The popularity of RPGs (Role Playing Games) has waxed and waned over the years. After years of being a niche market RPGs exploded on the mainstream with the run away success of Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. These days, RPGs are still more of a niche than a mainstream entertainment, but there are at least a few "hit" titles every year along with mega successes like "World of Warcraft."
In this article, I will be covering the ten Role Playing games which are my personal favorites of all time.
Released in the late 70s, this game is the oldest on my list and in fact was already outdated when I first discovered it in the late 80s. Zork is a text-based adventure game, which means it has no graphics, not even primitive ones. I discovered it while messing around on an ancient Apple II computer my parents picked up at a garage sale. It was kind of similar to a choose your own adventure book, except that instead of picking between a couple options or chosing a random number from a chart, you could type in whatever you could think of and you'd either hit on a combination that accomplished something in the game or get a smart alec reply of some sort. What really drew me into this fantasy game was the goofy and sometimes dark humor and the feeling of being immersed in a fantasy world that even the best graphical games just can't quite achieve.
Fable II has a place in my heart both for what it is, a visually stunning and engaging gaming experience, and what it could have been. Like Fable I, Fable II promises much that it doesn't deliver on. Fable was billed to be a genre shattering unique experience that would take you from childhood to adulthood completely molding itself to the choices your character makes. In reality the childhood part of both games doesn't amount to much and while your choices do have some effect on the world, it's mostly superficial and the changes to your character, making them look more "good" or "evil," are kind of goofy. So why is this game on my list? It's just plain fun. There's plenty of quests and fun things to unlock, weapons and spells to collect a unique and exciting action/rpg battle system, and plenty of humor. For all its flaws, Fable II is a game I keep coming back to. Unfortunately, while not terrible Fable III takes a step backwards, so I'm not overly optimistic that Fable will ever reach its true potential.
These days it's popular in many circles to deride KOTR as one of the most overrated games of all time, but I still love it. Sure the graphics were a little repetitive and it had plenty of flaws, but it's one of the few games based on the Star Wars license that actually gets it right. You actually feel like you're immersed in the Star Wars Universe and the story, while a bit convoluted, is fun enough and BioWare introduces their dialog based decision system here, which was a refreshing change from earlier alignment based games. Some of the characters are duds, but some of them are truly awesome and it's fun to run around flinging force powers and getting into lightsaber battles. BioWare stubbornly refuses to make a sequel (they are currently working on a Star Wars MMORPG bleh) and the Obsidian sequel was not nearly as satisfying but this game remains my sole reason for owning the original Xbox.
This was the game that really caused me to fall in love with the RPG. By today's standards the graphics are pitiful, the random battles and level grinding tedious and the story nearly non-existent, but back then it was magic. Swords, sorcery, dragons, dungeons, it had it all and I loved every minute of it. I feverishly explored every inch of every dungeon and every corner of the overworld seeking out new adventures and loot. Sure RPGs have gotten bigger, prettier and more complicated since then, but Dragon Warrior paved the way. Dragon Warrior 4, 7 and 8 are also excellent games in their own right and highly recommended.
Suikoden drew some fire from hardcore RPGers for including some kind of dumb scenes, like the infamous "tea choice," however I quickly fell in love with this game. Suikoden featured some of the prettiest graphics yet seen on the Playstation, fantastic music and a fun story line, but the best thing about the game was finding and collecting the 108 stars of destiny. That's right, Suikoden has 108 playable characters! Sure you won't actually use most of them, but hunting them all down was a ton of fun, as was watching your castle grow and expand as you gathered up characters. The game also added a feature where various groupings of "stars" had special attacks which were a lot of fun to play around with. This game has tons of replay value and is another one I go back to time and again. The Suikoden games didn't sell well when first released and can be pricey to purchase these days, but if you get a chance I highly recommend Suikoden I, II & V. The middle installments kinda went off the rails, so I'd skip those.
A Link to the Past was the third installment in the Zelda series and the first on the SNES. While I loved and played the heck out of the original Zelda and have not loved as much the post SNES era Zelda games, A Link to the Past holds a special place in my gaming heart. There was just something about the graphical presentation, the music and discovering just as you thought the game was over that there was a whole new world to explore that made this installment something special. Plus it contains all the boomeranging, arrow shooting, sword swinging and puzzle solving goodness of the original action RPG classic.
This highly anticipated sequel to Chrono Trigger, in typical Square fashion, is not really a direct sequel, but more a play on a theme. Like the previous installment, Chrono Cross utilizes time travel as a main theme and device for advancing the story. In Chrono Cross, Serge, the main protagonist, must travel through parallel worlds to uncover the mystery behind his own existence and ultimately save the world. What makes Chrono Cross so compelling is its excellent story with an unexpected and interesting mid-game plot twist and amazing cast of characters. Chrono Cross also has a very vibrant and, for its time, impressive visual presentation. This is a game that forces me to hang on to my old Playstation so I can play it again and again. I'd kill for an updated release or a sequel. Chrono Trigger is also one of the best of all time and I highly recommend both games to any RPG fan.
Mass Effect is unique in a number of ways. Foremost is that it strays from the tried and true RPG formula by being set in a Sci Fi universe, rather than your typical swords and sorcery realm. Mass Effect blends aspects of the role-playing and the shooter genre and rather than being a turn based game where the action is paused while you select what your characters do next, it is more action oriented. It's not as technical as a traditional shooter and RPG fans should have no trouble picking up the skills needed to mow down your enemies. The action is swift and intense in some sections of the game and a lot of fun. If shooting isn't your thing, Mass Effect does have its version of "magic." Certain character classes have a sort of telekinetic type power that allows them to generate force fields, knock down or freeze opponents and unleash a variety of attacks. With impressive graphics, a great storyline that spans all three games in he series and changes according to the player's choices, a compelling alignment system, lots of interesting aliens and worlds to explore and plenty of fun customization options, Mass Effect is a must play for fans of RPGs and Sci Fi games alike. Mass Effect II is also excellent and the upcoming Mass Effect III is definitely on my "must play" list.
Far and away my favorite RPG of the "modern" era, Fallout 3 is another blend of the RPG and shooter genres. Fallout 3, as you might guess from the name, is set in a post apocalyptic landscape and focuses on the struggles of humanity to recover after a nuclear war wiped out most of the population and left the planet a decimated and dangerous place. The gritty visuals are spectacular and while the main story line is a bit lacking and not that long, the many side quests will keep you exploring for many hours. Like most Bethesda games, there's tons of stuff to pick up and experiment with, lots of skills to try out and a variety of bad guys to test your shooting or melee fighting skills against. Fallout is a bit more gruesome and bloody than your typical RPG and definitely isn't a game for young kids. Fallout has a very unique look and feel to it and an amazingly immersive game world. It's at times creepy, brutal, frustrating, intense and exhilarating. It's not perfect, but it's a heck of a lot of fun. The ending unfortunately is a huge let down, but the rest of the game makes up for what would normally be a fatal flaw for an RPG.
For most traditional console RPG fans, the Final Fantasy series is the standard against which all other RPGs are measured. With the exception of the MMORPGs and some of the portable releases, I could probably put every FF game into my "best of" list, but Final Fantasy VI, released as Final Fantasy III in the U.S., is my favorite of the series. FF6 has a huge cast of loveable characters, a spectacular story, a sprawling quest, amazing (for the technology of the day) graphics and music and is just plain fun to play through. This is another game that I keep coming back to and would love to have an updated remake for. While I also love FFII, FFVII, FFX, FFXII and like all the other installments in the "main" series quite a bit, the story and characters of FFVI make this installment the best of the series for me and my favorite RPG of all time.
I hope you have enjoyed this list and if you havn't played these great games, please give them a shot.