Top 20 RPGs of the 90s

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#15: Panzer Dragoon Saga (Sega Saturn)
Panzer Dragoon Saga is often hailed as the best RPG you've never played. This amazing piece of software was released in limited quantity on the Sega Saturn in 1997, the year Final Fantasy VII was released on the more promising Sony PlayStation platform. Too bad, because Panzer Dragoon Saga gave its exclusive audience an unforgettable experience that words cannot encompass.

Merely writing about the game can't do it justice. The darkly immersive world; the innovative battle system that's seamless, strategic, and has yet to be duplicated; the memorable characters in an emotionally charged plotline; the stellar soundtrack and voicework in both Japanese and the Panzer language written specifically for the game – all lend that feeling of being in a living, breathing, alien world. To this day, Panzer Dragoon Saga remains one of the most unique and innovative Japanese RPGs ever released. There has never been a game like it and many are doubtful that there ever will be again. It makes you wonder what the current state of RPGs would be like if Panzer Dragoon Saga been the floodgate-opening watershed title instead of Final Fantasy VII back in 1997.

#14: Earthbound (Super Nintendo)
It's tempting to simply describe Earthbound as "whimsical", but that doesn't give it enough credit. Yes, the game's protagonist is named "Ness", as in "NES" as in "Nintendo Entertainment System." Yes, your quest is revealed by an alien named Buzz Buzz that is killed by the protagonist's mother after being mistaken for a dung beetle. And yes, your weapons include things like yo-yos and frying pans.

No doubt the game has a sense of humor. But it is humor with a tinge of distress much like some of the classic Donald Bluth animated works or even fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Behind it all there is something sinister at work, and even though our heroes are children, they have been thrust into a situation where the stakes are truly terrible.

It is not an easy thing to get your hands on this game, and the modern gamer may find the amount of grinding necessary at certain points of the game to be too much. But Earthbound is nevertheless a wonderful game belonging entirely to its time.

#13: Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD) / Silver Star Story Complete (PlayStation)
Lunar was a perfect example of the classic JRPG done right. It masterfully captured the spirit of adventure by catapulting players into an unknown world replete with endearing characters. The chemistry between party members was effortlessly natural, especially the budding romance of protagonist Alex and heroine Luna. The translation efforts of the now-defunct publisher Working Designs showed obvious dedication to excellence, full of clever dialogue and tasteful pop-culture references. Such exemplary localization was a rarity then, and has only recently seen equal contenders in the form of publishers like Atlus and XSEED.

Lunar proved that even a rudimentary story could be captivating if the characters were charismatic enough. This, combined with the strategic turn-based battle system, fully voiced anime cutscenes, and a plethora of goodies stuffed into the collector's edition (for the PlayStation version), made for an amazing package that remains a hallmark of excellence for the genre.

#12: Fallout (PC)
For the uninitiated, the first few hours of Fallout can be confusing (to put it lightly). A little patience and thought, however, can unearth one of the greatest RPGs ever made. Hailing from an era that is truly dead today, Fallout is a world to explore; one just as detailed, gritty, and realistic as our own, even if there are humans transformed into ghouls from suckling the teats of a nuclear disaster. An intriguing story, impeccable atmosphere, black humor, and complex (if intimidating) gameplay brought an amazing mythos to life.

Along with a few other games on this list, they really don't make them like this anymore, and such a cliché is not to be used lightly. Dialogue has lost its edge. World building has lost verisimilitude. Gameplay has lost... well, about 80% of its bulk. Simple mechanics have their place, but so do convoluted ones, and where better to explore a complex and sometimes baffling system than in an RPG, the mother of expansive rules systems?

#11: Fallout 2 (PC)
Depending on how we set up this article, you've either just read about this game's predecessor or are just about to. Fallout and Fallout 2 are two of the highest-quality WRPGs that have ever existed and both hold the torch for different reasons. Fallout 2 is a little more quirky than its older brother and a little bit less serious. While it still takes place in the same gritty world, more of the onus is on the fact that this world is a farce on the "world of the future." There's no doubt that there's much in Fallout 2 that's broken – like many other WRPGs of the 90s, there are bugs abound, even after patching – but there's so much quality material here, from the dialogue to the environments and locales to the immense customization, that there's almost too much to love about Fallout 2.

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