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The absolute best retro releases for the first half of 2016

by Ron Duwell | July 10, 2016July 10, 2016 9:00 am PDT

Last year, when I was writing about the best retro releases, I feared the worst. I feared that publishers were going to stop looking for ways to bring our favorite games from yesterday to modern outlets. Retro gaming is big enough to catch the eyes of console makers and publishers, but it’s not nearly as big as the money you could be sinking into microtransactions.

The PlayStation 4 is completely useless with all of those PSOne Classics stuck on your PlayStation 3. The Wii U has been drying up with the Virtual Console releases despite countless Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 classics stuck without a digital solution.

And I’m still not able to play SaGa Frontier on my PlayStation Vita! What gives, Square Enix!?

However, after sitting down to prep my bi-annual list of retro greats that have made it to the market, I was shocked to find how many cuts I had to make to keep the list reasonable. Publishers have been finding ways to get you your favorites.

These are the best retro games released in 2016 so far from a list that extends much longer in the minds of many retro fans.

Breath of Fire III

Fans petitioned Capcom for years to get this one. After all, Breath of Fire IV had been available since practically the dawn of the PSOne Classics line-up, but its superior predecessor proved to be one of the many elusive Capcom hits that the company feared to put out.

Luckily, a PSP version of the game existed already translated in Europe that fixed the trademark issues. It was released way back in 2006, but the common belief is that Sony put a stop to its North American release because it wanted the PSP to be a more modern machine that didn’t rely on classic ports.

With that clearly not the case for the Vita, which really only exists to play classics anymore, this new attitude allowed Capcom to follow through on a promise to look into bringing the PSP port over. And here we are!

Breath of Fire III is a really solid JRPG. I hesitate to call it great, because it really meanders and struggles to find a plot, but overall, the world, characters, atmosphere, and music all set up a nice, classic adventure.

Mega Man Legends 2

Another classic Capcom game that got lost to legal mumbo jumbo. However, unlike Breath of Fire III, this game did not have an obvious trademark offender. Its reason for taking so long to hit the digital channels is because Capcom couldn’t publish its predecessor due to trademark issues.

For what it’s worth, Mega Man Legends 2 improves on every element that the groundbreaking original laid out. Combat flows much better with an improved lock-on system, the story hits new levels of emotion, and dungeon layout forces players to think.

The problem with it doesn’t lie in the technical aspects or game design, though. Mega Man Legends 2 lacks the emotional connection created by the original’s setting. If you want a game, play the sequel. If you want to lose yourself in a marvelous setting lush with fun characters, pleasant environments, and a sense of connection running through every crack, then play the original.

Or better yet, buy and play them both!

Odin Sphere: Leifhtrasir

Go figure that one of my favorite releases of 2016 is still a retro game. VanillaWare and Atlus really outdid themselves by remastering this classic, so much so that it will be hard to look at any remaster done by the company ever again.

We’ve got a bit of a Shadow of the Colossus complex going on here. The original Odin Sphere was a flawed masterpiece, a wonderful game fated to struggle on a console that couldn’t handle its ambitions. Of course, the PlayStation 4 has no problem rendering the high-resolution sprites, and the game can finally match its sky-high potential.

The added bonus of a functioning PS Vita version is also nice.

Excellent retro release. Good luck to all involved following up on it. Check out our full review for more.

Valkyria Chronicles Remastered

Is this even old enough to be called “retro?” Maybe not, but we’re putting this on here because the whole reason this game has such a large fanbase is because it channels the retro hits of the 90s that gamers of the time so fondly remember.

Now, it’s a retro release of a game that appealed to those who like retro releases.

Valkyria Chronicles is now available on both Steam and the PlayStation 4 with a resolution boost… and not a whole lot else. The game was already perfect when it launched back in 2008, and no major changes were needed to keep it up to speed. Hits like XCOM followed in its path, but nothing has been able to channel three decades worth of gaming in a single package.

Nice 90s JRPG storytelling, 2000s graphical capabilities, and strategy elements that are still channeled today by the likes of XCOM 2. A generation spanning hit, one of those games that will never age.

Dark Cloud 2

Level-5 already delivered Dark Cloud and Rogue Galaxy last year, so fans thought it was only a matter of time before its true gem on the PlayStation 2 saw a classic re-release.

No, not Dragon Quest VIII. Dark Cloud 2 is just as deep and time-consuming as you remember it, loaded with town building, dungeon crawling, item creation, and exciting combat.

I fired it up and didn’t even make it out of the first dungeon before turning it off. Not out of derision, but rather, out of the fact that I have no free time to play such a time sink anymore.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Just released last week on the Wii U, this marvelous Super Nintendo classic just barely made the cut. Super Mario RPG is a beloved hit for not only bringing Mario into the realm of RPGs but for also establishing timed-hits as an RPG mechanic with genuine legs to spread into other games.

It’s just plain charming. Square loaded this game with countless jabs at Mario lore, and it is packed with self-deprecating humor, wondering why Mario is even in an RPG in the first place. The biggest shame boils down to certain elements like a good many towns, creatures, the isometric world, and especially leading characters Geno and Mallow would never be established as canon.

Is it hard to believe that this was the first game to truly take us into the vast expanses of the Mushroom Kingdom? None of it mattered in the long run.

Gamers begged, and now they have it! Pick it up today, and maybe Nintendo will consider bringing it to the New Nintendo 3DS.

Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow

Probably the biggest retro release of 2016. The original Pokémon releases are still a blast to go back to, providing a simple, free-roaming scenario and, more importantly, a reasonably sized selection of monsters.

Having over 700 critters to choose from might seem nice, but as the number goes up with each generation, so too does the number of useless monsters that we have to sift through. I prefer a slimmer roster of quality over quantity.

Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow all provide an option for those who don’t want to worry about complicated mechanics like Effort Values, breeding, genders, and equipable items. Going back to where it all started really throws the series’ progression under the microscope, and when all’s said and done, I’ll always prefer these originals.

Generations come and go. These will be around forever! The added wireless multiplayer to these Nintendo 3DS releases also helps.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

While it might be a polarizing release for fans of the first Final Fantasy Tactics, this follow-up still has a lot more going for it than it does going against it. Judges and laws are the worst gaming mechanic of all time, but with the amount of customization this game has, they are almost entirely forgivable.

However, I want to focus on an element that often gets a little too much hate flung onto it, and that’s the story. No, it’s not the fantastical political struggle of the original, but how often do Final Fantasy players control a hero who wants to destroy the world?

It’s a fun twist that’s backed by great character art and deep mechanics. The whole appeal of this over the original, though, was its portability. A Wii U release not only negates that, but the original is playable on the PS Vita! Talk about a role reversal!

Adventures of Mana

There are two kinds of remakes: ones that re-imagine the original into a new game and ones that stick to the original as loyally as possible. Thanks to Adventures of Mana, the Game Boy classic Final Fantasy Adventure now has both! The Game Boy Advance release of Sword of Mana and now this mobile/Vita release.

Adventures of Mana is about as loyal to its source material as them come. Every map is laid out the same way, every creature moves with the same patterns, every item, town, and character is in the same place.

This remake doesn’t even shy away from the original’s Final Fantasy routes either, unlike Sword of Mana, which was more interested in separating it into its own franchise. Adventures of Mana has no problems with including Chocobos, mages and dwarves.

I tend to shy away from remakes like this because they are often trying to act as a replacement to the original. However, Adventures of Mana never gives the sense that it is trying to be more than a fun reminder of how much you loved the original. Complementary in every way.

Maybe because it’s a mobile release that wound up on a Vita.

Romancing SaGa 2

And speaking of mobile releases, Square Enix finally acknowledged the SaGa series in North America with a much needed port of Romancing SaGa 2.

23 years after the original hit Japan, North American fans can now (legally) enjoy the elusive game through their smartphones, with a Vita release also pending.

The big question: why does Square Enix charge $18 for a game that is over two decades years old? Fans stepped in to fan-translate the game in Square’s absence and have done just fine without the company dictating distribution. “We’re sorry for our neglect, but you can pay us to make it all better.”

Sounds like an absent parent soap opera melodrama. The only justification I can see is that Square is hoping to improve SaGa’s presence in North America for future releases, which I am fine with. However, this is not the way to appease fans after all these years.

That would be with a fairly priced bundle and SaGa Frontier as a PSOne Classic!

Final Fantasy IX

Yup, another Final Fantasy game on Steam. And Final Fantasy XV is still not happening. Nope. No way. No sir. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Final Fantasy IX is a marvelous game that takes the aesthetic and appeal of the original five games and gives them a major overhaul with the latest PlayStation One era technology.

Remember when this game was cutting-edge? At least Steam is able to fix the game’s biggest shortcoming, and that’s the framrate. I’m not used to seeing Final Fantasy IX run so smoothly, and it’s jarring to the point where I might not even like it.

Plus, Square worked the “mist” covering the world into the storyline as a supernatural phenomenon that created monsters. In truth, the mist was created to cover up PlayStation’s limited ability to render draw distances.

The PC release can’t go back and modernize that because of how entrenched it is with the story! Hilarious!

Day of the The Tentacle Remastered

“Wait, what! This game isn’t Japanese, Ron. You going soft on us or something?”

No, I’m not. Long before I was introduced to JRPGs on the Super Nintendo and even before my parents nabbed my first NES, the only gaming device in my house was an old IBM computer. On it, I would play the SCUMM classics through DOS, and the point-and-click adventure genre was actually the mainstay of my gaming life.

Yes, I have boundaries outside of my console roots, believe it or not, and seeing a masterpiece of the genre get such a loving treatment is just as special to me as any of my JRPG favorites.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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