RPGs have long enthralled us into fictional worlds beyond imagination. Unlike novels and movies, RPGs have the ability to place you in the center of the action. You probably know many such games already – from Skyrim to Final Fantasy – but many RPGs lie in the dark, overlooked.
Here, we explore the underrated RPGs that are just that. The games hidden in that treasure chest you forgot to open in that dungeon. The games that aren’t just pointless side-quests – they’re worthy of being your main quest. Rest at the inn, organize your party and grab your swords – we’re going on a journey through RPG land.
10) Grandia (PlayStation 1/Switch, 1998, 2020)
Grandia is a wonderful yet oft-overlooked coming-of-age JRPG. In a game genre filled with angsty teenagers and wartorn worlds, it’s refreshing to play a story about a young boy and his childhood friend going on an epic adventure. And what’s more, the game oozes color and charm, from its expressive character portraits to its quirky steam-punk universe.
Its battle system is also highly enjoyable. It utilizes an ‘IP bar’ system – once a character/enemy icon reaches the midpoint of the bar, they can act in battle. The cool thing is that if a character attacks an enemy just as they’re ready to attack, they can cancel their attack. And since enemies are actually displayed on the game map, you can sneak up on them for pre-emptive attacks.
9) Silver (Dreamcast/PC, 1999)
Silver is different from other games on this list in that it’s an action RPG. As far as this writer can remember, it’s one of the first RPGs on a videogame console to employ full voice acting. That, alongside its classic medieval setting, range of magical powers, and real-time battles makes this under-looked game worthy of your time.
Now, the voice acting isn’t exactly Hollywood-grade. And the plot does rely on several high-fantasy clichés to move along. However, it’s such a fun game with cool characters and beautiful music that doesn’t hurt the experience. It ain’t gold, but it’s definitely Silver.
8) Skies of Arcadia/Skies of Arcadia Legends (Dreamcast/GameCube, 2000, 2003)
The Dreamcast isn’t a console widely known for its RPGs, but it does have one overlooked classic under its crisp white belt – Skies of Arcadia. The game plunges you into a world of flying airships and floating islands containing hordes of charismatic and colorful characters.
After the Dreamcast’s failure, the game searched for a new home. It found it in the form of the Nintendo GameCube, adding Legends to its title. This is the recommended version, with a far more forgiving enemy encounter rate, slightly improved visuals, and heaps of extra content not seen on the Dreamcast original.
7) Star Ocean: The Last Hope (Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, 2009)
Everyone talks about Star Ocean: The Second Story and Star Ocean: ‘Till the End of Time, but few talk about The Last Hope. A prequel to the series whole, the game received mixed reviews upon release yet it offers so much that it’s a crime to overlook it.
The Last Hope continues the series’ unique blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements. The main story takes you through several stunning planets, including Roak from the first game. The real-time battles are also massive fun, having you control a quirky and underrated cast of characters (to the point we can forgive the fact that the protagonist is called ‘Edge Maverick’…sort of).
6) Shadow Hearts: Covenant (PlayStation 2, 2004)
Honestly, the whole Shadow Hearts series is worth playing. However, if one were to narrow down to the best game, it’d be Covenant. Why? Because it took everything about its predecessor and improved on it tenfold, easily making it one of the most overlooked RPGs of its generation – and one of the best RPGs on the PS2.
It’s also unique in that it’s set in an alternate real world. You travel through France, Wales, Russia, Japan, and more, accompanied by a surprisingly well-written cast. The game’s ‘Judgment Ring’ battle system is addictive and fun, so much so that it makes you look forward to every random encounter. Meanwhile, the story cleverly builds off the first game. You’d do yourself a disservice by not giving this game and its predecessor a shot.
5) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA, 2003)
A lot of people put the original FFT on a pedestal, but few talk about Advance. Yet, the game remains just as addictive as its PlayStation predecessor. Bearing a Chronicles of Narnia-esque storyline, the game centers on you building an effective clan to take on various missions across Ivalice. What ensues is a game hard to put down.
While many criticize the plot as being shallow compared to its predecessor, it does explore some intriguing themes. The soundtrack is also fantastic and pushes the GBA cartridge to its limit. All in all, there’s little reason to dismiss this overlooked classic.
4) Dark Cloud (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, 2001, 2015)
Dark Cloud acted as a visual showcase for the PlayStation 2 early in its life and honestly doesn’t look too bad today. Furthermore, its town-building, dungeon-crawling gameplay still holds up today. It’s a shame Level-5 didn’t revisit this incredible world in the sequel.
Dark Cloud is an overlooked action RPG that has you visit various desolate towns, enter their nearby dungeons, and find the lost parts of the accompanying town inside. The twist is that the dungeon floors are randomized, so you don’t know what to expect in terms of layout and number of foes as well as treasures. This sense of unpredictability makes things refreshing, even if the manner through which you proceed through the dungeons (killing enemies to find the key) is the same.
It also has a highly underrated soundtrack that gives its gorgeous locations an extra dose of character. In addition, the town-building aspect encourages you to flex your creativity and offers a nice break from the dungeon-crawling.
3) 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PlayStation 4, 2020)
Looking for a solid adventure with a good story? How about a game that combines RPG and visual novel elements with an RTS? Well, 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is your choice du jour.
The game’s plot is such a well-crafted yet beautifully complex work of art, it’s hard to explain in a few sentences. The bare-bones, though, is that it follows the exploits of 13 teenagers who can pilot the ‘Sentinels’, Gundam-esque super-robots. Playing through multiple character scenarios, you endeavor to uncover the truth behind the Sentinels and Operation Aegis. When you’re not playing through beautifully drawn backgrounds, you’re playing through addictive RTS missions. As you progress, you can upgrade your characters’ abilities.
13 Sentinels is easily one of the best surprises of 2020, which itself was a terrible year. Combining well-written, relatable characters, a complex science fiction story, and fun gameplay, you’re in for a treat if you pick this game up. It does everything a visual novel and strategy RPG should do, and does it best.
2) Breath of Fire II (SNES, Game Boy Advance, 1995, 2002)
Breath of Fire II is one of those sequels that improve on its predecessor in every conceivable way. Starring another blue-haired protagonist like the first game, BoFII rewards players with a deeper plot, a more charismatic cast of characters, a more engaging battle system, and even an additional village creation side-quest to boot. If you’re down for some retro JRPG action (and can forgive the dodgy translation), this is the game for you.
The game isn’t merely memorable for its characters’ unique skills and not just for its cool soundtrack, but the absurdity of the game’s universe. You recruit an intellectual monkey into your team and even visit a kingdom of frogs! The game has a serious overall plot but isn’t afraid to inject some humor into proceedings. Just ensure you play the GBA version over the SNES one for the more balanced gameplay and dash function.
1) The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, 2004)
The Lord of the Rings franchise is natural fodder for the RPG treatment and The Third Age shows this to no end. Putting together a cast of suspiciously similar substitutes to the movies’ main fellowship, The Third Age plants players straight in the world of Middle-Earth. You’ll explore gorgeously-recreated locales seen in the Peter Jackson movies, fighting enemies in a Final Fantasy X-inspired battle system.
The characters aren’t the best in gaming, but the game’s graphics hold up enough to immerse you in its fantasy world. The battle system is also a treat, especially for those who relish classic turn-based fights. It’s not the Lord of the Games, but it’s certainly The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age – and an overlooked RPG worthy of your attention.
What do you think are the most overlooked RPGs in gaming? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!