Role-playing gambols

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Role-playing games (RPGs) are a dime every 12 dozen. PlayStation 2, this holiday’s powerhouse game machine, doesn’t even manage to pack a punch in a genre dominated by the "Final Fantasy" franchise.

But, oddly, RPGs are the closest link between the video game and film industries. Both are driven by story line, aural style and eye candy; yet unlike movies, there isn’t enough "greatness" in the RPG realm to denote a "Top 100" list — though, maybe a "Top Five." And as the foremost problem, most RPGs attempt to captivate players for 20 hours of gameplay or, sometimes, much longer. Most often, watching a two-hour movie is a better decision.

THQ’s "Summoner" makes the largest impression, mainly because of a unique real-time fighting engine. Unlike the "Final Fantasy" series, "Summoner" provides battle clashes with two types of engagement. First, the village in which the game opens features expanses of housing and terrain, with many foot soldiers placed to create conflict. (Fleeing the scene is improbable in those instances.) Second, when you’re wandering through the "world map" view of the game, charting from location to location, instant battlefields are created at random — like tripping into a pit — though in "Summoner" the pit is filled with gigantic arachnids and sword-slicing skeletons.

Activision’s "Orphen: Scion of Sorcery," on the other hand, is a bit handicapped. Flimsy, dubbed anime cut-scenes are only the beginning of this RPG’s nonimmersive gameplay. Action only erupts in event-based encounters, rather than in the more spontaneous spurts in "Summoner." The box’s summary describes the game best: "As Orphen, the powerful but lazy wizard, you’ve always thought being a hero was too much work." "Powerful" being the PS2’s capacity for magnanimity and "lazy" being "Orphen," a pseudo-adventure to avoid.

But at least classic gamers finally have a crown to wear. Indulge in "RPG Maker" from Agetec, a PlayStation game that allows players to facilitate their own exploits. The graphics may be dated — but imagine the possibilities! Chose from 68 characters, 400 dungeon components and a library of other tools. When flooded in doubt, mold it yourself.

Jon M. Gibson writes about video games for the Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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