In honor of the flurry of epic RPGs that’ll be released in the coming months and the countless hours we’ll undoubtedly spend playing them, here are some of the EGM staff’s all-time favorites in the genre.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Released: May 1996 – SNES
I know a ton of great RPGs came before this one, but this was actually my first experience with the genre. Being 11 at the time, most of my gaming experience to that point had focused on arcade-style shooters, platformers, fighting games, or action-adventure, but when I saw that Mario had returned in this new, weird, 3D-esque form, I knew I had to have it. And this opened the floodgates to the role-playing genre in general, as I snatched up EarthBound and Chrono Trigger shortly thereafter. But you always remember your first, and from playing for the first time as Peach and Bowser to new friends like Mallow and Geno and new enemies like Smithy and the Axem Rangers, this game absolutely hooked me.
Released: December 2008 – PS2
As much as I feel my choice should be the original Phantasy Star or Final Fantasy VI, my heart forces me to choose Persona 4. It was a game that not only rekindled my love for the Japanese RPG, but which also gave me hope for the future of the genre and the directions it could now dare to take. Why did Persona 4 work as beautifully as it did? Its creators understood how to develop characters and present situations that the player would come to care about—and care we did. Even after 100-plus hours of single-player gameplay, I still wanted more, and I long to see what Atlus will bring us once they finally unveil the inevitable Persona 5.
-Eric L. Patterson
Final Fantasy V
Released: December 1992 – SNES
While Suikoden’s my favorite RPG series of all time—its politically tinged, Game of Thrones–esque narratives can’t be beat—Final Fantasy V is probably my favorite individual game. I’d already fallen in love with the series as a kid, but I went out of my way to import this one (and convince my parents that it was worth importing!), and it’s what inspired me to study Japanese on my own time…at the expense of, you know, my actual homework! The robust job system let me play the game exactly how I wanted, and the game’s impressive 16-bit environments and stirring Nobuo Uematsu score immersed me in the world far more than the later 3D entries. Really, my love for Final Fantasy V is partly why I’m so distressed that the series has seemingly gone off the rails with the overly on-rails Final Fantasy XIII.
Released: September 1998 – Game Boy
Before several cartoon series, dozens of sequels and spin-offs, and several hundred species added over the years, it all started with 150 and the idea that you “gotta catch’em all.” Pokemon Red/Blue had me burning through more AA batteries in my Game Boy than I could count. Aside from really forcing you to strategize when building your party up and fighting like any great RPG, Pokemon Red/Blue really brought people together. Through trading with friends in middle school, working tirelessly into the night against the Elite Four, and a little bit of luck, I completed my Pokedex. I hadn’t put that much time into a game up to that point—or since—but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. A Graveler for a Machoke, on the other hand, is a perfectly reasonable trade.
Released: – November 2007 – Xbox 360
Prior to playing the original Mass Effect, role-playing games were always of interest to me, but seemed overly—and needlessly—complicated. And some still do. But by simplifying things just a little and upping the action quotient just a little, Mass Effect got me hooked and served as a gateway drug to the genre. Of course, it helped that I followed it up with Fallout 3, which was slightly more complex but still more intuitive than so much of its brethren. Though, it also helped that Mass went for a hard sci-fi approach to its visual and tone—and was, at its core, a solid third-person shooter. But it was its added depth—especially in its handling of characters and their dialogue—that really hooked me while also priming me for such other action-RPGs—Fable II, Borderlands—I might’ve never played otherwise.