Role-playing games are an amazing genre of video games. They give players a rich story, a world in which they can make a difference, and a way to improve their character to better handle the challenges the game throws their way.
RPGs are definitely my favorite type of video games, and I have written about them quite a bit. Seriously, take a look at some of the articles I’ve put together in the past.
- The Top 20 SNES RPGs Everyone Should Play
- The Top 15 Game Boy RPGs
- 15 Sega Genesis RPGs that Prove it Was the True RPG Console
- The Top 31 PlayStation 1 RPGs
- The Best 25 NES RPGs
You could also look up The Best RPG from the Year You Were Born. I put this list up not just to encourage you to read and chat about RPGs on your favorite system but to also show you that I’ve played enough games to write this list.
Although I realize this list is bound to displease some people, I certainly hope you take the time to drop in some of your choices and realize that I actually put quite a bit of thought into this list.
So, what criteria did I use to make this list? It’s not just that they were simply great games. I tried choosing games that had significance to the genre and stand as exemplars of what RPGs are supposed to be about.
That means these games should do all or many of the following:
- Have significant artistic value
- Provide the player with meaningful choices and the ability to impact the game world around them
- Tell an incredible story that makes up for the limitations of the system
- Use an entertaining, customizable system for character leveling
- Implement an entertaining battle system or means to complete a quest ( I think all the games I’ve listed here have combat system)
Okay, you have the rubric that I used but I am throwing one wrench into this: I am not ranking the 25 best RPGs of all time.
I think it’s foolish to say that one RPG is better than all the rest across systems and generations. I am merely giving you what 25 RPGs I feel are the best and nothing more!
1. Pokemon Silver and Gold
Pokémon Silver and Gold were incredible games that did the hardest thing in the world: followed up on and improved upon the greatness that was the first generation of Pokémon games.
Pokémon Silver and Gold (Crystal, too) added to the winning formula by adding so many new features, pokémon, and areas to explore that players could spend dozens of hours just getting a handle on the game.
After you had the satisfaction of defeating the Elite Four in this game, and they’re no pushovers, you could go through the Kanto region from the first game and see what’s happened in the wake of Red’s victory.
Eventually, you face off against Red in a challenging match, an incredible stopping point for a game that would otherwise run forever.
2. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X was a highly anticipated installment into the Final Fantasy series that delivered on just about every level possible. The story was even engaging enough that it made you completely overlook the insufferable main character.
The music, cutscenes, combat, and characters were simply incredible. The journey through Spira was funny at times and downright heart wrenching at others. Sure, some of the fans rolled their eyes at the ending, but it was certainly original.
Even though this doesn’t crack my top 5 favorite Final Fantasy games, I still recognize its significance as the flagship PS2 RPG.
I remember my brother ripping out pages from his Game Informer and hanging them up in his room because the game looked too awesome to keep shut up in a magazine.
Pick up Final Fantasy X on eBay.
3. Suikoden II
Suikoden II got a lot of hype for the number of playable characters that you can recruit throughout the game, but it was outshone by the juggernaut-like Final Fantasy series on the PS1.
Nevertheless, the game managed to garner a lot of fans for its story that is rife with political intrigue and the combat system. Speaking of combat, this game allows you to take part in three different types throughout the story from typical JRPG fights to war skirmishes.
Also, this was a game where you could permanently lose characters in battle. You can’t kill main characters, of course, but it created real stakes if you didn’t want to lose your favorite characters.
The game’s story shines through the most, with an unforgettable villain in the form of Luca Blight. Unlike some of the other JRPGs of the time, the story doesn’t go crazy and bring in a supernatural, universe-ending boss. Who knew people were the real bastards all along?
4. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction
Diablo II: Lord of Destruction was an incredible follow-up to the original Diablo. The game improved on the formula by unleashing you on the entire world, spread across five acts, to battle the forces of evil.
With the arrival of the expansion, you could choose from seven different classes to storm the bastions of the burning hells. Some of my favorite parts of the game were the art style and music. The developers used these elements to set an incredible mood that balanced creepy with awe-inspiring.
The combat was incredibly rewarding, and the grind was real. You could count on pouring dozens of hours of your life into this game if you wanted to rank on the seasonal ladder.
The game was recently remastered, finally allowing new generations of people to get in on the downright incredible story and gameplay.
5. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
The Dragon Quest series seemed to fall out of favor for a little while. In 2017, Dragon Quest XI launched, thrilling critics and fans of the games.
The game didn’t push the envelope in terms of its turn-based combat or JRPG conventions, but it still showed off Square Enix’s mastery of the genre.
The story was interesting and engaging, mixing in elements of Norse mythology for a change. And if you paid attention at the end of the game, you could see how this game impacts other parts of the overall series, a fantastic tie-in, in my opinion.
I was a big fan of the builds you could assign to your characters, developing them towards roles in your party that suited your playstyle. The graphics were solid and suited the game, and I didn’t mind the relative ease of the game, either.
6. Planescape: Torment
Many elements of Planescape: Torment make it stand out on this list, and it’s one of the few games that I couldn’t even argue against on this list.
I’ll state the obvious: the graphics didn’t age very well at all. As I’ve said before, graphics are rarely the sole reason that people play RPGs, though.
Few games have such great stories and characters as Planescape: Torment. You’re not some young noble hero on a quest to save the world. You’re an immortal who can have questionable morals and ethics, breaking free from the convention of the selfless heroes of other RPGs at this time.
The vast number of choices you must make as The Nameless One and the impact your character has on others burdens the player, forcing them to make unpleasant choices. That’s truly where the game shines.
Grab one of the many editions of Planescape: Torment on eBay
7. Mass Effect 2
At the conclusion of the first Mass Effect, Shepard learns that an apocalypse is coming for the entire galaxy, and they need to stave it off while preparing for battle.
Mass Effect 2 starts off in an unforgettable fashion and doesn’t take the foot off the gas for the rest of the game. The story, graphics, gameplay, and role-playing elements of this game are sublime.
Every character has a distinct personality, making every interaction with them interesting while also increasing the difficulty of the choices you have to make throughout the game. After all, the stakes are high in this game; you can lose just about everyone by the game’s completion, and they stay dead for the rest of the series.
All the while, you know that the story is building towards something bigger, greater, and scarier …like the ending to Mass Effect 3.
8. Final Fantasy VII
You can scream “overrated” until your lungs burst, but this game remains substantial enough that the IP is still being wrung dry through remakes and additional side stories almost two decades later.
The game does so much right with combat by using the ATB system to keep players on their toes and using the materia system allowing players to customize their characters for any role. Cloud could change into a summoner, healer, or front-line fighter with ease.
Story-wise, this game was absolutely bonkers, in a good way. You start out as an eco-terrorist trying to shut down Mako reactors, and then you’re dragged into fight to save the planet from massive creatures called WEAPONs and a giant meteor poised to slam into the planet.
The world was big and full of interesting characters and the art and music created an amazing atmosphere. When you add in the fact that Square pulled off this game in a somewhat modern setting, it’s even more apparent how ground-breaking this game was at the time and why it’s relevant today.
Grab Final Fantasy VII
9. Deus Ex
In Deus Ex, you take on the role of JC Denton, a cybernetically enhanced individual who works for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition. We’re in the world of tomorrow, 2052 to be exact, and everything is a tad insane.
You are simultaneously fighting against the Gray Death virus, dealing with the frickin’ Illuminati, and dealing with the unsettling realization that you’re under the thumb of a government that could wipe you out whenever you want.
The world is huge and you can impact it any number of ways by being a straight-forward, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later killer or a methodical, spy type.
This game was a great action-RPG that gave you tons of choices, provided engaging combat, and had a very interesting story. Personally, I can’t believe they haven’t remade this game yet.
10. Fallout: New Vegas
Using the gameplay of the amazing Fallout 3 as a template, Fallout: New Vegas thrust the player back into the nuked-out world, this time around New Vegas. Several factions are trying to assert dominance over this area, and you get to work with or against them.
Meanwhile, you’re trying to survive against all sorts of mutated monsters and people by leveling up with your weapons of choice. The impact your player can have on the story, the interactions with other characters, and freedom to build a unique character all set this game apart from others.
Fallout: New Vegas is filled with enough distractions and side quests to help immerse you in the world, but it also doesn’t presume to put you in the role of a hero, and I appreciate that.
Grab Fallout: New Vegas Collector’s Edition on eBay
11.The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Socucious Ergalla was not kidding when he said “There are a few ways we can do this, and the choice is yours.” The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind gives the player a ridiculous amount of freedom while simultaneously making them the land’s chosen hero, the Neravarine.
You can build your character to be anything from an assassin to a trader. Do you want to create spells that will let you leap over mountains? How about killing one of the living gods and breaking the threads of fate? This game lets you do it.
Sure, the combat was rough at low levels and the graphics didn’t age well at all, but the good outweighs the bad by a lot!
You can be the savior or you can literally kill every NPC in the world. Become a master of the thieves guild or be a creepy religious person. Take Vvardenfell by the horns and go nuts, but don’t expect the game not to buck.
You’re probably going to die from a flock of Cliff Racers or an assassin in your sleep. Roll with it because it’s worth the fun.
Few other games can match the all-encompassing atmosphere, role-playing elements, quality of music, and world-building present here. And that’s why it belongs on this list.
12. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
You’re back as Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher bounty hunter, and you’re tasked to find your adopted daughter, Ciri. Well, that’s a complicated issue because you don’t know where the hell she’s at and nobody is giving you information for free.
The high points of this game are numerous, including the freedom to blow off the main quest and spend your time hunting monsters, gathering good items, and playing the card game, gwent.
Like other great RPGs, the characters are well-written, so much so that you will have trouble dealing with the moral challenges raised by the game. You have to lie and kill in the service of bad people to accomplish good things.
This game’s combat is incredible, the world is vast, and the writing is fantastic. If you haven’t played it already, go do yourself a favor and play.
13. Fable 2
Fable 2 doesn’t pop up on too many lists, and I’ve always wondered why. The combat was a ton of fun, the morality system added replayability, and the story was intriguing enough to keep you engaged in Albion.
The customization available to players and the assortment of side quests made Fable 2 stand out to me because it let you decide how to approach the world. You could make your money by performing a variety of jobs, being a landlord, or going treasure-hunting. You can even get married and have kids.
Best of all, the multiplayer element of the game let you quest with friends.
The story isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the other elements of the game make it a must-have on this list.
14. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI was my top choice for SNES RPGs, and it’s often regarded as one of the finest RPGs ever made. Between the story, music, and ability to delve into the world or gloss over it and miss out on characters and relationships, this game had it all.
The combat system wasn’t anything creative, but the addition of esper powers and magic helped balance out the need for grinding and facilitated party customization.
Another thing I have to give the developers credit for is the amount of detail that went into this game’s design. They were working with sprites, but the player could feel the anger, heartbreak, and hopelessness throughout the game.
Also, Final Fantasy VI has quite possibly the best villain in a video game, a machiavellian clown named Kefka. Unlike other villains that try and try, he actually wrecks the world and it is never the same even after you defeat him.
This is a seminal RPG, and it’s one that should be remade with better graphics in the future.
Pick up Final Fantasy 3 (the SNES release of VI) on eBay, but watch out for fakes!
15. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
It doesn’t get much more DnD than this, folks. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn sends the player back to the Forgotten Realms for another round of unforgettable stories and quests.
The game’s best features are certainly the story and world-building. You need to sink some major hours into this game to appreciate it, but it’s worth every single minute. At least, it is after you get out of the first dungeon and figure out what the hell is going on.
The game is complex and it’s not going to hold your hand. That’s kind of the beauty in this game, though. It’s an RPG that hides its best aspects of story and rewards behind tough battles and exploration.
Every player will enjoy the immersiveness, music, voiceovers, and script in this one as long as they can get past the dated graphics and combat.
Pick up one of the many editions of Baldur’s Gate II on eBay.
16. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
A Star Wars RPG. What more could you ask for? It doesn’t matter because this game delivered on it all.
Without spoiling the story, you just need to know it’s incredible. This is set almost 4,000 years before A New Hope, in a time where the Sith are still rampant and there’s actually more than a handful of Jedi!
You go from planet to planet, making friends, killing enemies, and figuring out where you fit in the whole thing. The game’s combat is a little aged and has some glitchiness from time to time.
Nevertheless, the freedom to build your character into a force or saber-dominant individual and then use those powers on enemies will put an end to your doubts after the first few hours.
Like every other good Star Wars story, you get to choose whether you are good or evil. Interactions with other characters and the choices you make in the world follow you for better or worse.
Oh, that big reveal? *Chef’s kiss”
Grab KOTOR on eBay.
17. Final Fantasy Tactics
Political intrigue, brother-against-brother fighitng, and chocobos. This game had it all. Seriously, though, this game’s story is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s complex and doesn’t just wrap itself up in a bow at the end; you’re left thinking.
Even the introduction of supernatural elements is somewhat slow-going and deft, by Final Fantasy standards, anyways. Before you know it, you’re fighting against some rather dark forces rather than a few bandits.
The gameplay is a lot of fun. You recruit units from town and the story to follow your character into battle. You might end up fighting in a field somewhere or on rooftops of a major city.
Like other tactical RPGs, you have to maneuver your characters around the map until they get in range to attack enemies, so you’re constantly evaluating the field in terms of pros and cons.
The class system was magnificent, the music is unforgettable, and the graphics, for the time, were nice.
Pick up Final Fantasy Tactics on eBay.
18. Dark Souls
I’ve never seen a game so grim in my life. You’re a cursed undead warrior tasked with doing the impossible: rekindling the Flame that will reignite the Age of Fire. Of course, you get some say in that matter, but we won’t go there.
The story isn’t necessarily sparse, but you have to seek out all the little tidbits and draw some connections for yourself. It’s worth the effort, though. Especially when you see how hopeless the situation appears.
In this somewhat doomed world, you have to explore the land, make bonfires to use as checkpoints, and fight against hordes of monsters that don’t just fall over at the first sign of damage.
The game can be tough, and it requires a fair amount of experimentation and a little luck to get through the incredible boss fights. The combat is amazing and engaging, and the music will leave you feeling forlorn. This game is a work of art.
Grab Dark Souls on eBay
19. Star Ocean: The Second Story
I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a sleeper hit, but it didn’t get as much attention as it should have. The original game wasn’t released here in the U.S., so it’s not like people were banging down the doors looking for the sequel.
Anyways, Star Ocean: The Second Story picks up a few decades in the future, where the son of Ronyx from the first game, named Claude accidentally gets transported to a world Star Trek style.
You’re the foreigner with superior technology in this case, and it’s not long until you become embroiled in the world’s problems and go Avatar on them. Claude leaves behind his blaster ray and becomes a swordsman bent on finding out what is prompting the crazy changes in the game.
The game is a lot of fun because you get to pick your protagonist from the start, either Claude or Rena, providing instant replay value because who doesn’t want to know the other person’s side of things?
The active combat system is a lot of fun to play with and the skill development process, which takes into account natural talents, is very entertaining.
Although the game used 2D graphics, it was still artistically sound. The music was fantastic and the ability to develop character relationships through “Private Actions” (that’s not a euphemism) let you control how to develop relationships with your party members.
Get Star Ocean: The Second Story on eBay
20. Divinity: Original Sin
I was blown away the first time I played this game. It has the feel of a Baldur’s Gate successor, taking all the best parts of that series and cranking up the quality.
You will get heavily invested into the story as “Source Hunters”, but the side-quests are just as rich and interesting. I can’t say enough about the combat and class-building; it’s simply amazing.
The graphics are very good and the world is highly detailed. The music is also great, enriching a world that is already wonderful. I don’t have enough space to say all that I want about this game.
Just know that it’s another game that requires you to plumb the depths to get the most out of it. The game requires experimentation and thought; you can’t charge into battles and expect to win them all, and that’s something that is sorely missing in a lot of RPGS.
Get Divinity: Original Sin on eBay.
21. Persona 5
Sometimes you play a game just to say you played it, and that’s kinda the experinece I had with Persona 5. I didn’t love it, but I can still recognize greatness when I see it.
The game shares a lot of storytelling and behavior conventions with anime, so there is a big emphasis on school despite you going off to fight enemies in various settings.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like the dichotomy they have in the game, but if you’re not used to the idea that a high schooler is going to battle the forces of evil between classes, it’ll throw you for a loop.
Like many other great RPGs, relationships are at the core of Persona 5. You have to foster relationships both to get the most out of the game and to empower your fighting party. You’ll have ample time to talk with major and minor characters away from the battlefield.
Your conversation choices and actions help determine how well your relationships develop, so you need to put some thought into your choices.
The combat is fun and engaging; I rarely felt like I was completely overmatched. The graphics are just sharp and do wonders with the style. The story and art might not be for everyone, but if you give this game a chance, I promise it’ll grow on you.
Here’s Persona 5 on eBay. Get it while it’s still affordable.
22. Dragon Age: Origins
Another Bioware game makes the list. Funny how that keeps happening.
Dragon Age: Origins is an exceptional game for many reasons, starting with the character customization options available. You are the hero of the game, a Grey Warden, but that doesn’t mean you’re a sword-and-board guy leaping headlong into battle.
You can be several different races and take on many class roles. Like other Bioware games, the ability to make story-defining choices is central to this RPG.
You’ll love the high-fantasy setting, the ability to develop relationships with your party members, and the opportunity to have a different experience every time you play the game make this a gem.
The game looks good and plays well, but it can be hard at times. That’s all part of the fun, though.
Get Dragon Age games on eBay.
23. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
In a time when Mario was coming at us in racing games, platformers, and puzzle games, it should have been no surprise that we got a Mario RPG. The thing is, though, that it was actually really good.
The game turned the world of Mario on its head, seeing the main character partner up with the likes of Mallow (a tadpole?), Bowser (castle-less bastard), and Geno ( a friendlier Anabelle from The Conjuring).
The story wasn’t as deep as other RPGs and its stakes weren’t as high, but this game was downright great. The story, timing-based combat, adventuring, and graphics were all great elements of the game.
Not only is this a good game in its own right, but it’s a very useful game for introducing people to JRPGs.
Get Super Mario RPG on eBay.
24. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I feel like Skyrim became the new Final Fantasy VII. It was groundbreaking when it came out, then it got forced down our throats on every console imaginable via remakes, and now people kinda hate it.
Nevertheless, this game, especially when modded, was downright incredible. You don’t have as many role-playing elements as Morrowind, but you can still build your character in a number of ways. Some people insist on focusing upon magic or melee weapons while others want to be a stealth archer.
The combat was better than past series entries, but it was panned at the time. At least when you swing, you make contact.
The world was amazing and detailed. We’ve wanted Skyrim forever, and we got it. The story was contentious, forcing you to choose one side or another in a brutal civil war, but offered little in the way of a resolution. The game was great, one of the best, and the expansions and mods took it to the next level.
Skyrim is another seminal RPG and it’s always fun to get a playthrough of this game while waiting for The Elder Scrolls 6.
Get Skyrim in the unlikely chance you don’t already have it.
25. Chrono Trigger
Last but not least, we have Chrono Trigger. I try not to throw around terms like genre-defining, but I think this game earned it.
The incredible art style was immediately engaging and supported by a wonderful soundtrack. You could play the opening to that game and get millions of nerds instantly nostalgic.
The time-traveling story was equal parts fun and depressing. I thought it was interesting that the game used a boss without motivations or desires. Lavos is a being that is just here to mess up your day, and it does. I like those kind of villains. No long-winded diatribes, just destroying things.
The game’s unique combat system, the ability to avoid some random battles, and music all work to make the game fantastic. The only thing I don’t like is that we have a silent protagonist, but that’s not really a big deal.
Get Chrono Trigger on eBay, or at least go marvel at the price.
Final Thoughts on The Best RPGs of All Time
I had to cut a lot of games off the list and revisit it several times before writing this article. So many great RPGs have been released over time, and I went back and forth in my head on a lot of them.
I thought about Icewind Dale, the South Park RPGs, Disco Elysium, and many others. It’s hard enough to list the games, let along rank them.
Take some time to tell me which games you would have included in the top 25 RPGs of all time and which ones don’t belong here.