Seriously. There is no other game that even comes close to the excellence that Xenogears delivers. With its deeply immersive and philosophical story in addition to great gameplay, graphics & sound, no title is more worthy of being #1 on this list. The word “epic” is thrown around a lot today, but you don’t know what “epic” is until you’ve played Xenogears.
Xenogears was published by Squaresoft and released in 1998 for the original Sony PlayStation. Because the game made controversial statements involving religion, it almost didn’t get released in the US. It was originally planned to be the fifth chapter in a series of six games. Unfortunately, this never came to be, and although it can be argued that the Xenosaga series, which came much later on, ties into the story of Xenogears, those games never quite reached the heights that Xenogears did.
The game opens up with a spaceship drifting through space on an unknown mission. All seems to be going well when suddenly, all the systems on the ship start to go haywire. The security system turns against innocent people on the ship as the message “You shall be as gods” flashes across the computer screens. Unable to avoid the imminent disaster, the ship crash lands on a nearby planet. Having somehow survived, a mysterious lone female figure rises up from the burning wreckage, and our story begins.
What, you were expecting Final Fantasy VII? Nope, sorry.
Long before FFVII came to be, before Cloud and Tifa cosplayers at anime cons were about as common as molecules of oxygen in the air, Squaresoft developed the true master of all FF games. It’s unfortunate that this game ultimately became shadowed by its successor, because it is superior in almost every way.
Due to Squaresoft’s confusing numbering system in the early FF games, Final Fantasy VI was originally known in the US as Final Fantasy III. Released for the Super Nintendo in 1994, this game essentially defined everything I grew to love about video game RPGs: a deep, moving story with a central theme of saving the world; an engaging, partially real-time battle system; and a cast of well-developed characters that have their own unique abilities in battle. Add to this the most evil, conniving, diabolical, sadistic son-of-a-bitch villain I’ve ever seen, and you have one of the best video games ever created.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was one game that took me a very long time to get into. When I initially tried it, I was almost immediately turned off by how different it was. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to give it another chance and try to get used to the differences. I did, and today, Persona 3 is my third all-time favorite RPG.
In fact, I already wrote a lengthy review of this game. So, go ahead and check that out if you’d like. Or, you can continue reading this post, which will basically be a summary of said review.
Persona 3 takes place in the real world. You’re a high school student, and you’ve recently moved into a new town. Shortly after arriving, you are awoken from sleep one night when a monster appears on the dorm’s rooftop. The monster is soon revealed to be a “shadow” – a mysterious creature that only appears during the Dark Hour. The Dark Hour is a “hidden 25th hour” than only a certain few people can experience. In addition to the shadows that appear, the world itself has an eerie green glow to it during this hour. On top of that, the nearby school transforms into a gigantic tower that reaches toward the heavens, known as Tartarus. You and your friends decide that the answers behind the meaning of the shadows, and the Dark Hour must be hidden inside Tartarus. Through the course of a story that spans across several months, your team periodically enters the elusive tower to unlock the meaning behind these mysteries.
In the wake of Final Fantasy VI‘s success, Squaresoft released yet another RPG epic for the Super Nintendo console that to this date is widely regarded among RPG fans as a golden classic. That game is Chrono Trigger. By taking common RPG elements and throwing in a unique battle system for the time along with a story centered around time travel, Squaresoft created a fan favorite that has stood the test of time and is talked about even to this day.
Chrono Trigger takes place in a world not unlike our own, in the year 1000. The small village of Leene is celebrating the new millennium by throwing the Millennial Fair. Crono, the story’s protagonist, attends the fair and accidentally runs into a mysterious girl named Marle. The two decide to try out an invention that Crono’s friend Lucca is demonstrating at the fair – a molecular transporter. After Crono survives what seems to be a successful test run on the device, Marle has a go at it. The pendant she is wearing around her neck resonates, and a vortex opens, sucking her and Crono into the year 600 A.D. Upon their arrival in this new era, the two accidentally end up changing the course of history and must set out on a course to correct it, for failing to do so could have catastrophic consequences.
Secret of Mana, or Seiken Densetsu 2 as it is known in Japan, introduced to me many of the RPG concepts that I was very unfamiliar with at the time I played it. Being the very first RPG to enter my life, it’s safe to say that this game was my “gateway drug” into the world of video game RPGs. When the game came out, I decided to buy it because it looked like a Zelda game, a series I was (am still am) a huge fan of. However, I soon came to realize that, unlike Zelda games, Secret of Mana is more than just an adventure game – it’s an RPG. Using terminology I had never heard before such as HP, MP, and EXP, this game was one that took a while for me to really get into. However, to this date, it remains one of my favorite RPGs of all time.
In the past, man used a magical energy known as Mana was used to create the Mana Fortress, a flying weapon of destruction. The gods, greatly angered by this, sent magical beasts to destroy the fortress. One day, a hero appeared. Using his magical sword, aptly named the Mana Sword, he destroyed the Mana Fortress, and peace returned to the world.
“But time flows like a river… and history repeats…”