Previously, Ben Thompson filled us all in on the role-playing games that defined his love of the genre. With such a wide and varied genre, it’s more than likely that no two individuals would craft a similar list. We have a varied group of writers and editors on the site, so what better way to get a feel for their tastes and content than seeing the games that shaped them, as well? Today, I’ll be blessing you with a collection of highly influential and thoroughly delightful titles that convinced me to begin writing about the genre and eventually become a staff member at SwitchRPG.
But first, a bit of history. As a child of the 90’s, I actually missed out on owning a home console from the fifth generation, with my initiation into the club coming with the launch of the GameCube in 2001. That being said, I did play a few RPGs on my PC and Game Boy beforehand, but this list might still prove a puzzle to some. Simply put, there are titles I have since experienced thanks to online services and opportunities that helped solidify my passion and perspective on role-playing games, so let’s take a magical ride through my catalog.
Pokemon Red Version
Again, as a child of the era, this was not only my first Pokemon game (after my older brother passed on his copy in favor for the superior Yellow Version), but also my first role-playing game, period. While his interest in the series would soon wane, however, mine would explode with the release of Pokemon Silver Version, setting up somewhat unrealistic expectations for the nature of sequels in the future. Even so, Pokemon taught me that role-playing games could take on many forms – just because the game was centered around monster collection and competition didn’t mean there was a lack of depth in its systems, or that it didn’t build upon the pedigree of other series.
After my cravings for monster-catching titles intensified, I would go on to grab Dragon Warrior Monsters, which I assumed was similar to Pokemon in a variety of mechanics simply because they were both centered around similar concepts. However, as my collection of titles grew, I would soon find that Dragon Warrior Monsters had a far deeper pedigree than I could imagine, and that Pokemon took elements of these and other titles in order to create a deeply addictive experience.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
I have already written several dissertations on this title, and could easily create several more due to how fiercely devoted I am to the game. I can still remember playing a Best Buy demo kiosk version of this title for the first time as a ten-year old, but the magic of its dialogue, combat, and character would be revealed to me when I finally owned the title. The Thousand-Year Door didn’t just solidify my love for the role-playing genre, it taught me that titles falling into this category could be unique in almost every aspect.
Everything about Paper Mario was different from the top-down or isometric RPGs I had experienced previously. I’ve yet to come across a turn-based battle system as viscerally enjoyable as this game’s Action Command, Stylish-Input combat. The game stripped away massive numbers in favor for intuitive presentation that masked depth and variety. Once again, this title would set my expectations for certain series very high, but it changed the way I looked at role-playing games forever.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
Oh hey, I might as well mention that I’m writing a retrospective series on all of the Crystal Chronicles titles. There’s a reason for this, however, because Crystal Chronicles was the first role-playing game I played alongside a best friend. Fighting for our lives through the hazardous miasma and dungeons of Crystal Chronicles, I held a Game Boy Advance SP in my hands for the first time, and experienced camaraderie, storytelling, and character-building that had an additional layer. Those co-operative afternoons produced a glow of nostalgia that would nestle itself in my heart, pushing me to search out similar experiences and friendships to this day. So yeah, you can bet that I’m looking forward to the HD remaster later this year.
Monster Hunter Tri
Continuing the trend of co-operative experiences, I never truly immersed myself in the world of MMORPGs. But I can fondly remember the hushed excitement in my voice as I shared news articles with my friends regarding the localization of this Wii-era Action-RPG towards the end of high school. We had never seen or experienced the previous entries, but the scope and scale of this new entry baffled and excited us. And yes, Monster Hunter Tri proved to me that role-playing games could be difficult long before Dark Souls dropped in to say “hi.” With titanic engagements that required intense preparation and precise positioning, these battles only grew in difficulty online meant that co-operation was key, and weapon and monster knowledge were vital. Sure, its underwater shenanigans were more hassle than they were worth, but this first impression helped foster a love for Monster Hunter that lives on today.
Monster Hunter taught me that some games were worth the wait, but Xenoblade Chronicles taught me that some waits could feel unbearable. I marveled at the size and scope of the game’s field exploration videos, which I could only view online, as Nintendo hadn’t announced any plans to bring this massive title over to North America. I joined the efforts of Operation Rainfall in whatever way I could, pushing for the game’s localization, among others.
Though I doubt the small grassroots movement did much to sway Nintendo, Xenoblade and several other titles would have their European localization published in North America, and the feeling of playing a game I had been dying to experience was euphoric. Xenoblade was the first RPG where I willingly went out of my way to get lost, as its experience system and world encouraged exploration unlike any I had experienced previously.
Why does this title appear halfway down this article, when it was released well-before the previous entries? My first experience with Chrono Trigger wouldn’t come until I owned the Nintendo DS version of the game, and although it possessed a number of features and additions, this game still proved to me that sometimes, you really can’t beat the classics. My love for Chrono Trigger isn’t one rooted in childhood nostalgia – it’s a game I picked up in 2012 as a Junior in college. And yes, it’s great.
One of the first titles where ATB seemed to truly click for me, the game’s in-map encounters and dual-techs encourage players to experiment with a variety of team options. The simplistic, yet very effective storytelling is only enhanced by one of the most majestic OSTs in the history of the genre. There is a reason this game is widely regarded as one of the best of its era, but it is fitting that it also stands the test of time.
That very few people acknowledge this title is frustrating to me, but what else can you expect from a 3DS eshop-exclusive micro-RPG? It’s a shame, because this DnD-style experience both leans into its tabletop inspirations and presents exciting twists, such as a combination-heavy dice-stacking mechanic, and alternate scenarios to uncover in its NG+. Despite its eight-hour playthrough, I sank five times as many hours into this small game, proving to me that not all RPGs need to be vast and expanse. Sometimes, an intimate story and addictive, enjoyable mechanics are all that is required to grab my attention.
The last game to appear on this list may lead you to believe I picked up the SEGA AGES version of the title, but I actually ended up playing this game on the Wii Virtual Console. I had heard so many great things about the series prior to picking the title up, and when I finally played it… well, it’s future-tech fantasy, for sure. But what Phantasy Star did for me was instill an appreciation for classics similar to Chrono Trigger. However, more meaningful was the confirmation that I love first person dungeon crawling. Period. To clarify, I had played several first-person dungeon crawlers prior to this, but the VC Phantasy Star has no mapping capability – you have to either refer to maps made by others, or draw your own. You know you like something when you go out of your way to make your own maps.
If you’ve read my content prior to this, or are going to keep an eye out for my reviews or articles in the future, these are the titles that are constantly bouncing around in my head. They’re excellent examples of individual aspects of RPG mechanics and designs, though there are clearly some personal favorites that have colored the way I perceive more recent titles. While there are so many more games I could offer as recommendations and favorites, these are the first eight that come to mind. With that said, the statement from the start of this article remains true: we all have different tastes and favorites, and that’s what has created an eclectic and enjoyable community at SwitchRPG. What are the games that made you? Feel free to share in the comments below.