It was another banner year for role-playing games. Even as the genre beloved for dialogue choices, skill trees, and making the numbers go up gets slowly subsumed into every major blockbuster from Dying Light 2 to God of War Ragnarök, there were still plenty of standouts, both big and small.
Here’s a list of a whopping 15 best RPGs of 2022. That’s one less than 2021, which is still impressive considering everything that was delayed into 2023 (looking at you Starfield and Final Fantasy XVI). Alas, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet did not make the cut. They are 100 percent role-playing games, but also 100 percent mired in performance issues and uneven open-world exploration. Not everyone shares that opinion at Kotaku, but we had to draw the line somewhere. I’m sure the fastest-selling Nintendo games ever will be just fine. Here’s what did make the list:
It’s been a while since a game so masterfully distilled the dopamine drip-feed at the heart of the traditional action-RPG the way Nobody Saves the World does. After perfecting the Metroidvania platformer with Guacamelee! 2, Drinkbox Studios set out to make a best-in-class dungeon crawler. Ostensibly the tale of a wizard’s apprentice tasked with using shape-shifting magic to save a top-down world from certain doom, Nobody Saves the World is really about seeing just how much you can strip down and streamline a level-up progression system before a player realizes how meaningless it all is. The combat is twitchy, the puzzles are clever, and the map is fun to explore. It can be a bit like eating an entire bag of chips and still feeling empty afterwards. Who doesn’t love chips though?
Lost Ark takes the popular ARPG formula of loot, lots of baddies to kill, and dungeon crawling and expands into a big ol’ free-to-play MMO complete with some questionable fashion choices and some fantastic combat. Months and months after it was released and blew up on Steam, the Amazon-published RPG is still one of the most played games on the service and shows no signs of stopping. In a year where Blizzard actually released a free-to-play MMO-lite Diablo game on PC, it’s Lost Ark that not only came out first, but ended up being far more successful and well received. - Zack Zwiezen
Fans have been waiting for a true successor to Final Fantasy Tactics since 1997. Triangle Strategy is not that, but it’s still a very good strategy RPG that channels retro pixel art with HD-2D graphics without getting mired in nostalgia. While a Game of Thrones-style political drama unfolds based on your decisions in dialogue and combat, the story is pretty generic and stilted. The grid-based combat, however, is top-notch, forgoing glitzy summons and overpowered abilities in favor of a nuanced class system that requires thought and precision to achieve victory without ever descending into tedium.
What if Pokémon Snap were an RPG? Fans have long wondered and Game Freak finally answered. Pokémon Legends: Arceus occupies a weird yet charming middle ground between the series’ dual pillars of collecting and battling. Combat isn’t nearly as deep or rewarding as in the mainline entries. At the same time it’s much more pleasant and graceful, letting you focus instead on exploring the world and finding rare Pokémon. The characters, story, and general writing are surprisingly great, and the music, including the main village theme, is some of the best of any game this year.
Every once in a while I’ll see a screenshot or video clip of Horizon Forbidden West on social media and be blown away by just how good it looks. Having crafted one of the most technically impressive open worlds around, developer Guerrilla Games also managed to stock it full of meaty side quests, gear upgrades, and menacing creatures. Your mileage on the overarching plot and third-act shenanigans will vary, but Horizon Forbidden West does a wonderful job of melding a beautiful and varied world with a satisfying combat loop that will make you want to explore every last corner of it.
Demon’s Souls. Dark Souls. Bloodborne. And now Elden Ring. While each is unmistakably a FromSoftware game, the studio’s attempt to create an open world has resulted in its most ambitious but approachable entry in the Soulsborne pantheon yet. While these games have always leaned into classes and builds, Elden Ring forges deep character customization combined with open-ended exploration into arguably one of the best action RPGs of the modern era. Where Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice shed those signature Souls systems, Elden Ring revels in them thanks to a rich, lore-laden world that’s hauntingly irresistible even when it’s being frustratingly obtuse.
In a year light on CRPGs, Weird West stood out as a welcome gunslinging tale about paranormal mysteries and seeing whether you could take out three enemies by igniting a barrel of TNT at just the right moment. Part isometric RPG, part immersive sim, at its best Weird West feels like playing a Divinity: Original Sin spin-off by way of Dishonored. It can be messy at times, and not all of the many layers of systems (like juggling food and random encounters while traveling between locations) are net positives. Mostly, however, it’s a successfully grim and grimy playground for combat shenanigans. “There’s no shortage of scripted story content, but the gameplay systems also tell a uniquely generated story that feels incredibly personal,” Sisi Jiang wrote in their impressions.
Chaos memes and amazingly earnest cringe aside, Team Ninja’s foray into the world of Final Fantasy makes for a supremely entertaining action game. The fact that it channels it through an intriguing job system and fun dress-up antics makes it even better. I have no idea if Square Enix wanted Stranger of Paradise to feel ridiculous, but it does and it works. A frenzied mashup of hack ’n slash combat and Final Fantasy deep cuts, with an absurd English dub remaining completely deadpanned and committed to the bit throughout, Stranger of Paradise will be the spin-off fans unearth a decade from now as an underappreciated triumph.
If I had a nickel for every game that came out this year that made it onto my games of the year list, I’d have four nickels. Wait…that can’t be right, can it? Well, I’ll be damned, I’m hard to please. Nevertheless, one of the shiniest nickels in said exclusive bundle ‘o games is Square Enix’s remake of the classic 1994 Japanese RPG, Live A Live. Live A Live is a grab bag of Japanese RPG storytelling with a visual upgrade that makes the pixel art of its diverse environments and characters crisp as hell. But there’s much more to this game’s greatness than just the newly refreshed graphics. The turn-based combat system is as satisfying as it is challenging, and its main boss battle theme is a certified banger. As a cherry on top, Live A Live’s eight discrete storylines, each set in different time periods, ultimately converge in an emotionally resonant conclusion well worth your hours of playtime. Even one chapter in which my interest started to wane, the Near Future chapter, eventually managed to get the biggest pop out of me by revealing itself as a clever tokusatsu send-up. If you’re a fan of wacky JRPGs, you owe it to yourself to give this game a whirl. - Isaiah Colbert
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has something for everyone. Swinging a sword and watching giant numbers pop up over the heads of huge monsters. Check. An ensemble cast working through the dual burdens of coming of age and breaking free from the shackles of fate. Check. Massive mechs that harvest the life force from child soldiers? Check, check, check. Okay, so the latest entry in a long running thread about game developers trying to dethrone god might seem like an acquired taste, but Xenoblade Chronicles 3 finally polishes the formula into an open-world level grind that’s rewarding from the jump with tons of depth and improvisation on the back end. It’s the most fun and graceful offline MMORPG since Final Fantasy XII.
In a year bursting with decent strategy RPGs, Symphony of War still stands out. It looks like Fire Emblem on the surface, but under the hood takes advantage of a deep customization system for each party member in a unit that makes every attack feel like its own dramatic mini-battle. What it lacks in production values and storytelling grace it makes up for with combat depth. “It’s even better in the strategy department than Triangle Strategy,” I wrote in my earlier impressions, and it’s true.
While a Final Fantasy Tactics successor continues to elude strategy RPG fans, its predecessor finally arrived on modern platforms this year with a slight makeover and it’s as brilliant as ever. Tactics Ogre: Reborn adds excellent voice acting, improved combat balancing, and a few other slight tweaks that help highlight what’s still timeless about its grim isometric war story. Just be careful of playing it on PC. The smoothed-out pixel look and errant cursor is less ideal than a controller and handheld screen.
Final Fantasy VII is the stuff of legends. That’s what makes any prequel, pre-prequel, sequel, battle royale, movie sequel, anime, or remake inherently complex. Crisis Core’s additions to VII are thoughtfully complicated at best, messy and distracting at worst. But these characters are hard not to love no matter what storyline they appear in. Crisis Core is a good excuse to spend more time with them and kick major ass with a fun and rewarding combat system. And as a remaster, Crisis Core sure is a visual treat no matter what platform you’re on. - Claire Jackson
A solo project by developer Matthias Linda, Chained Echoes came out of nowhere to wrap up the year. While clearly inspired by, and paying tribute to, the SNES 16-bit era of RPGs—there are shades of Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Breath of Fire—Chained Echoes doesn’t feel like a rehash or a posier. It actually feels surprisingly fresh and vibrant. The turn-based combat system has just enough new wrinkles to keep you on your toes; the backdrop of warring empires, knock-off Magitek armor, and demons makes things interesting; and the pixel art is lush. A lot of games look like this without delivering the goods. Chained Echoes isn’t one of them.
Sorry, it’s happening. The Witcher 3 is officially on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S now, and while it’s not massively different, it is still one of the best RPGs of 2022 (and the past decade). 60fps brings Geralt and co. to life in a whole new way, and other littler improvements help make it easier to enjoy a world and story with few rivals. The wind’s howling. May it never stop.
A long and no doubt controversial list (How did X not make it? Since when is Y an RPG?), there were still plenty of games that didn’t make the cut but do deserve a nod. Honorable mentions go to the better than expected Star Ocean 6: The Divine Force, the overdue localization of The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, and the hard to put down Gordian Quest. It was also a solid year for long-awaited ports, like Persona 5 Royal on Xbox and PC and Nier Automata on Switch. Plus a ton of stuff Square Enix launched that was mostly middling but catnip for JRPG lovers. Oh, and Cyberpunk 2077’s finally playable on consoles too, though I still wouldn’t consider it one of the greats.