Firstly, let me define what is meant by "major franchise". I am basically excluding games from RPG series' that are extremely well known for one reason or another. Either due to number of games in the series, sales figures or another factor. This list will consist of single-player RPG experiences, so no MMO's and no action/shooting games that tack on some RPG element to try to broaden appeal.

Some examples of Major Franchises:

Final Fantasy
Kingdom Hearts
Elder Scrolls
Dungeons and Dragons
Tales series
Mana series
Dragon Quest
Phantasy Star
Ultima


Secondly, no more than one game per series. Now onto the list.

This quirky game was released in 2007 in Japan, and 2008 worldwide, and it was one of the first RPGs to hit the PlayStation 3. It follows the dying moments of the composer Frederic Chopin as he hallucinates/dreams a fantastical world where almost every person, place and magic was named after some kind of musical term. The combat is engrossing, although sometimes repetitive. The voice acting is adequate, though some characters have annoying voices, one in particular. Worth checking out as I am sure it can be acquired for cheap.

This game certainly suffered upon release as it came just 2 months after Skyrim, and there are enough similarities between the two to warrant comparisons. On it's own merits, KoA is a great game. It has an incredibly deep lore to get lost in, and massive levels of customisation of character and class. An almost infinite amount of side quests and missions, you could spend an entire day playing without even touching the story quests. The biggest gripe with this game is that it is much too easy, its possible to play through on the hardest difficulty by mostly mashing the attack button, which although is not the most fun way to play, it certainly demonstrates the low challenge of the game.

Released in 2007(jp) and 2008 for the Nintendo DS by SquareEnix, this is a game with a unique graphics style and great music. It has a weird and wonderful storyline, and is certainly one of Squeenix's most eclectic games. The combat system is suitably wacky, as all battles are fought on the touchscreen of the DS with the stylus. Different attacks require different actions, such as tapping, swiping and dragging, as well as movement being controlled by the stylus. Meanwhile, battles featuring your team members take place on the top screen, at the same time as yours, and although you don't control them directly, your actions affect your team member and vice versa. The main reason this game is so low is because I personally just could not get on with the battle system, and many consider it a "love it or hate it" system.

My first experience of this game was actually just last year, when I played the Skies of Arcadia based levels on Sonic and All-Star Racing Transformed. After getting a Dreamcast for christmas, I immediately hunted down this game, and I was not disappointed. On a system that was known for Shenmue and Phantasy Star Online, this game may have struggled to stand out on release, but in the cold 20:20 of hindsight, this is the best RPG on the system. Graphics that still hold up to this day, high quality music and storyline, and many hours of fun to be had, this game is a must-have for Dreamcast owners.

This game was touch and go for inclusion, as it is the second part of a series with a few sequels. However, the series itself is dead in the water, and has been for some time, and it was never a high profile series even at its highest point, and it often gets overlooked in lists of old-school RPGs. The second game is included on this list, but the first game is also fantastic, and the third game on the saturn is also good, though the 2nd and 3rd episodes of SF3 were never released outside of Japan. As far as strategy-RPGs go, this game is immense. Great gameplay, interesting story and charming graphics.

This game was highly anticipated prior to release, as all the anime-style cutscenes were created by Studio Ghibli, the anime studio responsible for Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. As a result, the art style of the game itself is very pretty, it really looks like you are playing an anime movie! The gameplay is very creative, containing elements from various RPG systems, with a dash of Pokemon thrown in. The story is rather simple and a little cliche, and there is an extra chapter created solely for the PS3 version that does feel a little bit tacked on, but overall the game captures the charm of the studio that created the cutscenes.

I chose the PSX version of this over the original Sega CD version, as the improvements are significant enough. This game is truely fantastic. A captivating storyline, gorgeous 2D sprites, beautifully animated cutscenes and great gameplay. There is a level of charm about this game that sets it apart from many modern RPGs. If you are able to play this game, it is highly recommended. A sequel was released for the Sega CD (and subsequently re-released on PSX) called Lunar: Eternal Blue, which is another excellent game, though I personally think the original is better.

This is a minor cheat, as the Mother series (of which Earthbound is part) is a large ongoing franchise in Japan. However, when Earthbound came out in the US, the Mother series wasn't even remotely known in the west. It has since achieved a bigger level of popularity, but still nothing has come close to our first taste of the Mother series, Earthbound. There is an abundance of charm oozing from this game. It has a concept that has never been seen before or since in an RPG and the battle system and storyline is polished and streamlined. A must-have for RPG fans.

Another minor cheat, as there is no doubt that Mario is a major franchise, probably the biggest in gaming. He is not known for his RPGs though, and this is a shame as the Paper Mario series is great, but nothing is better than his SNES RPG debut. Created by Squaresoft, this game takes everything they knew about RPGs and imprinted upon them one of the best known characters and settings in the gaming world. The battle system works incredibly well, with timed button presses during attacks increasing their power or block enemy attacks. The game is presented in a 2.5D isometric viewpoint, which is aesthetically gorgeous. The game also parodies many elements of pop culture from its release time, as well as paying homage to other great RPGs of the era. My only gripe is that this game was never released in Europe, in fact, many of us had to wait until 2008 to play this game on the Wii Virtual Console. It is a fantastic game with well-known characters and some memorable original ones that still holds up today.

Wow, what to say about this game. Those who have played it, had no doubt that this would be number 1 on this list. If you need convincing... Where to start? First time I played this game, I was blown away. Squaresoft certainly knows how to make RPGs, and they know how to utilise the console to its maximum potential, and this is another prime example. The graphics, story, battle system, music, everything is perfect. This is a game that regularly comes in number 1 in top 10 lists, and for good reason. All I can say is, if you haven't played this game, you simply must. Even us Europeans can now enjoy it as it was -released
onto the Nintendo DS, and is now available on iPhone and Android. So yes, the best RPG on this list can be played on the bus!

So there you have it, the 10 best RPGs from lesser franchises. I have to say that all of the games on the list are ones that I have completed, and there isn't a single one that I didn't enjoy. These are all my opinions so you may disagree; the order might not be to your taste, or your favourite might be missing, but I simply could not include games that I have never played. Thanks for reading!

List by crollsy (08/29/2013)

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