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10 Favorite RPGs

I'm not someone who has played an unhealthy amount of RPGs in my life, but I am someone who has always admired the genre. And on rare occassions (extremely rare nowadays), an RPG is so good that it completely sucks me in for days on end. Now, my definition of what an RPG is may be slightly different than others, but one of the basic ways in which I look to see if a game is in fact a role-playing game is to see whether the character(s) is/are leveling up. Therefore, Zelda games are NOT RPGs. Pokemon games are NOT RPGs (not for that reason, for some other reason). But games like Mass Effect, KOTOR, Dragon Age ARE. Oh, and one more thing on that note: for some reason, I have never been able to really get into "western RPGs." That is, RPGs that deviate from the traidional fantasy combat method in favor of some weird third-person thing or something. Although I did include one exception. 
As always, I have limited the selection to one game per franchise.

List items

  • Kingdom Hearts created what can only be described as a beautiful transcendence into the realm of imagination. The addition of Disney as a supplement to the game's own unique characters and storylines blends perfectly, and is brought together by a rich combat system and one of the most memorable soundtracks of any game. While certainly "basic," one can only marvel at the risks the game takes, and the sheer beauty that results.

  • A game I purchased for just $10, Dragon Quest VIII brought almost nothing new to the role-playing genre--it simply did everything that we'd already seen to perfection. The combat system was traditional turn based, yet found a stunning strike between addicting and fulfilling. Round out the package with wonderful storytelling (albeit a cliched plot), gorgeous visuals, and an appropriate orchestral soundtrack, and you have one of the greatest "JRPG"s of all time.

  • Despite my lack of interest in Oblivion, I decided to give Fallout 3 a try--a good decision, considering the game has quickly become one of my favorites of the generation. It is an instant classic if only for the atmosphere it creates: the post appocolypse wasteland that you explore is enormous and filled to the brim with meticulate detail. The story and characters may not be memorable, but the sheer magnitude of your decisions in the wasteland is.

  • I will defend Final Fantasy X to the death as the greatest game in the series, although it is followed closely behind by VI. The characters and dialogue support an incredibly deep, rich combat system, and it all takes place within a constantly shifting world of deceit, love, and sheer bad-assery (Auron). Final Fantasy X is one of the few RPGs that feels as if it were a classic piece of literature that you just happen to be lucky enough to level up eternally in.

  • While Tales of Symphonia has taken the most of my time and Tales of Phantasia offered the best characters, Tales of Vesperia has been the RPG to bring all of the fundamental parts into the most cohesive package. The combat in the series has always been its high point, and Vesperia delivers my favorite combat system in a game to date: fast, versatile, and completely up to you. But unlike the other Tales games, it also brings a good story, characters, and dialogue.

  • A classic in every sense: so much so that I feel the game has actually suffered a bit from the incredible praise that is given to it. What makes Chrono Trigger such a wonderful experience is the sheer scope of the narrative: this is a story that has been finely crafted to take place over billions of years, with the player able to experience it all. The combat is unique, the characters are very personal and likable, and the presentation of the game's graphics and music are some of the best to date.

  • A sleeper hit on the Gamecube that does not receive the attention it deserves--perhaps because it thrice recycled the "collect 7 stars" formula of the first Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG. But Thousand Year Door's story actually made sense, and the exciting "half and half" combat from the first Paper Mario was finely tuned to create a much more strategic and interactive battle system. Add in legitimate humor, a fine crafting of the "paper" mechanic and vibrant visuals and you have one of the best on the purple box.

  • Does anyone remember when bunches of copies of Earthbound lined Kmart shelves because nobody wanted them? Well, should have stocked up. I only experienced the game in the past few years, but the hilarious script writing and glorious imagination that have been thrust behind every piece of dialogue, every character, every scenario is truly breath taking. It's hard to really describe Earthbound as anything more than just one of those crazy dreams where nothing makes sense, but you don't want it to end.

  • The foundation of a great RPG usually rests in one of two places: the story, or the combat system. While the former does not bode well for Covenant (simply because it attempts to overcomplicate itself far too often), the latter more then makes up for it. Who could have imagined that stopping a spinning wheel to perform attacks would be so addicitng and satisfying? And while the greater story arc may be bland, the characters and subplots are far from it.

  • I realize that Persona 4 is generally praised as the much better game, but I have yet to play it. I'm not even halfway through Persona 3, yet here it is on my list! There's a certain charm to some games that is hard to deny, and Persona 3 strikes that very well. The combat is great, the storyline... makes sense, and the characters are actually... enjoyable. Add in a Pokemon-like monster collecting system, and you've got a game definitely worthy of the underground praise.