Role-playing games are one of the few genres that are able to be called timeless regardless of when they were made. A good quality RPG, whether it is from the West or Japan, is often just as playable today as it was when it was first released. This is why games in franchises like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or computer games built with the Infinity Engine like Baldur’s Gate are just as great new as they were 20 or more years ago.
The flexibility of RPG systems have found themselves in online shooters, fighting games, and even action-adventure titles. Even long-running franchises such as Assassin’s Creed have moved into the open world RPG genre and breathing new life into the series as a result.
The last few years have seen an emergence in throwback titles paying tribute to the classics of the past. Games such as Octopath Traveller on the Nintendo Switch and Torment: Tides of Numenera and Pillars of Eternity are designed with classics in mind and are well received by fans and critics.
However, as passionate as RPG fans are about the games they love, they can be equally as passionate in berating the games in their favorite genre that failed to live up to expectations.
30 Disappointment: Destiny
From the studio that brought you Halo, Destiny was the most expensive game ever made and was marketed as the “next big thing”. it was a game that was supposed to redefine the FPS/RPG hybrid genre by blending Diablo style looting and character progression together with its near perfect shooting mechanics.
However, as good as the shooting mechanics have always been in a Bungie title they can’t make up for the game’s many shortcomings. At launch Destiny was a rather flat experience, it featured repetitive gameplay and enemies, a terrible excuse for a story, an empty game world with no reason to explore it, and meaningless characters. Its sequel fell well short of the first game’s launch.
29 Greatest: The Soulsborne series
The Soulsborne series is a term used for From Software’s genre-defining Souls series Fans have come to know games well with Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy, and the PlayStation 4 exclusive Bloodborne.
The action role-playing games have become a subgenre of their own inspiring similar games such as Lords of the Fallen, The Surge, and Nioh. All of which are good games bringing their own unique spin on the genre but it is From Software’s series that will forever remain the benchmark at which other similar titles are to be measured.
28 Disappointment: Blue Dragon
In 2004 the legendary father of Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi formed Mistwalker Studios and announced that his first title would be Blue Dragon a modern day traditional JRPG exclusively for the Xbox 360.
Square was hoping to recreate the same magic that Chrono Trigger brought to the genre
The game was developed by a dream team of Sakaguchi, Akira Toriyama – Dragon Ball, Dragon Quest, and Chrono Trigger – and the score by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu.
Blue Dragon along with several other exclusive RPG’s was Microsoft’s attempt at making the 360 a must-have machine in Japan. Unfortunately, Blue Dragon was a fun but average throwback RPG that failed to live up to the expectations of fans and the developers and was unable to find an audience in Japan or the West.
27 Greatest: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim receives a lot of criticism mostly because it has been ported to just about every system imaginable from the Nintendo Switch to the PlayStation VR. In addition, some of the flack has come from the combat system and fairly unimaginative main story, but the game shines because of its fantastic open world.
It’s very easy to sink around 200 hours into the game, and although the main story has its shortcomings the world is littered with lore and the side quests help make Skyrim one of the most immersive games ever made.
26 Disappointment: Mass Effect: Andromeda
Fans of BioWare’s epic space opera role-playing game series will no doubt remember the fallout from Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending. The ending made the character choices throughout three very large choice-based RPG’s feel inconsequential and pointless and there was the distinct lack of closure for fans that played and replayed the games over and over again.
Mass Effect 3, however, feels like a pipe dream compared to the lukewarm reception that Mass Effect: Andromeda received upon release. A troubled production cycle that saw conflicting visions for the game due to team members departing and creating the game from scratch using the Frostbite engine led to one of the developer’s biggest flops. As a result, all planned DLC was scrapped as were the plans for a sequel shelved permanently for the foreseeable future.
25 Greatest: Final Fantasy VII
For many fans of the series, Final Fantasy VII will forever be the greatest game in the series, and even the great RPG ever made. As with all games, it is debatable in a series filled with other timeless classics like Final Fantasy VI or Final Fantasy IX which numbered Final Fantasy is the best.
However, it can’t be argued that for many Final Fantasy VII was the benchmark for many RPG’s for years to come and introduced a new generation of fans to the Japanese RPG genre. Additionally, FFVII opened the floodgates for JRPG’s like Suikoden and the Tales of series that wouldn't have seen the light of day in the West twenty years ago.
24 Disappointment: Diablo 3
Commercially and critically Diablo 3 is a monster hit with over 30 million copies sold since launch and massive fan base. However, the game’s launched with the controversy surrounding the forced inclusion of an always-online DRM model to combat piracy. This resulted in the lack of an offline single-player mode and consequently left a bad taste in many gamers mouths.
Of course, they turned things around overtime, but it was a complete disaster as launch.
23 Greatest: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Developed by CD Projekt Red, The Witcher series featured a world that felt complex, dark and real enough to do the Andrzej Sapkowski novels of the same name justice. Yet, it was with the third game The Witcher: The Wild Hunt the series’ dark fantasy truly reached its potential and the developer’s towering ambition.
It’s an open-world role-playing game where the choices have real consequences. Even the game’s side quests and hunts can force you to face difficult decisions that will impact the game’s story later on. As one of the best games of a generation, The Witcher 3 is one of those games that deserves to be played by everyone. So great is its influence that even Assassin's Creed: Origins and its next title Odyssey are more Witcher 3-like than any other title this generation.
22 Disappointment: Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII was Square-Enix’s mainline Final Fantasy title for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 generation. Its trailers stunned fans when it was revealed at E3 in 2006, and as with all main entry Final Fantasy titles their expectations were high.
Sadly, those expectations were not met when the game finally released in 2009. FFXIII offered gamers beautiful visuals, an excellent combat system can’t make up for a lack of gameplay or activities. However, it was the terrible storytelling and one-track gameplay mechanics that provided around 45 hours worth of no freedom in an experience that would have otherwise been forgettable had it not been a long-awaited Final Fantasy title.
21 Greatest: Mass Effect 2
The original Mass Effect game on the Xbox 360 was BioWare’s evolution of the role-playing systems seen in Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic. Even though they were no longer developing any more RPGs in the Star Wars universe the excellent writing continued in their own space opera series Mass Effect.
In the same vein as The Empire Strikes Back, its much-anticipated sequel, Mass Effect 2, continued the tradition that the second in a trilogy be considered its best. Mass Effect 2 isn’t just a great game with good writing it’s a fantastic sci-fi story wrapped in a great RPG.
20 Disappointment: Deus Ex: Invisible War
The incredible Deus Ex was released in 2000 to huge critical acclaim and fanfare. Its vision of a dark near future in a Blade Runner-like setting wrapped in choice-based RPG systems in character interaction and growth. The well-woven story was created with a clear love for the X-Files and as a result is filled with conspiracy groups like the Majestic 12, The Knights Templar, The Illuminati, The Bilderberg Group, and the Men in The Black.
Unfortunately, its follow-up Invisible War isn’t looked upon quite so fondly owing much of its shortcomings to a rushed development cycle and a home console focused structure aimed at streamlining the complexities of the original.
19 Greatest: World Of Warcraft
Long before Fortnite dominated every news outlet Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was the most mainstream force in gaming when it was released 14 years ago. At its peak, the MMO RPG had over 12 million subscribers and continues to be the benchmark for all MMO’s that have followed since.
While the number of subscribers has naturally dropped since its glory days, WoW still has a dedicated following. Proved more so with the seventh expansion due to be released on August 14, 2018, called the Battle for Azeroth bringing with it new dungeons, raids, a higher level cap and a return to the Alliance vs. Horde conflict.
18 Disappointment: The Elder Scrolls Online
Fans hoping for a true a sequel to The Elder Scrolls series couldn’t help but be a little disappointed with the announcement of The Elder Scrolls Online. For many fans of the series, one of the biggest draws of TeS is that it feels like your own adventure with vastly different experiences on different playthroughs.
TeS Online isn’t a bad game, but it was released to a lukewarm reception due to the game’s subscription-based service and awkward mechanics. However, the recent release of the Tamriel Unlimited expansion and the dropping of its subscription has seen the game favor better with fans and critics alike but the experience is still a long way from the greatness of the mainline series.
17 Greatest: Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic
BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was released in 2003 on the PC and the original Xbox. Yet fifteen years later it remains the greatest Star Wars game ever released. Titles such as Star Wars: A Force Unleashed, the Star Wars: Battlefront series and even The Old Republic MMO don’t quite live up the original game’s legacy.
Much of what made in BioWare’s other sci-fi epic the Mass Effect series great can be found in Knights of the Old Republic.
Character interactions, player choice, and its growth system are not that dissimilar to Mass Effect. However, KotOR has the benefit of taking place in the Star Wars universe and brings all the magic that can be expected of one the biggest franchises in the world.
16 Disappointment: Fallout 4
Fallout 4 was released in 2015 to a great deal of hype and equal measures of excitement from fans and media outlets alike. Fallout 3 and Fallout 3: New Vegas, which were released in the previous generations, are still being played today, the same, however, may not be said for its sequel.
There’s a still a line between a bad game and a disappointing game — Fallout 4 isn’t a bad game by any stretch. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to the expectations of fans, and it was simply more of the same in a new location. Additionally, the new settlement mechanics were boring, tedious, and added nothing new to the dynamics of the gameplay or the story.
15 Greatest: Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is a timeless classic Japanese RPG that was first released on the SNES in 1995. The 16-bit classic is still regarded as one of the best games in its genre 23 years later. It has been ported to several systems over the years including original PlayStation – complete with brand new anime cutscenes – and the Nintendo DS.
Developed by the Square-Enix dream Team of Akira Toriyama, Nobuo Uematsu, Yuji Horii, Kazuhiko, and Hironobu Sakaguchi it's a game that should be played by every RPG fan. With its non-existent load times, the Nintendo DS version is regarded as the best version and is backward compatible with the 3DS.
14 Disappointment: The Division
For all its drawbacks, one can’t really argue with the user base that Destiny held. So it’s natural that Ubisoft would want to replicate this success with a similar game of their own the action RPG The Division.
Unfortunately, Ubisoft didn’t learn from the same mistakes made by Bungie
They released a product that felt unfinished and empty after hyping it to the moon. The Division’s RPG mechanics often felt at odds with its cover shooter style gameplay giving way to bullet sponge type enemies and slow progression. In addition, the game's beautiful rendering of New York feels little more than a map of corridors with pretty window dressing.
13 Greatest: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows Of Amn
There are many games that fans claim to stand the test of time and still feel as fresh and as great as it did when it was first released. Baldur’s Gate II more than lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest games ever made.
BG II’s writing is as good today as it ever was
In addition, the character interactions and random party conversations never fail to entertain and the story is good from start to finish. The game’s world is full of things to do, people to converse with, and sights to see. Recently, we've seen a re-emergence of the old school isometric RPG, with the likes of Divinity and the Pillars of Eternity series.
12 Disappointment: Star Ocean 4: The Last Hope
The excellent Star Ocean: Second Story on the PlayStation 1 (which was ported to the PS Vita) and Star Ocean 3 were released during a time when Japanese RPGs were at the peak of their popularity. Yet, their action based combat systems and sci-fi setting offered something different from the fantasy settings seen in traditional RPGs gaining a large fan base as a result.
However, the series was forever derailed with the release of Star Ocean 4. The game featured a lackluster story and even worse characters. The ensemble cast of just about every female stereotype imaginable is an abomination in itself.
11 Greatest: Tales Of Vesperia
The Tales of series is Namco-Bandai’s own long-running Japanese RPG series that launched in 1995. Its fan base has grown so much that it is now third best selling JRPG series behind Final Fantasy and the Dragon Quest.
The series has seen many great entries but much like the love for Final Fantasy VI and VII, fans often debate over Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia for which is the best in the series. For its darker story, beautiful art style, and anti-hero protagonist in Yuri ToV slightly edges out Symphonia as the better game. Those who missed out on the original release will get a second chance with the release of Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition for its ten year anniversary in the winter of 2018.
10 Disappointment: Dragon Age 2
Dragon Age: Origins was BioWare’s first entry in a brand new fantasy set role-playing game series. The developers wanted to recapture the same magic that made the Baldur’s Gate series so special, and while it didn’t quite live up those lofty expectations it was still a strong entry that gained a large following amongst fans of the genre and of BioWare.
Its sequel Dragon Age 2, however, with curious design choices that made it a complete departure from DA: Origins the game failed to live up to expectations. The developers controversially streamlined the combat to appeal to action gamers that weren’t invested in Origins.
9 Greatest: Divinity: Original Sin 2
Next to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Divinity: Original Sin 2 was the highest rated game in 2017. It was certainly the highest rated pure RPG released that year and is already considered one of the greatest RPG’s ever created, which is quite the accomplishment for a game funded by Kickstarter.
Improving on every aspect of its well-received predecessor Original Sin 2’s player-driven scope is without limits, the game world is huge and offers so much choice that is one of the few modern games that truly lives up to the meaning of role-playing.
8 Disappointment: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords
What makes Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords so disappointing wasn’t its lack of quality, but the fact that LucasArts forced developers Obsidian to finish the game in a very short time frame. As a result, the game was released unfinished with a rushed ending on what would have been a worthy successor to the original.
Obsidian is an incredibly talented studio and suffered a similar fate with other games such as the criminally underrated spy-based RPG Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas and almost fell into financial ruin. They have however turned their fortunes around with the excellent crowd-funded Pillars of Eternity series.
7 Greatest: Persona 4: The Golden
When it comes to the Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series, Persona, the best in the series comes down to three quality games that have followed each other in succession Persona 3, Persona 4, and Persona 5.
All should be played by fans of the genre, but it is Persona 4: The Golden released for the PlayStation Vita that rates the highest. Unlike your average fantasy or sci-fi, RPG Persona 4 has you balancing relationships, school, and dungeon crawling in a Japanese town that works perfectly in unison. The game’s main storyline is a mystery that’s engaging as it is intriguing.
6 Disappointment: Dungeon Siege 3
There can be no argument that Obsidian are talented at developing RPGs. However, there was a time where they became known for producing sequels to long-standing franchises that disappointed critically and commercially.
Sadly, Dungeon Siege 3 would be another sequel that would suffer the same fate as some other rushed games by the studio. While the game was a solid dungeon crawler it never quite excelled beyond being just a good but not great action RPG that doesn’t live up to its lineage.
5 Greatest: Pillars Of Eternity 1 And 2
With the first Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian developed a spiritual successor to much-loved classics like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale. Alongside Larian Studio’s Divinity: Original Sin they proved that there is still a market for traditional Role Playing Games.
In addition to the beautiful hand-painted visuals and breathtaking soundtrack Pillars of Eternity and its sequel Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire features some of the best high fantasy writing ever seen in a game. Finally, one could and should play both games because what awaits is limitless replay value with a world that will be different upon every playthrough.
4 Disappointment: Fable 3
Fable II was released to critical acclaim and is widely considered to be the best in the series. The developers – the now-defunct – Lionhead Studios created a wonderfully humorous adventure that combined elements of Robin Hood, King Arthur, and the very British sense of humor that wouldn’t look out of place in a Monty Python episode.
Although Fable III didn’t lose its sense of fun, it failed to live up its predecessor in many other ways. The quests felt slow and convoluted, the combat was simplified even further, and the game was full of bugs that were never addressed in a patch.
3 Greatest: Suikoden 2
There was a time before Konami all but became villains in the gaming industry after ruining the Metal Gear Solid series when they released some of the best games ever created. Castlevania, Vandal Hearts, Silent Hill, Pro Evolution, and, of course, the Suikoden series.
The first Suikoden was released in 1995 and was considered the RPG on the PlayStation until Final Fantasy VII arrived. It wasn’t a perfect game but it told a politically driven story of friendships, betrayal, and loyalty. Suikoden II took what was good about the first game and made it great. Additionally, it features one of the greatest villains in video game history with Luca Blight. The game still sells for a small fortune on eBay but you can purchase it for $9.99 if you’re prepared to dust off your PSP, PS Vita or PS3.
2 Disappointment: Arcania: Gothic 4
The the first three games in the Gothic series were developed by Piranha Bytes and have a rather dedicated fan following. The series is quite divisive largely because of their difficulty and quirky and even clunky controls. However, for fans of the series they provided a true hardcore RPG experience not often seen in AAA titles.
Unfortunately, the series was handed over to a new developer Spellbound and they set out to make a vastly different experience with Gothic 4. Character development was limited to just leveling up with little to no use of skill points. Additionally, the map was noticeably smaller as was the scope of the game which was bogged down by uninteresting fetch quests and a lack of choice.
1 Greatest: Planescape: Torment
Role-playing fans often love a good a story to drive them through the game’s main story and its side quests. Yet, it was as rare then to find many games that have a great storyline and characters that dare to break the conventions and traditional fantasy trappings found in other RPGs of the time as it is now.
Now that isometric traditional style RPGs are back in fashion with the likes of Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin, and Pillars of Eternity. There is even a spiritual successor to Planescape with Torment: Tides of Numenera so it stands to reason that RPG fans should go back to one of the greatest and beautifully wrote games with Planescape and themselves “What can change the nature of a man?”