The Master List

1. Vagrant Story
System(s): PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Original Release Date: May 15th, 2000
Developer: Squaresoft
Director: Yasumi Matsuno

This amazing game is the work of Yasumi Matsuno and his spectacular development team.  It tells the story of an agent named Ashley Riot, who is sent to the old and crumbling city of Lea Monde.  There he faces Sidney Losstarot, the enigmatic leader of a cult (Mullencamp).  Sent alone but not the only party interested in the doings of Mullencamp, Ashley will also face down the Church and their minions who come to ‘destroy’ the ‘evil’ therein.  What ensues during his infiltration of the city is a tale that very few games could ever hope to match in complexity and depth.  Politics, dark magic and character relationships/backstory are all prominent themes, but where Sidney and Romeo Guildenstern’s (the Church’s own agent) allegiances lie become central to the intrigue.  If you’ve ever dabbled in any of Matsuno’s works (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Tactics Ogre) you must dive into this engrossing action RPG.  I promise that you have absolutely never seen anything like it and the account of Ashley Riot’s journey through Lea Monde is one that you really shouldn’t miss.

2. Chrono Cross
System(s): PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Original Release Date: August 15th, 2000
Developer: Squaresoft Product Development Division 3
Director: Masato Kato

Chrono Cross is a role playing game made as a loosely based sequel for the fan favorite SNES classic Chrono Trigger.  I say ‘loosely based’ because there’s little more than the music, colorful world and progressive design philosophy to tie these two games together.  The development team has been quoted as saying that one of the major focuses of Chrono Cross was to take the PlayStation to its limit.  Whether you apply that statement to the graphics or gameplay… it rings true.  Everything about Cross is beautiful, painstakingly detailed and Yasunori Mitsuda’s score is truly breathtaking.  Don’t let the vast differences between Cross and Trigger (or the angry mob mentality of some of the more diehard Trigger fans) deter you from experiencing what I view as maybe the best traditional RPG ever made.

3. Xenogears
Systems: PlayStation, PlayStation Network
Original Release Date: October 20th, 1998
Developer: Squaresoft Product Development Division 3
Director: Tetsuya Takahashi

In Xenogears you take the helm of Fei Fong Wong and his big blue gear ‘Weltall’.  Trying to describe anything beyond that is just silly.  This long adventure with so many twists and turns requires more than just one play through, to be sure.  These aren’t normally words that one would use to describe a spectacular game but in Xenogears you will find much more than you bargained for.  Each and every hour packs an unrivaled emotional and philosophical punch.  If you have to the stones to take it on you’ll come out a little different in the end than you were at the start.  Possibly not for the better.

4. Final Fantasy XII
System: PlayStation 2
Original Release Date: October 31st, 2006
Developer: Square Enix Product Development Division 4
Director: Hiroyuki Ito, Hiroshi Minagawa

Final Fantasy XII might be Yasumi Matsuno’s most ambitious project.  I would assume the depth of his vision for the twelfth entry in the Final Fantasy franchise contributed quite a bit to the six year development time and various other team conflicts.  In the end, FFXII made it through the turmoil with tons of content and enough of the original vision intact to be just fucking spectacular.  Eschewing traditional everythings, this epic RPG instantly changed my opinion on how my favorite genre should proceed from then on out.  Amazing music, awesome characters and story, absurd amount of content, lengthy adventure…all tied together by excellent art, progressive design and wonderful direction.  Boom.

5. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
System(s): Super Famicom, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, Virtual Console, PlayStation Portable
Original Release Date: October 6th, 1995
Developer: Quest, Square Enix
Director: Yasumi Matsuno, Hiroshi Minagawa

The strategy RPG to end all strategy RPGs.  Matsuno hit a home run with this one over fifteen years ago and it holds up as well today as anything I’ve ever seen.  Apparently SE saw something in it too, enough to remake the game with the original staff intact (many of them NOT currently SE employees)!  An epic and lengthy tale, extremely complex gameplay and strategy systems and a wonderful experience await you in this age long past.  An age when men answered to swords alone.  Xytegenia will grip you from beginning to end and beyond…well beyond.  Bravo Matsuno, you are the master of all things RPG.

6. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
System(s): PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Xbox Live Arcade
Original Release Date: March 20th, 1997
Developer: KCET
Director: Toru Hagihara

Symphony of the Night is a classic and the foundation for the rest of the Castlevania series from that point on.  A man named Koji Igarashi is most commonly named as the innovator of the “new” almost Metroid-like game play.  This game resonated with me on many levels but most of my adoration was born from the atmosphere and RPG elements.  Throw in a superb main character in Alucard, a journey that’s twice as long as you thought as well as A LOT of equipment and secrets…you have a game that’s well worth the low price you can buy it for on XBLA.  Plus you’ll be treated to one of the most amazing video game speeches of all time.

7. Resident Evil 4
System(s): Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, Wii, Mobile Phone, iPhone, Zeebo, iPad, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Original Release Date: January 11th, 2005

Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Director: Shinji Mikami

Resident Evil 4 could be called revolutionary.  Mikami and his team engineered a winning formula in the over-the-shoulder viewpoint that soon became the action shooter standard.  But it’s not just its innovative ideas that make RE4 spectacular.  The graphics were some of the best ever seen, for one.  Leon as a main character gives the series some much needed flair and your adventure to rescue the President’s daughter and uncover more Umbrella secrets will last quite a bit longer than any other Resident Evil game (or any other game in the genre, actually).  And don’t forget the Mercenaries!  I loved Resident Evil enough to buy it twice and a third time isn’t necessarily out of the question.

8. Final Fantasy XI
System(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360
Original Release Date: October 28th, 2003
Developer: Square Product Development Division 3
Director(s): Koichi Ishii, Nobuaki Komoto, Koichi Ogawa, Akihiko Matsui, Mizuki Ito

As far as MMOs go, Final Fantasy XI wasn’t ever really the most popular one around.  But it is still around and that’s saying something.  In an online RPG world dominated by the user friendly formula popularized by World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy decided to go a different direction (and was better for it).  Final Fantasy XI is a party centered affair that’s pretty grind-heavy and relentless in its punishments (EXP loss upon death and de-leveling).  That said Vana’diel is as inspiring and beautiful an MMO world as there ever was.  Square’s signature high level of polish and production values allowed the creators to let their imaginations run wild and build a game that is as interesting as it is big.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this one kept on ticking for a few more years.

9. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
System: Nintendo GameCube
Original Release Date: October 11th, 2004
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Director: Ryota Kawade

I suppose Thousand-Year could just as easily be referred to as “Paper Mario 2”.  This fantastic sequel to the original Paper Mario is all kinds of awesome.  What Mario and his gang of toughs end up taking you on is a wild and extremely fun ride.  If you flirt with the idea of committing to a lengthy RPG but JRPGs aren’t your thing then Paper Mario 2 is right up your alley.  It’s charming, polished and EPIC.  This game will definitely scratch that itch.

10. Mass Effect
System(s): Xbox 360, Windows, PlayStation 3
Original Release Date: November 20th, 2007
Developer: BioWare
Director: Casey Hudson

Mass Effect now is not necessarily what it was then.  That might seem a confusing statement for a game series with only two entries that are barely three years apart… yet it rings true.  This Sci-Fi RPG epic that started it all was an interesting and deep RPG with some shooter tossed into the mix.  Your ability to make Commander Shepard’s smaller decisions towards the larger goal of saving the galaxy from the Reaper threat made Mass Effect an engrossing tale that you could really feel like you were a part of.  This is a must-play in my opinion and if only because there aren’t nearly enough games of this ilk around anymore.  Now, about how Mass Effect is now…

baa-illust0311. Batman: Arkham Asylum
System(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, OS X
Original Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Director: Sefton Hill

A game I once told myself was really overrated actually isn’t.  Duh. Rocksteady crafted this shit OUT OF THE BLUE, kinda changing the video game superhero landscape as we knew it.  The battle system would be copied, but usually to little success.  Join the original voice cast of the Batman Animated Series on this action packed jaunt around Arkham Island. It’s fun, I promise.

12. Dynasty Warriors 7
System(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Original Release Date: March 29th, 2011
Developer: Omega Force
Director:
Tomohiko Sho ? (not 100% on this one)

Dynasty Warriors 7 is the most recent main entry in the long running franchise of the same name.  At times this series of games has become the butt of many jokes, most referencing the innovation that each new version seems to lack.  I will always defend it though, in saying that what is missing in major leaps forward is made up in more subtle advances.  The music, character design and story have slowly but surely improved over the many years Dynasty Warriors has been around.  What we’ve finally come to in the seventh try is a game that compiles everything that has worked so far and eschews much that hasn’t.  It is as throwback as you could ever imagine, but done to perfection.  I would even go as far to say that if you somehow have never played a Dynasty Warriors game, just play 7 and don’t worry about what came before…it’s that good.

13. Brutal Legend
System(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Original Release Date: October 13th, 2009
Developer: Double Fine
Director: Tim Schafer

This is definitely a game with a tortured history, from production on up.  It’s also a game I found some sick appreciation for.  While the SRPG mechanics threw everyone for a loop, they worked.  Re-frame your initial perception based on their slimy marketing and give Brutal Legend another go.  I still have fond memories of racing around its world, metal blaring from the car stereo and chuckling at a lot of Jack Black’s performance as Eddie Riggs.

14. Paper Mario
System(s): Nintendo 64, iQue Player, Virtual Console
Original Release Date: February 5th, 2001
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Director(s): Toshitaka Muramatsu. Takahiro Ohgi, Hironobu Suzuki

15. Radiata Stories
System: PlayStation 2
Original Release Date: September 6th, 2005
Developer: tri-Ace
Director: Naoki Akiyama

16. Kingdom Hearts
System: PlayStation 2
Original Release Date: September 17th, 2002
Developer: Square
Director: Tetsuya Nomura

17. Dissidia: Final Fantasy
System: PlayStation Portable
Original Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Developer: Square Enix
Director: Takeshi Arakawa

18. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
System(s): Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Virtual Console
Original Release Date: May 13th, 1996
Developer: Square
Director(s): Yoshihiko Maekawa, Chihiro Fujioka

19. Final Fantasy XIII
System(s): PlayStation3, Xbox 360
Original Release Date: March 9th, 2010
Developer: Square Enix Product Development Division 1
Director: Motomu Toriyama

This is Lightning’s adventure pitting her against “gods” that dictate the workings of her world.  The Final Fantasy series definitely has a shiny new coat of paint with its newest entry, but the good stuff they covered with it is sadly missed.  As linear a game as you could ever want, #13 just doesn’t have what it takes to live up to the legacy laid out before it.  Still, high production values and nice graphics might just be enough to grab your intention.  Maybe XIII-2 can address some of the failings of this next generation RPG.

ff15-noctis-lucis-caelum20. Final Fantasy XV
System(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Original Release Date: November 29th, 2016
Developer: Square Enix Business Division 2
Director: Hajime Tabata

Prince Noctis and his friends set off on a road trip to get the guy married to his long-time acquaintance Luna.  His father, King Regis is murdered during a hostile takeover and his adventure rapidly turns into a fight for his life, his home and his bride-to-be.  If you like black clothes, MMO fetch quests in large and mostly empty open worlds then this game is for you!

21. Dead or Alive Xtreme 2
System: Xbox 360
Original Release Date: November 13th, 2006
Developer: Team Ninja
Director: Tomonobu Itagaki


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