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Thursday, July 5, 2012

The ten best RPGs this generation

Anyone who knows me knows I love my RPGs. One of the first genres of game I was introduced to, with the pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons way back when I was a child, I’ve made sure I play all the good games that have come along since.

And I must say that this generation of console hardware has been really good to the RPG genre – both in terms of western RPGs and their eastern equivalent (or the JRPG). I tell you what, this list has been a particularly good one – I could do a top 10 list on just PlayStation 3 games.

So here’s my top 10 list for RPGs this generation – five western RPGs, and five JRPGs. They’re not in any particular order, so don’t flame me for having the best of the bunch first!


The Witcher 2

The Witcher 2 is a strong candidate for the finest western RPG ever. It gets just about everything right – a superb story, amazing characters, brutal, intelligent combat and a real difficulty curve. This was a game to be mastered, not cruised through.

It’s also one of the rare times where the “adult” elements – violence and sex – has a genuine context to the game. The Witcher 2 would be a lesser game if it was censored, and that’s a rare thing.
Oh – it’s also one of the most impressive game worlds we’ve seen this generation. Even the “inferior” version on the Xbox 360 looked breathtaking.

I have a personal soft spot for Dragon Age: Origins (below), but it’s hard to deny that this game is the superior on a technical basis.


Dragon Age: Origins

This is my personal favourite western RPG this generation. Dragon Age: Origins is the perfect way for a Dungeons & Dragons developer to make a Dungeons & Dragons game after losing the license.

The game featured deep dungeons, a dark story, a dragon end-boss, moral ambiguity and a massive world to explore. It was everything that we loved in the original Baldurs Gate, just with a modern coat of paint.

It’s also one of the rare examples of a modern, big budget, turn based RPG. While Origins looked like an action game on the surface, the numbers ticking underneath suggested otherwise. This in turn made it a more tactical strategy game than most, and this is where I think the genre has really lost out over the years.


Skyrim

Skyrim isn’t so much a game as a world you inhabit. What I love about Skyrim I loved about the previous games in the Elder Scrolls franchise: I loved spending hours reading the books, I loved just wandering around a new town or city. I loved the freedom to basically follow whatever moral code I liked.

Skyrim is so many years of lore and experience crammed into a single game that it’s impossible to resist. Even the problems with the combat, and the relatively uninspiring dungeons this time around was not enough to stop that “time played” counter sneaking over 100 hours…


Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning 

As Website regulars would know, this game disappointed me greatly, but that’s only because it was a very good game, and I expected far more, given how much respect I have for the creatives behind the game.

It’s still one of the best games of the generation, and here’s why: It’s a new, creative fantasy world at a time where everyone is sticking to existing IPs.

It was a lot of fun to explore a new universe and new mythology, and it was backed by some quality gameplay. Now if only we could get a sequel, though that is unfortunately not a sure thing.


Two Worlds 2 

This is the “guilty pleasure” on my list. It’s B-grade, yes, and has more technical bugs and issues than your typical Elder Scrolls game. It has a plot right out of pulp fiction, Z-grade fantasy novels.

And yet I love it for that. Just like I can sit down and enjoy a Conan the Barbarian film, Two Worlds 2 is a bit of brainless fun. It’s fun to have a laugh at the shocking voice acting, and the world is so generic that it somehow comes out the other end being charming.

It’s the kind of RPG that a 10-year-old mind would make up. As someone who played Dungeons & Dragons as a 10-year-old and did dream up (very bad) adventures, there’s something appealing about that.


Nier

Nier is, without question, my favourite game of the generation. It’s niche, perhaps, but couple a genuinely intelligent story, some superb voice acting, an unbelievable soundtrack and some great gameplay variety, and you’ve got a recipie for pure brilliance in my mind.

Nier is a dark, and often depressing game, with some heavy themes and a heavy way of delivering those themes, but what I loved about the game is just how varied the experience is. It never let itself get dull.


The Dark Spire 

The Nintendo DS was a superb console for RPGs – ranging from the eternal Pokemon series, to Final Fantasy remakes, and plenty of Tactics RPGs.

But it was this unassuming little Wizardry homage that, for my mind, was the finest DS RPG. The Dark Spire was one of those deliberately retro games – it even let you play with old wireframe graphics if you wanted, and as difficult and often unfair as it was, it was also a rewarding experience.

The secret to this game’s success was the level design. Not a square on the 10 cruel levels of the game’s dungeon was wasted. The twists and turns were literally filled with intelligent traps and crafty puzzles.

Every RPG


Pandora’s Tower

Of the three JRPGs that made up the “Operation Rainbow,” Pandora’s Tower was the one that stuck me as the most creative and intelligent. As a game it was probably the weakest of the three, but as I argued in my review, the gameplay was rather irrelevant.

This is a game about emotion and artistry. It’s an opera in the form of a game. It’s artistic, elegant and packs quite an emotional punch. And so, while it’s possibly the weakest game on this list, as an experience it’s utterly unforgettable.


Atelier Meruru

Atelier Meruru is the last game in a trilogy of JRPGs that were never given their due credit on the PS3. Whilst people were crying out “the JRPG is dead!” GUST’s trilogy was sitting there saying “guys, I’m here!”

At its core Meruru is a very traditional turn based RPG, with cute characters, and a charmingly happy story. The alchemy element does a lot to keep the experience fresh from start to finish, and the ability to build up a nation by commissioning development projects introduced a very light city-sim element that is new to the series, but very welcome.

But mostly Meruru was just happy. In the modern gaming climate, a little bit of happiness is the perfect break from the gore and dark themes.


Demon’s Souls

Speaking of dark themes, Demon’s Souls is one of the most intense experiences you’ll ever had. Though it was the unofficial sequel, Dark Souls, that got the lion’s share of the media and gamer attention, Demon’s Souls is a far more pure game in terms of vision. Relentlessly, soul-crushingly dark and brutal, Demon’s Souls really badly wants to hurt you.

Dark Souls had a rare moment that let the tension relax. Demon’s Souls would, if anything, be more vicious where Dark Souls was giving players the breather. Because of that, while Dark Souls was rewarding, Demon’s Souls felt like the impossible accomplishment.

Though in turn, King’s Field IV on the PlayStation 2 was even more beautifully cruel than its spiritual sequel, Demon’s Souls belongs on this list for being the most fairly challenging game of the generation.

So, after all that it’s time to open up the comments – what’s your favourite RPGs from this generation?
The ten best RPGs this generation
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