If you are like me and want a good story to be told in the games that you play, odds are that you are drawn to role playing games. Since they tend to feature hours of dialogue, lots of choices and branching stories which take 50-100 hours to clear, the RPG you choose might as well be a good one. Hell, why not one of the best RPG games there is?
Maybe you are here because you are RPG curious, maybe a friend talked you into trying it out just this once, or maybe you became lured by all the RPG hooks that permeate so many other genres in this industry. Whatever your reason, we are here to help you select the best RPG around.
Our list of the best RPGs, which is in no particular order and limited to one game per franchise, is a smattering of games across platforms and eras, but all of them will give you a great experience with hours of fun gameplay.
The Best RPGs You Should Play
1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD Projekt Red Publisher: CD Projekt
Wild Hunt is simply a phenomenal game. Its graphics are stunning and the craftsmanship that has gone into it is staggering. You can almost taste the fog as you ride to the ghoul’s nest in the early morning. All quests are entertaining and offer both challenges and great writing. Imagine a game as big and expansive as Skyrim, but with no bad quests, no empty fetch tasks and with an engaging combat system.
Its only real shortcoming is the progression system; it just feels a bit claustrophobic and a step down from the previous game. That said, there are so many other points that completely blows the competition out of the water. For instance, the Bloody Baron quest could be a whole game by itself with its twists and turns and horrific, yet sympathetic characters.
Play if: You like a good story arc and enjoy well realized characters. Avoid if: You need your battles to be turn based or dislike the sometimes grimdark tone of this series.
2. South Park: The Stick of Truth
Developer: Obsidian Publisher: Ubisoft
Being the only good South Park game is an achievement in and of itself, that it is a decent RPG also is almost astonishing. Full of references from almost all seasons of the long running series, Stick of Truth is bold, filthy and funny. Made in close cooperation with the series’ creators, it captures the look, feel and sounds of the show excellently. In your quest for The Stick of Truth you suffer abuse from Cartman and battle everything from school bullies to Nazi cows and scrotums; typical South Park stuff in other words.
Gameplay wise, it is something of junior’s first RPG: it does a great job with introducing a lot of mechanics and systems that are a staple in the genre but for veterans it can become a bit too easy after a while. So, an appreciation for the source material is essential to keep you going through the story.
Play if: You like a game that will ease you into RPG mechanics. Avoid if: You can’t stand South Park.
Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: SIE
The Souls games take one-part RPG, one-part Devil May Cry, and adds a pinch of rogue-like, stirs it vigorously and lets it bake on medium heat for 3 years. It is much more a game of pure skill with its level 0 runs, than say, The Witcher 3 is. That said, the sense of place and the building of an intriguing world with mysterious characters that these games have could rival any RPG. No other game made by FromSoftware has more atmosphere and a better realized world than Bloodborne.
Bloodborne takes place in the city of Yharnam during an event called ‘The Hunt’: a period when hunters roam the streets looking for werewolves and other creepy crawlies to fight. It starts out as a 18th century horror novel, a la Dracula or Frankenstein, but soon shifts gear to become Lovecraftian cosmic horror. And it does this really well; out of the many video games that have been inspired by H.P Lovecraft, I feel that Bloodborne is the one that captures his mix of ancient cults and things that you must be insane to believe, let alone see.
Bloodborne plays much in the same way as Dark Souls but with an added emphasis on going on the offensive instead of turtling. It also simplifies your inventory with a reduced number of weapons, but instead gives the weapons different forms, like the Kirkhammer which is both a giant maul and a swift sword. This game is beautifully designed, it has combat that is fair but very difficult and it just might drive you insane. And what’s not to love about that?
Play if: You like relying on your own skills more than stats and if you are interested in cosmic horror. Avoid if: Men in top hats and the risk of losing hours of progression freaks you out.
4. Final Fantasy 6
Developer: Square Publisher: Square
Before we had the PlayStation and Final Fantasy was still dating Nintendo, the crowning achievement of the series was undoubtedly Final Fantasy 6 (released as 3 in the west, Japan was complicated back then).
It had a diverse and interesting cast and the game is full of iconic moments like the first, and to my knowledge only, playable opera scene and a plot where the maniacal villain get to win in a serious and dramatic way. You could also see hints of the tone the series would eventually take, with a moody intro in which mech suits are plodding through a dark, snowy landscape as its iconic music plays. Terra’s theme is arguably the best piece of music in the whole series and earns a place on this list alone.
There are simply a lot of things this game does for the first time or in a much better way than any other game at the time or perhaps since. You don’t really have a main character through Final Fantasy 6, the developers were instead confident enough to let you jump around between many of the strong characters and allow them to take equal amount of space.
Play if: You like JRPGs with interesting characters and a good story. Avoid if: You are pixel averse or can’t accept a bit of dodgy translation.
5. Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition
Developer: Overhaul Games Publisher: Atari
Up next, we have something of the granddaddy of computer RPGs. It takes the formula from the first game — big open areas, unforgiving and sometimes outright unfair combat, iconic characters and interesting questlines — and improves upon every point. The game world in Baldur’s Gate 2 is vast and full of trolls, kobolds and dragons to battle or, sometimes, strike a deal with.
It is one of those early RPGs where your stats and character progression matters, something that is largely sandpapered away in today’s games. If your charm and speech is high enough you can literally beat the last boss without fighting him at all. Since the level cap is more than doubled, you gain access to some of D&D’s more interesting spells and skills and you clearly see what a weak pup you were in the first game. The Enhanced Edition gives you better graphics and smooths out some of the bugs that were present back in the day.
Recommended for anyone who likes a good, hard RPG that is like reading a reasonably good book. Not recommended for people with time restrictions or who is a completionist. Seriously, my first playthrough took almost 200 hours.
Play if: You like long sprawling RPGs with lots of text and countless of characters to meet. Avoid if: You are short on time or can’t deal with the somewhat dated graphics.
6. Icewind Dale II
Developer: Black Isle Studios Publisher: Interplay Entertainment
Baldur’s Gate’s slightly younger and a bit cooler cousin. The Icewind Dale series lacks some of BG’s depth in story and characters but makes up for it with a more expanded battle system and the ability to create your own party from scratch instead of premade options.
It offers a much more robust and serious challenge to your tactical skills and you will probably have to take to some sneaky tactics. Like, say there’s a room you haven’t been into: better bombard it with fireballs and poison clouds before peeking inside. The setting is also different, forgoing the lush European styled lowlands of Baldur’s Gate for snowy and harsh mountains filled with angry barbarians and rowing Yetis.
Play if: You like to create your own party from scratch and enjoy a challenge. Avoid if: You like games that focus more on narrative and characters.
Ah, Tyranny, a game with a premise as unique as it is rare in the gaming world. What if the evil lord won and you play as one of his ambitious and power-hungry lieutenants? This is what Tyranny explores in its good, but somewhat hamstrung story. Made by Obsidian Entertainment, after they kickstarted the modern revival of isometric RPGs with Pillars of Eternity, it is clear though that most resources went into developing PoE 2: Deadfire, and Tyranny feels like it ends just as it is about to begin for real.
What is there, though, still offers hours of fun exploration and gameplay, with a narrative that hints at things rather than explain everything outright. You play as one of the lawyers of the overlord and are sent into a rebellious region to bring order and stability (peace is relative). I would have loved to see a real sequel to this game that explores some of the mysteries that it lays out, but since Obsidian seems to have split with publisher Paradox, it seems unlikely at this point.
Play if: You want to play for the bad guys for once. Avoid if: You want your stories to state things clearly and tie up any loose ends.
8. Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition
Developer: Black Isle Studios Publisher: Interplay
The Infinity Engine (the engine powering Baldur’s Gate and many other RPGs of the time) train keeps a rollin’. Planescape Torment has arguably the most interesting premise of all these old isometric RPGs. You play as a nameless character who evidently is immortal. Each time you die, you wake up and lose part of your memory. It is a bit unusual in that you play through the game without much of a party for a long time. While Icewind Dale is the snazzy hip youngster of the family, focusing on combat and tactics, Torment is more of the older uncle that likes to read and watch black and white Italian movies.
There is a lot of reading and the story is the focus in this game. The main characters immortality plays into the gameplay and you can do some pretty nasty stuff in your playthrough. Sure, cut me open and dig around in my organs to see what is wrong with me, why don’t you. You also get to travel to some memorable planes of reality, like a hell world with flesh pillars or a dimension of mind flayers, making for good variety and nightmare fuel for 10-year-olds.
Play if: You like to take your RPG stories slowly and with a lot of thought. Avoid if: You can’t stand protagonists that look like a dried-out piece of parchment with dreads.
9. Persona 5
Developer: P-Studio Publisher: Atlus/Deep Silver
The Persona games are probably the games that win the prize for style in any genre or medium, ever. The series is about teenage students that must balance school and social life with banishing demons and solving murders. Persona’s strength is in how it deals with serious and adult themes in a decent manner, while retaining a juvenile sense of fun and shenanigans.
As someone who has worked as a teacher for Japanese high-schoolers for several years, it is eerie how spot-on some of the things these games tackle are. Although I did not spot any comically long nosed limo drivers, nor any demons. Admittedly, I haven’t been everywhere in Tokyo at night either. In the Persona games, you get to see mysterious gods and demons while also cramming for the exam next week. It is as silly as it is fun.
The graphics are great, the sound and music are fantastic, and the battle system is snappy and engaging. Persona 5 is a game that will keep on introducing new and interesting characters for pretty much its entire run. That it is almost fully voiced also helps keeping you focused on the story and gives it that nice air of anime drama.
Play if: You are into light philosophical conundrums and Japanese culture. Avoid if: You are anime averse or don’t like dating your high-school friends.
10. Deus Ex
Developer: Ion Storm Publisher: Eidos Interactive
The first Deus Ex was a fantastic game, period. Now go and play it. Even before its full release, I spent hours upon hours running through the demo; The possibilities seemed truly endless in this game and I would constantly find new ways of reaching the goal. In truth, the possibilities weren’t quite so endless but still, a great deal bigger than their sequels managed to pull off.
You play as J.C Denton, a cybernetically enhanced government agent who over the course of the story uncovers Illuminati conspiracies, travels to Area 51 and steals money from unsuspecting ATMs. Deus Ex is a game that promotes player choice and there are always multiple ways of tackling a problem, if you have the stats or the gear for it: a thing that the modern installments of the series tries to evoke, but never quite reach. Today you can pick it up for a song and a tap dance and with mods, it can look decent.
Play if: You like government conspiracies, cyberpunk and games that give you multiple ways of advancing. Avoid if: You hate the first Unreal Engine, freeze over too many choices or can’t stand cybernetically enhanced Germans with bad accents.
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