20. Fallout (Bethesda)
Fallout 3’s take on classic Americana is more accomplished than any BioShock game. It’s a paranoid world of soda pop and radiation, where VATS laser guns and Abe Lincoln’s repeating rifle take down mutants, robots and scavengers all grasping for survival. Will you do the right thing for the people and irrigate the country, or just become a have in a worlds of have-nots? The Obsidian follow-up, New Vegas, took things a step further, dropping the player in the middle of Sin City itself, destined to roam about the Mojave Desert to seek revenge and recover his stolen package. That’s one damn dedicated courier. While the game is similar to Fallout 3, it contained many elements found in Fallout 2, providing more tongue-in-cheek fun and nostalgia to fans of the originals.
19. Breath of Fire
There hasn’t been a core Breath of Fire release since 2002 and the next one is coming out on mobile – lord love a duck – but we still keep the faith. Capcom’s Dragon Quest rival has a peculiar charm of its own, playing fast and loose with its own canon to weave a constantly reinvented set of narratives around Ryu and Nina. The whole series is worth a look but Breath of Fire 3, the first PSOne release, is among the best, story-wise.
Earthbound, or Mother 2, eschews sci-fi and fantasy for a more prosaic setting: your local neighbourhood. Shigesato Itoi intended the series as a ‘playground … full of insignificant things’, and you can feel your childhood leaking out of it like heat off the sidewalk on a summer afternoon. I don’t know how to tell you how special it is, and how much it makes of the smallest things. There are sequences in there that changed lives, man.
17. Knights of the Old Republic
Impossible to pick between the two Knights of the Old Republic games. BioWare’s original was a breakthrough, inspiring dozens of games to follow by bringing RPGs into the modern era – a trend it continued with Mass Effect. Obisidan’s bug-filled and incomplete sequel manages not to suffer in comparison despite its rushed release, and with its missing content restored by fans, easily rivals its progenitor. Both are still the best Sith simulators out there. What? Oh, come on – nobody plays a Jedi, do they?
No, look, I know; there are a lot of reasons to prefer the original Knights of the Old Republic to its sequel. BioWare made the first one, so it’s more “pure”. Obsidian ran out of time and money and released the game without its ending. It launched with more bugs than a marathon of Starship Troopers. But! Like many of Obsidian’s (frequently broken) sequels, it contains the best writing and best-loved characters in the series. Do yourself a favour and get the fan patch restoring the missing ending, easing an ache you’ve nursed for ten years.
16. Dragon Age: Origins
Another top-notch entry in the RPG genre from BioWare, the 2009 spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate – per Dr. Ray Muzyka himself – incorporated various gameplay mechanics from prior releases from the Edmonton studio. Like Baldur’s Gate before it, combat took place in real time, but allowed players to pause the game to queue up actions. Between the specializations, moral choices, gift giving and relationships, the game’s party system derived from that of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, was just icing on the cake. It was a rather large game as well, and if you add in all nine DLC releases plus the Awakening expansion, players were provided with hundreds of hours of pure RPG.
15. Deus Ex
The original and still the best, Deus Ex moved to combine the cinematic, often action-oriented gameplay of first-person immersive sims with the statistical tom-foolery of an RPG. Like many of its loosely-connected peers, Deus Ex is famous for its sandbox-like emergent gameplay; make an unexpected action, and the game adapts – often in surprising ways. This near unparalleled freedom of choice is sort of what role-playing is all about, isn’t? Wrapping it up in a cyberthriller plot certainly helped. The sequel was slightly less delightful, but years down the track Human Revolution, despite some (thankfully patched and rebalanced) flaws, is a gem in itself.
14. Chrono Trigger
Unlike stable mate Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger has never gone out of fashion. There was nothing generic about this time-travelling RPG, which broke out of the western-influenced high fantasy style dominant in the genre at the time and loaded your party with such party members as a mechanical genius, a robot, a frog and the ga- well, spoilers. Developed by a JRPG dream team and one of the most satisfyingly complex stories of the 16-bit era.
The Persona series is a spin off of the Shin Megami Tensei series but Atlus’s decision to blend a visual novel-style life sim with the famous RPG chops of the core dungeon crawling series paid off big time. The characters and storytelling are equally compelling; you’ll never find a better group of troubled teens to shoot in the head and climb into a TV with.
A crowning achievement in the Elder Scrolls series, 2002’s Morrowind was the first entry in the Bethesda franchise released for console, and while riddled with plenty of rage inducing glitches and virtually unplayable in third-person perspective, it was not only one of the largest RPGs for its time but was superior in its graphics. Designed by Todd Howard and Ken Rolston, alongside its highly robust character customization options, the long rendering distances coupled with highly detailed character models and landscape texturing, it had the best pixel-shaded water graphics for its time. On top of being absolutely gorgeous, it was fun, contained challenging gameplay, and so much room to roam it took hundreds of hours to see the entire game.
11. Planescape: Torment
If you are used to modern RPGs with action combat and handholding, this is going to come as a shock. Planescape: Torment is considered one of the best examples of writing gaming has ever produced, but it’s also D&D in its most rewarding form – challenging, unforgiving and willing to entertain the idea that you do more than follow orders. A remarkable example of the craft, it matches subject matter to gameplay in a way few games have or will ever live up to. Dark, funny and flipping enormous, it remains in the memory long after you finally say goodbye to the Nameless One.