Alright, before we go on to this list of the 10 Best RPGs Ever, we need to lay some ground rules. #1: no MMOs. It’s hard to judge MMO RPGs against single-player RPGs when their quality is so dependent on their community. #2: only one game per franchise. Otherwise you would see a whole bunch of Final Fantasy, Pokemon, and Dragon Quest titles cluttering up this list. #3: no tactical RPGs. While Shining Force and Fire Emblem are amazing games, it simply makes the playing field too wide to judge. #4: no shooter/RPG hybrids. Once again, Deus Ex and BioShock are phenomenal games but they make the playing field far too big. And #5: no imports! Terranigma and Seiken Densetsu 3 were phenomenal games but unless it came out in America it doesn’t do us much good to tell you how awesome it is.
For this list, we are only considering the classic Japanese RPG and American RPG games that defined the formula as we know it today, and even then there are more than enough good RPGs out there to make your head spin. That being said, these are the 10 Best RPGs Ever.
The US missed the huge hype surrounding games like Dragon Quest III, but it’s indisputable that Dragon Quest is one of the most influential RPGs in existence. Heck, they don’t release on weekdays because Square-Enix is too afraid that kids and businessmen alike will play hooky just to get a copy of the latest DQ game! Since we have to obey our own rules, DQ8 gets this slot, as it’s one of the most well known Dragon Quest games in America, and the first to actually have its title scheme changed back to the true Japanese title from Dragon Warrior.
Super Mario RPG was ahead of its time. It had so many awesome innovations on the stale RPG genre. It introduced the “casual RPG” style of timed battles, but still had real stats, equipment and HP. It introduced the incredible innovation of having a party share its MP. It integrated Mario conventions like hidden blocks (chests) and the invincibility star into an RPG setting, and boy, was grinding a blast with a Star Man. It also had a profoundly dark plot for a Mario game that still managed to stick in a lighthearted joke or two. It was easily the best Mario RPG ever made and one of the best RPGs of all time. Now put Geno in Super Smash Bros., Nintendo!
A lot of 10 Best RPG lists put games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Fallout 3 on their countdown, and while these games are good, they are also very new. We call this “the shiny.” It’s the tendency that we have to mistake things that are new for things that are amazing just because we played them recently. Skyrim, however, doesn’t suffer from the shiny. It’s just that damn good. It’s impossible to have a list like this without an Elder Scrolls RPG on it, and Skyrim is easily the best.
Baldur’s Gate II may have been the crowning achievement of top down isometric RPGs. Not only was the Dungeons & Dragons-based gameplay incredibly deep and customizable, but the story was second to none. It took place in one of the most vibrant and living worlds we had seen, in an age where the best voice actor you could afford was Steve the intern. It also had one of the best villains of RPG history. The Baldur’s Gate II experience holds up today, and is worth a replay now and then just to remember how good top down RPGs were.
Earthbound challenged the RPG conventions we knew and love. Our heroes were no longer knights and brave warriors, but simple kids who grew up in peaceful towns. Instead of fighting gorgons and skeletons, we fought gigantic piles of puke and murderous carnival tents. Earthbound was as charming as it was rule breaking, and it made us all cry, and pray, and break the fourth wall in enjoyment.
Now remember, we said that we would only insert one game per franchise, otherwise this list might end up being, “The 10 Best Final Fantasy Games and Also Chrono Trigger.” So we had to choose the best that the Final Fantasy series had to offer, and in our opinion, that’s Final Fantasy VI. It introduced huge swappable parties made up of an interesting ensemble cast of characters. It was the first to make magic something equippable rather than learnable. It gave every character their own special attacks which were useful throughout the entire game. Finally, it had one of the best villains of all time in Kefka, a clown that destroyed the world, just for the LOLs! Move over Sephiroth, Kefka has you beat.
Planescape: Torment was one of the most critically under-appreciated gems of its time. Once again, we have a Dungeons & Dragons-based game, but the character writing was dark, detailed, and absolutely brilliant. Also, it was one of the few early generation RPGs that made your choices actually mean something. Your actions were yours alone, and you had to deal with the consequences.
For some reason, Pokemon is omitted from a lot of Best RPG lists. Why? It’s easily one of the best selling RPGs of all time. It's a huge franchise with a phenomenal history. Players spend hours of their lives trying to get Pokemon with perfect IVs and EVs and… other combinations of letters with V. Heck, it might actually be one of the most complex RPGs out there, considering its about training magical pets to fight against each other. It’s also one of the only RPGs in the world with a huge competitive scene. Of course, if we are going to include a Pokemon game, we can only choose one in the franchise, and so we chose the one that started it all, Pokemon Red and Blue.
Now we are getting to the real classics. If we had to choose one game to be the best American RPG of all time, Diablo II would be it, hands down. Though not an MMO itself, Diablo II created or refined most of the conventions we see in MMOs to this day. It was also one of the first really popular multiplayer RPGs, with a much more massive following than any Tales game of today. Then there was PvP, crafting an alchemy, and a story that wasn’t great, but was phenomenal for multiple players to go through. Heck, it could even be said that the rarity system of loot dropping was popularized by Diablo II. This game is full of firsts (or really seconds, considering Diablo I did a lot of what Diablo II did but wasn’t as popular).
Chrono Trigger doesn’t just make a good argument for being one of the best RPGs of all time; it makes an argument for being one of the best games of all time. First of all, Chrono Trigger was highly customizable. The inventory system was set up in such a way that you were completely able to support yourself with items and items alone, so you could actually have parties without a healer in it. Secondly, Chrono Trigger separated abilities (TP) with leveling (XP). So grinding wasn’t linear, it was tailored to what sort of advancement you wanted your characters to push forward in. Third, Chrono Trigger had an amazing story that most of us remember to this day… in spite of the protagonist being silent. Then again, even though Chrono was silent, we knew what his personality was like, so he may have been the best silent protagonist ever!
Throw in some amazing artwork from Akira Toriyama, a time travel story that actually made sense, a huge world map, memorable anti-heroes, dual techs, and a horrifying glimpse into the future of… ahem, 1999, and it is undeniable that Chrono Trigger deserves to be #1 on our list of the 10 Best RPGs Ever.
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