Lists of ten can be funny things. Utterly subjective from the point of the presenter, these items are not ranked in any manner outside of my own arbitrary numbering system and personal preference to JRPG style gameplay. Readers may find issue with my unceremonious exclusion of certain games, but any exclusion at all is based on space: I only have room to mention ten.
There are stand-in obvious choices like Final Fantasy or Suikoden, but these don’t make the list as they aren’t among lesser known games with limited budgets and no legacy of franchise. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, by all rights, is an amazing cult classic RPG, but is an entry into a gaming catalogue that includes a staggering 80+ titles of the shared Megami Tensei universe, (including Majin Tensei, Persona, and Devil Summoner) so, will be left off due to franchise legacy.
I’ve got arbitrary rules in place for a reason folks! If you feel something has been left off unfairly, let us know in the comments. We’re talking stand-alone RPGs without the clout of franchise title recognition. Also of note, I’m writing this to motivate you to find and actually play hidden gem titles. It could easily be argued that anything after Final Fantasy VII ought to be disqualified based on era. While that’s fair enough, finding and playing is the goal here. I’ve peppered the list with games you won’t necessarily need a Commodore to play.
So, without further ado, here is a List of Ten Cult Classic RPG Games that you may or may not have played (but should experience at least once).
Nameless hero returns home after an epic journey to find the homeland is in desperate need of saving. This classic platform action RPG, developed by Nihon Falcom and released on NES, rocks this recipe with delight. The story is full, the mechanics are smooth, and the NPCs are actually incredibly helpful, three huge gold stars for this well-aged entry.
The spiritual ancestor to the wildly popular Fallout series, Wasteland was head and shoulders ahead of its time. Choices and paths tracked through playthroughs, so everything mattered in this post-apocalyptic hellscape in a way that was fresh and new to the gaming scene. Originally released on Commodore, DOS and Apple II, you can experience Wasteland now on Steam.
Haunted fictional mansion in Wales, puzzle-solving, and limited item space: it isn’t a survival horror, it’s a survival horror RPG! Koudelka fuzzes up the rules a bit as it is the predecessor to the Shadow Hearts series, but a layman wouldn’t know it, so I’m allowing it. The combat works off of glorious random encounters on a turn-based grid system and the environment, art design, and sound-work is complex and atmospheric. Developed by Sacnoth for the Playstation, gamer petitions have been begging to bring Koudelka and the Shadow Hearts series as a whole to the Playstation Store.
Legend of Dragoon (1999)
Final Fantasy changed the way RPGs were made and played. There isn’t two ways about that. After the success of Final Fantasy VII, game devs dissected the new formula to try to capture all they could glean from this fresh and wildly successful build. What resulted was a glut of clones: devoid of the heart and spirit of truly gripping gameplay (Ironic, ‘clones’, Final Fantasy VI … okay, you either get it or you don’t. Moving on …) – Legend of Dragoon was not a heartless, drab clone. It was actually a really great story, with really great characters, and super cool in-battle powers! Squaresoft set the bar, and SIE Japan Studio, like a little fleet of dragons, soared to the challenge. You can find the original PlayStation release as playable on PsP, Vita, and Ps3 through the PlayStation Store.
Vagrant Story (2000)
Speaking of Squaresoft, the publisher released a sneaky little action RPG game a mere two months before the hotly anticipated Final Fantasy IX. Developed by Development Division 4, Vagrant Story stands utterly alone, not tethered to any of the game giant’s other franchises. The western graphic novel fantasy art style is engrossing, the settings and plot are wonderous, and the tone of the overall is captured beautifully by Hitoshi Sakimoto, a composer who’s incredible work is better known from Final Fantasy Tactics and the later Final Fantasy XII. Like Legend of Dragoon, you can find the original PlayStation release as playable on PsP, Vita, and Ps3 through the PlayStation Store.
Okage: Shadow King (2001)
Whimsical and dark, Okage is the story of a tiny little boy whose thin shadow is possessed by an evil spirit king … named Stan. It’s a simple, almost rudimentary RPG but it has style for days. With a Tim Burton-like story book atmosphere, the humor and gameplay offer a smooth, fun experience on the quest to destroy Stan’s imposter “Fake Evil Kings”. This Play Station 2 era RPG, developed by Zener Works, is available as a re-release on Play Station 4 and on PSNow.
Enchanted Arms (2006)
From Software released the visually delicious Enchanted Arms ( [eM] -eNCHANT arM- in Japan) to a surprised and excited me in the Summer of 2006. The combat, although random, worked on a grid system similar to FF: Tactics. Aside from your party of super cool human characters, you collect fallen enemies to aid you in battle, similar to the Shin Megami series. The story played along the plot and setting similar to a Hogwarts adventure, if Hogwarts was more Science Fiction. I understand if that last comparison came off a little weird, but seriously: Science Fiction Hogwarts, there is nothing wrong with that phrase. I know it’s a divisive game among many hardcore RPG fans, but as one of the first Xbox360 RPGs, I ate it up. Enchanted Arms is available in the Xbox and PlayStation marketplaces.
Lost Odyssey (2007)
With a score composed by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu, and the story penned by Hironobu Sakaguchi, there was no way for Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey to be a bad game. While featuring turn-based combat, there is a distinct steampunk vibe to the magical-industrial revolution that surrounds the gameplay experience. Lost Odyssey mixes all the best parts of an old-school RPG with all the gorgeous visuals of the newest generations. Lost Odyssey is on the Xbox marketplace.
Eternal Sonata (2007)
How do the dying dreams of Frédéric François Chopin, a fictional world of light and dark as imagined by his life and music, strike your fancy as a JRPG? How about adding a time-based action gauge, although the battles are turn-based? How about non-random encounters in which the player can sneak in for back-attacks? How about couch co-op for those battles? Any of this sound good to you? Well, buddy … have I got the game for you! There is authentic sorrow and triumph in this game. You’re doing yourself a disservice to overlook it. Released by tri-Crescendo on Xbox 360 and Ps3, you can play Eternal Sonata on current gens through the respective marketplaces/ PSNow.
An action RPG from Game Republic, Folklore is moody, dark, fantastical, and breathtaking. The game progresses along the story of the Irish Overworld and Otherworld, in the aim of unlocking the mystery of a grim village, by unlocking the memories of the dead. The story is rife with mythology and the overall experience is all dark purples and old-world mystique. You select between two interwoven protagonist paths as the narrative unfolds like the pages of an old book. It’s a wondrous dark fantasy and absolutely worth deviling into if you have a PlayStation 3 handy.
And that’s that. Keeping it to ten was crazy rough, so it’s up to you to let me know what I missed. Sound off in the comments and play these games!