by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I tried for three days to make this a top ten list. I really did. I scrapped it over and over again. But this is my list of my favorite RPGs this year. It’s based on particular criteria though. No remakes/remasters, only original titles released in this year. If I had been allowed remakes, this list would have been a lot different: FFXII, .Hack//GU, Yakuza Kiwami would have all made the list. I’m sure there will be people that will not agree with these placements and that’s okay! I’d love to see what other people think. But this was a fantastic year for the single-player RPG! Some of these have multiplayer elements but overall, it was a great year for RPG style games. A lot of these are action-RPGs or have RPG elements, but they definitely belong on this list. So, without further ado, let’s get down to my list!
10: Torment: Tides of Numenera (Techland): Torment: Tides of Numenera is a spiritual successor to a PC RPG that made my bones ache and blood boil: Planescape: Torment, released in 1999. It was stressful, difficult, frustrating, but it was a D&D PC game worthy of note. I have not completed Torment yet, but I absolutely loved every moment of it. The decision making, the customization, the interesting storytelling. There are other games that did it better, but probably lack the replayability that this game does. One of the things I really enjoy about Torment is the symbolism and psychological aspects of the game. Every choice, every decision, every companion you take matters, and there are so many different ways to approach the game. It was certainly a worthwhile ride.
9: Tales of Berseria (Bandai Namco): Tales of Berseria definitely is a step up from Zestria, which I won’t lie, I hated. Berseria is not my favorite of the Tales games (Vesperia is), but I enjoyed this one so very much. The characters were pretty standard Shounen Anime characters but that’s what you come to expect from a Tales game. The world is massive and there’s so much to explore, and combat. I. Love. Combat. In. This. Game. The combo system is a blast, but the biggest draw is the story for me. Sure there were bugs, and frustrating moments, and the balance is kind of rough in the higher difficulty levels. But the story felt more compelling, and the characters in it, while are pretty stock, each of their story arcs and character development moments were worth experiencing. There is just so damn much to do, and now I want to go back to playing it . . .
8: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk (Koei Tecmo): I love seeing different Musou games take the spotlight. And Berserk? Whew. Berserk is a hotbed of ultra-violence, gore, sexual assault, and worse. It’s laden in blood, destruction, but has a really interesting story to back up all that wanton destruction. So what’s the best thing to do to create a Berserk game? Why slap it into the Musou engine! And sure, it can feel a little repetitive, but it is faithful to the anime/manga, except for the lack of the “Lost Children” story but you know … few things are perfect. It’s Dynasty Warriors but in the Berserk Universe. If you like Musou games, and like Berserk? Then you will without a doubt enjoy it. The characters are fun to play (but why play anyone but Guts, unless you have to? Come on, it’s GUTS) The story really carries this game, and if it weren’t a Berserk game, it probably wouldn’t have made this list, because it would’ve been a terrible Musou game otherwise. But thankfully, it has Guts, Griffith, and all the rest! I still highly recommend it. You play as possibly the manliest man to ever stand in anime, Guts and wield his mighty sword of human-cleaving in whatever way you see fit.
7: Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood (Square-Enix): I was hesitant to put an MMO on the list, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy a single-player RPG experience in Stormblood. I’ve been a staunch supporter of Final Fantasy XIV, even during 1.0, when it was at its lowest. I knew it would change and grow into something special. Heavensward was great, but Stormblood outstrips it at every opportunity. A better, deeper story, a new land that’s absolutely gorgeous, so many delightful in-jokes/references to previous games for those old people like me. . . Stormblood is Final Fantasy XIV. I’m a little behind on the main story, but only by a few quests, and because well, it’s my job to play games! Sometimes it’s hard to come back to the ones I love. Final Fantasy XIV is without a doubt, my favorite MMO out of all of them right now. Better than Warcraft, Neverwinter, you name it, Final Fantasy XIV has them beat. They’re listening, they’re improving, it’s constantly new and interesting content for their players. Unlike XI, I am always compelled to play. XI made me stress about finding a party. XIV lets me play alone when I want, and find a group when I want.
6: Divinity: Original Sin 2 (Larian): There is such a glut of content and story in Divinity: Original Sin 2. You can be virtually anything, not to mention you can play as the story/canon characters if you’d rather. You form parties, create insane tactical possibilities in turn-based combat (which I love). It’s one of the best of the year, if not this decade. There were things that frustrated me, and me alone, in that I had way too many choices and decisions. Choices are important, but having so very many different ways to move forward honestly made me double back a lot, reset, and regret so many things I did. But with GM mode, multiplayer mode with an insane twist, this game is doing a lot of remarkable things. Not to mention it’s visually stunning, has great voiceovers, and despite the few bugs I endured, I still had a lot of fun in this game.
5: Nier: Automata: This story, oh my god, this story. 2B, 9S, A2 and 2B’s butt go for a wonderful, wild ride. Boy, that sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The battle is action-packed, the story is a philosophical rollercoaster, to say the least. It’s unforgiving, it deliberately goes out of its way to remind you that some of these characters are monsters. Everyone is fleshed out, there is a whole host of endings that I have yet to acquire. If I had gotten more time with this, I probably would have rated it higher. It’s recommended that you get the first three endings before saying anything about the game, and I don’t doubt that one bit. Nier: Automata defines what storytelling should be for the past, present, and future. I’m looking forward to a time when I can enjoy more of it.
4: Persona 5 (Atlus): This is a controversial opinion, but I stand by it: I like Persona 4 more than Persona 5. But I really enjoy the morality play that this game took me on. It has easily 100 hours of content, if not more, and has a nice, slow-burn story. The characters felt more developed in this one though, and you really got to learn about how awful the world is, and how dreadful these characters lives were. The big theme in this game felt like, to me, that the world is awful and everyone in it is just as foul. The villains have reasons for doing what they do, and while they aren’t good, or justifiable, it fleshes them out in ways I did not expect. From creeps, drug dealers and more, each character I was introduced to, I wanted to find out more about them. The reason I enjoyed 4 more I think, was simply the whodunit style story, but it doesn’t have much in the way of replayability compared to 5. Persona 5 does more and does it better than any Persona game before it. But 4 has sentimental value to me, so it does rank slightly higher. It has an incredible soundtrack, characters that really make you think and feel, and is one of the best RPGs again, of this entire decade.
3: Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus (Bethesda): Yes, Wolfenstein belongs on this list. It has perks, hidden secrets, a glut of interesting characters, lots of weapons, and you have an overwhelmingly desperate world you are trying to set right. You still play as BJ Blazkowicz, the badass Nazi-destroying hero, and the stages are all gorgeous, vast, and have delightful ways to kill Klansmen and Nazis. The stealth aspect really bogged me down though, because I hate stealth gameplay, but it didn’t stop me from defeating Nazis in increasingly gorier ways. I think it’s hard to write “kill the Nazis” in a way that is intriguing, and while I hate the notion that the Nazis dropped bombs on America and defeated them in World War II, that hate made the story more enjoyable. It’s supposed to make you feel, and that hopelessness, turned to anger, turned to hope for the future? Ridiculously cool guns, replayability (at least one run), and ultra-violence against a hateful culture? Plus it’s neatly tied into our modern society? Oh yes, Wolfenstein is probably the game I looked forward to most in this entire year.
2: Yakuza 0 (SEGA): I didn’t really get into the Yakuza franchise until Yakuza 4 when I reviewed it here. I fell in love with it, but I didn’t get enough time with it or 5 (until now anyway), because there is still so much to do in both games. But I missed the first three games and as such, missed a lot of backstory. Yakuza Kiwami could not be on this list because it’s a remake/remaster, but it would have probably tied with 0. But Yakuza 0 is the story before Yakuza 1, showing the tale of both Majima and Kiryu, and how their lives were ultimately changed forever and their actions within and without the Yakuza. Each character plays differently, and their story is completely different. Majima’s raw insanity and bloodlust, and Kiryu’s stoic badassery, each are different but equally enjoyable. It leads neatly into Yakuza Kiwami’s “Majima is everywhere” system, and without 0, it might not really make a lot of sense. A story of murder, honor, betrayal, it reminds me of what I love about this game. Normally, sandbox/open world games drive me away with “too much to do at once/choice paralysis”, but it has a very linear story to follow, with a host of side quests/missions you can do whenever you want, for the most part. So when I want to explore and see things I can, and when I want to push the story forward, I also can do that! There are incredible amounts to see, do, and learn about. Combat is brutal and suitably violent, and I love the two different playstyles. The only thing it could have used is a slightly more varied soundtrack. Other than that, Yakuza 0 reignited my love of the series, and hopefully introduced a lot of new eyes to it. And with three Yakuza games coming next year? I think they did just that.
1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo): If Missy had not sent me The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Hanukkah, the list would have probably been wildly different. But it amazes me that even if I’ve only owned this game for a few weeks now, it completely overtook Yakuza 0 in my “favorite/best game of the year”. How is, though? Part of it is nostalgia. Zelda is one of my favorite franchises, even if this was my first 3D Zelda. Yes, that’s right: I never played Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, etc, etc. I didn’t play any of those. I didn’t have the console they were on, so I missed out. But that’s okay because this is the 3D Zelda we deserve. Is it perfect? Hell no. I’m still bubbling over with anger about weapon durability, but even that serves a purpose in the story. It makes the Master Sword feel special, desired, worthwhile. If all the weapons were durable, why bother with the Master Sword at all? And yes, I have bad choice paralysis, but I have specific Main Story Quests to focus on and take care of this game in chunks. I can go explore and find whatever I care about at that particular time and can go for the “end game” whenever I feel like it.
Hundreds of collectibles, dozens of Shrines, the Divine Beasts, interesting characters, happy moments, sad moments (like that Kakariko Village couple. Why isn’t there a side quest to bring them back together? That’s sad, guys. Come on), this game has it all. I have not enjoyed a Zelda game like this since A Link to the Past, and an open-world game like this … ever, honestly. I die a lot, and I get insanely angry over dumb choices I’ve made and have to re-do sections. But it has fun, difficult (but solvable) puzzles, fun encounters, fun characters, and a gigantic, vast world to see. If I had tried Zelda before I bought a Switch, I would have spent money on it just for this game. Hell, I’ve put down Skyrim, Doom, and Super Mario Odyssey just to play Zelda. It will probably be the only game I play on the Switch for a few more months to come. I can’t put it down. The Amiibo functionality isn’t needed, but it sure does make the early game a lot easier. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best Nintendo has put out in years, and one of the most enjoyable RPGs I’ve played in my entire life. It would definitely crack my top 10, and push some of those retro titles out of the way.
So what are the best RPGs you played this year? I’d love to know!