In the early days of gaming, identifying role-playing games was easy. The focus on story, exploration, and character progression was distinct from the platformers and action titles that dominated the industry. These qualities earned RPGs a reputation as the longest, most immersive, and most complex experiences available.
Over the years, the borders defining RPGs eroded. The genre’s core concepts incubated and evolved, while other types of games borrowed and applied the mechanics that made RPGs successful. That includes levelling up, upgrading abilities, equipping gear, forming relationships, fighting through dungeons, and more. Today, you can hardly find any release – from strategy games to side-scrollers – without a trace of the RPG genetic code.
This list is a celebration of the genre’s incredible impact; these are the best 100 games that exist at the intersection of narrative, combat, exploration, and progression. Each title strikes a unique balance among those elements, occasionally even pushing the boundaries of what we would traditionally call an RPG. Some of the entries have historical influence, some embody an entire era, and some are just really fun – but all of them have played major roles in shaping the identity of this entertaining and ever-expanding genre.
This feature originally appeared in issue 290 of Game Informer magazine.
Next: See which RPGs fought their way into the first 20 spots on our list.