As I started my research for this piece, I realized something VERY quickly. There are a lot of RPGs out there and as I read deeper, it occurred to me that technically speaking, EVERY video game is (in a way) a role playing game. You assume control of a character and use them to collect items they need to alter your normal actions in order to complete a task…more or less. Be it a mushroom that makes you grow twice your normal size or a spell that you cast to do all the ass-kicking for you while you finish your homework (I wasn’t the only one, was I?), nearly every digital gaming experience can, in some form or another, be classified as an RPG.
Okay, maybe not Tetris, settle down. So that’s definitely an over simplification, but nonetheless makes an impossibly large list to choose from. Knowing that, stereotypically, RPGs are widely recognized as either medieval or futuristic fantasy based adventures; I thought this might be too exclusive a definition. Therefore, I tried to break it down into franchises that focused on different aspects of gameplay, as well as the revolutionary franchises that set the standard for games we have today. That being said, this is my personal list and should not be held to any sort of standard as the end-all, be-all of “best of” lists.
So let’s get to it…
Todd’s Top 10 Role Playing Video Game Franchises/Series’
#10 – The ESPN Fantasy App
You are: General Manager
Cost: FREE on IOS, Android, and ESPN.COM
You and your friends (Eight total is a good number to start with) take turns picking players from a particular sport (football seems to be the easiest for beginners.) creating your own professional sport franchise. Week after week you pit your team against another from your league leading up to the championships.
WHAT!? FANTASY SPORTS?!?! Ok, I know I’m gonna get some flak for this, but just give me a sec to plead my case. First, did you see the price? Next, playing fantasy requires just as much luck as it does skill. There are folks who’ve played for years and never won the championship, and then there are others who pick their players based on their smile and win it all their first year in. Then, while theoretical in nature, fantasy takes away the digital characters and replaces them with real people. Real, fineable, vulnerable, arrest-able people. You will curse more than you ever have in your entire life. For a glimpse of what league life is like, check out FX’s The League (NSFW) on Netflix.
#9 – The MYST Series
You are: the “stranger”
First available: Oct 25, 1994
Cost: $16.95 on PC (although you can probably find it way cheaper, too)
Awaking on a MYSTerious (see what I did there?) island you soon realize there is a history, a MYSTery (heh, I did it again), and a very real enemy…and it just might be your own instincts.
If “Peace means havin’ a bigger stick than the other guy,” then this initial puzzle game lets your greatest weapon be your greatest hindrance. You can play other games, beef up your armor, learn better spells, find/forge more awesome weapons, but do you have the savvy to make it through and off the Island of Myst? But the true test lies in what you do if you initially fail (The odds are against you 66.6 %.). Will you start again and double your efforts, abandon this family feud forever or just Google the answer and waste your money?
#8 – The Fallout series
You are: a nuclear war survivor
First available: Sept 30, 1997
Me: Hey guys, do you have a favorite RPG?
JB: Video Game RPG or tabletop?
Me: Video Game.
JB: I don’t play a ton of ‘em but I’d have to give a shout out to Fallout…
GH: If Fallout counts, that one. So much fun to play.
JB: The music and graphics are amazing too.
Me: Great, thanks!
GH: Why do you ask?
Me: Don’t worry about it.
#7 – The TellTale games — all of them.
You are: a character in your favorite pre-existing franchise
Dec 22, 2010 – Back to the Future
April 24, 2012 – The Walking Dead
Aug 2, 2016 – Batman: The Telltale Series
These pretty much speak for themselves. Although the animation is reminiscent of Archer, the weekly release guarantees return customers and ever expanding web traffic. A brilliant business model. If you purchase the complete game as I did with BttF make sure you spend as little as you can on a new copy, play through it once, and then set it next to your Blu-Ray boxset of the movie trilogy.
#6 – MechWarrior
You are: a mechanical battle suit pilot
First available: 1989
Way back when my parents bought this big ol’ thing called a desk-top com-pu-tor, it came with a little gem called MechWarrior 2. Man, did that thing keep me from doing my chores. Basically, you pimp out a battle suit and then go blow $#!+ up. But, this game taught me the ins and outs of customization (Character Building) that I would need for later game experiences. BTW, play this with an actual joystick. It’s worth the few extra dollars and really helps complete the experience.
#5 – Fable
You are: A child face with a choice: grow up good?…or evolve into evil. (dum dum DUUUM!)
First available: Sept 14, 2004
I loved this on my original XBOX. This is a great game for getting your feet wet in the world of character building. Every choice, down to your facial tattoos (Yep, that happens.) affects your future. Just like real life! Try to get a job nowadays with face ink. Good thinkin’ Tyson.
Speakin’ of things that were great on the original XBOX…
#4 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
You are: A young Jedi helping to maintain peace and order in the galaxy 4000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire.
First available: July 15, 2003
Do I really need to go into this one? Develop yourself into a formidable Jedi Master while learning hints of history about the galaxy far, far away that we ALL love so, so much.
#3 – The Final Fantasy franchise
You are: A “Good Guy” fightin’ “Bad Guys”
First available: 1987
This one would make it onto the list for just the sheer size and scope of this franchise. Unless you think of a red box edition of a different game altogether, THIS is what most people think of in word association when confronted with the phrase “RPG.” Each installment grows by leaps and bounds in nearly every aspect of gameplay. Control? Yep. Graphics? Well, duh. Replayability? I’m talkin’ about it HERE aren’t I?
Feel that, Lord Snow? I think a Blizzard is a comin’…
#2 – Diablo
First available: New Year’s Eve, 1996
“Ah, fresh meat!” My “crops” of 5000 gold surrounding my Town Portal were always plentiful. Quick survey: Raise your hand if not only did you cast Golem and then go do something else, but you talked to him like he was a puppy. “Who’s a good Golem?” As a big fan of storytelling in gameplay, this one will always hold a special place in my heart (and forehead).
#1 – Warcraft
You are: An Orc or a Human…I’m not sure, I can’t see you from here.
First available: Nov 23, 1994
This is essentially what it was all building towards. Pick a side, suit up, slug it out. When you get parodied by South Park, you know you’ve arrived.
JB: Hey, have you seen Duncan Jones’ Warcraft?
GH: I haven’t seen it yet. No.
JB: Man, maybe we should watch that and talk about it…maybe not.
Disagree with my choices on my list of MY favorite RPGs? Want to yell at me because I forgot to include The Elder Scrolls series? (our editor thinks I deserve that – and I’m sorry, I’ve never actually played any of them, so I’m not qualified to speak on them… no, not even Skyrim… sorry) – Feel free to keep it to yourself (or really, whatever you want) in the comments section below.
-Todd A. Davis
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine