We look at 5 of the most interesting games that never were.
The Top 25 Greatest RPGs Of All Time
RPGs. Other genres may be more popular or better-selling, but something about the RPG resonates with the hardcore gamer. Many of us started gaming with early series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest and were enthralled with the deep stories, signature leveling systems, and strategic combat help within these games. The Super Nintendo continued the tradition with a number of incredible RPGs (some of which are on this list) as the genre continued to expand and attract new people.
With the rise of the PlayStation, the genre surged in popularity thanks to a number of high-profile entries in the genre, most notably Final Fantasy VII. The new disc format allowed for better music and graphics, and the genre became known for its artistic values perhaps more than anything else, even while people were already questioning how to make some of the stale mechanics better. As more powerful consoles were released, RPGs dwindled from the glory days of old, and were mostly relegated to nostalgic remakes and handhelds.
That being said, the legacy of the Role Playing Game still stands as one of the most influential in gaming’s history. Most of us here at Leviathyn cut our teeth on RPGs, and many of the games on this list turned us into the gamers we are today. Join us as we celebrate the beloved genre with the Top 25 RPGs of All Time.
25: Suikoden II:
Kicking off the list is a title that most RPG fanatics will probably recognize, even though it doesn’t have the immediate name recognition that some of the other titles enjoy. Developed by Konami and masterminded by Yoshitaka Murayama, the Suikoden series sets itself apart from its PlayStation era contemporaries with its deep RPG systems, strategic combat, and sprawling fiction. Each entry features the “108 Stars of Destiny”, which in most entries means 108 distinct party members. That’s pretty impressive by any standards. While the franchise is chock full of great games, Suikoden 2 probably shines the brightest. Unfortunately, it’ll take some good luck getting a copy these days.
24. Jade Empire:
It’s no secret that the phrase “Role-Playing Game” is synonymous with a fantasy setting featuring Wizards, spells, enchanted items, and dungeons to crawl.
However, this was not the case with Jade Empire, a game that manages to forgo all cliches in favor of embracing an entirely new and unique setting in a kung-fu adventure feeling like something ripped straight from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
It didn’t necessarily have the most in-depth skill-building system, but what it lacked in depth it more than made up for in storytelling and unique counter-based combat. Jade Empire was an engrossing and engaging experience more than deserving of a spot on the list of the top 25 RPGs of all time.
23. Kingdom Hearts II:
Talk about taking a unique conception and improving on in it just about every aspect. The original Kingdom Hearts was such a weird but satisfying game. Seeing Disney favorites on the same screen as Squall, Cloud, and Sephiroth was a sight to behold. With the sequel, Square-Enix managed to take all expectations the first one had (and any the sequel conjured up) and shattered them all. The gameplay was much smoother, the graphics were better (no more barbie lips on Sora), the Drive system kept combat fresh, and the story took a turn for the interesting.
Kingdom Hearts 2 really made the series stand out and become a favorite among RPG fans. It was because of this sequel that the series is still successful and has so many more games out there. Even for fans who don’t play the non-numbered games, they’ll still be extremely excited for Kingdom Hearts 3 because of this game.
22. Dragon Age: Origins:
Stepping out of Dungeons & Dragons’ shadow, BioWare created one hell of a world and lore with Dragon Age. This modernization of the Baldur’s Gate gameplay brought together strategic gameplay, intense story, engaging characters, plenty of customization, and lore you could sink your teeth into for days at a time.
Dragon Age successfully took a mastered formula that once only belonged in the Forgotten Realms and brought it to the rest of the gaming world. No longer was this kind of gameplay put aside for its ties to D&D or being labeled as too hardcore to play. For that, and how epic the game actually was, Dragon Age: Origins needs to be commended.
21. Phantasy Star IV:
It’s hard to argue the inclusion of this classic gem on this list. Phantasy Star was one hell of an RPG series before evolving into the online hit on the Dreamcast. Even though it was a big hit with the RPG games back during the Genesis era, the series really hit the spotlight with the fourth entry to the series.
Phantasy Star IV featured engaging characters, a frantic and intense storyline, and an unforgettable experience. It was one of the earliest examples of an RPG being amazing across the board in gamplay, story, design, characters, and soundtrack.
20. Wild ARMs:
Another excellent PlayStation era RPG, Wild ARMs is basically Firefly before Firefly was a thing. Blending modern technology, monsters and magic with a Western motif made for a compelling universe, and Wild ARMs brought the gameplay chops to back it up. Each of the three characters have individual tools and skills that assist in solving the excellent puzzles and defeating the often jaw-dropping enemies you encounter throughout. Whether it be Rudy’s titular ARMs, Cecilia’s magic creation system or Jack’s sword techniques, each character brings a unique skill set to the group, and the game ends with one of the more dramatic twists in gaming. Wild ARMs spawned a number of quality sequels, but never really earned the success it deserved.
19. Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness:
If you asked me what RPG contained the most content, I would answer with Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. This is a game with a serious amount of depth that manages to not take itself seriously at all. The story, setting, and character make for some of the quirkiest in games, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a game series that gives you this much to do, find, and conquer.
Afternoon of Darkness is the definitive version of the first Disgaea and it was this game that really took the strategy and RPG combination to its limits. Your characters have levels, your items have levels, there are story dungeons, side dungeons, and your items even have dungeons. You can’t turn around without finding something to do in this game.
It isn’t just the content that really gives Diagaea the credit for being on this list, though. Disgaea features some of the best things Final Fantasy Tactics had and improvements to help this combo of genres become a very popular one. Tactics may have come first, but Disgaea opened the flood gates for potential.
18. Persona 4 Golden:
It takes a lot to have a game that will encompass all of your time and thoughts while completely engrossing you in the experience. While Persona 4 Golden isn’t the only game like that on this list, it is the most recent.
Even though the original came out in 2008, Golden adds a lot to the game even for previous players to come back and play through again.
What makes P4G so amazing is how much you care for the cast of characters and what they are going through. You do something in this game that you don’t do in any other. You have to help the characters face their true selves and come to terms with their feelings. You have to help them all see the truth and harness that into power. It is through this truth that the main character and his friends are able to combat those who would hide the truth forever.
P4G takes you inside the minds of a game’s characters and even makes you wonder about yourself and the truths you ignore. That’s a powerful thing for a game to do, making it one of the most impressive games seen in years.
17. Dark Cloud:
An early of example of the brilliance developer Level 5 would come to be known for, Dark Cloud showed that the RPG genre still had plenty of room for innovation. While the story wasn’t exactly a masterpiece and the randomized dungeons could become a little repetitive, Dark Cloud earns mad points for its intricate player and weapon leveling systems, unique combat and, most importantly, its blending of sim elements into the game. Throughout the adventure, the player collects a resource named Atla which is used to rebuild the world in a manner of the players choosing, reminiscent of the SNES cult classic ActRaiser. It wasn’t perfect, but Dark Cloud scratched an itch most of us didn’t even know we had.
16. Dragon Quest VIII:
There’s so much you could pull from Dragon Quest for this list but ultimately VIII felt like the jump the series needed to once again hit the spotlight. Before this game it almost felt like the series was growing dull. But when you have an entry being talked about more than Final Fantasy X and many other RPGs that graced the PS2 at this time, you know you have a winner on your hands.
Featuring the classic art from Akira Toriyama, Dragon Quest VIII shattered fan’s expectations and churned out one of the best experiences on the PS2, which is quite a feat considering how many there were on the console.
15. Baldur’s Gate II:
You can’t include anything from Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic without giving a nod to the big guy that came before. Baldur’s Gate, and really everything from Forgotten Realms at this time, was instant gold to fans. Whether it was this series, Icewind Dale, Temple of Elemental Evil, or Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate managed to always come up in conversation and it is one of those rare titles that is automatically re-installed whenever you mention it.
The iconic gameplay, party management, character creation, and experience would be replicated over and over again and evolved many times over the years. From Neverwinter Nights to Knights of the Old Republic to Dragon Age, Baldur’s Gate’s legacy lives on as a genre definer and an example of masterful RPG combat and storytelling.
Known as Mother in Japan, EarthBound achieved a devoted following before it ever released in North America. Despite a successful port of the second game in the series, most U.S. gamers know protagonist Ness more from his Smash Bros. appearances than the series he spawned from. However, those who have played the game got to experience one of the most unique RPGs ever created. A far cry from the sword, magic and monsters motif of most RPGs of the time, EarthBound featured clever and original characters, interesting physic components and writing that is far deeper than the standard RPG fare. Numerous theories have been set forth about the unusual ending, but like any good story, EarthBound makes you think without giving away all the answers. Simpy put, EathBound is one of the best narratives in gaming.
13. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions:
While strategy RPGs are common, it’s hard to find one nearly as refined and as well developed as that of Final Fantasy Tactics. With a complex leveling system and the ability to assign new jobs to party members, Tactics takes customization to a new level, allowing players to build their party in nearly any way they see fit to do so. On top of that, the battle system is engaging and requires a fair amount of skill and strategy in order to be successful, and it manages to maintain the same depth of narrative seen in the many other games in the Final Fantasy franchise. It’s a definite beacon in the Strategy RPG genre, and one that simply shouldn’t be overlooked.
12. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars:
A game that tends to get oberlooked both in Nintendo and Squares catalog, this seemingly strange mashup won gamers over with its interesting combat, well-written dialogue and surprisigly well-fleshed out world. I’m going to go ahead and say it: Super Mario RPG features the best iteration of the Mushroom Kingdom ever. Period. The active battle system, which tasks players with entering timed button presses to boost their attack, magic and defense, makes the combat some of the best of its time, while the Mario license help bring in a number of people who might never have played an RPG before. Add in a well-done soundtrack and a quirky, off-beat sense of humor that totally hit the mark, and Super Mario RPG is a cult favorite that helped bring RPGs into the mainstream.
11. Final Fantasy VII:
What can be said about Final Fantasy VII that hasn’t been said already? One of the best known RPG ever, Final Fantasy VII cemented Final Fantasy as the leading name in RPGs, and proved that the PlayStation was for real. What exactly makes FFVII so loved? It’s hard to pinpoint.
Maybe it’s the excellent cast of characters. Cloud remains of the most popular protagonists ever, and the people that gather around him move the story forward in myriad interesting ways.
Or, it could be the refined role-playing mechanics. Materia is still one of the best magic systems in the genre, and the vast world, many secrets, and refined combat hit on all the high spots a good RPG needs to have. Or perhaps it’s all because Sephiroth is hands down one of the best antagonists ever. Whatever the reason, Final Fantasy VII is one of the most loved games ever, and this list simply wouldn’t be complete without it.
10. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
While many games throughout history have promised total player freedom, few have embraced it in the way Bethesda did with Skyrim. From the lonliest of towns to the grandest of mountains, nothing is out of reach in Skyrim, and few games have ever been able to capture a fraction of the breadth that game features. Skyrim is one of those rare games that never play the same way for any two people, and swapping stories of your experiences in Skyrim like war tales has become something many fans are wont to do. Add to that its ability to become a cultural phenomenon and inspire many various memes and inside jokes, and you’ve got a pretty compelling case to say that Skyrim is a modern fantasy masterpiece.
9. Fallout 3:
War. War never changes, and neither does Bethesda’s legacy of making fantastic and immersive RPGs.
Making the jump from an isometric view to a fully-realized first-person perspective isn’t something many games manage to do gracefully. Not so, however, with Fallout 3. The game took to the new approach well, embracing the feel of an FPS and complementing it with a unique environment and battle system that made up for somewhat wonky combat.
But it’s not the mechanics or the perspective that make Fallout 3 so great. Rather, it’s the atmosphere the game had and the story it told. In a market littered with post-apocalyptic games, Fallout 3 manages to still feel completely different and unique in the tone it sets and the world it creates. There’s depth to the game’s lore, fascinating characters to meet, and an amazing sense of the world that no other game has been able to re-create on the same level. It’s been a genre-defining game of the past generation, and for that, it’s more than deserving of a spot in a list of the greatest RPGs of all time.
8. Diablo 2:
There are some games that stick with you for some time and then there’s Diablo 2. I’ve been playing this game since 2000 when I secretly installed it on every computer in my grade school. No matter what class I was in, if we had computer time, I was slaying demons and not caring at all where I put my skill points. Later on I got really into builds and coming up with some great characters. It was all about reaching Hell difficulty and just being able to survive the Den of Evil. My Hammerdin and I really laid the smackdown from the Highlands to Arreat Summit for a long time.
Diablo 2 is another one of those games that someone reinstalls whenever they hear about it. It’s an experience that sticks with you and defines an entire genre. Hell, most of the games that released after Diablo 2 that resembled it were called “Diablo clones”. That says something. Blizzard hit all of the right points with Diablo 2 and the fact that it is still played worldwide today shows how great its legacy is.
7. World of Warcraft:
MMOs aren’t for everyone, but they can give you some of the most dynamic experiences in gaming. World of Warcraft is not only the biggest RPG on this list, it is also played monthly by over 10 million people worldwide. After four expansions and untold amounts of patches and updates, WoW has transformed massively from what it used to be back in 2004-2006 before Burning Crusade released.
Back during Vanilla WoW, I still remember running the Primordia guild on Arygos and raiding Molten Core, Onyxia’s Lair, and Blackwing Lair every week with 39 other players. That game gave me some of the most epic moments in my gaming career. Watching my guildmates and I take down Ragnaros for the first time was not only a sight to see but it was an accomplishment I’ll never forget. Even later on down the line in Wrath of the Lich King, just going through the whole Icecrown Citadel and fighting against The Lich King is something I’ll always look back on.
World of Warcraft gives players the opportunity to see and do things you never thought possible. Because of that, it is hard not to think of this game as one of the best RPGs of all time. It offers the most content of any RPG, and the experiences you can have in it are unparalleled.
6. Pokemon Crystal:
At a time when Pokemon was really hitting its stride in the popularity train, Pokemon Crystal became the definitive version of its generation and continues to be one of the best Pokemon games ever made.
It took all of the amazing elements of Red, Yellow, and Blue and completely re-imagined them in all the right ways. On top of that, it also introduced a plethora of new Pokemon, Dark and Steel-types, boasted 16 gym badges, 2 Champions, Suicune, and featured moving sprites that set the bar for the other Pokemon games going forward. It not only raised the bar for Pokemon games back in its early days on the Game Boy Color, it also paved the way for their continued existence today. Being that the Pokemon games are some of the most popular on handheld devices, we felt this had to be included in the top ten games of this list.
5. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic:
Before this game there was very little Expanded Universe content in Star Wars games that didn’t involve a Skywalker or Solo. When Knights of the Old Republic was released, fans were able to depart the Rebellion Era (and part of the New Jedi Order Era) and go back in time to when Luke and Vader would be considered weaklings next to the force wielders in the Old Republic Era.
Aside from the lore aspect, Knights of the Old Republic was basically an evolution of the Baldur’s Gate-like gameplay that was very popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But this time, we controlled a main character we built from scratch to figure out his past and why he was so important to the survival of the Jedi Order and the Republic.
Knights of the Old Republic offers players one of, if not the most, highly regarded plot twists ever. Its story is nigh impossible to beat in terms of the emotion that rushes through you when you reach the climax of the game.
4. Final Fantasy VI:
Newer gamers may not understand why we speak of Final Fantasy with such reverence, but FFVI is a perfect example of why it was,at one time at least, the premiere name in RPGs. It does so mnay things right that it’s almost hard to find fault with it. Each character in the huge roster brings something unique to the team, and they elevate the story far above what most games offer. The Esper system is an incredibly addictive way to level your players and magic, and the insane number of sidequests and secrets ensure that even the most dedicated of gamers will never run out of content, and the game is literally packed with moments that would be the high point in most other games: the opera scene, the creepy Ghost Train and the destruction of the entire world are just a few of the incredible watercooler moments the game offers, not to mention Kefka, one of the most delightfully mad antagonists seen in gaming. Final Fantasy VI isn’t just one of the best RPGs you can buy, it’s one of the best games ever made.
3. Secret of Mana:
An often criminally overlooked game in Square’s stellar catalog, Secret of Mana was doing things on the SNES that the genre wouldn’t fully embrace until years later. The real-time combat was light years ahead of the boring turn-based system that still hasn’t been completely phased out. Not only could your characters level up like in any good RPG, but your individual weapons and magic could level up as well, and took on new abilities by doing so. The art style was unique and beautiful, and is backed by one of the most stunning video game soundtracks of all time. If it only featured a better story, it would have a legitimate shot at number one, but as is it remains one of the best-aging RPGs on the list, and is a testament to the fantastic design prowess of its all-star cast.
2. Mass Effect 2:
Few games in history have ever been able to capture the magic of Mass Effect. From the story to the mechanics, the series is comprised of some of the greatest games ever made.
But it was Mass Effect 2 that realized the series’ potential to its fullest, building on the decisions made by the player and the expansive universe backing the franchise and creating a veritable masterpiece complete with impressive set pieces, fluid gameplay, great presentation, and well-paced storytelling. Mass Effect 2 is the best entry in a series that has helped define this generation and has capitalized on all the most important conventions of a great RPG. For that, it’s one of the best RPGs ever made.
1. Chrono Trigger:
What makes a great RPG? That’s the question at stake here. It’s why this list is here in the first place. It wasn’t easy establishing the exact criteria, but there are a few common factors that most people can agree on. Fun combat, solid levling systems, a good narrative and an artistic audio/visual experience seem to be givens, but we also took into account characters, innovation, the lasting legacy of the game and intangibles as well. On all these counts, Chrono Trigger knocks it out off the park. The unique dual and triple technique system rewards you with distinct attacks for every combination of characters, gives each party layout a distinct feel, and each has a slew of abilities waiting to be experimented with. The branching story and myriad alternate endings are as well-told as they are numerous, and trying to find them all is half the fun. Throw in a memorable art style and a top-notch orchestrated soundtrack and you have a complete game experience that is second to none. Chrono Trigger has everything you could want in an RPG, and is our choice for the greates role-playing game ever made.
Honorable Mentions: Narrowing this list down to 25 was hard enough, and we felt it just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t mention these notable runners-up that almost made it onto this list, but were eventually passed up for their more influential counterparts. That being said, consider this our monument to the other greats in gaming history.
Parasite Eve: An early attempt at blending action and RPG elements into a modern setting, Parasite Eve set itself apart from the flood of PlayStation RPGs with its interesting protagonist and eerie ambiance Hands down, Parasite Eve has some of the creepiest cutscenes you will ever see, and it spawned a successful sequel that never quite pushed the series into the mainstream where it belonged.
Dark Souls: Lying firmly on the fringe of the REPG genre, Dark Souls many elements that we have come to associate with RPGs, like leveling, stat point distribution, magic and equipment management. However, the heavy focus on action and brutal difficulty make it a hard game to categorize. At the end of the day,we couldn’t quite justify putting into the top 25, but it gets a nod for its successful incorporation of role-playing design.
Legend of Dragoon: If Final Fantasy VII had never existed, there is a chance that Legend of Dragoon may have been the hit RPG on consoles. It was that good. Its fusion of real-time aspects into combat and beautiful (for the time) graphics were huge selling points, and it hit all the basic RPG conventions more than adequately. On the other hand, if not for the RPG boom that FFVII started, it may never have existed at all.
Breath of Fire II: It may not be a part of Capcom’s plans these days, but their early foray into the RPG genre was a resounding success. While it features some of the less fondly remembered mechanics of RPGs (heavy grinding, bland storytelling and a blue-haired protagonist), Breath of Fire won points with its interesting characters, unique sim elements and engaging party interactions.
Fable: The Lost Chapters: Fable was a game of many promises. Did you know that the creator, Peter Molyneux received death threats for leaving hyped up portions of the game out? It was obvious that Fable was a very big release for the Xbox, but its full realization wasn’t met until the content-rich “director’s cut” The Lost Chapters was released. This re-release brought many of the touted features that were missing from the original game and even some new content. It made a good game into a great game. Fable: The Lost Chapter is still one of the best games to feature a “blank state” character and the ability to build him up any way you wished to.
Final Fantasy IV: This was, in my opinion, the first Final Fantasy to really define the series. The first game was great but had barely any characterization. The second had plenty of it, but dipped a bit in gameplay. The third let you build up your own hero and his team with the job class system, but felt empty. Then we got Final Fantasy IV, and with it came an amazing story, memorable characters, top-notch gameplay, and a sick soundtrack. When I look at the series as a whole, I look at Final Fantasy IV as the one that managed to break free of the cookie cutter RPGs that plagued the first three games and made fans go “Holy crap!”
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: While a terrific game, Symphony of the Night just wasn’t quite RPG-ish enough to crack the top 25. But its blending of RPG elements into the traditional platforming elements of Castlevania was a huge hit with gamers, helping to spawn off an entire genre dubbed Metroidvania.