Hear ye, hear ye. RPGs here are pretty great I guess. Hopefully, we didn’t miss too many. Happy reading. Or skimming, for you terrible people only looking for the top 3.
The past decade in RPG releases has been fascinating to watch. Early in the decade, even as many other games were adopting keystones of the genre (like more involved stories and stat progression), it felt like RPGs were on the decline. Sure, there were still some quality releases, but they always felt like a big event, and they were often few and far between. Getting your hands on a “traditional” RPG was even more difficult.
However, as the decade progressed, RPGs saw a huge resurgence. Now we are awash in an unbelievable number of amazing games, both Japanese and Western, along with an incredible lineup of indie titles.
The games that truly moved us over the last decade did so for almost as many reasons as there were releases: some refined the classic, turn-based RPG experience to a fine point, others presented an unbelievable amount of choices, and many told engaging, grand and emotional stories.
So it should come as no surprise that our list of the 25 best RPGs (plus graphic adventures and visual novels) of the past decade reflects that same variety. There is one constant in our list, though: these are all games that did at least one thing that truly distinguishes them from their peers.
Without further ado, we present to you RPGFan’s Top 25 Games of the 2010s!
Intro by Zach Wilkerson, with forward by acclaimed RPG social media personality Stephania Maria Dyonisys IV
25) Fallout: New Vegas
Obsidian Entertainment, Bethesda • PC, PS3, 360 • Released: 2010
Bethesda probably thought they knew what they were doing when they lent the Fallout franchise to Obsidian Entertainment. After all, Fallout 3 was a hit. Hopefully, Obsidian could quickly create a money grab spin-off that would capitalize on its popularity. Instead, Obsidian took the framework of Fallout 3 and created a game that improved on it in every way, setting the standard for open-world RPGs for the past decade. Restoring much of the classic Fallout sense of humor and tone to the series, New Vegas throws players into a world where their choices have real consequences. Happy endings are never guaranteed, and one mistake in judgment can result in broken alliances, tragic massacres, or just pure silliness. The spirit of New Vegas lives on in its spiritual sequel, The Outer Worlds, which was released just a few months ago. But if you want that pure, undiluted Nuka-Cola-flavored gameplay, you need to check out Fallout: New Vegas. Um, just make sure that you download a fan-made patch that fixes most of the many bugs first.
Write-up by Jonathan Logan
24) Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Intelligent Systems, Nintendo • Switch • Released: 2019
In the span of this past decade, Fire Emblem has gone from a franchise on the verge of death to one of Nintendo’s darlings. This decade of Fire Emblem has culminated in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, one of the best Fire Emblem games to date. Those of us at RPGFan who have found the time in the last few months to play the game since its release have been sucked into a world we have fallen in love with. A fun and well-written cast of characters, great music, and the amazing gameplay that’s been tweaked and refined for the last ten years — this is the definitive Fire Emblem experience, and it’s the only SRPG to crack our list.
Write-up by Nathan Lee
23) Horizon Zero Dawn
Guerrilla Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment • PS4 • Released: 2017
Every now and then, a new game comes along that completely takes you by surprise. In 2017, Horizon Zero Dawn was that game. Even though it is Guerilla Games’ very first RPG (and an open-world RPG at that), Horizon does so much right. The world is utterly gorgeous, main character Aloy is one of the strongest female protagonists in the past decade, combat is fun and dynamic, the story develops some fascinating lore and intrigue, and the music is beautifully atmospheric. There’s even an excellent expansion that adds 15-20 hours of snowy exploration, powerful enemies, and great story quests. Horizon Zero Dawn is the total package, and with a sequel possibly underway, it may be the beginning of a top-tier franchise.
Write-up by Caitlin Argyros
22) The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III
Nihon Falcom, NIS America • PS4 • Released: 2019
While any of Falcom’s Trails games could sit proudly amongst this list, Trails of Cold Steel III carries the weight of seven previous games and does an outstanding job balancing the characters and the stories from all of the preceding entries. Following Rean Schwarzer a year after he graduates from Thors Military Academy, Cold Steel III doesn’t reinvent the wheel but makes many vital tweaks to improve the gameplay overall. Combat is fast and addictive, with many new tools for players to experiment with. The New Class VII are perfect additions to the Trails canon, and it’s delightful to meet all of Rean’s old friends, along with some familiar faces from Crossbell and Liberl, all over again. It’s pure joy for long-term fans of the series, and yes, while there are seven other games for newcomers to play through (including two not-yet localized), Cold Steel III is the perfect reward at the end of it all.
Write-up by Alana Hagues
21) Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Spike Chunsoft, NIS America • PSP, iOS, Android, Vita, Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4 • Released: 2010
Danganronpa centers around a cast of unique high school students bearing “ultimate” abilities who find themselves trapped inside the institution they so proudly attend. Although certainly not the first ontological mystery in the video game scene, Danganronpa has done its fair share to popularize this niche genre. Some may balk at the fanservice and starkly proportioned female characters, but at its heart lies a riveting mystery filled with the macabre and insight into the human psyche when everything is at stake. Don’t let the cute bear fool you: Danganronpa intellectually satisfies as much as it tastefully horrifies.
Write-up by Bob Richardson
20) Pokémon X & Y
Game Freak, The Pokémon Company, Nintendo • 3DS • Released: 2010
Pokémon‘s roster of lovable pocket monsters has been growing for years, and it certainly hasn’t stopped since X & Y‘s release. While fans are always eager to see what new creatures Game Freak will bring to each new entry, the big draw of Pokémon X & Y was watching favourite Pokémon come to life in 3D. Not only that, but X & Y boasts new Pokémon, moves, Horde encounters, and the Mega Evolutions battle mechanic that reshape the state of combat in the game. Beyond the fresh take on the turn-based gameplay, players can also bond with their pocket monster pals in Pokémon-Amie. Coupled with the addition of Fairy-type Pokémon and a shuffling of the type chart that had gone untouched for four generations, all the improvements and tweaks in X & Y were definitely hype-worthy at the time. While the story may not be the best, and some new Pokémon designs are dubious (looking at you, Klefki!), the Kalos region is still fun to explore, and X & Y laid a foundation for the series to jump fully into the 3D realm.
Write-up by Greg Delmage
19) Radiant Historia
Atlus, Headlock • DS, 3DS • Released: 2010, 2017
Radiant Historia is one of those games where not only each part of it excellent, but the whole package is greater than the sum of its parts. The graphics are some of the most stunning to ever grace the humble DS. Yoko Shimomura’s evocative soundtrack dazzles despite the DS’s limited sound capabilities. A colorful cast of characters embarks on a marvelous tale that marries the political intrigue of Final Fantasy Tactics with the time traveling and parallel world-hopping aspects of the Chrono games. Tying everything together is the smooth gameplay that makes this game impossible to put down. Radiant Historia is a near perfect, must-play JRPG that wholly deserves its position as one of the best games of the decade.
Write-up by Neal Chandran
18) Xenoblade Chronicles X
Monolith Soft, Nintendo • Wii U • Released: 2015
Xenoblade Chronicles X is the sci-fi adventure you’ve always dreamed of. After fleeing Earth during an alien attack, the remains of humanity are stranded on the mysterious planet Mira. Here, you make new discoveries, meet aliens, fight giant insects with laser swords, and use your transforming mech to reach new heights and face fiercer (and larger; always larger) foes. Featuring five beautifully and uniquely designed continents[!], you explore a seamless open world with hundreds of mission and character quests, cool lore, and enemies ranging from tiny to titanic. It’s the type of adventure where one minute you’re traveling through an ancient battlefield and the next you might be running from a giant sandworm.
Admittedly, it features poorly explained gameplay mechanics, some brutal grinding requirements, a frustrating UI, a boring cast (just eat Tatsu already, I do not mind), and a story that hitches its wagon to a sequel which may not even happen.
But still, many of us see the magic in being able to freely explore an alien planet as beautifully designed as Mira; or having progress be unrestricted by arbitrary plot progression; or even just getting the chance to moon jump into a giant robot and take off into the skies! Even with open-world design being a big part of the 2010’s zeitgeist, very few games took it to the level that XCX does. It would be a shame if the residents of New LA were left forgotten before we finally cracked all of the secrets left behind on Mira.
Write-up by Stephanie Sybydlo
17) Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Monolith Soft, Nintendo • Switch • Released: 2017
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 tells a classic story of boy meets girl. However, when the girl also grants the boy a powerful sword and their goal is to climb the World Tree to meet God, the story becomes anything but typical. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 provides a fantastic cast of characters and a robust battle system that builds upon previous entries in the series. Granted, the gacha mechanic of getting new Blades to join your party can be incredibly tedious (some of us didn’t get KOS-MOS for over a hundred hours), but the variety of personalities and skills can make you eager to find out who you will unlock next. And who could forget the soundtrack, which offers tunes that rival the best tracks in the series!
However, if the gacha mechanics and story of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 did not interest you, let’s not forget the game’s DLC expansion, Torna – The Golden Country! Set 500 years before the base game, this prequel stands alone almost entirely as its own game! With an improved battle system and new music, Torna – The Golden Country expands on what made the original Xenoblade Chronicles 2 great while removing some of the tedium. As a complete package, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is arguably one of the best RPGs on the Nintendo Switch.
Write-up by Tyler Trosper
16) Stardew Valley
ConcernedApe • Windows, macOS, Linux, PS4, XB1, Switch, iOS, Android • Released: 2016
As the perfect gaming antidote to the last decade, Stardew Valley is pure bliss. More than just a simple farming sim, Stardew Valley teaches you about empathy and healing. It makes you fall in love so quickly with an array of fictional residents in your new home, Pelican Town. You can lose hours chopping trees, mining, or tending to your pigs to ensure you get the best truffles this season. You can choose to forge life-long relationships or focus on making money. And since the game’s release, creator Eric Barone has been tirelessly working to deliver free updates, both in the form of fixes and new features. Even now, it’s continually being worked on, so while Stardew Valley is one of the best of this decade, it’s sure to stay in everyone’s memories for much longer.
Write-up by Alana Hagues
15) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda Game Studios • Windows, PS3, 360, PS4, XB1, Switch, Alexa • Released: 2011
Having been around since 1994, The Elder Scrolls series has slowly carved out a strong place in the hearts of many fantasy RPG fans. Morrowind was the beginning of the series’ drive to the top of the RPG heap, with Oblivion adding momentum. So when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launched back in 2011, it secured the series as a household name. Now, nearly every major gaming platform has a means to explore the frigid climes of Skyrim. What makes this entry so polarizing is that it changes the formula, allowing players far more freedom to create their ideal character. You could be a jack of all trades or a master of a few, and it doesn’t take long to figure out ways to break and abuse those systems. Straight out of the game’s prologue, the absolutely massive 3D environment stirs wanderlust, while the Radiant Quest system consistently generates a variety of sidequests that can keep players occupied ad infinitum. A story heaped with dragons, giants, and small gameplay refinements easily mark The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as one of the most standout titles of the series and of this past decade.
Write-up by Greg Delmage
14) Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Spike Chunsoft • PS Vita, 3DS, PS4, Windows • Released: 2012
What do you get if you combine Saw, the collective works of Duncan Jones, and a grade school philosophy course? Well, we’d tell you, but…the less you know going in to Virtue’s Last Reward, the better. This is true for a lot of thriller-type stories (part of the fun is being surprised, after all), but the twists and turns taken by the Zero Escape series are practically whiplash-inducing, and to spoil them would be a disservice. Simply put, both Virtue’s Last Reward and its predecessor (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors) offer some of the best storytelling and puzzle-solving the point-and-click genre has to offer. Don’t pass these up. Elapsam semel occasionem non ipse potest Iuppiter reprehendere!
Write-up by Peter Triezenberg
13) To the Moon
Freebird Games • Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, Switch • Released: 2011
Less game and more interactive story, To the Moon made a statement at the start of the decade that video games can, in fact, be art, and not in the froufrou art house sort of way. With countless stories detailing how this legendary title brought tears to adult and adolescent eyes alike, To the Moon has also shaped lives and continues to sing a song of “big picture” perspective when it comes to what’s truly important in life. Don’t let the visuals or core engine (RPG Maker) deter you from this uniquely insightful story about the human condition.
Write-up by Bob Richardson
12) Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Square Enix • PS4, Switch, Windows • Released: 2018
Dragon Quest XI cleverly subverts a classic RPG scenario when, moments after meeting the king, said monarch wonders aloud, “But why is it that monsters and the Luminary of legend always appear at the same time? Maybe you summoned them here!” and throws our hero, the Luminary, into a dungeon. From there, the Luminary breaks out of jail with a new friend and embarks on an adventure where he explores a beautiful world full of classic Dragon Quest charm, echoing several story elements of Dragon Quest III on the NES. But far from merely rehashing older titles, Dragon Quest XI is a spectacular RPG in its own right, delivering a story full of comedy, tragedy, and some wild twists, characters that are easy to love, and traditional RPG systems full of elegance and depth. Dragon Quest XI is perfect for longtime Dorakue fans and series newcomers alike. And that’s not even taking into consideration all the awesome additions exclusive to the Switch version, darlings.
Write-up by Michael Sollosi
11) Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Spike Chunsoft, Aksys Games • DS, PS4, PS Vita, Windows, iOS • Released: 2010
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (aka 999) opens after Junpei Tenmyouji is abducted by a mysterious figure and brought on board a ship with eight other people. The group is told that they must work together to figure out how to survive the heinous obstacles and traps that await them. The first title in the critically acclaimed Zero Escape series, 999 is an emotional visual novel tour de force with memorable characters and a haunting plot that involves psychic abilities and bending time. There are multiple routes to uncover, many of which are harrowing to play through, and all of them connect like a puzzle to the bigger picture and the true ending of the story. 999 is a game that grips players with a complex narrative and an emotionally compelling cast.
Write-up by Audra Bowling
10) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt RED • PS4, XB1, Windows, Switch • Released: 2015
The Witcher 3 is an achievement in the art of the open-world RPG. It’s a combination of story, characters, quests, and environments that surely mesmerized everyone that took the time to jump into the role of tormented witcher Geralt of Rivia. From the free city of Novigrad to the swamps of Crookback Bog and the windy cliffsides of Fyke Isle, the team at CD Projekt RED have created a range of climates and scenery that the eyes never grow weary of admiring. It is a pleasure to explore every forest, seek out every cave, and battle every monster or mob that crosses Geralt’s path. But Geralt’s main quest centers around a core concept that so many of us can appreciate and understand: the idea of family. And for Geralt, it is about his daughter Ciri, his one soft spot that he devotes himself to protecting (even if she doesn’t need it).
Between main story quests, you have the freedom to progress in whichever direction your heart desires. Contracts for coin (a witcher has to eat and buy a sword or two), colorful characters, strange beasts to tame, and haunting spirits to exorcise provide a variety of challenges that never get stale and never fail to please. We’ve all battled a mythical monster or two in a game, but how often have we found ourselves battling basically all of them in one game? That is what the Witcher 3 gives us, and that is the true source of its greatness: the vastness of the experience. It doesn’t matter whether it is a contract to rid a town of a pesky werewolf for a couple of crowns, a fight with a siren for a sunken treasure, or a battle to save Ciri. It is always a pleasure to hear the sound of another quest successfully completed.
Write-up by Stephanie Sybydlo
9) Dark Souls
From Software, Bandai Namco • PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, XB1, Windows, Switch • Released: 2011
From the unlikely developers of the excruciatingly dark and difficult King’s Field, Dark Souls is both a mythic, niche cult hit and a transcendent AAA critical darling. It’s a game felt so deeply in the community that every aspect of it has become a staple of a new titular genre, including how it handles saving, storytelling, and its intense rhythm of combat and repeated death. It challenges players to “Prepare to Die” in the fantasy hellworld of Lordran, and players take up the challenge armed with FAQs, wikis, video walkthroughs, and word of mouth builds. Dark Souls promises to shatter our egos and make us sweat during our descent into an unknowable abyss. Addicting and perfect, it’s the game that players want to play and developers want to make.
Write-up by Nilson Carroll
8) Persona 5
Atlus • PS3, PS4 • Released: 2017
Persona 5 has players assume the role of Joker, the leader of the Phantom Thieves — a group of vigilantes who “steal the hearts” of their corrupt targets. Familiar Persona staples like dungeon exploration and building character bonds return in this addicting game set against the backdrop of Tokyo. Timing is crucial in Persona 5, so players must strategize what to do and how to approach the in-game days in order to get the most out of the experience. The catchy music and stylish visual aesthetics add further polish to a deep and meaningful story, making Persona 5 a fantastic journey through the Metaverse.
Write-up by Audra Bowling
7) Mass Effect 2
BioWare, EA • Xbox 360, Windows, PS3 • Released: 2010
Mass Effect 2 initially hooks players with protagonist Commander Shepard’s death and sudden, inexplicable resurrection at the hands of the terrorist organization Cerberus. Shepard has a job to do: stop the Reapers from destroying everything. The crew of the Normandy aren’t about to let a few complications stop them; tentative alliances are formed as Shepard assembles a memorable and disparate team to continue this Seven Samurai-like tale. There are many incredible story beats found within Mass Effect 2, and decisions in the narrative have long-lasting effects in both this title and its sequel, Mass Effect 3. The conclusion of Mass Effect 2‘s “suicide” mission remains an amazing, emotional feat of both storytelling and gameplay. Mass Effect 2, as the second chapter of Commander Shepard’s tale, is a vital gaming experience.
Write-up by Audra Bowling
6) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
Square Enix • Windows, macOS, PS3, PS4, Xbox One • Released: 2013
Starting out as a failed MMORPG released in 2010, Final Fantasy XIV was ultimately rebooted as A Realm Reborn in 2013. Despite the troubled beginning, the title has since received a steady stream of content across three additional expansions, the current one being Shadowbringers. Though XIV shares a major focus on story with its predecessors, its ongoing nature provides an ever-changing experience over the years. For many players, the character they began with years ago is still the protagonist, facing a new set of challenges every few months. This format allows for continually evolving gameplay mechanics, with quality of life improvements that simply aren’t possible in a stand-alone title. In the decade that Final Fantasy XIV has existed, it has fostered an unbelievable sense of community among both longtime and new players.
Write-up by Kyle Seeley
5) Xenoblade Chronicles
Monolith Soft, Nintendo • Wii • Released: 2012
Who would have thought, after we had to practically beg Nintendo to bring it westward, that Xenoblade Chronicles would wind up being such a huge success? The game has been ported to the 3DS, Shulk has been added to Smash Bros., and now a remaster is due for the Switch. Well, there’s a good reason for all of that. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Xenoblade Chronicles elevated the JRPG genre, offering a vast open world and an MMO-like combat system and quest structure that continues to influence other RPGs to this very day. Xenoblade also has an incredibly unique setting, evident from the moment the camera pans out to reveal the corpses of two long-dead giants, upon which civilization has flourished. A true classic for the modern age.
Write-up by Peter Triezenberg
4) Persona 4 Golden
Atlus • PS Vita • Released: 2012
Persona 4 Golden is an expanded PlayStation Vita port of the original PlayStation 2 classic. After moving to a country town for a year-long stay, Persona 4‘s protagonist ends up embroiled in the criminal investigation of a series of murders involving the mysterious Midnight Channel. Dungeon exploration and scheduled events await players, who have the chance to interact with a lively and colorful cast of characters along the way. Featuring two new Social Links, brand new endings, and more additional content, Persona 4 Golden is the quintessential version, and is a must play title in the PlayStation Vita’s library.
Write-up by Audra Bowling
3) NieR: Automata
PlatinumGames, Square Enix • PS4, Windows, XB1 • Released: 2017
No one makes games quite like Yoko Taro. Though his previous titles (Drakengard, NieR) had outstanding philosophical ideas, they didn’t always congeal into a fully realized experience. He wisely brought PlatinumGames along for NieR: Automata, and the result is absolutely superb. The story and game design are still pure Taro: strange, emotionally resonant, and interested in tackling the big questions of our existence and why we’re here. The soundtrack is every bit as haunting and moving as the previous NieR. Offering multiple playthroughs, each builds upon another until the narrative’s ideas coalesce and reach a fever pitch in its final hours. But this time, it’s also just a great game. The world is stunning to look at, and the combat is fluid, fast and just plain fun. Put simply, NieR: Automata is a wholly unique classic, and is Taro’s masterpiece.
Write-up by Zach Wilkerson
Toby Fox • PS4, PS Vita, Windows, macOS, Linux, Switch • Released: 2015
Starting as a love letter to EarthBound, Undertale ascends to the highest plane of games, with themes focused on the strength of non-violence and the powers of love and friendship in the face of corruption. Players are given the choice to follow through with Undertale‘s metaphor or subvert it, and there are consequences and rewards for both. During this process, gameplay and the player are forever changed in a queer fashion when you realize you have the option to “beat” the game by making friends instead of defeating enemies. This represents a step toward the healing of the gaming community (and the renewal of the entire RPG genre). Undertale is heart wrenching, densely hilarious, immediately nostalgic, and slight enough to not overstay its welcome. The fact that Toby Fox’s masterpiece also has the best soundtrack of the decade (and memes for days) only sweetens the deal, making it one of the greatest indie titles of all time.
Write-up by Nilson Carroll
1) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Nintendo • Wii U, Switch • Released: 2017
The original Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System was a tough game. It dropped you into the middle of a dangerous world by yourself and expected you to find your own way. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you find yourself in the exact same predicament! Leaving behind the vast majority of gameplay conventions that the Zelda series has accumulated over the years, BoTW gives players a pure adventuring experience in a stunning, post-apocalyptic open world. If you see something interesting on the horizon, you can go there. Want to climb a mountain to see what’s at the top? Go do it! Add to that tight gameplay, inventive puzzles, endearing characters, beautiful graphics, and a compelling story (plus that unique Zelda charm), and you have one of the greatest video games of the last decade!
Write-up by Jonathan Logan