I grew up in the best time span for most RPGs. From 1997 up to 2006, there were plenty of games to choose from. Each had an engrossing story line that kept players entertained for hours. There was almost no shortage of content. With games like Final Fantasy VII and Champions of Norrath, it’s hard for my generation to pick an absolute favorite. But I’ve decided to at least give it a shot. In no particular order, here are my top ten RPGs from the 90’s and early 2000’s generation:
1. Final Fantasy VII
Developed by Square (now part of Square Enix), this title was released in 1997. Classified as a JRPG, players take control of key members of AVALANCHE, an eco-terrorist group at odds with Shinra Corp. Final Fantasy VII was not only my first introduction to RPGs. It was my first introduction to any game that had such a large map. The scope of the game was unlike anything I had seen before.
The mini-games themselves had their own story line within the main part of the game, which was also new to me. To experience such a story during middle school was nothing short of glorious. Despite the fact that a remake is due for release soon, I wouldn’t hesitate to pop in the PSX copy of the game. There’s something about the polygonal character shapes that evokes a sense of childhood and family.
Like many from my generation, of course, the Chocobo Races at the Golden Saucer were my favorite part. Who doesn’t love racing giant squawking birds? Who wouldn’t have this one on a list of Top Ten RPGs?
2. Champions of Norrath
Developed by Snowblind Studios using the Snowblind Engine, Champions of Norrath was released in the United States in 2004. It was an isometric Action-RPG that told the story of heroes from the land of Norrath. Snowblind Studios developed as a prequel to the MMO Everquest Online, taking place long before the online game’s story line.
You take control of a hero, choosing from a number of races and then dropped into a conflict between the forest elves and the invading Orcs. It is your duty as one of Norrath’s Champions to stop this threat and discover the source of their newfound power. Quite the story line for any fan of Tolkien.
The story line is wonderful, but not what I like most about the game. My favorite had to be the ability to enchant weapons and armor to a degree. Whether you wanted to upgrade your physical attack speed or your magic’s splash damage, it could be done in Champions of Norrath. The skill trees themselves were unique to their respective races, which was one detail I hadn’t seen before playing this gem of a PS2 game.
If you haven’t played the game already, dust off your PS2 and give it a spin.
3. DragonQuest VIII
Developed by Level-5 for PS2 and later by Square Enix for the 3DS, DragonQuest VIII released in November of 2004. What I find interesting about the game was the developers’ choice to use cel shading for the characters and surrounding world.
The first in its series to be in 3D, the initial draw for me was simply the artwork. It was obvious Akira Toriyama (Dragonball and Dragonball Z) had lent his talent to the project. My childhood love for Dragonball Z led me on an adventure through an amazingly colorful world.
The battles themselves were what I expected from an RPG, but the ability to “Psyche Up” is what really made them interesting. After doing it enough times, you are able to deliver a Super Saiyan-level blow to your enemy. One just had to be sure the target didn’t have a resistance to your character’s element or attack type.
4. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Developed by Bethesda Game Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was released in May 2002 for Windows and in June 2002 for Xbox. It has to be one of the most popular RPGs ever to come out for any system.
You begin your journey on the island of Vvardenfell, an island in the province of Morrowind, on the continent of Tamriel. While set in a fantasy universe, there were bits of steampunk elements mixed in. Players are given the explanation that these steam-powered devices were created by the ancient Dwemer, rumored to be driven to extinction by their own ego.
I loved just how ridiculously large the map was for the world. One thing to note is that you won’t be punished for avoiding the main story line. There is so much to do that a player can spend hours in side quests before ever beginning the main quest line.
5. Final Fantasy X
Developed by Square Product and Development Division 1, the game was published and released by Square Electronic Arts in 2001. Taking place in the world of Spira, you take control of a group looking to stop the scourge known as Sin. Fighting giant creatures is as Final Fantasy as it gets, right?
Final Fantasy X was another gem in the FF series. I played the first time around solely for the story. When I realized I couldn’t do much without knowing a few secrets, I took the liberty of looking up where I could hunt down all the legendary weapons. Each character has their own and finding them makes endgame so much easier.
I had no problem playing through Final Fantasy X, as I had played titles in the series before. Blitzball, on the other hand was a different monster altogether. There is an automatic and manual way to play. If you’re easily frustrated, do yourself a favor and leave the play on “automatic.” I am speaking from experience, of course.
6. Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic
Developed by Bioware and published by LucasArts, Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic was released in 2003 for the Xbox, Windows, and Mac OS X. The game told the story of the Jedi Civil War, an event that took place 4,000 years before the event of Phantom Menace. You take up the mantle of a nameless Jedi and aid the Order is its quest to defeat Darth Malak.
As a hardcore fan of Star Wars, this was personally one of the best story lines I experienced in that universe. Just like Final Fantasy VII, Star Wars: KoTOR should take a place in everyone’s Top Ten RPGs list. The story spans at least five planets, and there are a number of quests that bring you ever closer to achieving that Jedi Master status.
My only problem with the game was Pazaak, the mini-game similar to blackjack. There was never any guarantee you’d win against your opponent, no matter what “side deck” you had. Aside from that, pure gold from the developers at Bioware.
7. Star Ocean: Till The End of Time
Developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix, it is the third game in the series and was released in 2004 as a Director’s Cut for North America. The story itself is said to take place four centuries after the second game in the series. It was the first in the series to feature a 3D environment and added a unique spin on RPG combat.
Before Star Ocean: Till The End of Time, I had no idea what was going on in the series. Also known as Star Ocean 3, the game provides a great recap of events from the previous two titles. To give a little flair to the third installment, tri-Ace traded the traditional RPG menu for real-time combat influenced by the player.
I was absolutely amazed with the real-time combat style. No game I had played before had such depth when it came to fighting enemy characters. The Inventor’s Guild was also a pretty cool side-story added in. It was a unique crafting system that not only helped you gain currency, but gave you access to various weapons and items that are otherwise locked.
8. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords
Developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by LucasArts, Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is the sequel to the first KoTOR game. It was released in 2004 for the Xbox, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.
Another must-have for a Top Ten RPGs list, The Sith Lords takes place exactly five years after the events of the first. In this installment, we are introduced to the ‘Jedi Exile’, that is, someone exiled from the Jedi Order.
Like the first game, it uses a third-person combat system. The fighting in The Sith Lords was far smoother than its predecessor, adding in far more light saber forms. AI behavior was a slight problem in the first, something that Obsidian Entertainment kept in mind when creating this title.
Developed by Piranha Bytes and published by Xicat Interactive for North America, Gothic was released in 2001 for Microsoft Windows.
Like Morrowind, players took control of a character and completed quests and killed monsters to acquire skill points. A few of the skills had only one level and could only be upgraded so much. Others had multiple levels that could be adapted to your liking.
This was one of my first RPG titles on PC, so it was a pretty new experience for me. One of my most prominent memories playing was saving. It wasn’t hard to play, but if you didn’t remember to save, you had to be prepared to start from where you last left off. Action was more than plentiful, characters were well-written, and the dialogue was hilarious at times.
The graphics may not have aged well, but the gameplay doesn’t suffer for it.
10. Deus Ex: Invisible War
Developed by Ion Storm and published by Eidos Interactive, Deus Ex: Invisible War was released in 2003 for the Xbox and Microsoft Windows. It takes place 20 years after the events of the first title in the series, Deus Ex.
When I first acquired Invisible War, I didn’t actually know there was a “first” game. That being said, the cyberpunk feel of the game is what drew me to it. In addition to a variety of weapons that shouldn’t be in the public’s hands, the main character can gain special powers known as “biomods.” While playing this, you must make sure to be mindful of the particular powers you select. It can make things difficult or easier down the road, depending on what you choose.
I will say that I thing we need more cyberpunk titles to put into a Top Ten RPGs list.
I hope you enjoyed my Top Ten RPGs of a generation. Were there any other titles you felt were more deserving of a spot on the list? Let us know in the comments!