A ranking attempting to list the top 10 RPGs of recent years has recently been circulating, 6 of which turn out to be Japanese.
The list and accompanying selection rationales, published by a western gaming site and covering RPGs released from 2005 onwards, and presented in alphabetical order:
Demon’s Souls, brought to you by From Software, was one of 2009’s biggest surprise hits. The gritty atmosphere, extremely challenging combat, and inventive online elements found a widespread appeal the developers never saw coming.
Dragon Age: Origins
BioWare has been on a roll this console generation, creating two of the top Western RPGs as of late – Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Dragon Age: Origins is a refinement of the classic BioWare formula. While this list is primarily focused on consoles, by all accounts the PC version is the only way to play Origins.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Second only to BioWare, Todd Howard’s team over at Bethesda Softworks represent the other half of top tier Western RPGs – Elder Scrolls and Fallout. The fourth iteration in the Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion, was the first real taste gamers got this generation of what an RPG could be in the HD era.
Fallout 3 is the revitalization of the revered Fallout series of RPGs on PC. Bethesda brought the franchise to a new audience that was captivated by its moral choices, post apocalyptic setting and successful implementation of first-person shooter mechanics – a steady stream of downloadable content didn’t hurt.
Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy has been a staple of RPGs since its inception over two decades ago. Final Fantasy XIII had the burden of carrying the fate of the Japanese RPG, experiencing declining popularity in the West. The game was praised for its gorgeous presentation and robust combat system, while criticized for its slow progression and strictly linear design. In the end, XIII was a commercial and critical success.
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core
A prequel to Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core on the PSP struck a chord with fans hungry for more from VII’s universe. The game pushed the processing power of the PSP, producing fluid combat and impressive graphics. Unlike other Final Fantasy VII spin-offs, Crisis Core did its source material justice.
Lost Odyssey received a great deal of attention when it launched on Xbox 360 in 2008 largely thanks to the involvement of Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy. Fortunately, the game (for the most part) lived up to expectations with a moving story and high production values. Some of the shamelessly traditional combat mechanics were less well received.
Mass Effect 2
Another BioWare epic, Mass Effect 2 represents the pinnacle of what an action RPG should be. The combat mechanics were refined from its predecessor, making for a much more user friendly experience. Coupled with the well though out and engaging characters, dialogue options and major plot points, Mass Effect 2’s execution was masterful.
Tales of Vesperia
Tales of Vesperia at first glance appears like it took every JRPG trope out of the book for its story, but for fans of the genre, Tales of Vesperia (and the series in general) excellently de-constructs them in a way which feels incredibly unique. The game’s action-based battle system, a mix of traditional RPG elements and fighting game aspects such as the publisher’s Tekken franchise, also help to create a very impressive game.
Much like Demon’s Souls, Valkyria Chronicles was a sleeper hit in the West – so much so that Sega didn’t have enough copies to meet demand. The game’s unique graphics engine, which was able to produce a watercolor art style, was very appealing. In addition, the inventive turn-based combat system was able to successfully implement realtime actions, making for an experience unlike anything in the genre.
Several of the titles did attract significant criticism in spite of their undeniable success – Oblivion for its terrible monster auto-levelling system, Final Fantasy XIII for its corridor marathon gameplay, and Fallout 3 for turning a beloved non-linear tactical RPG into Oblivion with guns.
The list’s only notable omission would appear to be the Persona series – strangely absent in its entirety.