Continuing the best RPG's still worth playing lists, it's time for the fifth generation. The fifth generation is remembered as the big leap into 3D, video games growing up, analog sticks, rumble pads and horrid polygons. Some great RPG's will be left off this list, but seeing as I sunk more hours into the N64 and PSX than any other consoles, I felt obliged to continue the retro-RPG series. Without further ado, let's look at some of the games I had to cut from the list but are still absolute gems.
Xenogears is fully worth your time, but the game is very long, and the dialogue gets very very tedious to the point of almost no real gameplay in the second half. Shining Force 3 is a great continuation of the series, but the game looks rather ugly by today's standards, and you cannot skip the battle animations. On top of that, scenario two and three are not released in English: you must use a patch. Both Breath of Fire games for the PSX are awesome but just not as awesome as the upcoming games and seem very simple by today's gaming standards. Final Fantasy IX is one of the best in the series, but the combat runs a bit slow, and the lack of customization left me from adding it over other FF titles. Valkyrie Profile had an amazing and highly unique style of gameplay casting the player as a goddess sent to save souls and essentially having free roam on where you can go, but the game is a little difficult for newer RPG players, can be confusing to piece together, and the game is nearly impossible to find. Other games like Wild Arms and Legend of Mana were a lot of fun, but there are just too many great titles to choose from, so feel free to disagree with my picks. Onto the top 10.
10. Chrono Cross
Chrono Cross was the official sequel to the RPG favorite Chrono Trigger. The game was released near the end of the PlayStation's life cycle, so it does boast some fo the best visuals the PSX could offer. The game also features art and a soundtrack that is equally as awesome to the favored prequel. When this game came out, it received a lot of praise and was highly rated…but many fans of Chrono Trigger never seemed to let Chrono Cross have a break from scrutiny.
Chrono Cross was experimental and it changed almost everything that Chrono Trigger created, savor the central role of time travel in the story and a general continuation of the plot. The biggest departure was the battle system. CC presented a combat system where you had skills (elements) you could use but also weak, medium, and strong attacks. You could attack multiple times, but you had a limited number of attacks per turn which were weighted. For instance, you could do two strong attacks or two weak attacks and a magic spell. There was a lot of strategy and planning required from the player. There were also elements that increased or weakened certain types of magic, but most odd was the lack of a traditional leveling system. Instead, you gain stats as you keep engaging in combat. I personally really enjoyed the combat in CC more than CT though the random stat gains made things confusing and the battles tended to be lengthy.
CC got rid of the amazing smorgasbord of worlds from different eons in favor of two mirror worlds that were years apart but had some minor differences because of certain story events. On top of that, the familiar cast of CT was exchanged for a huge cast of over forty characters, most of who had little character development and were optional. Only Serge, Kid, Lynx and a few others really play a prominent role in the plot. With that said, you will definitely find characters you enjoy using, even if they are vanilla.
The plot does continue from CT but it is only apparent at a few points in the game. The story in CC is hard to follow, and there are a lot of random items and time events that you will really have to keep up on if you want to fully understand the game's plot, let alone it's links to CT.
Overall CC has a ton of small issues that make it far less memorialized than CT, but at the end of the day, it functions very well as its own RPG, looks beautiful, and the game doesn't feel like a clone of anything else. It's a ton of fun and has a lot of classic Squaresoft charm, so, though a little long, and impersonal next to CT, this is an RPG that definitely deserves its place in the RPG annals.
Reasons to Play
- Astounding aesthetics
- Complex and creative combat system
- It's a Chrono game
- The time travel concept is still fun
Reasons to Pass
- Too many forgettable characters
- Very hard to follow the plot
- No leveling up
9. Paper Mario
Once again, Mario finds the flagpole to haul him onto a top games list. While the PlayStation RPGs seemed to be getting more serious and focusing on complex issues and intricate character/plot developments, Nintendo decided to launch a new Mario series to add to the consoles, admittedly lacking, RPG arsenal. Thanks to Paper Mario and its success, games are still being made in the series today.
A later generation release, it does look better than most N64 games, and the graphics still look decent. There is a beautiful blend of 2D and 3D that creates a lot of nostalgia but keeps things very N64ish. The game features a very simple plot, where Mario has to save the seven imprisoned star spirits, and you will be spending a lot of time in Toad Town, the central point to most of the games other areas.
Unlike Mario RPG your cast of characters isn't the familiar Mario heroes, but instead, the common baddies from most Mario games. These characters all feature special abilities that will give Mario special skills such as Paratrooper who lets Mario cross large gaps or Lakitu who lets Mario traverse lava and spikes. That's right, they help you in the platforming part of the game which is more of a throwback to the traditional Mario games with hitting blocks, jumping over gaps, and hopping on shells.
Paper Mario got its name by making 2D (paper) characters that live in a 3D world. I remember finding the idea silly as a teenager, but it absolutely has that classic Nintendo and Mario charm, and the soundtrack and dialogue are infectiously charming per usual. Though this game is a lot of fun, it's downright easy. The platforming is relatively one-dimensional: though the attacks are fun to try to time to maximize damage, there are no memorable and challenging battles making this game ideal for beginners to the genre and longtime Nintendo/Mario fans. The game did carry over elements from Mario RPG like timed hits, but it doesn't quite live up to its predecessor's greatness. All in all this game will offer you everything you need in a Mario RPG title but lacks next to some of the other games in the franchise and Mario universe.
Reasons to Play
- Lighthearted and charming (It's Mario!)
- Cool fusion of styles and graphics
- Combat system is addicting and fun
Reasons to Pass
- Short and easy
- Mario's friends didn't join the fight
- There are better RPG's featuring Mario
8. Panzer Dragoon Saga
The often forgotten Sega Saturn has one RPG that would be absolutely criminal to skip over, and that is, of course, Panzer Dragoon Saga. It was one of the last games released on the Saturn and is one of Sega's most famous cult releases. Unfortunately, the game is near impossible to come by, and the price has skyrocketed online. There are no ports or re-releases, so if you've had a chance to play it, you are in an elite group of very lucky gamers.
The first two Panzer Dragoon games were rail shooters having traces of RPG elements, but Saga was a full blown RPG. Though short next to many games on this list, you do have HP, a unique combat system, and the game's story was far deeper and emotional than it's prequels. The combat had you flying on top of a dragon and positioning yourself around foes to exploit weaknesses. You could wait for your attack to charge up to three times for three consecutive attacks or use them earlier to avoid taking enemy fire. There are also items you can use to heal amongst other special commands.
The graphics in this game look dated today, but Panzer Dragoon Saga utilized the Saturn's processing power to the max and looks solid for a Saturn 3D title.The soundtrack and artistic direction, as with the other Panzer Dragoon games, is also astounding.
But where the game truly shines its the stunning array of options in the gameplay. You can now freely explore with your dragon and find hidden items, areas, and of course campgrounds to save your game. Your character can also walk around and interact in towns and explore on foot. Then, the game features random battles like many other RPGs. The game was huge for its time, spanning four discs and featuring pretty decent voice acting and the best 3D graphics the Saturn could muster.
Most people will probably never get a chance to enjoy Panzer Dragoon Saga unless Sega decides to try to remake it; however, the uniqueness, artistic direction, and immersive world and story make Panzer Dragoon Saga one of the best RPG's of its generation, and many would argue, of all time.
Reasons to Play
- Amazing art and music
- Epic story and exploration
- This game has left a serious cult legacy
Reasons to Pass
- Obscure, expensive, and a Sega Saturn title
- 3D graphics may show some serious signs of aging
7. Star Ocean Second Story
Part of one of the histories most underrated but still popular series, Star Ocean 2 Second Story was released by Enix and Sony on the PlayStation and is considered by some to be the best game in the franchise. This game gives you the choice of two main protagonists, both who have their own individual but intertwined plots. Claude (protagonist one) is part of the advanced international society and sent to observe a primitive planet where a mysterious energy field has appeared. Rena (the second protagonist) lives in a quiet village town on said planet and mistakes Claude for the hero of light. Together they seek out the real answers behind this mysterious energy field, and the game has many characters to recruit, some of whom are optional and alter the plot; Star Ocean Second Story features many different endings and by chatting with characters and having different relationships between them, the ending can change.
Star Ocean Second Story boasts a beautiful symphonic soundtrack, and the world is detailed and meticulously crafted throughout each city and battle. The game balances 2D and 3D graphics, using a lot of hands drawn art and details inspired by animes and sci-fi/fantasy. Because this game embraced its 2D and hand drawn elements, it looks more beautiful than most RPG's on the console, and even when the crude 3D elements lack polish, there are often beautiful 2D details that grab the players attention instead,
The game shines in all areas, but the combat system is why the Star Ocean series was made famous, outside of being one of the only true sci-fi RPG series. It's a fusion of action RPG's and the Tales series combat systems. You control one player, though you can switch between allies, and you may move around the combat field as well as attack and use magic. It starts off simple, but as the game progresses, your position and allies actions become increasingly important. You are both the strategist and participant in the frantic battles. Instead of a menu (though there is one for certain things) you use configured buttons to initiate attacks and spells. You may also opt to wait in one place to recover magic.
Star Ocean 2 Second Story is often forgotten next to other PSX RPG's, but the game has no real flaws, and it's a very polished RPG that will offer tens of hours of gameplay. I personally prefer Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, but I have always had a huge soft spot for Star Ocean The Second Story, and anyone who loves anime, sci-fi or JRPG's, in general, should find a great experience within the game.
Reasons to Play
- Awesome fusion of sci-fi/fantasy
- A beautiful world with many options
- Combat is excellent
Reasons to Pass
- Dislike sci-fi
- Star Ocean is long with difficult battles
- Crafting and customization may boggle beginners minds
6. Final Fantasy Tactics
The PlayStation had a number of great tactical RPG's such as the Vandal Hearts games and Tactics Ogre, but the one game that will least overwhelm players and offer a ton of variety and addicting combat is none other than Final Fantasy Tactics. FF Tactics was a great spin off title that featured some of the best customization and class systems to date. The game is lengthy, but it's ultimately up to the player just how much they want to invest into the world of Ivalice.
This game has a ton of characters, places, and events–basically an entire backstory of proper nouns that would make George R.R Martin's head spin. You play as Ramza, a noble, and the other central character, Delita, is a commoner; both childhood friends, they grow up together, and eventually are separated because of circumstances that end up tumbling into politics, religion, class division, and personal strife. To be honest, the story in FF Tactics has some touching and personal moments but it often tumbles into obscurity and complexity that may befuddle many players who don't play through the game quickly enough or read some of the backstories. With that said, the story will never distract much from the meat of the game, the battles and customization.
FF Tactics uses a standard grid system, and most of the battlefields are a very manageable size. Squaresoft really did everything right when it comes to the combat. There are not many central story characters who will fight alongside Ramza, but you will not care because you can hire characters, name them, and you are going to be trying to build up different classes and experimenting with new ones. You gain EXP in battle as well a CC to gain skill points for your job class. You can always travel across a map and fight random battles to train your characters. There are a bunch of optional battles and secrets to find in this game, and you will keep unlocking classes throughout the adventure. You will likely feel a surprising attachment to your characters and become addicted to leveling up classes and combining skills.
The battles never get overly long and tedious like some other tactical RPGs and the combat is concise and easy to follow but with many many nuances such as terrain, classes, and position around an enemy to play around with and master. You may also revive dead characters, but if you're too slow they end up dying for good. This game could take you anywhere from 30-150 hours depending on how much you want to gain from FF tactics. Anyone from noobies to tactical nerds will find a ton to love about FF tactics which still stands as one of the genre's best titles.
Reasons to Play
- Customization is astounding
- The battles are fast paced and addicting
- Many classes and abilities to mix and match
Reasons to Pass
- This game is LONG if you want to enjoy all of it
- Plot is often archaic and hard to follow/remember
5. Castlevania Symphony of the Night
I wasn't 100% sure of this game's RPG qualifications, but Castlevania SOTN has a level up system, has a lot of items and weapons to discover, and takes many hours to complete. On top of that, the game is timeless and is often cited as the best Castlevania game of all time. It's truly a must play title for all gamers old and young.
First off, as a Castlevania game, SOTN is astounding. The soundtrack is one of gaming's best featuring epic tracks like Bloody Tears and Midnight Nocturne. The creepy organs, distorted guitar solos. and blazing symphonies offer the finishing touch on the beautiful 2D areas of Dracula's castle, of which there are many. Creepy Coffins, blood red moonlight, and ghastly portraits all keep the traditional Castlevania visual appeal. Each room is filled with a flurry of details, and the 2D graphics are hauntingly beautiful and eye capturing at every turn.
Though this game is a direct sequel to Castlevania Dracula X–you actually begin as Richter fighting Dracula–the player quickly finds out that Alucard's adventure will be radically different than any previous Castlevania experience. After death steals your weapons and powers, the player is free to explore the castle as they wish. You gain levels, can go in any direction, and you will need to equip items and use abilities wisely to fully survive the castles treacheries and destroy Dracula.
There are bosses and some areas will be cut off until you find certain items or gain certain abilities. Alucard is really easy to control, and it's really fun to try out new weapons and abilities. Thanks to a large jumping range and a useful slide, the player has more control over their vampire slayer than any other Castlevania game before it. Alucard also has the ability to transform into a wolf and a bat, both of which can fight and are needed for certain puzzles. Some points may require you to train, but this generally only takes a few minutes of time, and the encounters play like a standard Castlevania game, so it never really feels like a chore. Castlevania SOTN flawlessly transitioned the series into the "Metroidvania" realm, and the only flaw is that some Castlevania traditionalists resent that the series really never returned to its roots after. Nevertheless, this game is almost perfect and well worth your time.
Reasons to Play
- It's a Castlevania game
- Beautiful marriage of RPG and traditional Castlevania
- The soundtrack is one of the best ever
Reasons to Pass
- You want a more traditional RPG
- The game is shorter and can be pricey
- Vampire hunting and dark aesthetics isn't your thing
One of the most charming, youth inspiring, and sentimental RPG's ever made must be Grandia. It was released by Game Arts for the PlayStation for western players and follows the tale of Justin and his quest to venture to the edge of the world and be a great explorer. He meets a charming cast of characters, and he butts heads with the military led by a deceptive philanthropist. Grandia's romantic hero and the genuine tales he unfolds will constantly find a way to move your heart as you push further into the game.
The graphics in Grandia definitely look a bit jagged, and the voice acting isn't great, but the game's soundtrack definitely picks up the ball with creating an epic atmosphere. The Grandia
Main Theme is one of the best compositions in video game history, and I guarantee you will find yourself humming tunes from the game as you play.
The crown jewel of Grandia is it's highly unique combat system that runs as an action ATB system of sorts. There is meter your characters and enemies move across, and if they reach the end they get to attack. Powerful attacks can stun and push characters back on the meter, possibly delaying or fully stopping an attack. The system is addictive and really forces the player to think about their actions. It's one of the greatest combat systems I have ever played, and Grandia stands as one of the greatest RPG games of all time though it managed to make small waves next to some other PSX RPGs. Grandia will bring out the kid and explorer in you and leave you laughing and crying with each passing story bit.
Many people will say that Grandia 2 is the best game in the series, and while I also love the sequel, Grandia's heartwarming story and the ability to make me feel like the world is mine to discover makes Grandia a better game than the sequel in this writer's opinion. I have not played Grandia in over a decade, but the main theme still gets stuck in my head, and I get that warm fuzzy feeling every time I think about my memories with the game.
Reasons to Play
- Awesome soundtrack
- Unapologetically romantic and charming
- Combat system is among the best
Reasons to Pass
- Graphics are not so beautiful
- Too whimsical for some players
3.Final Fantasy 7
Nobody should be shocked to see the inclusion of the Squaresoft classic Final Fantasy VII on this list. The game is receiving a high profile remake after all and is considered to be among one of the video game industries most important titles of all time. FFVII definitely shows its age, especially with the polygonal (blocky) characters and lengthy adventure that is full of side quests and grinding. It was an early PSX game after all. But at its core, FFVII is still a fantastic gem that tells one of the greatest stories in RPG history.
If you didn't already know, Cloud and his ragtag group of heroes battle against a vile corporation called Shinra who want to suck away the planet's energy for their selfish purposes then end up running into a conflict with Sephiroth, the final ancient who wants to avenge his people and what they have done to him and his mother.
The cast of characters is colorful and full of lively personalities; almost every character is fun to use in combat and follow throughout the story, even the secret characters. The materia system allowed full customization of your characters and summons and limit breaks add to the famous ATB system. On top of that, the world is vast, and it holds a ton of secrets. I have fond memories of flying "The Highwind" and just looking for new places: it felt cosmic. The soundtrack is stellar, and it makes going everywhere that much more fun to explore, especially the overworld theme. There is a lot of nostalgia seeped into this title, and it will definitely offer challenges to newcomers, especially the pace of the game alongside the length.
I don't think FFVII is the easiest game on this list to hop into, but it does offer a very full and engaging experience on all fronts. The game has no real weaknesses outside of what time has rendered archaic about it such as the character sprites and the slower paced battle system. Still, you probably don't need me to tell you that Final Fantasy VII is considered by many to be one of the greatest RPG's of all time, and if given a proper chance, it can still blow your mind. It is my personal favorite entry in the series, and I still have a lot to enjoy when I return to it which I tend to do every few years.
Reasons to Play
- One of the best stories every told
- The world is vast and fun to explore with tons of secrets
- Arguably the best game in the most legendary RPG series
Reasons to Pass
- This game is long, and you will need to grind at certain points.
- Remake coming, so it may be easier to just wait
- Some really ugly and blocky character design
2. Zelda Ocarina of time and Majora's Mask
I am going to cheat here and explain why. Yes, both Zelda games deserve a spot on this list. About a decade ago it seemed like Zelda Ocarina of Time was praised as being one of the greatest games of all time and was truly generation-defining. Zelda Majora's Mask was a peculiar entry that polarized many fans. Then, in a matter of a few years, Majora's Mask was being called one of the greatest N64 and Zelda titles while OOT was cast as a very solid but bland entry in the series that lacked the intricacies and depth of other entries. Nevertheless, both games are superb and offer very different experiences. I prefer OOT, but I can totally understand why people love Majora's Mask as well.
Both games have very similar graphics and control schemes, but OOT focuses on the more traditional tale paved by earlier titles with an emphasis on time and playing the ocarina to manipulate it. The game gave life to the characters. Never before had we seen Link grow up, Zelda sing a lullaby in 3D, or Ganondorf storm her castle upon his dark steed. It simply looked beautiful and didn't lose anything but only gained through the jump to 3D. There are a ton of dungeons to explore and quirky NPCs to meet along the way. even if it features the horrid water Temple, I find OOT's dungeons to be the most memorable and varied in the series, and I personally enjoyed the classic fairy tale feel of the game.
Majora's Mask, though a sequel to OOT, was highly experimental. It focused on finding masks and resetting time so the moon didn't crush Termina. The game only had four real dungeons and much of the gameplay and story was found in the game's side quests and optional content. Most of the masks allowed you to talk with certain species or characters and further your ability to unlock the world and the rest of the masks.
Majora's Mask resonated with fans because of the deep story and more serious dialogue. The game is not nearly as fluffy and perky as other games, and Majora's Mask corrupting Skull Kid in itself was a bit more deranged than the traditional storyline of Gannon being able to return to Hyrule. Majora's Mask was a completionist's dream, but for those looking for a more casual experience, OOT is definitely easier to pick up and play.
Both games defined the N64 and the Zelda franchise for a long time and are still wildly popular today, especially since having been remade on the 3DS. I love both games and regardless of your favorite, these are two of the best action RPG's of their generation and still hold up well today whether you're playing the remake or the original.
Reasons to Play
- Original 3D Zeldas
- Very solid combat mechanics
- Awesome world's to explore with tons of secrets
Reasons to Pass
- No leveling up
- You're a Zelda hater
1. Suikoden 2
Unlike the 4th generation, my pick for the best 5th generation RPG still worth playing today is a Konami treasure that most people didn't get a chance to play. Suikoden 2 just may be my favorite game of all time, and there is an incredible wealth of content here that nearly any RPG gamer, whether casual or veteran can enjoy.
First off, the original Suikoden is also a very good albeit much simpler and shorter. If you want to unlock the full potential of Suikoden 2 you should play the original title first and transfer your data to get certain characters and stat bonuses in this game.
I will try my best to separate nostalgia and objective information. Suikoden 2 has been likened to GOT but in the video game world. You play as a rookie in the military and the game starts you off with an attack by a foreign country who you have a treaty with. You flee with your best friend, and then get captured by familiar faces from the opposing nation. After finding your sister, you end up leading an army against your home nation, and your best friend doesn't see eye to eye with the decision. If this sounds confusing that's because there is a lot more to the story that would be better for you to play than for me to explain. Needless to say, the story is intense, dealing with betrayal, casualties, and the role of friends and family.
The game's combat system did a great job or taking care of the tedium and slowness found in many RPG's. You can auto attack, and your characters will attack simultaneously after you input their commands. The camera moves around a lot and adds some dramatic flair to each battle. it's a six person party with rows depending on that character's weaponry. Battles usually take less than a minute, and the loading time is lightning fast. On top of the regular combat, there are major battles that play out like a tactical RPG and one on one duals that use a rock paper scissors method based upon you reading your opponents hints.
The game is 2D so the graphics still look pretty good. They aren't the best ever made, but they have a very Asian/retro charm to them. This also applies to the soundtrack. The soundtrack jumps from downright epic, to quirky, to admittedly borderline annoying in a few instances. Nevertheless, I guarantee songs from the game will get stuck in your head as you play and rip your heart out in the process.
I could spend a week telling you why you should play this game, but I will leave you with the fact that the game has 108 characters to find, and finding them all has some serious benefits. Unlike other games, many characters are crucial to the story and you will have a lot of fun experimenting and altering your party throughout the game. The more characters you have, the bigger your castle grows, and the castle in itself has a ton of fun extras like cooking competitions and mini-games. If you have never played this, this is the magnum opus of RPG's, and the game is far too deep to explain in a nutshell, but way back in 1999 the planets seemed to have aligned in a way that allowed the greatest RPG of all time to grace our world and our living rooms.
Reasons to play
- Somehow nails accessibility and very in depth gameplay
- The stories and characters go beyond basic tropes
- Too much fun to character hunt and build your castle
Reasons to Pass