Skip to main content
Updated date:

10 Best Modern RPGs

Matt is a lifelong gamer who has invested hundreds of hours playing various role-playing video games.

Everybody’s list of their top 10 RPGs is going to look very different based on their preferences.

Everybody’s list of their top 10 RPGs is going to look very different based on their preferences.

Role-playing games have consistently been my preferred genre in video games since the late 1990s when I was introduced to Final Fantasy. Playing the role of the hero, getting stronger over time, and gradually experiencing the epic stories in RPGs have created some of my most pleasant and lasting memories. Much like a good book, an exceptional role-playing game will stick with a player long after they quit.

A Brief History of Role-Playing Games

RPGs can trace their lineage back to tabletop wargames that have existed since ancient times. Dungeons & Dragons was the first commercially available tabletop role-playing game, but it was initially marketed in 1974 as a type of wargame. The 1981 release of Ultima was one of the earliest RPGs to be released on PC to wide acclaim, and it is often cited as the origins of the RPG genre in video gaming.

In the mid-1980s, Japanese publishers Enix and Squaresoft released Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy respectively. Both titles drew heavily from the gameplay established in Dungeons & Dragons, retaining its fantasy setting and monster concepts. RPGs on consoles grew increasingly popular in the West throughout the 1990s, particularly with the 1997 release of Final Fantasy VII.

Meanwhile, action RPGs dominated the PC market with Blizzard’s Diablo II and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series. Early massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs) like Ultima Online and Everquest took full advantage of the burgeoning internet to bring players together in an immersive cooperative experience.

Today, the role-playing game genre contains some of the best selling video games of all time. There are few more immersive experiences in video gaming than investing over a hundred hours into an epic RPG. However, there are many different kinds of RPGs, and not every player will have the same preferences.

Top 10 Modern RPGs

Of the many role-playing games I have played, these are the top 10 games that I will remember the most fondly. Whether it be for a great story, clever combat system, or eye-catching art, each of the games listed had excelled in some way that made them unforgettable.

Everybody’s list of their top 10 RPGs is going to look very different based on their preferences. I only considered games that were released after 2005 for this list, with one slight exception. Additionally, I took care to include entries from a variety of the subgenres of role-playing games.

The first "Banner Saga" game set up the largest and widest affecting choice players had to make throughout the trilogy

The first "Banner Saga" game set up the largest and widest affecting choice players had to make throughout the trilogy

10. The Banner Saga

  • Published by: Versus Evil
  • Release Date: January 14, 2014
  • Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Android/IOS

With its striking visual style and hand-drawn animation, The Banner Saga trilogy was one of the most unique collections of RPGs I have ever played. Its game systems were not as intuitive as more popular tactical RPGs; however, innovation is rare in this subgenre, and Banner Saga shook up the formula in a bold way that I greatly appreciated.

Banner Saga played similarly to other tactical RPGs, with its cast taking turns fighting each other on a battlefield across a grid. Characters’ health points also represented their combat ability, so their attacks could only stay effective if they remained healthy. Allies who fell in battle were injured and suffered setbacks in future fights if they did not get rest. Banner Saga’s core combat was focused on wearing down opponents while staying as safe as possible. The goal is to outlast the enemy rather than outright defeat them.

All of the games are great, but the first Banner Saga set up the largest and widest affecting choice players had to make throughout the trilogy. Similarly to the Mass Effect trilogy of games, The Banner Saga had players make choices that determined aspects of the main character’s personality and their relationships. The choice-affected story told across the whole of the trilogy unfolded flawlessly through its huge cast and well-crafted dialogue, offering players a wealth of unique experiences across almost 30 hours of content.

Gameplay and combat were streamlined in "Skyrim" so that new players could learn its systems easily without prior experience with the genre.

Gameplay and combat were streamlined in "Skyrim" so that new players could learn its systems easily without prior experience with the genre.

9. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

  • Published by: Bethesda Softworks
  • Release Date: November 11, 2011
  • Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

The latest entry in the long-running Elder Scrolls games series, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a sales juggernaut even a decade after its release. Its best feature was the near-absolute freedom given to the player, who could ignore the main quest entirely and still put over countless hours into the game. I invested over a hundred hours into saving Skyrim’s world and building a life for my Argonian mage, Wizard Lizard.

Skyrim’s gameplay and combat are streamlined so that new players could learn its systems easily without prior experience with the genre. Its world was expansive and full of content, yielding hours of side quests and other curiosities. It was so easy to lose myself for hours in Skyrim’s world. I expect it will be a popular game on every major platform for many years to come.

"World of Warcraft" is one of the most successful PC games ever released.

"World of Warcraft" is one of the most successful PC games ever released.

8. World of Warcraft

  • Published by: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: November 23, 2004
  • Available on: PC

Read More From Levelskip

World of Warcraft was one of the first blockbuster game releases in the MMORPG genre, and it has continued to deliver quality updates to its players for over 15 years. Boasting well over one hundred million user accounts and countless hours of content, WoW ranks as one of the most successful PC games ever released.

Creating their own unique avatar, players could team up with each other from across the world in a fully realized fantasy world adapted from the Warcraft series of real-time strategy games. Upon reaching the maximum level, players could brave challenging raid dungeons as part of a guild. While many other online games use the same formula, World of Warcraft was the game that established the rules of what makes a successful MMORPG.

The world of "Undertale" felt fleshed out in a way unlike most other RPGs.

The world of "Undertale" felt fleshed out in a way unlike most other RPGs.

7. Undertale

  • Published by: Toby Fox
  • Release Date: September 15, 2015
  • Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

Undertale was released to very wide acclaim for such a small and personal project; the game was largely made by just one person. Its gameplay was inspired by RPGs like Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, Earthbound, and the Shin Megami Tensei series. Most importantly, it was possible and encouraged to play through the entire story of Undertale without killing any enemies.

A single playthrough of Undertale may only last a few hours, but the game holds many secrets that can take over 20 hours to discover. Undertale’s world felt fleshed out in a way unlike most other RPGs. Its characters were written with subtle wit and with more lines of unique, choice-affected text than players will ever find in a single playthrough.

I loved playing Undertale, and I’m sure my first playthrough will remain as one of the more profound experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. More than anything else in the game, I loved its incredible original soundtrack that was entirely composed by the developer himself. Songs like “Snowdin’ Town” and the game’s main theme will likely stay stuck in my head for years to come.

The unique design of "Dark Souls" inspired its own “Soulslike” subgenre of games.

The unique design of "Dark Souls" inspired its own “Soulslike” subgenre of games.

6. Dark Souls

  • Published by: FromSoftware
  • Release Date: September 22, 2011
  • Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

Dark Souls’ original 2011 release revolutionized action RPGs, and its unique design inspired its own “Soulslike” subgenre of games. Its expansive and interconnected nature of its level design, iconic character death mechanics, and even its color palette have become intertwined in the identity the Souls franchise created.

Dark Souls was an unforgiving action RPG where death was all too common, but its combat was fair and precise. Players dropped their money and earned experience points upon death where they fell, and they could retrieve their lost bounty as long as they did not die again on their way. Thanks to its rewarding gameplay and tight mechanics, Dark Souls was one of the most popular and prolific RPGs of the 2010s alongside Skyrim.

If you’re looking to play your first "Dragon Quest" game, you would be wise to choose this entry.

If you’re looking to play your first "Dragon Quest" game, you would be wise to choose this entry.

5. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

  • Published by: Square Enix
  • Release Date: July 19, 2019
  • Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC

Dragon Quest XI featured a single-player gameplay style that had not been seen in over a decade since the series eighth installment. While other long-running series have evolved with time, Dragon Quest has managed to persist as one of the most popular RPG franchises while changing very little since its debut in 1986. Nonetheless, Dragon Quest XI is among the most polished and complete RPG experiences I have ever had the opportunity to enjoy.

The combat in Dragon Quest XI did not innovate much at all on the classic turn-based battle style the series helped to pioneer. However, two major improvements included options for AI-controlled companions and a generous fast-forward function. Thanks to such functionality, even the most repetitive grinding battles felt brisk and exciting. Outside of battle, monsters were displayed moving around on the field in lieu of random encounters like in most of the older games.

Dragon Quest XI was the first in the series to feature voice acting, but it was my least favorite part of the experience. Thankfully, the game included the option to remove all voice acting. This omission did not detract from my experience at all, since Akira Toriyama’s expressive character designs were rendered and animated perfectly for a high-definition gaming experience. If you’re looking to play your first Dragon Quest game, you would be wise to choose this entry.

"Final Fantasy VII Remake" was a nearly flawless game that improved on the original immensely and exceeded many fans’ expectations.

"Final Fantasy VII Remake" was a nearly flawless game that improved on the original immensely and exceeded many fans’ expectations.

4. Final Fantasy VII Remake

  • Published by: Square Enix
  • Release Date: April 10, 2020
  • Available on: PlayStation 4

The original Final Fantasy VII’s visuals left a lot to be desired following modern advancements in gaming technology. Fans had been clamoring for a remake for decades, which Square Enix arguably over-delivered in almost every way. When I finally got to play Final Fantasy VII Remake on the morning of its release in April 2020, I admittedly teared up when the title flashed across the screen during its opening cutscene.

Final Fantasy VII Remake was a nearly flawless game that improved on the original immensely and exceeded many fans’ expectations. Its battle system was the best seen from Square Enix in any Final Fantasy title since the franchise abandoned turn-based combat. Its narrative also extended beyond being a simple retelling by building upon its story with new plot threads and characters.

The main story could be completed in about 35 hours in a first playthrough, which was close to the original game’s length in full. Adapting less than a quarter of the content of the original game, Final Fantasy VII Remake showcased a level of depth to the classic game’s initial setting of Midgar that would have been unimaginable in 1997. Although it is by far the most recent release on this list, I can confidently say that Final Fantasy VII Remake is one of my favorite RPGs of all time.

"Fire Emblem: Three Houses" required multiple playthroughs on different routes to experience every aspect of its huge narrative.

"Fire Emblem: Three Houses" required multiple playthroughs on different routes to experience every aspect of its huge narrative.

3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

  • Published by: Nintendo
  • Release Date: July 26, 2019
  • Available on: Nintendo Switch

The sheer amount of content in Fire Emblem: Three Houses makes it a must-have for any Switch owner who likes tactical RPGs. Taking on the role of a new teacher at a military academy, players were able to choose from a wide variety of fighters to build their party. There were many options in how each party member was developed as they gained experience, and certain characters could build relationships that made them stronger when they fought together on the battlefield. Three Houses' world is fantastic and complicated, requiring multiple playthroughs on different routes to experience every aspect of its huge narrative.

The branching story and various accessibility options in Fire Emblem: Three Houses were among my favorite aspects of the game. Players were faced with three major decision points at the game’s beginning, middle, and end; each decision piling on with smaller choices toward one of several endings and various epilogues. In my playthrough, I chose to lead the Black Eagles house and ended up siding with the church at the game’s midpoint. The route I chose offered the fewest answers compared to the others, but subsequent playthroughs can be streamlined in several ways to make the story’s repetitive first half more palatable. The game featured a useful fast-forward function for dialogue and battles, and most character building elements could be automated to save hours of time previously spent micromanaging statistics.

Nearly every Fire Emblem game shares the best qualities of Three Houses, but previous entries in the series are rarely ported to modern consoles and are increasingly hard to find. Fire Emblem: Awakening is one such entry that meets or even exceeds the value of Three Houses, but the game is only playable through emulation or on the defunct Nintendo DS family of handhelds. Fans of the series all have their favorite entry, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses is by far the most widely available and accessible to new players.

"Mass Effect 2" featured up to a dozen possible squadmates to accompany players across the galaxy.

"Mass Effect 2" featured up to a dozen possible squadmates to accompany players across the galaxy.

2. Mass Effect 2

  • Published by: Electronic Arts
  • Release Date: January 26, 2010
  • Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Playing Mass Effect 2 made me feel like I was tuning in to an episode of an old science fiction serial. This game managed to bridge the introduction and conclusion of the main Mass Effect trilogy while also standing on its own with its contained narrative. Its open-ended structure also allowed for immersive side stories that never felt like they were interrupting the urgency of the plot. The combat in Mass Effect 2 felt more responsive and polished than its predecessor, leaning more into being a shooter while retaining its tactical command system.

Players commanded up to three characters on the field in this action RPG shooter hybrid. Mass Effect 2 featured up to a dozen possible squadmates to accompany players across the galaxy. The fates of these party members were determined in the game’s final mission, a suicide charge into the alien enemy’s stronghold. Only players who took their time to bond with their squadmates were able to complete the game with all of its main characters alive.

Mass Effect 2 stood out to me as the best in the series, but the first three Mass Effect games are all worth playing to experience their complete story. The first game introduced several major characters who play important roles in its sequel, and Mass Effect 3 delivers a bombastic conclusion to the trilogy. However, neither game had all of the elements that come together to make Mass Effect 2 one of my favorite RPGs.

Players befriended a cast of colorful characters and solved a paranormal murder mystery in "Persona 4."

Players befriended a cast of colorful characters and solved a paranormal murder mystery in "Persona 4."

1. Persona 4

  • Published by: Sega
  • Release Date: July 10, 2008
  • Available on: PC, PlayStation Vita

Like many games on this list, you do not have to play any of the other Persona games to understand the plot of Persona 4. Taking the role of a transfer student in a quiet Japanese village, players befriended a cast of colorful characters and solved a paranormal murder mystery. Using a simple turn-based battle system, fighters could call on their Personas to perform special abilities. The main character alone could hold multiple different Personas and even switch between them during battle.

The player character in Persona 4 can take on a number of roles in the party since players can customize their moveset based on what Persona is active at any given time. I personally preferred setting my character as the team’s healer and support mage, delivering buffs to my teammates to multiply the power of their attacks on the enemy. I would also switch to a Persona with powerful strength attacks, which could be further buffed by my allies to deliver massive damage to a boss.

Persona 4’s wealth of options is why I consider it a perfect RPG. Everything from the main character’s attack power to their social skills, from their collection of Personas to their friendships at school, are all connected and entirely up to the player to improve by effectively managing their time. The way I experienced Persona 4, and every Pesona game after that, was by playing it for a dozen hours every few months over the course of two or three years. This is the only RPG series I interact with in this way, and I think it's a testament to the strength of Persona 4’s flawless narrative and gameplay.

The player character in "Persona 4" can take on a number of roles in the party.

The player character in "Persona 4" can take on a number of roles in the party.

Which Console Has the Best RPGs?

There are hundreds of role-playing video games released every year across all of the major platforms, but the vast majority of games can be played on PlayStation 4 and on PC. Since Microsoft has purchased Bethesda Softworks, the publishers of the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises, their future titles will likely be available on both PC and Xbox Series X. The Nintendo Switch’s limited hardware prevents many games from being ported to the console, outside of indie titles like The Banner Saga and Undertale.

Who Are the Best RPG Developers?

As the culmination of 90s RPG juggernauts Squaresoft and Enix, Square Enix is undoubtedly the king of role-playing video games with the Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy franchises. However, Nintendo’s ongoing success with the Pokemon franchise cannot be ignored. Each of its main entries are among the highest-selling RPGs of all time.

What's Your Favorite RPG?

Do you prefer taking your time to execute complex strategies to defeat powerful enemies or the thrill of fast-paced combat? Would you rather explore off the beaten path and create a story for yourself or team up with other players online to take down insurmountable foes? There’s something for everyone in the broad role-playing game genre, so tell me about your favorite RPG of all time in the comments below!

Related Articles