Skyrim often takes a lot of flak from RPG fans for being "soulless," having crappy combat, etc. Personally, I loved this game (and Oblivion before it). I've never spent more time in an RPG world than I have in Skyrim. The freedom to go anywhere and level up all the different stats of my character made me spend way more time in the game than I thought I would. The star of this game is not the story or the characters, it's the world itself. No game gives you a better sense of exploration and adventure. I found myself completely immersed in this world and always wanting to do another quest or another dungeon. There's so much to discover and see in this game that it's practically endless. It also helps that the game is absolutely gorgeous and has an amazing soundtrack. And after spending more than 200 hours playing it, I discovered the modding world of Skyrim on PC and spent even more hours just installing mods and having fun with that. With a better story and memorable characters, this game would have been the ultimate RPG for me and would have taken the number 1 spot, but unfortunately for Skyrim, the nostalgia factor and the emphasis on storyline has put the other games above it in my heart.
Xenogears combines two of the things that I love most about RPGs. It has one of the best soundtracks of all time, thanks to Yasunori Mitsuda, and it places a big emphasis on storyline. Xenogears is epic in scale and is a blast to play through. Coming over from the Sega side, this was the first SquareSoft game I'd ever played, and it still remains my favorite Square game of all time.
Skies of Arcadia is one of those special games that makes you feel good when playing it. It has an undeniable charm that can't be explained. Apart from the great graphics, awesome soundtrack, and fun battle system, Skies of Arcadia especially succeeds in giving the player an amazing world to explore. The sense of adventure and exploration is key to the game's success, and the idea of exploring floating islands on a flying ship makes this one of the most original worlds I've seen in an RPG. The game also boasts great dungeon designs and incredibly varied locations that make you feel like every city and area is an entirely new world. A must play for RPG fans who love classic RPGs that focus on the sense of adventure above all, like the Lunar games or the original Grandia.
Phantasy Star IV is one of those rare games that closes out a series in grand fashion by tying up everything that happened in the previous games. It's an incredibly satisfying game that makes you feel nostalgic about the other games while also being a great standalone RPG for those who never played its predecessors. The game is a blast to go through, with great pacing, perfect difficulty, less grinding than the previous games in the series, and good visuals and music. To top it off, the use of comic book style cutscenes really add a special feel to the game, particularly in an era when cutscenes didn't really exist and we were usually left with 2D sprites trying to convey emotions to us. Phantasy Star IV is one of the best traditional turn-based RPGs and a worthy conclusion to a great series.
The Lunar series will always have a special place in my heart. I loved the original games on the Sega CD, and I've played all the various remakes that have come out on multiple platforms since. I could easily have chosen the first Lunar as my number 1 or 2 spot, but with only 5 spots available, I decided to only choose one of the 2 games, and I picked the sequel. What makes the charm of Lunar 2: Eternal Blue (and the series in general) is the incredible character interaction that happens throughout the game. No other game spends as much time letting you get to know your characters as Lunar does. Almost every discussion with NPCs in villages is littered with banter from your party, and this effectively makes the characters more lovable. You really get to know them more deeply, and they're not just generic sprites in your party. Add some gorgeous anime cutscenes and an incredible soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare, and you've got an instant classic. Lunar 2 also has the best ending I've ever seen in a game. After you beat the last boss and save the world, you get a pretty good but slightly sad ending. After the credits roll and you get back to the title screen, you notice that an epilogue option has opened up, and you get to continue the game and revisit all the places in the game with people thanking you for saving the world, etc. To be able to go and see the results of your actions after the end of the game is incredibly satisfying. And then, after many more hours of gameplay, you find a way to get an even more satisfying ending. Pure genius!