The 2018 RPG of the year
The RPG genre has become synonymous with narrative excellence over the years, but in our current hi-tech generation of game design, narrative alone won’t make an RPG great. The best RPGs of 2018 innovated and reinvented the RPG in some way, whether in their storytelling, mechanics, graphics, or all three.
These are the RPGs that will help push the genre forward into new territory in the coming years.
It was hard to separate the 2018 honorable mentions from the nominees, there was a huge amount of inventive and compelling RPGs. Kingdom Come: Deliverance decided on a more realistic portrayal of medieval life, while Ni No Kuni 2 answered the burning question of “What if the president of the United States survived a nuclear apocalypse by getting transported to a fantasy world?”
There were also many “RPG-adjacent” titles like Monster Hunter World, which despite its quality, didn’t quite fit the genre specific attributes to qualify for this list. Nintendo even entered the ring this year with a new Pokemon installment in Pokemon Let’s Go, though it was a bit too simplified to appeal to more hardcore RPG fans.
The competition was fierce this year, so there’s bound to be an RPG-like title that you can sink hundreds of hours into.
That said, these are the best of the traditional RPGs that were released in 2018.
Runner-up: Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
It would be foolish to discuss the best RPG of the year list without mentioning Dragon Quest, the franchise that first catapulted the genre to popularity in Japan. Dragon Quest XI is the RPG on this list that best knows and understands its genre. The general Dragon Quest style hasn’t changed much. It’s still a bright world filled with cartoony characters and villains who just want to watch the world burn.
But we haven’t had an adventure like that in a while, and that’s what made this so charming. Sometimes you just want to take control of the chosen one and stomp out the evil that is in front of you.
Dragon Quest XI, did a fantastic job of fusing a more real-time battle engine with its traditional turn based one, merged traditional RPG world map and dungeon design with open world aesthetics, and fused bombastic orchestral soundtracks with classic RPG chiptunes. If you pick up the 3DS version, you can even play the game in an eight bit sprite mode to really bring you back to the days of RPGs past.
If there’s any criticism to be leveled at this classically styled entry, it’s that it’s too traditional, and doesn’t take any significant risks with the formula.
Runner-up: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Let’s shift focus from Japan’s most iconic RPG, to the style that blossomed in the West: the isometric RPG. The original Pillars of Eternity proved that isometric RPGs still have a place in the modern RPG market, and its sequel, having already established its pedigree, was free to fool around with the formula in interesting ways.
Most notably, the game takes place in an island environment, and your ship takes center stage. You can hire a crew, engage in ship-based combat, and explore the open waters. Pirates are all over pop culture at the moment, and POEII seamlessly integrated this atmosphere into the well-established isometric gameplay.
Aside from nautical antics, you also have the same class based gameplay you loved before, returning companions, and a stunning narrative that outdoes the original with a branching path storyline that goes deeper than some of the most accomplished narrative games of the year. It’s one of the only games that successfully mimics the style and feel of a true to life tabletop roleplaying system, despite the digital DM. This is an RPG for people who like diving deep into lore and boy, is there a lot of lore.
Runner-up: Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass
I was very close to giving Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass the RPG of the year award. I spent over 100 hours in this game, and it made me bawl my eyes out. This simple little indie-game, another Earthbound-alike in a sea of sixteen bit sprite based quirky Earthbound-alikes did so much with both narrative and gameplay. This game made me feel more than most AAA RPG releases this year. So much of Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass is everything you want from an RPG. It’s a fine example of art in a digital medium.
However, Jimmy is a game of highs and lows. The incredible emotional rollercoaster that developer Kasey Ozymy took me on was unfortunately punctuated by massive game crashes and at least one instance of a bug making it impossible to continue without sending my save file to the developer. It’s unstable and distinctly unpolished, which is forgivable giving the massive undertaking accomplished by one developer, but these weaknesses have to be considered.
Still though, I highly recomend you to give this wonderful title a chance, because while the many crashes and bugs are frustrating, this abstract walk through a young boy’s mind is truly one of the shining points of RPG excellence of 2018.
Winner: Octopath Traveler
Octopath Traveler may not have the most engaging story. It may not have the deepest combat. It may not have the most stunning visuals (though they are certainly unique). However, it is an RPG that came out in 2018 that I don’t have to punctuate with an asterisk. After diving deep into Octopath’s world and characters, the only flaw that I found was H’annit’s obnoxious dialogue, which is hardly a huge detriment.
Octopath Traveler is an RPG for the RPG fan. It asks the question “what if our sixteen bit RPGs of old ere updated to a modern aesthetic?” it gives us a large open world, with quests that we can tackle at any pace, but made up of smaller instanced dungeons. It gives us a large and detailed environment to run through crafted out of sixteen bit textures. It gives us a deep character customization system still framed through uses of “jobs” similar to the highly lauded Final Fantasy V.
I had a lot of fun with all the RPGs on this list, but Octopath Traveler was the only game that made me feel the same thing I felt when I played RPGs as a kid: a sense of wonder born out of nothing more than a few pixels. If you are looking for a good RPG for your Switch, then this is the one you want.
It also has one of the best classical gaming soundtracks that people will be listening to for years to come, which helps it to stand out even more.
Congratulations to Octopath Traveler, winner of GameCrate's 2018 RPG of the Year Award!
Check out our full 2018 award list for more.