BEST FANTASY RPGs
Since the rise of romanticism as an artistic movement in the 16th century with escapism and fantasy as its main dwelling areas, the cornerstone for the possibilities of imagination was both set and lifted; as a movement, romanticism both firmly cemented the idea of fantasy as main artistic theme, as well as firmly developed the idea that fantasy’s limits are only in the mind of the creator.
THE INFLUENCE OF FANTASY THROUGHOUT HISTORY
The human mind is pretty imaginative and even though fantasy has existed alongside humanity throughout history, from the epic tale of Gilgamesh to the many mythological Deity pantheons of earlier civilizations, it is only now that we can look back at these archaic yet ingenious ideas on which modern thinkers can base the blueprint of their fantasy scenario, in a way using the ideas of the past “as a track from which their airplane of thought can ascent higher into the realms of fantasy”.
THE METHODOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PRESERVING IDEAS AND FANTASIES
Even the greatest mind with the most ingenious thought is wasted if there’s no medium with which it can be conveyed to other people. At first, ideas were transmitted orally, having the thinker speak out his ideas and fantasies to his or her peers.
With the development of written language, these ideas were able to be documented and archived, allowing for the possibility for further generations, perhaps hundreds of years later to still have access to the ideas, thoughts and fantasies of the people that documented them at the given time (think about the Great Library of Alexandria, for an example).
This is perhaps the main reason as to why in today’s world we actually have access to these archaic fantasies in the first place, usually serving as blueprints for modern fantasy thinkers to dwell on and develop new ideas, with a little inspiration from years past.
PRESENCE OF FANTASY IN THE MODERN WORLD
Fantasy is everywhere; from magic shows and card tricks to hyperbolized tales sung while accompanied by a musical instrument to every possible creative outlet people can find, fantasy is perhaps more enveloping than ever.
Up until very recently, before the massive development of computer technology we have today, fantasy was usually segregated into singular mediums; fantasy books allowed people a prolonged but time demanding creative experience; magic shows and card tricks are more fast paced but their novelty wears off rather fast; songs can be experienced so many times before they become repetitive and so forth.
With the development of computer technology, the whole concept of how fantasy can both be presented and experienced changed drastically, inherently revolutionizing the concept of fantasy, much alike what the romanticism movement did in the past.
A MELTING POT OF IDEAS, WRAPPED UP
The main thing which computer technology allowed for was the digitalization and combination of many types of art and fantasy into a singular medium, of which videogames are the most prominent phenomenon that stands firm to solidify my previous statement.
Unlike books, songs, and visual art which present their creative outlet as a singular medium, videogames are able to incorporate narrative, visual appeal, musical accommodation and interactability into a singular yet extremely pleasurable experience as possibly the most modern and developed form of medium on which fantasy can best both present itself and be experienced.
As such, here are some of the Best Fantasy RPGs of all times.
1. NEVERWINTER NIGHTS;
Neverwinter Nights is an isometric top-down party-based RPG with a fantasy setting that’s located somewhere in “the middle ages” most closely described to a real timespan, but rather much more mystical, nostalgic and melancholic with its atmosphere than a generic middle ages fantasy game, a feeling that’s present even in the opening theme song and the menu logo in the game, even before you actually start a playthrough.
The game has you play as the progeny Neverwinter Castle academy graduating student, having a plethora of classes to pick from with dual or even multi-classing available for those who’d identify with such a character (after all, isn’t the main point of RPGs to put you “in the shoes” of your character, and if properly executed, your character would feel more as an extension of yourself rather than your fantastical digital avatar).
The game offers phenomenal voice acting, incredible NPC character depth, a convoluted storyline with such complexity that can make you feel more attuned to the fantasy world of Neverwinter rather than the real one, all of which accompanied with phenomenal visual aesthetics and a soundtrack that would pass as a modern classic, made by none other than Jeremy Soule (the same composer who did the OST for Baldur’s Gate, the Elder Scrolls series and much more!).
The game strongly respects its RPG elements and as such, if you’re playing a Cleric or a Paladin for an example, in the moral alignment scale you’re only allowed to choose a variant between Lawful Good or Neutral. Doing evil deeds will actively decrease your in-game power, as such are not the ways of the Protectors of the Meek and the bane of the Undead. Same goes for many other classes and your moral attunement actively influences the in-game dialog and the possible endings.
It’s a beautiful game that stands its ground firmly, thankfully for the better.
2. VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE-BLOODLINES;
If the director of the movie “Nosferatu (1922)” met the director of “Twilight (2008)”, and gave him directions on how to make the movie less childish/non PG and more cannon to the frightening nature of vampires, you’d get the main atmospheric premise which Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines offers as a videogame.
Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines has often been described as a “modern undertaking of vampire fantasy and lore”, much alike what a game would be like if “Nosferatu (1922)” was made with modern filming technology and “Twilight (2008)” wasn’t targeting an adolescent demographic and allowed the modern filming technology with the more complex and developed vampire lore to dwell a little bit deeper into the dark side of the vampire mythos.
The game is a first or 3rd person RPG (you can alliterate in-between at your leisure), in which you play as a “newly embraced childe of the Vampire community” during the 21st century of video cameras and cell phones, in which “slipups aren’t allowed”.
The whole premise of the game is that the governing entity of the secret vampire society, the Camarilla, does what secret governments do best – tries to uphold the masquerade in which vampires blend into human society and abstain from showing the full prowess of the power of their vampiric abilities in public, lest humans see through the veil and the masquerade is broken.
The videogame adaptation is based on the tabletop RP and borrows many elements, such as the existence of bloodlines. Bloodlines are basically “classes”, albeit you can build your character however you’d like, but you will face difficulties if you try to build your character for things that its bloodline does not accord with.
From the anarchistic Bruha’s who are brutally honest and care nothing of politics, to the charming Toreador who can bend mortals to their desire and use them for easy feeding or money, to the mystical Tremere who are the exclusive practitioners of thaumaturgy, a.k.a Blood Magic, the game has a whole plethora of mythos incorporated on top of the basic vampire lore for extra complexity, which is nothing least but welcomed.
Your bloodline also influences the in-game dialog and stirs towards one of the six possible endings which the game has, one being canon and only two others of the six being positive outcomes, exclusive to the Tremere and Bruha bloodlines.
While the brutally honest Bruha will have difficulties meddling in vampire politics due to their anarchistic nature, the Toreador will charm and bend even other powerful vampires to their desire with their faelike beauty and charisma.
On the contrast, the Tremere will operate in secrecy, further trying to seclude their position as the “newest and progeny bloodline” with their exclusive thaumaturgy powers, meddling with telepathic domination and supernatural powers rather than seduction or an iron fist.
The game is absolutely phenomenal and is considered a cult classic; when compared to modern RPGs, Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines is an RPG that does not ignore or minimalize any aspect of its gameplay features.
Combat, adventure and social interactions in the gameplay are on an even playing ground, neither dominating over the other.
While you will have to fight sometimes, the game can’t be won guns blazing. Whether with stealth, lockpicking, hacking or simply seducing or telepathically dominating the security guard for the keys of the objective, the game offers everything you’d expect from an RPG that triumphs in mending both realism and fantasy on an even playing ground.
3. THE MASS EFFECT TRILOGY;
It would be folly to make a list of best RPGs of all times without the inclusion of the Mass Effect Trilogy as a whole, as the level of interactivity and repercussions for your in-game actions which the trilogy offers as a whole is nothing less than an apotheosis of consistency in video gaming narrative.
Mass Effect is a third person RPG shooter, a (science fiction) fantasy universe set a few hundred years into the future in which humanity discovers FTL (Faster Than Light) travel with the use of the newly found mass effect technology, inherently being acknowledged by the Council of the Citadel of all the other space ferrying species, surprisingly all operating on mass effect technology.
You play as Commander Shepard* (a totally customizable character, from sex to appearance, to combat armor and firepower armaments to even your team of operation), who becomes the first human representative of the Council, achieving the rank of Spectre, first amongst the human race.
*Regardless if you play a male or a female character, even though the first name is customizable, the last name is Shepard; The name Shepard is not given without merit, as throughout the game you prove yourself to be a “true Shepherd in the fight against total annihilation of the Universe”.
(This type of respect for symbolism is something that’s often overlooked in many RPGs and I can do nothing but give credit where credit is due with this design decision of the Mass Effect Trilogy developers, as they’ve proven themselves shepherds with the mindset at hand when they started to design the trilogy).
The graphics are phenomenal, the music is enticing and the combat system is flexible, but the character narration is where the game sets itself apart from many modern RPGs by a margin of light years.
All of the characters have extremely complex personalities and your interaction with them both individually and during their quarrels and disagreements will determine the stance of your crew towards you as their leader.
The decisions you make in every game from the trilogy carries on to the next installment, meaning that if you got a character killed or unjustifyingly incarcerated, you’ll either not have him or her available in the next installment and his or her fraction will behave differently towards you depending on your actions in the previous installment of the trilogy.
Taking into consideration the number of characters available and the decisions required to progress the game, usually either making or breaking a character and on top of that having all of these permutations translating into the next games is simply astounding.
Mass Effect is a game in which you fall in love with your crew and establish deep emotional bonds with, having options to help crew members resolve issues from their past and even options for intimate romance.
Your crew feels more like brothers, if not children under your command rather than grunts or mercenaries with guns and every shot they take hurts you more than it does them.
From an immersion perspective, the Mass Effect Trilogy stands firmly on top, yet to be contested for its place in the Hall of Fame.
4. WORLD OF WARCRAFT;
As an honorable mention, I’d like to give the last place of the most massive MMORPG (massive multiplayer online roleplaying game) that revolutionized how MMORPGs should function and work, and even though it was released in 2004 and has had seven expansions so far, it still stands uncontested as the best MMORPG ever created, standing so strong even stirring up debates on the ability of other MMORPGs to step up and even contest this massive giant that had over 12 million subscribers at its peak.
As the former StarCraft: Brood War professional gamer and StarCraft II professional commentator Sean Plott (known as Day9) said:
“World of Warcraft is a testament to what people can accomplish when working together with dedication in a cohesive manner”.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of the best Fantasy RPG’s of all time!