RPGs are an old favourite of many, and for a lot of us, old RPGs were the games that pulled is into the gaming world. There is a huge amount of RPGs, both Western and Japanese, but here are five of my personal best RPGs. To include all my favourites would make this list too long, so here is a small sampling.
Final Fantasy 9
Most people put FF10 as their favourite out of the Final Fantasy franchise, but for me, it will always be nine. While FF10 is a great game, I find the characters and world of FF9 more interesting. There is quite the mix here, on both the hero and villains’ side. The anthropomorphic designs of many of the characters make them truly visually unique, and they each have an interesting arc as well.
The villain in this one is stronger then the one in FF10 as well, even if that does fall down in the end thanks to the decision from Square to throw in a random end boss for funsies. But, despite that, there is quite a lot to be had here – from the traditional ATB combat, to interesting stories and characters.
The Witcher 3
This game just can’t seem to get enough praise, and rightly so. Not only are CD Projekt Red a fantastic developer who have given away a bunch of free DLC alongside some excellent paid expansions, The Witcher 3 is the pinnacle of their Witcher franchise. This entry into the series has refined several of the core mechanics into something a bit more approachable, as well as just being much more enjoyable to play. The Witcher 3 is a master class in how to make a world feel real, with side quests that aren’t your usual “collect 10 bear skins” fare.
Instead, these quests are woven into the world, and some are even connected to main story quests which just helps the world become a living, breathing thing of it’s own. Couple this with well-written dialogue, painstaking detail to facial animations, an extraordinarily detailed world and an interesting story, and you have the makings of an RPG that will truly stand the test of time.
Ah, Dark Souls. A truly refreshing breeze of bitterly cold, unforgiving air. While this series is not for everyone with it’s unforgiving difficulty, it truly is an original game. That’s not to say Dark Souls is gimmicky, though, just that at the time there wasn’t anything quite like it (aside from Demon’s Souls, obviously).
There are many things that make this game unique, and main factor is that you can beat it without levelling – if you have the skill. Unlike most RPGs were you will just hit a wall if you haven’t levelled enough, the only true barrier here is your skill. Also, the story is very much murky, and hidden under surface. Players wanting to discover the world and lore will have to find it in conversations, item descriptions, and the world itself. This method of storytelling builds a sense of mystery, and the staggering difficulty couples with that to build an ominous tone of dread. Even to this day, this game still stands true, and will be remembered as truly revolutionary.
This is something a bit more traditional of course, but we have one of the finer examples of western RPGs here. While the combat in the first game is showing it’s age quite a bit these days, it’s still worth a look back at. While the menus are a bit clunky and tend to get in the way, it wasn’t enough to make the universe on offer not interesting. There are all sorts of interesting alien races to discover and talk to, and an absolute ton of lore to go alongside it. There are the usual hints of old conflicts and bad blood between species, as well as a plethora of quests were you delve into the microcosms of each place you land.
While some would argue ME2 refined the clunkier mechanics and made the world and character exploration the cleaner focus, due to those lacking extra frustrations, this one still has a place in my heart. I still remember the joy of discovery when I first put in that Mass Effect disc.
Speaking of showing its age, here’s System Shock 2. This game is sadly a bit incomprehensible with it’s mechanics, especially these days in the age of more refined, easier to grasp RPGs. The leveling system and the level of complexity is certainly a large ask, and the fact that you need a Wiki open to truly play this game doesn’t really work in it’s favor.
Yet, despite the years the game is like wearing a belt made out of anchors, this is still a classic game that in many ways, hasn’t been matched. From the start, the game begins dismantling your hope, my severely limiting your resources and any missteps could cost you dearly. This is of course, truly brought to its pinnacle by the insane AI Shodan, whose reveal truly plays with your expectations, and from there she only piles on the dread.
Combine this with the almost living being of the ship Von Braun, you not only have a challenging, classic RPG, you also have one with some well-realised survival horror elements. In a world where even levelling up is a risk/reward, System Shock 2 truly takes away all meaning of hope.