When the role playing game genre was initially introduced in games like Wizardry and Dragon Warrior, it was a turn based genre where tactics completely trumped physical finesse. As the genre evolved, elements of role playing games entered action games and vice versa. Eventually the action role playing game genre was born and since greatly grown in popularity. With the advent of 3D gaming, games that featured first person game play were further differentiated from the more traditional action RPGs that featured third person game play. The following are the top ten best third person action role playing games ever released.
10. Willow (NES) – This classic game was one of the original games of the genre. Combining game play similar to The Legend of Zelda with experience-based leveling, the game blurred the line between adventure games and role playing games. It was only years later, when the action RPG was finally recognized as its own genre, that this game was one of the first. Amazingly, despite being based on a mediocre movie, the game was quite excellent, comparing favorably to most action games and RPGs of the generation.
9. Parasite Eve (PS1) – Parasite Eve was one of the earliest games to include interactive FMVs as part of game play. This combined with a storyline that seemed more similar to Resident Evil than to most classic role playing games, it truly stood out as something new and different. It also has the honor of being one of the first RPGs to ever feature a female protagonist. The brutally hard game play really was the one thing that kept it from being as popular as it should have been.
8. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PS3) – Curt Shilling’s dream was a surprisingly good game, despite bankrupting his company and possibly the state of Rhode Island in the process. A brilliant leveling system allows almost infinite character customization while still keeping the game remarkably well balanced. Combat utilizes a combo system reminiscent of classic fighting games while still maintaining the feel of a role playing game. And the story is unbelievably deep and enthralling. Unfortunately, that deep story is also the biggest flaw of the game. The world is filled with so much information that it is easy to get lost in the grandeur of the game and lose track of the main plot. This is the rare game that would have actually been better with about half as much game play as it has.
7. Secret of Mana (SNES) – Secret of Mana is one of those games that broke tons of barriers, was amazingly well loved by game players of its generation, and yet never really produced future success. Technically the game has sequels, but outside of a few devoted fans, they are basically unknown. It was the definitive action RPG on the SNES, enjoying success for a strong story, interesting characters, the ability to swap characters mid battle, and a plethora of weapons and spells. It also allowed cooperative play with two players. All of this should have led to multiple sequels, but it didn’t. Extreme difficulty spikes throughout the game and a story that honestly dragged at time held the game back from being the success it should have been.
6. Diablo II (PC) – The fact that Diablo II only sits as 6th place on this list speaks to exactly how great the remaining games are. This classic PC game is such a standard for action RPGs that it has been cloned multiple times, often to great success. The game also helped set the standard for the leveling structure that Blizzard would use in World of Warcraft and games like Borderlands 2 would use years later. The story of one hero facing millions of bad guys to destroy Diablo and Baal is a classic and the game is still played by millions over a decade later, despite the release of its sequel.
5. Rogue Galaxy (PS2) – Imagine an action role playing game that weaves an epic tale of space pirates. If you are imagining robots, aliens, and eye patches, you have successfully imagined Rogue Galaxy. The plot is the perfect mix of absurd and world shattering, which is absolutely fitting for a story about a space pirate. The action game play has tight controls and a rather intriguing way of guiding two AI controlled characters while you battle. Also, like many modern RPGs, the game has a bunch of mini-games and collection quests that can distract you for hours if you just want to waste time rather than further the plot.
4. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PS2) – Marvel: Ultimate Alliance feels a little bit what Diablo II would feel like if it was set in the Marvel universe and you could have a full team of characters rather than just a single hero. The game allows you to play as any of dozens of heroes from the Marvel comic book universe, including classic Avengers and plenty of X-Men as well. Characters level up in ways appropriate to how they are portrayed in the comics and you can find unique gear and costumes that change their looks and abilities. The game is almost a love letter to Marvel fans and one of the best action RPGs ever released.
3. Bard’s Tale (PS2) – The very fact that this game is voiced by Cary Elwes practically earns its place on this list. Of all the modern action RPGs in the top 10, this actually has some of the simplest game play. You can wield a handful of weapons and use a handful of spells while traveling around on a not-so-epic adventure. What makes the game so amazing is the bitingly brilliant humor that abounds in the game. From the very start, the game mocks the RPG genre as a whole and even gently mocks the original Bard’s Tale. The sarcastic wit of your character spends the entire game bantering with NPCs, a group of singing goblins, and even the narrator of the game. Bard’s Tale is a lot of fun to play, even when the game play doesn’t quite live up.
2. Kingdom Hearts (PS2) – Square made one the strangest decisions ever with Kingdom Hearts. It decided to combine Disney characters with Final Fantasy characters in a story that rewrote almost every classic Disney movie ever made. The result was brilliant and game play was surprisingly tight, despite the fact that you only directly controlled one character of a trio. The game was so successful that it has spawned about half a dozen sequels. Small game play issues were bettered in the later games, but the original still stands out for such memorable moments as the epic fight against Maleficent and the nearly impossibly hard battle against Sephiroth. If you thought that he was difficult in Final Fantasy VII, you learn exactly how much more difficult he is in an action RPG.
1. Dark Cloud 2 (PS2) – Dark Cloud 2 is a game unlike almost any other. The basic action game play is rather standard affair, though the ability to wield both a melee weapon and a ranged weapon does add some interesting twists to the game. The success of this mechanic is probably what inspired similar game play in Rogue Galaxy. But, that is the least of the brilliance in this game that also lets you play as a mechanized battle robot at times, take pictures of everything and anything in order to invent hundreds of unique items, play golf on every map, and even build a simulated town in order to unlock levels. There are so many interconnected elements to the game that you might never even finish the main quest. But you will have fun no matter what you are doing.