Best RPGs of 2018
It’s award season here at Twinfinite! Let’s look back at the best RPGs of 2018. Voted on by our editors, these were the best role-playing experiences that our team felt really stood out this year.
Let’s start with some honorable mentions, and then our top vote-getting runner-ups, and finally, of course, our overall winner!
Honorable Mention: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
Editor-in-Chief Ed McGlone: Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire goes over the top in living up to the literal definition of RPG, Role-Playing Game. It’s a feat only a few recent games like Divinity: Original Sin, can say that they match or exceed.
You, or whoever you want to be, are the hero of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. You have an incredible amount of detail in customizing your character and Obsidian rewards people who take it seriously by giving you an unprecedented amount of influence and agency in the plot, and even just your regular old side quests and NPC interactions.
Aside from that, of course, every great RPG needs to have a great story. Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire delivers here as well. It can be a little confusing and dense for those that didn’t play the first game, but it’s worth the investment in catching up. Without spoiling anything, there’s a ton of lore to unpack in this universe.
Deities are at odds over how to deal with another powerful god that has gone rogue. You’ll feel both insignificant and powerful as you navigate your way through the politics of these gods, while also surviving life on the open seas as a pirate.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, in addition to being an enthralling CRPG, featuring deep combat reminiscent of the glory days of the genre, there’s also a heavy dose of unique ship to ship combat which plays out like a DnD encounter that will make you feel like a badass captain.
There’s so much going right in Pillars of Eternity II. It may not get the publicity like some of the other games being honored, but it’s certainly worthy of standing among them.
Best RPGs of 2018
Honorable Mention: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Features Editor Alex Gibson: Quite how developer Level-5 would follow up on the beloved 2011 Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was a question pursed on the lips of fans. The combination of charming storytelling, exciting turn-based combat, and the magic of its anime-like aesthetic, complete with Studio Ghibli cutscenes was a tough act to follow.
The solution, as it turned out, wasn’t to iterate on or use the same template as its predecessor but to completely reinvent the series. Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom does so much more than just introduce a new story and cast, it totally changes the dynamic of the gameplay experience and isn’t afraid to throw even beloved features of the first game out the window.
Real-time combat replaces turn-based, the monster-hunting element is replaced by something more ancillary and intuitive, and layers of gameplay mechanics like Kingdom Building and an RTS skirmish battle system have been added. Some changes work better than others, but overall it certainly makes for a more diverse and entertaining experience from a pure gameplay perspective.
Sure, the story isn’t quite as accomplished as Wrath of the White Witch, and the absence of those magical Studio Ghibli cutscenes are sorely missed, but this is still warming adventure that oozes charm. Ultimately, opting to push Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom in this new direction was a gamble worth taking.
Best RPGs of 2018
2nd Runner-Up: Valkyria Chronicles 4
News Editor Giuseppe Nelva: The Valkyria Chronicles series has a slightly troubled history. The first game absolutely charmed gamers all the way back in 2008. Valkyria Chronicles 2 was enjoyable but suffered from a weird switch to PSP and a radical change in tone.
Valkyria Chronicles 3 returned to a level of quality and storytelling similar to the original, but the PSP held it back once more, to the point that it never made it to the west. Then came Valkyria Revolution, and while it wasn’t a terrible game per se, it dropped fans’ hope for a proper Valkyria Chronicles game into the pits.
Enter Valkyria Chronicles 4, or Senjou no Valkyria 4: Eastern Front for the purists: the development team finally heard the “please don’t try to fix what already works” message, and they released a game that is extremely similar to the first, yet still delivers a healthy degree of novelty.
Add to that a great story and deep characters worthy of the original, and you get a masterpiece that restores hopes for one of the most beloved JRPG series of all time. If you haven’t played it yet, do yourself a favor and take advantage of the wintry theme for a perfect Christmas self-gift.
Best RPGs of 2018
1st Runner-Up: Dragon Quest XI
Senior Editor Hayes Madsen: Dragon Quest is one of longest running JRPG series out there, and Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age finally brings the mainline series back onto modern consoles. At its core Dragon Quest XI is a very traditional experience, harnessing the feeling and style of classic JRPGs.
However, the game brings a number of modernizations to the franchise, and combined with a phenomenal visual upgrade, it’s the very best entry yet. Dragon Quest XI’s main story sticks to tradition, but it’s the main party that really keeps the game surging forward.
Each character is intensely fascinating, with a thorough character arc that spans most of the game. It’s by far one of the best ensemble casts I’ve ever seen in a JRPG. This fact is bolstered by the towns and villages of Dragon Quest XI, each of which feels vibrant and unique, and is packed with secrets and details to uncover.
When not poking around every corner of a town or open area, you’ll be battling enemies in Dragon Quest XI’s traditional turn-based battle system. While the game’s combat doesn’t do anything exceptionally original, it’s a strong case for the continued existence of turn-based RPGs, and the Pep system helps add a little flash and variety into the mix.
On every level, Dragon Quest XI oozes the series’ trademark charm and humor. Strong turn-based battles, phenomenal characters, and great art direction are just a few of the reasons Dragon Quest XI is not only one of the best RPGs of the year, but one of the very best games period.
Best RPGs of 2018
Winner: Octopath Traveler
Reviews Editor Zhiqing Wan: From the moment it was originally unveiled to the public, it was clear that Octopath Traveler was going to be a massive hit. Why wouldn’t it? It featured a nostalgic but modern HD-2D graphical style and beautiful sprite work, had a fun combat system, and came packed with an all-around awesome soundtrack. Octopath Traveler definitely delivered.
Instead of adopting the traditional JRPG approach of having the story focus on one main character and a cast of supporting characters, Octopath Traveler chooses to tell eight separate stories. This narrative structure was certainly divisive for many, and the lackluster interactions between characters were a sore point among fans. Even so, the individual stories themselves could often be moving, despite their relatively short lengths.
Outside of the characters themselves, the world of Orsterra feels like a living, breathing entity. Being able to speak with virtually every single NPC in the game helps to flesh out the world, and the musical themes for each region definitely helped to breathe life into the environments as well.
Octopath Traveler is such a smashing hit because of the way it straddles the line between the nostalgia of the 90s and the modern era. The 2D look of the game is undeniably timeless, yet it never looks dated because of the way the environments and surrounding textures shimmer in the background, giving the game a fresh, modern feel.
Even the turn-based combat system strikes a balance between the familiar and the new, as it builds upon the Brave/Default system we saw in Square Enix’s Bravely series. Octopath Traveler’s combat system is easily the best we’ve seen in any turn-based RPG this generation because of the way it innovates and iterates on the core system.
Tying all of these elements together is a beast of a soundtrack that truly does a spectacular job of evoking nostalgic memories of our favorite JRPGs from the SNES and even the PS1 era. Octopath Traveler isn’t perfect, it still has flaws that need to be worked out, but there was something truly special about this game. I’m not sure whether it was purely the music, or the way the characters had endeared themselves to me over the course of 80 hours, but Octopath Traveler left me feeling wistful and more than a little sad when the journey came to an end.
Octopath Traveler was an excellent first step for Square Enix and Acquire’s new IP, and despite its missteps, it’s still one of, if not the, best RPGs we’ve played in the last few years.