When Nintendo and Monolith Soft first announced a Wii-exclusive RPG called Monado: Beginning of the World, it certainly turned some heads, but nobody would have predicted that the end result would be one of the finest RPGs ever crafted, and perhaps the definitive JRPG of the past generation. One could argue that the Operation Rainfall fan campaign to bring this game overseas cast an impassable shadow of hype over the game, but the truth of the matter is that Xenoblade Chronicles really is just that good. The sheer scope and ambition of this title far outstrips the puny Wii hardware, but it makes up for this with clever technical tricks and a superb sense of artistry. The adjoined bodies of Bionis and Mechonis are, from a conceptual standpoint, one of the coolest settings in RPG history, and they make for a fantastic world to explore. Once you factor in likeable characters, an epic storyline befitting a "Xeno" title, tons of collectibles, and a seemingly innumerable supply of quests, Xenoblade Chronicles truly becomes the complete package.
I can hardly think of a more divisive title to come out in the last 5 years than NieR, but don't let the average combat and choppy graphics turn you away — it's a game that's far more than the sum of its parts. NieR boasts one of the best stories in an action RPG, maybe even in a video game ever. It's an intricately woven tale accompanied by one of the best soundtracks of all time. The narrative never overwhelms, it just inspires you to carry on as you journey to save your daughter, and the end satisfyingly warps everything together, but also leaves you asking for more, thinking about it days and weeks after you've finished it. When you return to its world for a second playthrough, you'll find yourself asking new questions, getting new answers, and fall in love with the game all over again. NieR is an experiment done right, and an unmissable experience for anyone looking for an enticing action RPG.
It's possible that Ni No Kuni's version of the Pokémon formula didn't appeal to all gamers, but it fared so well here at RPGFan that it earned two Editor's Choice awards. Its central concept of a villain who gains power through "breaking hearts" created thoughtful and interesting situations, the gameplay was fun and engaging enough to stay interesting all the way through the final battle. Oh, and it just happens to have an outstanding soundtrack and visuals by none other than legendary animators Studio Ghibli. We'll be very lucky gamers if the sequel lives up to its legacy.
Final Fantasy's second MMO had quite a rocky start, necessitating a major overhaul and fresh start. Dubbed A Realm Reborn, Final Fantasy XIV 2.0 is a vast improvement, welcoming players both new and old to the fantastically realized world of Eorzea and a sweeping, epic quest that feels much more like a traditional Final Fantasy than recent mainline entries like the XIII trilogy. The job system is both easy to pick up and challenging to master; players are encouraged to switch jobs — which is as simple as equipping a different weapon — and each job feels distinct and useful in its own unique way. And then there's the music, expertly composed by Masayoshi Soken, which you've almost certainly heard us gush about at some point or another. As good as all of these things are, they are improved twice over in Heavensward, FFXIV's first expansion. The story expertly balances intrigue and character development, the new areas are gigantic and varied, the music is hands down some of the best ever heard in a Final Fantasy, and the new jobs and dungeons breathe fresh life into the two-year old MMO. If you've been looking for the next great Final Fantasy, look no further than Final Fantasy XIV.
Handheld Pokémon games with 3D graphics?! Never! But that's just what Pokémon X&Y are. The 6th generation of this stalwart series beat out generation 5 because it invigorated the series with new vibrancy and life. X&Y literally brought a new perspective to the mainline Pokémon games and helped to maintain its longevity by bringing a few new tweaks to the series: many features were streamlined; a small but excellent roster of Pokémon were introduced; you can now walk diagonally! Did I mention that these games were presented in vibrant and gorgeous 3D? I could go on about all the changes in Pokémon X&Y, and even though they play similarly to their predecessors, I still put hundreds of hours into them. I mean, there are over 700 Pokémon now! Every time a new game comes out, I vow to catch 'em all every time. Pokémon is here to stay thanks to these games, and we couldn't be more thankful.
In many famous trilogies, the ranking of the middle entry is hotly-debated (think Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back or LotR: The Two Towers). But it is generally agreed among the RPGFan staff that Mass Effect 2 stands out not just as an excellent entry in the trilogy, but also as an excellent game in its own right. BioWare created expansive, detailed lore for the series, and it all seems to flow together seamlessly in ME2. Most important of all, this is the entry where Shepard joins up — without much choice — with the controversial "Cerberus" organization, so that she can continue to pursue the galactic threat of the Reapers and unearth the secrets of the Protean era. (Sure, Shepard can be a guy, but how can you choose that and miss out on the Jennifer Hale voice acting goodness?) Among RPG/shooter hybrids, Mass Effect 2 set a standard that dozens of newer games are still trying to surpass.
A city beset by a curse. A cathedral in pursuit of knowledge, no matter the cost. A whole lot of gore. Bloodborne is a Souls title in everything but name, and one of the best ones, at that. Eschewing its forebears' dark fantasy setting in favor of a cosmic horror story, Bloodborne sees its cursed protagonist traversing a Victorian city in the midst of a blood plague, stuck between the lycanthropic townsfolk and eldritch abominations from beyond the stars. The frenetic combat engine encourages and rewards aggressive play, and the wide range of torturous weapons on offer make clearing the streets of Yharnam a satisfying, if not disgusting experience. Horror is so hard to get right — especially in RPGs — but From have succeeded with aplomb: Bloodborne is one of the greatest horror games of all time, and one that belongs in the collection of any lover of the macabre.
I'm sure our readers are beginning to get sick of us gushing about The Witcher 3, but the game is absolutely deserving of our praise. The game is notable for its lush open world that manages to allow you immense freedom, while at the same time providing a backdrop to some of the most personal and poignant storytelling of 2015. Also, you are a total badass and get to kill big scary monsters like werewolves and harpies. The Witcher 3 is a technical marvel, and it outclasses its contemporaries. Choices made in the world have weight, and the superb writing and voice acting bring the game's characters to life. This is the end of Geralt's tale, and the folks at CD Projekt Red were able to send him off with a bang. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is truly an essential title for any fan of the RPG genre.
If the visual novel genre is one you cannot abide, run far away. For everyone else, come closer and listen: Steins;gate is one of the best VNs on the market, so much so that the game North America has only now received is actually the first in a host of games, spin-offs, and anime adaptations in Japan because of how successful it has been there. Take on the role of a young man with delusions of grandeur who accidentally stumbled onto a limited form of time travel: sending text messages backwards through time. How would you change your world if you had this capability? And if the evil clandestine organization you half-jokingly warned others about actually came to assassinate you for discovering what ought not be discovered, could you find a way to survive? While navigating those difficult questions, you'll find your way to one of many possible endings, learn way too much about Japanese pop culture, and get schooled in both the cutting edge science of particle physics and the pseudo-science of time travel. Not a bad deal!
"Deep, engaging role-playing" isn't often a set of words linked to "cooperative gaming," but they are certainly the words that power Divinity: Original Sin. We've written about this title (released originally on PC in 2014 and director's cutted last year) a number of times, and with good reason. Between the addictive turn-based combat and physics systems, great class customization, and utterly compelling cooperative play, D:OS is the kind of game you go back to again and again. Remember, no one has as many friends as the man with many cheeses, and in this case, Divinity: Original Sin is at least a fine gorgembert.