5) Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
SNES, Taito (Japan) / Natsume (US), 1995
With Lufia II, Taito wisely took the epic story from the prologue of the first game – Maxim and company (temporarily) defeat the Sinistrals – and stretched it into 80 magnificent hours. Like the first game, there’s a romance at the heart of this one; the lead couple, Maxim and Selan, go through a journey that will stay with the player for a long time to come. In addition to the excellent story, this title featured some of the best RPG gameplay of its era. Of special note is the randomly generated Ancient Cave, practically an entire early roguelike/RPG hybrid game on its own. When I shared my analysis of the first Lufia, I found some like-minded people who enjoyed the first game as much as me, but it quickly became clear that it was this prequel that was among the most cherished titles of the era.
4) Lunar: Eternal Blue
Sega CD, Game Arts (Japan) / Working Designs (US), 1994
Comedic games are rare; good ones, even more so. Lunar and Lunar 2, both originally released for the Sega CD and then thankfully ported to the PlayStation, are among the best examples of games that will make you laugh, regardless of genre. Lunar 2 goes even further than that, building a serious RPG world with incredibly funny dialogue and characters. The story is relatively straightforward – the hero’s name is “Hiro”, for crying out loud – but don’t let that make you think they didn’t set out to build something of value. Despite the hilarious tone that pervades the game, it still follows a meaningful story and a genuine romance. The exploration and charm in this universe elevate it from a cute niche title to an all-time great.
3) Diablo II
PC, Blizzard Entertainment, 2000
Blizzard has a long history of making the best games in their respective genres. Warcraft II and Starcraft were each the top RTS game for a time (or longer, depending on who you ask). World of Warcraft is still the best MMO out there, somehow. And Overwatch has even managed to rejuvenate a stagnant FPS landscape and pull in a tremendous fan base. So it’s no surprise that when they took the single element of exploration and made an entire action/RPG out of it in Diablo, the results would be spectacular. And then they pulled the car around and dropped off a sequel that seemingly improved upon perfection. Diablo II increased the depth of gameplay and worked in some of the best multiplayer gameplay that PC gaming has ever known. Diablo III was fun (when it worked), but gamers are largely united in identifying this title as the high point of the series – and of all Blizzard games, period.
2) Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn
PC, Black Isle Studios, 2000
What do you get if you write a great novel, but then make it interactive, add D&D mechanics to it, and bring it to life with a spectacular voice cast (perhaps headlined by Jim Cummings as the legendary Minsc)? Baldur’s Gate II is the closest the industry has come to answering that question. Even though it came out nearly two decades ago, few games have been able to match the ambition of this title, much less the execution. This is a world that absolutely sucks you in, to the point where you’ll be screaming at your computer when one of your party members dies – or worse, turns on you. It’s absolutely worth the effort of adjusting to the dated interface: If you’ve ever enjoyed a game because it had a great story, you owe it to yourself to play this one.
SNES, Nintendo, 1994
Anyone who read my overwhelmingly positive analysis of EarthBound might have suspected it would nab the top spot here. This one game contains almost every element that makes the rest of the list great: Humor, drama, great visuals, fun gameplay, nostalgic value, rewarding exploration, memorable moments, and surprisingly compelling darkness. This is a game for people who love RPGs, plain and simple, and the fact that it’s presented like a kids game makes it that much better.
What, your favorite RPG isn’t here? Then chances are it’s on the Top 10 Golden Age RPGs (SquareSoft edition)!