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You’ll notice when you look over lists of the greatest games of all time, plenty of them are RPGs. Whether you’re talking about JRPGs on consoles or more Dungeons and Dragons-influenced western RPGs on PC, there have been plenty of greats. Unfortunately, a lot of these games just aren’t playable anymore.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case for all of them. While most of the games on this list are the first in a series, most of the sequels of them are available on modern systems as well.
There were hack and slash games before Diablo, but this game would change things forever. Granted, this is a smaller game than Diablo 2, which is what really set the standard for third-person, mouse-driven hack and slash games, but it’s still great fun. The sequels are both available via Blizzard’s Battle.net service.
2. Phantasy Star
For most people these days, if they recognize the name Phantasy Star, it’s probably from Phantasy Star Online. That game wouldn’t exist without this classic punishing RPG for the Sega Master System. The sequels are also excellent, especially Phantasy Star IV. All of the sequels are available in Sega’s various Genesis collections.
3. Breath of Fire
The Breath of Fire series isn’t as well known as many of its SNES-era RPG counterparts, but those who know the series love it. The series usually focused on the main character Ryu, who more often than not can transform into a dragon. That tradition started with the very first game. Both Breath of Fire and Breath of Fire 2 are available via Nintendo’s Switch Online service.
4. Secret of Mana
For a more console-oriented take on a third-person action RPG, it doesn’t get much better than Secret of Mana. Even better, you can play that game on the Switch via the Collection of Mana, which also includes Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy as well as Trials of Mana (aka Seiken Densetsu 3) which was previously unreleased in the U.S.
Like Diablo the original Fallout was a great game that is talked about less because it was completely outclassed by its sequel, Fallout 2. Still the original is well worth playing, and both Fallout and Fallout 2 are available on GOG.
6. Baldur’s Gate
There is an entire class of games from BioWare that use the studio’s Infinity Engine, but Baldur’s Gate was the first. Other games include Baldur’s Gate 2, Icewind Dale and its sequel, and the frequently talked about Planescape: Torment. Most of these games are available in Enhanced Editions these days, which bring higher resolutions and additional content.
7. Shining Force
When people think of tactical strategy RPGs, they tend to think of Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle. The Shining Force series for the Sega Genesis also belongs in this company, as they were great games for the time and they still hold up today. Shining Force, Shining Force II and the dungeon crawler prequel Shining in the Darkness are all available in various Sega Genesis Collections.
8. Final Fantasy
Undoubtedly one of the biggest names in RPG-dom, to some people the Final Fantasy name is synonymous with RPGs. While games from Final Fantasy VII onward are available on the vast majority of systems, you’ll need to turn to mobile games to get some of the earlier titles. Fortunately, the first game plays well both on iOS and Android.
Ultima 7 is generally held up by fans as the pinnacle of the series, but that doesn’t mean that older games in the series aren’t worth playing as well. While the control schemes may be dated, it’s worth coming to grips with them in order to see just how much the Ultima series influenced modern RPGs. You can find the first three games in the series packaged together on GOG.
Newer but Still Classic RPGs!
While plenty of people think of the games we’ve looked at here as classic, to some people they’re just dated. If you have tastes that tend toward newer games, we can still help you out. Just take a look at our list of the best PlayStation 2 RPGs, most of which are far newer than anything here.