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I wonder who was the highest ranking government official working knowingly and clandestinely for a foreign government.
Two nominations are possible:
A citizen of country X working officially for the government of X but secretly spying for country Y. Examples:
Note that Marshal Beria, executed as a British spy, is, obviously, not an acceptable example here. :-)
A citizen of country Y working for the intelligence services of country Y, also working for the government of country X under an assumed name. Examples:
- Stierlitz - fictional
Probably Cardinal Talleyrand, who had been Napoleon's foreign minister and was still on his Council of State while working with the Coalition to unseat Napoleon after 1807.
If early Roman history is to be believed (it isn't really true, as we know, but it's such a darn good read… ), then Sextus Tarquinius would be pretty high on the list:
Gabii reneged from the Latin treaty with Rome for unknown reasons. Tarquinius' son, Sextus Tarquinius, went to Gabii, pretending to be in revolt against his father and asking for assistance. He was accepted, and after successfully commanding various military expeditions, he was appointed as the leading general of the army of Gabii. As general, he commanded a number of minor but successful skirmishes against Roman forces, with the complicity of the Roman king.
He sent a message to the king asking what to do next. Receiving the messenger in the garden the king said nothing at all (for which he might have been held liable later) but strolled around lopping off the heads of the tallest poppies with a stick. Sextus took this to be a message to destroy the aristocrats of Gabii including Antistius Petro whom according to legend Sextus accused of plotting with Tarquinius Superbus Sextus' return to Rome dead or alive, thereby provoking the Gabines to stone Antistius to death. Tarquinius Superbus was able to take advantage of the ensuing confusion and bring Gabii into submission without battle. (Source)
On February 18, 2001, Robert Philip Hanssen was arrested and charged with committing espionage on behalf of the intelligence services of the former Soviet Union and its successors. He pled guilty to 15 counts of espionage on July 6, 2001 and was sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole. Hanssen is considered the most damaging spy in FBI history. Below are a press release issued following his arrest and a statement by then-FBI Director Louis Freeh. Also read the affidavit.
For Immediate Release
February 20, 2001
FBI National Press Office
Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and United States Attorney Helen Fahey announced today that a veteran FBI counterintelligence Agent was arrested Sunday by the FBI and charged with committing espionage by providing highly classified national security information to Russia and the former Soviet Union.
At the time of the arrest at a park in Vienna, Virginia, Robert Philip Hanssen, age 56, was clandestinely placing a package containing highly classified information at a pre-arranged, or “dead drop,” site for pick-up by his Russian handlers. Hanssen had previously received substantial sums of money from the Russians for the information he disclosed to them.
FBI Director Louis J. Freeh expressed both outrage and sadness. He said the charges, if proven, represent “the most serious violations of law — and threat to national security.”
“A betrayal of trust by an FBI Agent, who is not only sworn to enforce the law but specifically to help protect our nation’s security, is particularly abhorrent. This kind of criminal conduct represents the most traitorous action imaginable against a country governed by the Rule of Law. It also strikes at the heart of everything the FBI represents — the commitment of over 28,000 honest and dedicated men and women in the FBI who work diligently to earn the trust and confidence of the American people every day.”
“These kinds of cases are the most difficult, sensitive and sophisticated imaginable. I am immensely proud of the men and women of the FBI who conducted this investigation. Their actions represent counterintelligence at its very best, reflecting dedication to both principle and mission. It is not an easy assignment to investigate a colleague, but they did so unhesitatingly, quietly and securely.”
Hanssen was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, with espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage, violations that carry a possible punishment of life in prison, and under certain circumstances, the death penalty. Following the arrest, FBI Agents began searching Hanssen’s residence, automobiles and workspace for additional evidence.
A detailed affidavit, filed in support of the criminal complaint and search warrants, provides a troubling account of how Hanssen first volunteered to furnish highly sensitive documents to KGB intelligence officers assigned to the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C. The affidavit chronicles the systematic transfer of highly classified national security and counterintelligence information by Hanssen in exchange for diamonds and cash worth more than $600,000. Hanssen’s activities also have links to other, earlier espionage and national security investigations including the Aldrich Ames and Felix Bloch cases, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit alleges that on over 20 separate occasions, Hanssen clandestinely left packages for the KGB, and its successor agency, the SVR, at dead drop sites in the Washington area. He also provided over two dozen computer diskettes containing additional disclosures of information. Overall, Hanssen gave the KGB/SVR more than 6,000 pages of valuable documentary material, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit alleges that Hanssen compromised numerous human sources of the U.S. Intelligence Community, dozens of classified U.S. Government documents, including “Top Secret” and “codeword” documents, and technical operations of extraordinary importance and value. It also alleges that Hanssen compromised FBI counterintelligence investigative techniques, sources, methods and operations, and disclosed to the KGB the FBI’s secret investigation of Felix Bloch, a foreign service officer, for espionage.
Freeh said that although no formal damage assessment could be conducted before the arrest without jeopardizing the investigation, it is believed that the damage will be exceptionally grave.
During the time of his alleged illegal activities, Hanssen was assigned to New York and Washington, D.C., where he held key counterintelligence positions. As a result of his assignments, Hanssen had direct and legitimate access to voluminous information about sensitive programs and operations. As the complaint alleges, Hanssen effectively used his training, expertise and experience as a counterintelligence Agent to avoid detection, to include keeping his identity and place of employment from his Russian handlers and avoiding all the customary “tradecraft” and travel usually associated with espionage. The turning point in this investigation came when the FBI was able to secure original Russian documentation of an American spy who appeared to the FBI to be Hanssen, which subsequent investigation confirmed.
Freeh said the investigation that led to the charges is a direct result of the combined and continuing FBI/CIA effort ongoing for many years to identify additional foreign penetrations of the U.S. intelligence community. The investigation of Hanssen was conducted by the FBI with direct assistance from the CIA, Department of State and the Justice Department, and represents an aggressive and creative effort which led to this counterintelligence success. Freeh said, “We appreciate the unhesitating leadership and support of Attorney General John Ashcroft from the moment he took office.”
Freeh also expressed his gratitude to Helen Fahey, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant United States Attorney Randy Bellows, and senior Justice Department officials Robert Mueller, Frances Fragos Townsend, John Dion and Laura Ingersoll for their contributions to the case.
United States Attorney Fahey said, “In the past decade, it has been our unfortunate duty to prosecute a number of espionage cases — Ames, Pitts, Nicholson, Squillacote, Kim, Boone, and others. With each case, we hope it will be the last. Today, however with the arrest of Robert Hanssen, we begin again the process of bringing to justice a U.S. Government official charged with the most egregious violations of the public trust. The full resources of the Department of Justice will be devoted to ensuring that those persons who would betray their country and the people of the United States are prosecuted and severely punished.”
“I want to express my appreciation for the outstanding work done by the National Security Division and the Washington Field Office of the FBI in this investigation. Their superlative work in this extraordinarily sensitive and important investigation is testament to their professionalism and dedication. We also express our deep appreciation for the outstanding assistance provided by the Internal Security Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.”
Freeh and CIA Director George Tenet kept the Intelligence Committees of Congress, because of the clear national security and foreign policy implications, informed about the case.
As a result of Hanssen’s actions, Freeh has ordered a comprehensive review of information and personnel security programs in the FBI. Former FBI Director and Director of Central Intelligence William H. Webster will lead the review. Webster, currently in private law practice, brings a “unique experience and background in government management and counterintelligence,” Freeh said. “Moreover, the respect he enjoys throughout the intelligence community and elsewhere in government is second to none. Judge Webster will have complete access and whatever resources that are necessary to complete the task and will report directly to Attorney General Ashcroft and me. I will share his report with the National Security Council and then Congress as well,” Freeh said.
Statement of FBI Director Louis J. Freeh On the Arrest of FBI Special Agent Robert Philip Hanssen
For Immediate Release
February 20, 2001
FBI National Press Office
Sunday night the FBI arrested Robert Philip Hanssen who has been charged with committing espionage. Hanssen is a Special Agent of the FBI with a long career in counterintelligence.
The investigation that led to these charges is the direct result of the longstanding FBI/CIA efforts, ongoing since the Aldrich Ames case, to identify additional foreign penetrations of the United States Intelligence Community. The investigation of Hanssen was conducted by the FBI in partnership with the CIA, the Department of State, and, of course, the Justice Department.
The complaint alleges that Hanssen conspired to and did commit espionage for Russia and the former Soviet Union. The actions alleged date back as far as 1985 and, with the possible exception of several years in the 1990s, continued until his arrest on Sunday. He was arrested while in the process of using a “dead drop” to clandestinely provide numerous classified documents to his Russian handler.
It is alleged that Hanssen provided to the former Soviet Union and subsequently to Russia substantial volumes of highly classified information that he acquired during the course of his job responsibilities in counterintelligence. In return, he received large sums of money and other remuneration. The complaint alleges that he received over $600,000.
The full extent of the damage done is yet unknown because no accurate damage assessment could be conducted without jeopardizing the investigation. We believe it was exceptionally grave.
The criminal conduct alleged represents the most traitorous actions imaginable against a country governed by the Rule of Law. As difficult as this moment is for the FBI and for the country, I am immensely proud of the men and women who conducted this investigation. Their actions represent counterintelligence at its very best and under the most difficult and sensitive of circumstances. Literally, Hanssen’s colleagues and coworkers at the FBI conducted this investigation and did so quietly, securely and without hesitation. Much of what these men and women did remains undisclosed but their success and that of their CIA counterparts represents unparalleled expertise and dedication to both principle and mission.
The complaint alleges that Hanssen, using the code name “Ramon,” engaged in espionage by providing highly classified information to the KGB and its successor agency, the SVR, using encrypted communications, dead drops, and other clandestine techniques. The information he is alleged to have provided compromised numerous human sources, technical operations, counterintelligence techniques, sources and methods, and investigations, including the Felix Bloch investigation.
The affidavit alleges that Hanssen voluntarily became an agent of the KGB in 1985 while assigned to the intelligence division at the FBI field office in New York City as supervisor of a foreign counterintelligence squad. Hanssen allegedly began spying for the Soviets in 1985 when, in his first letter to the KGB, he volunteered information that compromised several sensitive techniques. He also independently disclosed the identity of two KGB officials who, first compromised by Aldrich Ames, had been recruited by the U.S. Government to serve as “agents in place” at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. When these two KGB officials returned to Moscow, they were tried and convicted on espionage charges and executed.
Hanssen subsequently was assigned to a variety of national security posts that legitimately provided him access to classified information relating to the former Soviet Union and Russia. As a result of these assignments within the FBI, Hanssen gained access to some of the most sensitive and highly classified information in the United States Government. To be very clear on this issue, at no time was he authorized to communicate information to agents of the KGB/SVR. Nor can there be any doubt that he was keenly aware of the gravity of his traitorous actions. He later wrote to his KGB handler, speaking about the severity with which U.S. laws punishes his alleged actions, and acknowledging “. I know far better than most what minefields are laid and the risks.”
Hanssen was detailed to the Office of Foreign Missions at the Department of State from 1995 to 2000. The complaint, however, does not allege any compromises by him at the State Department. In one letter to his Russian handlers, Hanssen complains about lost opportunities to alert them that the FBI had discovered the microphone hidden at the State Department, known then by the FBI but apparently not by Hanssen as being monitored by a Russian intelligence officer. In this assignment, however, Hanssen did continue to have access to sensitive FBI information as he remained assigned to the FBI’s National Security Division and routinely dealt with sensitive and classified matters.
For many years, the CIA and FBI have been aggressively engaged in a sustained analytical effort to identify foreign penetrations of the Intelligence Community. That effort is complemented by substantial FBI proactive investigation of foreign service intelligence officers here and by the critical work done by the CIA. Because of these coordinated efforts, the FBI was able to secure original Russian documentation of an American spy who appeared to the FBI to be Hanssen — a premise that was soon to be confirmed when Hanssen was identified by the FBI as having clandestinely communicated with Russian intelligence officers.
As alleged in the complaint, computer forensic analysis, substantial covert surveillance, court authorized searches and other sensitive techniques revealed that Hanssen has routinely accessed FBI records and clandestinely provided those records and other classified information to Russian intelligence officers. As alleged, he did so using a variety of sophisticated means of communication, encryption, and dead drops.
Further, the complaint alleges that Hanssen, using his training and experience to protect himself from discovery by the FBI, never met face-to-face with his Russian handlers, never revealed to them his true identity or where he worked, constantly checked FBI records for signs he and the drop sites he was using were being investigated, refused any foreign travel to meet with the Russians, and even declined to accept any “trade craft.” Hanssen never displayed outward signs that he was receiving large amounts of unexplained cash. He was, after all, a trained counterintelligence specialist. For these reasons, the FBI learned of his true identity before the Russians they are learning of it only now. Even without knowing who he was or where he worked, Hanssen’s value to the Russians was clear both by the substantial sums of money paid and the prestigious awards given to their own agents for Hanssen’s operation.
While this arrest represents a counterintelligence investigative success, the complaint alleges that Hanssen located and removed undetected from the FBI substantial quantities of information that he was able to access as a result of his assignments. None of the internal information or personnel security measures in place alerted those charged with internal security to his activities. In short, the trusted insider betrayed his trust without detection.
While the risk that an employee of the United States Government will betray his country can never be eliminated, there must be more that the FBI can do to protect itself from such an occurrence. I have asked Judge William H. Webster, and he has graciously agreed, to examine thoroughly the internal security functions and procedures of the FBI and recommend improvements. Judge Webster is uniquely qualified as a former FBI Director, CIA Director and Director of Central Intelligence to undertake this review. This is particularly timely as we move to the next generation of automation to support the FBI’s information infrastructure. Judge Webster and anyone he selects to assist him will have complete access and whatever resources are necessary to complete this task. He will report directly to the Attorney General and me and we will share his report with the National Security Council and Congress. I intend to act swiftly on his recommendations.
Before concluding, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet for the cooperation and assistance of his agency in this investigation. Through our cooperative efforts, the FBI and CIA were able to learn the true identity of “Ramon” and the FBI was able to conduct a solid investigation. Our joint efforts over the last several years and specifically in this case should give pause to those contemplating betrayal of the Nation’s trust. Without the current unprecedented level of trust and cooperation between the CIA and FBI, making this case would not have been possible. Nor would many other intelligence and counterintelligence accomplishments that routinely but quietly contribute to the security of this Nation.
Through Attorney General John Ashcroft, I would like to thank the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. The level of support and expertise from Acting Deputy Attorney General Robert Mueller, Counsel for Intelligence Policy Frances Fragos Townsend, U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey and Assistant United States Attorney Randy Bellows is superb. We particularly appreciate the unhesitating leadership and support of Attorney General Ashcroft from the moment he took office.
Director Tenet and I have briefed the intelligence committees of Congress because of the clear national security implications.
As Director of the FBI, I am proud of the courageous men and women of the FBI who each day make enormous sacrifices in serving their country. They have committed their lives to public service and to upholding the high standards of the FBI. Since becoming Director over seven years ago, I have administered the FBI oath to each graduating class of Special Agents at the FBI Academy. Each time, I share the pride and sanctity of those words when new agents swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
Regrettably, I stand here today both saddened and outraged. An FBI Agent who raised his right hand and spoke those words over 25 years ago has been charged today with violating that oath in the most egregious and reprehensible manner imaginable. The FBI entrusted him with some of the most sensitive secrets of the United States Government and instead of being humbled by this honor, Hanssen has allegedly abused and betrayed that trust. The crimes alleged are an affront not only to his fellow FBI employees but to the American people, not to mention the pain and suffering he has brought upon his family. Our hearts go out to them. I take solace and satisfaction, however, that the FBI succeeded in this investigation. As an agency, we lived up to our responsibility, regardless of how painful it might be.
The Spy Who Kept the Cold War From Boiling Over
In 1984, U.S. spies monitoring the Soviet press found an alarming piece in a Russian magazine. It wasn’t an expose on officials in the Soviet Union or a worrying account about Cold War attitudes toward the United States. Rather, it was a recipe for coot, a small water bird that’s common in Eastern Europe.
For CIA officials, that meant trouble. They had long had an agreement with a Russian double agent they called TOP HAT—if he wanted to get in touch with them, he𠆝 indicate it by publishing the recipe. Was TOP HAT in danger?
As it turns out, yes. Soon after, America’s most valuable spy, Dmitri Polyakov, fell off the map entirely. For nearly 25 years, the Soviet military intelligence officer had served as the United States’ most trusted resource on the Soviet military, providing reams of intelligence and becoming a legend in the process.
Polyakov’s documents and tips informed U.S. strategy in China during the Cold War and helped the U.S. military determine how to deal with Soviet-era weapons. And Polyakov was credited with keeping the Cold War from boiling over by giving the United States secrets that gave it an inside view of Soviet priorities.
But was Polyakov a double agent…or a triple one who kept the U.S. on an IV drip of false tips and misinformation? And what happened to him after his sudden disappearance?
Polyakov was born in what is now Ukraine in 1921. After serving in World War II, he was recruited by the GRU, the USSR’s military intelligence agency. He wasn’t the type of man anyone would peg as a spy—the son of a bookkeeper, he was an unassuming father who did carpentry projects in his spare time. On the surface, he was a dutiful worker and a reliable GRU asset. But as he rose through the ranks of the agency, following protocol and living a seemingly routine life, he began to work to undermine the USSR itself.
At the time, the GRU had agents all around the world, and was tasked with learning everything possible about American life, priorities, and military assets. The United States did the same thing with the USSR, but had a harder time because of the absolute secrecy that ruled Soviet intelligence.
Until Polyakov offered himself to the CIA as a double agent, that is. At the time, he was stationed at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in New York. Though Polyakov was fiercely loyal to the USSR, he was increasingly disgusted by what he saw as the corruption and impending failure of Soviet leaders. So he offered his services to the United States.
One CIA officer who worked with Polyakov believed his motivation to help the Americans stemmed from his service in World War II. "He contrasted the horror, the carnage, the things he had fought for, against the duplicity and corruption he saw developing in Moscow," this source told TIME’s Elaine Shannon.
Polyakov considered himself to be 𠇊 Russian patriot,” writes author Ronald Kessler. The spy lived modestly and refused to accept large amounts of money for his work. Instead, he insisted on being paid only $3,000 a year. And the money wasn’t delivered in cash. Instead, writes Kessler, Polyakov accepted payment in the form of 𠇋lack & Decker power tools, fishing gear, and shotguns.”
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12 Best Spy Agencies in the World [As of 2021]
An intelligence agency essentially works like a nervous system in any nation’s defense setup, which is responsible for feeding vital information to law enforcement agencies and armed forces about possible threats to the national security. They collect, analyze, and exploit secretive information that is not available to common people to their own advantage.
These agencies gather information by various means, including espionage, signal gathering or intercepting, cryptanalysis, and various other methods. For those who don’t know, almost every nation has more than one operational secret service or spy agency, but mostly one stands out of the rest.
So what makes one spy agency better than another? Is it because of a colossal budget or relentless and hard training, or it’s just because of the technology they use? Well, actually, it’s a mixture of all these things. Anyway, here are the 12 best spy agencies in the world.
12. National Intelligence Organization
Established In: 1965
Annual Budget: $400 Million (2007)
The National Intelligence Organization is one of the major intelligence agencies in Turkey. It is mostly responsible for counterintelligence duties and largely focuses on cyber defenses. The agency is also known for several high profile espionage against other nations, including Egypt, Germany, Austria, Greece, and Sweden.
11. National Intelligence Service, South Korea
The headquarters of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) | Image credit: Hani.co.kr
Established In: 1961
The NIS or National Intelligence Service was established under the regime of Korea’s military dictator Park Chung-hee in 1961. It was originally established under the name of KCIA and was responsible for coordinating domestic and international intel. movements. Historically, NIS has been involved in politics. Recently, the agency has admitted that they were trying to rig the 2012 presidential elections.
10. Canadian Security Intelligence Service
Established In: 1984
Annual Budget: $447 Million (2017)
Canadian Security Intelligence Service or CSIS is the country’s leading intelligence agency regarding internal security and responsible for the collection, analysis of intelligence concerning the nation’s security. Over the years, CSIS has been accused of many wrongdoings and using aggressive tactics.
9. Research And Analysis Wing
Established In: 1968
The Sino-Indian war of 1962 was a major setback for the existing intelligence agency in India the Intelligence Bureau, which was at that time responsible for both internal and external security. To thwart any other major catastrophes in the future, R&AW was established by the Government of India as a dedicated foreign intelligence agency.
It is known for its aggressive intelligence collection style with means such as psychological warfare, sabotage, and assassinations. The agency maintains an active connection with major intelligence agencies in the world, such as the CIA and Mossad and MI6.
8. Australian Secret Intelligence Services
R. G. Casey House, Headquarters of the ASIS
Established In: 1952
Annual Budget: $337 Million (2017)
The Australian Secret Intelligence Service or ASIS is one of the oldest operational spy agencies in the country. Its existence remained highly classified until it was exposed by the Daily Telegraph in 1972. As an important part of the Australian Intelligence Community, ASIS’s responsibility lies in gathering foreign intelligence.
Since its exposure, ASIS has been involved in various controversies, including the Favaro Affair in 1975, The Sheraton Hotel incident in 1983, and alleged political involvement in Papua New Guinea.
7. General Directorate for External Security
Established In: 1982
Annual Budget: $731 Million
French foreign intelligence agency, General Directorate for External Security or DGSE operates under the guidance of the French Ministry of Defence. It is largely known for its expertise in counterintelligence and economic espionage against other nations.
Though the agency was formally founded in 1982, its roots can be traced back to 1947, when its predecessor SDECE was established. In the 1960s, SDECE became involved in a high profile kidnapping of a Moroccan revolutionary named Mehdi Ben Barka. Following this, SDECE lost its autonomy and was eventually renamed DGSE.
6. Federal Intelligence Service, Bundesnachrichtendienst
Image Courtesy: Bundeswehr-journal de
Established In: 1956
Annual Budget: $1.1 Billion (2019)
The Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND was established during the Cold War to replace the earlier Gehlen Organization. During that time, BND worked closely with the American CIA to monitor movements in the eastern bloc. In the next couple of decades, BND was mostly focused on Russia and the Middle East.
Currently, being the only foreign intelligence agency of Germany, BND collects both civil and military intelligence using wiretapping and other sorts of surveillance techniques. In 2005, a report revealed that BND has been spying on a group of German journals since the 1990s to investigate possible sources of information leaks. The agency also had a major role in the 2008 Liechtenstein tax affair.
5. Ministry of State Security
MSS facilities in Xiyuan, Beijing
Established In: 1983
Annual Budget: $3 Billion to $4 Billion
Headquartered in Beijing, the Ministry of State Security is a Chinese intelligence agency responsible for the security of political security, counterintelligence, and foreign intelligence. MSS is one of the most powerful agencies in the country with the powers to detain citizens and conduct all types of clandestine activities internally or externally.
Over the years, MSS agents have increased their activities in the United States, causing the CIA and other American agencies to be more suspicious.
4. Foreign Intelligence Service
Emblem of the SVR
Established In: 1991
After KGB was dismantled in 1991, Russia was in dire need of a specialized agency to take care of the nation’s internal and external security. As a result, two agencies were established Foreign Intelligence Service and Federal Security Services.
Foreign Intelligence Service’s main duty is to conduct intelligence, strategic, economic espionage in other nations and provide protection to Russian officials overseas. Since 1991, SVR has conducted many overseas espionage and spy campaigns, most notably in the United States.
Old Entebbe Terminal in 1994. Bullet holes from the 1976 raid are still visible
Established In: 1949
Estimated Numbers of Employees: 1,200
Mossad is Israel’s foremost special operation and foreign intelligence agency, responsible for data collection (intelligence) stealth operations. Mossad is known for its fierce counterterrorist measures, which they have demonstrated time and time again.
One of their most famous counterterrorism operations was Operation Entebbe in Uganda in 1976. The agency was responsible for gathering information about the exact whereabouts of the hostages, numbers of hijackers, and other details. Mossad also operates a venture capital fund to invest and acquire new promising spy techniques.
2. Secret Intelligence Service
SIS Building at Vauxhall Cross Image Courtesy: Laurie Nevay
Established In: 1909
Annual Budget: $2.69 Billion (2015)
Estimated Numbers of Employees: 2,479
British SIS or Secret Intelligence Service is one of the most respected organizations in the spy world. This premier spy agency is known by many names and one such name in M16 (Military Intelligence Section 16). The existence of SIS was officially acknowledged only in 1994, almost 9 decades after its initial establishment.
Unlike MI5, SIS’s domain is only limited to people and entities outside the British Isles. Historically, the agency was involved largely in the Second World War, Cold War, and other regional disputes all over the world.
1. Central Intelligence Agency
Image Courtesy: CIA
Established In: 1947
Annual Budget: $15 Billion (2013)
Estimated Numbers of Employees: 22,000
When the CIA was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1947, its main motive was to mediate foreign policy intelligence and analysis countrywide. Now, this agency is perhaps the most powerful agency in the United States Intelligence Community.
Most of the organization’s resources and manpower are spent on collecting foreign intelligence with a minimal amount of domestic data. The CIA is undoubtedly the most easily recognizable intelligence agency in the world, mostly due to the numerous mentions in international and Hollywood movies.
CIA is also one of the heavily funded government organization in the USA. Historically, the CIA has been involved in many international controversies, including the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état, political shake-ups in Syria, Indonesia, and Congo.
Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected]
Top RPGs of All Time
Role-playing games have a long and fascinating history. From its humble tabletop origins, the RPG has grown and evolved over the years into the most dominant and ambitious game genre, boasting a catalog as critically acclaimed as it is diverse. The best RPGs embrace a rich storytelling tradition as well as deep and engaging gameplay to create universes that are as exciting to explore as they are thrilling to quest and do battle in. And we’ve sunk hundreds — sometimes even thousands — of hours immersing ourselves in those incredible universes, whether that be stunning high fantasy kingdoms full of knights and dragons, exciting sci-fi realms brimming with possibilities, or even extraordinary versions of our own world.
But which RPGs are the best of the best? Which RPGs were influential enough to lead the rest, or bold enough to question the mold in new and exciting ways? Which RPGs gave us the richest characters, worlds, and stories — experiences we’ll never forget? IGN got its biggest RPG fans in a room to find out. Below are the Top 100 RPGs of All Time.
The main elements we examined:
- Story (Is it compelling, well-written, or uniquely told?)
- Presentation (Is its sound, music, and/or visual style particularly strong?)
- Character progression (Is there satisfying decision-making when it comes to building a character, choosing a combat style, or making other decisions in the game world?)
- Combat (Is it fun? Innovative? Does it ask the player to make interesting choices?)
- Systems (Is there an interesting dynamic between its various meta systems?)
Because the RPG is a particularly diverse and hard-to-define genre, it was important for us to nail down exactly what qualifies as an “RPG.”
For the purposes of this list, we defined an RPG as a game that includes:
- Persistent character progression (including player-exposed stats)
- Combat that is a significant part of the experience
- Choices and consequences
- Character building and customization
It wasn’t the first MMO, but EverQuest was the first to bring the genre to widespread popularity and become a household name. Featuring a gorgeous open world, populated with fantasy creatures and real-life players alike, it gave gamers an expansive chunk of real estate to explore for days, months, and years on end. And once you reached the level cap, you could roll a new kind of character with a different play style to tide yourself over until the next expansion arrived. The MMO genre eventually evolved and branched off in many directions, leaving EverQuest feeling rooted in the past. But that doesn’t take away from the memories EverQuest created, or the impact it had on the industry.
- Because EverQuest seemed to inspire addictive behavior, it earned the nickname EverCrack.
- In 2002, the BBC reported that EverQuest was the 77th wealthiest country in the world, based on its virtual currency.
RPG franchises don’t get much older than Wizardry, a series that kicked off back in 1981. The final game, Wizardry 8, launched 20 years later. It mixes sci-fi trappings with traditional fantasy fare, so you have a smattering of guns and aliens alongside swords and spells. One of the best things about Wizardry 8 is its robust character creation tools. You can choose among 11 different races, ranging from Humans and Elves to Faeries, Mooks, and Hobbits. Layer on a choice of 15 classes, and you end up with a stunning number of combinations to try in your party. Unlike The Elder Scrolls, which offers similar character options, Wizardry 8 lets you customize six party members instead of just one.
- After struggling to find a traditional publisher, Sir-Tech partnered with gaming retailer Electronics Boutique to publish the game.
- It was published a whole nine years after its predecessor, Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, from 1992.
- Depicted approaching enemies for the first time in the series, instead of random pop-up encounters.
Titan Quest is often shrugged off as just another Diablo clone. And while there’s something to that argument, it also ignores the interesting things Titan Quest adds to the formula to create a wholly enjoyable action RPG. Instead of a well-trodden fantasy setting, Titan Quest looks to myths for inspiration. To that end, it has you travel across China, Egypt, and Greece, slaying beasts likes centaurs and gorgons, while collecting ever more powerful gear. The gameplay is highly customizable, thanks to its deep class and mastering systems, which provide plenty of replay value for anyone looking to try different combat styles. And when you finish the game, you can make your very own campaign, thanks to a robust level editor.
- The idea for Titan Quest arose when game designer Brian Sullivan was working on Age of Empires and thought it would be fun to make a game based in Greek mythology.
- Its opening cutscene was created by Blur Studio, also responsible for the cinematic trailers for Arkham City, Arkham Origins, and Arkham Knight.
It’s safe to say Peter Molyneux’s games often fail to live up to the hype he sparks for them. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Fable II, a delightful action RPG that offers players a bit of nearly everything. The game weaves an epic story that spans your character’s life from childhood on. Combat feels like a fluid dance, thanks to the melee, magic, and ranged attacks you can string together with ease. To top it off, the whole thing is rife with humor and charm. So whether you want to amass a real estate empire or simply woo a spouse, you can. And let’s not forget the real star of the show: your lovable canine companion.
- PETA gave Fable II their Proggy award for being the most animal-friendly game of 2008.
- Set 500 years after the first Fable.
When done right, dungeon crawlers create a sense of momentum as you hack through monsters, pick up the loot they drop, equip any high-level gear, and move on to do it again. This is a gameplay loop Torchlight II completely nails. Story and character tend to fall to the wayside here, but you’re too busy wreaking ultra-violence and collecting shiny new things to care. The four character classes are stocked with skills that are satisfying to use, the environments pulse with color, and playing co-op with friends makes it even more of a chaotic joy to play. The craving for loot is real, and Torchlight II delivers it in the best way.
- Two of Runic Games’ founding members worked on Diablo and Diablo II.
- Its cinematic sequences were produced by Don't Starve developer Klei Entertainment.
Pillars of Eternity excels on any number of fronts, but its dialog and vocal performances are among its strongest suits. That’s a good thing, too, because one adventure through this Baldur’s Gate-like RPG spans dozens of hours. And many of those hours are spent chatting with a variety of compelling characters. Making things even more interesting is that your dialog options depend on your character’s stats. If you’ve pumped points into Might, for instance, you may be able to get vital information by using aggressive posturing. Then again, it could backfire, leaving you worse off than before. Throw in an deep tactical battle system, and you’re looking at a game that satisfies on multiple levels.
- At the time, it was the highest-funded Kickstarter game ($3.9m), surpassed since by Torment: Tides of Numenera, Bloodstained, and Shenmue 3.
- A number of the NPCs were named and designed by Kickstarter backers who pledged $1,000 or more.
- Its soundtrack was inspired by the music of Icewind Dale and Baldur's Gate.
If you’re in the mood for a strategy RPG about giant mechs, Front Mission 3 has you covered — twice. That’s because there are basically two games on the disc. Your path is determined early on by a seemingly innocuous decision. Help a friend with a delivery, and you’ll go down the “Emma” path. Stay behind, and you’ll see the “Alisa” side of the game. Which path you choose determines which faction you’re fighting for, so choosing the other path on a second play-through means you’ll have to fight against characters you’ve come to know and appreciate. But what really sets Front Mission 3 apart is its mech-building mechanic. Every enemy mech you take down goes into your inventory, and you can swap parts around to create the patchwork mech of your dreams.
- It may be the third game in the series, but Front Mission 3 was the first to be released in North America.
- The game's vastly different branching paths all begins with a simple early game choice: do you help your friend make a delivery, or not?
You’d better have graph paper on hand before you dive into this dungeon crawler, because it offers no map of the intricate mazes you’ll find inside. To begin, you can customize up to six adventurers, with professions like warrior, rogue, hunter, and magician. True to the title, the bard is probably the most useful, because his songs cast spells that help out your entire party. The game lets you explore towns and dungeons one grid square at a time, with turn-based combat that uses a loose version of Dungeon & Dragons’ die rolls. In the mid-‘80s, gamers were hungry for this kind of adventure. That’s probably why The Bard’s Tale showed up on tons of computer platforms, as well as the NES.
- The actual title is Tales of the Unknown: Volume I: The Bard’s Tale. Later games in the series dropped everything but the subtitle.
- Printed on the front of the PlayStation 2 disc is the line, "For A Really Disturbing Image. Flip Disc Over." On the back? Just the reflective mirror of the disc.
Set in the world of the Riftwar novels by Raymond E. Feist, Betrayal at Krondor is a first-person RPG that’s surprisingly open-world for a game of its vintage. You control three adventurers as you make your way through nine chapters of a fantasy story, fighting enemies, picking locks, maintaining degradable gear, and solving riddles to open Moredhel wordlock chests. Combat plays out like a turn-based strategy game, with combatants moving around on a grid to deliver strategic strikes. Make sure you bring your reading glasses, because Krondor is dense with text, which should come as no surprise considering its literary origins.
- The initial release of Betrayal at Krondor came on a stack of seven 3.5-inch floppy discs.
- Set in the world of Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar books, the game itself was structured like a novel, complete with chapter breaks.
Most RPGs center around adventurers in a fantasy world. Freedom Force, on the other hand, is about superheroes in a modern setting. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is the combat. Each of your four heroes has unique moves, but they can also interact with the urban environment. Parked cars can be hoisted and hurled at enemies. Light posts can be pulled out of the ground and swung like baseball bats. And while the combat takes place in real time by default, you can pause at any time to issue instructions to your party. Freedom Force is a stylish game that oozes charm and originality at every turn.
- The superheroes in Freedom Force were created for the game, but they got their own comic book miniseries in 2005.
- Freedom Force had a 2005 self-published sequel — Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich.
At a glance, Divinity: Original Sin looks like an old-fashioned CRPG with a fresh coat of paint. And it is, but Larian Studios has modernized more than just the graphics. For instance, the NPCs often react in realistic ways to your actions, ways other games don’t bother including. Most RPGs let you barge into people’s homes and take their things without a word of complaint. Try that in Divinity: Original Sin, and you’re likely to get yelled at or attacked. Every location is brimming with creative ideas and new things to find, making it a real challenge to stop playing. All of this, and it also manages to be funny throughout. That’s quite an achievement.
- Larian Studios pulled in nearly $1 million in a Kickstarter campaign to get Divinity: Original Sin off the ground.
- It is Larian's fastest-selling and highest-rated game to date.
Dragon Age: Inquisition contains a fantasy world so rich and well developed, you might want to go there on vacation if it weren’t for all the monsters. Its story, about closing a breach in the fabric of the world, is about as epic as single-player games get. And its character creation options are nearly limitless. But its most impressive achievement, and the reason players keep coming back to it, is the characters. Inquisition is stocked with sharply written, well acted characters that come to feel like good friends by the time the game is over. Any game that can deliver that kind of experience is worth playing at least once.
- Instead of importing old saves, BioWare released Dragon Age Keep, an app that let players customize their decisions from previous games.
- The first Dragon Age game to feature nudity.
Darkest Dungeon wastes no time plunging players into a mood of doom and gloom. But that’s one of the reasons to love it. You control a party of adventurers who trudge into the depths of a dungeon, taking on enemies in turn-based battles as you go. Randomness plays a large role in the game, so you can never settle into a comfortable rhythm. The class system is nicely varied, making it rewarding to try different party combinations. Each character has a unique set of moves, some of which need to be unlocked and all of which can be upgraded. What moves they can use depend on where they’re positioned in the party line. For a game that might look simple on the outside, these overlapping systems add a great deal of complexity. And with the difficulty level so high, winning always feels rewarding.
- Darkest Dungeon was originally planned as a top-down tile-based game.
- It earned over $313,000 on Kickstarter and sold over one million copies.
One of the lesser known long-running RPG series is Ys (pronounced “ees”). It’s a shame it’s not more popular, because Ys has been offering up enjoyable action RPGs regularly since the 1980s. What you get in this collection, originally released on TurboGrafx-CD but now available more widely, is enhanced remakes of the franchise’s first two installments. The games center around Adol Christin, a redheaded hero on a quest to collect the books of Ys and takes on the evil forces rampaging through the world. With splashy real-time combat and eye-catching anime cut scenes, this collection helped prove that CD was the gaming medium of the future.
- The final boss of the first game in this collection is notorious for being one of the toughest bosses ever created. Have fun.
- Critics have praised its soundtrack as some of the best video game music ever composed.
Kingdom Hearts 2 considerably ups the combat possibilities of its predecessor, introducing new forms — and snazzy new suits — for Sora to wear. The addition of the Reaction Command in combat also spices battles up, making for a combat experience made even more varied by the addition of the new Nobodies enemies. By streamlining some of the first Kingdom Heart's systems, including magic and the awful Gummi Ship levels — not to mention deepening the lore to stranger, more engaging depths — the first numbered sequel in the 15 year old franchise is still one of its strongest and one of the most fun to play.
- Stitch (of Lilo & Stitch) was included as a character after a survey revealed Stitch as the second most beloved Disney character in Japan.
- The poem read at the end of the game is taken from the original trailer of the first Kingdom Hearts.
- Kingdom Hearts II sold over 727,000 copies during its first week in Japan.
Few RPG fans would deny that Chrono Trigger is a certified masterpiece. So what’s a developer to do when creating a sequel to such a beloved game? Create another classic, of course. Rather than rehashing ideas from Chrono Trigger, Square decided to mix things up quite a bit with the sequel. Chrono Cross takes place in an entirely different world and stars a new set of characters. But what really sets it apart is its unique battle system, which cleverly mixes turn-based tropes with real-time elements. Your characters have stamina meters that fill up between attacks. The longer you wait to make a move, the more powerful the move will be. Throw in a magic system that uses an element grid that ties into the stamina meter, and you’re looking at a mighty deep combat system. The callbacks to Chrono Trigger are just icing on an already impressive cake.
- In the early 2000s, Square registered a trademark for Chrono Break, getting fans excited for a sequel. So far, nothing has come of it.
- Localization director Richard Honeywood created a system to automatically generate characters' unique speech patterns in real time.
Some people like short games: get in, have fun, and move on. Dragon Warrior VII is not for those people. This endlessly charming RPG is so packed with quests and breezy conversations that you can play it for well over 100 hours without ever running out of things to do. You don’t even unlock the class system for your party until around 20 hours in. And while the PlayStation version is a great game worthy of this list, the 3DS remake has some added bonuses, including a new translation, visible enemies instead of random encounters, and even more content — as if 100 hours wasn’t enough.
- Such a content-rich game must have been made by a team of thousands, right? Wrong. Only about 35 people worked on Dragon Warrior VII.
- It was the best-selling game in Japan in the year 2000, when it first launched.
When it comes to influential JRPG franchises, Final Fantasy sits near the very top of the list. Not only did the first game offer one of the most ambitious adventures available on the NES at the time, but it also spawned a series that now comprises dozens of sequels and spinoffs. With its relatively robust class system, its four-character party, and steady injection of new gameplay ideas throughout the adventure, Final Fantasy helped cement a whole host of RPG tropes that would remain for decades to come. Without this game, many of the RPGs on this list would probably be very different games — if they’d even exist at all.
- The development team originally wanted to call the game Fighting Fantasy.
- Any word starting with an F would've worked, says designer Hironobu Sakaguchi — they just wanted a title they could abbreviate to "FF."
If you thought Bioshock was the first game set in a failed utopia below water level, you’d be wrong. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss has it beat by over 20 years. In this pioneering first-person RPG, you explore a sprawling dungeon using free movement rather than the grid-based system that was common at the time. You can gather useful items, pick your responses during conversations, and power up your character in a staggering number of ways. As you explore the ruins, the music shifts on the fly to match whatever tone your adventuring takes on. If you’re looking for a game that was way ahead of its time, you’ve found it.
- The Stygian Abyss is one of the earliest first-person 3D RPGs.
- It was also one of the first games to earn the label "immersive sim."
- Later games that were influenced by Ultima Underworld include Deus Ex, System Shock, and The Elder Scrolls.
Calling EVE Online epic doesn’t really do it justice. This long-running MMO contains thousands of star systems you can explore at your leisure (unless space pirates show up and blast you to oblivion). It presents players with a universe to explore and a basic set of gameplay systems. What you do with that is up to you, thanks to open-ended gameplay that rewards creativity and collaboration. You can join up with other players and take part in multi-day space battles, or you can go off and mine resources to sell for a profit at the next space station. If you want to blow tens of thousands of real-life dollars building a city-sized space ship, you can do that too. The universe is your oyster.
- One famous virtual crime to take place in EVE Online saw an in-game corporation steal $16,500 USD worth of assets from another.
- The 2016 book Empires of EVE chronicles some of the most interesting stories that have emerged in EVE Online's long history
Mario was no stranger to RPGs, but Superstar Saga brought Luigi into the fold and kicked off a now-classic series of handheld RPGs. Superstar Saga finds the plumber brothers teaming up with Bowser to get Princess Peach’s voice back from the villainous Cackletta. To do so, they engage in some of the most enjoyable action RPG-ing you’ll find in any game, handheld or otherwise. The story is shot through with humor that plays out in the script, but also in the many expressive character animations packed into the game. Even many of the attacks are clever, like when Mario uses a fireball to set Luigi’s rear end on fire, sending him charging into enemies.
- This Game Boy Advance cartridge also includes a remake of the Mario Bros. arcade game.
- Area 64 was meant was both a reference to Area 51 and the Nintendo 64.
Though it doesn’t get talked about as much as other RPGs from the early PlayStation era, Star Ocean: The Second Story isn’t one to miss. It tells the story of Claude and Rena, unlikely companions who come from very different backgrounds. Claude is a spacefaring adventurer who accidentally transports himself to Expel, a faraway planet of magic and fantasy, where he meets Rena, who thinks he must be a legendary Hero of Light. On top of that promising setup, the game is rife with intricate systems, all of which offer unique charms. An item creation mode lets you break down collectibles into food and gear. During real-time battles, you can control whichever party member you want, hopping between them to take advantage of their unique abilities. The graphics hold up well, with a dynamic battle camera, pre-rendered backgrounds, and expressive sprite-based characters. Oh, and the soundtrack isn’t too shabby either.
- The animation company Links created the CG cutscenes for this game as well as Final Fantasy VII.
- A seven-volume manga series based on the game ended without concluding its story.
When the spirit of the earth asks you to do something, you do it. That’s what kicks off this action RPG about a boy on a quest to collect Mystic Statues and bring them to the Tower of Babel to save the world from ultimate destruction. But it’s not just the story that makes Illusion of Gaia one of the best in its genre. It’s the Earth-like setting that features locations both real and mythical. It’s the combat, which starts out simple and becomes much more complex as you learn surprising new abilities. And then there’s the soundtrack, which sticks in your head long after you’ve reached the tower, saved the world, and tried to figure out the ambiguous ending.
- The NA version had potentially controversial aspects changed or removed, including religious references and a whole thing about cannibalism.
- Influential Japanese artist Moto Hagio, the "mother of shojo manga," designed Illusion of Gaia's characters.
On paper, Valkyria Chronicles doesn’t seem like it should work. For one thing, it shoehorns shooter mechanics into a turn-based strategy game. For another, it uses anime art to depict a setting very much like Europe during World War II. But somehow Sega took these seemingly incongruous ingredients and cooked up a truly impressive game. The battles are tactical but intense, thanks to a perspective that lets you plot your moves from an overhead view of the battlefield before swooping down and giving you direct control of your troops as you put your plan into action. The characters are well written, and the game actually seems to have something to say about war. It’s rare for a game to try to blend this many ideas into a single package. It’s far more rare for the result to be this brilliant.
- As part of their research leading up to the game, the developers reportedly binge-watched Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan.
- Three characters from Skies of Arcadia make an appearance.
Compared to other games in its genealogy — like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment — Icewind Dale II is much more focused on action. So while it mostly ditches side quests and puzzles that were common in its predecessors, it zeroes in on deep character creation tools and tons of combat variety. You start out by creating a party of up to six adventurers, selecting their class, gender, and race. Once that’s done, you begin your adventure, customizing your team with an array of weapons, abilities, and spells along the way. Combat mechanics are only useful when you have something to fight, so it’s good Icewind Dale II doesn’t skimp in the enemy department. It presents you with mummies, skeletons, bugbears, orcs, goblins, giants, and a whole mess of other fantasy beasts to slay. In 2002, Icewind Dale II was the perfect chaser to its sprawling, meditative predecessors. It even holds up today.
- The last game created on the Infinity Engine.
- Based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition ruleset.
The Legend of Dragoon follows Dart, a traditional RPG protagonist who just really can’t catch a break. His parents are killed, his hometown is destroyed — twice — and on his way home from a journey to avenge them he’s attacked by a really cool dragon. The graphics at the time were exceptional, and although Dragoon wasn’t the first RPG with turn-based combat to use an action cue system to make battles more engaging, that is one aspect that made the game memorable.
- The Legend of Dragoon was spread across four discs on the original PlayStation.
- Its difficulty was toned down for US release.
- When the Legend of Dragoon debuted in the US PlayStation Network store in 2012, it was the top-selling PSOne classic for three months.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness kicked off the popular strategy game series, setting up the franchise’s signature humor and systems with the arrogant Laharl’s quest to reclaim the demon throne and become Overlord of the Netherworld. Hour of Darkness featured several unique systems, like the ability to capture enemies and turn them into allies, though at the risk of killing some of your own units, and a complex “geo panel” system that let skilled players set up gratifying chain reactions during battle. Most of all, it's the game’s irreverant humor that gives it staying power and has earned it a cult following.
- Its Japanese title translates to “Netherworld Battle Chronicle: Disgaea.”
- The song “The Invasion From Within” by the band Tsunami Bomb will only play in the US version if English is selected as the language.
- A Sony PSP port released in 2007 had a slightly different title — Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness.
The first Witcher game, based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, was great in its own right, but the sequel, Assassins of Kings, exploded the series out of its niche and into the mainstream. The game was bigger and better in every way, with improved combat, celebrated graphics, and much more player freedom (though the series hadn’t gone full open world yet, like it would with The Witcher 3). Like the series’ other games, The Witcher 2 is renowned for its fantastic writing and characters, including a narrative fork that can set players on two very different paths, making Geralt one of gaming’s most iconic heroes.
- CD Projekt developed their own engine for The Witcher 2. (The first game ran on BioWare’s Aurora engine.)
- In Australia, a quest in which Geralt is offered sex as a reward was altered so that he declines automatically.
- In the lead-up to The Witcher 2's release, the May 2011 issue of the Polish edition of Playboy featured the character Triss on its cover.
Development on the Neverwinter Nights series passed from BioWare to Obsidian for the full-fledged sequel in 2006, but the game didn’t exactly suffer for it. Following an orphaned adventurer investigating relics called Silver Shards, NW2 improved on the first game in marked ways, especially in its narrative. More importantly, it featured online co-op and a development toolset with which players could create their own scenarios for the game, both of which helped ensure Neverwinter Nights 2 would have an avid following to this day.
- Neverwinter Nights 2's multiplayer servers were shut down in 2012, but fans have kept it alive in various ways.
- Its existence was revealed months before its official announcement by an Atari employee replying to an inflammatory post on a company forum.
Before Mass Effect and Dragon Age (although after Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Knights of the Old Republic, to be fair), there was BioWare’s Jade Empire, an original Xbox game that proved console RPGs could be great. With the traditional story of a martial arts student thrust on a quest to save their master, Jade Empire wowed players with its engrossing world and its surprisingly nuanced dual philosophies, the Way of the Open Palm and the Way of the Closed Fist (mirroring BioWare’s success developing “light” and “dark” paths for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic).
- Jade Empire’s made-up language, Tho Fan, was created by Wolf Wikeley, a Ph.D candidate in linguistics at the University of Alberta.
- Its limited edition came with three additional Xbox game demos: Forza Motorsport, Conker Live & Reloaded, and MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf.
Gamers in the Western world had no idea what we were missing out on all the years Nintendo hadn’t started releasing Fire Emblem games here yet. The 3DS’s Fire Emblem Awakening is a great example. It built on everything fans love about the series, from its strategic turn-based battles to its focus on story and characters. It also included the ability to disable the series’ signature “permadeath” mechanic, providing more options for a wider variety of players to appreciate Fire Emblem’s genius.
- Fire Emblem sales flagged prior to Awakening’s release, and the developers knew it might be the last FE game if it wasn’t successful.
- Its characters were co-designed by Yusuke Kozaki, who also designed the characters in Grasshopper Manufacture’s Wii game No More Heroes.
- Prior to release, its internal name was “Fire Emblem Fin: The Children from the Brink.”
Sometimes all a game needs is a second chance, and Odin Sphere got one with Odin Sphere Leifthrasir in 2016. A remake of the 2007 PlayStation 2 original, Leifthrasir improved on it in every way, with better combat and AI, more environments, and many redesigned systems that ironed out the game’s kinks and let its strengths shine through. Those strengths include a dramatic, twist-filled story, a plethora of playable characters, and, perhaps most of all, Vanillaware’s signature hand-drawn art style.
- “Leifthrasir” comes from Norse mythology’s Lif and Lífþrasir, the two humans who survive the apocalypse and repopulate the world.
- Creator George Kamitani wanted to remove several features in Leifthrasir from the original, like alchemy, but the team convinced him not to.
It’s amazing what one person can accomplish, and Undertale is proof. Toby Fox wrote and designed, developed, composed the music for, and released Undertale solo, his only help from additional artists. And it took the gaming world by storm, largely thanks to its deceptively simple story and combat systems, which worked together to conceal great narrative depth. Undertale turns nearly every RPG trope in existence on its head, while simultaneously feeling good as an RPG — a truly incredible feat.
- Creator Toby Fox planned to release Undertale in 2014, but experienced years of delays.
- Its Kickstarter funding campaign, which took place in 2013, raised over ten times its goal of $5,000 — earning over $51,000.
- Fox, who composed and created all of Undertale's music, is a self-taught musician with no formal training.
Ni no Kuni: Wratch of the White Witch follows the adventures of Oliver and his companions, who include an oddball fairy named Drippy, as Oliver tries to save his mother. Its unique combat system paired well with a Pokemon-like creature collection element, while its world brimmed with fantastic sights and sounds. Most notably, Ni no Kuni’s visuals were heavily inspired by famed Japanese animators Studio Ghibli — makers of films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away — and Ghibli provided the game’s gorgeous animated cutscenes.
- Ni no Kuni was originally in development for Nintendo DS with the title “Ni no Kuni: The Another World.”
- That version became Ni no Kuni: Dominon of the Dark Djinn, launching a year before White Witch.
- Motorville represents an American town in the peak of the automotive industry — called “Hotroit,” like Detroit, in the Japanese version.
An “official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer product,” Pool of Radiance cast you as a band of heroes battling monsters and other enemies in and around the town of Phlan. It was the first adaptation of Advanced D&D, helping set the precedent for western RPGs for the last three decades, from Baldur’s Gate to The Witcher 3. It even let players export their characters into later games in the series, another precursor of things to come.
- An NES version called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pool of Radiance launched in 1992.
- Copy protection features required players to use a decoder wheel to translate a word to get past the title screen.
- The Macintosh version lacked music because of hardware limitations.
Dragon Quest VIII is considered by many fans to be among the best entries in the series, which is saying something for a franchise this popular. This was back in the height of cartoonish, cel-shaded graphics, but even then this game stood out for its gorgeously rendered world. It also managed to be less complex than some of its predecessors, eschewing a complicated job system, which many players — weary of convoluted systems in contemporary RPGs — found refreshing.
- Dragon Quest VIII was the first fully 3D Dragon Quest game.
- It’s the top-selling PS2 game of all time in Japan.
- The Japanese release day party took place at a Starbucks in Shibuya, Tokyo.
As the sequel to Lunar: The Silver Star, Lunar: Eternal Blue improved on its predecessor in almost every way, with better graphics and more of the series’ signature animated custscenes. In an era when many of the most popular games, including all the best Super Nintendo games, were still telling their entire stories through text boxes, Lunar: Eternal Blue was ahead of its time with not just all those cutscenes but over an hour of voiced dialogue, all thanks to the Sega CD format.
- Lunar: Eternal Blue is the sequel to 1992’s Lunar: The Silver Star, which was later remade later as Lunar: Silver Star Story.
- Eternal Blue takes place 1,000 years after the original.
- Like the original, the sequel was written by novelist Kei Shigema.
Phantasy Star Online involved a lot of firsts, not just for the series but for RPGs in general. It eschewed the turn-based combat of the previous games in favor of more action-oriented gameplay, and more importantly its impressive network features let players from all over the world connect and play with each other, with innovative communication options including unique emoji and other symbols. The sci-fi adventure singlehandedly provided a good reason to own a Dreamcast, not to mention many players’ first experience with an online RPG.
- Phantasy Star Online was born because then-Sega chairman Isao Okawa predicted the importance of online console gaming.
- At the time, dial-up internet in Japan charged by the minute, so PSO came with a year of free service, reportedly out of Okawa’s own pocket.
Breath of Fire and Breath of Fire II were classics in their own right, but Breath of Fire III goes down in history as the one that brought the series into 3D. It also featured voice acting for the first time in the series, not to mention being remembered for its jazzy soundtrack by composers Yoshino Aoki and Akari Kaida. A memorable story involving Ryu, the last survivor of a race of people who can transform into dragons, didn’t hurt, and combined all these elements ensured Breath of Fire III’s place in history.
- A trailer for Breath of Fire III appeared on a Resident Evil 2 demo disc that came with Resident Evil: Director’s Cut in Japan.
- Capcom produced a radio dramatization of scenes from the game in 1997.
- The game’s composers also provided vocals on the credits song, “Pure Again.”
First released in Japan in 1996, Lunar: Silver Star Story was actually a remake of the 1992 game Lunar: The Silver Star. This was before remakes were really a “thing,” making Silver Star Story unique for its time. It was also renowned for its animated scenes and stellar localization, and launched a sequel and multiple additional remakes.
- Lunar: Silver Star Story was first released on Sega Genesis in 1996 before hitting PlayStation two years later.
- It features almost an hour of fully animated cutscenes
- The localization studio, Working Designs, added several features, including expanding the number of available save slots.
Shining Force II wasn’t directly connected to its predecessor, but it was praised at the time for its considerable length and the freedom it afforded players. A relatively complex class system and extensive backgrounds for each character helped make the game distinct, while its grid-based combat system made Shining Force II ahead of its time.
- Shining Force II’s developer, Camelot Software Planning, would go on to create Golden Sun for Game Boy Advance.
- It was subtitled “The Ancient Seal” in Japan.
- A Sega Game Gear game, Shining Force: Final Conflict, linked the plots of Shining Force and Shining Force II.
There was a Pokemon-like creature collection element to Golden Sun’s Djinn system, but this Game Boy Advance RPG wasn’t riding any coattails. With fantastic graphics, a deep turn-based combat system, and puzzle-based gameplay that pushed the boundaries of what RPGs could do outside of combat, Golden Sun was a landmark. And the fact that it was all on the tiny Game Boy Advance was even more to its credit.
- Golden Sun was developed in between 12 and 18 months, which was considered long for a handheld game at the time.
- It was originally planned for Nintendo 64.
- Originally planned as a single game, not a trilogy, which explains why the original’s story is cut off so abruptly.
In an era of Super Nintendo games replete with some of the most celebrated RPGs of all time, Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals managed to stand tall. A large part of that was its lack of random battles in dungeons, a huge advancement that made Lufia II way ahead of its time. It even had a randomly generated dungeon, the 99-floor Ancient Cave, another feature of modern games that had yet to reach prominence at that time. Those elements combined with devious puzzles and an engrossing plot, earn Lufia II a spot on the list.
- Lufia II is a prequel to the first game, Lufia & the Fortress of Doom.
- The 2010 Nintendo DS port was also developed by Neverland — the team featured many people who worked on the original over 14 years earlier.
Namco’s expansive Tales series continues to this day, but Tales of Vesperia will always stand out from the rest thanks to its improvements to the series’ signature Linear Motion Battle System and its detailed, attractive anime-style graphics. Following Yuri Lowell and his guild Brave Vesperia, Tales of Vesperia also featured an engrossing story involving abuse of Blastia energy that threatens the very planet. Nobody even cared that this was the basic plot of Final Fantasy VII (and many other RPGs) as well.
- Tales of Vesperia was the tenth entry in the main Tales series.
- It was initially planned as a PS3 game, but ultimately was developed for Xbox 360 and, later, PlayStation 3.
Super Mario RPG launched multiple future spin-off series for the famous plumber, including the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games. But the original will always be remembered for its impressive (at the time!) graphics, unique cast (Bowser joining Mario’s side was novel at the time), and surprisingly engrossing story. Fan petitions to include Geno, one of the game’s many original characters, in Super Smash Bros. persist to this day.
- There’s a secret optional boss named Culex whose fight features music from Final Fantasy games.
- A secret in Booster Tower can temporarily turn Mario into an 8-bit NES-style sprite.
- Developers at Nintendo and Square, including Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, reportedly spent over a year on the 3D-style graphics alone.
As a sequel to the original Shadow Hearts set in the chaos of the first world war, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is one of the best alternate-history RPGs out there. The unique Judgment Ring made combat exciting, while new additions to the series like the Crest Magic system provided significant advancements over the original. Some wonky localization and dialogue issues only added to its charm. Who doesn’t love demons and sorcerers mixed in with actual historical events?
- Shadow Hearts: Covenant is one of the few PlayStation 2 games that came on two discs.
- The sequel’s existence was leaked the week before its official release by a Japanese gaming site called Quiter.
The World Ends With You featured a really cool story about combatants thrust into a mysterious Hunger Games-like competition in an alternate dimension of Tokyo’s famous Shibuya district, requiring multiple playthroughs to unlock all its secret narrative twists. But if you remember the original Nintendo DS version for one thing, it’s probably the game’s insane battle system, which required controlling two characters simultaneously on the system’s top and bottom screens. It’s a demanding but totally unique system that, combined with an inimitable style, made The World Ends With You a classic.
- The iOS/Android port simplified the controversial dual-screen battle system.
- Co-developer Jupiter previously worked on the Game Boy Advance card battler Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.
- Its developers originally planned to set the game in various locations around the world before narrowing it to only Shibuya.
Phantasy Star IV is as classic as classic gets when it comes to JRPGs, with the turn-based battles and top-down exploration that epitomizes traditional JRPG tropes. It was even criticized on its original release for its outdated graphics. But there’s nothing wrong with that retro look. Thanks to an involved combat and magic system, a solid story set 1,000 years after Phantasy Star II, and themes dealing with global climate catastrophe, it remains more than relevant today.
- In Japan, Phantasy Star IV was subtitled “The End of the Millennium,” which appears on the title screen for all versions.
- The American instruction manual references more combo attacks than have been discovered, sparking a decades-long hunt for the 15th combo.
- On its North American release in 1995, Phantasy Star IV cost almost $100 in the US.
What needs to be said about Final Fantasy VII? The game singlehandedly pushed RPGs to greater popularity in the western world than they’d ever experienced, thanks to its gritty tone, incredible graphics, revolutionary CG cutscenes, unimaginably huge world, and insane story. Practically every one of its characters has become an iconic hero or villain, and its legacy is immeasurable. Whether you think it’s the greatest game of all time or the most overrated, its influence and its innovations simply can’t be denied.
- Final Fantasy VII, like its predecessor in the series, was originally going to be on Super Nintendo.
- FFVII’s development budget of over $80 million and team of over 100 people was unprecedented at the time.
- A high-definition remake is in development for PlayStation 4.
Stardew Valley captured hearts by feeling like a throwback to a simpler time in gaming, combining all the best bits of classic home-and-hearth games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. It singlehandedly breathed new life into the genre with its polished presentation, deep farming systems, and remarkable freedom. Stardew Valley set its roots deep in the gaming consciousness, and with a Nintendo Switch release coming in 2017, it’s surely here to stay.
- Stardew Valley was created entirely by one person, Eric Barone.
- The original plan was to publish on XBLIG, but the game’s scope widened during development and was picked up by publisher Chucklefish Games.
- Animals in Stardew Valley can’t be slaughtered for their meat — Barone is a vegetarian.
At heart, Persona 5 is a game about shaking off the chains of contemporary society. Oh, sure, it's got some exciting turn-based combat, too, but nothing else about it leaves a mark on your soul quite like its leaps from hobnobbing around a Tokyo high school to venturing inside the dungeons of wayward adults and physically battling their personal demons. There's so much here, whether it's dungeons with hidden rooms or branching paths, or weighty modern themes centering on suicide and drug use. Its intimate explorations of multiple characters also make it an intensely personal story, and one that shouldn't be missed.
- Persona 5's themes were inspired by the bonding director Katsura Hashino saw following the 2011 Japanese earthquake.
- The original designs called for action-based combat.
- Around 1,160 event scenes made it into the final game.
JRPGs were in a bit of a funk at the beginning of this decade, but few games sent them surging back to relevance quite like Xenoblade Chronicles. There's just so much to love about it, whether it's the sprawling open world with its many surprises to discover, the likeable cast of characters, the thrilling action combat, or a day and night cycle that caused enemies to grow stronger after the sun went down. Toss in the stellar soundtrack, and that's a recipe for a game that should be popular for years to come.
- The inhabitants of the world of Xenoblade Chronicles live their lives on the bodies of two dead gods.
- A turn-based design that let players see into the future was planned but later scrapped.
- Six different composers worked on the soundtrack.
BioWare first made its name with fantasy RPGs, and Dragon Age: Origins marked a generally triumphant update to its tradition of pause-based combat mechanics and party micromanagement. But its chief strength was its grim setting in a dark fantasy world that married the high fantasy of The Lord of the Rings with the low fantasy of A Song of Ice and Fire, where elves are treated like trash and magic brought with it terrible prices. It's also a character-driven game in true BioWare fashion, with the standout performance coming from Claudia Black as the role of the witch Morrigan.
- Enter the Denerim Market District enough times, and nine stationary cats will appear on the ground in neat rows.
- Dragon Age: Origins was meant as a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, but with no licensing issues.
- The team spent far more time on the creation of Alistair and Morrigan than any other character.
One of the most appealing aspects of Persona 3 is the way it jumps between what passes through the real world and fantasy, and it pulls it off while being effortlessly cool. The narrative follows a high school student whose extracurricular activities partly involve fighting creatures that gnaw on human minds during the "Dark Hour," and he's surrounding by memorable characters who aid him in this task. Its greatest legacy, though, is the first appearance of the Social Links system, which lets the player level personas (the manifestation of one's inner self) while doing normal-world activities as well as by fighting monsters.
- Aigis' headphones greatly resemble the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient Greek artifact for predicting eclipses.
- As seen in concept art, Ken was initially imagined to use darts instead of spears.
- The 2010 PSP remake allowed players to play as a woman.
Grandia II was one of the Sega Dreamcast's standout RPGs, delivering fantastic graphics for the system and the time and a good, twisty tale about a world still suffering from the effects of a battle between two gods from thousands of years ago. The battle system was the chief standout, though, as it took the familiar JRPG turn-based formula and rejuvenated it by allowing characters to run behind their opponents or fall back after attacking them. And the rockin' battle anthem with its screaming electric guitars playing over this? That was the grandest part.
- Grandia II features Jennifer Hale in a relatively "shy" voice role in the character of Elena.
- The PC and PlayStation ports had more technical problems than the original Dreamcast version.
- Grandia II was intentionally meant to be more "mature" than its predecessor.
As big as the Dark Souls games are today, it's still pretty easy to find players who've never even heard of their PS3-exclusive predecessor Demon's Souls. But the skeleton of what would come to define Hidetaka Miyazaki's later creations were already in place there, whether it's the minimal story, the high likelihood of death at every turn, or the ability to see how other players died from their blood pools.
- Demon's Souls had almost no mass marketing at launch.
- Originally intended as a spiritual successor to King's Field.
- Only 20,000 copies were sold in the first week.
You'll have to read a lot in Xenogears, but it's worth it. Throughout its many hours, the plot weaves through religious references and philosophical ideas by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, all while also prompting deep thoughts about the relationship between humankind and machines. Naturally, it also lets you stomp around in a giant, spiky mech. It's an ambitious package of near constant wonder, crafted with stellar graphics for the period and complemented with a memorable soundtrack.
- Xenogears started life as a concept for the then-unmade Final Fantasy VII.
- "Severe religious issues" almost stopped Square Enix from releasing Xenogears in the U.S.
- Translating the high volume of scientific and philosophical text was so taxing that several translators quit.
The basic thrust of Tales of Symphonia's plot sometimes veered toward cliche, but the little chats between the colorful characters did much to make up for that. Often they had little to do with the plot at hand, and that detachment made them feel more human. Its real-time combat delivers a similar sense of satisfaction, as it's based on a uncommon system that's both 2D and 3D at once. Success demands an entertaining juggle of blocking and dishing out special abilities and normal attacks. Even so, Tales of Symphonia never loses sight of the fact that characterization should always come first, and the two elements together make for a rewarding package.
- Seven manga adaptations of Tales of Symphonia were made.
- The unused model for Rutee Katrea from Tales of Destiny can be found in Tales' files.
- The PlayStation 3 version included new costumes for all characters.
You have to dig under a pile of glitches and bugs in an unpatched version of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, but if you persist, you'd quickly find one of the most rewarding RPGs ever made. Set in White Wolf's vampire universe and more specifically in Los Angeles, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines isn't only about sucking blood wherever you can safely find it, but also about shaping your tale according to your actions, beliefs, and your choices. Few RPGs do this better. It's especially successful because few works in any media have ever captured a vampiric setting so well, and Bloodlines uses every drop of this atmosphere to add meaning to everything from fascinating rivalries between vampire clans to hungry hunts for rats in dirty alleys.
- Troika Games went out of business only a couple of months after Bloodlines' release.
- Modders managed to activate the code for the multiplayer mode Troika abandoned.
- Bloodlines was the first game made outside of Valve to use the Source engine.
Skies of Arcadia was one of the bright points in the tragic history of the SEGA Dreamcast, and at release it easily turned heads with its colorful art style and rewarding turn-based gameplay. But it's the airships everyone rightly remembers — beautiful, billowing things that engaged in battles with other ships thousands of feet up in a 3D world with floating islands. Docking the ships allowed you to strut about towns or venture deep into menacing dungeons, where you'd partake in a unique combat system that made your party share one pool of spirit points for spells and thus added a fun dose of risk to each action. Watch out for those pesky random encounters, though — they tend to get out of hand.
- A PlayStation 2 port was planned but never finished.
- The GameCube version placed less emphasis on random encounters.
- Gilder smokes a cigar for his victory pose in the Japanese Dreamcast version, which was removed for Western release.
The Final Fantasy series had gradually started to look less and less like actual knights-and-dragons fantasy in the years leading up to the turn of the century, but Final Fantasy IX returned the series to its roots. The world — at least in spirit if not in pixels — unfolded with much the same art style that had graced the NES in 1997 while still managing to feel fresh. Intentionally more cartoony than predecessors, it's an endearingly optimistic game that nevertheless handles weighty themes such as guilt and identity with surprising dexterity.
- In a sword shop in Lindblum, characters obliquely reference Cloud Strife's sword from Final Fantasy VII.
- Square developed FFIX in Hawaii as a midway point for Japanese and American developers.
- Composer Nobuo Uematsu claims FFIX represents his best work.
Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen is the tale of the Knights of Zenobia, who are locked in war with the dastardly Holy Zeteginean Empire. But that never really matters so much as the gameplay, which featured the then-unique approach of using tarot cards to influence troops in its automatic battles and taking advantage of the resulting victories to gobble up more territory on a strategic map. Reputation points gained from interactions with NPC factions are important as well, to the point that your choices could lead you to one of 13 different endings.
- Only 25,000 copies were shipped by Enix of America in 1995
- The setting was inspired by the civil war in Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
- The subtitle comes from the name of a song on Queen's second album.
Post-apocalyptic imagery is somewhat in vogue these days, and thus it's hard to imagine how startlingly original Fallout seemed back during its initial release. This was the age of high-fantasy RPGs that stayed close to Dungeons & Dragons rulesets, but drawing from the earlier RPG Wasteland, Fallout shook up that tendency with fears about radiation, ghoulish societies, and a landscape dotted with the rusty husks of 1950s-style cars and structures. It's serious stuff, in a way, but the whole adventure thrives on a sense of humor and pop-culture references that grant it an uncommon vitality even today.
- The makers of the GURPS roleplaying game system objected to Fallout's violence, and Interplay had to make its own engine.
- The gameplay has strong similarities to that of X-COM.
- Interplay chief Brian Fargo recommended the name change from "Vault 13" to Fallout.
When Fire Emblem first appeared on the Game Boy Advance in the United States, the series had already enjoyed more than a decade of success in its native Japan. Even so, players in the west took to it immediately. It was hard to mistake the similarities with Advance Wars, one of developer Intelligence System's other games, but Fire Emblem forged a superior personality of its own with the rich interactions between its lively characters. Nor were its strengths limited to characterization — with dozens of classes to choose from, a rich leveling system, and permanent death for characters, it was just as fantastic in action.
- The popularity of Fire Emblem characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee helped spur Western localization.
- Nintendo planned to end the Fire Emblem series if this release failed to sell more than 250,000 copies.
- Mars was briefly considered for a setting.
Neverwinter Nights spins a good Dungeons & Dragons yarn about a deadly plague and a nefarious cult, and it features one of composer Jeremy Soule's most memorable soundtracks prior to his famed work with Morrowind and Skyrim. But it's the dungeon tools for level creation that make Neverwinter Nights so influential and memorable, as they almost flawlessly allowed players to create their own dungeons and campaigns according to the pen-and-paper rules of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. That was impressive in itself, but the inclusion of an excellent multiplayer system helped make Neverwinter Nights a smash hit.
- Interplay was originally meant to publish Neverwinter Nights, but Atari took it over.
- The name is drawn from 1991's Neverwinter Nights, the first graphical MMORPG.
- The engine was originally meant to support an MMORPG.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons laid the framework for many early digital RPGs, but by the time the '90s drew to a close, sticking faithfully to the conventions of the pen-and-paper version was starting to prove disastrous. But then a fledgling studio named BioWare shook the hallowed RPG property out of its slump. Baldur's Gate stunned players with an isometric version of the Forgotten Realms universe awash in vibrant colors and a landscape populated with memorable characters like hamster-loving Minsc, who'd beat you up if you put off helping him track down his partner for too long. A triumph of storytelling that presaged its superior successor, Baldur's Gate kicked off a renaissance of story-rich RPGs that we're arguably still living today.
- No one on the 60-person dev team had released a video game before.
- Baldur's Gate is the origin of the phrase, "Go for the eyes, Boo!"
- It was the first game to use the Infinity Engine.
Mario might not sound so tough in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door when you consider that he's literally a piece of paper jaunting around the screen, but that turns out to have some advantages. He can slip in through cracks by slipping through them sideways, roll himself up, or should the need arise, fly off into the blue yonder as a paper airline. It's the kind of design that complements the whimsical and novel-like plot, which still features poor Princess Peach getting kidnapped, but also a few fun rarities, like a scholarly goomba companion. It's also fun in action, particularly in the twitchy battle system that requires good timing or by hearing cheers or jeers from the audiences that watch Mario in battle.
- Peach's ringtone on the title screen is the theme from Super Mario World.
- The game has safeguards in place to prevent you from "fixing" the Happy Lucky Lottery.
- You can find a chalk outline of a murdered Toad in one room in the Japanese version.
Other games emphasize choice, but few showed the effects of those choices over the long game quite like Dragon Quest V did when it launched for the Super Famiconm. The tale here spans an entire three decades, with the hero changing in alignment with the paths taken. It also marks the introduction of the Dragon Quest series' now-familiar ability to let monsters you fight join your party much in the style of the later Pokémon series. It's also remarkable for having a playable pregnancy, a concept that would later influence games like Fable II and The Sims.
- Dragon Quest V was initially the first Dragon Quest game not sold outside of Japan.
- A PlayStation 2 update allowed you to have four characters in your party instead of three.
- It was the first Dragon Quest game to launch with a bonus dungeon.
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is the video game as morality play. For perhaps the first time in computer RPG history, here was a game that wasn't about defeating a bad guy or unshackling the world from the yoke of evil, but rather about learning to embody eight virtues that made you a better person and thus an inspiration to the surrounding world. Kindheartedness, not battle prowess, is the true star here. This was revolutionary stuff at the time, and over three decades later, it remains so. Alas, it's a little rough to get into these days owing to its complexity and sluggish gameplay, but it remains a profound counterpoint to arguments that RPGs corrupt rather than correct.
- Developer Richard Garriott designed Ultima IV in response to parents who were angry about the previous Ultima games.
- The avatar's quest to attain the eight virtues partly draws from Hindu beliefs.
- The virtue system inspired later influence-based RPGs such as Knights of the Old Republic.
Despite its troubled development, Final Fantasy XII redefined what it meant to be a JRPG. Its mature story was told through the eyes of a bystander sent on a journey that’s rife with political intrigue, danger, and one of the best supporting casts in the series’ history. The Active Dimension Battle system ditched random battles and replaced them with an unprecedented level of strategy and tactical planning. The License Board allowed players to master any skill set with whichever character they desired. Most importantly, Final Fantasy XII gave us an even better understanding of Matsuno's Ivalice, a world with a rich and believable history, and one that's beloved by RPG fans to this day.
- The inspiration for Final Fantasy XII's Gambit System came from the dev team's interest in American Football.
- Japanese beverage group Suntory introduced a drink called "Final Fantasy XII Potion" to celebrate the game's launch.
- Final Fantasy XII is the first main series, non-MMO Final Fantasy to get rid of random encounters.
Pokémon has always been fun, but it's also clung tenaciously to the over-familiar pattern of venturing into gyms for your battles. That all changed in Pokemon Sun and Moon, and for the better. It's a game that's focused on the outdoors, specifically a lovely region named "Alola" modeled on Hawaii, and the hours that follow deliver a satisfying balance of roleplaying and Pokemon battles. It's not just about fighting, though — you'll also find quizzes, scavenger hunts, and a heavy dose of local lore that makes Alola feel real in a way no other Pokémon setting has before. And as a treat, Pokémon Sun and Moon also cleans up the clutter the user interface had built up from previous games without sacrificing depth.
- Pokémon Sun and Moon are compatible with Pokémon Bank, the online storage system for Pokémon.
- The two games' existence was revealed through listings in the European Union Intellectual Property Office.
- Together, both games are the fastest-selling games in Nintendo history.
There's little subtlety in the Monster Hunter universe — you largely end up doing exactly what the title says. But Monster Hunter 4 ensured all that monster hunting was monstrously fun. Verticality stole the show here, with players being able to scramble up walls or vault up surfaces and then leap down to briefly ride the monsters themselves. More impressively, it managed to accomplish these advanced feats while emerging as the most approachable game in the series. These elements alone were enough to make it good, but an extended variety of weapon and a satisfying local and online multiplayer mode push it to greatness.
- Capcom's localization director started collaboration early in development to ensure success in multiple markets.
- The first Monster Hunter game to top one million sales in the Americas and Europe.
- Producer Ryozo Tsujimoto says "a few hundred people" worked on the project.
Fallout 3 was entertaining enough, but Fallout: New Vegas is unforgettable. This is the story of the Courier, who almost dies after the all-important package he was transporting gets stolen outside of post-apocalyptic Sin City. Yet the main tale isn't as fascinating as everything that surrounds it, whether it's the many factions the Courier builds reputations with, the many choices regarding how to handle volatile situations, or even the sense of humor sprinkled into its several staggering hours of content. It was even fun in action, as it allowed for special attacks through the series' V.A.T.S. combat system and new animations for melee kills.
- Bethesda handed development over to Obsidian because it was busy with Skyrim.
- The plot draws from that of the original, unfinished Fallout 3 by Black Isle Studios.
- New Vegas contains 25,000 more lines of dialogue than Fallout 3.
To the untrained eye, Bloodborne may seem like Dark Souls in different clothes. But oh, what clothes they are. Bloodborne's gothic, vaguely Lovecraftian setting of Yharnam is just as sad as it is unsettling, and the haunting violins of the score rub that sadness ever deeper into your soul. But it also plays well, opting for a far more aggressive style than what you get in director Hidetaka Miyazaki's other creations, forcing players to take increasingly larger risks for the sweet, sweet rewards. There are minimal options for long-ranged and magic and the only shield you do find is little more than a sick joke — all you have to stay alive is the intensity of a blade against the hostile Victorian darkness.
- Bloodborne's working title was Project Beast.
- Romania and the Czech Republic inspired the bulk of its world's architectural design.
- The soundtrack alone took over two years to make.
What would Star Trek look like if humans still carried big guns and all of Gene Roddenberry's '60s goofiness was thrown out the airlock? Bioware showed us a decade ago, and that vision captivates us even today. The first entry isn't as strong as the two games that followed, thanks in part to the weak AI in combat and those tedious rides in the Mako across dull alien terrain. But few if any games before had nailed voice acting, facial animations, and character models with such perfection, to the point that it feels like an interactive movie in the best sense of the term. RPGs would never be the same again.
- Mass Effect was imagined as a trilogy from the very start.
- The races in the Mass Effect universe bear striking similarities to those in 1993's Master of Orion.
- Director Casey Hudson also directed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
There's so much to love about Bethesda's 2011 open-world masterpiece The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes it so special. Could it be its breathtaking world full of snowcapped mountains and shady woodlands? The thrill of battling fire-breathing dragons so you can suck out their souls and use their power? Could it be the endless exploration available on its titanic map? Perhaps it's the thousands of Skyrim mods that allow players to do everything from improve textures to change a dragon into a flying Macho Man Randy Savage (oooooh, yeah!). Or maybe it comes down to the game's impressive malleability: you can craft any type of hero you want, go where you want, do what you want, and do it when you want. Yes, there are myriad reasons to love one of the best-selling video game of all time, but one thing is for sure: you really don't play Skyrim. You live it.
- Skyrim's map is huge, but it's no match for The Elder Scrolls: Arena's map, which is almost as large as Australia.
- The voice of the dragon Paarthurnax — actor Charles Martinet — is most famously the voice of Mario.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate built on the Ultima series in new, even revolutionary ways. It shed the famously clunky UI of previous games to allow more of its refreshingly detailed world to shine through. Instead, checking your inventory or looting happened in pop-up menus, which not only carried into future Ultima titles, but games outside the RPG genre too. Ultima VII also dropped the strict, grid-based approach to movement, introduced dialogue trees, and went real-time. Its innovations to the format are matched only by its impressive interactivity and the non-linearity of its main plot. You’re free to roam around its open world, pick up sidequests, forge weapons, bake bread, hang out in a pub, and even committ crimes. Ultima VII managed to root itself comfortably in the conventions it created, but still have the sophistication to move forward in awesome new ways.
- The first mainline Ultima game to use dialogue trees.
- The last Ultima game developed by Origin, before Electronic Arts.
Smartly combining themes of action, role playing, survival horror, and first-person shooters, System Shock 2 expertly defies simply being a great RPG, showing how innovative mechanics that play off each other can make a game more than the sum of its parts. It also pioneered several methods of storytelling through gameplay that we take for granted — like finding doomed audio logs or reliving echoes of the past that urge you to piece together the larger puzzle of what's really going on. The unsettling and moody atmosphere of the derelict starship go hand in hand with bioengineered horrors that roam free to create the perfect horror environment, and leave you feeling terrified no matter which of the many skills you choose to give your character. There's always multiple ways to solve a problem, letting you get truly creative in ways that never feel out of place with the character you've built.
- Its original working title was Junction Point, until Electronics Arts suggested turning it into a System Shock sequel.
- Despite its critical acclaim, System Shock 2 was a commercial failure, selling only 58,671 copies in its first eight months.
Long ago, before Noctis went on his epic road trip and Lightning bounced between timelines, the Dark Knight Cecil fought his inner demons (and a few space monsters) in Final Fantasy IV. A pivotal entry in the Final Fantasy series, IV eschewed simple storytelling mechanics and set out to create a deliciously frothy soap opera, complete with love triangles, increasingly exotic locals (the moon, y'all), and a classic "brothers-separated-at-birth" reveal. The only thing that matched its ambitious storytelling was its equally ambitious combat mechanics. Final Fantasy IV ushered the Active Time Battle system into the series, fundamentally changing the way Final Fantasy games were played for nearly a decade. These features, combined with charming 2D sprites, sweeping music, and timeless themes of love, betrayal, and redemption, are why Final Fantasy IV is still fondly remembered long after its heroes saved the Blue Planet from impending doom.
- Originally released in North America with the title Final Fantasy II, because the two installments before had not been localized for NA yet.
- The first Final Fantasy to introduce the Active Time Battle system.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind wasn’t just the first truly modern game in the long-running series, but the one that laid the foundation for all the ones to follow. A smart, action-dependent approach to leveling lets players build out their character naturally, rather than adjusting numbers in a stat menu. An abundance of quests and the freedom to carve out your own path in its world is almost overwhelming. Its visuals were technically impressive for the time and imaginatively stylish enough to hold up even today, making the island of Vvardenfell one of the most memorable settings in the series. But the wonder of Morrowind isn’t a mere technical one. The huge scope and scale of Bethesda’s vision, its overwhelming sense of awe and mystery, and the freedom found therein make it still worth a visit today.
- The island of Vvardenfell contains a couple references to SomethingAwful creator Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka.
- It was Bethesda's first major game produced for consoles.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was unlike other turn-based tactics games at the time. It stands out with its dark, riveting storyline inspired by real-life events like the Yugoslav Wars and Bosnian Genocide. The focus on more serious themes means players are often forced to make difficult decisions with sometimes devastating moral implications. With a non-linear plot modeled after visual novels and full of branching paths, turning points, and multiple endings, Tactics Ogre became more than a mere strategy RPG.
- The subtitle "Let Us Cling Together" is a reference to a Queen song called "Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)."
EarthBound is a weird, wonderful game about four kids who save the world. Early proof that not all RPGs need fantasy settings, EarthBound is one of the best turn-based RPGs of the 16-bit era and takes place in a town that feels like it could be anywhere in middle America. That modern setting mixed with bizarre, offbeat humor makes it a unique experience and has helped it maintain its cult status as something special and very different from its contemporaries. EarthBound has a great turn-based battle system and weird enemies that fully embrace the game’s eccentric sense of humor, plus unique twists on the RPG formula like homesickness as a status ailment and calling your dad to save your game.
Most of all, EarthBound has a tremendous amount of heart. Underneath its goofy jokes and pop culture references is a genuinely great, sweet story about a group of kids who are risking a lot to make the world a better place, and the final battle is an extremely clever, moving way to incorporate the people our heroes meet along their journey. EarthBound is a truly special, exceptionally funny game that stands out even among Super Nintendo’s gigantic library of other great RPGs.
- The name Ness is an intentional reference to NES, the abbreviation for Nintendo Entertainment System.
- Co-developer Ape, Inc. cited The Beatles' John Lennon as one inspiration for Earthbound's music.
- The American version came packaged with a walkthrough.
With Final Fantasy Tactics, Yasumi Matsuno took everything we thought was sacred about the Final Fantasy series and turned it on its head. While Tactics maintained the familiar creatures and archetypes we all knew and loved, it introduced us to the world of Ivalice, and leaned heavily into the Job system introduced in Final Fantasy V. While the core stable of characters provided a ton of memorable drama, being able to recruit generic characters and fashion them into roles ranging from simple (Knight and Wizard) to downright bizarre (Mime and Calculator) led to an infinite well of depth. While you had to put in some effort to wrap your head around the tactical battle system, the rewarding feeling of mastering the complex systems made it absolutely worth it.
- Director Yasumi Matsuno said Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story are both set in the world of Ivalice.
- Sold 1.24 million copies its first year in Japan.
Suikoden II is a special RPG for so, so many reasons. It perfectly balances intimate character drama and friendship with end-of-the-world heroics. Luca Blight is an especially twisted and evil villain in a genre filled with great villains. And of course it’s incredibly rewarding and addictive to solve minigames and puzzles to recruit all 108 hidden characters. A shockingly high number of them can be taken into battle with you, and all of them enrich your castle with interesting dialogue and improvements. Suikoden II’s warm soundtrack and art, snappy combat, and Game of Thrones-esque political storyline are all fantastic, but it’s this castle building minigame-to-end-all-minigames that truly sets the game apart. Your castle is your home, and filling it with artists, shopkeepers, alliance leaders, and so many more friends and comrades results in an incredibly satisfying mixture of gameplay, story, and friendship.
- Suikoden II is one of the first game sequels to change slightly based off save data imported from the original.
- It had a very small English print run on PSX. It was almost impossible to play for less than $200 before it was re-released on PSN for $10.
Nearly two decades later, Ion Storm’s Deus Ex is remembered for showing how even a large and detailed world full of well-written characters could be intuitively interactive and responsive to our actions. It throws you into a near-future world of conspiracy and espionage and gives you the freedom to fight, sneak, talk, or hack your way out of every situation – if you’ve chosen the right upgrades. Multiple paths to every objective reveal themselves through experimentation and clever, oftentimes hilarious manipulation of the AI. It’s an early example of how great level design and complex gameplay systems can come together to create some amazing experiences that feel unique to your playthrough.
- You can beat the entire game without killing a single NPC.
- Deus Ex accidentally predicted the future by portraying New York City without the World Trade Center towers, a year before the 9/11 attacks.
- Game director Warren Spector didn't like the opening music, until he realized he had it stuck in his head and decided to keep it.
Coming just a year after the groundbreaking original Fallout, 1998’s Fallout 2 somehow found the time to improve on it in nearly every way. Building on the “go where you want, kill who you want” freedom of the open-world exploration and turn-based tactical combat foundation, Fallout 2 tells many small stories, each with their own important-feeling resolutions inside its larger plot, making it flexible enough to allow you to make the wasteland your own. The setting is diverse and dense, thanks to an even-larger slice of the post-apocalyptic West Coast inhabited by everything from primitive tribespeople battling giant insects to the Brotherhood of Steel standing against terrors brought by the power-armored Enclave and brutish supermutants. Throughout it all, there’s an injection of pop-culture humor that keeps the dark mood from becoming oppressive, so no matter which direction you set out in you never know if you’ll find something terrible or sad or funny.
- It’s possible to beat Fallout 2 without fighting, but not without killing at least two characters.
- There's an Easter egg hidden in the basement of a New Reno gun shop — literally an Easter egg.
- A holotape in the game says a computer named SkyNet started the nuclear war. SkyNet is the AI responsible for nuclear war in Terminator.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was not only one of the first to let you truly explore the vast untapped universe of Star Wars before the events of the films, but let everyone play out the ultimate fantasy of becoming a Jedi Knight (or a Sith Lord!) in what is probably the best and most satisfying execution of a binary good/evil choice system in a game. Knights of the Old Republic also offered up a great cast of side characters with intriguing and complex relationships (not to mention the best snarky assassin droid this meatbag could ever ask for), and set up one of the greatest player character twists in an RPG.
- KOTOR was one of the first RPGs on Xbox.
- There are roughly 100 voice actors, 300 characters, and 15,000 spoken lines featured in the game.
- One copy of the complete KOTOR script takes up 10 five-inch binders.
Part murder mystery, part supernatural dungeon crawler, Persona 4 Golden is all JRPG goodness. Its quaint Japanese setting is in stark contrast to the dark secrets its characters harbor, and that's what makes P4G so great. By the end of its 70-ish hour campaign, you geniunely care about this quirky cast of misfits, so much so that you'll meticulously curate your schedule to ensure that you have the time to spend with each of your in-game pals equally. Persona 4 Golden on Vita takes the foundation built by the PlayStation 2 classic and adds new social links, new personas, and of course, the ability to play this amazing adventure anywhere you want, making it the definitive edition of a seminal RPG.
- Persona 4 Golden's debut on PlayStation Vita resulted in a boost in sales for the Sony handheld.
- Plastic models in the main character's room are based on demons from Digital Devil Saga, spin-offs of the Shin Megami Tensei series.
- In Japan, there have been Persona 4 manga, anime and even a live stage production.
FromSoftware has been redefining the RPG since King’s Field. While Demon’s Souls was the first game to introduce modern gamers to the studio’s uniquely unforgiving approach to the genre, FromSoftware really hit their stride in its spiritual successor, Dark Souls. With a focus on exploration, Dark Souls pushes players to experiment and take risks in ways few action RPGs have before, and in which few have truly captured since. It defies the hand-holding nature of its peers and forces us to make mistakes in order to grow — whether that means learning how to cautiously navigate its deadly world, take down one of its many imposing bosses, or just level our stats properly. It creates massive challenges out of combat situations that would be minor in any other game, making every moment memorable and every small victory an exhilarating reward.
- Dark Souls is considered a spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, which is a spiritual successor to FromSoftware's first game, King's Field.
- The series bears several striking similarities to the manga Berserk, a major influence on director Hidetaka Miyazaki.
- Early ideas for a title were "Dark Race" and "Dark Ring," but both were scrapped due to controversial connotations overseas.
By the time we've returned to Commander Shepard in this sequel, we have an idea of the threats and mysteries looming over the Milky Way. Mass Effect 2 gives us the chance to get to know them on a personal level with revamped combat that greatly improves upon its predecessor. Mass Effect 2's creative take on RPG systems are more welcoming with its blend of third-person shooter mechanics, and its variety and focus on the new squad members make for a memorable (and sometimes heartbreaking) campaign.
- Importing a completed saved game from the first Mass Effect can change elements of the story.
- Commander Shepard is named after the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard.
You can spend hundreds of hours exploring The Witcher 3's expansive continent and surrounding isles and still not have seen even a fraction of what this world has to offer. The saga of Geralt comes to a supremely satisfying conclusion in what's absolutely the best game in CD Projekt Reds' acclaimed RPG series. What begins as a quest to find your lost love becomes an engrossing tale full of unforgettable characters, terrifying enemies, and genuine heart. Even the smallest side quests are thoughtful affairs and many of the main story arcs feature some of the most poignant narrative beats we've encountered in any game. Couple its stellar storytelling with deep character customization and a challenging and rewarding combat system and it's easy to see why IGN gave The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt our Game of the Year award for 2015.
- Doug Cockle, the English voice of Geralt, bought a console to play The Witcher 3 — the first Witcher game he decided to play.
- Developers at CD Projekt Red cited Dark Souls as a major influence on The Witcher 3's combat system.
- Dynamic beard growth causes Geralt's facial hair to grow in over time.
For all intents and purposes, Vagrant Story should not have been a PlayStation game. The sheer volume of systems interacting with each other and the top notch graphics should have crippled the Sony's little system. But somehow, we got to experience Yasumi Matsuno's dungeon crawling masterpiece mere months before the PS2's US launch. You play as Ashley Riot, a member of the elite "Riskbreaker" unit of the Valendia Knights of Peace. Dropped into a haunted city in the middle of a civil war, you must contend with religious zealots, cult leaders, and all manners of ghosts and monsters as you unravel the mysteries of Leá Monde and uncover the truth behind the murder of a Duke. Heavy stuff for a PSX game, but it's handled masterfully through beautiful art direction and some extremely impressive localization. You can also craft gear, chain abilities in combat, explore a massive dungeon called "The Iron Maiden," target specific body parts on enemies, employ super moves, solve puzzles in 360 degree environments, and take on some of the toughest enemies Square Enix ever created. Vagrant Story is the definition of a cult classic, and is undisputedly worthy of the number nine spot on this list.
- Vagrant Story's plot is called The Phantom Pain, and in EGM's April 2000 issue, it refers to the game as Medieval Gear Solid.
- Final Fantasy XII contains several references to Vagrant Story including the terms Riskbreaker and Leámonde.
What many consider not just the pinnacle of the Diablo series, but the pinnacle of the isometric action RPG genre we’ve come to know and love, Diablo II is truly something more than its parts. From its dark, moody music and visual trappings, to its lengthy and lofty story, Blizzard’s return to its series that pits angels against demons with man trapped in the middle is a masterclass in atmospheric adventuring. Made both accessible and engaging by its unique classes and skills, the endless satisfaction of its kill and loot gameplay, and its near limitless equipment variety and character customization, Diablo II's cooperative play and item trading helped to successfully foster not only a communal spirit in each procedurally generated level of each dank dungeon, but one of the greatest roleplaying experiences of all time.
- The Guinness Book of World Records 2000 awarded Diablo the title of fastest-selling PC game after it sold one million copies in two weeks.
- Diablo II's infamous secret cow level spawned as a result of a (false) rumor about a secret cow level in the first Diablo.
- Blizzard designed Diablo II with online multiplayer in mind.
During the 1990s, developer Squaresoft was the undisputed king of JRPGs, and Secret of Mana was one of the most dazzling jewels in its crown. Even now we still remember the action RPG fondly: its bright, candy-colored world was a joy to explore, the action-based combat was easy to learn and fun to do, and its inventory ringlets made navigating menus refreshingly simple. Then there was the breathtaking soundtrack, celebrated for its mix of cheerful tunes and haunting melodies. But the most memorable feature was the multiplayer. Secret of Mana would let up to three players participate in combat, so long as they had an extra controller or two lying around and the correct peripheral accessory for the SNES. In short, Secret of Mana was, and still is, a magical RPG.
- Secret of Mana was originally supposed to be a launch title for the unreleased SNES-CD.
- Director Koichi Ishii estimates about 40% of the game was cut so it would fit on an SNES cartridge.
- The game was translated into English in just 30 days.
The creators of Planescape: Torment aimed to subvert RPG clichés from the start, and the result is what several critics have called one of the best-written and most imaginative video games ever created. Despite being rooted in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting and adhering to Advanced D&D 2nd Edition rules, so much of Planescape: Torment is driven by sharp and engaging dialogue instead of combat. It takes the static alignment system of Dungeons & Dragons — a framework that has inspired RPGs from the beginning — and flips it on its head, daring to ask bigger questions about the nature of “right” and “wrong,” and making every single decision one to remember. Planescape: Torment’s experimental approach to RPG norms, twisted sense of humor, strikingly dark, but fresh setting, and tendency to elevate even the most minor conversations with weighty philosophical questions combine to create a unique personality unsurpassed in the last two decades.
- The script for the dialogue-heavy Planescape: Torment is a whopping 800,000 words.
- Producer Guido Henkel appears as the iconic blue Nameless One on the game's box art.
- Despite being considered one of the best RPGs ever made, Planescape: Torment didn't sell well.
When it initially launched in 2004, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft rapidly became the most popular and beloved MMORPG ever made thanks to its accessibility, exceptionally high degree of polish, and its sheer size and scope. Even if WoW never evolved past this vanilla state, it would still be remembered fondly as an incredible RPG filled with epic dungeons, surprisingly compelling Player vs. Player encounters, satisfying non-combat crafting and social gameplay, and more well-written, hand-crafted quests and adventures than it felt possible for a single RPG to contain. But what elevates World of Warcraft above “Great” and into “Greatest of All-Time” discussions is the care and attention Blizzard has poured into the game in the 13 years since. The game has never stood still. Completely new worlds, revamped old worlds, balanced and well-integrated new classes, risky storytelling, and an almost impossible-to-count volume of quality-of-life improvements have made an already amazing game experience even more amazing, more than a decade later.
- World of Warcraft reached peak subscriptions in October 2010, at 12 million subscribers.
- It contained a whopping 40,000 NPCs. four expansions ago, in 2009.
- Between 2004 and 2011, humans have collectively spent nearly 6 million years playing World of Warcraft.
Pokémon Yellow culminates the fantastic RPG system from Pokémon Red and Blue and mashes them into context with story beats from the great Pokémon anime. Perhaps one of Pokémon Yellow's best improvements is also its most notable: Pikachu. Having the creature follow you on your journey helped further transform the monsters from simply being a team of fighters to a team of your best friends. Pokémon Yellow also serves updated sprites, Charizard can learn Fly, and a slew of other narrative changes further cement it as the best way to experience the most influential Pokémon game.
- Nintendo released a special, Pikachu-themed Game Boy Color alongside Pokémon Yellow.
- Pokémon Yellow was one of a handful of games compatible with the Game Boy Printer, letting players print Pokédex entries onto stickers.
- It remains the only core series Pokémon game where the player can't choose their own starter Pokémon.
In a medium that sees regular and massive advances in graphics and processing power, the relative low-fi appearance of Baldur’s Gate II might seem insufficient. But it’s a testament to the power of the storytelling and mechanics of Baldur’s Gate that the series still delivers a roleplaying experience that’s as good or better than games released 15 years later. Following on the success of Baldur’s Gate in 1998, BioWare surpassed gamers’ expectations with the sequel. In addition to the robust implementation of the current D&D rules, Baldur’s Gate II included massive environments, thrilling turn-based tactical combat, and enough side quests to fill any fantasy lover’s bookshelf. But the real stars of the game were the characters and the story. From the terrifying and complicated villain to the lovable, and lovably hilarious Minsc, Baldur’s Gate II was a fantasy epic as big and wonderful as the genre could hold. If you haven’t played it, you should. And remember, go for the eyes!
- Baldur's Gate II's immense size — 300 total hours and 290 quests — made it a "tester's nightmare," said co-executive producer Ray Muzyka.
- Despite being in its title and one of the settings of the first game, the city of Baldur's Gate is never visited in the sequel.
- The game is dedicated to late BioWare employee Daniel Walker.
Compared to its cheerfully optimistic brethren, Final Fantasy VI is a breath of fresh (albeit bleak) air. It dares to answer the question “what if the bad guy wins?” by actually letting the bad guy win halfway through the story. It isn’t shy about tackling uncomfortable subjects like war, genocide, forbidden love, and suicide. It eschews the myopic viewpoint of a single, designated protagonist in order to tell a larger, more emotionally-charged tale. This willingness to explore heavy themes and unthinkable outcomes — made all the more poignant when set against dramatic set pieces and a soaring score — is one of the biggest reasons why Squaresoft’s 1994 magnum opus is so very special. Its unconventional gameplay is another reason: FFVI casts off the rigid class system of previous Final Fantasies and allows any one of the 14 heroes to use magic so long as they equip magical shards. Its mini tower-defense games break up the monotony of random battles, while each character’s unique combat abilities means everyone serves a purpose. Nothing feels redundant or wasted in Final Fantasy VI. It’s truly like no other RPG.
- Final Fantasy music composer Nobuo Uematsu has said Final Fantasy VI has his favorite score
- Terra is actually Tina in the Japanese version, but playtesters hated it.
- Real life professional wrestler Joshua Harter's ring name is Chris Sabin, a reference to Sabin Figaro.
Creating a Top 100 RPGs list was quite the challenge, but placing Chrono Trigger at the very top of it was surprisingly easy. Over 20 years after Square's epoch-making epic launched on the SNES, we’re still gobsmacked by its originality and ingenuity. The seamless transition between the world map full of visible, avoidable enemies and combat was a revelation in a time where most RPGs featured jarring random battles, and even today makes monster encounters a joy instead of a chore. The plucky courage and determination of its adolescent heroes (combined with the memorable art style of Akira Toriyama) makes for instantly memorable characters. And its brilliant introduction of time travel as both a storytelling vessel and gameplay mechanic is proof that story and gameplay don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Couple all this with multiple endings and one of the greatest game soundtracks ever made, and it’s easy to see why Chrono Trigger is our top-ranking RPG of all time.
- Chrono Trigger has 13 unique endings.
- Nornstein Bekkler has the same laugh as Kefka Palazzo from Final Fantasy VI.
- There is a Programmer's Room hidden in the game, where the developers left messages for players.
Top 10 Torrent Sites of 2021
1. The Pirate Bay
After more than 17 years, The Pirate Bay is still going strong. Despite more than a month of downtime in early 2020, the site has kept most of its audience.
The Pirate Bay continues to operate from its .org domain. The site’s registrations remain closed, however, and comments are still disabled.
YTS.mx is the unofficial successor of the defunct YTS or YIFY group, which shut down a few years ago.
YTS has been the target of several lawsuits in the US over the past year, which led to quite a bit of controversy. The operator signed a consent judgment and agreed to hand over user data. As a result, several YTS users received settlement requests or were sued.
1337x keeps its spot in the top three. Unlike some other sites, it has a loyal group of uploaders that provide fresh content on a daily basis.
1337x offers a wide variety of torrents and also has an official forum that launched last year. The site banned official YTS releases after the above-mentioned controversy.
NYAA.si is a popular resurrection of the anime torrent site NYAA. While there is fierce competition from alternative pirate streaming sites, the torrent portal continues to do well, climbing one position compared to last year.
RARBG has remained steady over the past year. The site operates from several popular domain names, but only the one with the most traffic is taken into account for this list. RARBG was founded in 2008 and specializes in high-quality video releases.
6. FitGirl Repacks
FitGirl Repacks is by no means a traditional torrent site. It is the home of a popular ‘girl’ who releases slimmed-down cracked versions of popular games, which keeps download times to a minimum.
FitGirl, who we interviewed a few months ago, publishes torrents on other sites too but also offers magnet links of their own, which is why we included the site here.
LimeTorrents has been around for well over a decade. Like many other entries in this list, it is blocked by ISPs in countries around the world, which seems to hurt overall traffic somewhat.
The site also disappeared from the top rankings of several search engines last year, a fate that’s shared by many other torrent sites in this list.
EZTV.re is a controversial TV-torrent distribution group that hijacked the EZTV brand from the original group, which was forced to shut down soon after.
The group often copies releases from other TV-torrent groups, which occasionally leads to embarrassing situations. The site switched to a new domain a few months ago and currently operates from EZTV.re.
TorrentGalaxy is a relatively new torrent site, which launched little over two years ago. The site has a dedicated group of uploaders and an active community. In addition to torrents, TorrentGalaxy also makes some releases available for streaming.
Zooqle, which boasts more than five million verified torrents, returns to the top 10 after a year of absence. The site’s traffic still hasn’t returned to its old levels but it seems to have a dedicated userbase.
Disclaimer: Proxies and clear copycats are excluded. We know that Alexa isn’t perfect, but it helps to compare sites that operate in a similar niche. We also use other traffic metrics to compile the top ten. Please keep in mind that many sites have mirrors or alternative domains, which are often not taken into account here. The yearly list is published as an informational / news resource.
4 Mission: Impossible
The three most recent Mission: Impossible films may stand as some of the best action and espionage films ever made, but it's the original that set the tone and the rhythm of the films that would follow it. This is where Tom Cruise got his start as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, a role he has now played for over 20 years.
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The first Mission: Impossible, directed by Brian de Palma, set a new standard for spy films and originated the structure that almost all M:I films would follow afterward. Its crowning achievement is its hair raising heist scene, which continually raises the stakes of the agents getting caught and created one of the most famous scenes in film history: Ethan Hunt dangling precariously inches above the pressure sensitive floor of a secure room.
100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time
There’s never been a creative boom for TV like the one we are living through right now. Ever since The Sopranos changed the game at the turn of the century, we’ve been in a gold rush that gives no signs of slowing down. What better moment to look back and celebrate the greatest shows in the history of the art form?
So we undertook a major poll – actors, writers, producers, critics, showrunners. Legends like Carl Reiner and Garry Marshall, who sent us his ballot shortly before his death this summer. All shows from all eras were eligible anybody could vote for whatever they felt passionate about, from the black-and-white rabbit-ears years to the binge-watching peak-TV era. The ratings didn’t matter – only quality. The voters have spoken – and, damn, did they have some fierce opinions. On this list you’ll find vintage classics and new favorites, ambitious psychodramas and stoner comedies, underrated cult gems ripe for rediscovery, cops and cartoons and vampire slayers. You’ll find the groundbreaking creations of yesteryear as well as today’s innovators. (There was nothing like Transparent or Orange Is the New Black or Game of Thrones a few years ago, but who could imagine this list without them?) Our list is guaranteed to start plenty of loud arguments – but the beauty of TV is how it keeps giving us so much to argue about.