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You enter a dark, musty cave with little more than a torch and your trusty sword. You’re no more than a few steps in before you hear a wretched howl that echoes through the cave’s chambers. You know you’re not alone. Will you stand and fight? Or flee in hopes of finding safety? The choice is yours.
It’s situations like this that make RPGs so much fun to play. Being the fourth most popular genre in videogames, RPGs allow players to immerse themselves in full, rich stories with tons of possibilities. And though there isn’t a shortage of RPG games on the market, there are some classics that every gamer needs to check out. Here’s our pick for the 10 best RPG classics.
1. Pokémon Red & Blue
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since we were first introduced to Pikachu and friends. While the Pokémon series has continued to evolve over the years, adding complex competitive modes and deep lore, nothing surpasses the wonder of booting up the first two entries Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue for the first time.
The Pokémon franchise may not feature hardcore RPG mechanics a la Final Fantasy IV or Dragon Quest VII, but Red and Blue introduced an entire genre to the possibilities of RPG games. And for that, we think both games are still worth exploring, even decades later.
2. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
The Star Wars franchise isn’t a stranger to video games, beginning with the 1982 release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the Atari 2600. While fans have come to know and love Star Wars’ extended universe, no game came close to capitalizing on the narrative potential of a Star Wars game. Until, that is, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
KOTOR gave players the chance to choose between becoming a powerful Jedi or succumbing to darkness and following the path of the Sith with each decision the player made affecting their overall alignment.
3. Fallout: New Vegas
It was rigged from the start. Fallout: New Vegas quite literally starts with a bang and never lets up. By the time Fallout 3 rolled around, fans of the classic RPG franchise weren’t sure what to expect. The strategic, turn-based action of their beloved franchise was now an action-shooter hybrid with RPG elements. But a glimmer of hope arrived with the announcement that Obsidian Entertainment would be responsible for tackling New Vegas. Obsidian featured staff who worked on classic Fallout games as well as Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment.
And the difference showed. Though Obsidian only had a little over a year to develop New Vegas, fans were stunned and the night and day differences between New Vegas and its predecessor. Where Fallout 3 is an action game, New Vegas is happy to show players that gunfights aren’t always the best way to solve quarrels. Though the game itself was a buggy mess upon release, the fantastic world building and storytelling made it worth trudging through crashes, bugs, and glitches.
If you’ve never experienced New Vegas, consider picking up a copy of the Ultimate Edition, which comes with the base game and all of its DLC.
4. Diablo 3
Diablo isn’t Blizzard’s only RPG franchise, but it’s arguably its best. While World of Warcraft is still alive and kicking, Diablo’s player base is every bit as fervent. Thanks to Blizzard’s constant support and dedication to adding new enemies, events, and gear, Diablo 3 still has players firing their crossbows and freezing enemies seven years later. What’s more, the game’s meta changes on a regular basis, giving players an incentive to crawl through one more dungeon or explore new builds.
Admittedly, Diablo 3 is light on story. But in truth, that’s fine. The Diablo franchise was never about storytelling and the deep character customization more than makes up for the lack of narrative.
5. Final Fantasy VII
Is it really a list of the best RPGs of all time if we don’t include a shout-out to Final Fantasy VII? Sure, it may be a bit cliché to include it. But as far as we’re concerned, Final Fantasy VII deserves the love it gets.
At the time, few games were brave enough to take as many risks as Final Fantasy VII. The brutal death of one of the game’s most beloved characters is a perfect example of how Final Fantasy VII wasn’t afraid to subvert expectations. The turn-based aspect may turn some gamers off but stick with it. Your patience will pay off.
6. The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link
The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is the black sheep of the Zelda franchise. It’s a strange game that drastically changes play styles and featured a mishmash of genres that no one expected. But for that reason alone, it’s worth checking out.
It isn’t the best game in the series by a long shot, but it’s different enough that fans of RPGs will find enough depth to satisfy their hunger.
7. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Speaking of Nintendo RPGs no one ever expected, yes, everyone’s favorite plumber starred in his very own RPG on the Super Nintendo. It’s a forgotten classic with tons of personality and humor. It was also quite long for the time, with the main story taking most players around 17 hours to beat.
Sadly, it’s a bit hard to track down a copy of Legend of the Seven Stars these days. To experience this hidden gem, your best bet is to try and find a Super Nintendo Classic.
8. Baldur’s Gate
Many PC games tried to capture the feel and scope of a tabletop RPG but few were ever successful at it. Baldur’s Gate is that rare exception.
Released in 1998, Baldur’s Gate was a breath of fresh air in the era of DOOM clones and licensed movie tie-ins featuring fantastic writing and almost endless customization options. The gameplay doesn’t hold up as well as it once did, but returning fans or first-timers can check out a remastered version which fixes some common complaints.
Before there was Fallout there was Wasteland. Set in a post-apocalyptic universe, players had to reestablish civilization, secure resources, and maintain peace through whatever means necessary. Wasteland gave players the ability to play the game how they wanted. Does that raider have food and ammo? You could persuade him to hand over the food or shoot him on sight and loot the food and ammo from his corpse.
Both Wasteland and its sequel are fantastic games. Fans of Fallout looking for something a bit different would do well to check it out.
10. Persona 4: Golden
It’s hard to pick the best Persona game, but for our money, we’d choose Persona 4: Golden for the PlayStation Vita. The game fixes most of the gripes we had with Persona 4’s original PS2 release while adding a ton of extra story and gameplay. Players can customize their parties and explore dozens of dungeons all while maintaining social bonds and attending high school.
But the best feature is Golden’s gorgeous animations. These are full-on, anime-style cutscenes with a memorable soundtrack and colorful characters.
When it comes to the best RPG games, it’s hard to beat these ten games. Now for the hard part – deciding which of these RPG classics to play first! Although most of them can only be played through the gaming system they were designed for, there are some great exception that made it through the most recent installments: for example, both Final Fantasy 7 and Diablo 3: Eternal Collection have been recently released for Nintendo Switch in 2018/2019.