Top 10 RPGs

I have always loved finding lists like these online!  Sometimes I agree with them and sometimes I don’t, but I always enjoy reading about RPGs.  Sometimes by doing so I find a new role-playing game to try out which is obscure, but a reviewers old favorite.  Other times I am reminded of my old classic tried and true RPGs that I have played through time and time again. I get all nestled into the couch on a free Sunday and spend the day unwinding in a far away fantasy world.  This list is by no means a final definitive list of the best rated games of all time or anything like that.  This is my list of the tried and true classic RPGs that I would gladly play again should you place a day off, a console, and a comfy couch in front of me.  This reminds me… when was the last time I got lost in a good RPG?  Maybe I should take my own advice and pick something from this list!  The hard part will be choosing just one!

My top 10 RPGs of all time:

#1 – Morrowind (the Elder Scrolls III)

I remember the first day I played Morrowind with the utmost clarity.  I walked into a game store and they had a few systems locked away behind glass in a outlying circle where you could fire up whatever game was being promoted.  If you wanted to try out something else you could simply ask.  I walked by the Xbox and noticed a cool looking RPG from a first person perspective with images of intense battles and exploration through very unique looking locations.  I decided to pick up the controller and check it out.  I fell in love at first sight.  After pressing start I awoke on a ship which had just docked in the harbor of a small town.  I disembarked the vessel and soaked up the graphics, the like of which I had never seen in my life.  The ripples on the lifelike water and the reflection of the sky immediately dropped me straight into Morrowind without even noticing the transition from real life to gaming world.  Next came a series of questions you must answer in order to “get your paperwork in order” and progress into the game proper. I proceeded to develop my character in such detail that I could only relate the experience to making an actual character for a tabletop RPG like Dungeons and Dragons, except this was ever MORE detailed!  I was in love.  A couple hours later I realized I was still standing, hunched over the glass case in the gaming shop completely enthralled with this new game Morrowind.  One of the employees asked if I needed help and glanced at the screen.  “Whoops, I forgot to take this out.  Someone wanted to demo it and I should have changed this back to -insert generic popular sports or fighting title here-.” I responded with “I love this game.  I am buying this.” I didn’t care what the price was or if they had it used.  I wanted this game and in the coming months would spend countless hours exploring the VAST realm of Vvardenfell.  The reason why this is my #1 pick is it was the first time I ever played a RPG video game where I lost touch with reality and was completely and utterly submerged in the world which Besthesda Softworks laid out for me.  Even though it doesn’t compare to the graphics of the current titles I still encourage you to try this game out.  Make sure when you leave town you head to the left down the path and keep looking up in the air for something to fall into your lap to get you started.  Remember also to explore the world however you wish.  Some of the best parts of the game are hidden.  Finally, get the spell LEVITATE and FIREBURST so that you can kill guards from the air or other locations they can’t reach you.  Doing whatever you want on this game is what makes it so close to playing a game of D&D.  Enjoy this game, I’m sure it will be considered a golden Classic RPG.

#2 – Oblivion (the Elder Scrolls IV)

Like Morrowind, Oblivion provides a unique world to explore where you are allowed to make your own choices which affect not only your influence on others, but the towns and cities in the realm.  Oblivion enhances everything that Morrowind brought to the table.  It should be noted that Oblivion would have been in the #1 spot were it not for the influence that Morrowind had not only on me, but the entire gaming community.  If my memory serves me correctly, Morrowind scored RPG of the year, as did Oblivion and for good reason.  I played Oblivion 3 times through without actually completing the entire main plot.  The first time I was a powerful wizard who became the head of the Mages Guild for the entire world.  I had my own mage tower in the center of Cyrodill.  Let me tell you, the view was amazing.  I had a magical chest that could duplicate items when left overnight.  I wielded a multitude of magic staffs and had various robes and magical items to protect me from all sorts of evil.  I also was the proud owner of multiple homes.  I went on with that character to become the head of the Thieves Guild and a few other organizations.  The next character was a sly little devil, an Argonian whose goal was to become the best thief in the realm.  He accomplished this many times over and was even able to steal from a vampire lord without him catching on.  The next and final character was a dark elf woman with skin as black as night, red eyes, and a white ball of hair that looked like gathered spider webs.  I was very careful with her and would move silently through the night, killing anyone I pleased at will.  She became so powerful that she attracted the attention of a dark organization whose name I cannot utter here.  She became an agent of this dark group and slowly rose through the ranks until she herself ran the entire organization of assassins.  Taking orders directly from the dark goddess, my dark elf decided who would live and die each night.  For a time she became a vampire to see what the world was like through the eyes of a blood feasting fiend but became tired of only moving about at night and needing blood to survive so she found the only cure in the world to vampirism and returned to her former well to do life of slaying others for pleasure.  Yes, in Oblivion you can be a merchant, a scribe, a wizard, warrior, cut throat, pirate, brigand, or priest.  You can talk to anyone in the world and do almost anything you can think of.  On top of that the game looks AMAZING.  I highly recommend Oblivion.  You will NOT be disappointed!

#3 – Final Fantasy Series

OK, if I put them all in my top 10 I would run out of room.  I’m talking about the wonderful role-playing games I have played since I was a kid starting with Final Fantasy I.  The first Final Fantasy was raw but advanced for it’s time.  It was actually quite groundbreaking and paved the way for other video game RPGs.  The fact that you could assemble your own party, name them, and choose what spells and equipment you gave them made combat interesting and different for every player who ran through the game.  Many classic traditions were defined with this game that continued through the series.

Final Fantasy IV was actually our second U.S. release and completely floored any RPG enthusiasts.  Who can ever forget Cecil the dark Knight and his struggle to find truth, light, and justice in his life?  Rosa the beautiful woman who loves Cecil even through the dark times, Kain the Dragoon who betrays his friend but comes back in the end to help, Cid the happy engineer, Rydia the Caller, Tellah the Sage, and that spoony bard Edward!  There are so many characters in this game that you fall in love with and will never forget.  It’s funny looking back how a pixelated game with poor sound and graphics really was advanced at the time and engaged us so deeply that we felt like crying when a favored character would die.

Moving on to Final Fantasy VI which was our third U.S. release tells the story of a girl who has amnesia and melds with an Esper early on gifting her with special spell like powers.  Civilization has moved into more of an industrial revolution time in this FF as opposed to the previous fantasy themed games.  The reason this game holds a special place is my memory is that it helped me through a severe illness and a painful surgery.  I was able to escape to the world of Final Fantasy and ignore the pain life had dealt.  The final thing I will say about FF VI  is that whoever game up with the idea of completely destroying the world and stranding you in control of a previously evil character with no hopes of finding the rest of your party was a GENIUS.  This made the game great for me.  I loved the concept of a world destroyed by an apocolypse which you yourself witnessed and took part in.  What a plot twist!

Final Fantasy VII needs no introduction.  Cloud, Sephiroth, Tifa, poor Aeris and all the other memorable characters.  This one was BIG.  Everyone played this game and LOVED it.  There were so many cool mini games, secret characters, and materia combos.  The cut scenes were like nothing we had ever seen and GOD… SEPHIROTH WAS BAD ASS!  Jenova, what weird music… creepy Jenova… I don’t need to say much about FF VII.  If you haven’t played it you are a crazy fool!  I’m sure someday they will do a remake but who knows if it will truly capture everything the same as the original did.  I will always remember Sephiroth turning to look me in the eyes with that huge samurai sword in one hand as he casually strolls through the flames of destruction.  If you haven’t seen the movie Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, I HIGHLY suggest it!  In fact here is a link to buy it.  I rarely suggest products to purchase so trust me, this movie is killer and the CGI is the best I’ve ever seen.

Final Fantasy IX was a return to the classic style but with incredible new graphic effects.  This game was fun.  I don’t remember the whole plot or even the characters, but I do know that I played through it twice and enjoyed it both times!  Vivi!  I remember him… the cute little black mage with clothes borrowed from the black mages in FF1!  This is another I recommend playing if you never got the chance.  If you don’t have a PS1 you can always play the ROM on a emulator.

There are many more Final Fantasy games- I played X & XIII but didn’t get a chance at the online XI or the PS2 XII.  Playing XIII did make me realize that the series will never be the same as these early games that hold a special place in my heart and many other RPG fans the world over.  Just like a good book, the story will always be there waiting for you, which is all that matters.  My final word will be this- Final Fantasy Tactics for PS1 was a limited release and not considered a RPG, but get it, play it, and you will enjoy it.  Another amazing game.  I’m filling up the blog here!  OK!  I’m done with Final Fantasy, I promise… at least until I get done writing the blog then it’s off to play Tactics!

#4 – Chrono Trigger

A RPG with time travel?  I must be in heaven.  This game is a CLASSIC.  Crono and his friends adventure through time trying to set things right and combat Lavos, an evil being which came to the planet long ago and began a process which ultimately destroyed the planet.  This is one of those games where the journey is what’s most fun.  It’s not about beating the boss or winning the game.  It’s all the cool mini games, characters, plot twists, time travel changes, and power tabs you find that make the game worth it.  From frog warriors to robot champions, this game has it all.  The most memorable place in the game for me is the place at the end of time.  Being one of the most popular RPGs of all time caused many fans to make recreations of the game with new places to explore and enhanced graphics.  Squaresoft filed numerous cease and desist orders which halted further development of these games.  You might still be able to find some remnants of these ventures out there somewhere on the internet.  Chrono Trigger was conceived in 1992 by Hironobu Sakaguchi, producer and creator of the Final Fantasy series; Yuji Horii, director and creator of the Dragon Quest series; and Akira Toriyama, famous manga artist and creator of the Dragon Ball series.  For a time there was talk of a sequel, but only one of the developers wished to proceed, so it will never see the light of day.  (Chrono Cross isn’t a sequel in my opinion.)  According to video game industry experts this is one of the top 10 requested game sequels of all time.  I personally think it’s best to leave a perfect game alone and enjoy it’s uniqueness.

#5 – Phantasy Star

This is one most of you have never played.  Phantasy Star for the old school Sega Master system.  Sporting incredible graphics for it’s time and an exciting plot we were whisked away to another world in the far future but yet with fantasy elements.  Phantasy Star was far ahead of it’s time and probably helped influence some of the ideas in games like Final Fantasy 7.  I played this game almost to the end, but cannot remember what happens.  That means it’s time to load up the emulator on my Wii and play this through again!  Just after I finish Final Fantasy Tactics… or in between…

#6 – Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2

I’m including these together because they both have merits.  If you are into the Forgotten Realms as much as I am these are a treat.  Dungeons and Dragons on your computer, it’s more along the lines of a dungeon crawl as opposed to true exploration like Morrowind and Oblivion, it is nevertheless good fun!  The best part if you are a DM is that you can make your own worlds and have players play through them while you watch and interact with them.  You could basically DM a D&D game over an internet connection on your computer.  Not as good as the real thing, but still a lot of fun.  The plots the game includes don’t grab you as well as some of the other games on here, but they are still exciting to play through!

#7 -Super Mario RPG (Legend of the Seven Stars)

Never in a million years would I think a Mario RPG would be fun to play, but this game surprised me!  Not only was it fun, but very addictive.  I played this as a teenager and beat the game twice.  The typical mario story with a twist and some cool new memorable characters.  This game is very child like but if you don’t mind the cutesy graphics and music the game itself is great fun and sometimes damn hard! (I just found out they have this game downloadable for Wii! Here’s a link!)

#8 – Dragon Age – Origins

Take the character development of Oblivion and then add a deep element of strategy to the battles and lots of gore and you have Dragon Age Origins.  This game sucked me in right away.  Although I had heard all the hype and tend to zone out games that the general populace drools over, this one had me from hour 1.  I think at my first sitting I played for 10 hours.  I created an elf archer and explored some ancient ruins full of monsters.  A rich world full of beauty, darkness, savagery and danger this place feels real.  Not quite as open as Oblivion, you still are able to affect the world around you through your character’s responses to the people he/she encounters.  You also have the choice of which quests you venture off to and in what order.  Sometimes by finishing some quests before others it can affect the way the game plays out.  My most memorable experience in this game is actually one of the cool features- the ability to pause during battle, turn your angle around, and make choices accordingly.  It added an interesting element of strategy that made otherwise boring battles intense and exciting for me.  I love the challenge that new features like this give.  I also love to hit pause and see a blood splatter frozen in mid air.

#9 – Suikoden 3

Like the other Suikoden games you are eventually able to build an army of unique characters and your own town from which to battle the evil empire.  Unlike the other games, the 3rd installment of Suikoden allows you to control 3 main characters through various chapters that eventually meet.  What’s cool about this is that you can play a few chapters of just one character before moving to the next.  You control a grasslands plains warrior fighting for his tribes survival, a human warrior woman who stands by and watches the plainsman’s village burn as her troops loot and kill the townsfolk, and an outsider who is neutral and going about his own business on a secret quest from some far off land.  The stories eventually merge as do the lives of many NPCs in this game.  It’s a long game with a lot of boring battles, but worth it for the great ideas that the creators of this game unfold and let come to fruition.  If you have a long vacation and it’s raining outside buy a PS2 and Suikoden III!

#10 – Pool of Radiance

I know a lot of other RPGs could go here, but I’m going to throw a little known game called Pool of Radiance at you.  That’s because this was one of the first computer game RPGs I ever played and it takes place in the Moonsea region of the Forgotten Realms.  One of the toughest RPG games EVER made it was an intense and dangerous battle though the ruins of Phlan. My friends Khidr, JW, and I would play on an old macintosh computer that got me into RPG video games in the first place.  Remember that annoying copy protection wheel?  I’m sure glad those stupid things are gone.  If you like retro gaming, download a DOS emulator and Pool of Radiance to relive a classic.  Remember, the beginning is grueling, but once outside town the game gets MUCH better and you have a nice overland map where you can freely move about and explore the world.  (Hey, didn’t Final Fantasy steal their overland map from this game? 😉

So that does it, my unique list of the top 10 RPGs of all time.  I’m sure later I will look at this list and say “Shit! I can’t believe I forgot THAT GAME!” but alas, that is life.  There is no such thing as a perfect list as perfection is relative to the individual.  I just hope that my list gives you a unique perspective and perhaps the balls to go out and grab a few old school titles and consoles to experience some amazing stories and classic role-playing games.  For those of you who made it this far, I will always encourage you to experience TRUE role-playing games in the form of Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire, Palladium, whatever RPG floats your boat.  There is nothing as amazing as using your creativity and imagination to explore a fantasy world with your friends and interacting at the same table together.

Thank you for reading and happy gaming!

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.