People clearly love video games. We’re seeing a boom in the industry larger than it has ever been before. Truly, this is where entertainment is going and the entire entertainment industry has taken notice. In the video game world, it seems that the true Kings at the top are the role-playing video game franchises.
You have seen them for years and likely even played quite a number of them too. The way most people classify a role-playing video game may differ from person to person. However, everyone agrees that among the main ways to identify an RPG is to have these critical things:
- Level-Up System
- Equipment-Based Progression
- Equipable Abilities & Attacks
- Character Classes
- An Interactive world
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This is not to be confused with an open-world environment. While most role-playing games work in open worlds, a game can still be an RPG and not an open-world. It merely needs most if not all of the RPG elements listed above.
Of course, due to the dominance of this sector, a lot of franchises have attempted to take their video games further into the RPG landscape. Franchises such as The Assassin’s Creed series and partially the new Tomb Raider series both added various RPG elements into their recent games to try and connect to this world.
However, when we crafted this list, we did not want to include games like those even though they added a lot. We wanted to add those that are pure RPGs from the very beginning. It was tough to narrow down every game we felt needed to be on here, but we’re sure you’ll agree with most if not all of the choices.
That said, we hope you enjoy our list of the best role-playing video game franchises in history!
Xenoblade ChroniclesNintendo’s Xenoblade Chronicles series quietly became one of Nintendo’s success stories in the 2010s. Despite its two-year head start in Japan, the Xenoblade series got off to a running start in 2012 on the Nintendo Wii.
This role-playing game is developed by Monolith Soft and published by Nintendo. This became evident to the common eye when Xenoblade characters started to make an appearance in the Super Smash Bros. series. However, that’s not what the Xenoblade series is known for.
Three large titles in 10 years give Xenoblade a head start on this list at no. 15. It takes the protagonist, Shulk, across a journey to gain revenge over the Mechon for an attack on his home. Nintendo and Monolith Soft take players on a wild ride through a vast landscape that only improved since its debut in 2010.
Now that Xenoblade Chronicles spans across four platforms, they’re now a staple of Nintendo’s gaming portfolio.
UltimaAdmittedly, this writer never heard of Ultima until doing research on this topic. Seeing the reception it has been getting from decades of video game fans, this role-playing video game franchise was hard to ignore.
It’s called one of the “one of the most significant in computer game history,” per a feature in Gamasutra.com. The first release for Ultima came in 1981. Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness debuted on the Apple II. Seriously, this may surprise some younger fans. In fact, some of these factoids are quite astounding,
The main series was broken up into three parts, the Age of Darkness, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Age of Armageddon. It’s easily one of the longest tenures of any video game, which spans 32 years. Finally, Ultima’s latest release came in 2013 with Ultima Forever: Quest of the Avatar.
Even though it isn’t talked about at length anymore, it’s hard to ignore Ultima’s impact on the video game industry as a whole.
Baldur’s GateSticking with the vintage theme for a moment, we see Bioware’s entry in the role-playing game genre.
Baldur’s Gate debuted in 1998 from Bioware and Snowblind Studios. It’s actually Bioware’s second-ever title that was produced and released. Shattered Steel was their first game, which was reportedly a proof-of-concept demo. IGN covered Bioware’s history in a 2012 article that talked about their rise to stardom with Baldur’s Gate.
That seemed to pave the way for another name further down on this list.
Bioware only made four Baldur’s Gate titles, which all garnered their own success on Windows and macOS. The popular franchise did not debut on consoles until 2001 with the PS2 and Xbox. Bioware seemingly had a pulse on what role-playing game enthusiasts were looking for.
Mechanics in this series like choosing dialogue or point-to-click combat is still used to this day. For a game that came out in 1998, the landscapes were also ahead of its time.
By the way, Baldur’s Gate fans, a Baldur’s Gate 3 is reportedly coming to early access in 2020.
DivinityThis list has everything, including a turn-based role-playing game franchise.
Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin series began in 2014 and immediately started to modernize the RPG genre. What set Divinity apart from the rest was its ability to allow the player to go solo, or complete the game in a multi-player adventure.
It includes an interactive world, as well as a modding mechanic for PC players. One strength of Divinity is its art style and graphics. If anything, Divinity deserves to be near the top of every list in this category alone. The look of it is absolutely stunning.
Larian Studios released its first installment exclusively on Windows in 2014. Gaming websites gave it rave reviews, including a 9 on Eurogamer, GameSpot, and IGN. Hardcore Gamer even gave it a 4.5/5. Even though it’s not a huge IP like Halo or Call of Duty, Divinity: Original Sin sold over 160,000 copies in their first week, which is Larian Studio’s fastest-selling game.
This role-playing game series deserved a spot on the list due to its sequel, released in 2017. At the moment, a third installment is not reportable.
DiabloBlizzard’s overhead role-playing game dictates humanity’s battle with the main villain, Diablo. Players engage in a dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash game that lets the player earn loot as they go from battle to battle.
What most casual players don’t know is how long Diablo has remained in the gaming space. Blizzard debuted the original Diablo in 1997. The franchise released two main titles since its inception. Diablo II came out three years after the original. Diablo III, their most recent main game, was a 12-year project for Blizzard, as it debuted in 2012.
In between each major launch, Blizzard launched secondary games for each, most-notably Diablo III’s “Reaper of Souls” and “Rise of the Necromancer” expansions.
Blizzard lived life on the edge in 2020 when it released Diablo Immoral, the mobile game that had fans in a frenzy. Of course, it’s been eight years without a major sequel to Diablo III, fans are still restless. However, at BlizzCon 2019, Diablo IV was announced.
There’s no release date yet for the fourth game in the series, but it will undoubtedly give the franchise another successful game.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicRemember the foreshadowing of another BioWare role-playing game on this list? BioWare teamed up with the impressive LucasArts studio to develop a Star Wars game that could become a massive success. They certainly did exactly what they planned with this series.
BioWare’s Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an RPG MMO that is widely considered one of the best of its genre. Similar to World of Warcraft, this game debuted in the early-2000’s, but is still played by thousands of fans every day.
Players in this Star Wars saga choose from three characters on their mission to stop the Sith. What makes this series so successful is its longevity. On top of the aforementioned analysis that can be seen above, it received high honors from nearly every gaming website.
In 2010, IGN ranked Knights of the Old Republic in its top-10 games of the decade. However, due to the deep stories in this world, it still holds up ten years later!
Some fans even think it would be a good TV show or a movie.
Dragon AgeBioWare is back…like anyone saw that coming.
Their 2009 saga, Dragon Age: Origins will always be near the top of most lists regarding the best role-playing video games in history. With four games at their disposal and another on the way, BioWare is making it hard for anyone to compete in the RPG genre.
Similar to KOTR, the player gets to pick from three characters in their saga. As many can tell, the third-person RPG allows for exciting action and a successful story. BioWare claims the game is a “dark heroic fantasy,” and a successor to Baldur’s Gate.
According to multiple reports, Dragon Age: Origins won multiple accolades, including a Game of the Year honor and “Best Role-Playing Game” award. Dragon Age II and Dragon Age Inquisition also received high honors from critics and fans across the globe.
As of this writing, Dragon Age 4 is in development.
Dark SoulsFromSoftware created the Dark Souls franchise in 2011. This action role-playing video game after its first series, Demon Souls, shared great success. Metacritic gave Dark Souls, Dark Souls: Scholar of the First Sin, and Dark Souls III all above 84.
Hardcore players spend hundreds of hours in the kingdom of Lordran, taking aim at dangerous bosses that are extremely difficult to kill. Dark Souls created a consistent theme in its games. They’re difficult without “holding your hand.”
That’s where the successor of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, was met with heavy criticism. It did not land with gamers the same way Dark Souls managed to do so. While it had some of the grit and darkness, nothing really compared to the previous franchise.
As of now, Dark Souls does not have another title ready for launch. However, it is rumored.
Monster HunterCapcom’s monster-killing machine debuted in 2004 and has not lost a step since their inception in the role-playing video game space. The original Monster Hunter capitalized on the PlayStation 2’s historic success. While Monster Hunter specializes in the RPG space, it’s loot-driven system brings players back.
Their most recent title, Monster Hunter World, instituted a ton of different reasons for re-playability.
For starters, players get their own sidekick, a palico, that aids them in battle. A slew of monsters exists that allows players to gather materials to craft gear.
Capcom added to Monster Hunter World’s already-vast world to explore with the expansion, Iceborne. It included quality-of-life changes, a new story, new monsters to hunt and a new rank.
It will be a while before fans see another installment in this role-playing video game series. However, if the last version is anything to go off of…the next Monster Hunter very well could become the greatest monster-killing game in history.
FalloutGet your Pip-Boy ready, because Fallout has entered the battle!
The post-apocalyptic RPG has entertained millions of players for over two decades. Fallout’s history is an odd one, just by going through the timeline of its main releases. These do not include spin-off games like Fallout: New Vegas, which was a wild success in 2010.
Fallout debuted in 1997 by Black Isle Studios. It was a tactical role-playing video game. From there, Fallout 2 came out one year later. Back then, it was especially difficult to come out with major titles in back-to-back years. Fallout 2 is where fans got to see more non-playable characters have personalities.
Fast-forward 10 years to Fallout 3, arguably the best in the series. With technological advancements, Bethesda’s first main game they developed. This took huge leaps and bounds in the RPG space. Since 2015, Bethesda developed Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.
Fallout 4 won numerous awards for Bethesda. It also gathered a slew of nominations at the Game Awards, PC Gamer, the Daily Telegraph and more. However, we saw how greed played a role in the development of Fallout 76. They wanted to put a new version of the long-running series out just to make a buck so they could also do something else.
They did not put their heart and soul into it like they did the others and it showed. Bethesda has since tried to fix the issues with Fallout 76 and even tried to butter up past fans. However, until they can make a game that reminds us of the Fallout we once loved…they’ll never be seen in the same light as they once were by gamers.
Mass EffectBioWare is arguably the king of the role-playing video game genre. Between Mass Effect and Dragon Age alone, the proof is in the metaphorical pudding.
Regardless, Mass Effect cracked our list due to its successful and beloved storytelling. The combat is revered by those who are die-hard Mass Effect fans, but the way BioWare wrote its linear program garnered universal success, especially with Mass Effect 2.
For example, Mass Effect 2 sold over 500,000 copies in the first month of its existence. Mass Effect 3 sold over 800,000 copies in its first 24 hours. The third installment in the series was the most commercially successful game of the series, doubling its predecessor.
Even though Mass Effect: Andromeda flopped for most critics of the franchise, BioWare will forever own its supremacy in the RPG genre to many fans. If they can put out another killer Mass Effect, their kingship may become undisputed.
World of WarcraftBlizzard’s over-the-top MMO RPG lands at the top of most lists simply on longevity and success alone. Where it lacked was the over-arching story, but that’s a different conversation for another time.
World of Warcraft needs no introduction. It’s arguably Blizzard’s most-successful game (unless you’re a kid who loves Overwatch). Since its debut on PC in 2004, its peak amount of players reached 12-million active players. A recent article states that numbers have declined, but with a new expansion coming in the Fall of 2020, that could change.
For 16 years, rogues, shamans, warriors, healers, tanks and many more created stories that would last a lifetime.
Just ask one man named Leroy. If you don’t know his name, just listen out for it, you soon will.
Blizzard is enjoying universal success with other games in their arsenal; see Overwatch and Diablo as examples. However, their bread-and-butter is World of Warcraft, and they do that extremely well. We can’t say the same for movies in this area sadly.
Final FantasyAny of these games have a case to be this website’s best role-playing video game franchise. Square Enix’s Final Fantasy is older than this writer, which goes to show why it’s still creating good content 32 years later.
By the way, did you know a Final Fantasy game was made for Blackberry?
Final Fantasy, as a franchise, has sold more than 149 million copies worldwide, which is easily one of the best-selling franchise in history. Not only did Square Enix test different genres, but they did so successfully. Final Fantasy XIV is an MMO that failed at first, but re-launched and turned itself around into a great product.
Final Fantasy XV is simply a third-person story-centric game, but it was a masterpiece. Not to mention that Kingdom Hearts was originally a spin-off from the Final Fantasy series.
For role-playing video games, it’s tough to surpass what Final Fantasy is doing. In order to be seen as greater, you have to do something incredible.
Elder ScrollsEnter the incredible.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind are three of Bethesda Studios’ best products in their rich history. To add to the pure power of those titles, they can all claim to be the best role-playing video games that life has to offer.
Plus, Skyrim can be played on an Amazon Alexa these days.
What casual fans of the series may not know, was that Elder Scrolls began its reign of terror on the gaming world in 1994 with a game called The Elder Scrolls: Arena. It still has similarities to today’s iterations. Arena was a first-person perspective melee-combat game Even back then, the world was massive.
It’s clearly not as big as Skyrim, but for 26 years, Bethesda Studios took a formula and didn’t stray too far away from it. Elder Scrolls VI is on the horizon as well.
What makes this franchise so impressive, much like Final Fantasy, is its versatility. Elder Scrolls Online is a direct competitor to World of Warcraft and even does quite well. Consider Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but with an MMO theme.
If Elder Scrolls isn’t the last on our list, what could be?!?
Come here, Roach!
The WitcherIt’s all about quality, not quantity.
That’s how we made the decision to make The Witcher series the best role-playing video game franchise in history.
In fact, CD Projekt Red created an instant classic with their third game in the series, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 2015. It won numerous awards including the Game of the Year from Warner Bros, the Best Role-Playing Game Award by Warner Bros, and the Game Award for Most-Anticipated game.
The original Witcher and its sequel were good games, but they do not compare to the masterpiece that was Witcher 3. The third Witcher title is a game that depicts Geralt of Rivia’s conquest to connect with Ciri. Meanwhile, the Wild Hunt is also tracking her down so they can contain her powers for themselves.
Witcher 3’s mechanics are smooth and the aesthetics are second-to-none. On PC, where its performance out-classes consoles, it can create one of the best displays of art in a video game the eye has ever seen. Even if we digress from the look of the game to how long it takes to beat, customers definitely get their money’s worth.
Per Twinfinite.net, the Witcher 3 takes approximately 70-100 hours to beat, and that includes completing only a percentage of the side quests. To get to 100% completion of the game, it will take 200 hours or more to complete. If you add the side quests in all expansion packs, there are 405 quests to complete overall!
CD Projekt Red was not fooling around when they created arguably the best RPG of all-time. They even have another one on the way, in CyberPunk 2077.
Perhaps in the year 2030, CD Projekt Red will have two RPG’s on this list.
[Custom Featured Image By Tony Mcelveen]