Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Twenty and the Seven

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 25, 2011

The fun thing about opinion lists – no matter whose list it is – is that they immediately generate counter-opinions about their order, about what was included, and about what was excluded.

This weekend we had a couple of interesting lists circulate. The first is from Wired, entitled “7 Fantastical Indie RPGs Worth Playing.” This list is pretty much the best-selling indie RPGs on Steam mixed with the biggest cult classic darlings from one branch of the indie “scene,” with nothing in-between.  Not that I have a problem with any of the ones on the list, though I never warmed up to Charles Barkley’s Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden (the concept sounded cool, but the implementation left me saying, “WTF?”). But they missed a lot of extremely worthy titles that I personally feel could have bumped most of the others from the list.

But I’d have a pretty impossible time limiting myself to just seven.  Last year I wrote an article  about what I felt were the most “significant” indie RPGs and that large list had some gaping holes and questionable inclusions in it. So I can’t fault this article too much, but it does seem like the author did limited research on the subject. Did he only look at TIGSource and Steam for ideas?

The next list is RPG Pillars: 20 Games That Defined Role-Playing Games. This is a list of the most influential computer and console RPGs of all time. Maybe it’s just because there are more games on this list, but I have fewer problems with this one. They hit what I’d consider many of the “bases” – Rogue, Wizardry 1, UltimaDiablo, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy VII, Dungeon Master, Pool of Radiance, and Chrono Trigger. I’m pleased that they included Fallout on the list, though sadly I don’t think it was as influential as many of us wish it had been. And anybody who doesn’t think World of Warcraft was influential on modern RPG design is in a pretty acute case of denial.

What would I change? I’d probably swap out Knights of the Old Republic for Baldur’s Gate, though they at least mention the latter game. And I’d argue that the significance of Ultima comes from the later games in the series – mainly III – VII, which were far more influential (over time) than the first (official) Ultima.  While there are several personal favorites I prefer over what’s on the list, I’m not sure they’d be considered more “influential.” As awesome as I consider the Might & Magic series, I suspect most modern game designers are far more familiar with Pokemon than Might & Magic.

So if you were to make lists of the most “important” mainstream and indie RPGs, what would you include?




Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • Maklak said,

    The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion.

    Pretty much everything from Bioware.

    Final Fantasy series (combat system copied to jRPGs, I played Septerra Core, and it had FF’s controls)

    I don’t like WoW, but MMORPGs are usually WoW clones.

    Gothic series
    ome adventure games perhabs.

    Legend of Zelda series (but it is more of a glorified platformer with lots of minigames).

    Dungeon siege apparently managed to influence level design, that from labyrinthine move to Intestine-like (pun partially intended).

    I don’t know about Witcher.

    As for Indies I don’t know. Eschalon was pretty good, but I do not think it became influential. Din’s Curse was something like Diablo with more procedural content generation and some additions.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,


    Chrono Trigger – It was one of the first RPGs with multiple endings, not just one or two, but over a dozen, each a long, lavish, and detailed affair that the player could actually play through! It also spawned the idea of New Game+

    The SSI Gold Box games are notable for having some of the first persistent world’s, carried over from D&D campaign settings, your knowledge of those settings, from books or previous Gold Box games, could actually help you achieve greater success or avoid traps. I would also add that they introduced the idea of permanently changing the world around the player – drop a sword and it will still be there, clean up a river or help an NPC and they will remember, defeat an enemy and they will stay dead. I don’t recall any earlier games that let you talk, threaten, bribe, or insult the enemies will appropriate effects that took your stats into account.

    Zork: Though aping a lot of things from Colossal Cave Adventure, it put such a polish on things, with a coherent narrative and interesting and unique locations, that it probably got a lot of players hooked on PC games and RPGs.


    Minecraft: This game proved you don’t have to have awesome graphics to be a wide-spread hit in the gaming community, even in 2010. It also reaffirmed that sandbox RPGs and games remain king of the roost for sales – players don’t necessarily want a game – they want a toy to make their own fun with. You can win a game of chess or checkers and quit – you can’t win a game of building sandcastles.

  • Maklak said,

    If you liked Minecraft, you might want to try Dwarf Fortress (search for Lazy New Pack – it has better graphics and some tools integrated) or goblin camp. They’re not RPGs (tough Dwarf Fortress has an adventure mode), but some developers of mainstream games are rumored to be playing DF, so it was influential.

  • Xian said,

    This was a pretty good list, as these things go. Rather than picking the best, they picked the ones that were true pillars.

    I would have picked Morrowind or Gothic as a pillar rather than TES:Arena. Arena just seemed like a pale imitation of Ultima Underworld when it was released, though admittedly it did come out of the dungeon into a larger world.

  • BellosTheMighty said,

    “As awesome as I consider the Might & Magic series, I suspect most modern game designers are far more familiar with Pokemon than Might & Magic.”

    Well, M&M influenced both Dragon Warrior and half the western RPGs released up until the era of 3D graphics. Only Ultima was more important. Though this does raise the question: if you influenced a genre, but that genre then ceased to exist, are you still influential?

    I would put on the list Shin Megami Tensei, for reminding us that RPGs can still be hard, and also Mystery Dungeon for (I think) kickstarting the dungeon-crawl revival on the DS.

  • Hajo said,

    For me the “Bards Tale” (Atari ST Version) and “Dungeon Master” sure were the most influential RPGs. Maybe just because they were leading edge games those days, and I was at the right age to be very impressed by those games.

    Dungeon Master was the deeper experience, and Bards Tale had a bigger world to explore (but left the wish for an even bigger world). What I wished for at that time was a mix of DM and Bards Tale – DM’s first person view and the variety of monsters, items, skills and the town with shops and guilds from Bards Tale.

    I’m not sure if any later game has impressed me that much. Diablo II I have played a lot, but actually it’s just a very polished and addictive crossover of roguelike item-handling, with influences from both DM and Bards tale (or successors in their veins), so while I enjoyed it a lot, it didn’t add that much new.

    Baldurs Gate II was not a good experience for me. Many praise it highly, but I didn’t find much that I enjoyed.

    Of the later games, Arkanum had a very interesting world, and story. It didn’t add anything new in game mechanics (at least nothing that seems important to me today), but the world of the game was more vivid and interesting than of the other games that I knew, also the quest and the story were much to my taste.

    Having said that, I sure have no very broad experience in RPGs. Maybe rather deep in the sense that I explored the few games that I played very deeply and thoroughly.

  • Rats said,

    Exit Fate is far inferior to the best RM games (commercial).

  • Rats said,

    And I’m not even talking about that Barkley b-s.

  • Maklak said,

    It is possible that Half Life 2 influenced RPGs. While itself not an RPG, it was “action-packed”, and was basically a long walk through a snaking corridor. Just like today’s RPGs.

  • Hajo said,

    Most likely people get influenced by whatever is popular at a time 😉

  • SER said,

    Well, I don’t know how much actual influence this game had, but how about Darklands? It is the first rpg that had pauseable real time combat very similar to the infinity engine games. Also the huge open world with lots of seemingly random quests, which we see in the first 2 elder scrolls games. Not sure how much influence they had, but I remember seeing one of the original elder scrolls developers saying it was an influence. Though I can’t name the dev or give a source at the moment. But Bioware and Bethesda? Don’t get much bigger than that.

  • Barry Brenesal said,

    Darklands was Arnold Hendrick’s heartsblood RPG of 1992, at Microprose. When I spoke to him a few years afterward about a sequel (Microprose was legendary for ignoring sequel possibilities during most of its life), he said the code had gone missing. I have no idea if this is true, though knowing him (slightly), this is probably what he was told. In any case, the current owners of Microprose games have made it clear they’re more concerned with pointlessly controlling every aspect of development in sequels to the games they own, as Stardock’s experience with Master of Magic demonstrated.

    Two other point about Darklands. First, I’ve never seen another game that so meticulously recreated the nightmare world of any given mythos (in this case, medieval German states). Second, the character design at the beginning was the best I’ve ever encountered.

    No mention of The Magic Candle series? Had one of the first implementations of build-your-own-party, featuring very different characters–and by TMC2, they even occasionally made comments at various points in the game. The original, though, let you split your party to accomplish multiple tasks, and send party members off for training, or to specific locales.

    Chris Crawford’s Excalibur of 1983 deserves a mention, too. Involved a measure of strategy as you balanced pleasing several different groups of opposing nobles, while negotiating with and invading other territories.

    Planescape: Torment simply set a standard for NPC and plot depth that has never yet been touched, possibly because the industry knows its market isn’t adults, but kids. (Dagnabit!)

    No Might and Magic series? Yet they got the equation correct for games that mixed linear design with non-linear quests and monsters, in a way that surpassed what most others attempted.

    Betrayal at Krondor: first RPG in a 3D graphical world (though it didn’t use that 3D to explore the vertical element), superlative puzzles, strong characterization, etc.

  • Digital Ent said,

    The fact you put down WoW and not Everquest makes me twitch a little. While WoW is credited with expanding the MMO scene in the US to unheard of levels. EQ did the same thing years before, and even Ultima Online could be given a mention. MUDS?

    But I do understand addressing the younger modern crowd by using WoW. I’ll go back to my old man lazy boy now :p

  • Hafl said,

    A bit late, but I agree with the list in general and mostly even with your opinions. Though, I would switch Knights of the Old Republic with Neverwinter Nights, since that was the game that started the Bioware formula of four quests to finish before you can move on with the story.

    With Ultima, I would probably put the Ultima 6 on the list, but that’s only because it’s the first one I’ve played. Ultima 6 and Dungeon Master, the games that taught me English… Ultima 6 was rather bad choice in that regard. (Also, the article actually used a screenshot from Dungeon Master 2, a shame.)

    If I had to kick anything off the list, it would be probably King’s Bounty, since the line of games it led to is more and more diverging away from RPGs and closer to strategy games. There’s not much roleplaying in Heroes of Might and Magic and so on. Fire Emblem can stay in the list, since the decisions you make there still have an element of role-playing to them.