The RPG genre is one of the most rewarding in gaming. In fact, its basic structure is so gratifying that it's leaked into other genres — so much so that almost every game features some kind of leveling system. This may vary from title to title, but players can't underplay the impact this genre has. With that in mind, there are some fantastic RPGs out there, some that every gamer should play.
That doesn't mean they're just the best of the genre, rather they define what an RPG with witty stories, memorable characters, innovative battle systems, or sheer popularity. Obviously, with a list of 10, there will be notable absentees, and tastes differ from person to person, but we're going to do out best to list 10 RPGs Every Gamer Must Play Before They Die.
10 Pokemon Red/Blue
Developer: GamefreakPublisher: Nintendo
Pokémon Red and Blue are the games that launched simultaneously to ignite what is arguably the most popular JRPG franchise of all time. With 150 tiny kaiju to collect across the Kanto region. The thing about these games is that they're very simplistic, even for their time. Combat is turn-based with a move's effectiveness determined by the Pokémon type. The story is even more by the numbers, putting players in the shoes of a child whose goals is to collect Pokémon and badges all while the evil Team Rocket terrorizes the area.
Yet, in spite of all this, these games remain endearing. Perhaps its the goal to catch all 150 monsters and watch them evolve as you battle through forests, caves, trails, and gyms, but maybe it's the grand adventure that sits in the palm of your hands. It's great in spite of its simplicity.
Developer: HAL LaboratoryPublisher: Nintendo
Much like Pokémon, Earthbound's turn-based combat system is pretty basic. Yet it makes one unique innovation in the form of a rolling HP counter. With this, players have the potential to land one last hit or heal themselves as their health rolls to zero. It actually makes for some pretty tense moments and it more than makes up for the relatively simple battle-style.
With all that said, no one is praising Earthbound for its gameplay. Instead, it's renown for some genuinely hilarious writing. The story follows Ness, a boy in the fictional country of Eagleland. After a meteorite crashes near his house, he, along with his chubby neighbor Pokey search the land for the latter's long lost brother. The entire story is a commentary on American culture, but it's done so in a tongue in cheek way that's intelligent and full of heart.
8 Dark Souls
Developer: FromSoftwarePublisher: Namco Bandai Games
In many ways, Dark Souls is a masterclass in video game storytelling. Instead of sitting players through long-winded cutscenes meant to wow audiences with their cinematic production value, it allows players to consume the game's lore at their own pace. Whether it's brief snippets or environmental ques, the Darksouls community has pieced together what they believe to be the world's background — and that's the beauty of the game.
Well, that's only part of it anyway. The gameplay is probably some of the most rewarding in the medium. With difficult combat, a clear progression system, and some big-time boss battles Darksouls isn't a game that players will blow through in one night. In fact, it could take days for some less experienced gamers to wrap their minds around.
7 Mass Effect II
Developer: BiowarePublisher: EA
When Mass Effect first launched in 2007, it was unlike anything we've ever seen. Sure, we've had western RPGs based in space, but the interaction with NPCs was unlike anything we've ever played. With that said, Mass Effect II took that and improved it more. The dialogue wheel returned once again, but this time, players were given the ability to interrupt, giving the player an extra bit of clout in a conversation. On top of that, charm and intimidation are linked closer to the game's morality system — which was already leagues ahead of anything we played beforehand. Mix that with the most open romance options available on the market, and you've got a game that features revolutionary relationship-building mechanics.
6 Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian EntertainmentPublisher: Bethesda
Fallout: New Vegas took everything the franchise built in Fallout 3 and cranked it to 11. With the massive open world of the post-apocalyptic New Vegas, players are put in the shoes of a man who was left to die as he traverses the land looking for his killers leading to the discovery of two warring factions. Players can choose to find their killers, screw over the citizens of any town they walk through, take a side in a war, or do nothing at all — there are nearly endless possibilities in the new land of vice.
Mix all of those options with an incredibly deep, almost too deep, leveling system and that classic Fallout battle system, and you have what is easily the best game in the series.
5 The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Game StudiosPublisher: Bethesda Softworks
You probably heard this once or twice — but Skyrim is a big game. But not just in terms of map size. The story — which takes puts the player in the shoes of the Dragonborn as they try to take down a dragon who, according to legend, will destroy the world — is grand, the leveling system is incredibly deep, and in true Elder Scrolls fashion, there sheer number of sidequests is enough to overwhelm some players.
In many ways, Skyrim is the big one on this list. Its impact on the industry is almost second to none, and its impact on pop-culture is bigger than almost any game ever made. Despite being an RPG through and through, it's transcended the genre and is a masterclass in game design — even with its flaws.
4 Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
Developer: BiowarePublisher: LucasArts
Knights of The Old Republic is a fantastic RPG that gives Star Wars fans pretty much everything they could ask for. The story follows a soldier who has no recollection of who he is as they traverse the Galaxy Far Far Away to learn about their past, become a Jedi and fight the evil Darth Malak. With a plot twist that still shocks people to this day, the story is legitimately one of the best tales told in the Star Wars universe, and the cast of characters are as memorable as the films.
What makes the game unique, at least for its time, was its choice system. Depending on the way players react to situations, they will get dark or light side points which will lead players towards either end of the force. This will, of course, unlock different abilities, but also impact your relationship with party members. It's a pretty interesting mechanic, and one of the better uses of an early morality system.
3 The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Developer: CD PROJEKT REDPublisher: CD PROJEKT RED
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt may be the defining game of the PlayStation 4/Xbox One generation and it released relatively early in that life cycle. In this game, players step into the boots of the monster hunter, Geralt of Rivia. His daughter has gone missing and is on the run from a mean group of specters. There's a lot of moral gray area in terms of decisions you can make, which makes Geralt more real, but there's also a lot to do in a massive world.
In terms of gameplay, many non-RPG fans will feel right at home with more action elements implemented. The leveling system here is also relatively simple, giving players a pretty easy starting point for both the series and the genre.
2 Final Fantasy VII
Developer: SquaresoftPublisher: Squaresoft
When it comes to the Final Fantasy series, there's an overwhelming number of titles to choose from in terms of "must play" titles — but VII edges out the others ever so slightly, mostly for its plot that's even more relevant in 2019 as it was in 1997. Putting players in the shoes of the mercenary Cloud Strife who joins an eco-terrorist organization that's trying to stop evil corporations from destroying the planet in the name of profit.
This overarching story blankets over a very retro combat system, which could put off players, but that, and it's cast, make for an unforgettable gaming experience.
1 Chrono Trigger
Developer: SquaresoftPublisher: Squaresoft
Chrono Trigger is the gold standard of JRPGs. So much so, you'll find traces of it in every JRPs that followed. Developed by a superteam at Squaresoft in 1995, players jump through time in an attempt to stop what is essentially the end of the world. This time-hopping mechanic allows players to influence events in the future, making for a game that felt light years ahead of its time.
With an update to the classic Active Time Battle (ATB) system, each party member has a timer that, once full allows the player to attack. This creates a sense of urgency in even the most basic interactions.