Suikoden II & Thousand Arms
Both games were purchased used at the GameCrazy out on 82nd & Powell back circa 2000 for about $15-18 each. I'd played the available FFs, but thirsted for more RPG action. Both games were selected from under the glass display case. I didn't have an internet connection at home so I couldn't research which titles were supposed to be good. Deliberations were limited to asking to see a game based on its front cover, staring at the back cover, maybe flipping through the manual. As any shopper knows, this is an extremely iffy methodology for buying, well, just about anything.
I'm reasonably certain I purchased Suikoden II 1st, &, having been absolutely spoiled by FFVII & VIII graphics,3 hated it. Also, being a JRPG of the more "classic" or "pure" variety, SuikodenII collates itself around the exploration/item management/combat delineation, but w/ a heavy emphasis on DOZENS of PLAYABLE characters. The cover is surprisingly literal in this respect: you can actually play most all of those characters on there!
Obviously, I came around to SuikodenII. I think it was at least a year later, not because my tastes had changed, per se, but more like because I'd come to my senses. Suikoden's world turned out to be quite large. I'm pretty sure there are regions & towns I never actually visited in the course of the game, & still I completed the game(!). It also has a nifty strategy component, your characters taking breaks from the level-up grinding & sidequests (again, of which I believe there were more than a few left uncomplete) to play regimental officers in a larger storyline. Pretty sweet. I'm glad I gave it the 2nd chance.
Thousand Arms was purchased in a similar manner to Suikoden II, tho it was an easier buy insofar it comprised of multiple discs, & bragged of anime-cutscenes.
Unlike SuikodenII, however, this JRPG had me at 'dating mini-game." What? Yeah!! Primary character Meis is a blacksmith, see. But to forge the mightiest of weapons, he has to go on dates w/ the girls in the party to accumulate a hidden number of, what to call them? Infatuation points? Crush points? Blush points?4 The more of these points you have when you forge or augment weapons, the stronger they will be.
I sold both of these games. A few days ago, on a lark, I checked Amazon for them.
Thousand Arms starting at $49.
Suikoden II starting at $99.
1 In this comment here, which I would alter slightly if written today. I'll still vouch for Thousand Arms & Suikoden II, but wouldn't completely write off FF stuff.
2 Those 4 installments being Final Fantasy VII, VIII, & IX, & Final Fantasy Tactics, which, like a lot of people, I got because I heard Cloud was in it. In the interest of full disclosure: I played FFVIII twice, & actually began playing it a 3rd time. I never finished Tactics, tho I think that mainly due to being at the end of a several year long gaming binge (i.e, burnout).
3 And, to a degree, Legend of the Dragoon. Yeah, I was a FMV cut-scene slut.
4 The dating mini-game consists of the girl asking Meis questions (lovingly voice acted). You are then given 2 options for answers. One is usually the easy answer, the other the funny yet rude answer, although after answering a few questions correctly the available answers become more difficult to chose between. The girls' responses range from a slap to indifference to a blush to a peck on the cheek.