It's extremely difficult to talk about RPGs without bringing up Final Fantasy. There's a good reason for this, as the Final Fantasy series is one of the best RPG franchises and contains some of the best games ever made. In fact, it would be hard to say that out of all the games that have been released in the franchise, not a single one of them is objectively bad. While some FF games are certainly better than others and they do all have strengths and weaknesses, Square is more or less batting a thousand when it comes to the series. Pushing all of that praise to the side, it does get a little annoying that the Final Fantasy games seem to constantly overshadow games that are just as good, if not better.
A major problem with the series is it doesn't follow the adventures of the characters that fans clamor for. We got three Final Fantasy XIII games (Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII), instead of a Final Fantasy VII sequel. This looks fine, but fans haven't exactly been quiet about what they've wanted out of the franchise (how about another Tactics too!).
While the franchise is great, it would be nice to have a conversation about top-notch RPGs that don't involve Final Fantasy. If you'd like to play and discuss some RPGs that blow FF series out of the water, check out some of these titles.
15 Legend Of Mana
Legend of Mana was ahead of its time and yet it doesn't get the same recognition as the original Secret of Mana. Both games have their roots in Final Fantasy in a roundabout way that we'll get to later.
A great feature in Legend is that the player was able to choose from a male or female hero. In 1999, most games put you in the shoes of a male by default. In addition, the game toyed with the idea of "the sandbox" and a landscape completely created by the player as the game progressed. The player built the world map as they played and the main story was broken up into three acts that didn't require being played in a linear fashion. While the sandbox and a "play as you want" style is normal now, it certainly wasn't in '99.
Mad props to the beautiful hand drawn landscapes and animation as well.
It's a shame this little gem never made it to the U.S. because it's easily up there with Chrono Trigger as one of the best RPGs the SNES had to offer. That's saying something when you consider that the SNES was probably the premier console in terms of its library of RPGs.
The greatest asset to just about any RPG is its story and Terranigma had one of the better ones. You play as a boy named Ark, tasked with resurrecting planet Earth after the world was submerged during a battle in Antarctica between God and the Devil. Each chapter in the story looks and feels different, as are Ark's goals. You almost feel like you've been given three or four different games on one cartridge as each segment feels like a different experience.
13 Tales Of...(Series)
The Tales of... series hasn't been around as long as the Final Fantasy series, but the former is starting to gain on the latter in terms of available titles in the franchise. The latest installment in the Tales of... series, Tales of Berseria, has a perfect 10/10 score on Steam at the moment this piece was written.
If you're a fan of the animated television series Steven Universe, you might want to check out the previous installment, Tales of Zestiria. The combat features a fusion ability where two characters combine into one fused super being that combine their likenesses and abilities, much like the Crystal Gems do on Steven Universe.
12 E.V.O. Search For Eden
If you actually know someone who has actually played E.V.O., then you've probably heard them talk at great lengths about how fantastic this RPG is.
You start out as a very simple creature that lives in the depths of the ocean, collecting experience and orbs to make your way to different stages of Evolution. Unless you write down all your steps, it's unlikely you'll ever play the same character twice. Once you make it out of the water, the game adopts some adventure and platforming elements and the story gets much more involved. The player also chooses between two endings depending on their evolutionary path - one for if they chose to become a normal human, and one for if they've chosen a reptilian humanoid.
E.V.O. was way ahead of its time. It was a far better (and much earlier) version of Spore.
11 Dragon's Dogma
As a player that mainly plays action platformers and RPGs, I tend to shrug my shoulders at the First Person Shooter genre. I asked a clerk at my local GameStop to find me a good FPS that would change my mind. He sent me away with some great shooters, but conned me into Dragon's Dogma as well. This clerk knew what he was talking about and I'll always be grateful he kept me from abandoning my gaming comfort zone.
The fixed day/night cycles and timelines for the hundreds of NPCs are impressive feats, as are the size and scope of the world and its beasts (think Monster Hunter meets Elder Scrolls). The Hybrid Vocations are another great feature. Everyone should devote at least one play-through to playing the Magick Archer.
10 Elder Scrolls (Series)
Oh, Elder Scrolls. Try as we might to hate on you, we just can't. You can be glitchy and repetitive, but you've yet to make an installment that isn't almost infinitely re-playable.
Elder Scrolls set the standard for the play as you want style. You'll hear a lot of people say this was perfected in Skyrim, but the ability to play how you want and as whatever you want was probably more robust in Daggerfall, the second installment in the series. You could even build your own spells in Daggerfall. It's also possible Daggerfall is one of the largest open-worlds in gaming (destroying the world size of all its sequels), though much of the map is randomly generated.
9 Shining Force II
Get out of here, Final Fantasy Tactics! The superior tactical RPG is, and always will be, Shining Force 2.
While it was really cool that the battle maps were in three dimensions for Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force 2 would offer huge battles and very large scales across all sorts of terrains. In fact, there were thirty playable characters with a number of different abilities to use on the battlefield.
One of the best features was the ability to promote your characters into new classes after a certain level. This not only added some change to the already killer fight and character animations, but you could take a character that was growing stale as your roster grew, like the Centaur, and promote him into a Pegasus Knight!
8 EarthBound (Mother)
When EarthBound first hit North America, it didn't do very well. In Japan it was called Mother 2, the second installment in the Mother series. The North American version only sold half the copies that Mother 2 sold in Japan. Over time, the game would gain quite the cult following and would pull itself out of cult status when the main character, Ness, appeared in a Super Smash Bros. game. The attention would help the first Mother eventually see a release on the Wii U Virtual Console.
What made EarthBound so great was its irreverent humor, but, more importantly, its real world setting that broke the fantasy setting trend in RPGs. It was a breath of fresh air at the time.
EarthBound was so good it directly inspired one of the finest RPGs to be released in the last five years...
Undertale is an extremely simple looking game made almost entirely by a single individual using the Game Maker: Studio software. When you play it, the game is anything but simple. That isn't to say that Undertale is difficult, what I mean to say is Undertale is very unique and features a battle system where your character doesn't necessarily level up and nobody even has to die. In a gaming climate where even an altruistic and heroic style of play requires you to kill the crap out of just about everything that sets foot in your path, it's extremely nice to see a game that can still be "beaten" if you spare your enemies and put them into good moods.
You also can't shirk at the nostalgia of the retro Earthbound inspired design.
6 Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, is probably up there as one of the greatest JRPGs ever made. It originally was released for the DS under the name Ni no Kuni: Dominion of the Dark Djinn, but a significantly enhanced similar version with nearly the exact same plot was made for PS3, which is the White Witch title most of us are more familiar with.
What sets the Ni no Kuni games apart from other RPGs is the Studio Ghibli animated sequences and character designs that nodded to past Studio Ghibli animated features. Not only did Studio Ghibli create the look of the game, but their past features inspired the complexity and relatability of the game's characters and story as well.
5 The Witcher 3
You can't put together a list of RPGs, good or bad, without mentioning The Witcher 3. There's a lot of folks out there who think the game-play holds your hand and The Witcher 2 is superior (and in some ways it is), or that you're so wrapped up in the personality of Geralt that the game doesn't offer a true RPG experience. I'm inclined to disagree. The game is beautiful, the map size is more than sufficient, many RPG main characters have strong personalities, and the creatures are just as incredible as the beasties in the FF series, but The Witcher games have a much more grounded look. There's a scariness to the creatures and world of The Witcher 3 that makes the stakes seem so high.
4 Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger might very well be the indisputable best video game RPG of all time. In fact, when Chrono Trigger was being made, Final Fantasy VII was in the beginning stages of being made right alongside it on the Super Nintendo. Chrono was getting so big and promising that all the plans for Final Fantasy VII were shelved for a later date. Even Square was looking at Chrono Trigger as a project that was more deserving of their time and resources. In fact, some elements of Final Fantasy VII ended up being a part of Chrono Trigger.
To this day, even among those players that weren't around for the days of the SNES, an FF6 combo-pack on the original PlayStation, a DS release, and the Virtual Console have kept the game alive and well.
3 The Last Story
If you played The Last Story, you probably fell in love with it. Back in 2012 when it was released for the Wii, it was highly rated alongside another Nintendo exclusive JRPG called Xenoblade Chronicles. Both were released around the end of the system's life and it's a shame because if games like The Last Story had come out earlier, perhaps the Wii would have performed better.
The Last Story is from Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original creator of Final Fantasy, which might explain the synonymous titles. One of the best features of the game was the battle system that made room for both real-time melee and more importantly (as it was far more fun), stealth and tactical battle.
2 The Secret Of Mana
The reason Secret of Mana is just as good, if not better than any Final Fantasy game is because the first installment was actually released as a Final Fantasy game. The North American release of Secret of Mana was actually Secret of Mana 2, or more accurately Legend of the Sacred Sword 2. The first installment was released in North America as Final Fantasy Adventure.
The game had a fantastic and involved plot that progressed wonderfully. Another big perk was the life bar and real time battle system that also used a "Ring Command" system to use your spells, special abilities, set the AI of your party, and change items. You could also let a second player join up and play in your party, a rarity for an RPG (outside of MMO) game both then and now.
1 Xenoblade Chronicles X
Okay. The Wii U was a colossal failure. It didn't perform as well as Nintendo had hoped for. There were a lot of reasons for this and one of those reasons was most definitely a shallow library of good games. That being said, Xenoblade Chronicles X might be the game that could entirely make up for the lacking library.
In Chronicles X, you can do so much. You survey an alien planet to sustain Earthlings without a planet, you fight massive beasts, you use your gathered resources and invest money to improve your commerce and equipment, you can (and are encouraged to) play as every class, there are countless side quests, a HUGE map, and the loot drops are varied and plentiful. Now times that all by two because you can do it all over again for your gigantic mech suits that also turn into vehicles.
If you must, wait for a used Wii U to drop in price. Hell, it's worth it to buy a new one for this game alone.