Axe of the Blood God Presents: The 25 Best RPGs of All Time

Axe of the Blood God Presents: The 25 Best RPGs of All Time

From NetHack to The Witcher 3, we celebrate the greatest RPGs throughout gaming history.

The Top 25 RPGs of All Time | USG

Picking the Top 25 RPGs of All Time is serious business here at USG. Rather than simply toss up a quick list consisting of Top 25 blurbs, we decided to give each of these wonderful 60 to 100 hour experiences the attention they deserve. Hence every single entry on this gets not just an essay, but a full podcast segment as well.

Taken together, it's a remarkable tour of RPG history, stretching from the PC roguelikes of the 1980s [NetHack] to The Witcher 3, which is fast becoming a modern classic. Each one has a slightly different take on the genre, but broadly adheres to the core concepts of player choice, memorable storytelling, and deep combat. And one way or another, each one has etched itself in the medium's legacy.

In choosing this list, we specifically focused on games that we could decisively call "RPGs." So apologies to Dark Souls; we love it, but it doesn't make the list. We also put a premium on RPGs that aren't just influential, but are still widely played and appreciated today. As you might expect, that includes a lot of 16-bit RPGs.

With that, here is USG's complete list of the Top 25 RPGs of All Time. If you want to go directly to one of the entries, you can find the full list below. Otherwise continue on to the gallery for each entry.

The Complete List of the 25 Best RPGs of All Time

#25. Final Fantasy 5

#24. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

#23. NetHack

#22. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

#21. World of Warcraft

#20. Divinity: Original Sin

#19. Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millennium

#18. Diablo 2

#17. Deus Ex

#16. Earthbound

#15. Mass Effect

#14. Pokemon Gold and Silver

#13. Fallout: New Vegas

#12. Knights of the Old Republic

#11. The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind

#10. Baldur's Gate 2

#9. Persona 4

#8. Dragon Quest 5

#7. Fallout

#6. Ultima 7

#5. Suikoden 2

#4. Final Fantasy 6

#3. The Witcher 3

#2. Planescape: Torment

#1. Chrono Trigger
Final Fantasy 5: #25 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | Square Enix

25. Final Fantasy 5

While Final Fantasy 6 is a classic and Final Fantasy 7 is better-known, Final Fantasy 5 arguably stands the test of time better than almost any game in the series. It's a game that you can go back to again and again and enjoy from many different angles. Final Fantasy 5 demands experimentation, and more importantly, mastery.

In picking Final Fantasy 5 over its more popular predecessor for the initial slot on this list, I wanted to pick an RPG that still endures today. Final Fantasy 4 has given a ton to this genre, but having finished it, I don't really feel any need to go back. That story is finished. But Final Fantasy 5 always has the possibility of some new and interesting job combination, and beyond that, the Four Job Fiesta. Of the two, I would choose Final Fantasy 5 to play again in a heartbeat.

Tactics Ogre: #24 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | Square Enix

24. Tactics Ogre

Amazing as Final Fantasy Tactics can be, though, Tactics Ogre makes an argument for being the better game in the end. Its case begins with the World and Chariot systems: two clever additions to the PSP remake that let you explore Tactics Ogre's sprawling storyline at your leisure. The Chariot System is likely to be the first system you interact with, and it lets you rewind to the previous turn and beyond, which is a godsend amid Tactics Ogre's sometimes unforgiving difficult. The World System, meanwhile, lets you explore any part of the branching storyline that you want after completing your initial run.

The PSP remake elevates Tactics Ogre from obscure forerunner to classic, and is a large part of why I decided to put it on this list. It packs an almost stupid amount of content into one game, encompassing upwards of 300 hours of gameplay depending on whether you want to unlock everything. But even if you choose not to plumb its vast depths, it's still a very enjoyable tactics RPG filled with meaningful choices and challenging gameplay.

NetHack: #23 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | The Nethack Dev Team

23. NetHack

Imagine a world where nearly anything can happen. A monster can freeze you in your tracks with a mere glance, leaving you vulnerable for another creature to kill you. You can splatter oil on the ground and set it afire to lure enemies into a trap, but be careful: You're just as flammable. Rocks and other heavy objects can crush you. Lightning blasts can be directed at your foes, or backfire and fry you. Ponies can trample you. Falls can kill you. Giants will step on you.

This world is open-ended, arguably the most open-ended world ever. If you were born and raised in an era of graphics and physics engines, you'd be forgiven for believing such superlatives referred to 2017's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But for as open as Nintendo's adventure opus is, it pales in comparison to a much older game with a much simpler veneer.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: #22 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | Troika Games

22. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

These days Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is a beloved cult favorite, its loyal community and continual development keeping it in the public consciousness long beyond its expiration date. As I've said more than once already, one of my chief criteria in compiling my list of the Top 25 RPGs is longevity. RPGs are above all about the power of possibility, the freedom to explore many different avenues of character development, whether through story or through gameplay mechanics. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines goes further than most in that direction.

For all of its bugs and questionable gameplay choices—most especially the decision to lean hard on first-person gunplay in the final act—the raw strength of its design still has the power to grab fans. That, ultimately, is what has kept it alive all these years. And that's why it's one of the best RPGs ever made.

World of Warcraft: #21 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | Blizzard

21. World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft just keeps expanding, providing something for everyone. If you're a solo player who prefers to fight in player-vs-environment (PVE) situations, there's new zones, daily quests, and Scenarios to undertake. If you have a small group of friends, you can run dungeons. Raids dropped from their 40-man requirement, to 25 and 10-man, before finally settling on the scaling Flexible Raid system. Love to make your character look cool, goofy, or anything in-between? Run old content for Transmog appearances or mounts. If you're economically minded, you can stick with crafting and gathering Professions, playing the Auction House like a boss. If you like PVP, Battlegrounds are still there and Arena offers competitive play each season. Hell, there's even a Pokemon-style Pet capture and battle system that keeps getting updated. There's always something to do.

And in the middle of these new mechanical additions, World of Warcraft has continued to push forward the lore of Warcraft. Players banded together to take down major menaces like Arthas Menethil, Gul'dan, and Kil'jeaden. We've seen the sacrifice of Bolvar Fordragon, watched Illidan go from Outland's biggest threat to the warden of the Titan Sargeras, smiled as Thrall found his peace, and grimaced at the Undead betrayal at the Wrath Gate. Not every character or storyline has been a winner—poor Vol'jin didn't get much to do before he died—but Blizzard has kept things moving forward at a brisk and consistent pace.

World of Warcraft is one of the best RPGs of all time because it has remained relevant for so long. It evolves and changes along with its players, adding new facets and features year after year. Not every change is a winner, but the game continues to stride forward confidently. No other MMO can say the same, and certainly for not as long as World of Warcraft has. It's had many competitors and imitators, but at the end of the day, WoW is still standing.

Divinity: Original Sin: #20 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | Larian Studios

20. Divinity Original Sin

Divinity: Original Sin is a class act of an RPG. Its success isn't necessarily in the narrative framework, but the execution. In fact, the premise of Divinity: Original Sin is rather boilerplate and vanilla: in the world of Rivellion, magic is a way of life, with the exception of dangerous magic known as Source. Your dual protagonists are Source Hunters hunting a Sourcerer in the town of Cyseal; your investigation uncovers a deeper conspiracy that threatens the fate of the world itself.

Part of having such an open-ended quest and combat system is not holding the player's hand. You will get lost, you will have no clue what to do next, and you will die. Many times. The game asks you to commit to its world in a way few RPGs do these days. While the narrative foundation might be simple, the characters, the quests, and the fights you undertake are anything but. Divinity: Original Sin came from this small Belgian studio and reminded players of what real RPGs look like. It's a masterpiece that's only outstripped by its sequel and that's why it's one of the best RPGs of all-time.

Phantasy Star 4: #19 on the Top 25 RPGs of All Time | Sega

19. Phantasy Star 4

Phantasy Star 4 is a game worth longing for. Even the SNES' Final Fantasy entries can't boast a universe as well-developed as Phantasy Star's Algo star system. It's populated by an intriguing cast of cyborgs, machines, human-like races, and aliens—all with their own histories and cultures. It has dire threats that plague generations of heroes across millennia, and it all comes to a head in Phantasy Star 4.

True to its name, Phantasy Star 4: The End of the Millennium was an ending. There hasn't been a follow-up title outside the Phantasy Star Online games and Phantasy Star Nova, and good luck playing those if you live in the West. Much as RPG fans would love to see a Phantasy Star V, Phantasy Star 4's conclusion doesn't really call out for one. Sega deserves some respect for telling a story with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end instead of meandering all over Algo and leaving loose ends and question marks everywhere. Phantasy Star 4 is the very end, my friends, and that's just another reason to lend it a few hours of your time.

18. Diablo 2

Diablo 2 improves on its predecessor in myriad ways. The game moves at a blistering pace thanks to the ability to sprint, and the shift from claustrophobic dungeons to sprawling outdoor environments trades slower, more tactical combat for more bombastic action. However, Diablo 2's biggest achievement is the way it deftly weaves the first game's patented accessibility through a layer of player choice—the defining characteristic of a good RPG, and the missing link in the original game’s award-winning pedigree.

Diablo 2 may be Dungeons & Dragons' dumb cousin, but there’s fun to be had in shedding any pretense of intricate storytelling and just bashing monsters upside their heads. That’s not to say Diablo 2 has no story. For all its straightforwardness, the game is a highlight reel of memorable experiences and experiments. You’ll remember the exultation at finding your first Stone of Jordan, the heartache when you lose your favorite Hardcore character (and the stomach-twisting guilt at downloading a trainer to resurrect him… or so I’ve heard), and regale friends with memories of your first LAN party, of returning to Tristram to find it put to the torch, or the run to Mephisto that nets you that last green-tinged item you needed to assemble a complete Tal Rasha's Guardianship set.

Most of all, you’ll remember your characters. Over 18 years of play, I’ve carted a dozen or so with me from PC to PC, floppy disk to CD-ROM, USB drive to Google Drive. Wacky or viable, PVP or fine-tuned to kill the devil for the umpteenth time—Diablo 2 bonds you with your characters because they are yours.

17. Deus Ex

Deus Ex is just a damn cool game to play. Spector and his team were given carte blanche to make their dream game, and they responded by making a massive globetrotting adventure with a huge number of options. And remarkably, it didn't suck. Its open-ended design was revelatory in 2000, and dated as its graphics may be, it still largely holds up today. In particular, its audio design is some of the best ever. The first moment the evil A.I. Icarus appears unbidden and intones, "I now have full access to your systems," is one of the most chilling moments in gaming history. And it had a kicking soundtrack to boot.

Deus Ex has since given rise to multiple sequels, including the well-regarded Deus Ex: Human Revolution. But while the follow-ups are very good on their own, they can't quite match the scope of the original. It will forever be known as Warren Spector's greatest work, and it certainly deserves to be counted among the best RPGs ever.

16. Earthbound

Are you surprised Earthbound is on Axe of the Blood God's Top 25 RPGs of All Time list? I didn't think so. It took time for this unforgettable RPG to garner its steadfast Western audience, but Earthbound finally commands the same level of respect as Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and other 16-bit RPG classics.

Earthbound is all about kids doing the big jobs adults can't—or won't—do. It's about adults undoing everything good because adults are panicky and short-sighted. It's also about adults listening to children and then doing their part to fix the damage that's been done to society by that panic and fear. Earthbound's story was relevant in 1994, it's relevant now, and it'll probably continue to be relevant for decades to come. That's why it belongs on this list of the best 25 RPGs of all time. That, and there are UFOs with bows on their heads.

15. Mass Effect

Mass Effect was Bioware's moment to cement itself as prestige studio for console players. The developer crafted a brand-new universe for players to explore; part-Star Wars, part-Star Trek, part-Starship Troopers. The cinematic presentation was heavily improved over Bioware's previous offerings. The turn-based combat of Knights of the Old Republic was shifted towards an interface that resembled a third-person shooter; players retained the ability to pause combat, but a cover system was introduced and the camera was over your character's shoulder, as opposed to the more free-form camera of previous games.

Mass Effect 2 is a better "game" in my opinion, but it was the beginning of Bioware losing some of its more interesting rough edges. The first Mass Effect has jank and bugs. The performances are wooden by today's standards and the character stories are more interesting in Mass Effect 2. For all the talk of exploration, the maps actually end up being fairly linear. The Mako controls like an ugly boat on wheels. But at the time, everything Bioware put into Mass Effect came together in this incredible science fiction experience, a moment in time matched only by other legendary classics like Halo.

14. Pokemon Gold and Silver

As it stands, Pokemon Gold and Silver is still the peak of the series. No entry since has been bigger, more ambitious, more willing to push its platform to the absolute limit. The only addition bigger than breeding and the day/night cycle is perhaps online play, which began the process of pushing the series in a more hardcore direction.

With that, I'd say that Pokemon Gold and Silver has a strong argument for being the best Game Boy game of all time. Certainly no Game Boy remains as relevant today as Pokemon's second generation. Other developers have tried to match Pokemon's ridiculous success over the years, but none have come close to succeeding. Its competition has all been too kiddie, or too shallow, to last very long. Pokemon has managed to hold up not just because of nostalgia, but because of its iconic designs, weirdly dark world, and shockingly deep gameplay. I've always said half-jokingly that we don't need a Pokemon MMORPG: it's had a persistent connected world since at least 2000.

That makes it an easy choice to put Pokemon on our list of the Top 25 RPGs of All Time. And as the best Pokemon generation to date, Pokemon Gold and Silver gets the nod.

13. Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas was a rare opportunity. Founded just a few years before, Obsidian was home to a number of Interplay alums. Many of them had worked on the first two Fallout games, and had been involved in the creation of what was supposed to be the original Fallout 3, which was called Van Buren. This was their chance to put one last stamp on the legacy of the series.

That makes Fallout: New Vegas something of a last hurrah for both classic Fallout and for the people who made it. Much as fans might want it, Obsidian is unlikely to ever work on the series again. Bethesda hasn't even so much as remastered Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, preferring instead to focus its efforts on getting Skyrim on as many platforms as possible.

But thanks to the modding community, Fallout: New Vegas remains strong as ever close to a decade after its original release. Bethesda took Fallout to a new of popularity, but Obsidian's follow-up still represents the franchise's narrative peak in the 3D era.

12. The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind

With Morrowind, Bethesda was able to offer the right game at the right time. It provided console gamers autonomy and immersion on a scale they had never experienced before. The quintessential Morrowind story is of the player who gets utterly lost in Bethesda's fantasy world, not even realizing that the story is there until 50 hours have passed. This was a very new and enticing experience on console in 2002.

It wasn't an overnight success. Critics complained about its bugs (a Bethesda staple), and it sold a relatively modest 200,000 units in its first few months of release. But word of mouth was strong, and by 2005, it had sold more than 4 million units, setting the stage for the breakout success of Oblivion on Xbox 360.

Today Morrowind is remembered fondly for its unique world, relatively hardcore mechanics, and surprisingly strong story, which takes the "chosen one" narrative and subverts it in a handful of interesting ways. It retains a strong cult fandom and a vibrant modding community—another Bethesda staple. Waypoint contributor Jim Trinca argues that the more popular Skyrim and Oblivion nevertheless remain trapped in the shadow of Morrowind. "The Elder Scrolls remains locked in a Morrowind-shaped prison, doomed to keep referencing itself for eternity," Trinca writes. "You can visit Morrowind in The Elder Scrolls Online. You can even run into M'aiq the Liar. For Bethesda, it's impossible to escape, and perilous to ignore."

11. Knights of the Old Republic

Knights of the Old Republic took the structure that BioWare had somewhat established in games like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights and streamlined it for a mainstream audience. Married to the best-selling Star Wars universe, KOTOR was a hit on the original Xbox. It was a perfect moment in gaming history: the right combination of developer, mechanics, and property. And together with Morrowind, Knights of the Old Republic was responsible for bringing new players into the genre and shifting the face of RPGs for years to come.

Star Wars: Knights of Old Republic still stands up, even today. The graphics are dated, but the game remains an excellent RPG, one that Electronic Arts and BioWare really should follow up. Especially in a market where single-players RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey are making money. Until that happens though, we'll continue to celebrate Star Wars: Knights of Old Republic as one of the best RPGs of all time.

10. Baldur's Gate 2

Baldur's Gate 2 is BioWare's magnum opus. It was with Baldur's Gate 2 that BioWare perfected the formula that would later be popularized by Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and the rest. The quest structure, the combat, the humorous characters, and the romance that defined BioWare's RPGs through the years mainly got their start with Baldur's Gate and its sequel.

With the Infinity Engine already well-established, BioWare basically had free reign to build as much as content as possible. And boy did BioWare ever make good on that opportunity. Perhaps more than any BioWare RPG that succeeded it, Baldur's Gate was absolutely loaded with sidequests to discover and choices to make. It packed in eleven different classes, each with their own specializations, and some 300 spells. It even had a multiplayer mode.

Today, Baldur's Gate 2 lives on thanks to Beamdog's Enhanced Editions, which makes it accessible on most every console you can think of. Mass Effect is better-known, mostly because it's an action RPG for consoles, but Baldur's Gate 2 is the game that really made BioWare what it is today. And frankly, it's unlikely to ever doubt the sheer size and depth of its best game.

9. Persona 4

Persona 4's decision to take things a little slower and give you a chance to really get to know the characters of Inaba also makes the reveal of its final villain chilling. Sadly, Persona 5 doesn't string you along convincingly, though it still seems to want to shock you with its Big Twist. Again, Persona 5's brighter lights, louder music, and swarming city streets work against it here. I love Persona 5's final Palace, its music, and the fact you get to explore big parts of it as mice wearing masks, but its big sweeping climax about corrupt politicians and insane bastard children doesn't unsettle me half as much as Persona 4's comparatively low-key reveal.

Persona 5's shitty adults are consistent in their shittiness, but Persona 4's villain throws up a goofy, friendly façade around a black, cold soul that seethes with entitlement and misogyny. "At the end of the day," Persona 4 tells us, "You don't really know what anyone stores in the deepest, darkest part of themselves." That's terrifying. And it's true.

It's also why Persona 4 emphasizes the bond between lifelong friends above everything else. Building a strong network of friends and performing the simple acts of kindness that strengthen those bonds are small but significant things we can do to help us power through dark times. We can't eliminate the shadows that follow us—nor should we, they're as much a part of us as our hearts and souls—but our friends can watch our backs and help us rein the shadows in when it looks like we might lose control. Persona 5's message to "question everything" is good advice during these heavy, grey days, but Persona 4's "Count on your friends" has a place, too.

8. Dragon Quest 5

When we praise video games, we sling around the term "epic" like it carries no weight. What makes a game epic, though? In literature, the descriptor is usually reserved for works of tremendous cultural significance, like The Odyssey and Paradise Lost. Should we really hand the recognition to games so freely?

I don't know. I'm not a member of the Word Usage Police (I hope to be accredited by summertime). If we ever start acting more carefully about branding games as epics, however, I believe Square Enix's Dragon Quest 5 has every right to occupy that lofty tier. It takes you around the world, tells a multi-generational story threaded with seriously impactful moments and quality character development, and its battle system introduced serious monster-taming mechanics ages before Pokemon infiltrated pop culture. Not bad for a Super Famicom RPG published in 1992.

Much of Dragon Quest 5's power lies with its protagonist—canonically named "Abel"—which is an interesting thing to say about a mute character (the "Buttoned-up Lead Character" continues a long-standing tradition for Dragon Quest heroes, and indeed, for many RPG heroes, period). It's rare for a silent hero to deliver as much of an impact as Abel, but it's also rare for an RPG to make its lead character grow up, suffer, and then prosper and triumph as successfully as Dragon Quest 5 does.

7. Fallout

Fallout was a true sandbox, allowing you to go wherever you wanted. You could actually get the Water Chip early on in the game if you already knew where to go. The town of Shady Sands is close, offering you a logical starting point, but you can also head to Junktown or the Brotherhood's base if you want. You really feel like a lone wanderer, making your way through the desert like Kwai Chang Caine from Kung Fu, righting wrongs or wronging the righteous.

Fallout reverberates throughout the industry for what it was to RPGs, in addition to the ultimate paths of the people working on it. It stands tall even today because as gaming presentation has improved with cinematic visuals, vast beautiful worlds, and well-done voice acting, the amount of choices available to players have gotten smaller. We're increasingly stuck with the "Paragon" or "Renegade" options to use terms from BioWare's Mass Effect; trapped within black and white worlds of pure good and pure evil. The original Fallout highlights that RPGs can be more than that, something closer to the pen-and-paper games they're supposed to emulate. That's why, despite a dated visual style and ugly UI, Fallout still stands tall all these years later.

6. Ultima 7

Ultima 7 deserves better than to be forgotten. Sadly though, that seems to be exactly what's happening. Ask anyone younger than 25 for their thoughts on Ultima and you're apt to get a blank stare in return.

Ultima 7 developer Origin Systems was the first in a long line of studios to be acquired and eventually cannibalized by EA. Its fate was sealed when EA completed the transaction in September 1992, less than six months after the release of Ultima 7—arguably Origin's magnum opus. Origin Systems would eventually be disbanded 12 years later, with even the incredible success of Ultima Online not being enough to save it. Our last glimpse of Ultima was the banal Ultima Forever for iOS, which Eurogamer's Rich Stanton derisively called "a cow clicker with a beard.

To understand what a tragedy this is for RPGs, and what a missed opportunity this is for EA, one need only observe the success of Ultima 7. Before Elder Scrolls, Fallout, or any other sandbox RPG, Ultima 7 dropped players into Britannia and let them have at it. It was an RPG rife with possibility, whether in murdering every single quest giver in the game, or even calling down the apocalypse with a wayward spell.

5. Suikoden 2

The adoration of Suikoden 2 has endured for over two decades. That's one reason why it's worth examining and re-examining. Here's another reason: People still happily talk about the strength of Suikoden 2's story even though it's delivered through a terrible translation.

[...]

The scope and ambition of Suikoden 2's story is especially impressive when you consider when the game arrived. Final Fantasy VII turned RPG stories down a darker path compared to the SNES era, but it did so primarily through grimy industrial settings, hopeless desert prisons, and neon-lit paths leading to houses of ill repute. By comparison, Suikoden 2's story talks to you directly, adult-to-adult. And despite its politics and its commentary about the hydra-like tendencies of war, it still lets you fill your party with archers, unicorns, werewolves, warrior dogs, swordspeople of all kinds, and a damn Kraken if you want. It strikes a perfect balance between the mundane and the fantastic—a trait that's easy to appreciate in our Game of Thrones-crazed culture.

Suikoden 2's narrative success despite its translation flaws is a credit to the game's writer and director, Yoshitaka Murayama. It's also a credit to Suikoden 2's excellent visual storytelling and unparalleled sprite work. It's mind-boggling to start up a new game and witness how many individual animations were painstakingly assembled pixel-by-pixel to tell Suikoden 2's story. The "Reminiscence" cutscene near the start of the game wordlessly illustrates the close bond between the three main characters using sprite sheets we see in that one moment, then never again.

4. Final Fantasy 6

Final Fantasy 6 pushed the boundaries of what was possible on the Super Nintendo, and remarkably, it mostly worked. The famous scene in which former Imperial General Celes is roped into performing in an opera somehow avoided being an abject disaster despite the Super Nintendo sound chip only allowing for basic mawps from the singers. It had a good deal of death, including at least one attempted suicide by a major protagonist. Its sprawling story meant that some characters got relatively short shrift, but most had at least one moment to shine.

Final Fantasy 6's final battle was an incredible spectacle by the standards of the 16-bit era. It was a four-part battle against a villain intended to evoke the visuals of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel (at least, that's how I saw it). At the top awaited the villain, Kefka, now an angel. As the fight progressed from one level to the next, the theme "Dancing Mad" seamlessly transitioned with it. It was fairly ridiculous in just how overblown it was, but I'm not sure any Final Fantasy has topped it since; not even the more famous "One-Winged Angel."

All of this felt bigger than anything that had been on a console to that point. The genre lines are more blurred these days, so it's much more common for action games to have light RPG elements, or for shooters to have strong stories. But in 1994, the contrast between Final Fantasy 6, and say, a random mascot platformer (Aero the Acro-Bat!) was a little more marked. It was enough to earn Final Fantasy 6 a cult following, and it presaged the breakout success of Final Fantasy 7 on the PlayStation.

3. Witcher 3

There's honestly so much to say about Witcher 3, which has steadily grown in esteem to the point that it's considered by many to be the best game of the generation. As Caty so colorfully put it during the episode of Axe of the Blood God covering this episode, "If you can't see the quality of The Witcher 3, you're a dumbass who can't be trusted." Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, but between its beautifully realized open world, outstanding story, and multitude of interesting sidequests, it certainly is one of the best RPGs I've ever played.

In the years to come, I have no doubt Witcher 3's standing will continue to grow. It has already propelled CD Projekt to the top echelons of game development; and with BioWare and Bethesda currently in a down cycle, it has few rivals in the RPG space. Even if CDPR royally screws up Cyberpunk 2077, everyone will continue to look back on fondly on The Witcher 3. Its legacy is secure.

2. Planescape Torment

In Planescape: Torment, character allegiances make some sense, and nearly every character has a hidden morale tracker, which raises or lowers depending on doing things they agree with. One character is Vhailor, a living suit of armor that's steadfast in its pursuit of justice. Vhailor will join your party, but if you ever give him the wrong bit of information, he'll figure out that you're the quarry he's been hunting. So you have to avoid the subject, or you can talk him into embracing his True Death by proving his worldview wrong.

Or there's Dak'kon, whose Zerth Blade can change completely depending on how you treat him: show him that you value his contributions, and it'll become the Streaming Blade, treat him like a slave and it'll become the Kinstealer. The party can even bicker amongst themselves. The thief Annah and succubus Fall-From-Grace can randomly have an argument that will see the former leave your party completely. (You can convince her to return with a little magic and persuasion.)

Ultimately, this is why Planescape is remembered so fondly along with Baldur's Gate and Fallout—your choices all matter. And further, there are a wide variety of choices to make. Your character build, your stats, your classes, your dialog choices, and even your companions all combine to determine how you progress through Planescape: Torment's main story. It's a game that challenges you to find your own way forward. Yes, there are limitations in what the developers can let you do, but Torment doesn't feel like the limitations are there. The illusion of a wide open field of options is what a great RPG is about, and Planescape: Torment pulls it off beautifully.

1. Chrono Trigger

It'd require tens of thousands of words to pay adequate tribute to all the songs that shape Chrono Trigger's atmosphere. I've only touched on a few map themes that wordlessly set the mood for what Crono and his friends are destined to face in each new world they visit. Even dungeon themes are rarely repeated from one time period to the next: You're only treated to the electric, bass-heavy Site 16 on 2300 A.D.'s ruined highways, and you hear the haunting synthesizers of Tyran Castle exclusively in 65 million B.C.

That's why Chrono Trigger deserves its top spot on our list of the Top 25 RPG of All Time. Its designers, its artists, and its composers—especially Mitsuda—tried a whole bunch of crazy new ideas, and they all work. An immeasurable amount of effort clearly went into Chrono Trigger's production, yet the final product feels as light and frictionless as a dream.

If that's still not a good enough reason for you, then all I can offer is one more reason based wholly on personal bias: The theme for the Undersea Palace makes excellent use of synthesizers. As an '80s kid, I must acknowledge them. Praise!

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

Read this next

The 16-bit Console Wars Return on Axe of the Blood God

The Blood God drops listeners in a time warp back to 1994.

Netflix Might Have Leaked The Witcher Series' Premiere Date

Celebrate the holidays with monsters and magic.

Free WoW Classic Character Moves Are Coming to Help the Overcrowded Realm Problem

Blizzard's quest to get more people playing instead of waiting continues.

WoW Classic Realms Are Still Seeing Lengthy Queues After Hotfixes

It might still be hours before you get into the realm of your choice.

Blizzard Files Lawsuit Over 'Blatant Warcraft Knock-Off' On Mobile

The suit also points to games that allegedly infringe on Pokemon and other franchises.

EarthBound’s 25th Anniversary Makes us Pine for Classic Instruction Books

Earthbound's player guide is a great example of the effort publishers expended trying to make the West fall in love with RPGs.

More on PC

Starting Screen | Games are Running Worse Than Ever on the Base PS4 and Xbox One. Is There a Solution?

Owners of the base consoles are increasingly saddled with long load times when playing games like Borderlands 3.

Thinbloods and the Politics of Living Forever: An Interview with Bloodlines 2 Writer Cara Ellison

We talked love, loss, and lots of blood with one of Bloodlines 2's writers.

Highly Ranked Apex Legends Players Will Get Their Own Trail, so You Know Where Not to Land

At least you'll know if you're landing next to an Apex Predator.

Borderlands 3 Athenas Typhon Log Locations

Here’s where to find the three Typhon Logs on Athenas in Borderlands 3.

Borderlands 3 Promethea Typhon Log Locations

Here’s where to find all of the Typhon Logs on Promethea.

More Role Playing Games Games

Starting Screen | Games are Running Worse Than Ever on the Base PS4 and Xbox One. Is There a Solution?

Owners of the base consoles are increasingly saddled with long load times when playing games like Borderlands 3.

Thinbloods and the Politics of Living Forever: An Interview with Bloodlines 2 Writer Cara Ellison

We talked love, loss, and lots of blood with one of Bloodlines 2's writers.

The First Three Dragon Quests Finally Leave Their Mobile Prison For Switch

Erdrick's violent kids are about to run rampant on your Switch.