Summer sales represent an excellent opportunity to explore the last generation of gaming on the cheap, and so we present to you, in no particular order, the most underrated, undersold and under-appreciated games of the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation.
One of a couple of new IP JRPGs of the same era that went straight under the radar, Lost Odyssey stands among the best examples of the genre – in any generation. Hailing from Mistwalker, the company founded by “father of Final Fantasy” Hironobu Sakaguchi to do the things Square Enix wouldn’t gamble its top franchise on, it was, perhaps unfortunately, first released on Xbox 360, presumably as part of Microsoft’s many (historically less half-hearted) attempts to bring Japanese and JRPG fans over to its side of the fence.
It’s mysterious that this game wasn’t pushed more as an incredible amount of love (and work) went into it; it spans four discs, plus DLC, and boasts incredible production values. Protagonist Kaim is one of the sulkiest fellows ever to grace a game cover, but his millennia of existence provides some rich lore to explore, and the soundtrack is an absolute stunner. You don’t get much more traditional-JRPG-meets-western-budget than this.
“No other game gives you a trophy for diving off the Eiffel Tower.”
One of the many products of the open world fever that gripped us at the end of the PS2 era and into the next, The Saboteur was one of those difficult projects that didn’t quite find its audience, resulting in the closure of Pandemic and the shelving of DLC plans.
The Saboteur, like any game, certainly has its issues, but it’s packed with astonishingly courageous decisions. The conceit of marking resistance-held areas by an ethereal, pastoral aesthetic while the Nazi-controlled regions reman starkly black and white is something you’d never see come out of triple-A today. Pandemic poured a ridiculous amount of money into its facial graphics tech (with mixed results, admittedly). WWII France is huge, gorgeous, and filled with occasionally mental content; you can see the seams where the creative team was split and restitched and hurried to launch date. But no other game gives you a trophy for diving off the Eiffel Tower.
It’s hard even to know where to begin talking about where Alpha Protocol went wrong, but in hindsight, the developer-publisher combination of Obsidian and Sega might be a clue. A difficult project, the ups and down of which have been charted in some fascinating retrospectives, Alpha Protocol is an almost unbearably bold mish-mash of gameplay styles, attempting to bring the modern third-person RPG out of the realm of fantasy and into other settings, a thing only Mass Effect had really managed at the time.
A little like Deadly Premonition, (which went from unknown to great cult celebration in a reversal of Alpha Protocol’s fortunes), the espionage thriller was highly divisive. Some players simply could not forgive the many technical issues it launched with, and others just found its core systems too weird or swallow. Nowadays the vision doesn’t seem so kooky, and Obsidian makes a quiet little income off back-catalogue sales.
This is a shooter from one of the teams regularly called in to assist on Call of Duty, with a string of successful first-person games to its name. Rather than the usual “shoot the terrorists” setting it has a time-travelling plot with three possible endings and enough back and forth to make the hokey pokey look relatively static. And instead of adding a new kind of grenade and calling it a day, the gameplay boldly deviates from the generic realms of shooterdom by throwing in a time manipulation power, among other twists, and keeping one foot very firmly in the survival horror camp.
Doesn’t that sound like a game everyone ought to have played, loved, and never shut up about? And yet here we are today, with you sort of staring blankly at us while we slap your face with a copy of Singularity and shout “this is why mainstream shooters have become identical you great pillock!”
Enslaved: Journey to the West
“A brave attempt by Namco Bandai to fly in the face of flagging sales as other publishers grimly knuckled under to make sequels.”
Remember how for a while there nobody was making any new IP? Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was one of the last precious properties to be born before it became apparent that trough was going to stick around for a while, and was a brave attempt by Namco Bandai to fly in the face of flagging sales as other publishers grimly knuckled under to make sequels. We’ve waxed lyrical and at great length on the boldness of this move, which went sadly unrewarded by sales, despite a belated PC port.
Whether it is the gamer’s general reluctance to enjoy AI companions, a surfeit of third-person action adventure games, a lack of appreciation for the colourful post-apocalyptic setting, or just the ennui of generational fatigue, Enslaved was unfairly overlooked and deserves another chance.
A JRPG set within the dreams of the composer Chopin as he lay on his deathbed, and – wait, where are you going?
One of the few modern video games to pay such loving tribute to classical music, Eternal Sonata is beautiful, whimsical, and stuffed to the brim with goodness. With twice the charm of the far better known Dragon Quest, and more genuine exploration of the possibilities of JRPG conventions than Final Fantasy, Eternal Sonata is a delight for all the senses. A few stray criticisms – it’s too short, there’s no open world – fail to appreciate Tri-Crescendo’s admirably complete and discrete work of art, which wraps itself up so neatly and beautifully that to wish for more would be a small sin.
The first tentative steps towards a new approach to SRPG out of Japan in a long, long time, that Valkyria Chronicles sold so poorly is a crime for which you will never be forgiven.
Valkyria Chronicles is more than the sum of its parts – the gorgeous, cel-shaded graphics; vast cast of (almost universally high quality) characters; gripping war story and unusual get-in-the-action tactical gameplay. It is a masterpiece. Fans of XCOM and Fire Emblem should apply, and Nintendo’s upcoming Codename: STEAM owes much to Sega.