I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the games that made me into the diehard RPG fan I am today. After going down memory lane, I realized how entertaining and refreshing it was to look at my RPG history, so I decided this column would reflect that. I challenged myself to come up with the RPG that was most formative and memorable for me from each console and handheld generation. Now for a caveat: these may not be the games I consider the best of each generation, just the ones that had the biggest impact on me as a gamer. I started with the SNES era because that’s when my love for RPGs began. I hope you’ll share your picks and reasoning in the comments, too. 


Fourth Generation (SNES/Genesis era): Secret of Mana
If you’ve been reading my work, this probably isn’t a big surprise, but I know some of you will gasp at me selecting it over Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. These may be stronger games, but Secret of Mana is what made me truly fall in love with the genre. It was the first time I really cared about a story, and I reveled in its challenging boss battles. Secret of Mana impressed me for its creativity, especially the vibrant world full of unique (and sometimes adorable) baddies. The music constantly replays in my mind, and few memories burn brighter than finally watching the credits roll.

Fifth Generation (PS1/Saturn/N64 era): Final Fantasy VII
This may seem like an easy pick, but it’s difficult to slight Valkyrie Profile and Suikoden II. However, if I’m being honest about the game I played the most and blew my mind, it’d be Final Fantasy VII. The cinematics just changed everything for me. The realistic presentation was new to the genre, and I like that this entry delved more into science fiction. It really was a turning point for RPGs, and it’s another story that still sticks with me today.

Sixth Generation (PS2/Xbox/GameCube/Dreamcast era): Persona 3
When Persona 3 launched, there was really nothing like it. So many RPGs hit in this era, but you could say there was an issue with quantity over quality. This darker entry just blew the competition out of the water. It made smart changes to the established formula by adding social links and making you manage your day-to-day life. Throw in persona fusion, and I was hooked. I loved the message behind social links – a simple act of kindness can go a long way in helping someone. Persona 3 embodied life’s hardships, emphasizing working with others to get through it, culminating in one hell of an ending. Persona 4 may have tweaked the formula, but Persona 3 laid down a new foundation and made the bigger impression on me. 

Seventh Generation (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii era): The Mass Effect Trilogy 
Fantastic characters, interesting choices, and great world-building made the Mass Effect trilogy trump most other games for me. If I had to pick the best game, I’d go with the second entry, just because those loyalty missions stuck with me and really meant something. I’ll never forget how empowering it felt to play as Commander Shepard bolstered by the attachment I still feel to this day for the characters around me, especially Garrus and Mordin. The story about saving the world was emotional, but BioWare also injected lighthearted moments, like Tali’s drunken antics and Shepard’s awful dancing. In the end, it felt like I got to know my crew that were willing to risk their lives with my Shep for the betterment of the galaxy. Saying goodbye to Commander Shepard and those characters was one of my hardest moments in gaming, a testament to the powerful writing

Eighth Generation (PS4/Xbox One/Wii U/Switch era): The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
No RPG has raised the bar quite like The Witcher 3. Watching my choices ripple across a massive world was so satisfying. I love how CD Projekt Red doesn’t make anything predictable; you never know how your decisions will come back to haunt or benefit you. The sheer scope of the game is one thing, but the overall quality of everything it offered is even more impressive. CD Projekt Red crafted some of the best sidequests I’ve ever experienced, making me want to engage each of them. I felt this entry really rounded out Geralt by letting us see his concern for Ciri, who is like a daughter to him. Yennefer and Triss both have interesting arcs and are strong characters in their own right. From vicious battles to impressive storytelling, The Witcher 3 was that game that just kept giving me everything I love about RPGs.


First Generation: (Game Boy/Game Boy Color/Game Gear era): Pokémon Yellow
I may have fallen off the series a bit, but I still have fond memories of getting into the popular franchise with Pokémon Yellow. I’m not surprised that the engaging loop of “catching them all” is still around so fervently today. This is when I became buddies with Pikachu and strived to be the “very best like no one ever was.” Grinding my way from Pallet Town to get all of the gym badges remains one of the fondest memories in my RPG history. 

Second Generation: (Game Boy Advance era): Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
I’ve always been a fan of strategy/RPGs, even if they weren’t always the most popular games. From Fire Emblem to Disgaea, I take delight in really thinking through every situation and making the best moves. Although not a direct sequel to the PS1 game, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance still featured its great gameplay along with some tweaks that gave me a reason to load it up whenever I was on-the-go. Tactics Advance didn’t trump its predecessor’s story, but having an expansive job system alongside five playable races gave you plenty of ways to tweak your clan how you wanted. It set my mind ablaze with possibilities. 

Third Generation: (Nintendo DS/PSP era): Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
It was difficult to not choose a Kingdom Hearts game for my sixth generation pick; but all is well because the PSP entry, Birth By Sleep, is one of my favorites. With an emotional narrative about friendship and sacrifice, this prequel showcased the events that set Sora's journey into motion. It introduced Aqua, one of my most adored Kingdom Hearts characters, and featured more customization in its combat via the Command Deck system. Using the deck, you installed a wide catalogue of action and magic commands, while a melding mechanic let you create even more powerful variants. Depending on which abilities you used, you'd enter a Command Style, which strengthened your attacks and gave you a powerful finishing move. I also loved locking onto enemies and finishing them off in one flashy attack with the Shotlock system. Birth By Sleep also told a captivating story through each perspective of the three leads, and felt like a worthwhile prequel with quality on-par with its console predecessors.

Fourth Generation: (Nintendo 3DS/ PlayStation Vita Era): Fire Emblem: Awakening
I’ve been a Fire Emblem fan for a long time and nothing made me happier than seeing the series return with Awakening. What I didn’t expect? Awakening to be the franchise’s saving grace and increase its fanfare. Smart tweaks to combat and the relationship system bolstered the already-great gameplay. There was something about watching characters bond on and off the battlefield that was so exciting, and surviving missions with just a small slice of health was an adrenaline rush, especially if you played with permadeath on. This is, in my opinion, the best Fire Emblem entry to date.

Don’t forget to share your picks below! I’m excited to read your selections.