When I found out that this is considered JRPGJuly, I knew that I had to do this Top 8 post, though I’m just considering RPGs as a whole, not the subset of JRPGs. The definition of an RPG varies from person to person. In the very broadest sense, Super Mario Brothers could be considered an RPG (you are playing a role, come on). For my purposes here, I’m arbitrarily defining an RPG as a game that includes both a leveling system and a magic system. For further reading on defining the RPG, I highly recommend this stellar piece by Ace Blogger and My Little Pony enthusiast, Jed Pressgrove.
8. Zelda II: Adventure of Link (NES)
Zelda 2 is usually derided for being too different and for having a high level of difficulty. The criticisms are fair as this game is quite different from the original and can be very unforgiving. The overhead navigation is still present, but cave/town/temple exploration and all combat takes place on a 2-D plane. Unlike many people, I’ve always enjoyed the change-up from the first game and learned to deal with the difficulty curve years ago. What I like most about this game though, is that it has always felt like a true adventure to me. Hyrule is quite large in this game and contains multiple towns to visit and temples to conquer. There are also numerous caves containing story related items and health/magic increases to be found. As this Zelda title introduced experience, limited leveling abilities, and surprisingly useful magic spells, I feel that it is fair to include it here, given my parameters. I also maintain to this day that this game is underrated and is superior to the original Legend of Zelda.
7. Ys: Ark of Napishtim (PS2)
The Ys series has always fascinated me, so I took a chance on this title and was rewarded with a deep and satisfying game experience. Ark of Napishtim features a vast land for your to explore, even if said exploration is a bit linear in where you can travel at any given time. Ark is also an action RPG, in which you attack enemies directly with your sword, a mechanic made more interesting with the inclusion of elementally charged swords that you’ll find yourself swapping out frequently to take advantage of an enemies weakness. This is very important as Ark is a very difficult game. Enemies and bosses pull no punches and if you do try to wander into a new area that you should not yet be in, you’ll find yourself being decimated by enemies that you can’t hope to combat yet. Still though, the difficulty curve never feels unfair. No boss feels impossible, it’s simply a matter of learning their attack patterns and recognizing telegraphed moves so you can dodge them before launching your own attacks. If you, like me, are a fan of the action RPG genre, I strongly suggest you pick up this title, as well as one of it’s sequels (Oath in Felghana is very similar in style to Ark).
6. Pokemon Platinum (NDS)
This was a close call, but I believe that Platinum is just a bit more well designed than the Black/White games. That said, it is another Pokemon game. I’m not sure how the same premise can still feel fresh, entry after entry, but Platinum (as well as the entries I’ve played since this title launched) pulls it off. There are a ton of Pokemon to catch, allowing you numerous choices in shaping your team, and the game region is a blast to explore. It’s a very well made Pokemon game that continues to deliver for the series. I have to say that I find it amazing that a series that truly lives on a very simple and repeatable premise still thrives as this one does. It is a testament to the designers that these titles still sell the way they do.
5. Fable 2 (Xbox 360)
No game could possibly live up to the hype that Molyneux created for the Fable games but, if you can look past that hype, Fable 2 is truly a great game. While the moral choices are fairly black and white, the story and gameplay are extremely well done and well implemented, allowing you to play through the game in a way that you are most comfortable with. The ability to purchase houses and buildings returns from the original Fable, as does the ability to take multiple wives and set them up in different villages. I may or may not have lived vicariously through my character in this regard… Few games have caused me to linger around in the game world, doing odd jobs and tasks, just to avoid finishing the game and being done with the experience. This is one of the games that did so, which may be the best compliment I can pay this title.
4. Secret of Evermore (Super NES)
My recent playthrough of this title only served to confirm to me that my love of it has nothing to do with nostalgia. It is just a damn good game. It is an action RPG in the vein of an overhead Zelda title, only with a leveling and magic system. Speaking of the magic system, I’ve always felt it was very creative. Each spell requires two ingredients which you either buy or find in your travels (your dog can sniff them out). It was an interesting twist on the MP system we normally see in such games. As for the gameplay/story, you control a young boy warped to the land of Evermore, where you’ll travel through the land searching for a way to get you and your dog home. Oddly enough, I prefer this game to Secret of Mana, a game that I consider this a spiritual sibling to, as they share very similar gameplay. I find that it is a tighter experience with a better story and improved gameplay.
3. NIER (Xbox 360)
If you’ve been following this blog or my Twitter account, you already know of my love for this quirky title. While NIER may not excel at everything it attempts to do, its parts come together brilliantly. No other game I’ve played uses the variety of play styles that NIER does, ranging from straight forward combat to sequences that are reminiscent of bullet hell games to a full-on text adventure. Accompanying the gameplay is a story that grabs your heartstrings and refuses to let go, long after you’ve finished the game and seen all four of the available endings. No mention of this game would be complete without referencing a soundtrack that is easily among the best ever included in a video game (and my personal favorite). Rarely will I praise and recommend a game this heavily, but NIER is a game that needs to be played to be fully appreciated. What it has can’t be adequately appreciated by reading a review or watching a few YouTube videos.
2. Final Fantasy VI (Super NES)
This was the first Final Fantasy I ever played, but I don’t think that is what makes me adore it so much. This game still stands up today against newer RPG’s and holds its own easily. It is truly hard for me to find a negative. The story is as in-depth and involved as any game I’ve come across. The soundtrack is great, and includes the classic Final Fantasy victory theme. Also, for a game that features around 16 playable characters, they rotate in and out enough that being under-leveled is never an issue. Even on the occasions that you must grind a bit, there is a bonus to doing so on the Veldt where one character can leave with the enemies and come back having learned new special attacks from them. Finally, no mention of this game is complete without acknowledging that Kefka is one of (possibly number one here) the most devious and malevolent video game villains ever created. Oh, and he actually succeeds in his plans. That doesn’t happen often.
1. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
For many years, I never thought that an RPG could top Final Fantasy VI in quality. Then Xenoblade Chronicles finally made its way to American shores. There is no way I couldn’t put this game at the top of my list. Xenoblade Chronicles is simply an amazing game. Xenoblade is an epic RPG that will run you around 60 hours if you sprint through it. Reaching the level cap and doing virtually everything in the game will extend it to about 130 hours. Personally, I spent 176 hours playing this game, a total unmatched by any story driven game (by which I mean a game that has an ending and isn’t sports based) simply because I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want to finish it. Xenoblade tasks you with traveling over the Bionis, a dormant giant on which, along with the Mechonis, civilization lives, on a mission of vengeance. As you travel you will gather new party members that can be rotated in and out of your three person party (though all members will receive experience to avoid uneven leveling). Battles are not random as you can see your enemies and approach them to initiate a battle. Once a battle starts, your character will auto-attack while you freely move them about the battlefield, even running away to disengage if you wish. The auto-attacks are supported by special skills that you can select for the character you control (the other two are AI controlled). Along with what I found to be a unique battle system, the landscapes for this game are breathtaking and are some of the best, if not the best, you will see on the Wii. The aspect that completely pulled me into this game, and boosts it to this spot is the story. Once the actual story began (about four hours in), I was completely hooked and invested in these characters. The best way I can describe it is as a book that you read until 2:00 a.m. because you simply can’t bear to stop. I will go so far as to say this game has my favorite narrative of any game I’ve played. There are multiple twists to the story, some I expected and others that completely blindsided me. I do realize that I am a story-centric guy, but I can’t imagine anyone that takes the time to experience the story in this game coming away unimpressed. It is simply stellar.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.