Role-Playing games have a long and fascinating history. From its humble tabletop origins, the RPG has grown and evolved over the years into the most dominant and ambitious game genre, boasting a catalog as critically acclaimed as it is diverse. The best RPG games embrace a rich storytelling tradition as well as deep and engaging gameplay to create universes that are as exciting to explore as they are thrilling to quest and do battle in. And we’ve sunk hundreds — sometimes even thousands — of hours immersing ourselves in those incredible universes, whether that be stunning high fantasy kingdoms full of knights and dragons, exciting sci-fi realms brimming with possibilities, or even extraordinary versions of our own world.
But which RPGs are the best of the best? Which RPGs were influential enough to lead the rest, or bold enough to question the mold in new and exciting ways? Which RPGs gave us the richest characters, worlds, and stories — experiences we’ll never forget? IGN got its biggest RPG fans in a room to find out. Below are the Top 100 RPGs of All Time.
The main elements we examined:
- Story (Is it compelling, well-written, or uniquely told?)
- Presentation (Is its sound, music, and/or visual style particularly strong?)
- Character progression (Is there satisfying decision-making when it comes to building a character, choosing a combat style, or making other decisions in the game world?)
- Combat (Is it fun? Innovative? Does it ask the player to make interesting choices?)
- Systems (Is there an interesting dynamic between its various meta systems?)
Because the RPG is a particularly diverse and hard-to-define genre, it was important for us to nail down exactly what qualifies as an “RPG.”
For the purposes of this list, we defined an RPG as a game that includes:
- Persistent character progression (including player-exposed stats)
- Combat that is a significant part of the experience
- Choices and consequences
- Character building and customization
5. Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout 3 was entertaining enough, but Fallout: New Vegas is unforgettable. This is the story of the Courier, who almost dies after the all-important package he was transporting gets stolen outside of post-apocalyptic Sin City. Yet the main tale isn’t as fascinating as everything that surrounds it, whether it’s the many factions the Courier builds reputations with, the many choices regarding how to handle volatile situations, or even the sense of humor sprinkled into its several staggering hours of content. It was even fun in action, as it allowed for special attacks through the series’ V.A.T.S. combat system and new animations for melee kills.
4. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was not only one of the first to let you truly explore the vast untapped universe of Star Wars before the events of the films, but let everyone play out the ultimate fantasy of becoming a Jedi Knight (or a Sith Lord!) in what is probably the best and most satisfying execution of a binary good/evil choice system in a game. Knights of the Old Republic also offered up a great cast of side characters with intriguing and complex relationships (not to mention the best snarky assassin droid this meatbag could ever ask for), and set up one of the greatest player character twists in an RPG.
3. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
You can spend hundreds of hours exploring The Witcher 3’s expansive continent and surrounding isles and still not have seen even a fraction of what this world has to offer. The saga of Geralt comes to a supremely satisfying conclusion in what’s absolutely the best game in CD Projekt Reds’ acclaimed RPG series. What begins as a quest to find your lost love becomes an engrossing tale full of unforgettable characters, terrifying enemies, and genuine heart. Even the smallest side quests are thoughtful affairs and many of the main story arcs feature some of the most poignant narrative beats we’ve encountered in any game. Couple its stellar storytelling with deep character customization and a challenging and rewarding combat system and it’s easy to see why IGN gave The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt our Game of the Year award for 2015.
2. Final Fantasy VII
What needs to be said about Final Fantasy VII? The game singlehandedly pushed RPGs to greater popularity in the western world than they’d ever experienced, thanks to its gritty tone, incredible graphics, revolutionary CG cutscenes, unimaginably huge world, and insane story. Practically every one of its characters has become an iconic hero or villain, and its legacy is immeasurable. Whether you think it’s the greatest game of all time or the most overrated, its influence and its innovations simply can’t be denied.
1. Chrono Trigger
Creating a Top 5 RPGs list was quite the challenge, but placing Chrono Trigger at the very top of it was surprisingly easy. Over 20 years after Square’s epoch-making epic launched on the SNES, we’re still gobsmacked by its originality and ingenuity. The seamless transition between the world map full of visible, avoidable enemies and combat was a revelation in a time where most RPGs featured jarring random battles, and even today makes monster encounters a joy instead of a chore. The plucky courage and determination of its adolescent heroes (combined with the memorable art style of Akira Toriyama) makes for instantly memorable characters. And its brilliant introduction of time travel as both a storytelling vessel and gameplay mechanic is proof that story and gameplay don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Couple all this with multiple endings and one of the greatest game soundtracks ever made, and it’s easy to see why Chrono Trigger is our top-ranking RPG of all time.