10 RPGs That Defined The Genre

A split image of Dark Souls, Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Roleplaying games are one of the oldest video game genres in the world, and one of the most beloved. They take their roots from pen-and-paper games like Dungeons & Dragons, using graphics and game mechanics to substitute for a game master’s narration and refereeing. RPGs like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Elden Ring have dominated gaming.

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However, the RPG genre didn’t spring into being fully formed. It’s evolved slowly over several decades with countless games. Several titles are well-known for their impact on the wider RPG genre. Even if they didn’t create its most beloved tropes, they helped develop or popularize them.



The Elder Scrolls games belong to one of the best-known Western RPG franchises ever. It’s famous for its expansive open worlds, immense player freedom, and deep lore. Although The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind isn’t the first The Elder Scrolls game, it set the formula for the franchise and many other RPGs.

Morrowind draws on the freedom and character-building present in earlier The Elder Scrolls games and forefronts them. Its unique and detailed setting, coupled with the sheer amount for players to do, has made it one of the most beloved RPGs ever. Most open-world RPGs owe Morrowind to some degree.

9 Final Fantasy VII

The Final Fantasy has been an integral part of the RPG genre for decades, ever since the first Final Fantasy game. The franchise has popularized many of the concepts and much of the gameplay of the genre, much of which are originally lifted from Dungeons & Dragons. However, the most influential series title today is Final Fantasy VII.

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Final Fantasy VII impacted gaming as a whole, being one of the earliest games to forefront narrative over gameplay. However, it’s now the yardstick most Japanese RPGs are measured against. Everything from its story, to its setting, to its characters, to its turn-based combat has informed entire generations of RPGs.

8 Baldur’s Gate

Many RPGs have drawn on Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games. However, Baldur’s Gate was a deliberate translation of the pen-and-paper game into video game form. It took the rules of Advanced D&D Second Edition and the iconic Forgotten Realms setting and turned them into one of the most beloved games ever.

Baldur’s Gate is responsible for popularizing RPGs using D&D system rules. This has inspired countless games from Neverwinter Nights to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In addition, it’s notable for its accessibility by the standards of the time. Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II were the gateways that introduced many people to the RPG genre.

7 Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon And The Blade Of Light

RPGs comprise many subgenres. One of the most prominent is the tactical RPG genre, which emphasizes character-building and strategic combat. This genre has early roots, but one game is responsible for popularizing it. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light gave way not only to the Fire Emblem franchise, but to the template many tactical RPGs use.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light popularized most tropes common to tactical RPGs. Everything from its combat, to its character creation, to its storytelling has been echoed by later titles. Games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea owe a debt to Fire Emblem, as do more general RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin II​​​​​​.

6 Everquest

Many RPGs are singleplayer affairs. However, the genre also goes the opposite way. Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games are some of the most popular titles on the market. Everquest isn’t the first of such games, but it is responsible for informing later titles’ mechanics and for influencing the genre.

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Everquest‘s legacy can be felt in titles as popular as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. Everquest‘s world design, class design, quests, and more have all proven a useful template. Furthermore, its early years serve as an invaluable guide of both what to do and what not to do when developing an MMORPG.

5 Dragon Quest

The Dragon Quest franchise has never had the same popularity in the West that it does in Japan, despite respectable sales. However, in its native Japan, it’s almost synonymous with the JRPG genre. The very first Dragon Quest, released in 1986, created the template most of the genre would follow in some way.

Dragon Quest is the precursor to almost every old-school RPG, especially in Japan. Its top-down perspective, sidequests, character-building, and more have influenced the genre. Its influence can be felt most strongly in JRPGs, including significant titles like Final Fantasy. Nonetheless, plenty of WRPG game mechanics’ can find their roots in Dragon Quest.

4 Mass Effect

Mass Effect‘s gameplay isn’t particularly genre-defining for RPGs. It isn’t the first shooter-RPG, nor the first sci-fi RPG. However, its approach to storytelling has influenced countless RPGs. Developer Bioware has always been known for deep side characters and NPC interaction. However, its Mass Effect where this approach properly pays off.

Mass Effect‘s NPCs and romance questlines are deeper than earlier attempts like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or Baldur’s Gate II. Additionally, Mass Effect‘s universe is fully realized and a delight to explore, helped by well-crafted side quests. Plenty of RPGs since have followed suit, featuring deep characters the player must learn about over the course of the game.

3 Dark Souls

The RPG genre is never stagnant. Recent years have seen a huge upswing in action-RPGs with a focus on melee combat, high challenge, and minimalist storytelling. Many of these games are dubbed “Soulslikes” in honor of their inspiration: Dark Souls — one of the most iconic games of the 21st century.

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Dark Souls has become a byword for a certain type of game design, a style of melee combat gameplay, and even for difficulty in and of itself. It’s had a significant influence on many RPGs since. It’s defined a subgenre in its own right that includes subsequent FromSoftware titles like Elden Ring and Bloodborne, and further afield games like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

2 Fallout

Many RPGs are known for their in-depth focus on combat. However, plenty of titles go out of their way to include alternatives. It’s common for the protagonist to have alternative options in an RPG. These can include stealth, dialogue, or the use of certain skills to bypass an obstacle or defuse a fight.

Fallout significantly influenced this trend, although its roots go back to old-school Dungeons & Dragons. The original Fallout emphasizes non-combat skills every bit as much as it does combat and gives options in most encounters. This has inspired countless RPGs since, with some like Disco Elysium abandoning combat as a separate mechanic altogether.

1 Pokémon Red & Blue

Pokémon Red & Blue are two of the most distinctive RPG titles of all time. They’re the first games in the iconic Pokémon genre, still played across the world by millions of players. Their monster-battling mechanics have informed the entire genre of ‘Mon RPGs, as far afield as Digimon World and Ni No Kuni.

Aside from their direct impact on specific genres, Pokémon Red & Blue have helped to define other parts of RPGs. They’re an early example of social gaming, letting players trade and battle with other players. These social elements has affected every part of gaming, including RPGs.

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