Recently, I've been playing a lot of vintage titles, having rediscovered some older consoles that I'd stashed in my closet and forgotten. It felt like catching up with old friends over the holidays. Nostalgic, familiar, but it can also make you appreciate your current situation that much more. Likewise, with these games, though I loved them, it also inspired me to round up some favorites from the current generation, which are blessed with, among other things, positively stellar graphics in comparison. Here are ten of our top RPGs from the current generation!
#10 Nier – PS3, 360
A father, a foul-mouthed lingerie-wearing possessed woman, and a magical talking book must team up to save the life of a little girl, and drive evil from the land. This title, a recent but often overlooked release from Square Enix has been fairly divisive among players. Those who like it appreciate the top-notch soundtrack and general environment of the game, which is rather like some of the later Final Fantasy titles, but without the turn-based combat.
Common criticisms from detractors usually have to do with one of three things: 1) There are a few bosses which can only be defeated with very specific actions, and often have a stun lock attack which gets frustrating very quickly. 2) The mode of gameplay temporarily shifts several times throughout the game to other formats, including overhead perspective and even text-based at one point, and for no readily apparent reason. 3) The fishing quests are notorious for being very difficult. However, if the player follows the red "X" on the map and fishes from the correct spot, these quests are not so bad, and the correct fish is eventually granted by the game if the player is having too much trouble, in the interest of time. On the whole, this title is worth a shot for any fantasy RPG fan, particularly for those interested in post-apocalyptic scenarios with slight steampunk leanings.
#9 Tales of Vesperia – Xbox 360, PS3
This is the tenth title in Namco's Tales series and features a satisfying story set on the planet Terca Lumireis. On this planet, "blastia", ancient technologies developed by the elf-like Krytians that powers most aspects of human society is in high demand, and must be powered with a substance called "are", which, in large enough amounts is actually poisonous to humans. All access to these technologies is controlled by the Empire, under whose rules all humans live except for those who have left society to form guilds, which are essentially tribes that live outside the protection and rules of the Empire.
When the blastia responsible for providing water to Yuri's underclass neighborhood is stolen, he decides to go after the thief, only to meet up with several other misfits with whom he decides to form a guild, having been disenchanted with the ways of the Empire along the way. The group then encounters a mysterious Krytian woman who is out to destroy all the blastia, and an evil guild leader Barbos, and events are set in motion which cause the newly formed guild to have to fight to save not just their own lives, but their world. With a battle system built upon the one from Tales of the Abyss, this cautionary tale about excess and sustainability is sure to leave fans of the Tales series thoroughly satisfied.
#8 Lost Odyssey – Xbox 360
Of all the games on the list, this one comes closest to seeming like a Final Fantasy title without actually being one, especially since the music was written by Nobuo Uematsu. Lost Odyssey, released by Mistwalker, could easily pass as a Square Enix title.
Immortal man Kiam Argonar has amnesia, and has been wandering the world for a millennium without knowing who he is. He has survived a meteor impact, wars, monsters and various forms of enchantment. Combat is turn-based with 7 playable characters, and the cutscenes are particularly worth watching in this beautifully rendered game.
#7 The Witcher – PC
The Witcher transcends traditional fantasy role-playing by throwing players into a unique fantasy world rife with modern social issues where the line between good and evil is blurred and every decision can have profound consequences.
The game is an RPG at heart and contains all the familiar trappings of the genre as the main quest line takes players on a liner progression through five chapters. As far as gameplay is concerned, the games uses a simple and effective style system that comprises of five different styles, but it is the alchemy system that will garner much of your attention, mixing up oils and portions to increase your effectiveness in-combat forming an integral part of the game. It is a game that every RPG fan should try.
#6 Valkyria Chronicles – PS3
Developed by the same basic team responsible for Sakura Wars, this title combines the classic "tank/scout" dynamic with a few variations such as assault infantry, engineers, snipers, and "lancers" who concentrate on anti-tank warfare. Set far in the future on a fictional world that bears striking resemblance to WWII-era Europe, Valkyria Chronicles features a variety of charismatic characters. Combat is turn-based, as one might expect in Target Mode, and shifts to real time when in Action Mode. With a satisfying and engaging story arc, this game easily appeals to fans of JRPGs and old school strategy games alike.
#5 Demons' Souls – PS3
Released in late 2009, this title has firmly established itself as fiendishly difficult and thoroughly dark. The land of Boletaria has been taken over by an evil fog that summons demons which feed on the souls of mortals.
Players go through the game with a highly customizable avatar, killing demons and collecting their souls. The souls in turn can be used as currency for purchasing weapons upgrades, as well as skill points and other character enhancements. When a player is killed in combat, he or she is revived in soul form at the start of the most recent levee, and must hunt for a bloodstain which will restore the player to full life and with all collected souls in tact. However, if the player is killed again before retrieving the bloodstain, the souls are lost permanently. In-game choices will effect gameplay towards either White (enemies are easier, but rewards are less) or Black (harder enemies with better items).
Demons' Souls is very difficult, particularly for an RPG, but is one of the most original titles to be released in recent years.
#4 Dragon Age: Origins – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Another Bioware title, Dragon Age: Origins features the same player choice-driven narrative, but this time in a fantasy setting. Players select a character class and race, and are immediately thrown into a scenario where they are one of two "Grey Wardens" left in the country. A Grey Warden's job is to defend the country from an invasion of demons, known as "The Blight", and led by the Arch Demon. The variety of skills and magic spells from which to choose is astounding, as is the amount of option side quests. all these options plus the tailoring of the environment and story based on in-game choices makes for a sound purchase for those who want to be able to play through a game more than once with a different experience each time.
#3 Fallout 3 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Incorporating facets of both survival horror games and first-person shooters, Fallout 3 more than earns its place on any list of good RPGs. The story picks up over 3 decades after the events in Fallout 2, and two centuries after the the nuclear winter which led to the world of the Fallout series. Players start out in Vault 101, a radiation-proof shelter the size of a small town, where a group of people have survived and are attempting to reform their society in the midst of vicious enemies who now roam the area. When the player's father is discovered to be missing under mysterious circumstances, the player must venture outside of Vault 101 into the ruined Capital Wasteland that was once Washington D.C. to try to find him.
With a party comprised of the main character customized by the player, an NPC and a dog named Dogmeat, this game features a unique combination of turn-based and real-time combat. However, another notable feature is the health system, which utilizes both general health, which is tied to the damage bar as per usual and once depleted renders a character dead, and a limb health bar. When a limb is rendered damaged, a character can no longer use it until it is healed by a doctor, injected with a stimpack, or the character is able to sleep. It should be noted that certain enemies and other non-humans will often have more than what is considered the normal amount of limbs.
#2 Mass Effect 2 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Here we have another sequel that is at least as good as the original game, and provides and extra degree of continuity in the form of being able to import the Shepard created in the original game into the world of this one. And not just as an empty avatar, but all the choices made made prior to even beginning this game are factored in as well. Did you punch that reporter in the face? Well guess what. That is going to stay with you forever.
With up to 13 party members and 100 side quests, Mass Effect 2 provides countless hours of gameplay, and like the crossover from the first game to this one, Bioware has informed gamers that the import option will be available once again for Mass Effect 3, which is tentatively slated for release in late 2011.
#1 Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – 360, PS3, PC
This chapter of the Elder Scrolls series, initially released in Spring of 2006 is remarkable for both its lushly rendered environments and its highly customizable gameplay. Unlike a lot of other RPGs, it has a sandbox format, meaning that the entire world is open to exploration from the beginning, and that quests do not necessarily happen in a specific order. For those that prefer more structure, this can seem overwhelming at first, but one a player experiences such a format, more traditionally structured games can feel relentlessly linear. The leveling system is fairly straightforward: seven skills are picked out of a total twenty-one, and when each skill is increased by ten points, the character levels up. Skills range from purely physical to purely magical, offering options which appeal to a range of preferences, though the ability to "enchant" an item with magical powers does not exist in Oblivion in the same way as it does in its predecessor, Morrowind. The player can also choose between first- and third-person perspective. This is a useful feature, as Oblivion is particularly noted for its melee combat. All in all a solid game.