Welcome to the fourth annual update of NeoGAF's essential RPG list.
As it has been every year, the purpose of the essential RPG thread is to help people find great games that they might not have heard of previously, and to remind people of the classics they never got around to playing. It doesn't matter if you are new to the genre or are a seasoned member of RPG GAF, there is probably something out there that is new to you. It's not a secret that review aggregates like Metacritic or Gamerankings do a poor job at assessing roleplaying games, as mainstream review scores (and overall coverage) correlate heavily with marketing budgets that RPGs often lack. Word of mouth consensus from GAF can be better, but you have to do more digging and (again) most discussion tends to be about the big franchises. These voting threads are a great place to collect a diverse array of opinions from a large number of GAFers.
Below, you will find profiles of the Top 50 most recommended games by the 205 posters who participated in the voting stage of this thread. Each profile will give a short (spoiler-lite) game summary, information on the game's relative cost and length, and links to gameplay videos and soundtrack samples. Because aggregate lists often lose the personal touch of individual recommendations, you are highly incouraged to read through the individual recommendations that follow this list in the thread!
GAME RANKING METHOD: Each voter was allowed to choose up to 10 RPGs, and 5 additional honorable mentions, that they felt were must play games. Votes were ranked using a semi-weighted scale, where regular votes were worth 2 points and honorable mentions worth 1 point. Each poster was also given the option to highlight a single game on their list for one extra bonus point (giving it 3 points in total). In instances where two or more games in the Top 50 had an equal number of points, the number of 3-point highlights a title received was used as a tie breaker. Failing this, the game with the fewest number of honorable mentions was listed first.
Summary: Chrono Trigger is a turn-based RPG following a group of time-travelling adventurers who venture throughout different eras to prevent a catastrophic future from occurring. It is a collaborative effort between several game designers: Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, Dragonball creator Akira Toriyama, and many others. Chrono Trigger was considered one of the revolutionary games of its time, featuring multiple endings, a new game+ feature that allowed players to use powered up characters from previous playthroughs, and detailed character sprites and backgrounds. Chrono Trigger also featured a unique spin on the Active Time Battle system found in Final Fantasy titles. In the ATB 2.0 system, battles now take place on the field and AoE attacks/positioning matter. 13 years after release, the game was ported to the Nintendo DS and included an extra story scenario. Both genre veterans and newcomers will find that Chrono Trigger offers them something special in terms of narrative and game structure.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o17dSn78qHo
Soundtrack Selections: Corridors of Time, Undersea Palace, Memories of Green
Summary: Persona 4 is a turn-based RPG which follows the main protagonist (named by the player), a city boy who moved to the countryside for a year to stay with his uncle. However, he soon realizes that the small town of Inaba isn’t what it seems to be on the surface, as there is a rash of mysterious murders during his stay. He and his friends are gifted with the power to summon Personas, and they decide to investigate the murders together. Persona 4 blends traditional dungeon-crawling with simulation elements such as befriending others to unlock new Personas or enhancing personal stats. It also features the One More Battle system. If the player hits an enemy with an element it is weak against, they may take another turn (sometimes leading to an All-Out attack involving the entire party). Persona 4 received an enhanced port on the Vita with substantial additions including extra Social Links, new ally follow-up attacks after All-Out Attacks, a new dungeon, new story scenes, and other enhancements.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iErDxs3aLY
Soundtrack Selections: Signs of Love, Secret Base, I'll Face Myself
Summary: Parting from the series’ traditional medieval fare, Final Fantasy VI is set in a fantasy world with a technology level equivalent to that of the Industrial Revolution. The game's story focuses on a group of rebels seeking to overthrow an imperial dictatorship. Final Fantasy VI features fourteen playable characters, the most of any game in the main series, and the turn-based Active Time Battle system that is a signature of the series. In another departure from what came before, Final Fantasy VI was the first game in the series to be directed by someone other than series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi; the role was filled instead by Yoshinori Kitase and Hiroyuki Itō. Yoshitaka Amano, a long-time contributor to the Final Fantasy series, returned as the image and character designer, while regular composer Nobuo Uematsu wrote the game's renowned score, which has been released on several soundtrack albums.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo6JJBlcoPs
Soundtrack Selections: Devil's Lab, Terra's Theme, Decisive Battle
Summary: Xenoblade is a highly acclaimed JRPG created by Monolith Soft and is the spiritual successor to Xenogears and Xenosaga. The game features Shulk, a boy wielding a special blade called the Monado. Banding together with a group of his friends, Shulk sets out to destroy the terror known as Mechon that threaten their world. The game features an MMO-style, cooldown-based combat system with huge open worlds for players to immerse themselves in. Xenoblade also features an expansive soundtrack featuring popular composers such as ACE+ and Yoko Shimomura.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpVh7NN2TJg
Soundtrack Selections: Gaur Plains, Parting, and..., Colony 9
Summary: Dark Souls is the thrilling action RPG follow up to Demon’s Souls by From Software. Dark Souls expands upon the core philosophy of Demon's Souls and delivers a horrifying adventure through sewers and hauntingly beautiful castles filled to the brim with traps and deadly monsters. These various locales are all connected, creating a huge open world for players to explore. You will fight to fulfill your destiny in the mystical land of Lordran, using real-time melee attacks, magic, and other means. The game is noted for its extreme difficulty and may test your abilities as a player.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekqkHjfw9Z0
Soundtrack Selections: Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, Taurus Demon, Trailer music
Summary: Planescape: Torment takes place in Planescape, an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) fantasy campaign setting. The game's engine is a modified version of Bioware’s Infinity Engine, which was also used for the Baldur's Gate series. Planescape: Torment is primarily story-driven, and combat is given less prominence than was typical for 1990s era computer RPGs. The protagonist is an immortal who has lived many lives that he can no longer remember, to the point that he even forgot his own name. Following this Nameless One, you will journey throughout the city of Sigil and other planes to reclaim the memories of his previous lives. The game was not original a commercial hit but it received widespread critical praise and has since become a cult classic. Planescape: Torment is lauded for its immersive dialogue, and original setting. The protagonist also has a unique persona, which shirks many characteristics of traditional role-playing heroes.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIMBqxYYxGU
Soundtrack Selections: Main Theme, Mortuary Theme, Annah's Theme
Summary: An homage to the Final Fantasy titles prior to FFVII, Final Fantasy IX is a whimsical journey following Zidane and his merry crew of misfits and crazies. At times the game borders on being a parody of the genre as Zidane sets off to fix a land filled with tyranny, attempting to bring some sense into the country’s queen. Final Fantasy IX utilizes the turn-based Active-Time Battle system that is signature to the series. Each character has their own set of skills and special abilities (known as Trances) giving you a ton of options to customize your play style. Add in the wonderful soundtrack by Nobou Uematsu and Final Fantasy IX is a recipe for both nostalgic and newborn RPG joy.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9kYCV7X4wA
Soundtrack Selections: Black Mage Village, Freya's Theme, Crossing Those Hills
Summary: The first 3D entry in the series, Final Fantasy VII continues the change in focus started in Final Fantasy VI by throwing the player into a modern and technologically-advanced world. Instead of wyverns and bows, you find yourself facing helicopters and guns. Final Fantasy VII puts you into the shoes of Cloud Strife, a mercenary who is reunited with his childhood friend when he joins the eco-terrorist organization, AVALANCHE. Cloud and the other members of AVALANCHE set off to stop the Shin-ra Electric Company from draining the world of Mako energy, the life-source of the planet. FF7 uses the Active-Time Battle system found in previous games but adds in new combat mechanics such as Limit Breaks and Materia that allow you to customize the moveset of each character. This intricate ability system allows you to cast each character in whatever combat role you choose. This, along with its compelling narrative, makes Final Fantasy VII a game that is fun to revisit time and time again.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YLSVemT7lw
Soundtrack Selections: Still More Fighting, Aerith's Theme, Jenova Absolute
Summary: Baldur's Gate 2 takes place a few months after the events of Baldur's Gate. The story opens with the player having been ambushed by assassins and taken captive in a mysterious dungeon under the control of the mage, Jon Irenicus. Often considered the culmination of the late 90s CRPG renaissance, Baldur’s Gate 2 is praised for its epic story and well developed characters. Throughout the game, the player must make critical choices that affect the lives of your party members, as well as the outcome of the game. Baldur’s Gate 2 is based on the 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing system. Using Bioware's infinity engine, the game is played from an isometric view, and enemy encounters can be fought in both active and turn-based modes.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP4PYHDzEdM
Soundtrack Selections: Shadow Battle, Underdark, Main Theme
Summary: Final Fantasy Tactics is a turn-based strategy RPG set in the turbulent fantasy world of Ivalice. As Ramza Beoulve, a member of a noble family, you become deeply involved in a civil war that is tearing Ivalice’s kingdoms apart. Battles have you field a team of soldiers that must be carefully maneuvered around varied terrain as they contend with enemy forces. The robust job system is the heart of the game’s character customization, allowing you to experiment with countless combinations of abilities and attributes. Yasumi Matsuno’s weighty plot tackles complex themes not often covered in video games, including politics, religion and the nature of corruption, yet it remains grounded by a core group of characters that are pursuing their own agendas. Considered by many to be the pinnacle of its genre, Final Fantasy Tactics remains relevant to this day.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCdEK6AJiPY
Soundtrack Selections: Antipyretic, Prologue Movie, Unavoidable Battle
Summary: Pokémon Gold Version and Silver Version are the first of many sequels to the games that sparked a monster collecting phenomenon worldwide. Expanding the original roster of Pokémon to 251 and introducing an entirely new region for the player to explore, these games are bursting at the seams with content. Gold and Silver are also noteworthy for adding several features that have since become series mainstays, including Pokémon breeding and an array of new gadgets that accompany the Pokédex. Sometimes, more really is better, and Gold and Silver set the standard for future installments by smartly iterating on an already winning formula.
Sample Gameplay Footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mVTjGfyEnw
Soundtrack Selections: Violet City/Olivine City, Kanto Gym Leader, Legendary Beast Encounter
Summary: Final Fantasy introduced several innovations to the series: battles occur without a transition to a separate screen, a customizable MMO-like "gambit" system automatically controls the actions of your party member unless manually interrupted; and a "license" system determines which abilities and equipment can used by characters. The game takes place in the fictional location of Ivalice, where the empires of Archadia and Rozarria are waging an endless war. Dalmasca, a small kingdom, is caught between the warring nations. When Dalmasca becomes annexed by Archadia, its princess, Ashe, creates a resistance movement. During the struggle, she meets Vaan, a young adventurer who dreams of commanding an airship. They are quickly joined by a band of allies, as they rally against the tyranny of the Archadian Empire. Final Fantasy XII was initially directed by Tactics Ogre and Vagrant Story creator, Yasumi Matsuno, who resigned from the game due to health reasons during its lengthy development.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kxv_yFjcRy4
Soundtrack Selections: Royal Capital Rabanastre- City Upper Ground, Penelo's Theme, The Dalmasca Estersand
Summary: Mass Effect is an action-oriented, science fiction role-playing game set in the year 2183. Thirty-five years prior to the start of the game, humankind discovered a cache of technology on Mars, built by a long-extinct race called the Protheans. Studying and adapting this technology, humanity has managed to break free of the solar system, established numerous off-world colonies and encountering various extraterrestrial species within the Milky Way galaxy. As the elite human soldier, Commander Shepard, you travel the galaxy in an effort to uncover the motivations behind an attack on the human colony Eden-Prime by the Geth, an alien race of synthetic life-forms. Mass Effect combines some aspects of the third person shooter genre with the narrative style and choice systems found in previous Bioware titles.
Sample Gameplay Footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DINdtTcvO-4
Soundtrack Selections: Main Theme, Uncharted Worlds, Vigil
Summary: KOTOR takes place 4,000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire featured in the Star Wars films. Darth Malak, a Dark Lord of the Sith, has unleashed a Sith armada against the Republic. Malak's aggression has left the Jedi scattered and vulnerable; many Jedi Knights have fallen in battle and others have sworn allegiance to Malak. The game's battle system is based on Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Roleplaying Game, a d20 role-playing game derived from the Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. Combat is round-based; time is divided into discrete rounds, and combatants attack and react simultaneously. An alignment system tracks actions and speech to determine whether the player's character aligns with the light or dark side of the Force. Generosity and altruism lead to the light side, while selfish or violent actions will lead the player's character to the dark side, altering the character's appearance in the process.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m00OEow8v5Y
Soundtrack Selections: The Sith, The Old Republic, Dantooine
Summary: Valkyria Chronicles is a tactical RPG set in Europa, a fictional version of Europe, in 1935. Because of its abundance of Ragnite ore, which can be refined into a powerful fuel, the neutral nation of Gallia comes under attack from the East Europan Imperial Alliance, which is itself engaged in a war with the Atlantic Federation. Players take control of a militia squad of Gallian nationals, dedicated to repelling the invasion. Valkyria Chronicles features a unique turn-based battle system called BLiTZ. During each turn the player can view an overhead battle map in Command Mode, before zooming in to control individual units on the battlefield. The game is noted for its unique visuals, which resemble a watercolor painting in motion.
Sample Gameplay Footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbCLI1oceFA
Soundtrack Selections: Main Theme, Valkyria's Awakening, Succeeded Wish (JP)