An RPG doesn’t need big-budget graphics or to shake up the genre to simply be fun. I have plenty of games that I know have issues, but I love them despite their glaring flaws. These RPGs have a hook that keeps me coming back to them. Many of you can probably relate to this. You wouldn’t dare rank them up with the best games, but you still get enough enjoyment out of them that they’re worth your time. The more and more I think about it, these guilty pleasure games aren’t some deep, dark secret we need to keep. Nobody should have any shame in what brings them joy. Therefore, I’m dedicating this column to the series/games I’ve often called my guilty pleasures. These RPGs are often overshadowed by bigger names, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get their due. Hopefully, you can share some of my sentiments or find something in here that piques your interest. 

Atelier
I’ve been playing the Atelier series since it first came to North America with Atelier Iris: Eternal Mana back in 2005. It’s safe to say I’m addicted to alchemy. Something about gathering ingredients and crafting my own gear, items, and gifts never gets old. I always get pulled into the loop of topping my last creation. The series has had its ups and downs, but I like that once it hit the PS3, it focused more on the coming-of-age stories of young women and their day-to-day lives. This shift added some more substance and there’s still plenty of lighthearted humor to make the adventure fun. Each entry has tried to go bigger and refine its turn-based battle system, but combat has always taken a backseat to the alchemy. Gust has continued to find new ways to make the latter interesting by adding a material placement system that’s akin to a Tetris-like puzzle to add traits to improve the quality of your creations. I just love coming to a new town, meeting its eccentric inhabitants, and trying to prove myself as an alchemist – even if the games don’t have the best combat, dialogue, or graphics.  

.hack//G.U.
I know what you’re probably thinking. If you’re going to play an MMORPG, play a real one, not a simulated one, but I can’t deny my love for .hack//G.U. I never got into the previous four .hack installments that were on PlayStation 2, but boy did I enjoy the G.U. trilogy. Playing as a scorned character like Haseo, who was on top of the world only to lose all his levels, was intriguing. After all, I’m a gamer; I can commiserate with lost progress. I liked how Haseo often was a bitter jerk, but one of the high points was seeing him care for other players and stop at nothing to save his friend Shino, who had fallen into a coma in real-life after brushing arms with the vicious Tri-Edge in the game. Combat was simplistic and didn’t have much depth, but there’s satisfaction in leveling Haseo back up through the course of three games and seeing his power grow. With memorable boss fights and fun characters, .hack//G.U. won me over, but I can also admit it gets really repetitive for what it is. Still, I’ve always found the series’ main premise of an MMORPG crossing into real life interesting, and I look fondly back on .hack//G.U. Thankfully, a remaster called Last Recode is coming next month to PS4 and PC, so I can see if I enjoy it as much a second time around. 

Rune Factory
As a Harvest Moon and RPG fan, I can’t think of anything more suited to my tastes than the Rune Factory spin-offs. Not only do you have the fun of befriending townsfolk and farming, but you also have the thrill of exploring dungeons, taming monsters to fight at your side, and taking on big bad bosses. I love figuring out a good routine to maximize my time and profits. Rune Factory Frontier is the Wii game I sunk the most time into, as I explored every nook and cranny to unearth the peculiar secrets of Trampoli. What I really enjoy about these games is the excitement in finding a new area or advancing the story for a new scene. Because you’re so involved in the day-to-day grind, it makes it all the more special when something new happens. The series has always had a lot of charm, and in my opinion, had way more interesting casts than Harvest Moon ever did. Sadly, developer Neverland filed for bankruptcy, putting Rune Factory’s future in limbo. Thankfully, Marvelous, who acted as publisher on the series, hired on the Rune Factory development team. While it’s said that team is working on other projects, it still gives me hope that Rune Factory isn’t completely dead. 

Alpha Protocol
Some of my co-workers might give me a hard time for this one, but I actually liked Alpha Protocol. Its imperfections are many – most of the game’s characters are underdeveloped and one-dimensional, the combat lacks precision and grace, and the A.I. can be laughable. However, there’s still a lot to enjoy about Alpha Protocol’s spy thriller. The plot is patently unbelievable, but that provides it a charm, as you travel the globe visiting a ton of people who all speak perfect English. This world is brought together in a series of cause-effect decisions that actually felt impressive and realistic. You can cut short dialogue, execute people – with both positive and negative repercussions – and even select the order in which you take your missions. It was also entertaining to travel the world as a top-notch spy…who occasionally murdered as many bad guys who could fit into a small town and still remain completely undercover. Alpha Protocol is an intriguing concept where bits and pieces shine through. Ultimately, your love of the idea and Obsidian's work will determine how forgiving you are of its negative aspects. 

Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
This game marks another trend on this list for me. I tend to enjoy games that let me experiment with fusion in some way, so I reveled in creating bigger and badder digimon for battle. Previous Digimon games never really caught my attention, so I still don’t know what it is about Cyber Sleuth. Maybe it’s the Tokyo setting and how it uses one of my favorite places to visit, Nakano Broadway, as your headquarters, or maybe, similar to .hack, it’s getting caught between the real world and virtual world. Throw in hacking and virtual crime, and it’s like a cartoon version of the movie Hackers. Honestly, I just found the gameplay loop fun, enjoyed hanging out with the characters, and took delight in visiting popular places in Tokyo like Shibuya. The dungeons are linear and the missions get repetitive after a while, but I logged in over 30 hours before any of that really bothered me. I just couldn’t get enough of creating new digimon, which has me excited that a sequel, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory, is coming out in 2018 for PS4 and Vita. 

What are some of your guilty pleasure RPGs? Let me know in the comments below!