Let's face it--the 90s (and, heck, even the 80s) was a good time to be an RPG fan. In the early days of gaming, RPGs stood alone with Adventures as basically the only games worth playing for story. They were constantly innovating not only their genre, but also gaming as a whole; games like Dragon Warrior, Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross, Super Mario RPG, Pokemon, Crystalis, the Lunar games, and pretty much any Final Fantasy title, catapaulted their way into RPG gamer's hearts and have remained revered for a long while after. In the post-Y2K world, however, RPGs have become, to some, another "dime-a-dozen" subset; with the genre's popularity, inevitable waves of copycats and shovel-worthy sludge has polluted the market, disillusioning some veterans and making them look with fondness towards the good old days of relative RPG obscurity. But all is not lost! Amidst the sea of crappy modern RPGs, quite a few gems have risen above the waves, and some titles in particular shine brightly. This list is dedicated to those that, in my opinion, show the best that the genre has to offer in the 2000s. Also, remakes and/or ports of games that originated in the previous decades are disqualified, for obvious reasons.

Coming in at the opening is one of the few titles to come out for the Gamecube that could classify as an 'RPG'--Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean. Long name, longer game. Seriously, this is one of the longest titles on this list; and considering what genre I'm speaking about, that's saying something. This two-disc epic follows a youth named Kalas and his Guardian Spirit as they traverse the remnants of a world devastated by a dark god, uncovering a dark conspiracy as they do so. This game really is underrated; the game world is gigantic, the graphics are gorgeous, the music is one of Motoi Sakuraba's finest tracks, and (most importantly) the gameplay is top-notch. Wandering around the overrworld is standard fare, but the unorthodox battle system is where the game really shines. This throws off a lot of players, but the battle system is card-based; each playable character has a 'hand', with various cards representing weapons, armor, spells, finishers, etc. You must string together combos within a time limit to attack (or defend) effectively, and you can earn or lose damage points based on such factors as whether the numbers on the cards are in a numberical order or the elements contradict one another. It takes some getting used to, but when you finally get ahold of the game, it's an absolute blast. The fights almost never grow stale, except when bad luck sets in and gives you four armor hands in a row on attacking turns (it WILL happen). The plot is surprisingly immersive, with well-fleshed characters and big reveals; the second disc contains what I believe to be the biggest plot twist in video gaming, EVER. However, some flaws do shove it a ways behind the others on this list: Horrible English voice acting, the aforementioned luck factor, and a lack of replay value. Nonetheless, this is a hidden gem on the Gamecube; look into it.

This is an odd one. It plays like traditional platforming Mario, but factors such as experience, Hit Points, and an emphasis on story transform this game into one of the most bizaare hybrids you'll ever see: the platform-RPG. Getting over the conglomeration, this is a fun and entertaining game. The plot is funny and insightful, sending Mario on a quest to find a series of Pure Hearts to combat a wicked sorceror. The game features my favorite contemporary video game villain, as well as a slew of humorous characters; a nerdy otaku, a former general with an exaggerated Scottish accent, and a floating clown fond of non-sequiturs are only a few of the many foes Mario faces on his journey. The game has a fun and intruiging concept that involves "flipping" from 2D to 3D to solve puzzles and progress through levels. This fun and unique gameplay mechanic, coupled with the engrossing and occaisonally touching story and the bizzarely successful merger of two completely unrelated genres, is why Super Paper Mario is number 9 on this list.

This is probably an unexpected one. This game comes from Level-5, the developers of such RPGs as the Dark Cloud series and Dragon Quest VIII, and is in my opinion their best game. There isn't really anything this game does poorly. It has a vibrant, massive explorable world set in outer space (there's actually multiple planets, so should that be massive "worlds"?) The gameplay is fun and energetic, building and improving on the action-RPG formula popularized by the Kingdom Hearts series, and the characters have tons of variety to their gameplay style; you could choose to play as the sword-swinging and shuriken-chucking Zegram, or the flamethrower-toting and missile-wielding Simon. The characters are also well developed on the personality side, as well. The story, featuring a bunch of space pirates searching the galaxy for the secret to ultimate treasure, is charming in its simplicity, and features some touching moments and some really badass villains. This is an oft-overlooked game that shines all over.

The predecessor to the previously mentioned Super Paper Mario, this game is even better than its sequel. The plot features Mario and his allies traversing a variety of locales to obtain the Crystal Stars, which will help them rescue Princess Peach from mysterious kidnappers. The plot seems typical Mario fare and at first not even worth your time, but playing through the game reveals a very detailed, immersive storyline with charming characters and some great moments and reveals. The whimsical tale doesn't take itself too seriously, and its charm ends up enticing it far beyond what it seems to be. The true joy, however, is traversing the world. True to its name, the characters and lands visited are all made of paper, and this theme is carried out to new heights throughout the gameplay. Press a secret button and watch a bridge reveal itself in a flurry of pages. Fold Mario into a paper boat and send him sailing along waves of folded blue water. Use the unique powers of a party member to blow away the camouflage blocking your entrance to a new dungeon. The game's endearing story, charming paper-theme, colorful graphics, and a quirky and likable score help make this a truly enjoyable RPG.

Radiata Stories is a truly great game. The storyline follows young Jack Russel, a trainee in the Radiata Knights on a mission to protect his kingdom, and his comrades, Ganz and Ridley. Tensions rise between humans and the oppressed nonhuman "fairy creatures", and it seems as though war is inevitable, but it soon becomes apparent that the entire conflict is merely a shadow to another plot of an almost cosmic scale. One of the game's best features is that a ways through the game, Jack is forced to make a choice that has a huge effect on the storyline. In order to fully understand the plot and the motives of the characters, two playthroughs are essentially required giving wonderful replay value. Besides the excellent plot, the graphics are crisp and have the look of a storybook's illustrations brought to life (the opening sequence almost knocked my socks off) and the music is lively and endearing. Two particular things make this game stand out, however: recruitment and the battle system. Recruitment is the fact that past a certain part early in the game, Jack is left almost ally-less. In order to stand a chance in battles, you must recruit allies from the game world. Almost every NPC has a name, a backstory, an occupation, and almost all of them can be recruited at some point in the game. You can get some amazing parties and setups. The battle system features Jack and his chosen allies in a free field action-RPG set up similar to tri-Ace's Star Ocean games. Jack's combos and battle skills are fully customizable, and there are four different weapon types to choose from, as well. Radiata Stories is a blast of a game, with a good plot, fun gameplay, and an amazing recruitment mechanic, that is unfortunately often overlooked.

The first Golden Sun game was good, but its sequel took everything good about the original and multiplied it by ten. The story is a direct sequel to the original Golden Sun, which focuses on Felix (an ally to the first game's villains) and his quest to light the elemental lighthouses. This quest takes him all across the world and also brings him into conflict with the first game's heroes. The gameplay is highly enjoyable, featuring a fun turn-based system just like the classics, and features the ability to change characters' elements to customize them into different classes. The overworld is where the game really shines, however. It has a focus on exploration and 2D puzzle-solving, and features mechanics and dungeons reminiscent of the old Zelda games. Some of the level and dungeon designs are spectacular, and the puzzles are difficult while still maintaining a level of enjoyment. Couple the plot and fun gameplay with some of the GBA's best graphics and one of Motoi Sakuraba's best soundtracks, and this portable little RPG packs just as much of a punch as its bigger cousins.

The RPG that took everyone by surprise. Kingdom Hearts mixed Disney and Final Fantasy characters into a blend that resulted in an intriguing, moving story and world. The plot is very immersive, featuring Sora and his allies traversing various worlds based on classic Disney films in order to stop the dark creatures called the Heartless. The game is brought to life by flashy, expressive graphics and a legendary musical score. The great voice acting doesn't hurt, either. The gameplay and battle system is where this game performs the best, however; it's a safe bet to say that this game helped push action-RPGs to their current level of popularity. Kingdom Hearts' battle system features fast-paced, real-time combat. This is one of my favorite RPGs out there; the story in this game eclipses the whole rest of the series (sorry, Organization XIII) and the battle system is top-notch. A fine gem of a game.

Now we're getting to the juicy bits. This game almost single-handedly cemented the Tales series in the hearts of non-Japanese gamers. It's difficult to find a single thing the game doesn't do well. It has a huge plot that follows Lloyd Irving and co. as they try to regenerate the world and stop the evil organization known as the Desians. Alright, the game is much more than that, but I can't discuss it here for fear of spoiling something. Seriously, the game is almost infamous for the huge amount of twists in the plot. The characters are interesting and unique, the villain is cool and has amazingly understandable (dare I say sympathetic?) motives, and the English voice acting is superb. The graphics are solid, the music is great, and the battle system nothing short of revolutionary, taking the old side-scrolling plane system of the original Tales games and shoved it into 3D, making a wonderfully frantic and crazily enjoyable fight for almost every encounter. Oh, and did I mention the whole game is multiplayer? That's right, you can play through the whole game with someone else. (This is years before co-op became a big thing, by the way.) If you like modern RPGs and haven't picked up this little beauty, pick up this gem, NOW.

This is my current favorite game, and when I made this list, I fully intended to place it in the #1 spot. Well, after thinking it over, I decided personal prejudice doesn't justify that position, but it sits at a sweet second place. Tales of the Abyss has everything you could ever want from an RPG, and it pulls itself off with style. The story is engaging, flowing, and features some great twists. The land of Auldrant is a wonderfully realized world with a great backstory and immersive history. There's so much going on in the world; Tales of the Abyss even has an in-game economy that fluctuates just like the real thing. The characters are endearing, likeable, and well-crafted (Jade Curtiss is one of the greatest characters to ever grace video gaming). The sidequests almost outnumber the main quest (itself dozens of hours long) and the music is spectacular. The battle system took the much-applauded system of Tales of Symphonia, and implemented a Free Run system to allow full 3D combat that still retains that fun and hectic Tales feel. This game really is a jewel of an RPG.

Sure, Tales of the Abyss may be my favorite game, but this puppy is right up there as well. And when it come down to it, this game deserves the number one spot a million times over. This was one of the first big RPGs of the new millennium, and it set a glorious precedent that subsequent games still have a hard time matching. FFX revolutionized not only its genre, but the industry as a whole. The story follows a boy named Tidus as he washes ashore in an unknown world called Spira, which is continually devastated by a titan called Sin. Joining the summoner Yuna and her guardians on a quest to quell Sin, Tidus' own story begins. The story is powerful, moving, and the game's main driving point. The game also features a wonderful cast of characters, from the cheery blitzball player Wakka to the reserved Kimhari and the complete badass Auron. Tidus himself undergoes wonderful character development, evolving from a whiny, confused boy to a likeable, determined protagonist. Beyond the story you've got the soundtrack, a masterpiece that stands as one of Uematsu's best works (itself saying a lot) and the first really legitimate implementation of good, solid voice acting in an RPG. And boy, there's a lot of it. Everyone is voiced, from Tidus and Yuna down to the random NPCs on the streets. The best part is that the voice acting is all superb. The graphics were quite possible the best the industry had seen at the time, and are vibrant and inviting. The battle system abandoned Final Fantasy's traditional ATB to move to a quasi-turn-based system in which important actions in battle decided how soon a character could act. The game eschewed traditional leveling up in favor of a grid system that allows you to move around a grid achieving statistic boosts and abilities central to whatever portion of the grid you are on. The entire game reeks of quality. For how much it did well, and how much it revolutionized not only its own genre, but the entire video game industry, Final Fantasy X is the greatest RPG of the new millennium.

Well, there you have it. This list may tread on some feet (there are some very good RPGs available that simply didn't quite make the cut) but these are what I believe to be the best post-Y2K RPGs. Now go pick up one of these babies and get ready to forfeit a couple dozen hours of your life.

List by Dee_man_45 (03/11/2009)

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