RPGs are beloved among veteran and novice gamers everywhere. A blend of exploration, intricate character building, riveting combat, and a memorable host of characters to fill out the landscape. These are the best RPGs that the genre prides itself upon excelling in. So which best RPGs do we think pull off these traits just a notch or two above the rest?
Best RPGs: Our Top Ten Picks
10. Phantasy Star
Back in 1987—the year of the Series’ birth—Phantasy Star proved itself a real trendsetter and pioneer in the best RPGs industry. Phantasy Star was a truly landmark game and one deserving of all the respect it gets. Both for its own massive thriving franchise and also for taking a few steps in the right direction at a pivotal time that benefited an entire genre.
A detailed overworld, dungeons that visually smashed its competitors, and one of the genres first ever female protagonists. Sega’s Master System title unwittingly constructed the foundations for many RPGs that followed alongside its own legacy. One that it still builds upon today with a series of 3D, dungeon crawling RPGs and even an MMO that lays claim to their own sizable fandoms.
9. Dark Souls
Dark Souls makes no claim to friendliness and outright laughs at the notion that the world it casts you into provides obvious answers or a direct narrative; it simply wants to test you in every sense possible. This unforgiving yet deceitfully fair approach in both gameplay and storytelling, both of which were refreshingly open-ended, is what made Dark Souls one of the best RPGs. The reward of scraping through every abominable trial felt all the sweeter for it.
Priding itself on the merciless rigors it ruthlessly puts you through this game offers one thing that can better prevail these tests than anything else: mastery. Mastering every meager tool you’re given to combat a world attempting to claw your throat out, as it demands you understand the precise, reactive combat system. You even find yourself adopting the tendency of reading item descriptions in an attempt to squeeze out information about the land you find yourself in.
8. Deus Ex
Something the best RPGs aim for is to put proper weight and significance on your character’s actions. What’s the point of playing a RPG if your role is not one of significance, after all.
The first Deus Ex released in 2000 was revolutionary for its time, even by today’s standards. A dynamically shifting storyline that kept itself perpetually attuned to the actions you took, as you carved your way through an impressively vast world in a unique futuristic setting. With a constantly changing way to tackle the obstacles before you. Deus Ex remains a favourite among fans and it’s clear to see why.
If this best RPGs list was nothing more than a popularity contest, this game would likely take the pole position in a runaway result. Thanks to being one of the most ridiculously popular franchises history has ever seen, with a mind-blowing large and readily loyal fanbase to boot. Even so, the Pokémon games deserve a place on this best RPGs list regardless.
A linear storyline graced with, arguably, the most open ended gameplay there has ever been in gaming, with the ability to create a team of a mere six from an ever-expanding array of hundreds of pocket monsters.
Each Pokemon has their own moves, types advantages, disadvantages, natures, varying stats, and even their gender coming into play. Pokémon is enough to keep the most ardent gamer enthralled for countless hours at a time, and we haven’t even touched upon the truly scary stuff such as EV training.
6. Fallout 2
The brilliance of Fallout 2 hinged on its setting. You could make a proper case for how in depth and incredibly intricate the world is, solely by the fact that Bethesda decided to pick it up a decade later, it immediately morphed into one of the best RPGs of that time. That alone isn’t enough justice; the only way to amply do so is to play through it first hand.
A head-spinning amount of information all packed into a world that flips off its technical constraints, with the sheer amount of clever world and character building. Though the Fallout series’ greatest heights are likely yet to be reached with the release of Fallout 4, Fallout 2 did a fantastic job putting the building blocks for the best RPGs in place.
5. The Mass Effect Trilogy
In the closing chapters of this landmark trilogy, these games became unfortunately characterized by controversy due to a backlash aimed at an admittedly hamfisted ending. Through that controversy we mustn’t forget the truly epic sci-fi saga that came before it.
The original Mass Effect trilogy may have ended on a decidedly sour note, but if you’re discounting the many tear-jerking, breath-taking moments that came before it you’re crazier than Shepherd for headbutting a Krogan.
Mass Effect has fantastic characters, making it scarily easy to develop real emotional attachments and enthralling, unrestricted gameplay. Also offering a few variating archetypes and a sprawling galaxy with a mind-boggling amount of content to dig through and much more. This is why it belongs on this best RPGs list.
4. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI was gifted to us as we stood on the edge of innovation. One of the final booming hurrahs to the 16-bit era that Square Enix made utmost use of to usher the age out. Featuring the largest playable cast of characters in a FF game to date, one that impressively had no sign of any hastily-made characters created solely to pad the ranks, and memorable moments still legendary within gaming today.
We all remember the stand of General Leo at the battle of Thamasa, the infamous Opera House scene. As progress tirelessly marches on, Final Fantasy VI is a monument to what the caring hands of a team of true gaming artisans and storytellers can do even within strict technological confines.
3. Planescape: Torment
Given the cleverly designed, intricate, and thoughtful combat is nothing to be scoffed at. The true centerpiece of Planescape: Torment was its awe-inspiringly detailed character and world building. A mastercrafted setting broad enough to encapsulate a staggering array of themes, packed full of tiny details and secrets just waiting to be scavenged out from its immensity.
The sole thing more impressive than the world itself are the characters within it. A lengthy ensemble that are each bequeathed their own generous levels of character build and focus, each of them intrinsically tying into your past in a well-made effort that develops not only theirs, but your character too. Planescape stands as a testament to properly constructed characters and worlds that very few, if any of even the best RPGs, have come close to matching.
2. Baldur’s Gate 2
Some 15 years ago, Baldur’s Gate 2 was introduced into our world. To this day it remains a brilliantly designed love letter to the very concept of how much a properly built world can impact a game. It was a staggeringly large game world in which nearly every nook, cranny, and crevice was rendered with its own tale to tell and a plethora of NPCs scattered throughout it all with engaging dialogue.
To create a world not only of this magnitude in terms of size, but also this level of detail, especially when working within the technological constraints of the year 2000, is a feat too impressive to pass up for this top 10 best RPGs list. This is all without mentioning the gameplay that boasts subtle intricacies and tactical depth to mirror the world around you.
1. The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
If you had to describe what made The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim such a fine game you could do so in one word, versatility. Looking at it through a thematic perspective, it’s built on the foundations of a house laid nearly two decades prior, with the creation of Elder Scrolls: Arena.
Skyrim feels like one of the best RPGs 17 years in the making – a grand, center-stage hurrah. A culmination of all the work lovingly poured into a now living, breathing franchise, and shifting to a gameplay perspective, Skyrim thrives no less. A broad array of methods to attack any objective with countless strategies that lie within each subset of combat. If you wanted to be a melee fighter favoring defense, you can opt to utilize a shield or you can forgo it.
The icing on the cake, and we hate to sound cheesy, but it’s unavoidable, is the community. Skyrim towed with it some incredible fan-fare and a base of ardent enthusiasts from all walks of gaming. Even though the game has no multiplayer features, unless modded, the sense of community within it came through the modding and tweaking of the game. Even just the discussion of those strange, unique occurrences that you experience as a player was as real and strong as it gets.
All of these reasons, and we’re sure you have your own on the subject too, are why we consider Skyrim the greatest RPG ever made.
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What makes the best RPGs so special is the vast diversity of all the ways you can squeeze fun out of them. You can favour a story driven experience to immerse yourself, or a sword-swinging, shield-clanging affair of blood and sweat to throw yourself headfirst into.
The array of interests that the best RPGs appeal to makes them so enjoyable, allowing us to have an equally wide array of opinions on what makes a great entry into the genre. Why not tell us what you think about our best RPGs list, or how you would’ve structured your best RPGs list by commenting below. As always, have a good one folks!