View Full Version : What do you consider to be the five best written RPGs?

Wolf Kanno
02-01-2016, 04:34 AM
For a medium that is known for it's storytelling aspect, I find that the gaming community has spent more of it's time focusing on other genres that have really used the medium to tell some really personal and deep stories. So what about the genre that made storytelling an important part of the gaming process? What do you consider to be the five best written RPGs, whether they had great characters, and amazing world, great history and lore, or maybe the game touched on deeper themes, what are your top five and why?

02-01-2016, 07:36 AM
I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some that were better, but these are the five off the top of my head:

- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance - I love the controversial theme, how the motivations of the hero really divided the people who played this. Every time I play the game (or see someone play the game or talk with them about the game), I notice something new. As dealing with escapism is such a big theme in here, FFTA just hits all the right marks for me.

- The World Ends With You - this story is just perfectly structured, gripping you from start to finish and really effectively connecting you with its main characters. The tone is deceptively light as some really heavy stuff happens here, but really, every villain is memorable and every important scene packs an emotional punch.

- Final Fantasy Tactics - the moral ambiguity of... well, pretty much everyone, and the realistic take on politics (I don't mean it being based on any real system, I'm talking more about how people act) are what makes this game awesome, IMO. I love how despite being so focused on the politics (or maybe because of it) this is a tale about humanity, sacrifice, love, and all those other things that make us tick.

- Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories - Sora's progression in the story is as disturbing as it is engrossing. There's really so much done well in this game, from the pacing, through the emotional scenes, and then there's the Riku segment which is one of the best moments for the series.

- Radiant Historia - this is the SNES RPG honed to perfection. Memorable characters, a fascinating plot, and really cool pacing, connected to the dual timelines mechanic. Much like TWEWY, this game doesn't pull punches and really keeps you invested at all times.

02-01-2016, 07:04 PM
Ah this is hard, but I'll try. Also, I'm looking at this from a subjective point and not which I think are objectively the best written. Also, I go more for themes and which themes I think are best, more than just which were the best executed

Final Fantasy IX
One of the many reasons I love this game. It has the underlying theme of coming to find your place in the world and accept the things you cannot change. This has been a pretty big life struggle for me, so touching on those themes was great.

So it went off the rails in a few parts, but Xenosaga taught me so much about certain religions and philosophy and blended it in to this epic tale that touched on a lot of themes I find interesting. Like human life and reality and corruption and all of these things.

Tales of Hearts R
Learning to accept your emotions, good and bad, and not letting them run your life and control you. Everyone has negative emotions and negative aspects of themselves, but it's part of what makes you who you are. You just need to learn how to cope with them.

Persona 4 Golden
Learning to accept and deal with the truth instead of just lying to yourself and others because you don't want to face it or don't want others to know about it or whatever. Learning and accepting to deal with the truth is an important step to reaching your goals.

This story got me interested in psychology and philosophy. While it gets pretty convoluted, I love seeing the themes of like the ego and id, repression, all of the religious themes, the higher vs lower beings etc.

02-01-2016, 08:18 PM
I'll give it a go. I'm guessing I'll miss some though.

1. Final Fantasy Tatics. The story is so great. It is a must play.

2. Breath of Fire 2. I loved this game so much when I was younger. It gave a unique way of traveling and really it was a great JRPG. It's only downside was the translation.

3. Final Fantasy VI. This game captured me and I never put it down. I never had a walk through for it so there were many things through those years I was proud to say I found on my own such as the Air Anchor for Edgar.

4. Breath of Fire III. This game was simply a great game. Loved it and plan on playing it again soon.

5. Super Mario World. It is a game I still play to this day and enjoy the trout out of it! It has held up as one of the great Mario titles.

Forsaken Lover
02-01-2016, 09:28 PM
Xenogears - 'nuff said

Mass Effect 2 - Absolutely fantastic character writing.

NieR - Had some interesting ideas and an absolutely amazing ending. Ending D, by the way. I also just played it for the first time so...

Chrono Trigger - I prefer Cross' story but Cross' writing is...yeah. CT undeniably tells its story really well. Some excellent characters, too.

And...Idunno. I gotta think for Number 5.

Depression Moon
02-01-2016, 10:31 PM
Super Mario World is a platformer and the only game I felt that really had a great story was Final Fantasy IX.

02-01-2016, 11:21 PM
Xenogears, easily. I loved everything about the game, from the art style, to the combat system. But the story and writing were really up there for me. It went to some dark and fascinating places most games, let alone RPGs are afraid to even make jokes about, let alone actually face. And I had absolutely no problem with the second disk, because I just loved experiencing the story it had to tell

KotOR 2, while the story may have been a little contrived, the characters and dialog were exemplary and some of the most engaging character conversations and interactions I've ever experienced. I believe it was also one of the first times I ever experienced a romance written into a game. When the girly girl character I fancied most of the game actually reciprocated and professed her feelings for me in game, it was so well written and acted I legitimately blushed. Full blown basement dweller nerd experience, perhaps, but it was a really compelling experience and is just an example of how well the characters and their writing are done

I'd have to give a nod to Final Fantasy Tactics as well, even though I absolutely hate that game and everything it represents, as the epitome of what Japanese Strategy RPGs are (or have become?), since it's all cut scenes, battles, and grossly limited menu driven towns and NPC interaction. No ability for a player to have any down time or explore or anything an RPG should offer. And yet that story. So deep and twisty-turny, with so much treachery and politics, I might as well just watch Game of Thrones with a controller in hand. A well done story, and the lore is there. Just not a well fleshed out world, I can't interact with it, so I get burned out with it and every other game like it way too fast to ever really enjoy. But I won't deny its good writing

Planescape is generally heralded as the best written cRPG of all time, and I can't really argue, but I think a lot of it is lended from the art style and atmosphere and music and stuff. The writing is good, but the story is sparse for large portions of the game, and not a lot is given to very many characters. I'd honestly have to rank Baldur's Gate 2 above Planescape in most regards. They may have similar dedication and delivery, but the effectiveness is way more well done with Baldur's Gate. More characters, more dialog, more development given to them, more fleshed out villain. And hell, the characters even ended up being a heck of a lot more relateable and likable, because of that. And I loved the characters in Planescape, but in my experience they don't hold a candle to the team in Baldur's Gate 2

I kinda want my last vote to be for Final Fantasy VII since I love the characters, world, and atmosphere so much, but in good conscience I can't really back up that argument. VII's writing was pretty good. Beyond competent, but not stellar. Though I'd gladly make that argument for VI, and I think I will. VI would be my number five: best written game. Last place, but still really really good. For a 20 year old game with nothing but sprites, midi, and translated text. It turned out fantastic. And for such a large cast, everyone was given such love and development and screen time. It's hard to choose a favorite character, or even a favorite set of characters. And we even love the villain. VII can't even get that. Sephiroth was admired by a bunch of pre-teen boys who thought long hair and long swords and super powers were cool. But nobody gave a shit about his personality. But it's hard to deny how amusingly awesome and lovable the psychopath Kefka became. Granted, much like with KotOR 2, I make this argument more around the character writing than the plot. But good lord, those characters :3

02-02-2016, 04:30 AM
Damn, this is a tough question. I'll limit myself to strictly JRPGs. These are in no particular order:

1. Persona 4: Golden - I was having a really tough time deciding whether or not to go with Persona 4 or Persona 3, but I went with 4. For me, the Persona series excels in brilliant character development and world building, particularly in Persona 4. I really felt engrossed in Inaba, caring for all the wacky characters that inhabit it. Each main character is given room to grow, and the underlying themes behind it (of seeking the truth, bonds) are great. The animation goes even further by adding the fear of abandonment as a trait of Yu Narukami; not wanting to leave Inaba where his friends are which briefly draws out his shadow. This is touched upon in the game also.

It has a few issues. The pacing can be questionable at times, and I never felt as if Yosuke really got over his latent homophobia. The animation is particularly bad in this regard by roping in Yu to share in Yosuke's fears. But these issues are minor, and doesn't really detract from the overall presentation of the game.

2. The World Ends With You - I'm basically just parroting what Fynn said, and this game definitely deserves greater praise and attention. Heck, it deserves a sequel - I'd play it. I won't repeat what he already said about it, only to say that the game is incredibly well-written which is superficially light, with a deep layer of pathos and maturity which really plays with your emotions.

3. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth - A tad of a curveball, but bear with. The game is light, at first. Hey look, they're chibis! How quaint! Admittedly, it does crank up some characters up to eleven with ham. Chie discusses meat pretty frequently, Akihiko wants protein in everything. These characters already have plenty of development in their respective games, so I didn't feel as if I missed genuine sincerity, and they formed part of the comic relief. On the other hand, characters such as Shinjiro and Ken are granted more time to breathe, especially Shinjiro, who doesn't really get the time to make much of an impression in his original game. PQ Shinji is far better than P3 Shinji, and that's arguably true for Ken as well.

But what makes the game compelling is the theme of time. You cannot escape it, but you can use all the time you have to make an impact on people's lives. That is essentially the central point of the game. I won't spoil, but the games final third of the game is the best, with several poignant scenes that made me hit the feels. Most striking is the sense of anguish you get when you remember that none of these events are remembered by any of the cast (not so much of a spoiler, seeing how it takes place in the middle of both games and is never referenced). Because of this, all the fantastic development for Shinji and Ken is reversed, along with the harsh reality of theirs and other character's fates. This is particularly true for the Persona 3 side, but in both games, things take a real turn for the worse after September, and some of what happens might have been avoided. But regardless, the friendships forged between P3 and P4 are forgotten. The ending just has a feeling of sadness, which is very surprising given the supposed lighter nature of the game.

02-02-2016, 06:14 AM
Ah shit. Forgot about the Personas. Though I would personally choose 3 as the best written. Not only do I prefer the theme of death and facing it, living a full life, and maybe there's good things about death, and how it's about loss, but I also thing this game did characters better. While 4's characters were also very cool, they relied a bit more on anime stereotypes, whereas I always felt the P3 characters were more like actual people you could encounter. Also, their development is tightly connected to the main story, instead of being relegated to social links, which is something I think worked better. Also, it's interesting how all their personal stories revolve around losing someone dear to you. Be it through death or otherwise, every party member has to deal with that loss.

02-02-2016, 07:27 AM
I was thinking of adding Earthbound(mother 2) as well. Also Uncharted Waters New Horizons.

02-02-2016, 11:10 AM
Tough for me cause I don't play as many RPGs as most people here. I'll do the ones I can think of.

Kingdom Hearts. The first game has it all for me. It's sweet, sad, fun, and unlike the other entries in the series is basically a self contained game. I think you would benefit most from playing it at a certain age, because it could be perceived as quite childish I guess, but I think that's something that is easy to set aside. I just love the game so much and I wouldn't be able to play it as many times as I have if the story wasn't great.

KotOR2 for basically the same reasons vyk mentioned. It's probably the most immersed I've been in my individual character in an rpg. My love of Star Wars as a universe and actively 'wanting' to get lost in it has a lot to do with this, but it still facilitated this desire better than any game up to that point.

Mass Effect 2. One word: Gripping. From the moment it starts to the conclusion it sets such a fantastic and epic scenario. Getting your old crew together and building up to the suicide mission is really engaging.

That's all I can think of for now but I'll add more as I think about it.

02-02-2016, 11:44 AM
I was thinking of adding Earthbound(mother 2) as well. Also Uncharted Waters New Horizons.

Have you played Mother 3? It's even better, IMO

02-03-2016, 01:00 AM
Final Fantasy VI explored a lot of mature themes in a way that was still appropriate for younger audiences, and I would legit let my kids learn about those things through playing FFVI, even though they wouldn't think anything of it and just kill monsters for the lulz.

Final Fantasy X had a lot of (albeit not even subtle) religious references sprinkled throughout and I always enjoyed it both as a kid and an adult. As well as the characters and the world, and Yuna is so fleshed out she feels like a real person at times, and one I can actually relate to.

Xenogears gives absolutely no smufts and isn't afraid to screw with your mind like you're watching Evangelion.

Mass Effect is a great Sci-Fi action-adventure, and straight up shows a realistic portrayal of how humans would react if we all banded together after the discovery of aliens. Like a bunch of racist assholes who wonder why the aliens in turn treat us as badly as we treat them.

KoTOR had the greatest twist in SW history since "Luke, I am your father," and I'll not hear a single word against it!

Because you would've typed it, and I can't hear your typing.

02-03-2016, 02:27 AM
I was thinking of adding Earthbound(mother 2) as well. Also Uncharted Waters New Horizons.

Have you played Mother 3? It's even better, IMO

Earth Bound was my only experience with the series but loved it to death. Once I started I never put it down. I'll download Mother 3 and put it in my backlog.

Midgar Mist
02-03-2016, 12:50 PM
In no particular order, here are mine

-Final Fantasy 7
-Final Fantasy 9
-Final Fantasy 10
-Grandia (the only thing I hated was the Bogus comment so....ive been contradictory and i love it)
- I really wanna say FF 10 -2 had its good points but you will all kill me so........Final Fantasy 5

You can't ask me to put these in order, they are like my children, CHILDREN dammit :D

02-08-2016, 07:17 AM
Planescape: Torment
A masterpiece of literature and, in my opinion, the greatest example of "high art" in video games.

Baldur's Gate II
Equally funny, epic, disturbing, and heartbreaking, this game is both massive and nuanced in tone, style, and approach.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
The best dialogue in a JRPG that is reminiscent of a Shakespearean drama.

A hilarious fourth-wall breaking sci-fi epic with a disarmingly large amount of heart.

Fallout: New Vegas
A complicated and home-hitting morality system in a realized and living world where every detail, random, and plot point is impeccably written.

Del Murder
02-08-2016, 11:12 PM
5. Super Mario World. It is a game I still play to this day and enjoy the trout out of it! It has held up as one of the great Mario titles.
Yes, the Yoshis' struggle being trapped in those eggs and Mario's internal dialogue when he grabbed that feather and took to the skies were especially well done. I also thought Chargin Chuck was an underrated character.

02-08-2016, 11:15 PM
5. Super Mario World. It is a game I still play to this day and enjoy the trout out of it! It has held up as one of the great Mario titles.
Yes, the Yoshis' struggle being trapped in those eggs and Mario's internal dialogue when he grabbed that feather and took to the skies were especially well done. I also thought Chargin Chuck was an underrated character.

i think maybe he meant mario RPG lol

02-09-2016, 11:29 PM
1. Suikoden II -- brilliant story, emotional characters, well-developed plot and world. This game just has it all, story-wise.

2. Final Fantasy Tactics -- There's an argument that this should be #1. A well-developed story of betrayal and tragedy, I could see this story being an actual book.

3. Lunar SSSC -- a more cliche plot than the top ones, but amazingly well-done with great characters and outstanding and often comedic dialogue.

4. Suikoden III -- there are some legitimate complaints with this game, but it can't be disputed that it told an epic story, and the three perspectives were done really well.

I can't think of what game I'd put #5 and I'm tired of thinking about it, so here's some honorable mentions: Final Fantasy VI, Suikoden I, Breath of Fire III

Del Murder
02-10-2016, 05:37 PM
I love a well written RPG and not surprisingly I've played most of the ones listed. But I may have to check out Xenosaga, Suikoden III, and Grandia. Are any of them on PSN?

1. Final Fantasy VI - Great characters, great villain, great themes of depression and hope.

2. Final Fantasy Tactics - An excellent take on the 'great man' theory of history and the influence of religion.

3. Chrono Trigger - I love how all the time periods flow from each other, the characters are great too and there are some good twists.

4. The World Ends With You - A surprisingly great story about dealing with death and friendship.

5. Final Fantasy XI - The standard storyline is pretty vanilla, but each of the expansions got better and better and helped build this vast world and cement your character's place in it.

Wolf Kanno
02-16-2016, 07:04 PM
This is proving to be pretty difficult for me. While I've got four down, I'm having issues with number 5, as I feel there are some great contenders but not one that I'm as content with as the other four. I'll keep dwelling on this for a moment.

Wolf Kanno
02-20-2016, 04:33 AM

It was hard to come up with five entries, four of them were pretty easy but number five became a bit more difficult because the field was pretty big with several strong contenders. I will probably do a few honorary mentions. :shifty:


Chrono Trigger - While CT is not exactly some great literature and more of a simple adventure tale, it accomplishes something that is pretty difficult to do in writing in general, let alone game writing: Write a story that is equally appealing to children and adults. The game is simple and colorful enough to keep kids glued to the screen but offers enough mature subtext and deeper story elements to make adults give it a second glance. It does for games what Pixar has done with family movies, make a game whose story can be appreciated by the whole audience. Barring the grandfather paradox plothole, CT's world has a level of consistency that many games to lack, with each time period being it's own self contained story while all of them feeding into the game's overall narrative and battle with Lavos. Lavos itself is an interesting villain not often done so well in the medium. Lavos truly defines "alien" being presented as something beyond our comprehension as opposed to typical aliens of the genre who have too many human characteristics that they become relatable. The cast is also very strong with all of the characters getting good time spent developing them and even NPCs are so colorful that they remain memorable. Overall it's just fun.


Final Fantasy Tactics - While my love for the genre of Turn-Based Tactical RPG has waned in the last few years, it hasn't stopped me from popping this game back into the console and doing a new playthrough. Largely because I find Ramza and Delita's story to be so damn compelling. Watching their trials and tribulations as one falls from grace to maintain his ideals while the other "sells his soul" to the political machine in order to build his ideal world. The political machinations are fun and the story creates an interesting moral drama set to an interesting political story of seizing power. Despite the game eventually having you fight real demons, I always loved the contrast of how monstrous the humans themselves are, being no different from the Lucavi. The fact the story doesn't necessarily hold back punches on the unfair nature of life was a real breath of fresh air in 97. The game has strong and mature characters and deals with idealism and heritage in a more "realistic" setting than the usual idealistic mold of the genre. If I was to hold the whole franchise together, Ramza is easily the best written protagonist to grace the series.


Suikoden V - Bold choice for me considering how much love Suikoden II gets but after replaying the whole series recently, I honestly feel Suikoden V has one of the best stories in the franchise. Partly because the game does a better job of really setting up the conflict and making you emotionally invested in the characters and plight of Falena as opposed to learning as you go like the other entries. The political conflict is also done in a way not often seen in the JRPG world with the monarchy torn apart by political movements within and the monarchy being held hostage to doing what is right but also not egging the conflict on more. While the True Runes play a strong role in the story, it takes it's cues from SII by being more of a plot device to spur on the court intrigue as opposed to being the driving force of the entire story like other Suikoden games. The title may suffer from being hit with the anime clich stick a bit too hard, resulting in garish costumes, stripperific females, and eccentric being the norm, but the characters are all strong and the conflict is often treated maturely with only a hanful of character being purely good or evil. Basically it's a really well thought out political drama that would feel like something read in history if it didn't involve talking Beavers, using ancient ruins to obtain magical doomsday weapons, and a strategist who is the very definition of Mary Tzu (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MaryTzu).


Persona 3 - I was conflicted with choosing this game over the Persona 2 Duology. I decided that P2 might be a bit too campy at times and that P3 did a better job really connecting all of its themes together. P3's main theme is Memento Mori, which roughly translates to "remember you are mortal" and serves as a basis about making the most of every day because you never know when you're going to die. Isn't that a happy thought? This translates into the gameplay as the day to day scenario where you actually live each day, sometimes doing the same monotonous things which is incredibly meta as I'm sure most human beings can relate. This also translates to how you can't really go back on the choices you make, meaning you'll miss that stat upgrade by not studying or miss out on completing a side quest because you chose to hang out with Mitsuru instead of Kenji and now you don't have the time to complete his quest. This theme in the gameplay really hits home in the last few months when you realize your choices may have helped or hindered your progress. This pacing also works really well to experience the cast in a way not seen too often in gaming or even other storytelling medium. You get to see them as everyday people who go one with their boring lives just like you instead of jumping from one high point to another as though every moment in a person's life is exciting. This ends up making the exciting moments of the game have more bite and energy to them as you drop from mundane day-to-day nonsense to the deeper plot. Even just minor events become highlights as they break up the monotony of living this virtual life.

The human cast also receive really strong character growth throughout the piece as you watch Yukari and Mitsuru go from a cold and non-trusting relationship built on jealousy and guilt to a closer almost sisterly bond that literally takes close to 40 hours to get to with lots of soul searching in-between. Junpei goes from liking his place in the story, to questioning his purpose in life, to finding love, losing it and and in doing so grows enough to find a purpose for himself that isn't weighed down by childish idealism. Ken and Shinji have a fairly dark story of revenge and guilt that ends more poignantly and with a better message than Hope and Snow from XIII could hope for, and again it plays into the theme of how our choices can't ever be unmade. The theme of irreversible choice is felt in the game's Social Links which help to ground the player into the world beyond the story and see the world as more than a crazy place where creepy things happen but again, reinforce the idea of living day-to-day in a normal world. The contrast between the daily life of a student to dealing with the party drama, to facing death against the Eldritch horror that is encroaching on the story is a stark contrast that helps you to appreciate the world and characters in more of a big picture sort of way as opposed to just doing it for the people you like. The theme of death and irreversible fate is powerful and ultimately tells us to simply make the best choices we can in life and to surround ourselves with people we care about because in the end, it's all that we really have to say about our life. What I guess I'm trying to say in this rambling run-off sentence is that you should go play Persona 3.


Xenogears - I can't think of a game that has had more personal impact on my life and views than this game. It's what I get for playing it during my impressionable years but I wish there were more games that were as ambitious and tackled as many mature themes as this game does. Also the world needs more giant kung-fu robots because smurf Yeah. Gears works well because you don't realize how crazy it all is until it's too late, you're invested and then it sometimes gently and other times violently takes you down the rabbit hole of deeper themes of religion, man's relation with God, identity, guilt and how to deal with it, losing your faith, genetic engineering, reincarnation and the deeper implications of our actions over the course of history. Fei is easily one of my favorite protagonists of all time, not just because his story is so fascinating but also because I've never had a character make me go through the full gambit of emotion like he does. You'll feel for him, hate him, love him, and root for him over the course of the entire game. The other cast members are also well rounded and interesting without being too corny or cliche most of the time barring a Chu-Chu from time to time. While the story remains incomplete and certain character arcs are cut painfully short due to the game's troubled production, the main themes and overarching story is beautifully told as you experience the life of Fei and all his incarnations over 10,000 years of history to fulfill a deal he made with God. What is also interesting about Gears is that it deals with the subject of God and religion in a more mature, and frankly less antagonistic way than most JRPGs. Using Gnosticism, Christianity, and Buddhism to tell a story that is both personal for its main character but has repercussions that go beyond the simple characters. Gears may not be perfect, but it reached for the stars and tried to push the genre into a more mature and respectable field in terms of writing than most games of it's time. This is the reason why people still talk about this game, because sometimes a game's impact is more than just sales.

Honorary Mentions:

Lunar Silver Star Story
Vagrant Story
FFTactics Advance
Chrono Cross
Persona 2 Duology
Suikoden II
Wild ARMS 2nd Ignition
Suikoden III
Breath of Fire V: Dragon Quarter
Xenosaga Episode I and III, and Pied Piper
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

02-20-2016, 05:25 AM
Off the top of my head list:

Final Fantasy VI - for all the reasons already stated above
Undertale - I laughed, I cried, I want to play again but don't want to erase my save
Chrono Trigger - Great way to do multiple endings only need 2 playthroughs to see everything
Seiken Densetsu III - love how the other characters are just doing their own thing if you don't pick them and pop up every now and then.
Legend of Legaia - I dunno probably nostalgia tinted glasses with this one.