Over in Japan, developer Sting (Yggdra Union, Gungnir) attempted their own twist on the formula with Baroque, a sci-fi horror RPG set in a bleak post-apocalypse. A mysterious angel tasks the player with descending to the lowest level of the imposing Neuro Tower, in an effort to "fix" the world. The Tower proves to be as bizarre inside as it is outside; a maze of rusted metal filled with ghastly, HR Giger-inspired mutants to contend with.
When you're not exploring the Neuro Tower, you've got free reign of the town at its base, filled with residents to converse with. Some of the townsfolk you'll meet are the Bagged One, a bound woman who initially appears to speak in non sequiturs, until you realize she's reading your thoughts. And who could forget Longneck, a childlike mutant with a burning desire to be buried alive. Other RPGs would treat time in town as a peaceful respite, but socializing in Baroque is anything but soothing.
Some readers may be familiar with Baroque's 2008 remake for PS2/Wii, but the original 1998 Playstation/Saturn release was a completely different beast. Whereas the remake was a disquieting third person action RPG, classic Baroque is set squarely from the first person perspective. Having to rely solely on audio clues to determine if something is sneaking up behind you adds an affecting layer of survival horror to an already tense experience. Combined with a crushing industrial noise soundtrack from Masaharu Iwata, Baroque is an incredibly claustrophobic and downright horrifying Roguelike, and one well worth experiencing despite the language barrier.
So there you have it, four unique and varied takes on the Roguelike genre, all on Playstation and released before the turn of the millennium. Looking at the current game development zeitgeist, one would think each of these games would have been celebrated for their bold achievements. And they were...in Japan, anyway. In the West (with the exception of Baroque), they were barely a blip on the radar, and critical scores were middling at best, harsh at worst. GiantBomb's Jeff Gerstmann, when writing for Gamespot, lamented The Last Hope's samey dungeons and lack of in-depth story, but ultimately praised the game as a whole. Erik Reppen of Game Informer was far less charitable, calling the same title "ugly and stupid".
So what's the deal? If I had to play pop culture archaeologist, I'd surmise that the success of Final Fantasy VII may have had something to do with it. FFVII essentially brought the JRPG into the mainstream, and did so with great aplomb. A new generation found themselves introduced to the genre for the first time, and likely expected future JRPGs―especially those from Square―to build on the groundwork laid by FFVII. Such expectations died down eventually, and the Roguelike genre saw a resurgence in popularity, culminating in the genre's current status as a desirable buzzword. ChunSoft's Mystery Dungeon is still going strong, and their frequent tie-ins with licenses such as Pokémon and Etrian Odyssey have seen Mystery Dungeon essentially become an annualized series. Its latest title, 2016's Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate for Vita, received critical acclaim across the board. Taking a look back at the four titles above paint an enticing picture of the evolution of the console Roguelike, and will likely make one appreciate its current renaissance even more.