Few genres have as rich and varied a history as the noble RPG. We love a good, long, talky adventure, preferably with a nice leveling system with a little bit of crafting, alchemy and, if we're especially lucky, a lovely cloth map. But not every RPG is born equal, and games deserving of recognition and success sometimes sink into obscurity. Perhaps they came out at the same time as a blockbuster competitor, perhaps they had flaws that put players off, or just looked ugly.
To compliment our list of the best RPGs ever (which some of these games are included in), we've collected a ragtag ensemble of our favorite tales that didn't get enough love. Some are old, some are new, but all are worth installing and enjoying today. If you have any recommendations you'd like to add, share away in the comments.
Released: 2010 | Developer: Obsidian | Steam
For all its clunkiness, Alpha Protocol is the closest we might ever come to Mission Impossible: The RPG. It's Obsidian's take on the typical BioWare adventure, only with elves replaced with Russian mafia, set in a murky world of espionage, double-crossing, and quintuple-crossing. Although you can't choose your character (you can give him a magnificent beard), you will diverge the story in many fascinating, well-written and surprising ways.
King's Bounty: The Legend
The Heroes of Might & Magic series was in a rut by the time The Legend came along. Out of nowhere, this belated King's Bounty sequel grabbed the tactical RPG genre by the scruff of the neck and took it somewhere fresh, bizarre and exciting. While it looks like a typical HoM&M-type game on the surface, The Legend's charming world features some of the craziest, most memorable quests you'll ever embark upon.
The series lost its way a little after this first installment, doubling down on its previously fairly subtle pirate element, but the first Risen is still a compelling exploration RPG. It's Gothic without all the orcs, essentially, boasting an open tropical island where a humiliating bird-based death is usually only around the corner. Choose a faction, and pick your way through a hostile jungle teeming with enemies and secrets.
Arkane's spiritual sequel to Ultima Underworld dialled down on the heroism and optimism, infusing the first-person dungeon crawl with a healthy dose of gloomy atmosphere and, appropriately, the arcane. It's an immersive RPG set in a shrivelled, sunless world, where civilization has retreated under the surface. Ultima has it beat on scale, but this is a worthy, if divergent follow-up. How about a sequel, Arkane?
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
How about that for a title? Arcanum was the debut game of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines creator Troika. The team was comprised of ex-Fallout devs, and so, unsurprisingly, Arcanum is a sort of Steampunk Fallout. It's about the struggle between magic and technology—a fantasy world in the midst of an industrial revolution. Much like Bloodlines, enjoyment of Arcanum is made easier with the help of mods and fan-made patches.
A permadeath survival RPG with brutal turn-based combat. If you're not killed in a fight, you'll be killed by your wounds. And if they don't get you, a lack of clothing, shoes or food is sure to be a problem. Death isn't something to be feared, though. Each playthrough randomises parts of the map, so you're never sure what you'll find or where you'll find it. Add to that a large list of skills and you're guaranteed new rewards and dangers with each new inevitably doomed life.
Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs
Inheriting a kingdom sounds great, but Ascalia comes with a mountain of debt so high there's snow on top. To provide homes for its cute anime characters you go adventuring, because there's always money in wolf-murder. Dungeons in Regalia are whimsical choose-your-own-adventures where you meet zombies who don't know they're dead and people who are in love with elementals, broken up by grueling turn-based combat. While fights can be fussy and repetitive, you can knock down the difficulty or just hit the auto-win button when you get bored—and when you're in a boss fight or one where positioning matters because you're fighting in a field of fire or defending walls from samurai dwarves, you can knock the difficulty back up and get to work.
A kingdom's more than just money, though. To prove you deserve that inherited title you spend time with citizens and your new companions, ticking off the days on a calendar (that also contains looming debt-repayments) getting to know people in a warm and fuzzy friendship simulator. Regalia's a cosy RPG, the kind that has a fishing minigame and where the vampire's dark secret is that he'd really rather be a hairdresser.
This indie RPG is like playing the SNES classic Earthbound while having a bad mushroom trip. It retains the former's cooky charms but poisons all the kid-friendly stuff. In a bleak post-apocalyptic future where women don't exist, perverts have taken over. It's a bad place to be the surrogate father of a young girl, but our hero, Brad, has no choice. LISA is sometimes hilarious, sometimes gut-wrenchingly bleak, and always bizarre as hell. Its combat is too basic, and Brad's journey can sometimes feel too cruel—what with being able to permanently lose your limbs and party members—but LISA is an incredible homage with a morbid twist.
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale
Released: 2010 | Developer: EasyGameStation | Steam
If you've ever wondered what life is like for the NPCs of a town, Recettear is for you. In it, you play as the owner of an item shop. You manage every aspect of the store, including haggling with heroes over the price of goods. It's not just management, though. Recettear lets you go off adventuring in search of rare stock—exploring randomised dungeons to liberate items from their previous owners.
One of the quirkiest RPGs ever. Anachronox is a screwball sci-fi romp that spans six planets and stars some of the strangest party members in the genre. It wasn't considered pretty at launch, and time has been unkind to the chunky heroes, but that can't dull the wit and imagination of the universe all these years later. The turn-based JRPG-esque combat system isn't terrible either thanks to the wide array of odd alien gadgets that make up your armoury. Even if that's not to your taste, it's worth powering through to watch Boots and Stiletto fall from one madcap scenario to the next.
Released: 2017 (2016 originally) | Developer: Koei Tecmo| Steam
Toukiden: Kiwami was a fine action game heavily inspired by Capcom's Monster Hunter series. Fun game, shame about the PC port. Happily, with Toukiden 2, developer Koei Tecmo delivered a fun, demon-dismembering action game and playable frame rates. The sequel retains the mythology-inspired monsters that distinguish Toukiden from games like Dauntless and Monster Hunter, and piles on a ton of new features and weapons that fill the gaps in the original. It's basically Oni Hunter, and it's stupid fun.
Cosmic Star Heroine
By far the most ambitious RPG by Cthulhu Saves the World developer Zeboyd Games, Cosmic Star Heroine aims to mix Chrono Trigger's on-map battles and Phantasy Star's sci-fi vibe in a new indie concoction. It didn't get the attention it deserved when it released, but as usual Zeboyd cooked up a clever battle system that takes something from classic RPGs (like Chrono Trigger's team-up attacks) and channels it into something fast-paced and new. A JRPG that's not just nostalgic for the 16-bit days, but actively attempts to improve upon its inspirations.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Developer Nihon Falcom's Legend of Heroes games are slow burns, gradually adding depth and richness to fairly cliche JRPG setups over dozens of hours. Trails of Cold Steel tells a parallel story to the older Trails in the Sky, and its more recent arrival on PC makes it an easy starting point. You play as a student in the military academy of the Erebonian Empire, and the story balances student life with the political flux of a nation ready for war. Structurally, Cold Steel borrows from the console RPG series Persona's take on daily student life. This is definitely one to play if talking to every NPC and piecing together their small stories is your favorite part of a Japanese RPG.
Avernum: Escape From the Pit
Spiderweb Software's Avernum: Escape From the Pit is as old-school as it gets: Hand-drawn, text-heavy, vast, and dangerous. It also provides a remarkably open-ended experience that you don't often see in big-budget RPGs. Following your banishment to the underworld, you can opt to stay there and help forge a new society, make a break for freedom on the surface, or even try to get some payback from the cruel Emperor who threw you into the pit in the first place. It's a very niche and demanding sort of experience, but if you're willing to put in the effort, Escape From the Pit (and the five Avernum sequels that have so far followed) will pay off in spades.