As a genre, RPGs have quite a few traits more signature to them than any other gaming type. Sometimes these are good, such as RPGs’ strong focus on storytelling and compelling character development. Others are a bit more quirky such as frequent highly strange casts, and an inordinate fondness for certain annoying, lazy storytelling tropes. Of the latter, quirkier characteristics is the way that RPG titles tend to be weird, nonsensical gibberish.
It came to me the other day when I was browsing the catalogue of Good Old Games, seeing what I could find on sale, and I realized that I could tell far more often than not whether a game was an RPG just by its title alone, without having to even look at its title art, let alone its actual store page. This genre just absolutely loves its fanciful buzzwords that make a game sound much cooler than it actually is (you can’t tell me SquareEnix picked the title “Revenant Wings” in earnest for its rinky-dink little handheld FF12 sequel), its lazy use of an important character’s uncommon and interesting-sounding name as a title (such as Lufia, Arc the Lad, and Alundra), and its use of “The Legend of” as a title opener (The Legend of Dragoon, The Legend of Grimrock, The Legend of Legaia...there are so many goddamn Legend games!). Or they combine a couple of these tropes, such as with Eternal Senia. Hell, sometimes it gets so bad that an RPG will throw fanciful buzzwords, uncommon names, and Legend titles all together into a single entity (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)!
There’s also that tendency to just add -ia to the end of any given semi-interesting word, and call it a day, like Grandia...or add -ia to the end of something that isn’t already a word, and still call it a day (what the hell is a Zenonia, Alphadia, or a Mana Khemia?). Namco is very fond of doing this, both ways, in its Tales of series.
And then there are the RPG titles that are just too fucking stupid to belong to any other genre. What besides an RPG would want to name itself something so absurdly redundant as Divine Divinity? Or Tales of Legendia? You do realize, Namco, that you basically just named the game “stories of stories”? For that matter, who but SquareEnix would decide to be so edgy-quirky that they feel the need to name installments of their franchise with math equations and decimal fractions, as is the case with Kingdom Hearts?
And let’s not forget how long these stupid titles can get. If it means using a name to boost sales, no amount of franchise, sub-franchise, and sub-sub-franchise naming is too much! What other genre, may I ask, regularly sports titles as long as Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha Vs. The Soulless Army (that title is longer than some fanfics I’ve read), or has multiple installments of a game series that is already a numbered installment of a series, like Legend of Heroes 6 and Shin Megami Tensei 4 each having 2 games in their scope?
Still, beyond meaningless fancy vocabulary, inventing meaningless fancy vocabulary by abusing suffixes, a frankly bewildering taxonomy, more Legends than you can find in an actual book of fairy tales, outright stupidity, and a lack of creativity so profound that they just consult a list of the Most Popular Baby Names of the 1700s to come up with a title, there is 1 naming convention for RPGs that stands out as especially weird to me: the fact that they so often have absolutely nothing to do with their game. I mean, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when so many RPG titles seem to be created by some asshole in Marketing cracking open a dictionary and picking the first unusual word he sees on the page, but there are a LOT of RPGs out there whose names are completely inaccurate for them! Not just in the “this title doesn’t actually mean anything” way, like Grinsia or Stella Glow, but in the “This title is an outright lie” sense.
So today, I’m gonna make a list of the most inaccurately titled RPGs I know of. Why, you may ask? For reasons. Secret reasons. Good reasons. Sexy reasons. Reasons that definitely have nothing to do with my completely having run out of actual ideas for rants, let me assure you.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
I mean, it’s half accurate, I guess, in that Zelda is, indeed, in this game as much as any other of the series (meaning not very much; this whole series’s accuracy is somewhat questionable when its namesake averages about 5 - 10 minutes of screen time per most installments). But “A Link to the Past”? In what way? Link travels between regular Hyrule and the magical realm where the Triforce was kept, but they exist at the same time. There’s no time travel. Is it supposed to be talking about some connection with past events or legends, or something? Because it doesn’t really have much of that, either, no more so than any other RPG, or even any other Legend of Zelda title. Nintendo obviously really wanted to use some wordplay for Link in the title, and clearly didn’t care whether it actually made any sense for the game.
4. Most Fire Emblem Games
This whole series is named for a plot device that only shows up in 4 of its titles. That means that 80% of Fire Emblem games have nothing to do with their own series! True, the clarifying titles, like Three Houses (FE16) or Geneology of the Holy War (FE4), do actually fit with the game they describe (most of the time), but that doesn’t change the fact that the founding element of these games’ titles isn’t present for 4/5ths of them!
3. Most Shin Megami Tensei Games
Well, since “Shin Megami Tensei” basically translates to “Rebirth of the True Goddess”, referring to the Goddess of Tokyo in the series, and since that only applies even on the vaguest of levels to about 5 SMT titles I know of (and I’m really being generous in that estimation), this series is basically as much of a lie as Fire Emblem--except that it’s also substantially larger than even the sizable Fire Emblem series, so SMT is even more inaccurate.
2. Every Final Fantasy
Look, we all know why this is here. I’m not proud of it, but it is what it is.
1. Star Ocean 1 + 2
Why are these here at the top, and not Final Fantasy, whose title is by this point as stale a joke in the gaming world as the “Is your refrigerator running” prank? Well, for starters, because Star Ocean is, in deed, an extremely inaccurate way to describe each of these games. The title clearly promises space, interstellar travel, science fiction! And Star Ocean 1 delivers, for its first 5 minutes...then, for the rest of the game until its very final dungeon, you’re confined to a generic RPG fantasy world, and more than that, said fantasy world’s past! That’s twice as far away from the promised sea of stars as a regular fantasy RPG would get! And Star Ocean 2’s no better...in fact, it might be worse, because while it shares the same 5 minutes of opening with science fiction, it can’t even be bothered to also give a final sci-fi dungeon. Sure, halfway through the game you finally get off the rinky-dink fantasy world you’re confined to in SO2, and go to Nede, a super-advanced world that knows about interstellar travel and whatnot...but it’s still just an advanced fantasy world! They’re still all about magic and swords and shit, isolated from the rest of the galaxy like a damn bunch of generic RPG elves!
In fact...Rena, Chisato, and Noel, who are from Nede, have long, pointed ears. Jesus Christ, I never realized it until this second, but Nedians actually ARE a bunch of stupid annoying RPG elves! They’re just isolating themselves on a magical planet instead of a magical forest! There is literally not a single damn thing of significance about Star Ocean 2 that isn’t just a normal fantasy RPG!
Anyway, back to my point. The Star Ocean title is an outright lie for its first 2 installments, so it deserves to be on this list, absolutely. But what puts it at the top, here, is that it’s an actually harmful untruth. No one bought A Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past specifically out of a hope to see Link traveling to the past, or in some other meaningful way interacting with it. No one cares about the Fire Emblem so damn much that the games without it are going to be ruined for them (hell, the first installment I played with the titular object within it was my fourth Fire Emblem; I didn’t even know the series was actually named for anything for the first half of my experience with it!). I can’t think of any reason that a literal interpretation of Shin Megami Tensei would be the important selling point for a fan, nor can I imagine how one would feel negatively about being misled about the finality of the Squaresoft Fantasy.
But Star Ocean? Star Ocean is false advertising. Star Ocean is promising a setting, a theme, which it fails to deliver. Fails to deliver even more than some outright fantasy games do--there’s more time and focus, a lot more, on off-world travel in Final Fantasy 4, for example! Star Ocean 1 and 2 claimed to be science fiction adventures, stories involving the limitless boundaries of space, and there are people who bought them for that reason. The inaccuracies of every other title on this list, they’re amusing and innocuous mistakes, guilty at most of abusing a successful franchise title to get a little more attention. But the lie that is Star Ocean 1 + 2 misled players about something that actually mattered, something that affected purchase decisions, and that’s why the first and second Star Ocean are here at the top of this list of liars.
Dishonorable Mention: Character and/or Location Title Sequels
You know what’s an easy way to make a title for your game? Just base it on a major character or place in it. The main character’s name is Alundra? There’s your title. The setting is the Dungeons and Dragons location of Baldur’s Gate? Just call it that, and done. The game takes place on a bunch of tropical islands and has a theme of constellations and other star-related stuff? Startropics.
There is, however, a slight problem to doing this: you may not always be working with the same character and/or place. There’s no Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, or Link’s Awakening. Arc’s importance to the plot is done and over with by Arc the Lad 4. Baldur’s Gate 2 and Startropics 2 don’t take place in Baldur’s Gate or the tropics. Sakura’s not in Sakura Wars 5. And so on--sometimes the developers want to make a new title in a franchise, but the game they’re making has moved past what used to be its central figure. It’s not exactly a complete falsehood, since these games still take place in the same worlds and use the same lore as their predecessors, but neither is it accurate.
Well, that was fun. Pointless, but fun. Maybe next time I’ll have something more meaningful for all y’all! But knowing me, probably not.