Massive worlds, sinister villains, and epic storylines, for gamers that wanted incredible story and not just running around shooting everything, or tired of collecting hundreds of the same items you had one choice; a role playing game. This list of games represent some of the best RPG’s and some of gamings most beloved classic franchise. Story and imagination are at the top of their list. I also tried to pick titles with the most fun gameplay, but be warned, grinding was just part of the genre when these were made. As a “Classic” list, I’ve limited this list to the 32 bit era (PlayStation, Sega Saturn,) and earlier. One game per Franchise rule in place.
Number 10 – Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest (NES/GBC)
This isn’t the first console RPG, that title goes the “Adventure” on the Atari 2600, but this was the first console RPG to become popular and helped to bring JRPG’s to the west. It was even given away for free to new subscribers/ renewed subscribers of Nintendo Power when is came out. Game play is simple, graphics a little plain but classic. The story is inspired for its time and the puzzles are easy enough to figure out, ” just talk to every villager in the town you discover next. There are more interesting games in the franchise, but the first one keeps me coming back. It also inspired a rival company that was almost bankrupted to dump all their money into one last game, their final fantasy if you will… It’s not too difficult or expensive to find a NES copy but the GameBoy Color version has 1 & 2 on it for about the same price averaging about $20.00.
Number 9 – The Elder Scrolls: Arena (PC-DOS/PC)
One of only a few western made RPGs on this list, this game gives you that great first person perspective and a great feel likes it in 3D. Technically games like this are not 3D games but they do a great job of giving that “real” effect unlike most games of this period. This is the first of the Elders Scrolls series and was way ahead of its time.The story is that Emperor Uriel Septim VII has been imprisoned in another dimension, and impersonated by Imperial Battlemage Jagar Tharn. During his usurpation of the throne, Tharn is unable to corrupt his apprentice, Ria Silmane, and murders her. Ria is able to hold herself together long enough to direct you on how to escape from a slow death in the dungeons. Afterwards she appears to the player during dreams. The primary quests requires the player to obtain various artifacts. This culminates in the player assembling the Staff of Chaos and battling Tharn in the Imperial City. It’s a very different gameplay experience compared to most of the games on this list and a must play for new Elders Scrolls fans. You can download this from the elders scroll website, but you’ll need a emulator program. Thats a lot easier than finding a old gaming PC’s or even parts can be a massive task, let alone a original CD with Key Code. They let you get this gem for the low price of: FREE
Number 8 – Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game (PC-DOS/PC)
A games in the wastelands of America after WW3?! SWEET! This has all the Fallout series staples, a karma system, freedom of choice and destination, S.P.E.C.I.A.L., and the Pip Boy 2000. The Story is that in Vault 13, the water recycling and pumping machinery of the vault malfunctions. With 150 days before the Vault’s water reserves run dry, the Vault Overseer tasks you with finding a replacement part. Your choices and action will determine a lot in this game, giving it a ton of replay value. It has that Isometric view for the game play and you’ll even meet some characters that appear in future Fallout titles. Pick it up and be surprised by how little, in some ways, this franchise has changed over the years. I would get this on off of Steam, they have it for just $10.00.
Number 7 – Diablo II (PC/Mac)
A hack and slash RPG adventure that takes place after the end of the previous game. In Diablo, a unnamed warrior defeated Diablo and attempted to contain the Lord of Terror’s essence within his own body. Since then, the hero has become corrupted by the demon’s spirit, causing demons to enter the world around him. There are 4 Acts that have you journeying down into a goth inspired hell dungeon. Items in this game are generated randomly, making this a very Gear-centric game. You’ll find yourself backtracking a lot just to try and find that piece of equipment with 1 more spec point, or of a better grade. With 5 character classes, plus 2 more from expansions, and the secret level with the infamous Hell Bouvines, this game will keep you hooked for a long time. Diablo 2 is advailible on the Battle.net shop for about $10.00
Number 6 – Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars (SNES/Nintendo Virtual Console)
Yes, some may find it hard to believe but this does constitute a RPG. It was a joint venture between Nintendo and SquareSoft (now Square Enix), plus a pleasant surprise in that the story that doesn’t follow the standard JRPG format. The sprites don’t hold up well to the passage of time, (characters look a little ruff), but it still holds the charm and just plain fun that Nintendo games are so good at holding onto. You might be better off getting this one as a download on your Wii though, a SNES copy can be very difficult and expensive to obtain with physical cartridges by themselves regularly at or over $50.00 and with the box and book about $100.00
Number 5 – Lunar: The Silver Star Story (Sega CD/Playstation)
One of the first RPGs to have in game video cutscenes and a trickly little stat system that it IMPOSSIBLE to just level up and overpower the boss’s. What it does is takes your strongest characters current key stats (HP, MP, Speed, Atk, Def, Magic) and multiplies them by 7. The gameplay itself is straightforward, the story has that typical JRPG thing, “young boy leaves home on adventure, evil threaten the world and he decides to save it” thing. But that not all there is to it, there’s great variety with your companions and their own stories going on, wonderful music, great dungeon/world design, hidden easter eggs for those willing to look, and even some musical videos. This game was ahead of its time on the Sega CD with its limited hardware, so I recommend the the Playstation version because it was completely remastered and redone. Just be warned, both version are rare and expensive, with price varying greatly between $30.00 – $70.00 for the Playstation version and as much as $100.00 for a Sega CD copy.
Number 4 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES/Nintendo Virtual Console)
This is the Zelda game that defined and continues to do so with the 2D Zelda games. With a massive world, lots of dungeons and tons of secrets to find, and simple yet challenging combat, this is a must play for Zelda fans and RPG players. The story is that princess Zelda is in danger (again) and needs a hero to save her. That’s when your uncle leaves you in the house in the middle of a rainy night telling you to stay in bed…. No joke, that’s the start of the game. So you do what any kid would do, run out into the night, find your uncle dying (apparently from a bat) where he gives you his sword and tells you to save the princess. This game almost never gets old to play. Finding a SNES copy can be hard and expensive, with good condition cartridges easily beginning around $25.00 and going as high $50.00. I recommend getting it for your Wii/WiiU from Nintendo’s Virtual Console.
Number 3 – Poke’mon Red/Blue (GameBoy)
I shouldn’t have to explain to much here, but just incase, you choose one of three starting creatures, called Poke’mon, and then start out on a journey to collect all 8 gym badges and win the world championship. Along the way you battle a Poke’mon gang thwarting their dreams of world domination, compete against you childhood rival, and try to collect all 150 pokemon in the world. There’s a wonderfully simple, but masterfully complex gameplay mechanic to the battle system. There’s that feeling of a real need to catch them all, and lots of exploring to do. There is even a way to catch the REAL Mew in some INSANELY exacting method that wasn’t discovered till a few years ago. I can’t tell you how many time I replayed this game. It’s just really fun. NOTE: If you want to play them both, I recommend 2 GameBoys and a link cable plus one of Red and Blue, that’s if you have to Catch Em All. A nice cartridge can got between $20.00 – $30.00
Number 2 – Chrono Cross (Playstation/PSN)
Wait, don’t get angry yet. Let me tell you why I picked Chrono Cross over Chrono Trigger. Chrono Cross has aged beautifully for a PS1 game, you don’t have to know the story from Chrono Trigger to understand what’s going on in this one as its a independent story. There’s enough hidden quest and secretes to keep you busy for quite awhile too.. In this game you travel around a Island chain trying to find Lynx and the Frozen Flame while switching between parallel universes while you try to figure out what’s actually gone wrong with the world. There are over 100 companion characters to recruit in this game, most of them very interesting, and to get all of them take 3 playthroughs. The combat is a mix of something new and more of the same as the way JRPGs go from this time and the make of your party can greatly affect the combat and dialog of the game too. Chrono Trigger is a classic RPG and game overall, but I personally think Chrono Cross did it better. You can find this for about $30.00 to $40.00 or as a download for $19.99. Let the hate mail begin.
Honorable Mentions – Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Final Fantasy VI, Shining Force, Phantasy Star IV, Lunar: Eternal Blue, Dragon Warrior 3, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Valkyrie Profile, Grandia.
Number 1 – Final Fantasy VII (Playstation/PC/PSN)
This one might also get some hate mail too but it wasn’t a easy pick being the RPG monster that the Final Fantasy franchise is as a whole, I had to pick Final Fantasy VII for my number one classic RPG because it was the first games in that genre to become a massive sales hit. For many gamers of that time this was there first time playing a role playing game. Also take note of a couple of extra details, it has the most direct spin off games, a movie, and is currently getting a complete remake for newer console and new gamers. The story is a roller coaster ride, first your part of a environmental group trying to save the planet from a giant evil company that rules the world. Then your after your arch nemesis to save the world from him. Then you’re saving yourself…. There’s a love triangle going on, and your companions have their own crisis’s going on you have to deal with too. Your companions have a great diversity to them, the music is amazing, the combat system is easy to pick up, yet hard to master, and it offers a great amount of customization with a massive amount of side quest and 2 of RPGs hardest optional boss battles. The overworld graphics haven’t aged as well as some of the other games from this time, but that has its own interesting side story caused by the changing technology of the time, CD vs cartridge, and Squaresoft had already committed to CGI cutscenes and CD audio when Nintendo announced that their new Nintendo 64 would be using cartridge…. Findling it for PS1 isn’t too hard and the cost is about the same as on Steam or PSN of about $20.00.