This week the Gamer Horizon crew tackles what is arguably the most enduring genre in all of video games. From the primitive “Adventure” for the Atari 2600 almost 35 years ago, the role playing game has had popular titles throughout every console generation and with the massive success of World of Warcraft to the upcoming shooter/RPG hybrid The Division, the RPG has been at the forefront of video games regardless of platform. In light of this we decided to offer our lists of favorites. It’s The Top 5: RPGs!
My RPG fandom began with the original Final Fantasy, so you can at least expect one Final Fantasy to make this list. But, as of late, Western RPGs have appeared in the forefront and JRPGs have seemingly taken a seat in the back this generation. Regardless of where the games came from however, one thing is for certain: the RPG is a genre that, while it takes quite a bit of time to defeat and master, delivers an outstanding and engaging experience from beginning to end, with characters that you’ll laugh with, cry with, and go to war with. But above all, the most important aspect of my choices are rooted in one very important criteria: “Am I still able to play this game and deal with it years after it is released?” Here’s my picks for my favorite RPGs of all time!
5. Mass Effect – The original Mass Effect bears the unique distinction of being the ONLY video game that I played for almost 20 hours straight. The only reason I didn’t keep playing was because at 4:00am, I realized that I had to get up and go to work in 3 hours! And while Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 continuously refined, simplified, and improved upon the formula of the original, I missed the ability to augment certain types of ammo to your weapons and being able to fine tune your squad’s gear to the situation. Yes, the Mako driving really sucked, but I had a little bit of fun trying to defeat those worm creatures while driving around in this vast planet, mining for minerals and exploring recently uninhabited settlements. And yes, I’m still working on an Insanity playthrough as well!
4. Dragon Age: Origins – Called by many as a return to form by developer Bioware, Dragon Age: Origins tells a dark fantasy tale about an evil that’s been long gone that is soon to come back and ravage the world. Yea, this might be typical fare for some of you, but back in an era where Game of Thrones didn’t even exist on HBO, THIS was your source for sex, fantasy, dragons, and the Blight. Make no mistake: the story told in Dragon Age: Origins is so ahead of its time that you can build your character in multiple ways that determine your personal story arc, which was seamlessly woven through the game’s overarching storyline.
Personally, I felt that the game was a cross between Baldur’s Gate and everything the developer learned by creating Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (which you are probably noticing is missing from this list. Yup), and I was completely okay with this! And though the quality of Dragon Age II forced me to temper my excitement for the next sequel, Dragon Age: Inquisition, I’m hopeful that the developers will look back at this game and say, “Hey, let’s not muck around with that formula and make sure the next one is just as awesome and epic as Dragon Age: Origins!” I can hope, right?
3. Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King – Apart from reading about Dragon Warrior III/Dragon Quest III when I was young and how that RPG had a day/night cycle, I had never really truly played a Dragon Quest game until Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King came out… and I only picked up the game because of the promise of being able to play the demo of Final Fantasy XIII. Needless to say, I am thankful that I actually bought this game because, as it turned out, I would eventually come to love this particular iteration of the series.
With a brilliant voice cast and a fantastic orchestral soundtrack that was not originally present in its original Japanese release, topped with an explorable overworld map, Dragon Quest VIII: The Journey of the Cursed King made every single old school choice that the developers kept more bearable while still enhancing the overall storytelling experience. Which reminds me: I still have to finish Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies at some point…
2. Final Fantasy VI - Suicide. Depression. Hopelessness. Apocalypse. Death. These are just some of the themes that Final Fantasy VI explored in its simple 16-bit World of Balance. Headlined by the Magitek-crown controlled Terra, we met a cast of colorful characters with back stories that rival even some of the today’s best JRPGs. The game bears the distinction of being the last game that Yoshitaka Amano created in-game artwork for. Personally, it is very high on this list because of one very important distinction: it is the only Final Fantasy game where the villain was actually able to fulfill their wishes. Because of this horrific event, which destroyed whole parts of a continent, gamers across the globe have learned to fear this Joker’s laugh, and many still fear it even to this day: “Wark wark wark wark wark!” [Uh, Alex? That sounds more like a Chocobo than Kefka. Just sayin'. -Ari]
1. Persona 4 Golden – Persona 4 was such an incredible revelation for me in every respect. For starters, I hated collecting monsters to “fight for me,” and I didn’t like how the whole goal of those kinds of games was to “catch them all.” I hate 100%ing games and at no point will I start doing that sort of thing. Yet, somehow, I felt compelled to replay Persona 4 as Persona 4 Golden and, in my second playthrough, I actually want to get a Platinum trophy in that damned game!
Maybe it’s because the game had such a rich storyline that was complemented by both the necessity and the utility of the Social Links system that it forced me to learn so much about the characters I met. And while other games, like the Tales series, has had similar mechanics for many years prior, the setting of Persona 4 Golden was so intimate in its size that you began to get to know who people were by virtue of the fact that you live in a small rural town.
To top it off, Persona 4 Golden’s extra content are more than just trivial add-ons – they actually add something significant to the story and enhance what was already an incredible experience. I could write so much more about Persona 4 Golden that it could be its own article (coming soon), but know that every single RPG, Japanese or Western, will have to answer to this game. It has replaced Final Fantasy VI as my favorite RPG of all time, and it’d be hard pressed for any developer to provide a replacement for this, including the Persona 5 team. By the way Atlus, that was a dare.
You’d think with me being the “RPG-guy” here at Gamer Horizon that this particular Top 5 would have been the easiest for me to write. On the contrary, picking only 5 RPGs after over 25 years of enjoying the genre is practically impossible. If I were to consider how many games I would have given a 9 or a 10 had I reviewed them when they were relevant throughout my life, there’d be at least 50 games to choose from, and that’s a conservative estimate. So the question is: how do I approach this list? Do I pick the games that were the most impactful in my life? Or do I focus on games that best withstood the test of time? Is historical significance the most important? Do I weigh storyline over gameplay? Should I restrict myself to only one title from each franchise? How the hell am I going to do this?
Alright, Ari, it’s time to brainstorm. Best RPGs: GO! Final Fantasy VI, Dragon Quest IV, Suikoden II, Earthbound, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest III, Phantasy Star II, Phantasy Star IV, Final Fantasy X, Persona 4, Dragon Age: Origins, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Pokemon Blue/Red/Yellow, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2, Suikoden, Suikoden V, Breath of Fire II, Lufia, Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals, Lunar: The Silver Star, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, Phantasy Star Online, World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Final Fantasy Tactics, Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinel of the Starry Skies, Persona 3, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Paper Mario, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Alundra, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Skies of Arcadia, Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 2, Phantom Brave, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout 3, Dragon Quest VII, Dungeon Master, Wild Arms, Panzer Dragoon Saga… I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple dozen more.
Okay, now to pick 5… hmm… let’s start with games I absolutely can’t live without: Final Fantasy VI, Suikoden II, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy X, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy IV, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 & 2, Dragon Quest IV, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Final Fantasy VII… this is impossible. Even if I pick 5 of these, placing them in a specific order is like choosing between food, water and air. Alright, screw it… choosing five from that list… here we go!
I’ve picked the games and I’ve decided the order! I just want to say that although I’ve placed these games in a specific order, they would all earn equal 10s from me if I had to review them now. Without further ado, here are my favorite RPGs of all time:
5. Suikoden II – This is painful. One of my favorite games of all time is stuck in the last position on my list of favorite RPGs! But that’s how close these games are in terms of quality. Suikoden II is my favorite game in one of my favorite RPG franchises of all time. I loved the original Suikoden as well, and like that game and each other game in the series, Suikoden II allows the player to recruit an army 108 strong. But this particular Suikoden also has a powerful and emotional storyline, a dastardly villain, a lightning fast battle engine and an incredible cast. I loved this game so much that when Suikoden III came out, I was very disappointed by the changes they made, and considered it a major disappointment despite it being a pretty good game. Suikoden IV was even worse, though Suikoden V was a fine return to form. It’s a real shame that we may never see Suikoden VI, but with any luck the Suikoden Revival Movement will earn Konami’s attention and motivate them to make the game.
4. Final Fantasy VI – I’ve always had a difficult time choosing between whether I liked Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy VI better, and my opinion tends to waver back and forth. Today, Final Fantasy VI wins. It’s a game filled with epic moments, amazing characters, exceptional music and an outstanding storyline. I especially like how each character is unique in combat, though this was also the first game in the series to allow every character to learn every spell, an unfortunate trend that stuck with the series as it moved forward. But that doesn’t diminish the quality of the game overall. Though it was Final Fantasy VII that really made RPGs popular in the west, Final Fantasy VI paved the road. It’s an outstanding game and easily one of the Top 3 RPGs on Super Nintendo.
3. Chrono Trigger – Then again, so is Chrono Trigger. Of all the video games to feature a time travel mechanic, I think Chrono Trigger did it best (with all due respect to Radiant Historia and Final Fantasy XIII-2). It used time travel to add weight to the urgency of the quest in very effective ways, such as letting the playing experience the bleak future of the world by witnessing the darkness, the starving populace and the hopelessness of that time. Chrono Trigger is another RPG with a fantastic cast, despite its silent protagonist. It also has one of my favorite video game soundtracks of all time, with tons of memorable melodies that set the tone of the game perfectly. It also had an excellent battle engine, that used positioning and area of effect skills to spice up the Active Time Battle system it borrowed from the Final Fantasy series. Though it is an old game, I hope everyone gets a chance to experience Chrono Trigger. It is available on the Wii virtual console.
2. Final Fantasy X – HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Yup. That’s not Tidus; that’s me, laughing at all you haters. I know this is a very divisive game in the series, so I’m willing to accept my share of flames for defending it, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Final Fantasy X is my favorite game in the series. I absolutely love the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system used in the game. As much respect as I have for the Active Dimension Battles (and Gambit) system in Final Fantasy XII and the Command Synergy Battle system from Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2, I’m honestly disappointed that we have not seen another game utilize the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system from Final Fantasy X since.
I also really enjoy the story and characters in Final Fantasy X. I do admit that the voice acting leaves something to be desired, but that does not make the characters any less likable in my opinion. Obviously Auron is everyone’s favorite, but I actually like every single member of the cast, even Kimahri! The game is also very thorough in its explanation of its lore, from the world’s religion and political system to its history. I fell in love with Spira, with Blitzball, with Summoners and Aeons. It’s just a fantastic game from start to finish, and the International version (to be included with Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster) adds even more content to an already packed game. It may not be as historically significant as Final Fantasy VII, but in my opinion, Final Fantasy X is the pinnacle of the series.
1. The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim – I suppose it’s ironic that this game got the number one spot considering I enjoyed the storyline in all of the previously listed games more than any of the various plotlines in Skyrim, but in this case, gameplay triumphs. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of my favorite games to play, and it might actually be my favorite game of all time—though we’ll have to wait and see when the time comes to write that list.
It’s the only RPG I can think of where it’s fun to just wander around for hours on end without any specific goal in mind. No matter what direction you wander in, you’re guaranteed to come across something interesting, whether it’s a foreboding cave or a mysterious ruin. And if you choose to enter such a place, you will likely find hints that explain what may have transpired there before your arrival, such as notes and journal entries, or maybe something more sinister like bloodstains on the walls or piles of skeletons. Of course, it might be a habited dungeon, filled with bandits or vampires, or catacombs haunted by ghosts and undead.
But no matter what, when you play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you’re in for a grand adventure, even if you choose to ignore the many significant quest chains that provide the bulk of the structured content throughout the game. Skyrim drips with lore and history, and it’s just waiting for the type of player who is willing to get completely absorbed into it. With user created content, it becomes a game that can be played infinitely. This is the perfect (internet enabled and powered) desert island game, and despite the hundreds of hours and I have already put into it, I know that hundreds more await me the next time I give Skyrim my attention. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a masterpiece, and my favorite RPG of all time.
Our regular readers may be surprised to know this but my first real love of genres was the RPG. I still have fond memories of playing the Dungeons and Dragons campaign, White Plum Mountain, or other pen and paper RPGs like Top Secret and Star Frontiers. When video games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy made their way into my hands and eyeballs, they also made their way into my heart. A love that has endured across generations of consoles, and to this day I will always look for a new one to play. While I could easily fill up a list of 25, I can only list 5 so here goes:
5. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – This game is friggin’ hard. Obtuse, but rewarding combat saddled with a perplexing and nigh tedious menu system, The Witcher 2 is not a game you can simply pick up and play. But put your time in and you will have experienced one of the finest action RPGs to ever grace PC and consoles. Betrayal and intrigue meshed with copious amounts of fantasy violence and sex, The Witcher 2 is about as mature a game as one could get. Engrossing from start to finish, fun to play once you learn the combat systems, the game was a blast to play and revisit. If not for the menu into submenu hell of the game, it would have been much higher on my list. That said, it’s still a damn fine game and without a doubt one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.
4. Mass Effect – Bioware returned to sci-fi for the Xbox 360, only this time it wasn’t Star Wars like many had hoped, but rather a brand new, original IP called Mass Effect. While the game didn’t feature Jedi or Sith, it did feature “Biotics” and hybrids, who had several similar powers to those found in the Star Wars universe, and some wholly new ideas and powers of their own. Right off the bat, Bioware promised big and delivered. While not without its flaws–the Mako missions were tedious at best and the menu system wasn’t nearly as intuitive as it could have been–Mass Effect delivered deep customization, a great sense of player choice and a rich, engrossing storyline. The latter entries in the series streamlined, almost to a fault, the RPG elements in favor of a tighter action game experience, but in terms of action RPGs, the first Mass Effect is one of the very best.
3. Final Fantasy XII – I love most of the proper numbered Final Fantasy games equally if for different reasons. That said, if I had to pick the one I enjoyed the most it would be a tie between Final Fantasy VI and XII. Since I find ties to be a cop out, I decided to throw my full support behind Final Fantasy XII for a few simple reasons:
a) it’s gorgeous and I’m absurdly shallow.
b) It did away with random encounters. This time I could see every fight I was going to get into and I could avoid them as necessary. Something I think should return to every RPG ever made going forward.
c) The Gambit system. This was without a doubt the best combat system in any turn-based RPG ever. I became so good at it, that I could and did get into a combat scenario, put my controller down and watch my party fight and defeat almost any foe with minimal interference on my part. Intuitive and incredibly effective, I wholly stand by the fact that I completely avoided playing XIII because it wasn’t included.
2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – I love RPGs. I love Star Wars. For years I thought a merging of the two was a no-brainer as Star Wars is less science fiction (I honestly don’t think it’s science fiction at all, actually) and more a fantasy set in space. Well, Bioware not only delivered a fantastic playing game, but also wrote one of the best Star Wars stories ever. It’s a shame they relegated their proper follow up to the MMO space. Yes, I personally have zero interest in MMOs but apparently I’m not the only one because The Old Republic never did find a massive audience. Hopefully with EA’s new Star Wars deal, Bioware can give the fans what they really want – a proper follow up.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – I have talked at length about my love for this game and you will be seeing more about it in the very near future. That said, I thought I would share some anecdotal evidence as to why I still and will remain to hold this game in reverence.
This weekend I decided to use my downtime to run through and wrap up the Dawnguard and Dragonborn DLC, get some last few trophies and put a nice tidy bow on it. Simple right? Only the game won’t let me! Over the course of the weekend I began 3 new quests, met new characters, discovered 5 new areas, and fought and killed a Legendary Dragon. I’ve put in over 300 hours into this game now, and 2 years later there is still stuff to do. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is truly unrivaled when it comes to content. Anything less in Fallout 4 will be a major disappointment.
5. Digital Devil Saga - A spinoff in the Shin Megami Tensei series, nothing screams departure more than within the first 30 minutes of the game, when cannibalism becomes a central theme of the game. While grindy like its SMT siblings, Digital Devil Saga explores dark themes, and ends part 1 with a cruel and twisted cliffhanger. Though years passed between the releases of Part 1 and 2, we eventually did get the complete saga stateside.
4. Mass Effect Trilogy – Bioware fulfilled a promise of letting actions in part 1 of a trilogy affect part 3. Mass Effect promised a lot in the early days when it came out in 2007, with the full effect yet unknown until the final part in 2012. Amazingly, the grandiose space opera, while its battle system changed over the three parts, never strayed from the idea of letting us be Commander Shepard, and do what we wanted when we wanted, with all the consequences and repercussions therein.
3. Xenoblade Chronicles - This recent release won JRPG of the Year in 2012 from a number of outlets. With music by Yasunori Mitsuda, who arguably does his best work yet, and a battle system reminiscent of MMORPG’s with a psuedo-open world to match, it’s a shame Xenoblade Chronicles is in short supply, and can only be found at Gamestop for inflated prices (though they were the publisher in America). This game is awesome. Some great British voicework rounds out the package, and though it has a presentation that sometimes feels last-gen at times, it has sensibilities and awareness that beat out many titles on PS3 and Xbox 360.
2. Chrono Trigger - Developed by a dream team from Square and Enix before they merged, Chrono Trigger is an elegy to everyone of my age. With some of the most memorable music of all time, a relatively easy to follow plot with plenty of optional sidequests, and a battle system that allows you to combine abilities for maximum fun, Chrono Trigger was the epitome of RPG’s on the Super NES. Remade for PlayStation and later, the DS and mobile phones with additional features including new endings, and a new end boss that links directly to Chrono Cross, it’s easy to find a way to play this modern classic.
1. Final Fantasy VI - So, so many people swear by this game. I do too. Over 12 characters are thrown together in a plot of intrigue as a legendary madman, Kefka, takes over the world. One of my favorite parts of this game was the Esper system, wherein characters would equip these summons, and while they did, would gradually learn magic spells. The battle system also featured individual special powers for each character. Sabin’s street-fighter style Blitz techniques, Cyan’s Sword tech charging gauge, and Mog’s dancing all let you approach battle in different ways.
5. Final Fantasy VI - This was the very first Final Fantasy game I ever played. I played it on the Super Nintendo and was curious about the title. After the first hour, I was hooked. Not only was the story great, but I was really impressed with each character’s back story and motivation. This game is also the first time I saw a sociopathic character who was obsessed with power. It was Kefka, the harlequin clown who destroyed the world as he gained ultimate power. Another part of the game that stood out was the opera scene that seemed to come out of nowhere. This part of the game caught my interest because the gameplay continued with the characters battling numerous enemies. Final Fantasy VI is the game that got me hooked on RPG’s and the reason I continued playing the Final Fantasy series.
4. Final Fantasy VII - After playing Final Fantasy VI, owning Final Fantasy VII was a given. Like a lot of other people including myself, Final Fantasy VII was one of the best RPG’s and Final Fantasy games ever made. What made this game good was not just the story but the gameplay and character development. As a character, Cloud Strife started off as an ass but eventually turned around to being a cool character that starts to care for his friends. It was a long and emotional journey for Cloud that turned him emo for a moment. Final Fantasy VII got me so hooked that when Aeris died, I restated the game thinking I did something wrong. After the second play through, I realized I would not be able to save her. After that, I dedicated to making Cloud as strong as possible so I could destroy her killer.
3. Fallout 3 - I first played Fallout 3 at a friend’s house and had to get the game. I was really impressed with how this new story continued from Fallout and Fallout 2. After making it out of vault 101, I became obsessed with finding all the other vaults in the game and seeing what the world had to offer. I explored every portion of the game including playing all the DLC. I loved the V.A.T.S. system that stopped that action in the game, allowing the player to target and shoot any part of an enemy’s body. Not only can players shoot enemies using the V.A.T.S. system, but they can also use melee weapons, grenades and rocket launchers. The enemies in the game can be really dangerous, especially the Deathclaws that roam the wastelands. The last thing a player wants to do is run into a deathclaw while shooting at a super mutant.
2. Persona 4 - I never thought I would like Persona 4 but I did. The game takes place in Japan showing off the culture and education system. One of the things I liked about Persona 4 was its sense of mystery. Throughout the entire game, I never knew what was coming next. I liked the story of people appearing on the midnight channel and then dying soon after. The game also improved the social link system from Persona 3, allowing the player to get better acquainted with his friends and other characters in the game. Between the social links and side jobs, it’s hard to see how the main character has enough time to solve a series of murders that start as soon as he arrives in town.
1. Dragon Age: Origins - The biggest thing I like about this game is the ability to create your own character while choosing from three different races, three different classes, and six different backgrounds. I also enjoy all the voice acting, the great storyline, and the simple fact that this is a Bioware game. I originally chose to be a dwarf noble who was accused of killing his father. My character was given the opportunity to leave and become a grey warden to save his life. The game offers different beginnings for the different character backgrounds the player chooses. These introductions also play into the later parts of the story. Another thing the player can do is start up a relationship with almost any member of their party. Along with all the characters that join the party and the side quests, every event in the game has something to do with the main story.
What are your favorite RPGs? Let us know in the comments below!