In a year where everyone had more time on their hands than they expected, good RPGs that one could lose themselves in were a godsend. Fortunately, the year was full of great role playing experiences to check out, ranging from new offerings dipping their toes into the genre to triumphant returns to form by legacy franchises. Of them, these are the best RPG games of 2020.
Best RPGs of 2020
Honorable Mention: Hades
Reviews Editor Zhiqing Wan: While it is primarily a roguelite, Hades does feature some seriously robust RPG elements that will keep you coming back for just “one more run.” And before you know it, it’s 4 in the morning and you’re wondering where all your sleep time has gone.
Yes, you do lose all your progress and most of your items when you die in a run. But you also get to keep items that allow you to strengthen Zagreus for future runs, and that’s where the game really shines. Hades is generous with its permanent unlocks, from weapon aspects to new skill upgrades. And speaking of skills, there are so many skills to slowly level up.
You can help Zagreus restore some HP in between encounters, you can increase his chances of getting better boons, the list goes on.
And then there are the weapon aspects, which change up the way they work pretty drastically. You can upgrade the Shield of Aegis so that it hits more enemies with a single throw, or upgrade the spear so that you can rush towards it once you’ve thrown it across the room.
Outside of that, Hades also features a romance system where you can actively pursue NPCs and become romantically involved with them.
While there isn’t a traditional level up system like in most RPGs, there are still plenty of fun role-playing mechanics that help Hades stand out from the rest of the pack.
Best RPGs of 2020
Honorable Mention: Genshin Impact
Senior Editor Alex Gibson: If the narrative before Genshin Impact’s launch were its perceived similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, our big takeaway after having played it was the extent to which its gameplay stands apart from Nintendo’s masterpiece.
That, in large part, is thanks to Genshin Impact’s deep, engaging role-playing mechanics, which offer near limitless opportunity to trial and error character builds and party compositions.
Much more than the arbitrary level mechanics we’ve seen in games gone-by, here they truly enhance combat by constantly encouraging you to experiment both in and out of battles.
Even after countless hours, Genshin Impact’s elemental-based combat system never tiers; particularly so, as developer miHoYo has provided a robust post-launch support program. New content in the form of characters, entire regions on the map, and exhilarating boss encounters have kept me invested.
Oh, and did I mention this huge, sprawling open-world RPG is completely free-to-play? No, really…
All in all, there’s no doubt Genshin Impact raises the bar for the free-to-play scene and redefines what’s possible for a game that exists not only across consoles and PC but mobile as well.
Best RPGs of 2020
Second Runner-Up: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Senior Editor Alex Gibson: The Assassin’s Creed series’ transition from action to action-role-playing has been an overwhelming success, but for me it’s reached a zenith moment with Valhalla from a mechanical standpoint.
Where in Origins and Odyssey there was far too much level-gating, Valhalla loosens those shackles and finds a far better balance through clever design.
The skill tree, for example, is at first overwhelming but slowly proves a triumph, allowing players to respec at the click of a button. As a result, you’re able to play several different builds within a single playthrough, changing your approach to combat and traversal when things grow stale.
This, in combination with Valhalla’s focus on exploration to improve weapons and gear, makes for a liberating RPG experience that never feels like a grind. Other notable features relate to Valhalla’s combat system, which is familiar but improved with new features like the timed stealth takedown mechanic.
Again, it’s another example of what seems like a more concerted effort on the part of Ubisoft to make RPG mechanics fit for Assassin’s Creed where before they felt jammed in.
As for the storytelling and branching dialog, they too represent facets of the modern Assassin’s Creed experience that feel accomplished in Valhalla. Quite how improved they are over Odyssey, I’m not so sure, but the quality of the writing had me equally invested this time around.
It’s going to be fascinating to see which areas of the design Ubisoft will seek to iterate on in the next installment, but Valhalla already feels like the complete role-playing experience the developer has been striving for since 2017.
Best RPGs of 2020
First Runner-Up: Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Staff Writer Keenan McCall: When Yakuza: Like a Dragon was first revealed, there were many who were skeptical of how well the series would transition to a traditional turn-based RPG framework. After spending even a few hours with the game though, it’s clear the Yakuza franchise and RPGs are a match made in heaven.
Offering a fluid, lightning-fast take on turn-based battles, the combat is a joy to play. The player can – and will – spend hours tearing their way through some of the series’ zaniest combat encounters.
Using everything from junk scattered around the battlefield to modified home-made weapons, one can target the weaknesses of seasoned Yakuza and inebriated degenerates of the night alike, earning experience toward leveling up all the while.
Speaking of which: The game’s leveling and character customization options are surprisingly diverse, thanks in no small part to the game’s job system.
Players can assign their party members a variety of roles and classes, changing up said members’ movesets and stats according to the situation they’re facing.
And that’s not even mentioning the story the game provides. Equal parts a fresh new entry into the Yakuza mythology and a JRPG epic for the ages, it’ll grab even the crustiest of RPG die-hards and not let go until they’ve reached its conclusion, drawn into its world whole-heartedly.
Truly, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an exemplary RPG experience. It drives its franchise forward in some amazing ways, and is well worth noting as one of the best of the RPG genre to come out this past year.
Best RPGs of 2020
Winner: Final Fantasy VII Remake
Staff Writer Keenan McCall: It was a great year for RPGs, and many stood out as exemplary titles all their own. However, Final Fantasy VII Remake stood out not only as a fantastic remake of a classic, but as a top-of-the-line RPG pushing its series and the genre forward.
Blending action with turn-based RPG mechanics, the combat breaths new life into the Final Fantasy franchise’s gameplay like never before.
Within a handful of seconds, players can buff their characters, target an enemy’s weak points and coordinate special attacks between their party members; which, in motion, plays out like a scene from the CG film Advent Children.
This is bolstered by an expansive amount of character customization options. Utilizing magic and abilities tied to the Materia system, the player can tweak their party members to fall in and out of classes and jobs at will.
One fight could see Cloud playing Healer while Barret smashes through enemies with combat abilities. The next, Barret could act as a Black Mage, tearing enemies apart with flames and lightning after Tifa softens them up with attacks that leave their targets with status effects-a-plenty.
This is to say nothing of the other elements that surround the gameplay. The fully realized city of Midgar – a dystopian city filled with memorable characters, jaw-dropping vistas and exceptional graphical beauty – and the reworked story both give credence to the legend Final Fantasy VII has become, pushing it from its place in a past generation into the current generation masterfully.
What else can really be said about Final Fantasy VII Remake except that it is exceptional. It’s a bright spot among the RPG genre, and well deserving of being called the best RPG of the year.