Essential RPGs: A list in progress

We’ve got a list of the essential RPGs making the rounds, from Rampant and Scorpia (check out those comments). We wanted to create a list of essential RPGs based on story/writing as well as gameplay, building from Rampant’s original list. Of course, we haven’t played everything, so… what are we missing?

#1 – Fallout
Nuff said.

#2 – Ultima IV and VII
IV and VII seem to be the big winners of the series. Ultima VII’s story ensured great sales despite few innovations in gameplay.

#3 – Final Fantasy VII and VI (aka III)
The gold standard for linear storytelling that gets you into the characters. Of course, we tend to see this kind of story often in the FF series, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

#4 – Baldur’s Gate I/II
Included perhaps the first opportunity for romance quests with branching options. If you got the hack, you could even have a gay romance. I’m just sayin’.

#5 – Pool of Radiance (Gold Box Series)
This game wins point for being true to its IP, and I believe it was the first great D&D translation. I also loved Curse of the Azure Bonds.

#6 – Chrono Trigger
Per Rampant: “Strong, memorable characters, a twisted time-travelling plot, and low-tech but high-quality graphics made for a game that is perhaps the best example of the ‘jRPG’ subgenre to date – even twelve years later.”

#7 – Starflight I/II
As the last remnant of old earth, you encounter “multiple alien civilizations, space exploration of a galactic sector, planetary exploration, mineral recovery and bio-sampling, interesting aliens, tactical ship-to-ship combat, and many RPG story threads on only two 5.25″ floppy disks.” Is this an essential RPG? Who knows, but players swear by it!

#8 – Suikoden 2
Fantasy series that took characters to the next level with over 100 unique characters to recruit from.

#9 – Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines
Per Rampant: “If your evaluation of RPGs is based upon how well it immerses you into its world, then this game deserves to be in the top ten of anyone’s list.” The story did deliver the Masquerade pretty well, though they fell into the virgin/whore dichotomy with the love interest that always drives me nuts.

#10 – Deus Ex
An FPS with a chewy RPG center.

#11 – City of Heroes/Villains
Okay, maybe good writing/storytelling doesn’t jump to mind when you think of an MMORPG, but CoX has a lot to recommend it. Destroyed cityscapes immediately put you in the story without you having to read text, you habitually feel like a hero when someone thanks you, and getting a cape at level 20 is more a rite of passage than an opportunity for new gear. And, if you can actually get around to reading the text (which is a bit wordy, I can’t lie), there’s good stuff in there!

#12 – The Witcher (coming soon)
Fantasy RPG with meaningful branching narrative. Just thought we’d mention it 🙂

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. More Guess that Game Dialog to come this week!

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Filed under Games, Guess that game dialog!, History of Games, Licensing, Writing

13 responses to “Essential RPGs: A list in progress

  1. Anne, nice little blog you have here. I’ll have to keep an eye on it from now on; thanks for dropping by my site and posting.

    One game that does stand out in terms of story is Planescape: Torment. Relating also to your post on heroes, definitely the Nameless One was very much a flawed hero (or protagonist). His appearance was incredibly ugly as well, reflecting the many, many times he had died and been resurrected. No other game, except possibly Fable (which I didn’t play), ever had a main character who exhibited the scars of many combats.

    The story in PS:T is quite intense, and I think it turned off a number of players, who were expecting the “same old, same old”. At the same time, the designers may have gone a bit too far with the text. One of my posters called it “Planescape: The Novel”, and he may not have been far wrong.

    However, as most RPGs since then have had the usual hackneyed storylines, I don’t know that it had a great deal of influence as far as plot goes.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I did consider Planescape: Torment because it was on the original list, however I was turned off by the wordiness that you pointed out. I have a bias against excessive text in games — it gives writers a bad name ;). Do you think the writing in PS:T influenced other games? Either way, I guess if I left Bloodlines on the list I should put PS:T back 🙂

  3. Houseelf

    I feel that Lord of the Rings Online is one of the most immersive, story driven games that I’ve ever played.

    Ultima VII is a good choice.

    City of Villains has a good, solid start to finish storyline. City of Heroes doesn’t follow the same design that Villains had.

    Many of the older Sierra titles like the King’s Quest stories were really great on this count. Of course Leisure Suit Larry and it’s sequels were great too.

    Then there is Neverwinter Nights, especially Hordes of the Underdark. Hordes had the best storyline and RPG elements because of the improvement of cut screens. The ability to create your own modules also made it possible for a number of people to create expansion modules which were also very story driven. There are far to many good modules to list.

  4. I admit I forgot about LOTRO. Maybe I’ll swap out CoX for it.

    The King’s Quest series was great, but I think they’re technically more adventure games than true RPGs.

    As for NWN, I do dig it. I think we can go even further back in time to find tools for making your own game mods, though:

  5. Yeah, KQ and LSL were all adventure games rather than RPGs.

    However, I don’t agree that Hordes was such a great game. I felt the original NWN was better.

    Anne, they may have gone overboard with the text in PS:T, but the story was still outstanding.

  6. Awesome, Anne! I really like your take on the list from a storytelling perspective!

  7. Heh. Now she has to go see your blog today for even more possible titles. This sort of thing could go on forever!

  8. An interesting list. I agree with a few points and disagree with others (I never thought FF7 had a particularly compelling or well-written story, for example). It’s nice to see Suikoden get some respect, though I would tout Suikoden 2’s humanization of its villain cast as a more important feature than having a large cast, many of whom get very little actual development.

    Have you played Suikoden 5 yet? It more than makes up for the travesty of 4, and it has some of the most interestingly developed (and well-acted) characters I can think of. Too bad its villain cast was so lacking…

    I honestly can’t get behind any argument that MMOs have much of a storyline. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like to see stories that go somewhere, and MMOs seem to feature quest-based stories that can often be … repeated? I don’t know. I’m not a big MMO player. They all seem to come back to the old hack-and-slash MUD mentality, albeit with a different face.

    Kudos on the King’s Quest mention–have you played The Longest Journey? I’ve heard it’s a good revival of the classic adventure game, but I haven’t had a chance to play it yet.

  9. Actually, I take that back about MMOs – I haven’t played City of Heroes so it isn’t fair for me to criticize it. Foot, meet mouth.

  10. Pingback: Dungeons & Dragons, the essential RPG, turns 4 « Writers Cabal Blog

  11. Okay, I’m only 4 months late in responding to this excellent blog.. but major props for choosing Fallout… that is one amazing well-written game… I wonder how its sequel will look on the Xbox 360? I’m getting all tingly just thinking about that… lol

  12. Pingback: How to avoid powerlessness and apathy in game design « Writers Cabal Blog

  13. Pingback: A Return to Storytelling « Writers Cabal Blog

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