The Best Roleplaying Games Throughout History
Sep 28, 2021
If you were to ask anyone who loves video games in any capacity, “What is the best roleplaying game of all time?,” you would get as many unique answers as there are unique people. To qualify one specific game as the best RPG of all time would be impossible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t think about the games that made the hobby we love so much what it is today. Everyone has different criteria for what makes a roleplaying game good. Some people want an evocative story, while others would say it’s the game’s mechanics that put it above all others.
However, certain names do immediately come to mind when you think about the term “roleplaying game.” After all, an RPG really only needs a character or group of characters to take the role of, a system that progresses you forward through the experience, and a story to tie it all together. Yet, we know that some games do this so much better than others. As we go through the best roleplaying games throughout history, we’ll look at the games and franchises that have shaped the genre into what it is today.
Where would the roleplaying genre be without the Final Fantasy franchise? Considered by many to be the original pioneer of mainstream roleplaying games, you couldn’t create this list without mentioning the wide span of games originating way back at the beginning and continuing through to the most modern hardware available. Vast worlds, sprawling stories, memorable characters—you’ll find every aspect of a modern roleplaying game in pretty much every single Final Fantasy game available. While everyone has their favorite installment, and arguments about which one is better still rage to this day, no one can deny the powerful influence Final Fantasy has had on the genre.
The Elder Scrolls
The biggest draw of the modern The Elder Scrolls games has always been the freedom they give you. You see that mountain in the distance? You can walk all the way there and climb it. You found a cave in a cliffside opening? There’s plenty of adventure to be had when you walk inside, should you choose to. While it shows its age in certain places nowadays, there’s no denying the wild success of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, nor can you deny how it pushed every other roleplaying franchise to start expanding their scopes as fast as possible.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
This game is arguably one of the most successful ones ever based on a movie franchise. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic proved that with a well-written story and characters you can connect with, any world, no matter how far, far away, can offer an incredible roleplaying experience. KOTOR was also one of the first mainstream franchises to toy with a morality system that changed the game through your decisions.
Many old-soul gamers would feel crushed if we left Chrono Trigger off the list of the best roleplaying games throughout history. In a world that generally defined roleplaying games as one specific kind of game, Chrono Trigger dared to be different. Eschewing the normal turn-based combat systems of most RPGs of the time and introducing some truly unique mechanics and story elements made Chrono Trigger a huge influence on future developers.
World of Warcraft
The MMORPG genre has always been in a league of its own compared to traditional RPGs. For a very long time, that league was dominated by one name only: World of Warcraft. While there are certainly contenders to the throne now, World of Warcraft remains one of the most influential RPGs of all time simply because it set the standard for MMOs for over a decade. The game is ever-evolving and has brought so many like-minded people together to create a truly fascinating and inspiring legacy. Whatever the future may hold for MMOs in general, you can bet that World of Warcraft played an integral role in the genre’s development.
Crystallizing the morality system Bioware Studios already started developing in Knights of the Old Republic, the Mass Effect series makes you feel your choices in a major way. Are you a “Paragon” of good and righteousness, even when it might hurt to do the right thing? Or are you a “Renegade” who will stop at nothing to finish the job? Add on the sheer number of incredibly memorable party members and stories, and you have a franchise that can stand the test of time.
A decent number of people might argue that the Pokémon games aren’t really RPGs in the same way that many of the other games on this list are. However, Pokémon has all the elements an RPG needs: characters, progression, and story. Being the largest franchise on this list, by far, it seems almost silly to even mention how important Pokémon is to the gaming community as a whole. It rocketed the hobby into mainstream view through the youngest generation at the time, and it’s still popular with younger gamers now. The only difference is that Pokémon hasn’t let go of its grip on those original gamers, either, making it a franchise that spans a vast number of demographics and age ranges.
While the Soulsborne series of games got its start much later than the rest of the franchises on this list, it’s impossible to ignore its effects on modern roleplaying games. While you could certainly argue that you play a hero (of some sort) in most Souls games, the story doesn’t promise that everything will turn out okay in the end. The hero might not win, and even if they do, you might wish they hadn’t. Gritty, punishing, mysterious—this franchise spawned an entire Souls-like genre of its own just because of how much it dared to challenge the player and the genre itself.
Did we put your favorite roleplaying games on our list? It certainly isn’t exhaustive; there are many other series that shaped the roleplaying genre into the powerhouse lineup of games it is today. While we here at Glassy Eyewear can’t tell you the absolute best roleplaying game ever made, we can make it easier to enjoy these incredible games with our specialized gaming eyewear. Roleplaying games have a notorious reputation of sucking gamers in for long play sessions, so make sure you’re keeping your eyes and your brain healthy by using our glasses to protect yourself from your screen’s harmful blue light.