Why Aren't There More Space RPGs?

AXE OF THE BLOOD GOD | Sci-fi RPGs are fairly common, but there are fewer space RPGs than you might think.

Article by Kat Bailey, .

Axe of the Blood God is our weekly RPG podcast hosted by Kat Bailey and Nadia Oxford. You can find the previous episodes here.

There are fewer RPGs set in space than you might think. This was the surprising discovery I made when I set out to do the research for this episde [download link here]

The space RPGs that do exist are mostly amazing: Mass Effect, KOTOR, Phantasy Star, and to a lesser extent, Star Ocean and Xenosaga. But while space features in everything from Final Fantasy VIII to Xenogears, it's not often the primary setting. Nadia and I set out to discover why (Nadia: Space is scary), and we also explore what it can contribute to the form.

Keeping with the space theme, the Top 25 RPG countdown continues with Phantasy Star IV. 1UP alum Shane Bettenhausen joins the show to talk about why this underrated gem is the best Genesis RPG, and why it means so much to him to this day.

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Show Description

1UP alum Shane Bettenhausen joins Kat to talk about the best Genesis RPG ever: Phantasy Star IV! Plus, Nadia and Kat talk about space RPGs, what sets them apart from their counterparts in other subgenres, and wonder why theren't more of them.

Music from Axe of the Blood God is courtesy of Lena Chappelle, who has also contributed the themes to Active Time Babble and Roleplayers' Realm. I also use music from the RPG Music Pack over at Check it out!

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Comments 23

  • Avatar for pdubb #1 pdubb 2 months ago
    Yessss... Infinite space shout out.

    I wish the game wasn't hidden behind a terrible UI because it's such a good game. A game where you become a bad ass space pirate who is extremely pragmatic is such a good thing.
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  • Avatar for SkywardShadow #2 SkywardShadow 2 months ago
    I wish there were more space RPGs, and not just fantasy games "on another planet".
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  • Avatar for davidohlrich29 #3 davidohlrich29 2 months ago
    Kat and Nadia I am greatly enjoying your podcast. I listen all the time. Most of the time I agree with you, but I have to disagree with what you said about Star Ocean, Maybe you got your games mixed up. The latest Star Ocean, Intergrity and Faithlessness, Is not that great. The story is not great, and there are a lot of problems with back tracking, poor character design and enemy design, difficulty spike after a certain point if you are not leveled up. I would recommend playing Star Ocean the Second Story on the playstation. It is considered to be the high point in the series. It is an action based sprite jrpg. The characters and story are mostly well developed and interesting versus many others in the series. Star Ocean Til the end of Time on the PS2 was pretty good and the best of the 3d star oceans. The original Star Ocean on the SNES was also very good.

    Again thank you for always giving me a good time listening to your podcast. Your topics are all very insightful.

    By the way I started playing Octopath Traveler a week ago, and thouroughly enjoying it. I do agree with Kat about all the points she made about it and it has several flaws, but its still a good time. Cant wait to hear next weeks podcast.
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  • Avatar for AceOfCakez #4 AceOfCakez 2 months ago
    In space, no one can hear you scream.
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #5 Funny_Colour_Blue 2 months ago
    Space RPG Discussion starts at 00:18:20:

    I want to mention Space Griffon VF-9, an early Playstation 1 rpg released for the system on November 25 1995 by Atlus/Panther Software - It's premise is, you're a crew hired by A-MAX, to discover what went wrong on the man made Space Colony known as "Hamlet" - Not the best game, very anime-inspired, voice acting is kind of terrible and from the get go It quickly dissolves into a survival horror biopunk rpg, set in space - Again not the best game, but as one of the handful of video games brave enough to incorporate voice acting during the mid 90s, I think it's a really interesting game, especially the sense of isolation that it tries to establish across your six crew members through radio contact.

    ....Like, there's a lot of space rpgs out there, already, just not a lot of them focus on colonization, space exploration or ship management. So I think the reason why we don't see very many "space" rpgs that focus on these aspects is because… it's like as you guys mentioned on this episode - Space RPGs often encompasses an amalgamation of genres and cultures; you're traveling to new planets and discovering new civilizations, but in order to establish those aspects of the setting properly, it actually takes a lot of work to do them properly, as well.

    ...I also like how you guys introduced Shane Bettenhausen on the show! - Secret Best 1UP Alum!!

    ...It's totally! like "Hey, Kat! Long time no see!" Please have him back on the show! Edited 12 times. Last edited August 2018 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for nimzy #6 nimzy 2 months ago
    I can offer a left-field, alternative explanation: the game developers interested enough in space to make games about it work in the space industry now.
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  • Avatar for Arvis-Jaggamar #7 Arvis-Jaggamar 2 months ago
    It's not that hard: make a carbon copy of Mass Effect 1, clean it up, slap the Star Trek license on it, profit. Easy.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #8 yuberus 2 months ago
    I actually consider the Starflight games and Star Control 2 to qualify as RPGs, and they're great examples on how that could be done, too. Open world, space exploration, uncovering the story at your own pace (within a time limit). They're great! Highly recommend to anyone who hasn't played them.

    I do disagree with a Mass Effect prequel for much the same reason I generally dislike prequels: if those stories were truly that interesting, they would have been in the games already, and not as backstory. I prefer looking ahead to what's next in the story, and if that requires the Andromeda galaxy or setting a "canon" end for the last trilogy, so be it.
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  • Avatar for Dorchadas #9 Dorchadas 2 months ago
    There’s a DOS game called Solar Winds that basically a space RPG, though you never leave the ship and all statistics are the ship’s. I played it like crazy when I found it on one of those shareware collections.

    Sadly, the sequel, set in a much bigger world, was much blander.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #10 MetManMas 2 months ago
    I loves me some sci-fi RPGs but I definitely wish there were more space RPGs. Only reasons I haven't jumped on Mass Effect now that all three can be bought digitally on Xbox 360 are because 1) I'm holding out in case there's a remastered compilation for PS4 and Xbone, and 2) I'm not exactly thrilled about having to play three games with three different styles of gameplay if I want to see Shepard's whole story. Also 3) I mainly focus on filling my PS4 library these days.

    Really wish Infinite Space would get a remake for modern platforms or 3DS. Or at least a mobile remaster; the pay up front kind, not the gacha kind. Anything to make it easier to actually get it.

    Oh well, at least the indie scene has some sci-fi games set in space, even if they're not necessarily RPGs. Probably pick up Elite Dangerous one of these days.

    Wish Sega gave a shit about localizing Phantasy Star Online 2...
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #11 MetManMas 2 months ago
    @davidohlrich29 Personally I didn't mind the character designs too much but I was certainly disappointed by Integrity & Faithlessness. Like, a lot of stuff that Star Ocean did is stuff that all RPGs do now; a lot of my time was spent thinking that I would be having a lot more fun if I was playing Final Fantasy XIV instead. Edited August 2018 by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #12 Gamer-Law 2 months ago
    @Kat.Bailey - Too funny that you read my comment regarding Infinite Space making the top 25 list on last week’s podcast. It seems appropriate given this week’s topic.

    Your point about Infinite Space being “too much game” for the DS is well-taken. That said, I still find it to be a unique and memorable experience that sadly flew under the radar and never received the recognition it deserved.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #13 riderkicker 2 months ago
    TIL, the Hadouken means "wave motion fist", as in "wave motion cannon" from Star Blazers.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #14 SatelliteOfLove 2 months ago
    As per usual, I will blame Star Ocean for always getting bogged down on some bumfuck M-Class planet.
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  • Avatar for One_Vurfed_Gwrx #15 One_Vurfed_Gwrx 2 months ago
    @MetManMas You can still buy Infinite Space new for DS at if you want the original. I really need to play my version at some point. I recall there being an extended manual online which was supposedly invaluable for playing.
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  • Avatar for Gamer-Law #16 Gamer-Law 2 months ago
    I agree that a mid-July release date was helpful for Octopath Traveler’s sales and ensured that it received adequate coverage on gaming sites,.

    That said, the proximate cause for its commercial success is no different from the one that led to Bravely Default selling one million copies—a sizeable fanbase that remains dedicated to quality turn-based RPGs.

    I have said it before, but nostalgia is a very powerful force and when game developers find a way to put their spin on and enhance a tried and true formula, then they will find a market that is more than willing to support their efforts.

    In short, Octopath is selling well because of its quality and because it is meeting a demand that too few developers care to acknowledge.
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  • Avatar for sketchlayerjosh #17 sketchlayerjosh 2 months ago
    JRPG's in particular are guilty of being too afraid to make that long-term commitment that space needs. Especially Rogue Galaxy, which has a SPACE SHIP that was flown with a dang PIRATE SHIP WHEEL. How are you moving through the Z-axis with that wheel, game? don't really want to be in space *at all,* do you?
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  • Avatar for The-Challenger #18 The-Challenger 2 months ago
    I am absolutely loving the special guests, I can't wait to see who you have on next. I somehow knew the guest was Shane as soon as you started to describe them.

    If Alpha Protocol makes the list I wonder who the guest would be in that case...
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  • Avatar for cmagoun #19 cmagoun 2 months ago

    You should try Star Traders: Frontiers. Though I have not gotten far in it, it seems to tick quite a few of your boxes for what you want in a space rpg -- notably a focus on upgrading your ship and recruiting lots of crew.

    Also, you are a systems gamer... and this game is full of pretty hardcore (maybe obtuse?) rpg systems. I am having a decent time, but then again, I am not very far at all.
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  • Avatar for HellsBlackAces #20 HellsBlackAces 2 months ago
    I blame it on the US never getting the Genesis port of Star Cruiser. ;)

    There is something of a through line in top down Space RPGs (it certainly influenced Mass Effect) the Star Flight duology>Star Control 2>the Escape Velocity trilogy and then it branches off into a bunch of indy games.

    Escape Velocity: Nova is as close to my definitive Space Captain RPG as exists, but the combat is real time. It had something like ~4.75 story lines it was possible to go down. There was everything from psychic slave to space pirate to hyper advanced isolationist race.

    Not having played them, the 2 Star Cruiser games are FPS space RPGs. Something of a late 80s and early 90s Japanese PC take on Mass Effect.Edited 3 times. Last edited August 2018 by HellsBlackAces
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #21 Nuclear-Vomit 2 months ago
    @Dorchadas Holy Crap! I remember that stupid game. I remember having to travel to some awefully far co-ordinates without the fuel for hyperspeed. I left the PC on for hours.
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  • Avatar for utopianemo #22 utopianemo 2 months ago
    Don’t forget Lagrange Point by Konami, a Famicom RPG that is both set in space AND lost to time....and also used a funky add-on sound chip that made the FC sound a little bit like a Genesis.
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  • Avatar for simon-sdrain #23 simon-sdrain A month ago
    Buck rogers: countdown to doomsday is really fun and the genesis port is great! D&d with skills instead of magicEdited last month by simon-sdrain
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