and Japanese style RPGs – Strategy vs Story. While there is some decent strategy and planning to be found in The Dark Spire, the story is one of the weaker aspects of Super Robot Taisen OG Saga. Both titles have their own quirks, so I can’t give a blanket recommendation for either one. However, if you like old-school RPGs you owe it to yourself to travel down a nice memory lane and give The Dark Spire a try.

How about you? Do you like old-school RPGs or prefer the story and graphics driven jRPGs? Let me know your comments below!

Kid Factor(s): The Dark Spire is a pretty hard game, based around quite a bit of math. While understanding the mathy bits isn’t required to play, it helps. The game is moderately difficult so every little bit helps. Having the patience to work through the puzzles and exploration makes middle school or higher a good starting recommendation. As for Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier, there is some reading to be had but the majority of the game should be easy enough for a middle school student to grasp. However, I’d place the game all the way up into the Mature category due to the over-the-top references and depictions of female anatomy. Feel free to disagree, but I feel the game goes so far as to actually be offensive. It falls into that strange category of being of primary interest to a target audience (young, male teen) for which it isn’t even appropriate.

5 Responses to “RPGs, Old and New – Two RPGs, a quick Review”

  1. Hey, on the screenshot for the Super Robot Wars game, those two characters on the right are also from Namco X Capcom. Of course, since Namco X Capcom plays exactly like a Super Robot Wars game, I guess that explains it. -Cary

  2. I’ve played enough ‘old school’ stuff in recent years to have no false memories regarding difficulty and lack of some ease-of-use stuff. I love Dark Spire … not at the level of the Etrian Odyssey games, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. Hmm, which Etrian Odyssey game do you reccomend? #1 or #2? Or both are great… should I try to play them through in order or is playing #2 good enough? (I’m looking at them at Goozex and see #2 is actually cheaper at the moment…)

  4. I prefer #1 because it was first … but either one would be fine.

  5. I don’t agree, read
    Best regards, Candis

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

Tired of typing this out each time? Register as a subscriber!