Look, we get it. Swamps and RPGs don’t have a great history together. Many of us cringe when it becomes increasingly clear our characters are headed for these sweaty scenes, dreading such attacks on our joy as constant poison damage and giant mosquito monsters.
We’ve set out on an epic quest to drum up a list of swamps that aren’t so bad once you get to know them. Are any of them RPG areas for the ages? Close. Do we think they ought to be taken into account before folks paint the entire concept in putrid green shades? As a matter of fact, we do.
7 Chrono Cross-Hydra Marsh
Beauty and plot utility collide with Chrono Cross’ Hydra Marsh, the dank home of titular Hydra beasts here in the sunny El Nido Archipelago. Like most places, the Hydra Marsh is technically two separate locations thanks to the game’s parallel dimension shtick. That said, it’s the same general layout, albeit with impressively different vibes.
The more emerald and aquamarine hues of the water here don’t diminish its sense of stifling humidity, nor its penchant for conventional swamp-like foes. And also dwarves. Because that’s how Chrono Cross rolls. What makes the Hydra Marsh so nostalgic, however, is its direct tie with the game’s hardest moral quandary: do you fetch medicine from a Hydra to save your friend? Or do you… not, because you really want Chrono Cross’ most powerful swordsman on your side, and he won’t team up otherwise?
6 Fallout 3 – Point Lookout
Fallout 3 has plenty of well-written quests throughout its primary setting, the Capitol Wasteland. After a while, however, the factions and their machinations, the presidential landmarks and their fascination, all kind of muddle together. After the first few dozen hours, you’ll be glad to never see a subway station again.
Enter Fallout 3’s several great DLCs, several of which players take outside the main hub’s hubbub to singular locations. Point Lookout’s set off the coast of Maryland, not so terribly far from the ruins of the White House as to feel like an unbelievably abrupt trek. The scenery is, well, swampy. Despite the obvious limitations of Fallout 3’s engine, a nice foggy filter and some eerily zigzagging trees go a long way to make us feel uneasy.
That’s nice and all, but it would have been just another marshland were it not for a level of quest writing that at times eclipses the base game’s. It’s not quite the best Fallout 3 has to offer, but it’s fittingly creepy and more than a bit cheeky. Don’t upset the locals. They belong to a brutally specific stereotype involving gun-toting shoot-first-ask-laters.
5 Final Fantasy 7 – Marshes
In any other case, it would be a bad sign of our authority on a subject if we had to look up the name of a place before mentioning it. Truly, the marshes are a nameless swamp. They’re not even a level, per se, and so we were hesitant to include them. They’re a specific spot on Final Fantasy 7’s traversable world map, and if you’re unfamiliar with how older JRPGs handled worlds, you’d frequently travel global distances in minutes courtesy of immensely simplified scales.
So, we have a not-quite-level with an utterly generic name. And yet, we’re willing to bet that any Final Fantasy 7 fan knows exactly where we’re going with this. The marshes, ye see, are home to a sizable serpent called the Midgar Zolom. Was this a mistranslation of Midgardsormr? Yeah, it was. Did the foul creature still manage to terrify millions of players despite its spotty translation? Yeah, it did.
If you check out our screenshot, you’ll see the telltale shadow of a line. Should you attempt to cross the marsh on foot, rather than aboard a steadfast (and evidently fearless) Chocobo, the Midgar Zolom will almost surely catch up to you, and unless you’re profoundly overleveled for this fairly early point in the game, you ‘re dead.
Just wait until you see the brief cutscene after successfully reaching the other side, though. It’s simultaneously terrifying and oddly comforting.
Morrowind is an RPG about bitter people feuding bitterly, on a bitterly cold and desolate island called Vvardenfell. So it goes that it takes an especially bitter atmosphere to warrant naming something ‘Bitter Coast’ within an inherently bitter locale.
honestly? We’re not sure the Bitter Coast fits the bill. Sure, it’s got the hallmarks of a boggy area. And aye, it feels inhospitable beyond the guarded borders of places like Seyda Neen, where Morrowind’s grand tale begins. But compared with plenty of other areas on Vvardenfell, it’s downright cozy. Barren wastes, rivers filled with carnivorous fish, a literal volcano — one might almost call the Bitter Coast cozy.
Even still, it manages to come across as distinctly alien, a first taste of the madness to come, an easing into the many-splendored and ever-fierce world the Dunmer call their own.
3 Pokemon Legends: Arceus – The Crimson Mirelands
Would Pokemon Legends: Arceus’ Crimson MIrelands make the cut if it weren’t the first swampy setting of considerable size in this long-running and perennially popular series? Maybe, maybe not. Future iterations on Arceus’ excellent formula would make it that much more entertaining.
The charm behind Pokemon’s success is its massive roster of diverse and endearing creatures, many of which you can find, battle, and catch right here in this marshy corner of Hisui’s untamed frontier. The thrill of sneaking around the Crimson Mirelands’ thickets of vegetation and avoiding too much of a splash in its muddy water, en route to a prized and premium catch, is one of those things that can be improved with time, but might never feel quite so memorable again.
2 Dragon Age: Inquisition – Fallow Mire
Critics of Dragon Age: Inquisition tend to take issue with what is perceived “MMO-like” quest design, and admittedly, not every mission in this game feels fresh, even by 2014 standards. Yet if there is one thing most will have no difficulty agreeing over, it’s this — Inquisition is gorgeous.
Whatever BioWare’s Dragon Age team did to the Frostbite Engine to make the game pop so prettily, every vast zone is stunning in its own right. Do people typically use words like gorgeous and stunning when describing a swamp? Nope, and you know, that’s fair.
Gorgeously well-rendered, more like, and stunningly detailed. And haunted. Oh, so wonderfully haunted. With walking skeletons and other such ghouls, and a tribe of warriors who brook no slights, and only a few magic lamps to guide one’s way. Fallow Mire is, above all, a lesson in why day-and-night systems aren’t always necessary in wide-open RPGs. We doubt it would look half as moody beneath the sun’s rays.
1 Xenoblade Chronicles – Satorl Marsh
And then there’s Xenoblade Chronicles’ Satorl Marsh, quite possibly the perfect lesson in how day-and-night systems can invoke absolute awe.
Any JRPG enthusiast who has played through Monolith Soft’s first installment in this outstanding series probably holds Satorl Marsh in a special place in their heart. By day, it’s just another swamp. The music sells it, sedate with a hint of danger and slow beats to drive home the solitude. The wildlife is what you’d expect from a fantasy game’s rendition, with giant frogs and ever-watchful hawk-like predators. It is what it is.
By night, it’s a whole different story. Feast your eyes above on just one small, altogether inadequate example of the beautifully exotic Satorl Marsh come evening and into the wee hours. It’s bright, it’s vibrant, and the music is sublime.
It’s also so much more dangerous than its daytime counterpart, despite the soothing choir and serene melody. In that fashion, it’s like the Midgar Zolom without form; ye don’t see the serpent’s shadow, but a deceptively inviting wonderland.
Next:Final Fantasy – Every Version Of Bahamut, Ranked