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Defending Champions: The Best RPGs of Every Year Since Dragon Quest (2010–2019)

Defending Champions: The Best RPGs of Every Year Since Dragon Quest 2010s

Welcome back for our final selections, this time leading all the way up to last year! While many of us have affection for the classics in our first list, there’s no doubt that RPGs are alive and well looking at all the modern masterpieces on today’s list.

Thanks so much for reading everyone! What do you think of our picks? What about yours? Let us know on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Discord!


2010

Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles

by Tyler Trosper

Though Monolith Soft’s fate seemed grim after the premature end of the Xenosaga series, Nintendo swooped in and saved the day. Under their wing, director Tetsuya Takahashi finally realized a single, complete game: Xenoblade Chronicles. Set on the corpses of two giant gods, Xenoblade Chronicles uses this unique setting to explore beautiful locales, fight intimidating enemies, and delve into a story with unforgettable twists and turns. With a beautiful score, the game contains some of the same themes and philosophical musings the Xeno meta-series is known for, but in one complete package.

Though the game was difficult to obtain when originally released on the Nintendo Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles can now be found on the New 3DS, the Wii U eShop, and as the recently released Definitive Edition which adds a brand new epilogue! Furthermore, Xenoblade Chronicles has grown into Monolith Soft’s most successful series, with two sequels. Truly, the story of Monolith Soft’s rise from humble beginnings to finally hit their stride with the help of Nintendo is inspiring.

Runner-Up: Mass Effect 2

by Liz Maas

I did not play Mass Effect 2 until its PlayStation 3 release a year after launch, and even then I had no means to play the first game in BioWare’s epic trilogy. Still, with the promise of a more character-driven instalment by way of BioWare’s known writing prowess, some tweaks to the morality system and, of course, space, it was impossible not to dive right in when finally given the chance. After the cumbersome inventory and clunky combat Mass Effect is known for, ME2 heavily streamlined both, allowing us to focus more on the joys of punching, shooting and/or charging of aliens, and cultivating (or ruining) our relationships with our squadmates, plus settling squabbles when needed. Oh, and punching that one reporter. Again.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: Xenoblade Chronicles (28%)
  • Runner-Up: Mass Effect 2 (19%)

2011

Winner: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

by Jonathan Logan

As the follow-up to Bethesda’s reinvention of the Fallout series, Skyrim had a lot to live up to in fans’ eyes. This fifth entry in the Elder Scrolls series had to deliver the incredible immersion, storytelling, quests, and characters that fans expected, while also retaining everything that made Fallout 3 into such a huge hit. And while the game was beset with bugs at launch (after all, it IS Bethesda), they pulled it off spectacularly! 

Skyrim became such a popular game that it’s been released on every major console since 2011 (including the Nintendo Switch and VR) and even non-consoles like Amazon’s Alexa. And thanks to modding, Skyrim offers an incredible level of replayability. Want higher-resolution graphics, brand-new quests and weapons, and completely revamped mechanics? Simply download any of the hundreds of professional-quality mods and boot up your game! Skyrim set the standard for western RPGs, and it continues to be one of the finest examples of the genre today!

Runner-Up: To the Moon

by Tyler Trosper

Before you die, would you pay a team to dive into your memories in order to fulfill your biggest dream? Johnny Wyles takes this chance in order to fulfill his lifelong dream of going to the moon. The RPG Maker XP darling won hearts with its emotional story and stirring soundtrack. But the efforts of Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts steal the show as the two banter back and forth while pursuing Johnny’s dream.

Since To the Moon released in 2011, the game has been ported to multiple platforms, received a small spin-off titled A Bird Story, two sequels that are either out now or in development, and even an animated film in the works!

Readers’ Choice

  • (Tie) Winner: The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (24%)
  • (Tie) Winner: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (24%)

2012

Winner: Bravely Default

by Niki Fakhoori

Bravely Default harkens back to Square Enix RPGs of old in ways that work and aren’t just attempts at nostalgia pandering. It follows four heroes brought together in unlikely circumstances as they travel to save the world’s dying crystals. Using an upgrade of Final Fantasy V’s phenomenal job system, players have the utmost freedom to customize their party of four as they please. Together with each asterisk they earn, layer upon layer is added to the intuitive yet engagingly complex job mechanics. Online connectivity elements, such as using your friends’ allies, allows for extra strategies in battle. And the way the charming cast grows together gives you the freedom to make your own choices and pave the road to your own future. Bravely Default is by far one of the greatest RPGs of all time, nuanced in both gameplay and narrative, and incredibly easy to sink multiple hundreds of hours into.

Runner-Up: Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

by Niki Fakhoori

Virtue’s Last Reward, the follow-up to the brilliant 999, features the same level of mastery over atmosphere—chilling, dangerous, and both misleading and revealing. Like in 999, attentive players can piece together clues to discover the secrets of the world around them before the game reveals them outright; however, Virtue’s Last Reward features a sequel hook, featuring loose threads that may leave you with more questions than answers this time around. Still, strong storytelling and characters converge and force you to question and confront the true nature of people in a game that is just as gripping as its predecessor.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: Bravely Default (24%)
  • Runner-Up: Fire Emblem: Awakening (20%)

2013

Winner: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

by Des Miller

The history of Final Fantasy XIV is one of the most dramatic and emotional tales in the gaming industry. With a disastrous launch that did near irreparable damage to the brand, a hard lesson was learned by Square Enix when they made the call to shut down the game and make things right. The development team took the failure of 1.0 to heart and set out to make the game that they felt would capture the hearts and minds of longtime Final Fantasy fans, MMO veterans, and newcomers who’ve never even touched the series before. With a new producer and director at the helm, the team did what seemed impossible in rebuilding and relaunching with a new breath of life. In its rebirth, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn rose from the ashes and has now become one of the most popular MMORPGs in the world. It stands tall as a love letter to Final Fantasy fans and is home to a loving and welcoming community who love to adventure across Eorzea together.

Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

by Jonathan Logan

With a few exceptions, Nintendo always looks forward with the Zelda series. But that changed with A Link Between Worlds, a direct sequel to the SNES classic, A Link to the Past.

Finding yourself in a 3D recreation of the iconic Hyrule of that game, ALBW utterly shattered the trademark linearity of the series. Rather than find key items in dungeons, you could rent them from a mysterious traveler from the very beginning, allowing you to take on the dungeons in whatever order you want! Add to this an intriguing “become a 2D painting” mechanic, an in-depth story, and, in my opinion, one of the only uses of stereoscopic 3D that felt justified on the 3DS, and you have a remarkable Zelda adventure that all fans of the original should experience!

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (25%)
  • Runner-Up: Shin Megami Tensei IV (24%)

2014

Winner: Divinity: Original Sin

by Bob Richardson

Divinity: Original Sin is not just one of the greatest CRPGs ever created, it’s also a phenomenal co-op experience. Yeah, try and wrap your head around that one. Replete with excellent writing, voice acting, strategy-based combat, and puzzles, D:OS boasts the pinnacle of WRPG quality, Larian Studios’ breakout title. My brother and I began the game with the intent of going entirely different characters. Myself, a do-gooder mage and he, a cunning, self-interested rogue. Our disagreements about quest routes resulted in joyously heated banter and taunting. Yet, when it came to the tactical gameplay, we conquered foes in the most creative way possible. We (he) may have murdered an NPC or two. (Jerk.) At the end of the day, though, the cooperative nature of D:OS created a fascinating, layered journey one might get out of an actual D&D campaign. Rather than the exalted heroes altruistically saving the land from nebulous evil, two stooges argued and ran in circles, but got the job done regardless.

Runner-Up: Dragon Age: Inquisition

by Audra Bowling

I found Dragon Age: Inquisition to be an extremely engaging title to play, and it was the first time I actually played a BioWare game on my own without someone else there to offer input on my actions. I remember worrying that I was going to kill my PS3 the first time I tried playing the game (as it made a horrible screeching wail), and how wanting to actually finish was my main reason for finally splurging on a PlayStation 4. I was readily invested in the tale of rifts in the sky, of Templars and Mages, and of my Qunari Knight Enchanter cutting down her enemies just as much as she tried using diplomacy and political maneuvering. The title was as compelling as one of Varric’s stories, and Dragon Age: Inquisition easily became one of my favorite BioWare titles.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II (26%)
  • Runner-Up: South Park: The Stick of Truth (15%)

2015

Winner: Undertale

by Nilson Carroll

A worthy successor to its radical ancestor EarthBound, Toby Fox’s indie masterpiece Undertale exceeded all expectations and became one of the most popular titles of its time, all while questioning and arguing against its own genre’s mechanics. While not as exotic or psychedelic as its forebear, Undertale jams so much raw emotion, humor and angst into its small, cartoon package. It’s a children’s bedtime story for adults, so nostalgic it could kill someone, and it’s a game so unashamed to be itself and yet reflect on everything that came before it.

With its meme-able, queer, adorable, dire cast and flawless heart-pumping, life-granting soundtrack, Undertale was destined to come out when it did and make a splash like no other indie game before it. It’s one of the most iconic games of the 2010s and practically shouts to be loved by all who play it. To this day, I still have to hit skip when “Once Upon A Time” comes up on my driving playlist because it’s just too freaking intense.

Runner-Up: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

by Zach Wilkerson

Heavensward proved Yoshi-P and company’s masterful work fixing the problems which plagued Final Fantasy XIV was no fluke. In fact, with more distance from the original developers’ vision, the team takes the entire genre to new heights. Sure, it has a sequence of stunning world maps, a beautiful musical score, and epic dungeons and trials. It does everything MMOs have done incredibly well before. But what elevates Heavensward above others in the genre is its incredibly emotional story and engaging characters, making it not only the finest story ever told in an MMO, but frankly, one of the finest stories told in all of Final Fantasy.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: The Witcher III: The Wild Hunt (38%)
  • Runner-Up: Undertale (13%)

2016

Winner: Persona 5

by Ken Chu

Arriving eight years after the initial release of Persona 4, Persona 5 not only proved to be well worth the lengthy wait, but it also made an emphatic statement that turn-based RPGs still have a place in modern gaming. With perhaps the fastest and smoothest menu-based combat system ever designed, the game easily keeps up with its more modern equivalents in terms of combat pace.

Persona 5 is also our best RPG of 2016 due to the strength of its brilliant soundtrack, which is among the absolute best that I’ve heard over the past ten years. Composer Shoji Meguro adds an increased jazz influence to his signature rock style, and the result is even better than I expected. Pieces such as “Life Will Change,” “Willpower,” and “Layer Cake” show a great deal of range in addition to possessing compelling melodies. These tracks, among others, have become iconic compositions in the game music genre.

Also featuring a brilliant storyline, a memorable cast, excellent voice acting, and a beautifully stylized visual presentation, Persona 5 is rightfully considered one of the greatest RPGs ever nowadays. Personally, I had to look back more than 20 years to find a game that I could call its equal.

Runner-Up: Final Fantasy XV

by Audra Bowling

Final Fantasy XV is far from a perfect title, but I found myself playing it to completion all the same. The game’s story centers around the fun idea of four friends embarking on a road trip, and its more action-oriented battle system helps to fully embrace that conceit. I loved the little elements of choice given to players at times and found myself becoming more invested in the characters than I initially thought I’d be. I just wish the side characters could have stayed in the party longer; it would’ve been awesome if the game featured Aranea more! I enjoyed FFXV enough that I’ve even gone out of my way to read supplementary material such as the novel, and that is a testament to how FFXV and its world surprisingly grew on me without me even realizing it. Sometimes the best kind of road trips start out like that.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: Persona 5 (45%)
  • Runner-Up: Divinity: Original Sin II (10%)

2017

Winner: NieR: Automata

by Des Miller

NieR: Automata is a wondrous work of art that seemingly came out of nowhere. While I’d enjoyed Drakengard 3 and the original NieR Gestalt, I never expected a follow-up in the Project Dragonsphere collection to become one of my favorite games of all time. Whether it’s simply roaming around the ruins of a city, wrecking clanking robots, or facing off against the grand spectacles that are the boss fights, NieR: Automata is firing on all cylinders at all times. The gorgeous soundtrack, tight gameplay, and gripping story are sure to sink their claws into your heart and hold tight while taking you on Yoko Taro’s wild ride. Not since the original Final Fantasy VII had I sat on the floor, staring up at my TV with a blanket around me while my eyes lay wide and my mouth hung open. It transported me back some twenty years, and that’s a feeling I’ll never forget.

Runner-Up: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

by Audra Bowling

Words cannot describe the fondness I have for Dragon Quest XI, which is actually the second Dragon Quest game I have played to completion. The storyline is charming and full of memorable characters, with a vibrantly colorful world to explore. The story arcs have a surprising amount of emotion to them and pull on the heart strings well after you’ve moved on; I also love the way the third and final act of the game is set up. Sylvando and Jade quickly became some of my all-time favorite characters in just about anything, though I was honestly delighted by all of the cast! It is a shame that Dragon Quest isn’t as popular in Western markets as it is in Japan, because Dragon Quest XI exemplifies a perfect and endearing JRPG classic at its core.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (31%)
  • Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (21%)

2018

Winner: Octopath Traveler

by Alana Hagues

If there’s ever an RPG that I can describe as warm and cosy, it’s Octopath Traveler. With influences from the Bravely series and even more inspiration from classics of the SNES era, Octopath is like opening a beautiful picture book from your childhood. Except this is a picture book where you can steal spears and money from innocent civilians.

Outside of the stunning HD-2D visuals and an all-timer of a soundtrack, Octopath relishes in enhancing what mechanically made our favourite games from the 80s and 90s so fun. The job system is so easy to experiment with as you learn how to balance your party, and you absolutely have to see every character in the dancer outfit, right? Combat is so satisfying, with the Break and Boost system allowing you to exploit enemy weaknesses and then unleash multi-hit combos. It’s easy to get into a rhythm and grind for hours. It may take an unconventional approach to storytelling, but Octopath Traveler is like a big hug that’ll take you back to the past in the best possible way. 

Can every SNES remake look like this game, please?

Runner-Up: Monster Hunter: World

by Des Miller

Monster Hunter: World is the Monster Hunter game I’ve always wanted. From the early days of playing online on the PS2 to playing ad hoc with friends on portable systems, Monster Hunter has always been a fantastic cooperative experience. Capcom breathed life into the series by treating longtime fans to a vastly updated entry while introducing a whole new generation of players to the chaotic fun and challenging world of Monster Hunter. Not only is it a visual treat with an abundance of content to dive into, but it’s also an incredibly stylish and well-tuned action RPG. The future of the series is blindingly bright, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: Octopath Traveler (61%)
  • Runner-Up: Monster Hunter: World (26%)

2019

Winner: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

by Liz Maas

Final Fantasy XIV has always been near and dear to me ever since the early days of A Realm Reborn. After stepping away from Stormblood, Shadowbringers won back my attention — and the interest of many others — from the day of its announcement. Perhaps it was the main character deciding to become a dark knight, or perhaps it was the theme song. What truly won me over in the end, however, was being pulled into a completely different world far, far away from Eorzea — a world full of friends and foes old and new, and not the least of all a villain that you could almost…almost…sympathize with. While the MMORPG genre isn’t the most renowned for storytelling, Shadowbringers wove a tale that kept me up late because I could not get enough — not unlike JRPGs of old in my teenage years.

Runner-Up: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

by Nathan Lee

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the apex of Fire Emblem in the 2010s. After a decade of experimenting with new mechanics and finding out what Fire Emblem fans want to see, Three Houses is the end result, and what a result it is! Three Houses learns from multiple games: the combat arts mechanic from Echoes, the pair ups from Awakening/Fates, and the darker story that has been compared to fan favourite Genealogy of the Holy War. However, no Fire Emblem game would be complete without an amazing cast, and Three Houses delivers on that front. The students and faculty of Garreg Mach Monastery have wormed their way into the hearts of many, and this cast of characters will be remembered for years to come. If Three Houses represents the future of Fire Emblem, I think we’re in for good times.

Readers’ Choice

  • Winner: Fire Emblem: Three Houses (39%)
  • Runner-Up: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers (17%)

Zach Wilkerson

Zach Wilkerson

After avidly following RPGFan for years, Zach joined as a Reviews Editor in 2018, and somehow finds himself helping manage the Features department now. When he's not educating the youth of America, he can often be heard loudly clamoring for Lunar 3 and Suikoden VI.