RPGFan Anniversary

The Best RPGs of 1998: Part 2

The Best RPGs of 1998: An RPGFan 20th Anniversary Graphic

Seriously, how did 14 games of this caliber all launch between late September and December? Some of these Best RPGs of 1998 are often still cited as some of Nintendo, Konami, Square Enix, and BioWare’s finest.

Fallout 2

September 30th, 1998

Fallout 2 screenshot showing a cutaway view a grungy bar with patrons around dice-based table games.

Writeup by John Tucker

The original Fallout is a game that truly showed me what excellent world-building could mean. Back then, every game was a physical copy, and manuals were important. The first Fallout‘s manual was made as though it were an in-world item, with text that read as though you were a character in the world, just leaving your Vault for the first time. So when Fallout 2 came along, it had a lot to live up to. And somehow, it did just that, providing an experience that tweaked the original formula while still offering what fans had come for. Not every change was a total success, but we know we’re not alone in still loving this game after 20 years — PC Gamer named it the #3 “best RPG of all time” in 2015.

Tales of Destiny

September 30th, 1998

Tales of Destiny animated opening screenshot of a blond long-haired swordsman with a sword over his shoulder

Writeup by Robert Fenner

Tales of Destiny was a landmark; the second Tales title ever was the first to be released in the West. Country bumpkin Stahn Aileron stows away on an airship and soon ends up as wielder of a sass-talking sword named Dymlos. While this early rendition of the Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) is a little arduous to deal with in 2018, Tales of Destiny was impressive in scope and loaded to the gills with mini-games and side content, not the least of which is a 60 floor Tower of Druaga-themed bonus dungeon. It’s incredible just how much RPG Namco managed to squeeze onto a single CD-ROM.


October 20th, 1998

Xenogears screenshot of Medena Van Houten with the dialogue, You... I'm glad... you're okay...

Writeup by Caitlin Argyros

Xenogears was a revelation to me. I had played a few RPGs before I picked up the game, but Xenogears was the one that solidified my love of the genre. I was completely blown away by the complex, sci-fi story, the large roster of wonderful (and now classic) characters, the sweet mech combat, and the beautiful accompanying soundtrack — it was the first time I had heard Mitsuda’s work, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. Even the one thing everyone loves to harp on with this game — the rushed second disc — didn’t bother me, and to be frank, it still doesn’t bother me that much. It’s a blemish to be sure, but nearly everything else about this game pushes all right buttons, so I’ve never really been able to condemn it. What I wouldn’t give for an HD remake, though. Chu-chus will probably fly before that happens, but hey, a girl can dream!

Legend of Legaia

October 29th, 1998 (Japan)

Legend of Legaia screenshot of a woman named Mei telling the protagonist they need to discuss some hunting clothing

Writeup by Caitlin Argyros

To this day, Legend of Legaia is still such an interesting and unique game. On the surface, it seems like a by-the-numbers affair: Vahn is a martial artist living in a quiet town who sets out on a quest to stop a dangerous mist that turns peaceful Seru (creatures that form symbiotic relationships with humans to help them survive) into monsters. Even the look of the world and characters comes off as simple and generic, but despite all this, the game manages to be plenty charming and can easily suck players into its narrative. Battles are turn-based, but the twist is that instead of selecting moves from a menu, you select directions almost like a fighting game. Certain combos create arts, which you can chain into even more powerful arts, and it is a ton of fun experimenting with different combinations to unlock new skills. Legend of Legaia proves that even if an RPG doesn’t look like anything special, it can still be a classic.

Grim Fandango

October 30th, 1998

Grim Fandango Remastered screenshot of Manny in his moody office looking grimly out through half-closed blinds

Writeup by John Tucker

I think it’s fair to say that some cultures are better represented (or at least more frequently) in games than others, and among the less-represented cultures are those of Latin America. Fortunately, one of the games that does fill that void is Grim Fandango, because it’s one of the all-time great graphic adventures. It was unavailable by legal means for many years, so it was outstanding news when a remastered version was finally released in 2015. If you haven’t played it before, you should.

Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena

October 31st, 1998

Brigandine screenshot of nearly 20 units on a grassy battlefield

Writeup by Robert Fenner

The Sega Saturn may have had the cute-as-an-army-of-kittens Dragon Force, but developer Hearty Robin tried their hand at the formula with the PlayStation’s Brigandine. Six warring nations vie to conquer their shared continent of Forsena. Each nation gets its own detailed story, and repeat playthroughs provide insight into the characters’ complex motivations. Between battles, players manage their country’s resources and make decisions on how best to rule, not unlike an advanced take on the Koei classic Gemfire. Best of all, you can besiege your rivals with legions of zombies and dragons. We salute you, Hearty Robin.

Brave Fencer Musashi

October 31st, 1998

Brave Fencer Musashi screenshot of the blue-haired swordsman running towards a hole in the wall between town and the castle

Writeup by Caitlin Argyros

Brave Fencer Musashi was such an unexpected surprise for me. I knew absolutely nothing about the game when I first booted it up, but the overwhelming charm of the story and characters, fast and fun action combat, and the brilliant music grabbed me pretty quickly. The pint-sized titular character must explore a kingdom chock-full of food puns on his quest to recover a legendary weapon and defeat an evil empire. Along the way, he fights monsters in real time, solves puzzles, collects action figures, reunites a band, and a lot of other fun stuff. The game also features a day/night cycle and fatigue system, meaning that you have to keep an eye on the time as you’re adventuring, or else you might get into some hot water. It’s a real shame this game hasn’t seen a port or remaster, because it most definitely deserves one.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

November 21st, 1998

The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time Screenshot of Link on his horse, Epona, running through a field under the moon

Writeup by Rob Rogan

There really is no limit to the amount of praise one can heap upon Ocarina of Time. It was the first Legend of Zelda title to make the leap from 2D to 3D when it released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, and that transition brought with it an opportunity to fundamentally alter and expand the franchise’s core gameplay mechanics. This reshaping of Link’s adventures in Hyrule resulted in a masterpiece of such renown that it remained the highest scoring game ever (according to GameRankings) for nearly ten years before being dethroned by Super Mario Galaxy. Beyond being an incredible game itself, it laid the groundwork for generations of action RPGs and remains one of the most influential titles in video game history. The fact that it still holds up incredibly well twenty years after its release only further solidifies its legendary status.

Magic Knight Rayearth

November 30th, 1998

Magic Knight Rayearth Screenshot of Umi saying, These poor people... I'd hate to have to rely on a machine to get better.

Writeup by Robert Fenner

An action RPG based on CLAMP’s hit shoujo manga of the same name, Magic Knight Rayearth was a big deal for a lot of reasons. Released in Japan during August 1995, it was initially slated for American release the same year, but numerous complications (including a key hard drive crash) would see it delayed by nearly 3 1/2 years. Not only did Magic Knight Rayearth happen to be Working Designs’ final release on a SEGA platform, it also happened to be the final Sega Saturn game to be released in America! But how was it? Surprisingly good, as far as tie-in games go! Based on the manga’s first arc, players control schoolgirl-cum-Magic Knights Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu as they navigate the magical world of Cephiro in an effort to stop the evil High Priest Zagato and discover a way back home to Tokyo in the process. The three Magic Knights each wield their own unique weapon type and skills, and can be swapped between when appropriate, not unlike the more recent Ys entries. Sadly, a low print run and a high price tag means Magic Knight Rayearth is underplayed, unavailable, and under-recognized. But we remember.

Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu

December 3rd, 1998

Jade Cocoon screenshot of a fairy with her eyes closed surrounded by glowing motes of light

Writeup by Robert Fenner

By the second half of 1998 Pokémania was in full swing, so publishers sat up and took notice of similar games they could bring over in an attempt to get a slice of the pie. Crave Entertainment’s offering was their localization of Genki’s Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu, a striking monster collecting RPG featuring character art by none other than Studio Ghibli’s Katsuya Kondō. Cocoon Master Levant heads into the dark forest to capture battle insects, called Minions, in an effort to protect his village. The game boasted a unique pre-rendered aesthetic with large character models that almost gives the impression of a survival horror game.

Suikoden II

December 17th, 1998 (Japan)

Suikoden I & II HD Remaster screenshot of Riou and Jowy conversing on a cliff at night with a waterfall in the background (original PSone graphics)

Writeup by Tris Mendoza

It’s not surprising that many claim that Suikoden II is one of their favorite JRPGs of all time — it’s mine too. At first glance, it seems like Suikoden II is your typical war story: two opposing sides proclaiming that theirs is the side of justice. But that’s just the surface. Suikoden II is a game that carefully takes its time to create the perfect buildups. It’s a game that knows exactly where to pluck your heartstrings and push your buttons. Lastly, it’s a game that depicts the realities of war — death amongst your comrades, destruction of entire towns, and the decapitation of citizens to name a few. Oh! And how can I possibly forget Luca Blight, my favorite RPG villain? He is the only antagonist in my many years of gaming that strikes pure fear in my heart.

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure

December 17th, 1998 (Japan)

A magical journey begins in Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure in NIS Vol. 3.

Writeup by Nilson Carroll

Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure is subversive in that it’s the game that your dad doesn’t want to see you playing when you’re a twelve-year-old boy. Coming after years of brooding RPGs like Final Fantasy VI and VII, games steeped in muted colors and death, along comes Rhapsody, a game so vibrant and joyful. The first Nippon Ichi RPG to make its way outside Japan, Rhapsody is deliriously cute, a saccharine lite-tactical RPG based around the joy of music and the magic of play. Atlus’ localization captures the lightness of Cornet and her puppet allies’ adventures perfectly, with the occasional fourth wall break, out-of-world reference, and, of course, the musical numbers. There’s a nice narrative reversal here where the teenage Cornet is tasked with saving the kidnapped prince (instead of vice versa). Tactical combat is as light as the narrative, and rarely requires much in terms of strategy. There’s not a ton of meat here, but Rhapsody is nonetheless a unique and memorable title from a bygone era.

Thousand Arms

December 17th, 1998 (Japan)

Thousand Arms screenshot of Sodina looking hopeful, asking Meis to enjoy the beauty of the area

Writeup by Neal Chandran

Thousand Arms is a quirky, offbeat, and delightful JRPG that changed the trajectory of my life. Look, I know the game is extremely flawed with its clunky battle engine, the unfinished feel of disc 2 (including several loose ends that were never tied up), ponderous overworld navigation, and arbitrary name. But none of that matters one iota when I consider that Thousand Arms kicked off my appreciation for Japanese dating sim and love adventure games. Thousand Arms is easily one of the first games with Japanese dating sim elements to come to the US. I had too much fun playing as perpetually horny protagonist Meis Triumph dating the girls in the party as well as girls in various towns. The dialogue in the game was hilarious and the voice acting was superb. The cherry on top of this experience was hearing the original Japanese vocal song, “Depend on You” by Ayumi Hamasaki, during the opening cinematic in the domestic release and not some alternate, usually instrumental, tune as is usually the case. My RPGFan staff avatar being Thousand Arms‘ protagonist is a clear indication that this game is an integral part of my identity and I badly want it on PSN.

Baldur’s Gate

December 21st, 1998

Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition screenshot of a battle ensuing in a room of stone and metal bars on sandy ground

Writeup by Dave Yeager

Baldur’s Gate is the game that really put BioWare on the map and established their reputation as some of the premier storytellers in the industry. The sequel may be the superior overall game, but it and many other classics would not have existed without the Infinity Engine which debuted with this, the original. Based on the classic AD&D 2nd edition rules, it boasted many hours of gameplay, beautiful hand drawn maps, a variety of challenging encounters and combat situations, and characters that still make me smile 20 years later. If you needed proof of the game’s staying power, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition from Beamdog sold well enough to lead them to do enhanced editions for other Infinity Engine games — it seems the appetite for this classic has not abated. Some of the best new RPGs out there in the last few years, like Pillars of Eternity, unabashedly wear their allegiance to Baldur’s Gate and the Infinity Engine on their sleeve. I would not bet against this game still being played and modded in another 20 years.

Mike Salbato

Mike Salbato

Mike has been with RPGFan nearly since its inception, and in that time has worn a surprising number of hats for someone who doesn't own a hatstand. Today he attempts to balance his Creative Director role with his Editor-in-Chief status. Despite the amount of coffee in his veins, he bleeds emerald green.