by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
It’s time to draw salt for another reason! Today, I’m going to talk about my Top 5 RPGs of All Time. And honestly, this list fluctuates a bit, but I’m trying to think about what I spent the most time on and why. So there are going to be some games that people no doubt disagree with because Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts are not on this list at all. Kingdom Hearts will no doubt be its own piece entirely, but while I think Final Fantasy VII is neat and is definitely an honorable mention, it doesn’t even crack my top 15, maybe even top 20. It’s certainly a worthwhile playthrough, but it didn’t click with me like some of the other games in the franchise did. But that’s okay. You’re bound to disagree with this, and that’s fine by me.
There are however some notable exceptions. Chrono Trigger deserves to be here, and should be. It was so hard to trim this down to just 5. It’s another of my all-time favorites, with multiple endings, incredible characters, and really just did so many things right. I did not want to make this list just Final Fantasy titles, but I easily could have. I almost wrote in Final Fantasy VI to share the spot with IV, because it’s every bit of IV’s equal. More characters, customizable parties, the ability to control multiple parties, and a villain that actually succeeds in his goal to obliterate life as we know it? Come on. You know Kefka’s the man. The one I picked is the one that represents the franchise the best for me. You’ll note probably, that these games are all on the older side. I’ve always said that the first ones you play make an indelible mark on you, and I stand by that. Maybe I’ll do a separate list of “Modern” RPGs, which could easily be a list all on its own. So, without further ado, my top 5 RPGs of all time!
5: Secret of Mana: I actually didn’t play much of Secret of Mana until my adult life, which is not surprising. I grew up very poor, so maybe two games a year if I’m lucky. Most of my RPGs I had to borrow from friends, or pick up after I moved out, which I did not mind doing. This was before their prices spiked insanely. Secret of Mana was revolutionary RPG. It was cute and vibrant but held a pretty depressing, dark story behind all of those beautiful colors. But what really made it revolutionary was the spell/weapon leveling system, plus the ability to play three players simultaneously. It was not the first “multiplayer” RPG, there was one on the NES, maybe two. But not in an action RPG, not to this degree.
The Boy, Girl, and Sprite were all unique characters, and while they all wielded the same weapons, their magic abilities and in general, the feel of them all felt different. The boy had no magic, but was an awesome master of weapons, whereas the Girl had Support Magic and Sprite had Offensive Magic. Secret of Mana was a classic and I’m so glad it’s being remastered for a modern era. Some people hate remakes, but titles like this are deserving of a real port, and not a garbage remaster of a mobile port. It had remarkable secrets to find, insane levels of challenge (Spikey Tiger, Wall Face, Dread Slime. TO HELL WITH YOU DREAD SLIME) and is 100% worth playing. My only regret is that the remaster won’t have online co-op, and I think it would definitely be a wise addition to the game.
4. Final Fantasy IV: Final Fantasy IV is what Final Fantasy is to me. Sure, there have been some wild stories and fantastic worlds, but this is what it really means to be a Final Fantasy game to me. A medieval/fantasy setting, compelling characters, and while the overarching story is pretty simple (Recover the Crystals, fulfill the Prophecy, restore Light to the world), it’s not a new theme for the franchise as a whole, even then. But FFIV was a love story told in a wondrous way. You have Cecil and Rosa, Cecil who is conflicted by the role he has in life, wanting desperately to change but not knowing how, and Rosa who supports him and lifts him up. There’s betrayal in the party, an evil force that is strangely familiar to Cecil, an otherworldly connection with the Lunarians.
There’s death in the main party, with many, many of the main cast either dying or in a coma/near death repeatedly. It’s a war for the survival of the Blue Planet that many of them are willing to die for. There is a surprising amount of character development, from Tellah and the twins different sacrifices, Kain being used and feeling intense guilt for it, Cecil and his evolution from a Dark Knight to a Paladin. Powerful guest characters, hidden summons/eidolons, extra side quests, stuff you don’t need to do but should do. There are a few other versions of the game, the DS/Steam version being far more challenging, voice acted, but visually less appealing. Personally, my favorite versions are the SNES/GBA editions. My first playthrough of this game took over 85 hours, and I still missed stuff. Final Fantasy is what it means to be Final Fantasy. Trying new things is fine, and keeps the franchise fresh, but this one sold me forever.
3. Dragon Warrior 3: My first RPG of all time was Dragon Warrior 1, but something felt off. It was fun, it was the most difficult game I’ve played, probably to date, and it had a surprise ending for me when I tried to join the Dragon Lord. But it wasn’t very deep. The depth came from everything in the game is hidden and secretive. That wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wanted a game that was slightly more accessible. Dragon Warrior 3 had that. It brought back the Final Fantasy 1 customizable characters (that I admittedly didn’t play again, until closer to adulthood). But you had so many fun options for your characters, Knights, Pilgrims, Wizards, the Goof-Off, Martial Artists. You built a party however you liked and could change it anytime you went back to Alihan. Even better, there’s a shrine where you can class-change, unlock the hidden Sage Class, and really change up how your characters feel. Start a Martial Artist, then go the Knight route and make the ultimate melee machine.
But even better, only one person could be the Sage, normally, and only if you found the hidden book. However, there were insane secrets like the Goof-Off. He normally sucks and is useless in fights. But he has a crazy high LUCK stat. If you get him to level 20 and bring him to the Shrine, he can become a Sage. So if you want, you can have a party with 3 Sages and the Hero, which is insane damage. Dragon Warrior 3 was an epic tale, with a day/night transition system (on the NES!), and was actually the prequel to Dragon Warrior 1, showing the beginnings of the tale of the hero Loto/Roto/Erdrick. There was also a remake for GBC and I believe SNES (but that never came to America), but the original is still just as good. Though the GBC version did have a few quality of life changes that are notable.
2. Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals: As a kid, I knew two people who were familiar with the Lufia franchise, which at the time, was just two games. Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, and Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals. Lufia 2 takes place about 90 years before the first game, detailing the events that led up to the Battle of Doom Island (which is the prologue for Lufia 1). So yes, Lufia 1’s beginning spoils Lufia 2’s end. So you already know it’s going to be a tragedy. But what matters is how it plays out, who joins, leaves, and dies, between the beginning and end. With heartless, brutal puzzles, a fun Dragon Egg collecting system, the Capsule Monsters, this game was pretty bug-riddled, but for the good and bad. This in no way took away from the story. Up until this point, no other video game made me as sad and equally filled with hope as Lufia 2 did.
It was heartbreaking to see that while yes, Maxim and Selan die in the end, what happened to bring about that decision. What they had to leave behind in order to ensure the safety of all. It was beautiful, simplistic, and tragic. With a soundtrack that simply cannot be beaten, unique characters, some of which were goofy, some uber-serious, it tackled a variety of topics and turned the “Save the world” plot on its ear. Having to fight a team of evil, ultra-powerful gods was not what Maxim expected of his life as he lived a simple monster hunter lifestyle. He was proficient at killing, but never quite knew why. Sure, it uses the “Destiny” trope but does so in a way that made me feel emotions I was not prepared for. Even one of the villains you have to feel for, trapped in a cycle that they cannot break out of. If you haven’t played this, why the hell not? Don’t play the DS ARPG remake. Play the original. Get it in your life, and let it change yours.
1. EarthBound: Every one of these games did something special, and affected my life in a different way. EarthBound is no exception. I love a good fantasy story, but EarthBound was told in a modern setting. Yes, it had the otherworldly evil force, exerting its influence on the planet like Final Fantasy IV, fighting authority like Lufia 2, and the epic quest of Dragon Warrior. But it did it in such a charming way. In a way, EarthBound is a lie waiting to be unfolded. Each layer gets darker, hidden behidn the most visually cheerful/bright graphics possibly ever. The world is bright, innocent, vibrant, as you’re looking through the eyes of Ness, a little boy who has to save the world with three friends he’s never met, and his baseball bat. Oh and Psychic Powers. Customizing your own nameable power was definitely a cool bonus. Ness was on a trip to leave home at like, age 10 or 12 and had no idea if he’d ever even make it back. Every character has a different background and differences that make them special/useful to the team.
In particular, Jeff stood out to me. He had no Psychic Powers, he was just a nerd who could fix stuff. His dad, Dr. Andoughnuts was the worlds’ premiere scientist/genius and didn’t even know what his kid looked like. He shunted him off to a boarding school and left him there, barely ever contacting him. He had a friend who had a homosexual crush on him (which was really groundbreaking for the 1990s in media) though it was hidden fairly well as I recall. And at the end of the game, they have to sacrifice their own bodies to go back to fight Giygas, again, not 100% sure if they’ll ever come home, or be able to return to their bodies. Still, they persist, doing what nobody else could. It was magical, had moments of absolute hilarity, not taking itself seriously in any aspect, while simultaneously being heartbreaking and depressing. EarthBound was satire of the RPG scene in the 80s/90s, and showed everyone how it was meant to be done. It truly has something for everyone. If you never play any other RPG, please, play this one.