In addition to the return of classic Sega action franchises like Gunstar Heroes, E3 2005 also witnessed the rebirth of two classic RPG series' from Sega: Shining Force and Phantasy Star.
Aside from the Lunar series, the Shining Force series will always remain as my favorite RPG series of all time. I still remember spending whole weekends trying to unlock every little special class in Shining Force II and buying a Saturn just to play Shining Force III (to this day I'm still bitter about the second and third installments not finding their way to the US). In the last few years, Sega has attempted to release games in the Shining series, but none have really been able to capture the same feeling I got from the Force games. Now, nearly 7 years since the release of the last Shining Force game, Sega is once again bringing the series back with Shining Force NEO for the PS2.
Unlike previous Shining Force games, which were largely Strategy RPGs, NEO is more of a hack-and-slash RPG. To supplement the game's fast-paced action, NEO will make use of the right analog stick to navigate through your inventory and assign spells. Battles happen in real time in big, colorful environments, something that has always been part of the series. In place of an army, a party of three A.I.-controlled allies will accompany you during your mission. These characters will mostly hang around as backup, but won't act as dead weight either. As you level up and gain new abilities, so will they, giving you a nice, well-rounded team. So far, it looks like most of the races that made up past games, like birdmen and centaurs, will return in NEO, although it doesn't appear as though you'll be able to unlock special classes as in previous games.
No specific release date has been announced, though as far as I'm concerned, Shining Force NEO can't get here quick enough.
While the series has stuck around as an online RPG, the Phantasy Star series is set to make its return to single-player action in Phantasy Star Universe for the PC and PS2.
In PSU's single-player game you'll play as Ethan Waber, a young man on a quest to rescue his sister after a great catastrophe. Ethan's quest will take him across the galaxy where he'll meet an assortment of characters -- some friendly, some not -- all drawn from Phantasy Star's rich class and racial canon.
The game will draw heavily from the online iterations of the series in both it's offline and online modes. As in Phantasy Star Online, PSU is a action-oriented RPG. You'll have access to several spells, classes and combos. Combat pacing will also resemble PSO, offering significantly faster combat than the turn-based battles found in the series' older games. The single-player game will also find you traveling with two A.I. controlled characters.
Very little is known about the game's online options, though it is expected that you'll be able to take your custom character from the single-player game online and adventure with friends.
Going on what little information we have so far, it looks as though Sega could have a hit RPG on its hands that will appeal to both offline and online RPG fans. Phantasy Star Universe is set to be released sometime next year.