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Best Old-School RPGs

Arch Stanton
The list author says: "Modern RPGs are great. They have amazing graphics, massive worlds, complicated characters, and enough sidequests that it's easy to forget the main quest. But you know what was also great? Old style RPGs. Sure the graphics were bad and they were cliche-ridden and full of cheesy lines, but they captured an innocence and exuberance that just isn't there in modern games. I mean, when was the last time you caught on fire, flew into the air, and threw meteors down on your foes? Or attacked a giant planet-killer in your dinky little sailing ship?

Systemwise I'm picking these from all over. Over the years I have had access to an original Nintendo, a Playstation 1-3, a PSP, and a Wii. So most of these will be for one of those systems. Generally speaking if a game is available on multiple platforms I'll chose the one that I played it on. Just be aware that many of the PS1 games are available through the PSN if you have a Playstation 3. It's probably easier to get them there since they're out of production and the prices for some of these used is ridiculous. X-Box/Wii users: you're just out of luck. You'll have to buy the hard copy. Though I believe the Wii can download some original Nintendo games through their network...

I'm not going to define precisely what old-school means because that would just be too limiting. Generally anything that has a turn based combat system, no sandbox, multiple party members, and a largely linear story I'm counting as old-school. These are RPGs from approximately the early '90s though early 2000s selected and ranked because they are just the best. That's not just my opinion by the way. These are the best, scientifically proven by copious field work and testing (much of it carried out by me personally). Old style but modern RPGs may be included at my discretion.

I've also included a few at the bottom that I haven't played yet because screw you, it's my list I can do what I want!"
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES - PlayStation 2
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES - PlayStation 2
"This sort of falls in the gap between old and new. The social links system is unlike anything seen before or since. The dungeon crawling and combat system however, is completely old-school complete with turn-based combat. So I'm sticking it with the old. You divide your time between fighting demons and attending high school. Great characters and a great plot."
Persona 4 Golden - PlayStation Vita
Persona 4 Golden - PlayStation Vita
"I can't decide between this and Persona 3. This time there are a series of murders and your characters are investigating by going into a demon world through their TVs. Has everything you love about Persona 3 except that it's set in a small town instead of the city."
Skies of Arcadia : Legends
Skies of Arcadia : Legends
"I only played this quite recently but I really love it. You play as a young air pirate who flies around in his sail ship fighting an evil empire. Features some truly epic ship-to-ship combat."
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII
"Is it anyone's surprise that this comes at the top? I do think that this game is overrated (Sephiroth is kinda a wus) but it's still hard to top. It just had the perfect combination of plot, characters, combat, and adventure. The graphics are really bad though, which takes some getting used to."
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic - PC
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic - PC
"I'm not quite sure if this is quite old-school enough, but it is an immensely fun game. It has a great plot with some real surprising twists, a series of highly developed worlds, and memorable characters. Plus you get to kill things with a lightsaber. A LIGHTSABER!! 'Nuff said."
Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger
"An old Super Nintendo title available through the PSN. My lower limit on graphics is FF7, so these old Nintendo games are often hard for me to get into. RPGs just need 3D I think. But this one manages to make up for it by being just super good."
Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy IX
"My second favorite Final Fantasy, and one I think is often underrated. You get to play as a cheeky thief with a tail flying around and saving the world. These are the ideal graphics for me. They look cartoony, but not wretched, and it feels like an artistic choice not a computing power limitation."
Tales of Symphonia - Gamecube
Tales of Symphonia - Gamecube
"I love this game for the characters and world design. It copied the cell shading look from Wind Waker but uses it to great effect. Apart from some story problems and a third act that really drags it's near perfect."
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI
"Another Nintendo one that's worth struggling through. You play as a mage in a world where magic is forbidden. Terra is quite good and this has some of the best musical cues in the whole series."
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
"Hard to argue with this being the best in the Zelda series. It has the perfect mix of everything."
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
"Everyone loves this game. What can I say? It's great. A somewhat more childish take on Zelda."
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy VIII
"A lot of people slag off on VIII. I quite like it. Sure the plot is a little messy and none of the characters stand out quite like they do in other Final Fantasies, but the gameplay is great and the world fun. Squall is an emo little wuss though."
Tales of the Abyss - Nintendo 3DS
Tales of the Abyss - Nintendo 3DS
"Not as good as Tales of Symphonia, but still pretty grand. You're trying to save the world from collapsing into the underworld, which is like a giant lava pit."
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
"Very good game. It has a lot of great moments and inventive gameplay. First game I've seen that actually takes advantage of the Wii remote. A bit more linear than earlier Zelda games, but then again they were merely better at hiding their linearity. Sure you could go to locations whenever you wanted, but you couldn't do anything there until you completed the story arc leading you there."
Chrono Cross - PlayStation
Chrono Cross - PlayStation
"Not as good as the original Chono Trigger, but still entertaining. Graphics greatly improved which is a plus."
Xenogears - PlayStation
Xenogears - PlayStation
"An odd early RPG. Fun to play. You get mech battles. The characters didn't really impress me though, and while the director has a definite eye for dramatic cut scenes we don't really get enough of them."
Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection - Sony PSP
Final Fantasy IV The Complete Collection - Sony PSP
"The twist here is that your character starts off as the bad guy. He's just coming back from destroying a village that didn't cooperate with him. Sure, you'll be out trying to take them down before long, but it's a great way to open a story like this. Another Nintendo graphics one."
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions - Sony PSP
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions - Sony PSP
"A very good tactical RPG. I suck at these else it might be higher up the list. But the plot is well done, if dense and often confusing, and the character design well thought out."
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords - PC
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords - PC
"Fun, but not as good as the original. Not by a long shot. Gameplay is improved and there are one or two interesting characters but it all feels so petty and small-scale compared to the previous game. There are also some major plot problems and glitches left over from when they ruched the game out in time for Episode III."
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - Sony PSP
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII - Sony PSP
"It was pretty good. The gameplay was basic button-mashing, but Zack was a real fun character to play as. But you know what I really missed? Having a party. It just didn't feel like Final Fantasy without it. More like Zack's one-man adventure. Limited replay value."
Kingdom Hearts
Kingdom Hearts
"Final Fantasy + Disney = Fun, apparently? I could never get over the sheer incongruity of it, but I can't deny that the gameplay is fantastic and the work as a whole is fun to play. But don't go in expecting anything deep or complicated."
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X
"I'm gonna dissent from common opinion here: I didn't like 10. It just didn't do it for me. Apart from an awesome introduction the world just isn't that appealing. When your best scene happens in the first 10 minutes you're in for trouble. Also features the most whiny character ever."
Legend Of Legaia
Legend Of Legaia
"First RPG I ever played actually, at least in demo form. I quite liked it but it's been years since I played and I can't remember the plot. I remember being touched by the romance, and given that I was all of twelve at the time that means it's probably cloying and overly sentimental. Probably worth another try."
Kingdom Hearts II - PlayStation 2
Kingdom Hearts II - PlayStation 2
"Captain Jack shows up in this one. What more do I need to say?"
Final Fantasy (PSP)
Final Fantasy (PSP)
"One of the first RPGs ever and full of all the bugs they learned to leave out. Vaguely defined missions, hidden plot points, and a number of other irrational elements. The plot is pretty basic and the characters... well, what characters? They don't really have any since they're so intent on you designing them yourself."
Final Fantasy II - Sony PSP
Final Fantasy II - Sony PSP
"I don't know how the series ever survived this one. Hero's brother goes wandering off and then a few years later this big masked bad guy appears. I wonder where they could be going with that..."
Final Fantasy V Advance
Final Fantasy V Advance
"I'll get right on this. I got it from the PSN recently."
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
"Huh, I've never heard of these."
Final Fantasy III
Final Fantasy III
"Not sure if I can bear playing this after trying II. *Shudder*"
Xenosaga - PlayStation 2
Xenosaga - PlayStation 2
"Billed as sort of a spiritual successor to Xenogears, I am most curious to check out this game. Don't know why the titles are in German though."
Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse - PlayStation 2
Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse - PlayStation 2
"Should probably play the first game before starting this one..."
Xenosaga Episode III - PlayStation 2
Xenosaga Episode III - PlayStation 2
"Because episode three is always the best right?"
Suikoden
Suikoden
"Heard it was good so I downloaded it from PSN."
Valkyrie Profile
Valkyrie Profile
"Heard it's good but it's not available from the PSN."
Suikoden II
Suikoden II
"Not on PSN dang it! I hear it's better than the first."
Grandia
Grandia
"Heard it was really good so I downloaded it from PSN."
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo Selects)
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo Selects)
"I should really get on this. Problem is I only just got access to a Wii, so I have a lot on my list."
Tales of Phantasia
Tales of Phantasia
"See, I never had a Game Boy Advance..."
Tales of Legendia - PlayStation 2
Tales of Legendia - PlayStation 2
"See, I never had a.. wait, yes I did. I guess I must have just missed this one."
The Legend of Dragoon PlayStation 1
The Legend of Dragoon PlayStation 1
"Um... ditto. Available on PSN now."