All time lists are tough to compile and ever tougher to get everyone to agree on. It’s impossible. Sometimes there is a consensus number 1, but getting there is often the tricky part. What make the item listed at #48 better than #49? Is there even a difference?
I like to make top 10 lists of various things I like. It’s fun to do, but they’re never static. Last year I listed my top 10 favorite albums and if I were to do it again this year it would look different. Some albums will always be there for me, possibly until my end of days, but most of them are interchangeable. It depends on what I’m most interested in at the time, be it a specific band or genre. I find it’s more appropriate to just make a group of 10 or so favorites, like I’ve done with my greatest games feature. It eliminates the subjectivity of assigning a numerical rank because a lot of the titles in the feature are hard to compare to one another.
And even though I have sympathy for anyone trying to compile a list of the greatest anything of all time, it’s not going to stop me from criticizing IGN for it’s recently completed Top 100 RPGs of All Time. I’ve a pretty big fan of the RPG genre of video games, be they from the Far East or Western, PC or console, real-time or turn-based, it’s a very versatile and often rewarding genre of games. IGNs list contains most of the classics and many modern titles as well. They did stay away from Zelda, feeling that’s more of an adventure title, though they did include Secret of Mana. It’s a fine line at times. I’m not going to go thru all 100, just high-light the ones that jumped out at me for either positive or negative reasons.
#99 Lunar: Eternal Blue – It’s hard to quibble with the 99th ranked title, but I’m going to. Eternal Blue is the sequel to Silver Star Story and both were released on the Sega CD and then re-released on the Playstation. SSS is ranked #42, and it’s definitely the superior title in the franchise, though even that might be too high. Lunar games are turn-based that rely on charm and production design. They work, for the most part, and SSS deserves to be on this list for setting a new standard in production values alone with its full motion video and voice acting. Eternal Blue though was mostly retread and the charm didn’t work as well. Not a bad game, but when you consider that Final Fantasy V, Secret of Evermore, or the original Breath of Fire didn’t even make this list, well that just doesn’t work for me.
#89 Fallout: New Vegas – Really? Ehh, I didn’t think much of this title. It was buggy and felt more like an expansion to Fallout 3 than its own game. It’s #89 though, so it’s kind of hard to get too bent out of shape over it.
#88 Final Fantasy IX – Did you know that FFIX is the 5th highest ranked game for the Playstation on gamerankings.com? It’s a great throw-back title for the venerable series, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a lot of fun to experience. It deserves better than #88!
#75 Front Mission 3 – I have no problem with this one being here. I’ve actually never played it outside of a demo that came with another Square title during the PSX era. I’ve always wanted to play it, but the 100 hour commitment supposedly required to finish it always scared me away. It’s basically an RTS with mechs. Sounds sweet!
#67 Final Fantasy Tactics Advance – I love the original Final Fantasy Tactics, but this one? Eww. Square felt for some reason it had to dumb down the game since it was on a Nintendo handheld and the end result was a game I couldn’t finish. Tactics A2 for the DS was a better game, though I’m not sure it’s deserving of being on this list but they could have probably made room.
#66 Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time – I like the Mario & Luigi series. It’s pretty fun and a nice off-beat kind of RPG, but Partners in Time is my least favorite. I found it annoying switching between the babies and the regular Mario Bros. and the humor wasn’t as fun as the original. It’s the lone rep from this series, and if IGN was only going to pick one I think they should have went with the first title for the Gameboy Advance.
#61 Chrono Cross – Poor Chrono Cross continues to get overlooked.
#58 Freedom Force – I was kind of surprised to see this one included. It’s an action heavy RPG for the PC that is kind of like Diablo, without loot and with superheroes. It’s a cool game, but one I found forgettable. I never really thought of it as an RPG either; Warcraft III is arguable more of an RPG than this title. If IGN wants to include it, I’m okay with it, but not this high.
#47 Xenogears – I love this game. I think it should be higher, though I concede I love it more than most people do. Even taking that into account, it should still be in the Top 30.
#41 Xenoblade Chronicles – I have this game, played it once, and have no opinion on it. I’m just surprised it’s higher than Xenogears. I guess I need to get back to playing it.
#33 Ultima Online – This is where IGN and I are going to have to agree or disagree. The Ultima series is worthy of inclusion as it’s one of the more influential franchises in the genre, especially on the PC. Online RPGs though, now more commonly known as MMORPGs, are just not my thing. I consider that a separate genre. There’s just little depth. Developers took the whole looting aspect of RPGs and made an entire game out of it. I just find them boring. I like some narrative structure in my games, and it doesn’t help that most are just hack and slash games. So year, I wouldn’t include many on this list, and if I did, they’d be on the other side of 50.
#21 Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – I have no problems with this ranking. It’s actually perfect, just outside the top 20. Good job, IGN!
#20 EverQuest – See Ultima Online. I suppose this title deserves inclusion for being the pioneer of the MMORP as we know it, and World of Warcraft should get a mention, but not in the top 20. That’s an insult.
#16 Diablo – Really? Number 16?! Better than Ogre Battle, Xenogears, Skies of Arcadia, Vagrant Story, Chrono Cross, Baldur’s Gate etc?! Diablo was a lot of fun when it came out, but it was so derivative. Just go around hacking-up skeletons and collecting gold. Rinse and repeat. Diablo II should be on this list, and that should be the lone rep for this franchise…
#6 Diablo II …and it should not be this high! It’s Diablo, but bigger and with additional character classes. On no planet is this the sixth best RPG of all-time.
#14 Final Fantasy Tactics – Since it’s essentially Ogre Battle with a Final Fantasy coat of paint, one could argue it should not be ranked higher than the best Ogre Battle titles, but I don’t mind. Great game and a solid ranking.
#13 Planescape: Torment – I’ve never played this game, but always heard good things. I really should track down a copy one day while I still have a computer with an OS that can play it.
#11 Final Fantasy VII – This has become one of the more controversial titles when any outlet compiles one of these lists. I consider it my favorite Final Fantasy title, but the gap between this one and VI is almost non-existent. It’s splitting hairs for me. A lot of people have a hatred for this title because it was the point where a lot of people jumped on the RPG bandwagon. I’m okay with IGN putting VI ahead of it, but this one should have still found its way into the top 10.
#7 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Even though Skyrim is still a relatively young title I feel pretty comfortable saying it’s the best of its niche. Bethesda’s titles have come to represent the western RPG in this modern time taking over the point and click style of the Bioware titles. Even though my experience with Skyrim was fraught with horrible glitches and bugs (really, the game should not have been released for PS3 in the state it was in meaning I’ll never buy a Bethesda title at launch again until I know it’s safe to do so) the game itself was a true joy to experience. I just envy those who had it on a suped-up PC or bought it long after the various patches fixed everything.
#4 Pokemon Red/Blue – I struggle with where to rank Pokemon on this list. On hand, it’s insanely addicting and a clever concept. On the other, it’s really simple and doesn’t require a great deal of skill to master. I think it should be on this list and definitely top 50 and maybe top 25, but #4 is just too high.
#3 Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn – An almost forgotten title, or so it feels like at times. I think it’s because Bioware has become known more for Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect in recent years, but this is still their best game. It’s a great tactical RPG that makes excellent use of the D&D license. The only criticism I have of it is that it’s perhaps too faithful to the D&D license so there’s some tedium involved (time to rest so I can re-charge my spells!). And with the game being as massive as it is, that tedium can become real time-consuming.
#2 Chrono Trigger – I knew what the top 2 would be, I just wasn’t certain of the order. I think IGN mostly gets it right though. Chrono Trigger was a breath of fresh air when it came out late in the life of the SNES, and it holds up really well today. I’m on record as saying I actually prefer the sequel, Chrono Cross, but that’s splitting hairs.
#1 Final Fantasy VI – A pretty obvious and easy selection. I think it’s debatable which game in the Final Fantasy main series is the best, but once you factor in all of the new concepts (mostly thematic in nature) introduced by Vi that became hallmarks of the genre for many games to come it becomes a much easier selection. Final Fantasy VI gave gamers a grown-up story with a huge cast of characters and one of the most memorable villains in gaming history. Because of that it’s become the definitive Japanese RPG and is not likely to ever be dethroned.
IGN ended up doing a pretty decent job with this list. Yeah, the MMORPGs kind of irk me and are too well represented and the Diablo stuff makes my head hurt (I might come across as a Diablo hater, but really I’m not. They’re good titles for what they are, but they’re far too simplistic in nature to rank amongst the genre’s elite) but for the most part the best titles are represented. It’s impossible to get this kind of thing right but I had fun killing time going thru the list and I suppose that’s all it really intends to do.