The best RPG games of all time, you say? Well, making that selection is a pretty arduous task. The list of titles to choose from is almost endless, and the choices made will no doubt reflect on personal opinion rather than substance quite a lot. So for this list we’re going to be doing things a little different.
Simply picking ‘the best’, as stated above, is a bit of a misnomer. There’s so much nuance in the genre that it would be hard to find even two people in the world who would agree. So instead, we’re going to opt for not only the top tier in terms of gameplay, but also influence.
Best RPG Games – Influential and Fun
So to begin with we’re going to eliminate the elephant in the room: The Legend of Zelda series. Yes it’s massively influential, especially Ocarina of Time. However the debate rages on as to whether or not it classifies as an RPG. Further to this argument the most recent instalment, Breath of the Wild, firmly pushed the franchise into adventure game territory.
So now that that’s out of the way, let’s get stuck into the 7 best RPG games of all time.
Final Fantasy VII
No surprises to see Final Fantasy making an appearance in this list. But ‘why Final Fantasy VII?’ I hear you cry. While it’s arguably not the best Final Fantasy title (Final Fantasy III still gets my vote) it was a groundbreaking achievement in so many ways. Not only did it redefine the genre for the 32-bit era, but it also expanded gaming audiences – particularly in the west – into demographics that would previously have never even considered owning a games console. That’s about as ‘influential’ as they come.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The big macdaddy of The Elder Scrolls. You’ve played it, probably on half-a-dozen different formats. It shouldn’t take too much explaining yo understand why it’s in this list, but what might have got you riled up is why Skyrim and not Oblivion? While Oblivion still stands as a testament to a fantastic fantasy RPG experience, it hasn’t aged as well as your nostalgia may have you believe. Pete Hines of Bethesda Softworks once stated:
Oblivion is 10 years old, so the amount of work for that engine and that tech to bring it and remaster it and do all the things we wanted to do was significant. It’s not impossible, but it was mountainous. It was either like, go make an entire new game or do Skyrim.Pete Hines, Gamespot
Skyrim, on the other, still stands up today as a very modern feeling RPG. That is, despite the fact that it is also now approaching its 10th birthday.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana is a very misunderstood game. Essentially paving the way for the Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles series as a multiplayer RPG years ahead of it’s time, Secret of Mana had an essence to it that made it fantastic to play either solo or with up to three players. The design of the beginning of the game saw one player start their quest and slowly build to adding a second or third player once they added them to their party. This allowed for an experienced player to introduce the style and mechanics of the game to friends before they jumped in. Sadly, none of the sequels to the game have managed to realise the winning formula that was Secret of Mana.
Chrono Trigger or Chrono Cross? Opinion as to which is better is often divided. However, it would be hard to deny that the former was significantly more influential. Arriving late in the lifespan of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Chrono Trigger was a Hail Mary for a console about to become overrun by more powerful systems. With that last breath however, Chrono Trigger used the console to set the template for all RPGs that would follow until Final Fantasy VII.
Mass Effect 2
The original Mass Effect was a groundbreaking achievement on relatively new hardware. Designed for the Xbox 360, it took players across a spectrum of varied planets, meeting unique characters and engaging in compelling combat. Mass Effect 2 however, turned up that dial to 11. Few games have delivered the character depth and attachment of Bioware’s classic, with even its successors failing to stand next to this instalment. Roll on the forthcoming Mass Effect Legendary Edition.
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Despite being a relatively new series, it’s hard to deny The Witcher it’s place near the top of the RPG ladder. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings set the ball rolling, but still nothing could prepare players for what was yet to come. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt blew the doors wide open, delivered an unparalleled world of exploration and character depth. Some argue that the real gems in the game lie not in the story, but in the quests that take the player off the beaten path. Creating such as vast experience is clearly no easy task however, as even CD Projekt Red can’t get it right all the time.
Boom. There’s that bomb dropped. Yes, Pokémon Red and Blue. Why? Because not only did they deliver a huge and detailed RPG experience on a handheld format that couldn’t even display colour, but they also set the wheels in motion for what would eventually become one of the biggest franchises in the world. Doesn’t get more influential than that, eh? Pokémon Red and Blue continue to define Pokémon in a way that sequels and spin-offs – including the hugely popular Pokémon Go – simply haven’t been able to manage. And on top of all that, they’re still wonderful RPG experiences to this day, which earns Pokémon Red and Blue a rightful place as one of the best RPG games of all time.