Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Top RPGs of All Time? I Can’t Say…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 12, 2012

IGN is releasing a multi-part article about the Top 100 RPGs of All Time, which caused the inevitable lashback and arguments. Which is exactly what these kinds of lists are supposed to do, I think. If they serve no other purpose, causing discussion (often heated) about classic computer and console RPGs is a wonderful thing. Many people responded by publishing their own personal lists of favorites. IGN isn’t done yet, and I’ve got my own arguments about the relative placement of certain games, I don’t think I’m going to heap criticism on it now, or when it is complete.

Actually, it’s a pretty good opportunity for me to find out about some games that I’m missing from my collection, and see if I can correct that.

One of the “duh” realizations that I’ve made over the last few years of being an RPG developer is that people play CRPGs for different reasons. The tactical decision-making on a personal, per-character level that I love so much is tiresome to many players, and while almost everybody loves a good story, the importance of the story to players relative to other game aspects (like choosing your own path through the game rather than following a fixed storyline) may vary quite a bit.  What this boils down is there’s no optimal design for RPGs – every single element is a compromise, a calculated risk of losing some of your audience in an effort to grow it elsewhere – to delight one subset at the risk of boring another. There’s simply no objective way to rate them.

Case in point: For some reason I really enjoyed the indie title Knights of the Chalice more than the bigger-budget game that inspired it, the Temple of Elemental Evil. Maybe it’s because the latter game crashed on me too often and left a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t know. On paper, ToEE was a far more comprehensive and interesting (not to mention prettier) game.  Maybe Knights‘ simpler graphics made it easier to calculate positions, or it offered a cleaner subset of gameplay, or it simply got rid of some of the more frustrating “make-work” of its predecessor. I’d have to play both of ’em again to analyze it.

Similarly – I don’t know why I could never get past the first eight to ten hours of Final Fantasy XII. But it marked the “final” Final Fantasy for me. It was technically excellent, highly polished, and… boring. It sent me back to re-playing 6, 7, and 8.

And then, as a lone dude who spent more time making games than playing them, I have some pretty major gaps in my experience – which I seek to fill, but with an ever-increasing load of new, indie, and re-available classic games filling my hard drive, I can’t even pretend to keep up. I’ve been much more of a PC gamer than a console gamer, though I have favorites amongst both types of games (and, as I’ve stated before,  western / eastern / console / computer RPGs are really much more of a mish-mash than they were during the 1990s). But a lot of those glaring gaps are where console games should be.  I think the point I got stuck on in Chrono Trigger was a little action sequence that was perhaps impossible to beat on my emulator, I dunno, but as a result I never finished it and it has never made my list of favorites. SHOCK! But as I keep playing old classics now for the first time (like Anachronox) and newer games (Inquisitor is waiting patiently on my hard drive for me to run it for the first time…), my own list keeps changing. And I can’t really say if Ultima VII is for sure my favorite anymore, until I really get around to giving them (2 games + 2 expansions) a full playthrough again. Though I suspect they’d still be in my top 5.

My enjoyment of some games just really depends upon my mood and preferences at the time. I never really fell in love with Morrowind the way I did its predecessors or successors, yet I think if I started playing it again today you might not hear from me again for several weeks. Others – well, while so much of Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption was done just wrong, I’ve played through it twice and greatly enjoyed it… if only for the excellent mood and story. And apparently I have a thing for purple exposition.

And it would depend on my audience. If I was trying to show a new gamer the “best” RPGs to play today, I might omit some of my all-time favorites for the sake of easing them into it with more modern titles. If I wanted to show someone historical high-points throughout the history of the genre, I’d be reaching back to games like Wizardry 1 and Ultima IV. For other would-be RPG designers, I’d have quite a list of games I feel every RPG-creator ought to play (and a few more that I am told I should play).

The bottom line is that we’ve got an amazing legacy in this genre of games, regardless of how you rate or rank them, which continues to grow at a very healthy rate – particularly now that indies have moved in with conviction. I don’t care if you hated one of my favorites (well, okay, I may care a little), but let’s keep talking about them!

Filed Under: General - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • Albert1 said,

    I think that Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption was made to appeal lot of non-RPG players. Basically, you can play it like a 3D Gauntlet: just spend all EP on strength and buy powerful weapons…

  • Frankenchokey said,

    The ranking of these lists is never really important since, as mentioned, personal lists will always vary. I find it odd just how worked up people get when such a list is different from their own. It’s interesting to see what others place on these lists and how they rank them, however. I tend to use them as a source of inspiration and, much as you said, to fill in gaps in my own collection.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    You haven’t finished Chrono Trigger?! I jest, but it really is one of my favorite games of all time. Alternately #1 depending on my mood, but always in the top 5. I bought it at release for the SNES, and it was really mindblowing, and still is in a lot of ways. It was the first console RPG, maybe RPG in general, to have over a dozen different endings. Huge, unique endings you got to run around in and explore, including one where you turned the entire population into lizard people. It even had, years before Aerith’s death in FFVII, a major party member get killed onscreen.

    But the story is what really sank its hooks into me. It just seemed so much more mature and eloquent than any of the Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests, or any other RPG I’d played. Actions had consequences, and the big “bad” was made sympathetic as you come to understand his history and motives. For once in an RPG, instead of having saving the world thrust upon the characters, in Chrono Trigger the heroes have saved their own time and been accidentally thrust into a horrible future, where they see that hundreds of years after their own time the world will be destroyed. They have the opportunity to return home, call it quits, and live out their lives in peace and happiness. They have no obligation to save a future they’ll never live in, but they make an agreement with each other to do so anyway. Getting to travel with them through all of space and time as they do it is just icing on the cake. A cake made of dinosaurs, robots, alien gods, and time machines. Delicious!

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    With “Top X” lists, I always think they would be a lot better in very specific categories. “Top 10 RPGs” is meaningless, since RPG is attached to so many different types of games. If however, they had categories like “Top 10 turn-based isometric RPGs” they might be a bit more enlightening.

    Of course the intention of any “Top X” list is to get as many page views and ad revenue as possible, but occasionally good discussions are started from them.

    The best part about such lists for me is to try and find hidden gems which I’d missed. (very easy to do before the web had advanced to it’s current point)

  • Xenovore said,

    For me, I had exactly the opposite experience with Morrowind; I put it right up there in the top of my best RPGs list. It’s the only Elder Scrolls game that I’ve been completely immersed in, enough to play all the way from start to finish, including a large portion of the side quests. (Although I did get somewhat bored with the add-ons; never bothered to finish those.)

  • heloise said,

    I had the same problem emulating Chrono Trigger. You needed to be able to press the left and right shoulder buttons at the same time as another button, and my keyboard couldn’t process three simultaneous keypresses. I eventually got around the issue by temporarily rebinding the L and R buttons to the same key for the sequence, And if you’ve got the willpower to replay the game and your problem was the same, I highly recommend giving it another go. It’s an excellent roleplaying experience