RPGs or role-playing games have been around for a while. At first, they’re on our coffee tables with Dungeons and Dragons and other similar tabletop RPGs. From sprawling fantasy worlds to sci-fi locales, the imagination was the limit back in the day. Now, we can play enormous open worlds with big budgets, great 4K graphics, incredible plot lines, and awesome gameplay through computer games. But there are also the minimalistic types: the RPGs that tell a fascinating tale through gameplay, story progression, and a good plot. This variety shows how much this genre has grown. At the same time, it tells how many people still love the classic elements that RPGs bring to the table. And now, without further ado, we bring you the best RPGs of all time.
Top 20 RPGs of All Time
In selecting the best RPGs of all time, we took the following factors into consideration:
- Story – Is it well-written? Unique? Interesting?
- Presentation – Music, visual style.
- Character Progression – Is character building, choosing a combat style, or making decisions in-game satisfying?
- Combat – Is the combat fun and innovative?
- Systems – The dynamics between the various systems in-game.
Released in 2013, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is an updated re-release of Monster Hunter 4 for the 3DS and is exactly what it says on the tin. You hunt monsters. However, it also looks good while doing it. The combat is deliberate and puts a focus on preparation. Knowing the weaknesses of the monster you’re hunting and planning for it, knowing where they go in advance so that you can set up traps to waylay their path, and ensuring you have enough consumables to last the battle are just some of the things you have to consider when playing this game.
The vertical movement introduced in Monster Hunter 4 was improved to do more actions. These include using weapon knockback to launch allies in the air, climbing the sides of large monsters, and many more. It is also the first game in the console versions of the series to have both online and LAN multiplayer. It allows players to group up with friends on the go to defeat giant monsters together. Overall, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the best RPGs with a fun experience to play either alone, or with friends.
Photo from EA GamesBioWare’s Dragon Age games are always a fun experience. Additionally, the most recent of the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition, delivers the same experience and gameplay that BioWare is known for. In Inquisition, the player takes control of the Inquisitor. Moreover, it is set in the Orlesian Empire in the continent of Thedas. The task of the Inquisitor is to restore order on the land. However, it is a bit hard because the two wars are happening at the same time. Furthermore, there is an apocalypse nipping at the heels.
Inquisition is an action RPG. At the start, players customize their Inquisitor. You can choose from the four races and three main character classes. Specialization of your character is a must. You must have various special abilities specific to each class. Those abilities will help you through various situations and combat scenarios.
Graphics-wise, the game looks good. BioWare spent no expense in showing a sprawling world that players can explore. Combat is a third-person foray. Moreover, you can bring three more party members with you. You can then use the tactical camera to position your teammates and allow you to control the flow of battle. Lastly, BioWare created great character interactions between the Inquisitor and their party members, allowing them to forge a bond in their fight to save the world.
3. Fire Emblem
Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance was a longshot. Nintendo, the publisher, planned to end the series if the release in the West failed to sell 250,000 copies. But that long shot paid off big time. This is in part due to the popularity of the characters in earlier games of the series Super Smash Bros. This spurred Nintendo to localize Fire Emblem to the West, and thank God that they did.
Fire Emblem share similar gameplay to Advance Wars, another series that developer Intelligence Systems made. In this real-time strategy game with RPG elements, players take the role of the tactician and lead the army to victory. The main difference that the series has from Advance Wars is the permadeath mechanic. If one of your units dies in mid-battle, you will not be able to revive the said unit nor use them in future battles and interactions. This mechanic forces players to always try and keep all their units safe. Couple that with a great plot, awesome character interaction, and a tiny bit of dating sim elements, Fire Emblem is something that people can enjoy on the go.
Darkest Dungeon is a roguelike, gothic horror dungeon-crawling RPG made by Red Hook Studios. You play as an heir of a noble house that fell into ruin because of your relative’s mistake of wasting the family money. Damning the whole town, the family governs to be terrorized by Eldritch abominations after excavating an ancient portal under the family estate. You will then have to hire adventurers in a perilous side-scrolling descent into the titular dungeon. They will face not only monsters but also disease, famine, and despair as they plod on into the abyss.
Gameplay puts focus on managing the adventurers. They make sure they get paid, have good equipment, and have enough rest before they go back into the dungeon again. Death is inevitable here. Moreover, some of the adventurers that you hire will die. This increases focus on the welfare of your units. The tight and demanding gameplay made Darkest Dungeon one of the best RPGs out there.
5. Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
Ni no Kuni 2 is a colorful foray into the mind of developer Level-5. It chronicles the journey of Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum, the recently crowned king of Ding Dong Dell, after his father’s death. Unfortunately, his reign is short-lived due to his usurpation by the mouse tribe. It was then that Roland Crane, president of a US-like country, is suddenly transported to Evan’s room and prevents his death. Together, they escape from death and begin a sprawling adventure throughout Evan’s world. Their aim is to build a kingdom where everyone can live happily.
The game retains the art style of the previous entry that was popularized by Studio Ghibli. Some parts are due to some artists joining Level-5. Combat was revamped from the Mon-like menu system into a more traditional hack-and-slash RPG, coupled with big battle minigames on the open world and kingdom building. The pacing is nice, the story is amazing, and combat and kingdom building is a joy. If you want one of the best RPG experiences that you can get, Ni no Kuni 2 is the game for you.
When Square Enix saw how successful the first Kingdom Hearts game was, they immediately took the concept and improved it. Continuing the story of Sora, Goofy, and Donald following the events of the first game, Kingdom Hearts 2 begins after Sora reawakens and finds the multiverse in threat again. This time by the Nobodies: reanimated husks of people whose hearts were stolen by the heartless.
The Nobodies are driven to be reunited with their hearts, inconsiderate of the damage that they may cause along the way. Behind the Nobodies is a group known as Organization XIII. It is composed of the strongest and most self-aware Nobodies in existence. Sora and Co must travel throughout the multiverse to protect the various worlds and solve mysteries along the way. One of which is the origin of Roxas, a boy whose life was disrupted by his reawakening.
When the game eventually came along, everything was improved, most notably the gameplay. Square Enix took the feedback from players of the first Kingdom Hearts and implemented them in the gameplay. Most notable in these changes is the exclusion of platforming and exploration elements to focus on more combat, with the character’s skills and arsenals becoming more diverse as a change. Quick-time events have also been adapted into reaction commands that allow Sora to use special techniques against his opponents. Other gameplay tweaks include redesigned Gummi Ship segments, a third-person viewpoint, and other quality of life improvements that improved gameplay to benefit the players.
Kingdom Hearts II is part of the HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX edition for the PS4, which contains the first game, Birth by Sleep Final Mix, Re: Chain of Memories, and several additional cutscenes.
7. Final Fantasy 6
Final Fantasy 6 is subversion from the original Final Fantasy formula. It was here when Square Enix flexed their storytelling muscles and dares to ask an uncomfortable question for many: “What if the Bad Guy wins?” Compound that with the Big Bad Kefka winning halfway in the game, and you got a very interesting premise for a Final Fantasy game. Its narrative is unapologetic in talking about sensitive topics and uses multiple character viewpoints instead of just the protagonist’s to create an overarching narrative that can pull players in.
Gameplay-wise, Final Fantasy 6 bucks the usually fixed class mechanic. They made this by allowing almost all characters to use magic. They did this by equipping them with Magicite, magical shards of Espers that already died. Couple that with some tower defense segments to break the monotony of open-world random battles. Moreover, each character has a unique playstyle and purpose. Final Fantasy 6 is a game that you will want to play until the very end, proving it to be one of the best RPGs.
8. Persona 5
The latest in the Persona series is a surprise to many when they announced it. The last Persona game was Persona 4, released in 2008, with Persona 4: Golden released in 2012. The developer was pretty silent about any development in the series until they revealed the 2013 teaser. It was a welcome surprise to fans of the beloved cult classic series.
Sentenced to year probation in Tokyo, the main character and a fellow outcast are accidentally dragged into the metaverse on their first day of school: where cognition becomes reality, and thoughts of humans distorted the real-life locations. Within this twisted world are places where the most corrupt humans carved a place called “Palaces.” There, their innermost vices and desires are most prominent. To erase the distortion of the humans that represent the palace, they must steal the “Treasure” that takes form in its heart, erasing the vile desires of its rulers.
Now, with the use of the Metaverse App on his phone, the help of the friends he makes along the way, and the power of Persona, he has to steal the Treasures inside their target’s palaces, change their ways, and navigate the Mementos, a labyrinth created from the collective warped desires of people who cannot form their own palace while getting good grades in high school, hanging out with friends, going to their part-time job, and dealing with girls.
Persona 5 features optimization of the mechanics. They were already in the previous games of the series. From the day-night cycle, the confidante mechanic, the Velvet Room, and the slick turn-based battle mechanics. The game also used a specially-created engine to render most of the graphics, which led to the long development time. It was worth the wait.
Made by Jupiter and Square Enix in 2009, The World Ends With You is an action RPG that thrusts the player character Neku into an alternate version of Tokyo’s famous Shibuya District to play the Reapers’ Game. That is a week-long battle royale where teams of two fight for the right to survive because losing means they will be erased from existence. You will team up with Shiki and various other characters like Beat a young skater, Rhyme the cheerful optimist, and Joshua, a mysterious genius that observes you in your journey. Together you will attempt to win the Reapers’ Game and attempt to restore his memories.
Featuring a unique take on gameplay where you control two characters on each of the Nintendo DS’s screens, combat is frenetic and fast-paced. Imagine Neku on the bottom DS dashing around to attack enemies while your partner on the top screen attacks using a rhythm format similar to DDR. Paying attention to both characters as well as equipping them with the appropriate Pins, items, and weapons of the game will allow you to defeat enemies that you will encounter throughout your journey. The game also encourages multiple playthroughs for the players to understand the riveting narrative, which is well worth the time and effort to do so. Couple that with awesome anime-style graphics and a killer soundtrack, it’s easy to see why World Ends With You makes it to our top 20 RPGs of all time.
The game is played on the Nintendo DS but is now ported into the Nintendo Switch. World Ends With You: Final Remix is available on Amazon.
10. Mass Effect 2
Another BioWare game makes it on this list, and it is Mass Effect 2. The first-person shooter RPG plays on the strengths developed in the first game and continues two years from the end of it. At the start of the game, your character, Commander Shepard, dies in an attack on the SSV Normandy by the Collectors. Revived by the terrorist organization Cerberus, he must now take the fight to the Collector home base. But to do so, he must hone his skills, create his team, earn their loyalty, and save the galaxy once again.
The Gameplay is still a third-person shooter with RPG elements. Shepard can choose one of six classes and three skill areas. Leveling is tier-based, which you can do between missions. Meanwhile, mission progression is linear, though interspaced between recruitment missions, loyalty missions, resource gathering for upgrades, and some side quests.
Players can also influence Commander Shepard’s decisions through the Paragon/Renegade dialogue options. These can sometimes appear as quick-time events in various areas, where Shepard can talk down an enemy or preemptively shoot them, allowing players a sense of choice in how they want Shepard to act and making the gameplay easier—or harder depending on your decisions. Because of this, each playthrough can be a unique experience through mixing paragon and renegade options, what class and skills you’re using, what gun you’re rocking with you, and even the teammates you’re closer to. The ending all depends on how prepared you are and on how loyal your team is to you, which makes for a great setup for the next game in the franchise.
Mass Effect 2’s Digital Deluxe Edition is available on Steam for $14.55.
11. Pokémon Yellow
With the popularity of the previous titles as well as the anime, Game Freak decides to release Pokémon Yellow. It improves on the previous iterations of the Generation 1 games and adds a few little things in for good measure. One of the additions? A wild Pikachu appears during the Pokémon starter selection and becomes your starter. Another cute add-on is that it’s following you around instead of returning to a Poké ball, adding a level of charm and cementing the fact that these creatures are not just your fighters but also your best friends. Another wonderful addition was the appearance of Jessie, James, and Meowth to hamper your journey throughout Kanto to become the best that ever was. All this cements Pokémon Yellow as one of the most beloved games of the Pokémon franchise.
Earthbound is about four kids who save the world, all the while having wacky adventures and learning valuable lessons along the way. An RPG without a fantasy setting, Earthbound is one of the best turn-based RPGs that came out in 1994 and became a cult classic that maintained its popularity for nearly two decades.
While most people will know the protagonist Ness from his appearance in Smash Bros, the game he originated in went relatively unknown back in the early 2000s in the Western audience. It wasn’t until 2013 that Nintendo was convinced by the fans to release the game for the Virtual Console. And the fans loved it.
Boasting a colorful world, intriguing plot, a battle system that introduced the “Rolling Counter” system, and a lot of pop culture references and jokes for its time, Earthbound is a delightful ride to the end with a surprise that people will enjoy.
You can have Earthbound on the Super NES and Virtual Console.
13. Diablo 2
When Blizzard made the first Diablo, they didn’t know that the series would be loved by people all over. And when Diablo 2 came around, fans rejoiced. The story continues from the end of the first Diablo, with the main character in the first game succumbing to the darkness. Now, he aims to resurrect the titular Lord of Terror. Your new character must now defeat the Prime Evils to save the world.
Diablo 2 increases the available characters to five from the original three and introduces new features as well. One of these is a skill tree. The players can use it to tweak their character based on their play style, rune, and jewel attachments to equipment to enhance their abilities, crafting, and item rarity. It is a cooperative play that allows up to four players. It’s one of the games that revolutionized how RPGs are played, which is the reason why we added it to our list.
Diablo 2 has an expansion pack called Lord of Destruction which adds two additional characters as well as a fifth act set in a new area. The main game and expansion pack is available on Blizzard’s Battle.net website for $9.99 each.
Fallout: New Vegas puts you in the shoes of The Courier as you’re delivering a package to the titular New Vegas. Along the way, you get accosted by thugs who then take your package, shoot you behind the head, and leave you dead. Fortunately for you, a robot saves you and takes you to a doctor. The game starts when you wake up a few days later, and you immediately set out to retrieve the stolen package and complete your delivery. After all, your paycheck is at stake!
This game is played in the third-person or first-person shooter. Players get to customize The Courier’s gender, face, body build, the clothes they wear, the weapons they wield, the stats, and the perks they use. Also, who you talk to and who you fight can impact the game. Talking amiably to certain characters and harshly to others can lead to significant changes in the way people see you. Each playthrough is different due to this, and your decisions can impact the future of the Mojave Wasteland. There are some glitches here and there due to the engine, but you usually stay due to the narrative and overall story.
15. Planescape: Torment
Applauded for its storyline, Planescape: Torrent was first released in 1999 by Black Isle Studios and set in the Dungeons and Dragons setting Planescape in the Outer Planes. What started as a stereotypical amnesia story drops the Nameless One, your character, into a world with interconnected plotlines about your past, complete with your party members, and other NPCs that may know more than what they are supposed to.
While relatively light on combat (though there’s still a good smattering of combat-related gameplay), the game puts more emphasis on dialogue interactions and puzzle solving that it sometimes feels more like a highly interactive novel than a game. In most situations, your party members are there to give advice and clues on various obstacles rather than to help in a fight. Those familiar with D&D Second Edition will see that most of the usual character alignments in the tabletop are flipped over its head in favor of the narrative, telling a very compelling story that has to be experienced to appreciate the twists and turns that it can go through.
A highly acclaimed cult classic, Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition is available on Steam for $10.
Undertale by Toby Fox is yet another cult classic that came out of nowhere. There’s a riveting story that’s based on the decisions that you make in a game. The game also put an innovative spin on turn-based combat where you can either fight or spare your opponent combined with bullet hell gameplay. Not to mention, the soundtrack will leave you humming even when you’re not playing it. Lastly, there’s a delightful cast of characters that you can befriend and—a dating system. That’s right! You can date the bosses if you’re going for a pacifist run in the game.
17. Dark Souls
Dark Souls was the continuation of FromSoftware Hidetaka Miyazaki’s foray into the roguelike RPG genre that started with Demon’s Souls. Players are stuck in the shoes of the Chosen Undead and dropped in Lordran, a land on the brink of collapse after the First Flame began to wane again after the sacrifice of their Lord Gwyn. Now the Chosen Undead must ring the two Bells of Awakening, fight through multiple foes, and sacrifice themselves to extend the Age of Fire for another age. All with a lot are dying along the way.
Dark Souls pushes players to take risks in how they play and to fiddle with the mechanics, items, spells, and stats in a way all at the same time. Couple that with a dash of hard gameplay, mysterious locales, memorable characters, and a hidden plot that you have to look for in not only item descriptions but also story dialogues and you have a game that players who relish a challenge will enjoy. If you’re interested in challenging yourself and have a lot of patience, then we recommend playing the series starting from this game.
The Dark Souls: Remastered is available on Steam for $34.26 and will include the Artorias of the Abyss DLC.
18. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
Another Bethesda game makes it to this list, and this time it’s The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. Taking place in the land of Skyrim, the game hands you the role of the Dragonborn, a legendary warrior that takes the souls of dragons and uses their power as his own. Sounds pretty hardcore, right? Well, there’s just one problem. Skyrim is under a civil war between supporters of the invading empire of Tamriel and rebels who wish for independence. You, the Dragonborn, need to navigate the powder keg of a political arena while also fighting various opponents, look for priceless artifacts and treasures, and maybe become a war hero. Did we mention that the dragons are returning and their leader will bring the end to the world? Yes! You have to deal with that, too.
Gameplay-wise, players will not only have the ability to choose what race their character can be but also free them from the class system. They can have level 18 skills that focus on three basic skill trees: combat, magic, and stealth. Leveling your character will grant Perk Points. You can spend these points on perks and abilities on a specific skill, like faster lockpicking or less magic consumption when using a particular branch of spells. The world is your oyster in Skyrim. Moreover, it’s up to you how you want to play it. Add in the malleability of the game that allows players to modify it however they want, and it’s no surprise why people still play it even after the initial release in 2011, making it one of the best RPGs that Bethesda ever released.
Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Special Edition is available on Steam for $35.52.
Geralt of Rivia’s story comes to an end with CD Projekt RED’s gaming masterpiece, The Witcher 3, a game that you can spend hundreds of hours in and still not see everything the game has to offer.
Combining open-world gameplay alongside RPG elements like a leveling system, customizable skills, a diverse set of weapons and armor, a crafting system that’s easy to learn, and more quests and content than from an all-you-can-eat buffet, The Witcher 3 draws you in the story and compels you to stay with horrifying enemies to defeat poignant narrative direction and incredible characters. Couple this with stellar gameplay, a combat system reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed, and gorgeous graphics, it’s no wonder why The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best games that came out in 2015.
20. Chrono Trigger
Lastly, our penultimate entry is Chrono Trigger. It is one of the most celebrated RPGs of all time. Developed by Square Enix in 1995, Chrono Trigger was a storytelling and gameplay masterpiece during its time. It boasts a plot revolving around time travel to the immediate shift from the world map into combat. Couple this with an awesome soundtrack and a bright and cheery art style, Chrono Trigger promises the most enjoyable gameplay.
It starts with a typical boy-meets-girl scenario. Your main character Crono meets a girl named Marle in a town festival celebrating the arrival of the year 1,000 AD. You meet Crono’s friend, Lucca, whose teleportation device that she was demonstrating at the fair ends up transporting Marle back in time to 600 AD. Now, it’s up to Crono and Lucca to bring her back to the proper timeline. Due to this, the three of them are set to go on an adventure that spans from 2,300 AD to 65,000,000 BC. It becomes their aim to stop an ancient parasite from space from destroying the world. With multiple endings to cap and an overall great game, Chrono Trigger makes it to this list of the best RPGs you shouldn’t miss out on.
You can play Chrono Trigger on the Super NES.