Top 10 Greatest RPGs

October 7, 2009 by Jennifer Allen  
Filed under Articles

There are a few ground rules to bear in mind before we get started. First of all, when dealing with a franchise of RPGs, the best game from the series has been chosen to represent the outstanding quality of the series. Simply put, it ensures variety. The other crucial point to note is that, without a shadow of a doubt, your favourite RPG will almost certainly be missed out. It isn’t personal; it’s simply that since the creation of the RPG genre back in the 1970s, there have been so very many phenomenal RPGs that these things happen. Having said that, if you’ve never played an RPG before then you really must play the following ten games at some point in your life. As you are about to find out they really are worth your time. And now, without further ado, the top 10 greatest RPGs in alphabetical order:

Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn

baldersgateTo put it simply, Baldur’s Gate 2 defined Western RPGs wonderfully. While so many people, including myself, were looking to the East for RPG inspiration, Bioware came seemingly out of nowhere in 1998 with Baldur’s Gate: a fantastic game that focused heavily on character development through its storytelling and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition ruleset. A mere two years later, Bioware surpassed themselves with the sequel Shadows of Amn. Again it was a triumph of storytelling and strong characterisation. The city of Athkatla, one of the main settings for the game, was supremely atmospheric and downright creepy at times, but also felt like the player was actually wandering around a bustling city, a hive of activity rather than simply a linear game setting. The dialogue choices and decisions that the main character had to undertake, that you had to decide for them, really set it apart from the crowd and made it captivating right until the end. An impressive feat for an RPG that could take 100 hours to complete! If you still haven’t played this, well all I can say to you is ‘Go for the eyes Boo, go for the eyes!’

Chrono Trigger

cronoWe in Europe were extremely unlucky when it came to the fate of Chrono Trigger. Despite being releases on the Super Nintendo in North America and Japan way back in 1995, Chrono Trigger didn’t see a PAL release until 2009! Utter madness really considering it is one of the true Japanese RPG greats. Chrono Trigger centres on the lives of a group of adventurers who must travel through time to essentially save the world in the end. However, that’s not doing true credit to the game; it has a much more complex story than that which encompasses travelling to medieval times as well as the future. Oh and befriending a talking sword wielding frog, conveniently called Frog! It was truly revolutionary at the time with its multiple endings and plot-related side quests that, although weren’t essential, revealed various facts about the main characters. Its graphics were wonderfully detailed for the time and its soundtrack distinctly memorable. To many Chrono Trigger is Square’s greatest game to date, even surpassing the likes of the Final Fantasy series, and it really is no surprise why some feel this way. An unmissable RPG that I implore those who haven’t played it yet, buy for their DS immediately!

Dragon Quest VIII

dragonquestPerhaps an odd choice to some who looked at the cutesy cel-shaded graphics and stepped away, but Dragon Quest VIII is yet another classic to come out of publishing behemoth Square. I’ll admit to being guilty of overlooking it too but it really is something special. It has some fantastic characters who don’t automatically match the typical RPG tales, such as Munchie the hero’s pet mouse and the loveable Yangus, a former thief. The antagonists are just as interesting with the sinister jester Dhoulmagus who makes a formidable foe. Be warned though: it’s surprisingly difficult even for RPG veterans but it is a rewarding experience that in many ways was before its time thanks to features such as the ability to make potions using alchemy, something that we take for granted now. Simply put, Dragon Quest VIII manages to do everything you would expect from a JRPG, but does it all so damned well.

Fallout 3

f3Stepping away from the dominance of the JRPG, we come to Fallout 3. It’s a much bleaker affair than others in this list with its post apocalyptic portrayal of Washington DC but it is especially compelling thanks to this change of scenery. Based upon the same game engine used by Oblivion, Bethesda built upon the success of the medieval title and used the Fallout license to create something that is truly memorable. The level of freedom offered to the player was nearly intimidating but managed to instead be hugely refreshing. One could quite easily spend hundreds of hours in the Fallout 3 world and not run out of things to do. Besides the freedom offered, the main storyline was compelling thanks to its strong characters (including a terrific turn by Liam Neeson as the main protagonist’s father) and the wealth of choices was overwhelming. So many thousands of words could be written about Fallout 3 but none would do it justice, go buy it. Now.

Final Fantasy VII

ffviiReturning to the Japanese world of RPGs after the harsh reality of Fallout 3 is Final Fantasy VII, which also had its harsh moments. Set in Midgar, an industrial metropolis whose people are oppressed by the might of the Shinra government; Final Fantasy VII tells the story of Cloud Strife, a moody former member of Shinra’s armed forces: SOLDIER. The world is under threat by the might of Sephiroth, another former member of SOLDIER who has gone a bit off the rails and is now ridiculously powerful. Much like Fallout 3, it is truly epic. At the time of its release it was a huge revelation and to many, the first RPG of a generation. Besides the intricate storyline covering so many emotional tales for Cloud’s comrades such as Tifa, Barrett and the incomparable Aeris, it also offered so very many minigames to hold the player’s attention even more so. It even offered a plotline that involved Cloud having to cross-dress to infiltrate a brothel, how many other games can offer such originality? Final Fantasy VII was truly one of a kind.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

zeldaA slightly different beast compared to previous entries here due to its action based roots, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the pinnacle of achievement in the Zelda series of games. It was the sort of game that made people, without a Nintendo 64, desperate to get hold of one, myself included. It provided a somewhat typical story of stop Ganondorf from obtaining the Triforce thus saving the world, but its beauty was in its gameplay. It introduced features such as the target lock system and context sensitive buttons which made things just so simple and smooth: the sort of thing we come to expect from adventure titles now. A lot of the time in game was spent exploring dungeons and solving puzzles. Some of these were frustrating but they always made perfect sense once solved, the same can be said of the boss encounters. That’s not forgetting the use of the Ocarina to solve music-based puzzles and the occasions where you could ride Epona, a horse that you quickly become attached to. Ocarina of Time is the sort of title that will never be forgotten.

Pokémon Red/Blue

pokemonredbluePerhaps a somewhat controversial one, we come to Pokémon. Yes that insane craze that hit us all in the late 1990s where the whole purpose was ‘gotta catch em all’. Sure it might not be the most high brow of RPG but it is deceptively brilliant if you’re willing to sacrifice a little pride to admit you play it. Pokémon as you would expect is all about collecting up all the Pokémon in the game world. To do this you have to capture many wild ones and also fight other Pokémon trainers to collect up theirs too. It’s a simple but fun concept that becomes incredibly addictive. Much of this is down to the simplicity of things as you wander from town to town fighting and collecting Pokémon to eventually defeat the Elite Four and win the game. All I can say is don’t turn your nose up without giving it a try; I have no doubt that you will be pleasantly surprised!

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

starwarsRather humorously we go from a very lightweight RPG to something that can be downright nasty at times: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. Thanks to the wonder of Bioware (which we already saw earlier with Baldur’s Gate 2), the Star Wars license was used fantastically at last in the guise of an action based RPG. As some of you may have noticed, there is no sight of Mass Effect in this list and that’s because Knights of the Old Republic is superior to it. It truly captured the magic of George Lucas’s world with the rise of a seemingly ordinary character discovering that he/she is a Jedi. The voice acting was sublime and the story compelling. It was yet another great example of how being able to affect the game world through your actions can really make a game special. It was especially true in this game as you can turn to the dark side or stick with the Jedi way of doing things. It’s ridiculously cheap to pick up now, so you know what to do. Right?

Suikoden 2

suikoden-2-pal1The Suikoden series of games is a series that hasn’t had the praise or coverage that it deserves in recent years, but it truly is one to look out for. In the case of Suikoden 2, your main source is going to have to be eBay these days and only if you have a fair bit of spare cash as this is certainly a rare one. It is however worth every penny. It’s the typical story that you expect from any old RPG but that’s not what makes it so great. No, that comes from the fact that you can recruit 108 characters to accompany you on your epic journey. Yeah you read that right, 108! That’s not forgetting that you also have your own headquarters that they live in. Or the fact that besides fighting against enemies with six of your chosen fighters, you can also pit an armies against armies in massive battles, oh and one on one duels, and the cooking mini game. So yes, you may not have heard much about Suikoden 2 but it really is one that’s worth tracking down somehow. Take note Sony and Konami: we demand a re-release!

World of Warcraft

world-of-warcraft-logoFinally we come to the behemoth that is World of Warcraft. Sure it’s a MMORPG but it’s still an RPG and what a game. Its premise is one of the simplest on this list: kill monsters, collect loot and complete quests. Nonetheless, World of Warcraft has stolen many of our hearts, our money and in some cases, our soul. It represents the pinnacle of the MMORPG genre, and still does. The very fact that its base of subscribers continues to grow is testament to its quality more than any words here could be.

So what have we learnt from this list? A good RPG needs a compelling story and set of characters but that’s not to say that it has to be original. The world ending is always appealing regardless of how often it’s been used before. Being able to make dialogue choices throughout the game that go onto affect later scenes is always good and really can improve a game. Minigames are always welcome if well implemented. And finally creating a MMORPG that is both addictive yet simple, is always a winner in anyone’s books!