First of all, since we're delving deep into the genre, let's add some context. What is an RPG?
RPG stands for Role-Playing Game and essentially it's a game where you take on the role of a character. Ideally, as D&D taught us, you are the character. With a dramatic background, personality, flaws, and strengths, your character breathes, thinks, and talks as you do, or as you wish you did if you were an Elf Ranger born in Wildwood Forest raised by fairies, unicorns, and a green dragon mommy. Since everything was done in pen and paper, it was practical to let imagination fly high.
When the genre ported to consoles, the literary creative freedom has been shackled by the technology. No matter how many choices and consequences a game gave you, eventually you will explore them all. Fast-forwarding RPG history, the genre became even more popular. In most games, you take the role of a character. No more character creation, your freedom is limited to how you want to kick your opponents’ asses, but not how the story will unfold. Just sit back and enjoy their journey.
And other games, like Action or FPS, started to put RPG elements as features. Suddenly your weapons started to have levels and you were able to choose skills that help you survive after a headshot or attack enemies without getting tired.
After all, what categorizes an RPG? For me, three elements:
- Narrative - RPGs have a great focus on narrative. They have a story and a world that evolves as you play. In some, your decisions shape this world and your relationships. It's crucial that You spot an evolution throughout the game, be it from your character, the supporting characters, or the world, but it has to flow and progress as if you were playing a novel.
- Exploration - sidequests, searching for items, facing different monsters, an RPG should not be bound to stages or too linear. You should be able to enter a house of strangers and steal their underwear and a potion or die ten times to a secret dungeon that is harder than the last boss. Those are elements of a great RPG and show that exploration can bring amazing rewards or dangerous encounters, but in the end, it's up to you to discover.
- Mechanics - character building and combat. Not all RPGs allow you to build a character, but many allow customization in the evolution of attributes and skills. Combat should give you different options of approach, such as attacking, using magic or items. Non-RPG games don't. They specify how you should proceed in the stages and if you don't follow the rule, you won't advance.
But, even though some games don't have all these elements, I still believe they are great RPG games. While some may seem like they have, but don't and shouldn't be categorized as an RPG game (looking at you, Zelda).
Without further ado, where's the list? This is a personal list, the position doesn't necessarily mean a game is better than the other and I haven't played every RPG there is in the world - yet.
100. Persona 2: Innocent Sin & Eternal Punishment
Persona 2 repeats the features of the first game, college students who invoke entities from their alter ego battling other entities, such as… Adolf Hitler. The game has two episodes, Innocent Sin & Eternal Punishment. The episodes have the same plot told in different ways - as an answer to each other. While the first focuses on the student Tatsuya Suou, the second has the reporter Maya Amano as its protagonist.
The highlight of the game is the "Rumor" feature, which also unfolds the story. When someone spreads a rumor, it becomes true. It's how the main antagonists were born and everything bad that happens. You can also use the rumor system to benefit yourself by creating new item stores or learning new skills.
99. Parasite Eve
At the time of its release and thanks to the power of creating incredible graphics, former SquareSoft created a horror RPG that caused nightmares in many players. Parasite Eve tells the story of Aya Brea, a young police officer who discovered truths about her past after an incident in a theater in New York.
Aya discovers she is the only one who can get near Eve, a human mitochondrion who takes over an opera singer, Melissa, and begins to cause havoc and destruction in New York just by approaching. Aya, being the only one immune, goes on a quest to stop Eve and to learn more about her past.
98. Vandal Hearts II
Vandal Hearts II is a tactical RPG. Vandal Hearts II events occur in the country of Natra and followJoshua's story from childhood to adulthood, focusing on his progress through the civil war that ravages his native country. The early stages of the game present the hero and his childhood companions and act as a prologue to future events in the hero's adult life.
One of the key features in the game is the new Dual-Turn System, stated as being an Active Time Battle system for tactical RPGs. The dual-turn system allows both the player and the computer to move one unit on the battle simultaneously. You can fool the enemy by assuming they will attack your character in the back and positioning yourself behind them or if you're mistaken, use your mighty weapon to hit a big nothing.
97. Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure
Rhapsody: Musical Adventure is an RPG with great musical content. (What? You already knew?), whether in sound, gameplay, and especially in the plot. You control Cornet, an orphan who uses a kind of trumpet that gives life to puppets and puppets, which she can then control. The story revolves around Cornet saving her prince charming, which, in itself, already shows certain creativity in escaping from the cliche in 1998 of "hero saving princess and/or the world".
Despite the appeal to a certain extent childish, Rhapsody shines very brightly in combat. Completely tactical, with a limited movement grid and everything else that a tactical RPG has to show. You move, attack and cast bizarre spells through Cornet's trumpet. Her party companions are dolls and animals that she recruits during the adventure.
Robotrek is another one of the underdog RPGs of Super Nintendo, which came with a very different proposal. The player could create his robots and use them in battle, without the direct participation of the protagonist in them. The protagonist is the son of Dr. Akihabara, an incredible scientist who created an android to act as your late mother and is always refusing to work for the evil corporation HAckers.
One day, the corporation stops asking and starts kidnapping and you, as a good son, go on a journey to save your father and stumbles, unintentionally, in a plot that involves saving time and space with your homemade robots.
95. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Lufia II - Rise of the Sinistrals, despite the name is a "prequel" of the first game. It follows the story of the ancestor of the protagonist of the first game and explains the origin of the war between humans and the group of gods called The Sinistrals.
The story revolves around the hero Maxim, a swordsman from the city of Elcid who was born destined to destroy the Sinistrals, having a natural ability in battles. Throughout his journey, he meets other warriors who are also able to face the Sinistrals and share this goal in common with him.
The combat is turn-based and has basic actions like attacking, casting magic, and items. But you can recruit some monster and feed them, turning them into powerful allies controlled by the AI who always uses the wrong command at the right time - for the enemy.
94. Odin Sphere
With scenery and concepts that incorporate Nordic mythology, the game has 2D graphics very well designed, colorful and expressive. It takes place in the fictitious continent of Erion, divided into several nations spread throughout the country.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is a 2D action RPG in horizontal side-scrolling divided by several chapters that transport the player to a new location at each one. Being a typical electronic RPG genre, the player controls five characters for six different scenarios. What they all have in common is the use of a weapon called Psypher, created from Netherworld crystals. This weapon allows them to absorb Phozons, the energy released by vanquished enemies, so they can improve their skills or go up in level.
93. Paper Mario
Paper Mario, is an RPG full of elements already known from Mario's universe, and with a unique look that made it different from other games. The appearance was based on paper cutouts both in its characters with 2D sprites and in its world. The game easily draws attention with its infantilized look, but rich in charm and details. The plot is… oh well, Bowser attacks princess Peach castle and kidnaps her. We live for the journey, right?
The game's combat has a similar turn-based style to Super Mario RPG. If you press a correspondent button at the right time, you can deal extra damage to the enemy or reduce their damage.
92. Digimon World
Anyone else prefers Digimon over Pokemon?
Digimon World is an RPG game with an incredible system where you take care, train, and feed your Digimon. It's the highlight of the game because it makes you build affection with the little monster for having to deal with the primary needs of the creature, which are hunger, toilet necessities, discipline, and happiness.
You enter the Digital World and have the mission to save it. In your journey, you meet, save and rescue other Digimons who help rebuild the Village of Beginnings with new facilities. In combat, you give orders to your Digimon who can or not obey it. You make your partner stronger by training in the village's natural gym and they can evolve based on their highest attributes. Or if you let them shit a lot in the open air.
91. Arc the Lad
Arc the Lad is a tactical RPG that brings famously known features of other tactical games. You battle in a grid-like field, attacking, casting spells or abilities, and using items. Each party member has a specialty and you don't need to choose your party because everyone joins the fray.
The story centers on a sacred torch called Flame Cion. Legends say that if this torch is extinguished, demons will rise upon the earth. You play as Arc, who reaches the Flame Cion in time to see it being extinguished and a demon appears. Arc tries to light the Flame but is killed in the process by the demon. Moments later, he is resurrected and receives the Guardian Power so he can fulfill his destiny and save the world from darkness.