Final Fantasy has fallen off the RPG totem pole. It's been a tragic sight to see, but it's afforded other franchises the opportunity to define themselves as prolific in the modern gaming landscape. This begs the question: what are the top modern RPG franchises of today?
First off, our criteria for a modern RPG franchise is that it must have a recent new release (modern) and have multiple releases and/or more to come in the future (franchise). Yes, this disqualifies The Legend of Dragoon and Chrono. That's their fault not ours.
We've compiled a list of 10 series that have done the RPG genre justice, and should continue to do so heading into the future. You can find out what they are in the gallery below:
10. Rune Factory
Whoever thought merging the agrarian world of Harvest Moon with traditional JRPG mechanics was a genius. Rune Factory has been delivering a unique blend to JRPG fans since 2006. It doesn't feel like anything else on the market while still retaining the qualities that JRPGs fan look for from a game. Also, it dares to go where many AAA JRPGs don't with open-world gameplay that invites you to explore.
Latest Release: Rune Factory 4 (Metacritic: 79/100)
Next Release: Rune Factory 5 is expected at "some point in time" by producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto.
Many say the reason JRPGs have become uncommon is that they require too much development time. Well, the Tales series manages to pump out releases like it's nobody's business while maintining a high level of quality. Now that's admirable.
The Tales games have managed to deliver interesting combat mechanics and character that are worth listening to. In other words, it's accomplishing on a yearly basis what Final Fantasy hasn't done in years.
Tales of Xillia was the last title in the franchise to be localized for the West, and it performed very well considering there was a two-year gap between its Japanese and Western release.
Latest Release: Tales of Xillia 2 (Famitsu awarded it 35/40)
Next Release: Tales of Zestiria will mark the series' first worldwide release.
8. Monster Hunter
Monster Hunter might be an action RPG, but don't let that fool you. Its gear grind is one of the most addictive in modern video games. It doesn't have much in the way of a story to tell, but by the time you're done sinking hundreds of hours into the latest title you'll surely have a story of your own.
What makes it such a stand-out franchise is its emphasis on multiplayer. Its a series that urges you to not only play, but cooperate with others. Few console RPGs can say that.
Latest Release: Monster Hunter 4 (Famitsu awarded it 38/40)
Next Release: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will release in Japan this year and in other territories in early 2015.
Bravely is the one exception on this list where only one title has been released. But really, it deserves the spot. In a lot of ways Bravely Default is a properly executed and more importantly new Final Fantasy game minus the fractured title. It's almost everything fans of the series have wanted for years.
So why is it so good? It's a Square Enix RPG with an open-world, well-engineered class system, enthralling combat system, and everything else Square was known for in the 90s.
If Bravely Default didn't stumble during its final few hours, I'm certain it would be considered one of the crowning JRPG acheivements of the decade. Unfortunately, it'll have to settle with being just a really, really good JRPG made by Square Enix.
Latest Release: Bravely Default (Metacritic: 85/100)
Next Release: Bravely Second is currently in development.
If you played Xenogears in the 90s, you're well aware of how good the Xeno series can be when it's on its A-game. Now, it hasn't managed to top that level of unadulterated awesomeness since, but it's tried its darnest.
Xenoblade Chronicles was in my opinion the best RPG of the last generation. Unfortunate to many, it was on the Wii. Not many gamers got to play it. Those who did are wondering why others are saying the JRPG genre is dead.
Xeno's future is questionable. The next iteration of the franchise, X, looks mighty fine. However, it's being developed for the Wii U. Its packaging might as well be a golden sarcophagus.
Latest Release: Xenoblade Chronicles (Metacritic: 92/100)
Next Release: X will release on the Wii U this year.
5. Fire Emblem
Did you know one of 2013's highest-rated games was a Strategy RPG? Fire Emblem: Awakening set the tempo for 2013 with its blazing pyrotechnics when it achieved a 92 Metacritic average in February.
Fire Emblem has been treating gamers well for many years, but Awakening was undoubtedly the most well-polished release in the series' history. It not only gave hope to those wanting an engrossing modern RPG, but also showed that Strategy RPGs can be outstanding without copying Tactics Ogre's mechanics.
Maybe Final Fantasy Tactics 2 will actually happen.
Latest Release: Fire Emblem Awakening (Metacritic: 92/100)
Next Release: No new release has been announced, but is certain given Awakening's success.
4. The Witcher
Unlike the previous franchises mentioned in this list, The Witcher is something you can recommend to your friend who isn't an RPG buff. Visually speaking, the past two releases have been very pleasant to the eyes. They also used the dialog system games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age have employed to give you input on the game's narrative.
In other words, The Witcher is the perfect example of a modern RPG done right. You feel compelled to play it, it doesn't retread territory you've visited in years past, and it has the looks of a progressive AAA game.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of our most anticipated releases of 2014. If you aren't looking forward to it right now, you'll see why we are once it hits store shelves.
Latest Release: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Metacritic: 88/100)
Next Release: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will release later in 2014.
It isn't often that a single game, let alone a port, is able to substantiate an entire device's software library by itself. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 did just that for the PS Vita during 2012. I'm curious how many PS Vita owners own only Persona 4 Golden, and still feel satisfied with their purchase.
Persona 4 Golden wasn't just a fluke, though. The series has been showing other JRPG developers how it should be done for a long, long time. Its thoughtful combat system and unparalelled single-player social mechanics are unlike anything else the world of video games has ever seen.
Best of all, Persona 3 and Persona 4 are widely considered the best of the franchise. That means it's only getting better.
Latest Release: Persona 4 Golden (Metacritic: 93/100)
Next Release: Persona 5 will debut on the PS3 later this year... but only in Japan.
One commonality between just about everything in the world that's remarkably successful is that they took risks. You don't get to the top by copy pasting what someone else did. Souls has risk tattood to the back of its hand.
The Souls franchise tests the mettle of those who play it by being as unforgiving as possible. Many quit, but those who stay are treated by exceptional design that the world of gaming rarely sees. You feel the thrill of achievement when you complete a dungeon just like many other games, but you also feel a sense of accomplishment when you arrive at a new checkpoint or kill a common minion. Few games can say that.
Demon's Souls and Dark Souls aren't popular just because they're challenging. They're very smart games that are fine-tuned to give you a hurdle to jump over before watching you trip over it a few times. In the end, it's always worth the shin burns. The pride you have saying you completed the journey is priceless.
Dark Souls 2 is going to be a really, really good game. We have full confidence that it will reinforce why the series is at our number 2 spot on this list.
Latest Release: Dark Souls (Metacritic: 89/100)
Next Release: Dark Souls 2 will debut on March 11th.
1. The Elder Scrolls
You can't get much better than The Elder Scrolls. The feeling of being lost in an familiar yet unfamiliar world is at its height whenever a new TES game releases. The series has claimed work and school days from many who feel they simply must continue completing quests for virtual characters. You can't blame them, those characters have real voices and are interactive at a level that other games have been trying to emulate since.
The Elder Scrolls isn't just an outstanding video game franchise. It's a cultural phenomenon. When Skyrim came out it became a news story for just about every media outlet. In a way it's gaming's Justin Bieber. Except, well, it's actually cool.
If you still don't understand why it's #1 on our list, we'll let the numbers do the talking:
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sales - 20 million (as of January 2014)
No other game on this list has managed to do even a quarter of that with one release.
Latest Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Metacritic: 94/100)
Next Release: The Elder Scrolls VI exists. We know it. (P.S. The Elder Scrolls Online doesn't count).