NeoGAF's Essential RPGs 2016 Edition - Voting open until January 15th-


Welcome to the 2016 edition of NeoGAF's Essential RPGs!

If you're new to these threads, it's quite simple. This is an exercise in selecting what the community on NeoGAF considers to be the most essential RPGs of all time are, via everyone in the community voting in this thread. At the end of the voting, we'll have a big list collecting most of the top RPGs of all time. The goal of this list is to help highlight some of the most high quality or otherwise essential RPGs. As RPGs have a long and diverse history, and tend to be very long, it's easy for people to miss out on a lot of great RPGs. These threads were created in part to help curb that issue and shine a light on some of the RPGs that are most worth playing.

Folks familiar with past iterations of the thread might notice that I'm not original thread creator kswiston. He's had to step away from running these threads due to the time commitment involved, so I've decided to step up and take over running the thread for this year. I've made a few tweaks to how the voting is handled, so make sure to read through that and familiarize yourself with the changes.

After one month of voting, more than 100 posters have voted on what they consider the most essential RPGs overall, as well as what RPGs they specifically consider essential based on soundtrack, combat and writing. I'll be putting writeups for everything eventually, so this post will remain a work in progress for a little while. Please bear with me as I try and get everything up here sorted.

The Top 5:

1. Chrono Trigger:
Last Year's Rank: 1, Essential Soundtrack, Essential Combat, Essential Writing

Platforms: SNES, Playstation, Nintendo DS, Virtual Console, PS1 Classics, Mobile

Released in 1995, Chrono Trigger featured one of the biggest all-star casts of RPG creators coming together ever, being formed by a collaboration from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii. For more than 20 years it has now been considered one of the hallmarks of the genre.

Chrono Trigger features a heavily modified version of Square's Active Time Battle system, with battles taking place directly on the field rather than on a separate screen. The game's story, primarily written by Masato Kato, is also a favorite of people, featuring a strong and memorable cast, and the heavy focus on time travel and alternate endings has served to both engross players in the story moreso than most other titles and give it heavy replay value. The enhanced version for the DS added to this even more by adding an additional dungeon and a new ending.

Key staff members: Hironobu Sakaguchi (designer), Takashi Tokita, Yoshinori Kitase, Akihiko Matsui (directors), Masato Kato, Yuji Horii (writers), Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu (composers), Akira Toriyama (character designs)
Other notable staff: Tetsuya Takahashi (graphic director), Yasuyuki Honne, Tetsuya Nomura (graphic artists)

Soundtrack Samples: Corridors of Time, Memories of Green, At the Bottom of Night

The perfect JRPG in so many ways, really only ranked below Dragon Quest VII because this is my list and I said so. Exceptional combat with minor positioning that separates it from other JRPGs of the era, a unique setting and story, and a dense world rather than a sprawling one; a rarity in this genre. I have yet to meet someone who has played this and didn't adore it.
I’m hesitant to dare and call a game “perfect”, but Chrono Trigger is one of the select few that may apply in my book. Its music, sprites and battle system will immediately stand out, but Chrono Trigger’s greatest strength does comes from its writing. It’s not the most verbose game, but it’s expertly paced. Your short-term goals are always clear and within reach, and the time-travel set-up ensures that the agency of the central conflict is not compromised by detours. The game has a lot of memorable scenes and details that’ll stick with you for a long time.
Chrono Trigger has been and always will be my favorite game of all time, so no surprise that I consider it essential. It has everything you need for an RPG - great characters, a great soundtrack, and a great story that doesn't overstay its welcome, and yet gives you plenty of content to make it a world worth exploring. On top of that, the game is created in a way that through New Game+ you can experience loads of completely unique endings that give you extra story on top of the baseline. It was the first RPG I ever played, and I believe it's one of the best RPGs ever made and definitely anyone who loves the genre should play it if they haven't already.
This game holds a deeply personal connection to me, partially for its music, partially for its stellar execution. It is one game I can say I've never felt like I've wasted my time playing. There is always a real sense of movement in the game and that's constructed from start to finish with the time hopping and impressive amount of detail in such a (relatively) small space. It's been my favorite game for a lot reasons that aren't easy to describe but mostly relate to me being a kid in Texas and it being so ridiculously hot outside that playing games was sometimes all you could really do. And this was the videogame I was always playing during those times, sitting in front of a fan and enjoying the hours roll by. Zeal was a touchstone moment for the game and unforgettable in every way. It's still awe-inspiring to this day and also a strangely sharp moment about the fragility of power, real or imagined.
2. Persona 4:
Last Year's Rank: 2, Essential Soundtrack, Essential Writing

Platforms: Playstation 2, Playstation Vita

Following up from the well-regarded Persona 3, Atlus's Persona 4, released in 2008, took what people loved about the previous game and enhanced it in a number of ways. Featuring a mix of daily life/”dating sim” elements and a traditional turn based RPG, Persona 4 has a very unique style of game play that few other RPGs can boast. In addition to that, the setting of a small town in rural Japan creates an atmosphere unlike almost anything else found in gaming. The game's story, featuring the characters trying to catch a murderer, and the strong and well-developed cast of characters have earned the game constant accolades since its release.

Key staff members: Katsura Hashino (director), Yuichiroh Tanaka, Akira Kawasaki (writers), Shoji Meguro, Atsushi Kitajoh (composers)

Soundtrack Samples: I'll Face Myself, Heartbeat, Heartbreak, Reach Out to the Truth

As the sequel to my number 1 game, this game naturally scores high. It does everything Persona 3 does, but with a more upbeat tone. The game has an engaging and clever story tying supernatural happenings, weather cycles, and a hidden TV dimension, and manages to have a lot to say about accepting others and the way that the media can distort the truth. The characters are very lovable and seeing them through their day to day lives makes you grow attached, in a way that is distinct from P3. The characters live more "normal" lives and there's a real joy in just hanging out at Junes or eating at the Chinese restaurant in Inaba. The game also has a ton of content and a more streamlined battle system than P3.
There was a time when I pretty much stopped playing videogames and focused on my other hobbies. I don't remember why or what made me pick up Persona 4, but I did. It got high scores, I read good things about it a few times (keep in mind this is circa 2009-2010, when the game was not nearly as popular as it is now) and for some reason it just picked my curiosity, and I'm freaking glad it did. I was so invested in the story, characters and setting of this game that I'd just play it for 10 hours straight like I've rarely done for a game since.
In the end I realized Persona 4 kinda teaches you how to be a better person. Yeah, it simplifies things a lot, it's a game duh, but very basic stuff such as caring about your friends and social links, and training other disciplines to develop yourself as a person are things that properly map to real life. Yes, common sense to most people, but eye-opening to others.
To me, this game is about friendship. The power of friendship is commonly explored in jRPGs, often in cliche ways, including this title, but Persona 4 is the one that does it the best. Building friendships requires time, effort, and most importantly, love. P4 doesn't force you to build those friendships, but it certainly rewards you for doing so. On a personal note, the ending really clicked with me:
I recently moved away from my hometown and left my friends behind. This game made me promise myself to never forget about them.
Of all the video games I have played, Persona 4 might just have my favorite cast of characters.

Every member of the group you accrue is a distinct, fleshed out person with different motivations, personalities, and secrets that you get to discover by making the decision to spend time with them. They all have entertaining and believable dynamics with each other, driven home by superb voice acting and excellent dialogue from Atlus' localization team. The strength of these dynamics, along with just how convincing they were and how real they felt, was what barely earned P4 my Best Writing award.

It was remarkable, the amount of depth they went to with each character's psyche. Kanji and Naoto's stories in particular are amongst the frigging coolest things I've seen a JRPG do, even if I don't think that those arcs reached their full potential, and they're a big part of why I love both those characters so much.
3. Dark Souls:
Last Year's Rank: 3, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC

The spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, From Software's Dark Souls continued in the tradition of providing an intense action RPG with a high level of challenge along, while expanding the game out from its predecessor into a vast open world. Dark Souls has received a large amount of praise for its art direction as well as for a very involved and deliberate combat system that forces players to take everything about their abilities into account, including the animation.

Key staff members
: Hidetaka Miyazaki (director), Makoto Satoh (artist), Motoi Sakuraba (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Ornstein and Smough, Firelink Shrine, Nameless Song

When I first played this game after buying it at launch, I played for about two hours before giving up in frustration in the Undead Berg. That night, while trying to get to sleep, I wondered to myself if I had my a poor purchasing decision and if I should just return the game. The next day, I resolved to give it another chance before doing so, and proceeded on to one of the most rewarding games I've ever encountered. Yes, the game is going to kick your ass over and over, like it did mine, but only to teach you Dark Souls' greatest lesson: patience. Take your time, observe your enemies, strike when there's an opening, and DON'T just run through after a boss kills you for the 8th time. Don't be afraid to look for outside help, as I wouldn't have finished the game without it. Once you find a playstyle that fits you, the frustration that seems to envelop the game will drift away, leaving a playground to have a hell of a time in.
The greatest combat system in a game that people call an RPG. Although it doesn't explain much in terms of its mechanics, when you finally dive in the combat is deep and satisfying. There are multiple different ways to play Dark Souls which is the beauty of the system. Magic, Melee, and Hybrids are all viable.
Less is more, evidently. Dark Souls did a lot of things that sound terrible and risky on paper. It dared to make combat slow and ploddy when its contemporaries were extreme and crazy. It dared to take an archaeology style of storytelling when everyone else was trying to ape movies. It dared to make you suffer for death, when other games were practically eliminating progress loss. And best of all, DS1 tied all the systems from plot to combat to even the multiplayer into it's vision of a dying world.
A dark fantasy Berserk-like world infested with dangerous creatures everywhere? Check. A challenging, satisfying yet not overlycomplicated combat system to complement said setting? Check. One of the most well designed 3D worlds in gaming which rewards exploration and curiosity? Check. Great soundtrack? Check. Praise the sun? Check. Dark Souls just has it all, and might as well have been my number 1 spot if not for some late game stinkers such as Lost Izalith and Crystal Cave. Truthfully, this is the game I'd have awarded "Best Combat" if there was a "Best Art Direction" category to give to Nocturne, but it was not to be.
4. Final Fantasy VII:
Last Year's Rank: 6, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: Playstation, PC, PS1 Classics, Playstation 4, Mobile

Credited by many people for helping to propel the Final Fantasy series to the mainstream in the west, and considered to be one of the most important titles ever released for the PlayStation, Final Fantasy VII has been a phenomenon ever since its 1997 release. Featuring the series move into 3D and a more cinematic style, it was also the most realistic looking and futuristic focused Final Fantasy at the time, a move that would define most of the franchise going forward aside from a few exceptions. The story of Final Fantasy VII captured the interest of people so much that it has received numerous spinoffs, a sequel movie, and more set in the world, and the characters of the game have become well known even to people who have never played the game. With the well established Active Time Battle system of the Final Fantasy series, as well as the game's materia system giving players a lot of options for customization, Final Fantasy VII stands as an obvious choice to show someone just what a JRPG is.

Key staff members: Yoshinori Kitase (director), Hironobu Sakaguchi (producer), Kazushige Nojima (writer), Tetsuya Nomura (character designer), Yusuke Naora (art director), Nobuo Uematsu (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: One Winged Angel, Opening – Bombing Mission, Aerith's Theme

I think this is still "quite possibly the greatest game ever made." It's a masterwork in pacing, constantly putting you in different scenarios outside of the RPG monotony of talking to NPCs and fighting monsters. Kitase's use of the camera to present different scenes was excellent and the seamless transitions between cut scenes and game play gave rise to the cinematic set piece. In many ways, FFVII was the first AAA blockbuster. For a genre steeped in repetition, every environment was unique and the dynamic combat camera made for fast, thrilling encounters..
Sakaguchi and Kitase work together again for what some call the definitive JRPG. Moving the genre from two dimensions to three while simultaneously creating a world more mature and impactful than previous role-playing games, yet balancing the charm and levity Sakaguchi is now known for, FFVII came to become many people's first experience with the genre, including my own. It's effect on the medium of gaming cannot be understated.
The game that set the stage for everything that came after. It has numerous well-documented flaws, but this game showed the potential for what could be in the JRPG genre. A truly ground-breaking game at the time.
My favorite aspect of this game is the world. The incredible detail in the prerendered backgrounds show a very imperfect world. The slums of Midgar are iconic, and unforgettable. The world is in turmoil, an environmental crisis looms and the creativity shown in the world is impressive. I also think it has one of the best OSTs of any game. The music is wonderful. There are somber themes, like on the world map, and catchy energetic ones like the battle theme. Almost every song is a hit.
5. Fallout: New Vegas:
Last Year's Rank: 12, Essential Writing

Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

A Fallout spinoff released following Bethesda's Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian and featured several veteran developers from the original Fallout games playing key roles. While the gameplay itself followed on from Fallout 3's, although with some improvements added, the game received major accolades for its writing, and especially for the game's quest design which featured a much larger number of branching options than almost any of its peers. While plagued by bugs at release, the quality of the writing, as well as director Josh Sawyer's dedication to releasing unofficial mods to his own game even after the publishers stopped paying, have lead to New Vegas being considered one of the true RPG gems of the 21st century.

Key staff members
: Josh Sawyer (director), Chris Avellone (writer), John R. Gonzalez (designer/writer), Charles Staples (designer), Eric Fenstermaker (writer), Inon Zur (composer)

For old school RPG fans, Fallout 3 was a dissatisfying follow up to Fallout 2, one of the most respected RPGs of its era. New Vegas is the real successor here - an evolution of Fallout 2 AND 3 in ways not even Fallout 4 could manage. The writing, quests, characters are all some of the best in any RPG I have played and it is in stiff competition with games like Dark Souls and Super Mario Galaxy as last generation's best title.
Obsidian does it better, plain and simple. I knew Fallout 4 was going to suck, Fallout 3 warned me of this. Unlike most high profile WRPG developers of this age, rather than focusing on big worlds for exploration or flashy effects, Obsidian brings their Black Isle roots and puts actual role playing as the main focus. Fallout: New Vegas is essentially Fallout 2 in 3D given a cowboy theme. It has an objective it sets out to do and it does it very well. Out of all of the high-profile mainstream WRPGs of last generation this is the only one to me that felt that it deserved its acclaim. Here is hoping for Obsidian to develop the real Fallout 4.
Obsidian took Bethesda's engine and Fallout 3's gameplay and combined with top tier writing and elaborate quest design. Obsidian knows how to make RPGs, and it shows through and through with this one. In New Vegas, they designed a world that makes sense, with characters that feel like actual inhabitants of it, rather than just NPCs sitting around waiting for you to show up. The multiple factions at war with each other provides an excellent setting with plenty of choices for you to make. The added weapon mods heavily enhance the gameplay, and the faction neutrality system provides a lot of depth. New Vegas is one of the best modern RPGs you can play.
The story is a simple one culminating into a logical climax at Hoover Dam but the road to that climax is great and filled with memorable quests. Every quest provides you with a variety of solutions (I assume everyone has seen the White Glove Society flow chart by now, that's how great quest design can be!) and really help reinforcing the feeling that you are playing a role. Patching up enemy soldiers to increase morale? Sure, I have the necessary medical knowledge! Replacing the skill checks by a charisma check was probably one of the worst decisions in Fallout 4. The game has some great armour sets especially in the DLC's (hello Riot gear!) and a huge variety of weapons in display. At times Fallout: New Vegas feels like role-playing heaven but sadly at other times the engine's limitations come into play, mainly the floaty combat and terrible facial expressions. Despite that, Obsidian has done a wonderful job into creating their own Fallout game with its own distinct style, mixing it up from the usual post-apocalyptic style that Fallout 3 and 4 have.
6. Final Fantasy VI:
Last Year: 4, Essential Soundtrack, Essential Writing

Platforms: SNES, Playstation, Gameboy Advance, Virtual Console, PS1 Classics, PC, Mobile

The culmination of Squaresoft's 16 bit Final Fantasy work, and the first of the series to not be directed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy VI has been a popular title ever since its release. The game featured more detailed graphics than its predecessors on the SNES, as well as a soundtrack that continues to be heralded as one of the best of the series. The steampunk setting was also a major shift in the series, with not just the setting but the overall writing reflecting a more mature style than some past games. The game also featured a massive fourteen playable characters, a major departure from previous games. A key aspect of this was the development teams decision to have a number of different members of the team come up with stories for each character, with co-director Yoshinori Kitase then combining all of that together, creating a far more collaborative story process than seen in many other RPGs.

Key staff members: Yoshinori Kitase, Hiroyuki Ito (directors), Hironobu Sakaguchi (producer), Yoshitaka Amano (character designer), Nobuo Uematsu (composer), Tetsuya Nomura (graphic director, additional character designs, story)
Other notable staff members: Kaori Tanaka (graphic design, story), Tetsuya Takahashi (graphic director)

Soundtrack Samples: Terra's Theme, Searching for Friends, Dancing Mad

Nevermind FF7, this is the RPG that revolutionized storytelling for the genre, the one in whose footsteps the Final Fantasy games of the PlayStation era would follow. With memorable playable characters, most of whom possess a surprising amount of development considering the sheer size of the cast, and a villain whose rise to power over the course of the game culminates in one of the biggest twists in RPG history, this is one of very few games I consider an absolute Must Play.
Final Fantasy 6 shares a lot of structural similarities and design priorities with Chrono Trigger, which is probably why I am so fond of both of them. Again we have a game that is driven forward by short-term goals. In this one the forward momentum is not just for your active party, but can span across multiple perspectives. The game places importance on a diverse cast, all of whom feel “lost” in one way or another. The big central theme of the game ends up being keeping your chin up, and moving on, no matter how dire the circumstances may be..
My second favorite RPG of all time. It's one of the few RPGs where you collect a bunch of characters and have the opportunity to actually use them all. Especially with the second half of the game just going all out in a completely different way than most RPGs. Also Magicite still remains my favorite interpretation of magic in Final Fantasy, and how its used is very cool. Plus, another awesome soundtrack.
Another game that tosses the usual narrative structure to the four winds and another masterpiece of its respective series, and Squaresoft when they were Kingmakers. Chock full of secrets, a genuinely interesting tale with both drama and comedy, orbited by a great cast. Great bad guy and his final boss theme is the best of all time, hands down.
7. Xenoblade Chronicles:
Last Year: 5, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: Wii, 3DS

With a name built on the legacy of Tetsuya Takahashi's previous attempts at creating a long running narrative in Xenogears and Xenosaga, Xenoblade Chronicles could have been seen as a third attempt at doing that, but Takahashi instead opted to move in a different direction, with his newest game featuring a push towards more of a gameplay first focus, and attempting to create a more open world to explore, although the game still featured an extensive story and many things people would expect from Takahashi such as mechs and god slaying. Xenoblade Chronicles battle system, modeled after typical MMO-style combat, was greatly enjoyed by players, and the freedom offered by the world as well as the great art direction gave players a very engrossing world to explore. The game's most praised element, however, was the soundtrack, featuring an all-star group of composers and many highly praised individual tunes. The western localization was also quite unique, featuring a rare British produced dub that won people over with its charm and the lack of typical game dubbing voices.

Key staff members: Tetsuya Takahashi (director, designer, writer), Koh Kojima (producer, designer), Genki Yokota (director), Hitoshi Yamagami (producer), Yuichiro Takeda (writer), Yurie Hattori (writer), Yasunori Mitsuda (composer), Yoko Shimomura (composer), Manami Kiyota (composer), ACE+ (composers)

Soundtrack Samples: Satorl Marsh – Night, Colony 9, Memories

1. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) (best soundtrack) - there is nothing I enjoy more in an RPG than a fully-fleshed out overworld where you are rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny with a unique item, enemy, or even side story. Xenoblade Chronicles rewards you with experience just for making discoveries, and couples this with often breathtaking graphics and the most exhilarating soundtrack I've ever heard, especially Guar Plains. This will get a replay from me sometime in 2016 after I finish XCX. Speaking of which...
Playing Xenoblade Chronicles earlier this year could only be described as...nostalgic. Every once in a while gamers will encounter a game that will bring them back to the days of middle school or high school where they would get absolutely engrossed in specific games. Games that will give them that "spark" back of that magic moment. To me Xenoblade was that game. The story, the world, the characters were all very engrossing. I was very invested to see what would happen next. To add on to that the level design was top notch. The maps were big enough for the game to feel "open world", but small enough for the developers to give the player purpose of exploring the world as the player would encounter lost tribes, treasure, mythical beings, hidden areas, ancient ruins, and the like. The battle system, while hardly perfect, was also a nice change of pace from the usual RPG affair. The art direction looked astounding, especially on Dolphin. Xenoblade Chronicles was an instant classic as it immediately made the top 5 in the 2012 thread immediately after it was released in Europe. After playing the game it isn't hard to see why.
A breath of fresh air when it first appeared on the Wii. It breathed new life into the JRPGs for me personally. It has a unique (excepting the sequel) battle system, a surprisingly deep story, and amazing visuals. The feeling when you first step out onto Gaur Plains has yet to be equaled.
My jaw dropped when I saw just how massive the world in this game is. The art pictured above is an accurate representation of the vistas you see all throughout the game as you climb the world you live in, which happens to be a giant fossilized-robot-looking thing. The soundtrack is simply amazing with tracks such as this one that simply gave me goosebumps every time I was running in the gigantic fields. If you own a Wii or a n3DS you owe it to yourself just to experience what a true open world looks like on those platforms. Xenoblade X has apparently surpassed the bar on the Wii U, but sadly I don't own that console.
The sense of scale in this game is unmatched which is perfectly exemplified from the moment you first set foot in Colony 9 and are given the freedom to go whatever you want even thought you basically just started the game. Xenoblade encourages exploration by providing vast worlds full of astonishing landmarks and larger than life enemies for the player to find and defeat. Now add an awesome story full of twists, a great cast of characters, tons of sidequests (for better or worse), an absolutely amazing soundtrack you will continue to listen to for years after you finish the game, and a deep battle system with some really unique features and you got a game that offers everything you could want from a JRPG. Xenoblade Chronicles is Monolith Soft's magnum opus that will likely never be topped.
8. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt:
NEW, Essential Soundtrack, Essential Writing

Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One

The latest entry in CD Projekt RED's well regarded Witcher series moves the setting into an open world, combining the strong writing, grimy world and excellent quest design of the previous games with the large freedom of an open world, creating one of the most highly acclaimed RPGs of the last five years. The game features a revamped combat system, as well as allowing the player to control two different characters during the game.

Also, it has a dynamic beard growth system.

Key staff members: Konrad Tomaszkiewicz (director), Mateusz Kanik (director), Sebastian Stępień (director), Marcin Blacha (writer), Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz (writer), Marcin Przybyłowicz (composer), Mikolai Stroinski (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Silver for Monsters, You're... Immortal, Whispers of Oxenfurt

If I could describe The Witcher III in one word it would be "masterpiece". Technically it certainly is a masterpiece. It did what many thought was impossible, it had a huge, lush, detailed openworld and yet still looked better than pretty much every single other game released. To further drive how impressive it is, it ran well too. With my GTX 970 and 2500k I pushed the game to be a steady 30fps at 4K resolution downsampled. A no easy feat. But the best way to summarize this game is that it is a game that WRPG fans have been dreaming of since the '80s. A highly realistic 3D RPG with deep "choose your own path" mechanics, with a living breathing detailed open world with seemless transitions, mature content that pulls no punches, all on a budget of a blockbuster film. The future is now.
Threw The Witcher 1 out of my top 3. While I still have a sweet spot for TW1 and its more intimate feel, The Wild Hunt is a huge slap in the face to all those other open world RPGs (and even most open world games). The map is gigantic, but still filled with crazy environments and meaningful content, there are literally hundreds of quest (real quest, with a well written story that could put to shame a lot of main sotries of other games), the characters are great, and the game is beautiful and runs well (on PC at least).
Possibly my favorite game of all time. This game is a masterclass in nearly every aspect. Divine atmosphere that is varied in each location with a lovely designed world that you can get lost for months in. My personal favorite would be the oppressive vibe in Velen/No Mans Land. Novigrad is one of the best cities in a game, full stop. The realistic scale of it alone puts other cities in recent games to shame. Going to Skellige and Kaer Morhen is like playing The Witcher 3: Part 2. I know everyone's jaw dropped when they first arrived to Skellige and heard the glorious "Fields of Ard Skellig" playing. The gradual change of the aesthetics as you journey is highly impressive and believable. The attention to detail is just staggering and seeing landmarks in the distance such as lighthouses, mansions, cities, etc. feel like rewards that the game is giving you and all of them feel distinct in some way.
The game should be made a case study on how to create an a cohesive, consistent and mesmerising open world. Instead of presenting you with the typical forest-desert-ice environments, The Witcher 3 drops you off in Velen, a swampy land torn apart by war between Redania and Nilfgaard. Velen is scarred by bloody battles and the environments reflect that through oppressive scenery and prowling monsters. When you leave the swamps in the south, you will see more and more signs of beauty emerging. You will pass villages, forests and the scenery gradually becomes more pleasant. Eventually you cross the Pontar and leave behind all misery for a region filled with rich grain fields and orchards which are the extensions of a city growing from the inside. The Witcher 3 introduces a new hallmark for worldbuilding and meanwhile fills its world with some of the best side-quests and characters seen in gaming. The Bloody Baron, Dijkstra, Yennefer, Keira Metz, Gaunter O'Dimm, (I could go on and on) are extremely well developed characters and they elevate the storytelling and questing to a very high level.
9. Planescape: Torment:
Last Year: 10, Essential Writing

Platforms: PC

Since its release in 1999, Planescape: Torment has received praise for its writing, with many people considering it not just one of the best written RPGs, but one of the best written video games ever made, with the game frequently being used as an example of the strength of video games as a storytelling medium. Torment transcended its Dungeons & Dragons origins as it told a story that has been widely praised for its philosophical nature as well as for the complexity of emotions expressed within the game. Another key factor in its strong reputation is the way it moves away from a typical good vs evil and heroes on a quest story in order to tell a much more introspective story, the kind of which would be more common in novels, but is virtually non-existent in the video game world.

Key staff members: Chris Avellone (designer), Guido Henkel (producer), Colin McComb (writer), Mark Morgan (composer)

The perfect example of taking common tropes and inverting them, and making something great out of it rather than just something clever. There is a big city to explore, and countless intriguing and amusing characters to meet within it, but the real stroke of genius is the main quest: the protagonist diving into his self, to find out what he really is.
The writing and detail in the world are really something special, despite having questionable combat. It's also quite possibly the most demanding and mature rpg ever produced. I don't take people seriously when they claim to be rpg fans but haven't played this masterpiece. We'll never see its like again.
What is a man? This philosophical question is the focus of the entire game. With combat that is largely forgettable, the story and where it takes the player is superb. It has yet to be outdone.
The finest written game in history. Much like the Vagrant Story example above, has not been matched, and quite frankly the industry seems hellbent at times to avoid even trying to learn form this game, much less to attempt topping it.
After replaying this game a few years ago, it has become not just my favorite RPG, but favorite videogame. It shows that games can have stories that rival other mediums. But the game is more than just a fantastic story. It contains one of the most unique worlds in RPG history and some of the most interesting characters. While the game is certainly not perfect (while combat is serviceable, I wouldn’t call it fun), it provides an experience few other games can even hope to match.
10. Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn:
Last Year: 13, Essential Combat

Platforms: PC
Considered by many to be Bioware's masterpiece, Baldur's Gate II follows on from where the original game left off, telling a compelling story set within the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons. The game features the widely praised real-time with pause battle system, allowing battles to proceed in real-time, while also giving players the ability to pause action in order to plan out their moves, combining some of the key elements of both real-time and turn based combat. Baldur's Gate II has also been highly praised for its writing, and especially the memorable companions who accompany the player throughout the game.

Key staff members
: James Ohlen (director, writer), Kevin Martens (lead designer), Michael Hoenig (composer), David Gaider (designer), Brent Knowles (designer), Lukas Kristjanson (designer), John Winski (designer)

The game that has everything. The true mastery on display is the loot system, and how perfectly every new bit is doled out. Unlike most RPGs, there are few linear upgrades that matter; the creative status effects mean almost every unique item has a use for some situation or some build.
The grand-daddy of everything that has come to define WRPGs is still an amazing game if you can handle the 2nd Ed. AD&D Ruleset. Even still the story and the amazing variety of locales and monsters and spells and weapons make this an easy shoe-in for the list.
There will never be a game like this again. It's epic in every sense: it spans lands, you travel underwater, underground, getting teleported into other planes and dimensions, and it's all full of content that made me still discover new things years after the game came out. This game cannot be produced nowadays, not in 3d anyways. I'm also a sucker for tactical, rtwp combat, and this game has it in spades.
My favorite video game of all time, and what made me realize games could be more than a fun time waster but also could be an emotional, gripping experience similar to books and movies. It had a great cast of characters, a very fun and memorable villain, and some really cinematic moments that made the narrative really shine. And the combat was so finely tuned to allow all kinds of party compositions. Even some of the smaller details like the etchings in the weapons descriptions or how you can break game mechanics within the confines of the rules is just really special. For its time, it was truly a masterpiece.
A seriously good RPG, one of the best of the Infinity Engine games. The game is huge, but shockingly it is rarely repetitive, with tons of character quests, secrets, and areas to explore. Unfortunately, as an IE game, it features painful pathfinding, so it can be difficult to get started, but once you're engaged, you won't want to stop playing. The gameplay system is used very well in many unique and challenging encounters. I don't think the writing or storytelling is that great, but the quests themselves are engaging enough.
11. Persona 3
Last Year: 7, Essential Writing

In 2006, Atlus made the decision to bring back the Persona series, but rather than simply making a new game like the previous three, they went back to the drawing board, creating a combination of social sim/time management game play and the traditional turn-based RPGs Atlus was known for. With the addition of a school based setting, Persona 3 quickly became a popular title and inspired dozens of knock-offs. The game was well regarded not just for the core game play, but also for its well-developed characters and the unique soundtrack which gave the game its hip and modern feel.

Platforms: Playstation 2, PSP

Key staff members
: Katsura Hashino (director), Shigenori Soejima (character designer), Shoji Meguro (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Memories of the City, Mass Destruction, Want to be Close
My favorite game of all time. The game expertly weaves social interaction into traditional RPG systems, creating a narrative that develops its characters better than almost any other RPG out there. The writing of the social links is some of the best game writing I'e ever seen and the main story is very intelligent with lots of occult symbolism mixed with the moon cycles. While there are plenty of fun and light-hearted moments, one of my favorite things about this game is its sense of wistfulness, as it explores themes of death, and emotional bonding. The characters are fun, but they also have emotional hardships that made me personally connect with them in a way that no other game has.
12. Earthbound
Last Year: 17

Platforms: SNES, Virtual Console (Wii U)

The sequel to Mother from the NES, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) has been considered to be one of the most charming and unique games in existence for more than 20 years. It was an RPG set in modern day times when that was a very rare thing indeed, and the game's unique sense of humor, as well as the surprisingly tender side it possessed, have endeared it to almost everyone who has played it.

Key staff members: Shigesato Itoi (director, producer, writer), Satoru Iwata (producer, programmer), Keiichi Suzuki (composer), Hirokazu Tanaka (composer, sound director), Akihiko Miura (game designer), Koichi Oyama (art director)

Soundtrack Samples: Smiles and Tears, Kraken of the Sea, Boy Meets Girl (Twoson)

Incredibly charming, funny, creative, unique, and innovative. It's the most fun of any RPG to talk to people in the towns because of the sense of humor. The amount of variety is unparalleled. From Stonehenge, to Zombie towns, to shopping malls, to swamps, to traffic jams, to pyrmaids, to deserts, to metropolitan cities, to beach resorts, to alien bases. The Rolling HP Meter made battles exciting. Being able to squash easy enemies removed some of the tedium that is usually present in RPGs. The constantly changing battle music and settings keeps the battles and dungeons feeling fresh. It's a long game that you don't want to end. Contrary to popular belief, grinding is not required. In fact, doing it makes no sense. You don't lose anything from death except half your money on you. That's not a problem because you shouldn't keep money on yourself. You have an ATM account. When you beat an enemy, money gets automatically deposited to it.
13. Mass Effect
Last Year: 8, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Mass Effect was Bioware's attempt at creating an ambitious video game saga, with a sweeping story told across multiple games (perhaps the most ambitious attempt by any western developer), and a story which promised to have player's choices carry across the entire trilogy. Unlike most other game's at the time which had player selected dialogue, Mass Effect was fully voiced. While the game's combat was not ever seen as a selling point, Mass Effect wowed players with the sense of exploration it had, as well as the detail put into all of the alien worlds and races.

Key staff members: Casey Hudson (director), Drew Karpyshyn (writer), Preston Watamaniuk (lead designer), Derek Watts (art director), Jack Wall (composer), Sam Hulick (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Uncharted Worlds, The Presidium, Noveria

Another Bioware Action-Shooter RPG from 2007 which distincts it self by making a vast and interesting galaxy setting, where this galaxy is threatened by an ancient and strange evil. You play as the prolific Commander Shepard fights this evil and uncovers its mysteries and finaly saves the day. The first game of the trilogy, it has the most sensible and believable story of them, it has vehicular planetary exploration not limited by physics and a satisfying and reasonable ending. It also has Wrex. Shepard.
14. Final Fantasy X
Last Year: 25

Platforms: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4

The first Final Fantasy game released on the PS2, Final Fantasy X was the first game of the series to feature voice acting, and marked the series return to turn-based combat for the first time since Final Fantasy III more than a decade previously (and also the final mainline game to be turn-based to date). Final Fantasy X was beloved for its story and characters, and especially the strong emotions of the game. The game's sphere grid system also allowed for more intriguing customization options than many previous games.

Key staff members: Yoshinori Kitase (producer), Motomu Toriyama (event director, writer), Takayoshi Nakazato (map director), Toshiro Tsucida (battle director), Kazushige Nojima (writer), Daisuke Watanabe (writer), Tetsuya Nomura (character designer), Nobuo Uematsu (composer), Masashi Hamauzu (composer), Junya Nakano (composer), Yusuke Naora (art director)

Soundtrack Samples: Besaid Island, To Zanarkand, Wandering Flame

But since I've nominated FFX for best writing, I'll talk about it more. The two leads have developed characters which slowly but surely change across the story, their motivations and personal reflections taking up much of the script. The tension is deliberately built to two effective climaxes, around 50% and 90% of the way through, and unlike in so many FFs and RPGs the landing is stuck, the ending delivering a bittersweet punch. A.O. Smith's translation is clean and professional to a degree that few were previously. Away from the main script, Spira's denizens give insights into the fictional world without ever feeling indulgent or remote from the party's driving cause. (It's important here to distinguish a well written script from the voice acting which occasionally takes perfectly serviceable lines and butchers them, and I'm allowing that the music contributes to effective writing.)
15. Final Fantasy IX
Last Year: 11

Platforms: Playstation, PS1 Classics

Final Fantasy IX was the final game in the series released on the Playstation, and it was made with the attempt of recapturing the feeling of the earlier Final Fantasy titles, as opposed to the more science-fiction titles that the series had recently released. It was the last game to feature a major involvement from creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. The game's writing has charmed many players over the years, and the soundtrack is frequently thought of as a highlight of the franchise.

Key staff members: Hiroyuki Ito (director), Hironobu Sakaguchi (producer, writer), Yoshitaka Amano (character designer), Nobuo Uematsu (composer), Hideo Minaba (art director)

Soundtrack Samples: Jesters of the Moon, Black Mage Village, You're Not Alone!

This has a good dose of nostalgia into, but this is the game that showed me what a RPG was. From the funny and great characters to the entire sense of adventuring, I was thrilled from the beginning to the end of this game. This was my first FF, my first RPG and one big reason I learned english as I played with a gigantic dictionary besides me, trying to understand what the characters were saying.Having re-played it years later, this game is still as magical as it was when I was a kid.
16. Undertale
NEW, Essential Soundtrack, Essential Writing

Platforms: PC

Undertale released in late 2015 and immediately took the world by storm. The game's unique sense of charm and the strong soundtrack instantly won people over, with the pacifist options for playing the game and the way the game would remember choices you had made even on previous playthroughs generating a large amount of discussion. With storytelling that could be humorous, touching, and dark, Undertale quickly became one of the biggest sensations of 2015, and established itself as one of the most beloved games in recent years.

Key staff: Toby Fox (everything)

Soundtrack Samples: Spider Dance, Bonetrousle, Hopes and Dreams

Witty, humorous, and charming. Undertale is one of the most soulful games I've played in years. It features an inventive battle system that is part-turnbased, part-bullet hell shooter that tests your reflexes, while also giving you information about the enemy you're fighting. Its soundtrack is very engrossing with many great tunes. My personal favorite being the rhythmic "Spider Dance." Choices are vital in this game and shouldn't be taken lightly. The game even remembers what you did in previous playthroughs and punishes you for it. The aspect that truly makes Undertale shine though is its characters. Every major character is layered and well done, which is quite a feat in a game that only lasts 6-7 hours. Finally, one of the things I love most about this game is how it features virtually no "filler", which plagues so many games today. The nearly perfect pacing makes Undertale an easy game to replay and an even easier one to recommend.
17. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Last Year: 16, Essential Writing

Platforms: Gamecube

Intelligent Systems followed up the well regarded Paper Mario with a sequel that took everything people loved about the original and expanded on it. The writing was sharp and clever, with the original characters all having their own unique charms, and the high quality localization helped to further bring all of those elements out. The Thousand Year Door became one of the most beloved games on a system with few RPGs, and it remains one of the most talked about Nintendo games of its era.

Key staff members: Ryota Kawade (director), Ryouichi Kitanishi (producer), Hironobu Suzuki (writer), Misao Mukuda (writer), Yoshito Hirano (composer), Yuka Tsujiyoko (composer), Chie Kawabe (art director)

Quite possibly the most charming game you'll ever play. The fairytale-like world of Mario comes to like in a grand RPG adventure. Never taking itself too seriously, but always being interesting and fun, TTYD accomplishes what few other games can: being humorous, lighthearted, and charming while remaining engaging and interesting.
18. Divinity Original Sin
Last Year: 23, Essential Combat

Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One

After years of having tried and failed to put out turn-based games due to publisher interference, Larian Studios finally turned to Kickstarter, and after a successful funding campaign, they released a game that quickly was praised as being one of the top games in the genre. Original Sin became loved by players not just for having turn-based combat, but for having what many considered to be one of the best turn-based systems ever put into place. The game was also designed with co-op play completely in mind, unlike almost every other story driven RPG out there, and the implementation was very well-received. (Solo players could get the just as interesting dynamic of arguing with themselves instead) An Enhanced Edition released a year later on both PC and consoles further polished the game and helped to bring it to an even wider audience.

Key staff members: Swen Vincke (director, game design), Farhang Namdar (lead design) Joachim Vleminckx (level design), David Walgrave (game design), Jan Van Dosselaer (lead writer, game design), Sarah Baylus (writer), Kirill Pokrovsky (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Bittersweet Regrets, Mysterious Guest, Power of Innocence

So this is how you write a comedy RPG. A combat system deeper than the marina trench, yet is the only game I can remember where I can raid a safe by telekinetically smashing a wine barrel into a guard. The plot features a first act that somehow makes every side quest a part of the main quest, and nooks and crannies filled with bizarre and interesting hooks from beginning to end. The most amazing part of this is how, at least for me, the difficulty remained remarkably consistent despite the ever expanding tool arsenal.
19. Nier
Last Year: 34, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Yoko Taro's off-beat RPG Nier was maligned by critics and sold poorly, but players who actually sat down and played the game found a really unique and compelling experience. Nier has been praised for the game's stunning soundtrack and for a story that unfolds in a really memorable way, especially for players who do a second playthrough and discover the secrets of the world. The game was also notable for the many ways in which it would shift genres briefly, such as a section were the game becomes a text adventure.

Key staff members: Yoko Taro (director, writer), Yosuke Saito (producer), Sawako Natori (writer), Kikuchi Hana (writer), Keiichi Okabe (composer), Kakeru Ishihama (composer), Keigo Hoashi (composer), Takafumi Nishimura (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Gods Bound by Rules, Hills of Radiant Winds, Grandma

The prime example that a game's quality is more than the sum of its subpart's qualities put together. Aside from the best soundtrack in existance, I was especially taken by the narrative, which played with the gaming medium and gamers expectation (relevant: Taro's 40 minute conference on GDC, with spoilers of Nier ).

Definitively a divisive game, as I can quite understand the people who disliked it. Either the game's charm works or it doesn't, and if it doesn't I guess you'll hate the approx. 20 hours the first run takes.
If you tried it and liked your first playthrough, doing the quick (ca. 5 hours) NG+ is an absolute must.
20. Mass Effect 2
Last Year: 18

Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

The sequel to Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 changes things up by moving the story into a new part of the galaxy relatively unaffected by the choices made by the player in the first game, as well as adapting a more action focused combat system that had less focus on skills compared to the original game. Mass Effect 2 featured a lighter main plot, but much richer character development, and one of the game's most unique aspects was the fact that any of the main cast could die by the end of the game depending on the choices made by the player. With the game centered around recruiting a team for a suicide mission it wound up having a very different feel story-wise than most other games on the market.

Key staff members: Casey Hudson (director), Preston Watamaniuk (lead designer), Mac Walters (writer), Drew Karpyshyn (writer), Derek Watts (art director), Christina Norman (lead gameplay designer), Jack Wall (composer), Sam Hulick (composer), David Kates (composer), Jimmy Hinson (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: The Illusive Man, The Normandy Reborn, Suicide Mission

Took a very different approach to its story from the first game, focusing more heavily on the members of the team and building relationships with them in preparation for the Suicide Mission at the end. Some amazing moments and a cast that fans of the series will always remember.
21.Valkyria Chronicles
Last Year: 26, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 3, PC

Set in a world based around WWII era Europe, Valkyria Chronicles combined traditional turn-based strategy with elements of real time combat to create a unique hybrid of combat not seen anywhere else, giving players the ability to plan out their moves as in a typical strategy game, but requiring some quick moving and attacking rather than simply selecting things from a menu. The game's unique visual aesthetic and the war setting helped to set it apart from many other RPGs on consoles at the time.

Key staff members: Shuntaro Tanaka (chief director), Takaharu Terada (director), Ryutaro Nonaka (producer), Takeshi Ozawa (chief game designer), Hirotaka Kanazawa (chief artist), Raita Honjo (character designer), Hitoshi Sakimoto (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Difficult Battle, Hard Fight, Strategy Instructions

While themes of racism are just something that I personally find terribly dull and the take on WW2 not as in depth as I would have liked (though certain conversations FE radiant dawn are my favorite for this theme in general), the story of my company saving the day was still a great time. Mix that with innovative and varied SRPG/TPS combat and an excellent aesthetic and you've got a game worth hours and hours of my (And your!) time.
22(tie). Demon's Souls
Last Year: 15

Platforms: Playstation 3

The beginning of From Software's dark action RPG Souls series, Demon's Souls came out of nowhere and took people by surprise with its high level of challenge and its innovative online interaction mechanics. Despite initially being passed on even releasing in the west at all, it eventually became a massive success worldwide, and has gone on to inspire a number of other games to boast about having “souls inspired combat”. The game also helped put director Hidetaka Miyazaki into the spotlight, leading to him quickly becoming one of the bigger names in the Japanese games industry.

Key staff members: Hidetaka Miyzaki (director), Masanori Takeuchi (producer), Takeshi Kajii (producer), Shunsuke Kida (composer), Makoto Satoh (lead graphic designer), Masato Miyzaki (lead graphic designer)
A perfect combination between action-oriented combat and traditional RPG mechanics.
22(tie). Fire Emblem: Awakening
Last Year: 9
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS

Fire Emblem Awakening took the long running Fire Emblem series and attempted to bring it to a larger audience, by adapting to an art style in line with modern trends, adding in romance features, and crafting characters that would appeal to modern gamers. The game also featured some additional accessibility options, although it still maintained the series trademark permanent death as a major factor for players who wanted it on. The resulting game wound up becoming one of the most successful games in franchise history, and although it alienated some long time fans, many more got into the series or genre only thanks to it.

Key staff members: Kouhei Maeda (director, scenario), Genki Yokota (director), Toru Narihiro (producer), Hitoshi Yamagami (producer), Toshiyuki Kusakihara (art director), Yusuke Kozaki (character designer), Hiroki Morishita (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Don't Speak Her Name, Conquest , Id (Hope)

This game blew me away. First of all, it's hilarious. The supports have sharp writing that really make the characters distinct and lovable, and has a lot of humor, even Reggies "my body is ready" meme.The new art style is attractive and detailed, and the interface is slick and modern. The gameplay is great. There's a ton of chapters, many optional Spotpass and DLC, and the classic strategy battles are better than ever with the new Pair Up system. Perma-death and the amount of characters makes it the most fun battle system to me.
24(tie). Final Fantasy Tactics
Last Year: 19, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: Playstation, PSP, PS1 Classics, Mobile

Final Fantasy Tactics introduced a generation of console gamers to the strategy RPG genre, continuing Yasumi Matsuno's desire to build an epic story of political intrigue aimed at older players following his Ogre series done at Quest. Tactics was heralded for its quality story and the game's legendary soundtrack, and it launched the Ivalice setting that became synonymous with Matsuno's games for many years.

Key staff members: Yasmi Matsuno (director, writer), Hiroyuki Ito (game design), Hiroshi Minagawa (art direction), Akihiko Yoshida (character designer), Masaharu Iwata (composer), Hitoshi Sakimoto (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: A Chapel, Decisive Battle, Antipyretic

My favourite FF title! Amazing use of the job/class system, with an epic story full of political and religious intrigue, betrayal and twists, beautiful art, and one of the finest video game soundtracks ever recorded.
24(tie). Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
Last Year: 21, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 2

Representing the move to 3D for the series, as well as the first launch of the franchise in the west, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne shifted away from the cyberpunk aesthetics of the original titles in favor of something that took the post-apocalyptic setting even further, and really emphasized a sense of loneliness. The game was also notable for moving away from the traditional law/chaos spectrum of the franchise, earning it a lot of praise from the players who felt that the different choices that could be made offered more shades of gray compared to other entries in the franchise.

Key staff members: Kazuma Kaneko (creative director), Kazuyuki Yamai (director (Maniax version), writer), Katsura Hashino (director), Cozy Okada (producre), Shigeo Komori (writer, event planner), Shogo Isogai (writer, system planner), Eiji Ishida (chief designer), Shoji Meguro (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Town Battle, Shinjuku Hygenic Hospital , Title Loop 2

Probably not just my favorite RPG, but also my favoite game overall.
Almost everything in this game is perfect: the art direction is gorgeous (thanks Kaneko), the resulting aesthetics (including dungeons) ingame is... whoa, the atmosphere in the game is quite unlike anything I've seen in other games (and tops them all), the OST is accordingly good, the fusion system is addictive, and it has the best turned based gameplay in RPGs, supported by a consistent difficulty throughout the game, which keeps the combats interesting.

You are basically, after 10 minutes of gameplay, put in a destroyed Tokyo after the Wrold ended; your role is to decide how the world will be rebuild. Everything in this game is made to emphasis the desolation that became Tokyo, and that hooked me up for 80+ hours. Every step of the way, you'll have to be thinking of your party management: should I heal now, or wait a bit? What demons to take in my default party to not get whipe out in a turn? Should I maybe fuse some demons to get better ones?
All this is tied to the combat gameplay, the Press Turn System. You basically have to watch out for the elemental weaknesses of your party and your ennemies, as that will pretty much decide the battle. And we finally have a jRPG where buffs and status/death spells really work well, so you'll have to take that into account too.
26. Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal/Heart Gold/Soul Silver
Last Year: 24

Platforms: GameBoy Color, Nintendo DS

After Pokemon became a worldwide sensation with its initial set of games, all eyes were on what would happen next. Pokemon Gold and Silver wound up being the best possible direction that GameFreak could take the series in. The game brought back all of the charm, fun game play and inventiveness of the original games, while also adding a number of new and catching innovations, such as a day/night cycle, genders and breeding, and much more. Coupled with the decision to let players revisit the location of the first game, Pokemon Gold and Silver became defined a new generation of Pokemon fans, and remain considered the definitive experience of the franchise by many people to this day. An enhanced version called Crystal built on this further by finally allowing players to select the gender of their protagonist, and the Heart Gold and Soul Silver remakes for the DS updated the games even more, letting another generation of fans get the experience for the first time.

Key staff members: Satoshi Tajiri (director, game designer), Ken Sugimori (art director), Junichi Masuda (sub director, game design, composer), Go Ichinose (composer)

Other notable staff members: Satoru Iwata (programming assistance), Shigeki Morimoto (game design, programmer, monster design, remake director)

Soundtrack Samples: Lucky Channel/Game Corner, Route 26, Staff Roll

The definitive Pokemon game. The Johto region has the most remarkable areas and lore of the series, Ecruteak and Goldenrod being my favourite cities, and Lugia and Ho-oh are still unmatched as far as cover legendaries go. But the real winner of these games is the amount of content, 16 badges, 2 regions, and the best final boss in the series.
27(tie). Bloodborne
NEW, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 4

Following the great success of Dark Souls, Bloodborne takes the Souls type of game in a new direction, including much of what people loved about the games in terms of their combat and challenge, while adding extra wrinkles to provide more action to the combat and crafting a Gothic setting which helped to distinguish the game from its predecessors and received a lot of praise from players, along with the strong horror themes which permeated the game. Bloodborne has also received a large amount of post-release support, and seems likely to remain a well-regarded title for many years.

Key staff members: Hidetaka Miyazaki (director), Kazuhiro Hamatani (lead game design), Ryo Fujimaki (lead character artist)

This might be one of the most beautiful games I've ever seen, it's an absolute treat for any fan of classic horror. The amount of detail is overwhelming. I'm personally a little let down by the general lack of music, which could have elevated the atmosphere even higher in certain parts, but it's still one of the best in the classic horror segment. Level design follows Metroidvania-tradition in a superb way, which makes exploration an absolute joy - also because of absolutely no hand holding, nor other interruptions. While I'm not too fond of a few boss battles, combat in general is simply fun and never feels cheap, despite the challenge. All the right parts from Souls have been streamlined.
27(tie). Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Last Year: 32, Essential Writing

Platforms: Xbox, PC

Knights of the Old Republic brought the Star Wars mythos to life in RPG form like never before, giving players a brand new saga, exploring a completely different part of the Star Wars settting, as well as heavily featuring moral choices the player could make. In addition to introducing Bioware and their games to many console players, the game established the template for what the company's games would be like going forward.

Key staff members: Casey Hudson (director), James Ohlen (lead designer), Drew Karpyshyn (writer), Jeremy Soule (composer)

This is my most favorite Star Wars game of all time and I'm still waiting for it to be topped. It has enough familiar things to feel every bit like a true Star Wars game yet it was one of the first Star Wars games to form its own identity as well.
27(tie). Suikoden II
Last Year: 27

Platforms: Playstation, PS1 Classics

The sequel to the original Suikoden, Suikoden II has been a beloved RPG for many years, with the game's story being the biggest factor in that. The Suikoden saga featured a much more involved story than many other RPGs of the era, with rich world-building and a massive cast of characters available for the player, more than almost any other RPG makes available.

Key staff members: Yoshitaka Murayama (director, writer), Fumi Ishikawa (character designer), Miki Higashino (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Heart-Softening Theme, Homesickness, Secret Village of the Ninja

I replayed this a year ago and I had forgotten just how different this game behaves and is structured than others. There's extremely little fluff, with only a couple of stretches that have bosses that are not major antagonists or serve no war function. It also has the audacity to completely shake up the usual act form and is incredibly strong for it.

Other than that, it's still a world-building, characterization, musical, theming, and lore tour-de-force that stands as an all-time great.
30. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Last Year: 38, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC

While the original Deus Ex had long been heralded as a classic, Human Revolution impressed people by managing to continue in the vein of the original at a point in which it didn't seem like any AAA game could be made in that vein again. While the game didn't hit the same level of depth as the original, it was built to accommodate a wide variety of play styles which allowed people to customize their experience to the way they wanted to play.

Key staff members: Jean-François Dugas (director), Jonathan-Jacques Belletête (art director), David Anfossi (producter), Mary DeMarle (lead writer), Michael McCann (composer)

If you are like me and just can't get into everybodies darling the original Deus Ex, then there's a Deus Ex for you: with minimaps for ease of navigation, simplified gameplay(afaik?), still Cyberpunk and the possibilty of a stealthy no-kill playthrough. The story is entertaining enough, even though some things can be silly.
31. Dragon's Dogma
Last Year: 33, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC

Staffed by an all-star group of Capcom developers, Dragon's Dogma combined the sort of fast paced action combat the developers had experience with into an open-world RPG setting, combining the two styles together to create a game that hits the peaks of both. The combat system in particular has been one of the most consistently praised aspects of the game. The end result of Dragon's Dogma was a game that had some elements that could be connected to other games, but also felt like a completely unique experience within the RPG world.

Key staff members: Hideaki Itsuno (director), Hiroyuki Kobayashi (producer), Daigo Ikeno (art director), Yoichiro Ikeda (lead game design)

This game, hands down, has the best combat in an action rpg to date. The feedback of each move you do just feels so good, and the class system allows you to switch freely between classes whenever you want, encouraging experimentation. Also the story, while weak at first, ends extremely and surprisingly strong
32(tie). Dragon Age: Origins
Last Year: 36

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Long in development, Dragon Age: Origins was intended as a successor to the Baldur's Gate series in an original setting, but wound up changing massively by the time it released. The game's eventual combat wound up being a hybrid of a more action based system and a traditional tactical combat system. Perhaps the most interesting thing the game did was crafting a number of different possible origins for the character, leading to the beginning of the game being very different, and future events playing out in different ways.

Key staff members: Dan Tudge (director, producer), Mark Darrah (director, producer), Brent Knowles (lead designer), Mike Laidlaw (lead designer), James Ohlen (lead designer), Dean Andersen (art director), David Gaider (lead writer), Inon Zur (composer)

Fell in love with this game, playing this on hard mode was great. World was very interesting, humor was on point. All went down the shitter with II and Inquisition.
32(tie). The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Last Year: 20

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360

For their followup to the well-received The Witcher, CD Projekt RED made the game far more action focused compared to its predecessor, as well as completely changing the graphical style. The more modernized game also made it easier for the series to finally make its console debut, although at a later date than the PC launch. The Witcher 2 wound up surpassing the original game in terms of reputation fairly quickly, with the more action packed combat attracting more players than the original game's methodical clicking of the mouse at set times.

Key staff members: Adam Bodowski (director), Sebastian Stępień (lead writer), Konrad Tomaszkiewicz (lead quest design), Mateusz Kanik (lead gameplay design), Maciej Szcześnik (lead combat design), Adam Skorupa (composer), Krzysztof Wierzynkiewicz (composer)

CD Projekt’s follow up to immensely satisfying Witcher 1. Instead of improving on the combat system for the first game, they instead implemented a new one. It led to combat being more challenging, but at times felt like it focused on just a couple of techniques. The WItcher 2 has an engaging story and again has an amazing dark fantasy world. Outside of an Obsidian game, it also has some of the weightiest consequences in a videogame, where the entire middle section of the game is different depending on a choice you make in an earlier chapter.
34. Final Fantasy XII
Last Year: 14, Essential Combat

Platforms: Playstation 2

Final Fantasy XII closed out the Playstation 2 era for the series in style, with a number of fairly revolutionary ideas for the series, including the game's gambit system which remains one of the most innovative methods of allowing players to maintain a large amount of control in a real time battle system. The game's more open structure moved away from the story focus that had largely dominated the Final Fantasy series dating back to Final Fantasy IV, and the staff being made up largely of folks who had never worked on mainline games for the series before made it feel very unique. However, the long and fraught development cycle with the original lead figure leaving partway through lead to a game that felt at times like two different games merged together, and it may never be known exactly which parts came from what. A Japan only enhanced edition polished the gameplay even further and is generally considered to be the best version of the game.

Key staff members: Yasumi Matsuno (writer, original director), Hiroyuki Itou (co-director, game design, battle director), Hiroshi Minagawa (co-director), Akitoshi Kawazu (executive producer), Hideo Minaba (art director), Isamu Kamikokuryo (art director), Daisuke Watanabe (writer), Hitoshi Sakimoto (composer), Hayato Matsuo (composer), Masaharu Iwata (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Royal Capital Rabanastre-City Upper Ground, Theme of the Empire, Fight to the Death

We'll probably never know exactly what Matsuno did and didn't contribute to this game, but his style permeates everything about it. And the Alexander O. Smith localization elevates it. The underrated aspect of this game is how great the combat is; now that we're removed from JRPG fans shitting themselves over the shift to a real-time with pause system, it's clear that this is a brilliant setup that provides the player with a ton of tools to do things in very different ways. Get the International Zodiac Job System edition.
35(tie). Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Last Year: 43

Platforms: SNES, Playstation 2, Nintendo DS, Mobile

Often considered by fans to be the highpoint of the Dragon Quest series (although most fans also agree that if you like any game, you'll probably like them all), Dragon Quest V is notable for how much it does away with traditional RPG conventions. Unlike the typical epic journeys of a cast of heroes, Dragon Quest V focused on following a single character from the start of their life to the end, becoming a story more about family relationships than grand journeys. The game also introduced a monster collecting mechanic for the first time in the series, which would inspire an eventual spin-off series, and played a key role in setting the stage for future monster collecting franchises such as Pokemon.

Key staff members: Yuji Horii (lead writer, game design), Manabu Yamana (director), Yukinobu Chida (producer), Akira Toriyama (character designer), Koichi Sugiyama (composer)

in many ways the anti-FFVII, DQ instead tops my list for its master implementation of RPG game design. The dungeons and puzzles are some of the tightest I've ever played, as is the overall balance of the numbers behind the scenes. The metagame is how fast can you complete it - how many dungeons can you finish on your first try by smartly using your MP without going back to town? While every RPG deals with this, none pull it off as brilliantly as Dragon Quest, and DQV is the crown jewel of the series. This isn't to say it lacks spectacle - being born and stepping out onto the ship was an eye opening experience for me and so many of the story sequences left me surprised at just how moving they were, especially the transitions. Despite the series' stigma, I believe the Dragon Quest games are full of innovation and DQV has it with its pre-Pokemon monster collecting, as well as its narrative structure chronicling a man's life from birth, childhood, adolescence and parenthood. For this reason in particular, I'm awarding it Best Story.
35(tie). Fallout 2
Last Year: 56

Platforms: PC

Set long after the events of the original game, Fallout 2 featured a number of gameplay improvements from its predecessor while still keeping the core of the original in tact. In the writing deparment, Fallout 2 was notable for being able to frequently jump into bizarre or comedic moments at the drop of a hat, while still maintaining the strong overarching story that players would love to sink their teeth into. With strong quest design throughout the game and a number of alternative ways of resolving situations, Fallout 2 has been a game that has stood the test of time and continues to be thought of as one of the all-time greats.

Key staff members: Tim Cain (director, writer), Chris Avellone (director, designer), Brian Fargo (prodcuer), Eric DeMilt (producer), Feargus Urquhart (producer, lead designer), Mathew J. Norton (lead designer), Mark Morgan (composer)

The Black Isle era brought out a lot of great RPGs. And Fallout 2 is my personal favorite. It's a pitch perfect sequel, fixing everything that didn't work in the original, and taking what did it work and making it even better. You'll be taking a trip through a post apocalyptic wasteland where you meet a wide array of colorful characters, take on a bunch of interesting quests, and make some very difficult choices along the way.
Not only does it feature a gripping story, but it can also be downright hilarious at times, provided you don't mind some very dark humor. Fallout 2 did everything right, the standout RPG from one of the greatest era in gaming history.
35(tie). Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Last Year: 22

Platforms: PC

Although it was marred by technical problems upon release, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines impressed people with both the quality of its writing and the amount of possible choices, as well as the number of different ways that the players created character could effect how the world reacted to them. While the game was considered a failure at launch, it has gone on to become one of the most fondly remembered PC RPGs of the period, and unofficial fan patches have fixed many of the issues the game initially had.

Key staff members: Jason D. Anderson (creative director, writer), Leonard Boyarsky (project lead, concept artist, writer), Brian Mitsoda (writer), Chad Moore (writer), TJ Perillo (writer), Rick Schaffer (composer)

Other notable staff: Tim Cain (programmer)

Wandering the streets of downtown LA, haunting soundtrack in the background, is an experience unlike any other. The world feels dark yet so alive which is expressed in the writing, the world and the visuals. It all comes together to create a beautiful, believable and ominous world. The writing is stellar and the voice-acting also deserves a thumbs-up. On top of all that, Bloodlines also excels in offering choice. You can choose between different clans at the start. And it isn't purely an aesthetic choice. Playing as a Malkavian completely changes how you will approach the game and offers you the chance to play as mentally insane schizophrenic with prophetic abilities. Playing as a Toreador for example will give you a more classic game experience. The point is that Troika has gone out of their way to deliver replayability and uniqueness to each clan in the game. There isn't anything like it, to be honest. Besides clans Bloodlines offers a lot more of choice & consequence. Your decisions impact the world, which factions you will align with and who you will or won't piss off. Thanks to its robust skill system it is possible to approach most missions in a myriad of ways. Besides the obvious smooth-talking or combat, often you will find a back entrance or a computer somewhere. Exploring will always yield rewards. Combat is serviceable and allows you several options, ranging from guns to swords to vampiric abilities. Pick swords, seriously. The quests Bloodlines offers are great in variety and execution. From exploring a haunted beach hotel to tracking down seriously messed up video producers, it all works extremely well in the world Troika has created.
38. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
Last Year: 61

Platforms: Xbox, PC

The followup to Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic wound up being developed by Obsidian instead of the original developers. While a rushed release resulted in a game that was unfinished in several places, it won a lot of praise from people who played it, especially for the different way it went about the story. While the original game focused mainly on following the Manichean world view of the Star Wars films, Knights of the Old Republic II set about breaking down the typical black and white view of Star Wars, and delved far more into a philosophical understanding of the force. The result is a game that stands in a unique place within the Star Wars franchise (particularly within the world of film/games), and a game that is more than worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with other Obsidian giants.

Key staff member: Chris Parker (producer), Chris Avellone (lead designer), Aaron Myers (lead artist), Mark Griskey (composer)

If only it had a real ending (fan restorations be damned, this is what I played when it released), but otherwise this is the deconstruction of the force that helps wash away any number of Jar Jar scenes. Kreia is a standout character, and I really hope Obsidian gets to take another crack at this universe some day.
39. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Last Year: 31

Platforms: Xbox, PC

In many ways, the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind represented the beginning of the open-world RPG genre as it exists today. While it was not the first, it was the game that moved the concept into the mainstream in a big way, and with the graphical presentation (at the time) to back it up. Morrowind was notable for allowing the player to run around doing almost anything they wanted in the game without much of an order to it. The game's massive scope made up for the number of glitches and unpolished parts of the game, as well as some of the bizarre ways in which the game's mechanics worked. Remarkably, the game continues to receive amazing mod support even to this day.

Key staff members: Todd Howard (project lead), Ken Rolston (lead designer, writer), Mathew Carofano (lead artist), Christiane H. K. Meister (lead character artist), Jeremy Soule (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Call of Magic, The Road Most Traveled, Blessing of Vivec

This game would have been higher if it wasn't for all the pain and frustration I had to endure in order to get it to run on my pc. Even after patching and countless mods to improve stability and improve on some of the more dated aspects of the game like the graphics, I still ran into frequent crashes and other issues. Through it all I still loved my time spent in the world of Morrowind. The art, lore and perfectly suited soundtrack by Jeremy Soule as well as the sheer freedom afforded to you to shape the journey to your will, is something I cannot forget even though I never reached the end.
40. Deus Ex
Last Year: 35

Platforms: PC

The original Deus Ex was considered to be a truly ground breaking game at the time, blending traditional RPG mechanics, shooting and stealth into a unique package with very open-ended gameplay that wowed players at the time. Combined with a truly interesting world and story crafted around conspiracy theories and a cyberpunk world, the game became known as one of the giants of the genre.

Key staff members: Warren Spector (director), Chris Norden (assistant director, lead programmer), Sheldon Pacotti (writer), Jay Lee (lead artist), Alexander Brandon (composer), Daniel Gardopee (composer), Michiel van den Bos (composer)

Also my favorite game ever. It fits into 'immersive sim', which includes games like Ultima Underworld and Thief, but its core is an RPG. The story is silly but fun, the graphics are pretty bad, but the attention to detail is fantastic, and the blend of RPG and FPS elements works great, complemented with level design that accounts for all sorts of builds while still feeling 'natural'. The build system, along with the inventory system and the open-ended gameplay allow for lots of fun possibilities, and the developers did their best to account for them. Highlighted for soundtrack since I feel it's pretty underrated and because it fits the environments so well.
41. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Last Year: 66

Platforms: Playstation 2, Nintendo 3DS, Mobile

A grand, sweeping RPG, Dragon Quest VIII took the presentation of the series further than it had ever been before. With a rich and enjoyable story, as well as the western release being the first game to feature voice acting and an orchestrated soundtrack (features then gained in the Japanese version with the 3DS release), the game drew in a number of new fans who got engrossed with the game's story. Among many western fans it remains the one considered as the definitive Dragon Quest experience. It takes everything that works about the series, while putting it in a shinier package at the same time.

Key staff members: Yuji Horii (writer, lead designer), Akihiro Hino (director), Akira Toriyama (character designer), Koichi Sugiyama (composer)

If Fallout: New Vegas is an example of a 90s WRPG transferred to the 3rd dimension correctly then Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is the JRPG equivalent. Containing the charm, sense of adventure, and engaging plot that JRPGs of yesteryears have, Dragon Quest VIII impresses and it comes to no surprise to as of why the series is so huge in Japan. A game that takes almost 100 hours to beat and yet going through the game there is no downtime due to the player being so engaged with the story and characters. It isn't the most hardcore game or even the most fun, but it is definitely the one of the most, or the most, "classic" game on this list.
42(tie). Mother 3
Last Year: 39, Essential Writing

Platforms: Gameboy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii U)

After initially being canceled while planned for the Nintendo 64, the sequel to the cult hit Earthbound was eventually resurrected on the Gameboy Advance. Mother 3 features all the charm of its predecessor, but with a more emotional story, heavily focused around the trials of a single family. Unlike Earthbound with had a more traditional JRPG structure, Mother 3 remained focused mostly on a central town, and split the game between a number of different chapters, with rotating protagonists for several of them. While it was never officially released in English, a professional quality fan-translation was released, and the game has managed to become considered a classic even without an official release in the west.

Key staff members: Shigesato Itoi (writer), Nobuyuki Inoue (director), Nobuhiro Imagawa (art director), Shogo Sakai (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Love Theme, Passing Down Secrets, Phantasmagoric

Mother 3 is simply a game that lives up to its hype. Heralded as the quintessential example of a legendary game left in Japan, Mother 3 is a very unique experience. It pulls players in by introducing them to a world that is at one hand very light hearted and on the other very dark. It is not meant to be the next epic Final Fantasy, the next hardcore Megaten, or the ambitious Elder Scrolls. It is simply a quirky, unique, tightly contained game with a mature story and some of the best writing in the industry (despite it being "fan translated"). It is sad that more people haven't played this game, but in a way that just lends to the whole mysterious cult status of it. With Nintendo bringing Earthbound and it's long lost prequel to life on the E-Shop, hopefully they will follow suit with Mother 3. The game deserves more players.
42(tie) Pokemon Red/Green/Blue/Yellow/Fire Red/Leaf Green
Last Year: 44

Platforms: Gameboy, Gameboy Advance

The games that started a global sensation, the original Pokemon games were simple in their ideas, but with numerous layers of complexity laying beneath that. Taking the monster collecting mechanics that existed already in games like Shin Megami Tensei and Dragon Quest V, Pokemon made an entire game focused solely on that idea. In Pokemon it could truly be said that the monsters were the main characters. With a battle system that was simple to understand, but had a number of different mechanics going on underneath, Game Freak created an RPG that could be played competitively just as much as it was a single player game. Interesting multiplayer mechanics are probably the most notable thing that Pokemon did, between the ability to trade with your friends (and get Pokemon that weren't even available in your version of the game), as well as to fight them. Pokemon could be said to be five to ten years ahead of the curve in its implementation of these ideas.

Key staff members: Satoshi Tajiri (director, designer, writer), Ken Sugimori (character and monster design), Junichi Masuda (composer, remake director), Shigeru Miyamoto (producer), Takeshi Kawaguchi (producer), Tsunekazu Ishihara (producer), Shigeki Morimoto (remake battle director), Hitomi Sato (remake scenario)

Soundtrack Samples: Route 4, Vs Gym Leader, Pokemon Mansion

The jumping off point for the series that swept the world. While there were many gameplay additions and features added to the series since, I've always gravitated back toward the originals. Personally, I feel that later entries in the series feel very dragged out compared to the first that lets you hop right into your Pokemon adventure and begin building your team.
44(tie). Diablo II
Last Year: 55

Platforms: PC

Diablo II has long been the ultimate in loot games, the one that drove the concept to popularity, and helped to inspire a massive number of new games in a similar style. For many years Diablo II remained the ultimate in time-sink games; you could probably find millions of students in the early 2000s spending their entire days clicking in Diablo rather than doing their classwork. It remains a touchstone of the genre even to this day, and is probably one of the more significant RPGs simply based on how much of an effect it has had on future games, even ones that aren't directly competing in the same space. Loot and item drops are far more of a major focus across all of gaming today than they were at the time that Diablo came out.

Key staff members: David Brevik (project and design lead), Erich Schaefer (project and design lead), Max Schaefer (project and design lead), Phil Shenk (lead character artist), Matt Uelmen (composer), Chris Metzen (writer)

Blizzard games are responsible for taking up the bulk of most of my gaming time to this day and it was Diablo II that started that trend. To say I was addicted to it is an understatement. While there are plenty of better games out there with much better gameplay and of course, plots (Blizzard's writing was and will always remain atrocious), the sheer amount of fun I had binging on this makes it one of my top picks.
44(tie). The World Ends With You
Last Year: 30

Platforms: Nitendo DS, Mobile

An inventive RPG, The World Ends With You crafted its entire gameplay around the DS, taking advantage of the system's two screens and the touch screen in order to create a game that played unlike anything ever released before. That was combined with a very striking visual and musical style; the game was an incredibly hip and fashionable idea, as opposed to the typical fantasy or science-fiction offerings of the genre. Despite the game never spawning the sort of franchise that many might have hoped, it has remained as one of the most unique and worth playing RPGs on the DS.

Key staff members: Tatsuya Kando (director), Tomohiro Hasegawa (co-director), Takehi Arakawa (planning director), Gen Kobayashi (character art designer), Tetsuya Nomura (creative producer, character designer), Takeharu Ishimoto (composer)

In an age where JRPGs seemed to be creatively bankrupt, the most conservative company did something noone expected. They released a game that was against everything the company stood for. New IP, 2D, modern setting, and gameplay that was anything but conventional, The World Ends with You was a game released by a Square-Enix from a parallel universe. What made the game stand out were primarily three things. The first is that the game was/is very "cool". It is in the similar vein of Jet Set Radio where you are put into this trendy and hyper stylized world the overflows your senses with fashion, graffiti, and a kickass soundtrack. The second was how innovative the game was. From controlling two characters during battle at once to building a game revolving around two screens and a stylus, the game did many things to push the genre and really handheld gaming forward. Even little things such as a difficulty adjuster were well welcomed. The third is that it was a major production third party IP on a handheld. In an age where many game series, especially RPGs, have migrated to handhelds for being their primary platforms, we may forget that back in the day handheld games used to be nothing but spin-off central and low budget efforts. Seeing a new mainline IP from a major branch from Square-Enix was very exciting at the time. In a year and a half it will be a full decade since the game has been released with no sequel or a game as unique coming from Square-Enix since. A great fluke for the company, but a fluke none-the-less.
46. Fallout
Last Year: 95

Platforms: PC

The beginning of what would become one of the most widely known western RPG franchises, Fallout crafted an extremely compelling world, which was further enhanced by compelling story and quest design, with player choice having a massive role in almost every aspect of the game. The game also made sure that surviving in the post-apocalyptic world felt like real survival, and not just something that existed as a backdrop to the story.

Key staff members: Tim Cain (producer, game design, lead programmer), Brian Fargo (producer), Leonard Boyarsky (art director, game design), Christopher Taylor (lead designer), Mark O'Green (writer), Mark Morgan (composer)

My favorite Fallout, and personally my favorite beginning in the series, your vaults waterchip has broken down and you have limited number of days to replace it. I found it amazing how cut throat the world feels once you get outside of the vault, your best plan is to just zip your mouth about the vault and ditch your clothes so that no one can find about your vault. Superb atmosphere, and great story telling.
47. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Last Year: 41

Platforms: Nintendo GameCube

Path of Radiance was the tenth game released in the Fire Emblem franchise, and it remains one of the most beloved games in the west, with the story and characters rating better by the fans than many other games in the series, enough that the game received a direct story followup. Like the other games in the series, Path of Radiance is a Strategy RPG, featuring permanent death for the party members and a number of challenging maps for the player to clear.

Key staff members: Masayuki Horikawa (director), Toru Narihiro (producer), Hitoshi Yamagami (producer), Taeko Kaneda (game design), Masahiro Higuchi (chief designer), Ken Yokoyama (writer), Saki Haruyama (composer), Naoko Mitome (composer), Atsuhi Yoshida (composer), Kanako Terame (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Victory is Near, Power-Hungry Fool, Painful Wish

I have played this game countless times, and in no other game have I cared as much about the characters and their struggles as well as the political and ethnic conflicts as I do with this game. Maybe it was the time and place in my life, but the simplicity and earnestness of this game just strikes a chord with me. It is a game about a very simple journey to reclaim a lost homeland, but it has the ambitions to make that homeland but a bit player on the world stage, to have discussions of racism, and to have a true revenge quest actually end in a 'one-on-one' duel in a TRPG. Sure the earnestness runs afoul when it comes to the terribly bad cutscenes, but I really miss the days when FE took itself seriously.
48. The Witcher
Last Year: 57, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: PC

Bringing the popular Polish fantasy novel series to life, The Witcher quickly became a beloved RPG by the traditional RPG crowd upon release. While it drew some criticism for its 'sex cards', the writing for the game was otherwise remarkably mature compared to the typical offerings at the time, and the story gave the player a number of ways to subtly, but importantly influence events. The game's strong quest design and dedication to bringing a grimy world to life helped to turn into a major franchise that grew more popular with each entry.

Key staff members: Michał Kiciński (game vision), Jacek Brzeziński (project lead), Adam Badowski (head of art, game concept), Michal Madej (chief designer), Artur Ganszyniec (writer), Sebastian Stępień (writer), Maciej Szcześnik (lead gameplay designer), Paweł Błaszczak (composer), Adam Skorupa (composer)

The Witcher is the game that got me into RPGs. I fondly remember the gloomy swamps, the sun rising while the villagers woke up. I remember strolling through the wheat fields on a summer day. The beauty of the world is in stark contrast with the society that lives in it. There is no good or evil. You're not the saviour of the world. Even the tasks you're set out to perform are low key. You try to gain access to the city, solve a murder mystery, help a village deal with the fallout of a broken wedding. All the while a conflict is brewing in the background. A rebel group fighting for what once was, fighting in the name of long lost values and ideals. On the other side a religious order that has proclaimed a crusade against non-humans. The magnificence of the world is supported by an excellent alchemy system, rhytmic combat and a wide array of choices with real consequences. It doesn't hurt either that the game still looks beautiful for modern standards. Chapter 4 is still one of the most stunning locations ever created in an RPG and feels exactly like an adventure set in the world of the Witcher should feel.
49. Xenogears
Last Year: 37

Platforms: Playstation, PS1 Classics

Xenogears represented Tetsuya Takahashi's first attempt at creating a massive RPG franchise, attempting to create a big story that would unfold over a number of games, wrapped up in tons of symbolism and religious ideas. While this initial attempt would not wind up leading to further Xenogears games, it not only formed the basis for what Takahashi would do over the next decade, but it resulted in a beloved RPG that was truly unlike anything else at the time. While story heavy games existed, there was nothing that went as far as Xenogears had (especially on the game's second disc).

Key staff members: Tetsuya Takahashi (director, writer), Masato Kato (writer), Kaori Tanaka (writer), Yasuyuki Honne (art director), Kunihiko Tanaka (character designer), Junya Ishigaki (mecha designer), Yasunori Mitsuda (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Bonds of Sea and Fire, Flight, Fuse

Storyheavy RPG with tons of symbolism thrown in and a visual novel style second CD many people don't like (I do *shrug*).
The cast is great, the included lovestory and the kid-character are a rare case of not cringeworthy, the story is interesting, the music great, the gamplay/menu-navigation is rather clunky and it has an interactive variant( no, not QTE) of turnbased combat.
Oh and it has giant robots.
50. Shin Megami Tensei IV
Last Year: 54, Essential Soundtrack

Platforms: Nintendo 3DS

Prior to the release of Shin Megami Tensei IV, the previous two mainline games (Nocutrne and Strange Journey) had been increasingly focused on solitude, putting the player in increasingly hostile environments with few other characters around. For Shin Megami Tensei IV, the team decided to return to the basics of the franchise, creating a modern day equivalent to the original Shin Megami Tensei, and heavily crafted in cyberpunk aesthetics. Shin Megami Tensei IV retained the battle system of Nocturne, but strove to make the game's fusion system the most accessible ever.

Key staff members: Kazuyuki Yamai (structure/supervision, writer, battle system), Kazuma Kaneko (scenario, original demon design), Shinji Yamamoto (writer), Eiji Ishida (art director), Masayuki Doi (character designer), Ryota Koduka (composer), Kenichi Tsuchiya (composer, sound director), Toshiki Konishi (composer)

Soundtrack Samples: Above Ground Urban Area C, Purgatorium, Tsukiji Hongwanji

Shin Megami Tensei IV is a very divisive game in the series. Some think it more than fulfilled the huge expectations that were put on it. Others find it disappointing. Well, lucky for me, I am in the former camp. After putting over 130 hours in the game I can attest it is the finest RPG I have played. The game does a great job of stuffing the meat of the game with quality sidequests that help build an engaging world.The dystopian Tokyo visuals spring to life as the game feels like a dark demonic Bladerunner. Something previous games tried to achieve but failed. The game also has one of the most engaging battle systems around as it is press turn combat at its finest.

The game may not be perfect, but it is one of the best packages in the genre that I have played. It is both fresh and yet traditional at the same time. It pushes the series forward while retaining its roots. And it does all this while fitting in your front or back pocket.

51(tie). Final Fantasy IV
Last Year: 60
Platforms: SNES, Playstation, Wonderswan, Gameboy Advance, PSP, PC, Mobile, Virtual Console, PS1 Classics

51(tie). The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Last Year: 29
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

53. Skies of Arcadia
Last Year: 45
Platforms: Dreamcast, GameCube

54(tie). Chrono Cross
Last Year: 46,Essential Soundtrack
Platforms: Playstation, PS1 Classics

54(tie). The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Last Year: 70
Platforms: PC, PSP, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita

56(tie). Pillars of Eternity
Platforms: PC

56(tie). Xenoblade Chronicles X
Platforms: Wii U

58(tie). Alpha Protocol
Last Year: 49
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

58(tie). Shadowrun: Dragonfall
Last Year: 79
Platforms: PC, Mobile

60(tie). Mario & Luigi: Suuperstar Saga
Last Year: 82
Platforms: Gameboy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii U)

60(tie). Paper Mario
Last Year: 51
Platforms: Nintendo 64, Virtual Console

60(tie). South Park: The Stick of Truth
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

63(tie). Baldur's Gate
Last Year: 77
Platforms: PC

63(tie). Fire Emblem (aka Fire Emblem 7: Blazing Sword
Last Year: 78
Platforms: Gameboy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii U)

63(tie). Valkyrie Profile
Last Year: 62
Platforms: Playstation, PSP

66(tie). Fallout 3
Last Year: 28
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

66(tie). Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
Last Year: 91
Platforms: SNES, Sega Saturn, Playstation, PSP, Virtual Console

68. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer
Last Year: 67
Platforms: PC

69(tie). Final Fantasy V
Last Year: 84
Platforms: SNES, Playstation, Gameboy Advance, PC, Virtual Console, PS1 Classics, Mobile

69(tie). Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Last Year: 85
Platforms: Wii

69(tie). Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: PC

72(tie). Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Last Year: 40
Platforms: SNES, Virtual Console

72(tie). World of Warcraft
Last Year: 48
Platforms: PC

72(tie). Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: PC, PSP

75(tie). Final Fantasy VIII
Last Year: 47
Platforms: Playstation, PS1 Classics, PC

75(tie). Golden Sun
Last Year: 76
Platforms: Gameboy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii U)

75(tie). Kingdom Hearts
Last Year: 58
Platforms: Playstation 2, Playstation 3

75(tie). Lost Odyssey
Last Year: 99
Platforms: Xbox 360

75(tie). Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Last Year: 64
Platforms: Playstation 3

75(tie). Radiant Historia
Last Year: 65
Platforms: Nintendo DS

75(tie). Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Nintendo DS

75(tie). System Shock 2
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: PC

75(tie). Tales of Symphonia
Last Year: 50
Platforms: Gamecube, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PC

84(tie). Baten Kaitos Origins
Last Year: 93,Essential Soundtrack
Platforms: Gamecube

84(tie). Gothic II
Last Year: 63
Platforms: PC

86(tie). Grandia
Last Year: 69
Platforms: Sega Saturn, Playstation, PS1 Classics

86(tie). Kingdom Hearts II
Last Year: 42
Platforms: Playstation 2, Playstation 3

86(tie). Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Last Year: 81
Platforms: PSP, Playstation 3

86(tie). Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Sega Genesis, Virtual Console, PC, Sega Saturn, Playstation 2, PSP, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

86(tie). Resonance of Fate
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360

91(tie). Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: PC

91(tie). Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Gamecube

91(tie). Pokemon Black/White
Last Year: 73
Platforms: Nintendo DS

91(tie). Vagrant Story
Last Year: 92
Platforms: Playstation, PS1 Classics

95(tie). Bravely Default
Last Year: 52
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS

95(tie). Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Gameboy Advance, Virtual Console (Wii U)

95(tie). Mass Effect 3
Last Year: 88
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

95(tie). Mount and Blade: Warband
Last Year: 89,Essential Combat
Platforms: PC

95(tie). Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Last Year: 96,Essential Writing
Platforms: Playstation, PSP

95(tie). Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Gameboy Advance, Nintendo 3DS

95(tie). Suikoden V
Last Year: Did Not Rank
Platforms: Playstation 2

95(tie). Terranigma
Last Year: 100
Platforms: SNES

The Essentials Lists

The Essential Lists are presented in alphabetical order, rather than a ranked order based on points. The lists are intended to provide some examples of what voters considered the most essential embodiments of their respective categories.

NeoGAF's Essential RPG Soundtracks
Baten Kaitos: Origins
The Valedictory Elegy
Le Ali del Principio

Chrono Cross
Time's Scar
Radical Dreamers

Chrono Trigger
Memories of Green
At the Bottom of Night

Final Fantasy Tactics
A Chapel
Decisive Battle

Final Fantasy VI
Searching for Friends
Dancing Mad

Final Fantasy VII
One Winged Angel
Opening – Bombing Mission

Mass Effect
Uncharted Worlds
The Presidium

Gods Bound by Rules
Hills of Radiant Winds

Persona 4
Heartbeat, Heartbreak
Reach Out to the Truth

Shin Megami Tensei IV
Above Ground Urban Area C

The Witcher
Peaceful Moments
An Ominous Place

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Silver for Monsters
You're... Immortal

The World Ends With You
Long Dream

Spider Dance

Xenoblade Chronicles
Satorl Marsh – Night
Colony 9

NeoGAF's Essential RPGs: Combat
Baldur's Gate II


Chrono Trigger

Dark Souls

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Divinity: Original Sin

Dragon's Dogma

Final Fantasy XII

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Mount and Blade: Warband

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

Tales of Graces f

Valkyria Chronicles

NeoGAF's Essential RPGs: Writing:
Chrono Trigger
Writer: Masato Kato

Fallout: New Vegas
Writers: John Gonzalez, Chris Avellone, Eric Fenstermaker, Travis Stout

Final Fantasy VI
Writers: Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Tetsuya Nomura, Kaori Tanaka

Mother 3
Writer: Shigesato Itoi

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Writers: Hironobu Suzuki, Misao Fukuda

Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Writers: Tadashi Satomi, Kazuyuki Yamai (PSP version)

Persona 3
Writer: Yuichiro Tanaka

Persona 4
Writers: Azusa Kido, Yuichiro Tanaka, Akira Kawasaki

Planescape: Torment
Writers: Chris Avellone, Colin McComb

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Writer: Drew Karpyshyn

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC
Writers: Hisayoshi Takeiri, Yoshihiro Konda, Shuji Nishitani, Homare Karusawa

The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
Writers: Marcin Blacha, Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz

Writer: Toby Fox

Previous iterations:

Original Creator/Format/Banner Creation: kswiston
Soundtrack suggestions: RespectThySole, Lothar, Dad, SatelliteOfLove
I'm still playing Xenoblade Chronicles X and TitS SC plus Cold Steel drops next week, but I have a basic list in my head already.

Crud, first thing I missed was no reserving posts. Oh well, I do know that I'm going to have fun doing more than 10 games on my list this year, and picking stuff like best combat and soundtrack will add some excitement to the mix.
I like your tweaks to last year's rules, especially the way you are handling 3 point games. Even if I'm not really a soundtrack person myself, I know a lot of people value that feature in their RPGs, and it will make for some interesting meta-lists.

I'd personally suggest changing best story to best writing to avoid a lot of semantic arguments on what constitutes "story". Up to you though.

I will try to post my picks in a later post after X-mas. 30 games almost seems harder to narrow down than just 10. So much freedom! :p
5. Similarly, expansion packs and DLC campaigns are considered part of their original games. If you want to specify that you're voting for the expansion pack content, that's fine, but the votes will all count as one game. This also means that you can't vote for a game and its expansion pack using separate spots on your ballot.
B-b-but I don't want my vote for MoTB going to NWN 2...
I like your tweaks to last year's rules, especially the way you are handling 3 point games. Even if I'm not really a soundtrack person myself, I know a lot of people value that feature in their RPGs, and it will make for some interesting meta-lists.

I'd personally suggest changing best story to best writing to avoid a lot of semantic arguments on what constitutes "story". Up to you though.

I will try to post my picks in a later post after X-mas. 30 games almost seems harder to narrow down than just 10. So much freedom! :p
Yeah, I actually had some back and forth about how to word that category, and went through a few different ideas in my mind. I thought story worked as sort of a catch all term, but writing would also be good. I'd be open to feedback from others on which term they would prefer.
Holy cow, 30 fucking games per user? I simultaneously think that is insane and am going to take complete advantage of that many options.

Thanks for running this year, Kuwabara! I think this rendition will be really interesting. I like the format changes and the new highlight rules.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles X : After years of waiting, the ambitious title from MonolithSoft finally comes out and it simply blows my mind. Not by hype but mostly by how seamless and easy to pick up the game is. I've expected a blend of FF12 and Phantasy Star and it's almost exactly this and more. Anything from the artistic imagery, futur proof soundtrack, deep and monstruous content and WiiU exclusive features make this long awaited title an essential game, absolute must own. This game is the culmination of perfected mechanism from our favorite past JRPG on a very unic console. It pretty much is magic to my heart each time I play it.

I may edit once I have free time, I must go back to work, so more title to come next.
I consider myself a pretty decent RPG fan but I haven't really played a lot of the real classics, and the ones I have I have beaten just a sliver.

1. Chrono Trigger (Best Soundtrack) - An all around classic that will probably be on most people's lists and I think it has won every single year, well deserved.
2. Dark Souls (Best Combat) - A modern day classic with superb art design, encounter design, build variety and a unique take on storytelling and gameplay mechanics.
3. Diablo II - One of my favorite games that is still playable today. The feedback loop and build variety are amazing.
4. Final Fantasy VII - A boring answer but the game is so revolutionary and amazing in scope and spectacle that I think it is still worth visiting with the PS4 port before the Remake.
5. Fallout: New Vegas (Best Writing) - For old school RPG fans, Fallout 3 was a dissatisfying follow up to Fallout 2, one of the most respected RPGs of its era. New Vegas is the real successor here - an evolution of Fallout 2 AND 3 in ways not even Fallout 4 could manage. The writing, quests, characters are all some of the best in any RPG I have played and it is in stiff competition with games like Dark Souls and Super Mario Galaxy as last generation's best title.
6. Earthbound - The quintessential quirky RPG with a lot of heart. Many games have tried to replicate its odd style over the years and Undertale actually comes pretty close, but even though Undertale is my GOTY I would still probably give the leg up to Earthbound right now.
7. Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne - I actually prefer Strange Journey over Nocturne but I would still probably recommend Nocturne over SJ due to Nocturne being more akin to the PS2 era RPGs like Final Fantasy X and SJ being more old school like Wizardry. Nocturne is still a great game though and a good entry into the SMT franchise.
8. Fire Emblem 7: Blazing Sword - The first FE to be localized in the West as simply "Fire Emblem" and a real great jumping off point. Although it isn't as streamlined as Awakening with Awakening's casual mode and easier conversations, FE7 was a very smart first game to localize.
9. Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey - If I was to recommend a hardcore dungeon crawler, this would probably be it. Not as hardcore as the Wizardry series but still difficult even by SMT standards, SJ offers a unique setting and the series' trademark demons and fusion systems.
10. Demon's Souls - I only played Demon's Souls this year actually, after playing through the other three games and I still found it enjoyable. I feel like many could appreciate the tighter levels being categorized by the archstones, but I also feel that the game suffers from an obtuse crafting/smithing system with hilariously low drop rates that makes even Dark Souls look easy.
11. Fallout 2
12. Mother 3
13. Super Mario Brothers SuperStar Saga
14. Fire Emblem Path of Radiance
15. Undertale - The newest game on this list. I'm not really comfortable putting it any higher, but next year we will see if I still feel the same way about it. In any case, of all the RPGs this year I think I would probably recommend this one the most.
16. The Elder Scrolls III - Morrowind
17. The Witcher III Wild Hunt
18. Dragon's Dogma
19. Shin Megami Tensei IV
20. Final Fantasy Tactics


1. World of WarCraft - It's silly but I have trouble placing an MMORPG next to other RPGs for dumb reasons so this goes here.
2. Xenoblade Chronicles - Hey I played this game for like an hour but I feel like I should give it some rep because if I wasn't a lazy ass I would probably like this game a lot
3. RuneScape - Don't laugh because RuneScape actually had the best quest design I had ever seen, even compared to New Vegas or Witcher 3 but for the same reasons as WoW I'm putting it here.
4. Bloodborne - Because I don't think its as much of an RPG as the Souls games, but still worth playing.
5. Final Fantasy X - Because I used to really love this game and it still gives me nostalgia tingles even though I don't think it's super great anymore
6. Baldur's Gate II - I didn't play enough of this to feel like actually voting for it but I'm sure others will make it up for me.
7. Planescape Torment - Same as BGII
8. Pokemon - I don't know which Gen to vote for. Oops.
9. Persona 3 FES - I actually don't know where to put this. I'm more into SMT then Persona but I do like the Persona games...I just think as an RPG they are kind of bad.
10. Persona 4 Golden - Same as P3FES
Good work on the shake-up!

I don't know about me participating in the "Best" lists as each of those 4-5 games has at least one crippling flaw that eliminates them from getting extra nods. Now if I had 3 for my top 3 that would be different, but...

I'll cook up some banners for these extra 9 games and have my post soon.

5. What is not welcome at all are responses like “All JRPGs, why am I not surprised”, “All WRPGs, why am I not surprised”, “Game Y on your list, are you serious?” or “Man, you have terrible taste”. Anyone posting comments like these will have their ballots revoked.
Unfortunately, most of these yokels don't vote anyways.


I can't *believe* these lazy developers keep making file sizes so damn large. Btw, how does technology work?
Can't wait to participate - there's been a lot of great RPG action this year, and I've replayed a few of my old favorites, which has moved some stuff around in my head.
I'll probably just stick with picking 5 or 6 games, 20 entries and 10 honorable mentions is just ridiculous. I probably can't even name 30 that I've played off the top of my head.

That, and I have a lot more that I need to play.
1. All members who vote may select up to 20 titles to vote for on their main ballot. These titles will each receive 2 points each
So all games will receive 2 points if they aren't highlighted whether they are number 1 or number 20? Won't that kind of mess with the ranking? What if say one game appear on a list 80 times while the other appears 85 times, however the former is almost always in the top 5 with the lists it appear in while the latter is almost always in the bottom 5, yet the latter ranks higher than the other game?
World of Xeen is it's own thing with unique content though...
Well if someone wants to vote solely for the additional content from World of Xeen, and not for anything from Might and Magic IV/V, I guess that's okay. I just don't want people voting for collections with multiple games to get around the size limit.

So all games will receive 2 points if they aren't highlighted whether they are number 1 or number 20? Won't that kind of mess with the ranking? What if say one game appear on a list 80 times while the other appears 85 times, however the former is almost always in the top 5 with the lists it appear in while the latter is almost always in the bottom 5, yet the latter ranks higher than the other game?
This is how things have always been done on these lists, and while I've made some changes, I actually do think the idea behind it is pretty solid.

The goal is more to create a list of the games that the most people think are essential. I don't think there's a massive difference between someone considering an RPG second on their list versus fourteenth.

Essentially, if the latter title is getting more mentions on the main list than the former (and neither have been highlighted to a varying degree), then that would mean that more people consider the latter game essential, even if the fanbase for the former game is more passionate.
This is how things have always been done on these lists, and while I've made some changes, I actually do think the idea behind it is pretty solid.

The goal is more to create a list of the games that the most people think are essential. I don't think there's a massive difference between someone considering an RPG second on their list versus fourteenth.

Essentially, if the latter title is getting more mentions on the main list than the former (and neither have been highlighted to a varying degree), then that would mean that more people consider the latter game essential, even if the fanbase for the former game is more passionate.
I can see it that way.
1) Baldur's Gate 2 - In my opinion, Baldur's Gate 2 is the best videogame ever made. It had it all: an epic story, memorable characters, a huge world with adventure and mystery around every corner. They simply don't make them like they used to.

2) Mass Effect - Easily the strongest game in the series from a narrative perspective. Bioware knocked it out of the park with the world building in Mass Effect. Although the shooting mechanics were clunky compared to its successors, I still feel that the original Mass Effect had the strongest RPG elements.

3) Dragon Age: Origins - Great characters, fantastic world building, and a decent story. DA:O seems like a throwback to the classic old DnD computer RPGs that made Bioware famous in the old days. Gameplay mechanics were streamlined and modernized, but there was still enough leeway in character building to create the character you wanted.

4) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Best Story) - Perhaps the best Star Wars game ever made, KOTOR did a great job of making the player feel like they were actually in a Star Wars story. While the sequel offered a more nuanced and thoughtful story, the original tells an excellent classic tale of good vs. evil, along with the most famous story twist in gaming.

5) Final Fantasy 7 - FF7 did a lot of interesting things for it's time. The combination of 3D graphics and beautiful pre-rendered 2D backgrounds and CGI cutscenes were stunning for its time. The game was also interesting from it's narrative perspective, and did things that were unexpected in gaming such as using an unreliable narrator and killing one of the main characters off permanently about a third of the way through the game. While a bit dated today, FF7 was a stunning achievement when it came out.

6) Persona 3 - Part dungeon crawler, part Pokemon-style monster collecting, and part dating-sim. Persona 3 manages to blend completely disparate elements into an entertaining game with a surprisingly well told and touching story.

7) Deus Ex - Deus Ex was designed to reward exploration and actual thinking. Stellar level design lets the player approach problems in a variety of ways. The attention to detail in every aspect of the game is astounding.

8) The Witcher 2 - TW2 was a huge step forward from the original Witcher game. The story is far more mature (no more sex trading cards), and has meaningful decisions that actually significantly affect the story and gameplay.

9) Dragon's Dogma (Best Combat) - One of the most underrated games of the PS3/X360 generation. Fantastic combat system that led to epic encounters with giant beasts and creatures. Dragon's Dogma also had an interesting and creative story, albeit one that wasn't spoonfed to the player. The pawn system which lets you share your created henchmen with other players online was also brilliant. Unfortunately, the PS3/X360 really lacked the horsepower to do this game justice, and Capcom sadly chose not to do a PC version.

10) Dark Souls - Excellent level design and combat. The sense of accomplishment from defeating a challenging boss or difficult segment in Dark Souls is almost unrivaled in gaming. The innovative multiplayer from Demon's Souls returns, although summoning other players do tend to make the challenging boss fights a little too easy.

11) Pokemon Red/Blue/Green +remakes - The original monster collecting game. Amazingly immersive for such a low fidelity game. The original game still has my favorite cast of Pokemon, although nostalgia may be playing a big part here.

12) Final Fantasy 6 - The last and greatest 2D Final Fantasy from Square. FF6 had a diverse and likeable cast and a great story that blends lighthearted and serious moments together well. While the blueprint used in this game is definitely visible in later Final Fantasies, FF6 feels like it's crafted with just a bit more skill and maturity compared to later games in the series.

13) Diablo 2 - The most addicting dungeon crawler ever made. Tons of interesting loot, fun combat system, and memorable settings and villains.

14) Valkyrie Profile - VP's innovative combat system which rewards timing and teamwork is loads of fun. The story is engrossing and interesting, although I personally really dislike multiple endings where the "real" ending is nearly impossible to achieve unless you know what to do ahead of time with a game guide.

15) Fire Emblem: Awakening - Fire Emblem enters into the dating sim genre with Awakening. The dating sim elements are a bit disturbing

16) Divinity: Original Sin - The biggest surprise of 2014, Divinity: OS made me fall in love with isometric RPGs all over again. D:OS has some of the best turn-based combat in any RPG. Combining spell and environmental effects made battles challenging and interesting. The relatively forgettable story and characters unfortunately keeps this game out of my top 10.

17) Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines - Now a cult classic, VtM:B is an incredibly atmospheric role playing experience. The world is such an interesting setting for an RPG, and it's a shame we don't have more games like it.

18) Final Fantasy 9 - After the somewhat angsty FF7 and way too angsty FF8, FF9 was a breathe of fresh air into the Final Fantasy series. FF9 has fantastic music by Uematsu, a likeable main cast, and a relative light-hearted and well-told story.

19) Neverwinter Nights - DnD makes the jump to 3D, and it's mostly successful! While the main campaign was a bit lackluster, the expansion campaigns and the incredible modding community made NWN one of the greats.

20) X-Com: Enemy Unknown + Enemy Within expansion - The main draw here are the exciting turn-based battles (with permadeath!). Your soldiers, who all start off as useless grunts, grow on you through their prowess and feats in battle. Losing a longtime veteran in battle can be heartbreaking (unless you savescum).

Honorable Mentions

21) The Witcher 3

22) Shadowrun: Dragonfall

23) Resonance of Fate

24) Fallout 3

25) Fallout 4

26) Mass Effect 2

27) Valkyria Chronicles

28) Final Fantasy XII

29) Skyrim

30) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II
I have a question, I'm not sure where it fits in the context of expansions vs collections and all that; does each scenario of Shining Force III count as 1 game each, or can we count all 3 scenarios as a single voting entry?
Can multiple games that tie together or "connect" share a single spot? Like YS I & II and Wizardry VI-VIII.

edit: Looks like it was answered already. Cool.
Can multiple games that tie together or "connect" share a single spot? Like YS I & II and Wizardry VI-VIII.
They should be listed separately. If certain linked games don't make the Top 100 on their own, such as those, Might and Magic IV/V, Digital Devil Saga 1/2, etc, I'll probably combine their totals for their final placing.
So all games will receive 2 points if they aren't highlighted whether they are number 1 or number 20? Won't that kind of mess with the ranking? What if say one game appear on a list 80 times while the other appears 85 times, however the former is almost always in the top 5 with the lists it appear in while the latter is almost always in the bottom 5, yet the latter ranks higher than the other game?
Yeah, I think that's a bad way to do lists. The top 5 could be games that are no one's most favorite. A game everyone agrees is #20 would come out as #1. The highest ranked games will just be the ones that sold the most and most have played.
Final Fantasy VII - I think this is still "quite possibly the greatest game ever made." It's a masterwork in pacing, constantly putting you in different scenarios outside of the RPG monotony of talking to NPCs and fighting monsters. Kitase's use of the camera to present different scenes was excellent and the seamless transitions between cut scenes and game play gave rise to the cinematic set piece. In many ways, FFVII was the first AAA blockbuster. For a genre steeped in repetition, every environment was unique and the dynamic combat camera made for fast, thrilling encounters. This game oozes with more creativity than anything else I've ever played, from the amalgamation setting to the now-iconic character designs; the social commentary and subversion of RPG hero tropes; the ambiguous relationships and open plot points left for interpretation; and hands down, Nobuo Uematsu's Best Soundtrack, which I want to award FFVII for as well.

Dragon Quest V - in many ways the anti-FFVII, DQ instead tops my list for its master implementation of RPG game design. The dungeons and puzzles are some of the tightest I've ever played, as is the overall balance of the numbers behind the scenes. The metagame is how fast can you complete it - how many dungeons can you finish on your first try by smartly using your MP without going back to town? While every RPG deals with this, none pull it off as brilliantly as Dragon Quest, and DQV is the crown jewel of the series. This isn't to say it lacks spectacle - being born and stepping out onto the ship was an eye opening experience for me and so many of the story sequences left me surprised at just how moving they were, especially the transitions. Despite the series' stigma, I believe the Dragon Quest games are full of innovation and DQV has it with its pre-Pokemon monster collecting, as well as its narrative structure chronicling a man's life from birth, childhood, adolescence and parenthood. For this reason in particular, I'm awarding it Best Story.

The rest of my list:

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together - Best Combat
Shining Force II
Sword of Vermillion
Chrono Trigger
Pokémon Gold & Silver
Parasite Eve
Dragon Quest VIII
Final Fantasy XII
Valkyria Chronicles
Demon's Souls
Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Diablo II
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
World of Warcraft
The Witcher 2
Child of Light

I didn't use my 20th and I just want to encourage others to not feel like you have to fill up a list with the games you've played. There's lots of titles on last year's that, even putting my subjectivity aside, I truly feel have no place on this list.
In no particular order other than the order in which I think of them:

1. Fallout: New Vegas: One of the best RPGs i've had the pleasure of playing, it combines story, world, and player choice in a way that few games manage. Even the best RPGs struggle when it comes to making the choices you make feel like your own, but New Vegas is the closest we've come.

2. Earthbound: One of the quirkiest RPGs i've ever played, it was so brazenly bizarre, but had moments of such great impact, it was and still is truly like nothing else.

3. Deus Ex: The Quintessential FPSRPG, it boasted a well realized world, interesting characters and factions, and oh so many ways you could go about doing things.

4. System Shock 2: I still go back and play this game to this day, its mix of roleplaying and shooting are still quite fun. SHODAN remains one of my favorite villians and the twist is still fantastic, even all these years later.

5. Persona 4 Golden: The peak of the persona formula, Golden takes a everything that makes the series great, builds on those foundations, and then adds hours of new content that wasn't present in the original release. It's got a pretty great story to tell as well with some fantastic characters.

6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Best Combat): This game came very close to surpassing the first Deus Ex for me, if it weren't for those damned boss fights. I haven't played the Directors Cut yet, but I hear it erases that one negative. The game just oozes atmosphere and utilizes it's cyberpunk setting, story, and locations better than most other games out there.

7. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Best Story): My 2015 game of the year, few games have nailed an open world approach like The Wild Hunt has, it's got a wonderful sense of place, "kill x number of y creature" style quests are at a minimum, and the world feels alive and reactive to your choices. This game just has just a huge amount of lovingly crafted content, it's crazy.

8. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door: Easily one of my favorite Gamecube games, full of charm and humor. I wish there were another traditional entry in the series, sticker star was good, but was missing something.

9. Xenoblade Chronicles: This game singlehandedly renewed my flagging interest in JRPGs, which coming from the guy who made Xenogears, shouldn't have come as too huge a surprise.

10. South Park: The Stick of Truth: If you had told me years ago that a South Park RPG would end up as one of my favorite games of the last generation, I would have thought you were crazy. This game though, it's like playing the show, everything that comes with that mixed with smart combat design make this one of the best Obisidan games.

11. Chrono Trigger: I've never actually played through the entire game by myself (I have come close though), but I have fond memories of watching a childhood friend play through the entire thing. It's a pretty unforgettable experience.

12. Knights of The Old Republic: Getting to choose to go light or dark side and the abilities that come with it was great fun. The game had a great sense of the lore as well and made me into a bigger Star Wars fan than I probably would have been.

13. Fallout 2: My introduction to the series that is among my favorite in all of gaming. Just for that, it holds a special place, add that to the great story, unique characters, and a hugely satisfying roleplaying experience (Also, no time limit like in 1), it's a classic.

14. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of The White Witch (Best Soundtrack): This game is like playing a Studio Ghibli movie, which is what they were going for, it's got all of the heart and emotional depth, and the gameplay systems to back it up. I'm really excited for the sequel.

15. Final Fantasy IX: One of the few Final Fantasy games i've actually beaten, I really enjoyed the ride. Some of the finer details are fuzzy, since it's been so long since i've last played it, but its greatness stands out.

16. Knights of The Old Republic 2: This game had the potential to be even better than the first, the shades of grey choices were a big factor, but thanks to entire areas getting cut, the game's full vision wasn't realized at launch. Mods have helped this game reach the heights it should have though and with those, it surpasses the first game.

17. Vampire The Masquarade: Bloodlines: Another game who's potential was reached thanks to mods, the built the game to what it was meant to be and thanks to that, it's a wonderful game.

18. The Witcher 2: My first experience with Geralt of Rivia. I loved the story and the locations in the game. The politics and character motivations kept me interested and invested in how things played out.

19. Mass Effect 2: Despite being the most streamlined game in the franchise, Mass Effect 2 stands out thanks to it fantastic missions and locations, and its wonderful story.

20. Wasteland: If it's weren't for Wasteland, Fallout wouldn't be a thing, this game started it all. It's aged pretty poorly, I would recommend playing Wasteland 2 instead, but for what it is and the time it came out, it's a masterpiece.

Honorable Mention:

I only have one

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl: I don't feel comfortable putting it on the main list, because it isn't really an RPG, but I feel it's close enough to warrant a mention. The world, mission structure, and gameplay are still better than most games today.
1. Final Fantasy vii - the game that changed my life. I was but a wee lad living 20 minutes east of Cleveland. Getting picked on for not being white enough by the white kids and not being brown enough for the Spanish kids, my nickname became the minority. I was able to relate to the dark world present in ffvii...Anyway ffvii is a great game with great characters an all time classic story and I love that turn based fighting system

Save for later
Solid list. Seeing that you like character- and story-driven RPGs I need to ask...where is Alpha Protocol?
Never played it unfortunately, i've had about half a dozen people recommend the game to me, and it certainly sounds like something i'd enjoy, as i'm more than willing to forgive mediocre gameplay if everything else is great. Some day I plan to get around to playing it.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles X- Story is worse than the original, but a lot has been improved. Side missions are really fantastic, world is amazing, and world building is top notch
2. Xenoblade Chronicles (best soundtrack)- A massive and beautiful world, and a great story. Overall a different experience to the spiritual sequel, and still very much worth playing. Soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, with many great tracks like Unfinished battle and You will know our names
3. Trails in the Sky- A fantastic and engrossing story and decent gameplay. Really great side quests too. Over SC because playing SC without the first one would be a huge mistake
4. Trails in the Sky SC(Best story)- Honestly everything great about the first chapter still applies, and it's probably the better game overall, but ranks lower since you really do need to play the original first
5. Final Fantasy VI- A fantastic game, with a great world and story. One of the classics for a reason
6. Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (best combat)-Pokemon is amazing, and as the newest game I will continue to assert it's best to play the most recent one, so ORAS gets my vote. Pokemon competitively is an amazing experience with an incredible amount of depth and strategy, which is why I'm giving it best combat
7. Persona 4- Fantastic story and battles, but the dungeons were repetitive and bad. Still a great game with compelling characters
8. Radiant Historia- A fantastic RPG that harkens back to the days of SNES rpgs. Locke is a really refreshing protagonist as well
9.Fire Emblem Awakening-Some old time fans will hate me for this, but I think Awakening is currently the most accessible and best introduction to the series for newcomers. This spot would likely go to fates if it was out in the west and I had a chance to play it though
10. Etrian Odyssey IV- While the untold games are also good, etrian odyssey IV is still the best entry in the series. Enjoy fantastic dungeon crawling, amazing character building, and great turn based combat.
11. Persona 3- Really great, but outclassed by 4 in most aspects. Does do some stuff better, such as better party members for the most part IMO
12. Final Fantasy IX-Second best in the legendary series, and a great game. Story is a lot of fun, and I still like the battle systems. A return to what made FF fun after VIII
13. Tales of Symphonia- Still probably my favorite in the series. A fun action combat system
14. Fire Emblem Path of Radiance- ANother favorite in the fire emblem series, great strategy and characters and one of the better stories for the franchise
15. Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn- A great sequel to a great game. Did some stuff better than Path of Radiance, but also cut good support conversations and the balance was definitely not good enough IMO with many of the first characters you get being utter shit
16. Shin Megami Tensei IV- A great game with a great world that made you think and piece things together yourself. Combat was fun imo, but nothing to special.
17. Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor- A great spin off to a great franchise. Mixing strategy gameplay with traditional SMT combat makes for really interesting encounters, and story is pretty solid with a bunch of cool multiple endings
18. Paper Mario The thousand year door- A great sense of humor and a fun combat system. Paper Mario is well loved and with good reason.
19. Bravely Default- For all the problems it's second half causes, the battle system and job system were still a hell a lot of fun, and finding ways to break the game was amazing. Art is charming as well
20. Final Fantasy V- Best job system in the series, even if the story is weak. Still super replayable
1. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii) (best soundtrack) - there is nothing I enjoy more in an RPG than a fully-fleshed out overworld where you are rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny with a unique item, enemy, or even side story. Xenoblade Chronicles rewards you with experience just for making discoveries, and couples this with often breathtaking graphics and the most exhilarating soundtrack I've ever heard, especially Guar Plains. This will get a replay from me sometime in 2016 after I finish XCX. Speaking of which...

2. Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U) - I haven't finished it yet, but I'm now 50 hours in and only between the 5th and 6th story episodes. The side missions are much better organized than in the original XC, the overworld in HD is the kind I've always wanted to explore, and there are systems upon systems upon systems to sink your teeth into. Since we've got a month to decide, I may end up swapping these top two, but I wanted to get the narrative out there now.

3. Phantasy Star IV (Genesis) - I guess my 2nd favorite JRPG series of all time now that it's been displaced by Xenoblade, part IV is the strongest. Love love love macros and vehicle combat!

4. Final Fantasy IV (SNES) - I do wish Square Enix would remake some others besides IV, but I've always loved characters like Kain, Rydia, Palom and Porom. Not a huge fan of the angsty direction the series took later.

5. Dragon Quest VIII (PlayStation 2) - The English voice cast was exceptional and the overworld was my favorite until Xenoblade Chronicles came along.

6. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Gamecube)

7. Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD)

8. Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast)

9. Phantasy Star II (Genesis)

10. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox) (best story)

11. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP)

12. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean (Gamecube) (best combat)

13. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA)

14. Final Fantasy IX (PlayStation)

15. Fallout 3 (PlayStation 3)

16. Bravely Default (3DS)

17. Phantasy Star (Master System)

18. Mass Effect 2 (PlayStation 3)

19. Persona 3 (PSP)

20. Dark Cloud 2 (PlayStation 2)