Japanese Role-Playing Games dominated sales, and critical charts during the 90s, and early part of the 2000s. The Japanese domination of the genre on consoles would end during the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era (2005-2013) due to the rise in popularity of Western Role-Playing Games.
The featured PlayStation 3 listing (based on Metacritic aggregate scores) shows how far the Japanese fell behind during the that generation. The larger Western RPGs offered an unparalleled amount of freedom, and stories/quests in which players were given the choice to shape their own destiny (as opposed to the JRPGs more linear approach in their design).
5. Dark Souls II (2014) – Metascore: 91
The Souls’ series, aimed at the hardcore player, gained incredible popularity over its first two entries on the PS3. The first two games set the stage for Dark Souls II to achieve massive critical success, and to reach the 2.5 million units sold mark (across all platforms).
It is ironic that the only Japanese-Role Playing game to make this list, is also an action based game with distinctive gothic artwork heavily influenced by dark western fantasy, as opposed to traditional Japanese Anime styled adventures.
Dark Souls II features a “Show, don’t tell” storyline, coupled with classic Souls’ difficulty and challenging combat. The games strikes a perfect balance between grinding in order to get stronger, and repetition in order to get better (at combat) that very few other games outside of the Souls series can match.
NER’s take on the ranking: The game deserves its ranking. I would have had no issues if Dark Souls (the original title) were listed here instead though. Dark Souls II is very similar to the original, and at least amongst fans of the series, it mostly takes a backseat to the first and third games.
The PlayStation 3 version also suffers from performance issues, which made the Xbox One, and PS4 versions the better way to experience the game. Dark Souls II is a very tough game, requiring patience and skill from players. While the game can easily pass for a western fantasy title on looks, its gameplay and intricate world design is very precise, and very Japanese in the way that it all interconnects.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) – Metascore: 92
With over 30 million units sold globally, and ports to almost every gaming platform in existence, Skyrim might be the most played single player RPG ever. Its arrival in 2011 brought about marked improvements in visuals, design, and combat over Oblivion. Skyrim’s diverse winter terrain ranged from snowy peaks, and autumn colored forests, to massive wintry plains.
More impressively, Oblivion’s repetitively looking dungeons were replaced by endless Dwarves ruins, cave systems, and grottoes, all with unique layouts and design. Simply put, Skyrim featured a massive open world that enticed players to sink hundreds of hours in it.
To top it all off, Skyrim featured real random dragon encounters. The epic battles with these legendary creatures made for some of the most unforgettable moments in gaming history.
Skyrim became one of the most influential titles in gaming, and remains a standard within the Role-Playing genre.
NER’s take on the game: If it was up to me, I would rate this game as the unquestionable number one title in the list. After sinking more than 500 hours into it (more than I have ever played any other game), I still find joy in adventuring, and discovering new things in its game world.
That said, the above sentiment applies to the Xbox 360 version. The PS3 version was atrocious in terms of performance and game crashing bugs. It is the reason why it holds a lower overall score than the Xbox 360 version. However, despite the technical ‘inconveniences’ present in the PS3 version the game deserves its top ranking.
3. Mass Effect 3 (2012) – Metascore: 93
Mass Effect 3 closes out the trilogy in grand (and controversial) fashion. The game featured the same magnificent Unreal 3 powered graphics, and impressive shooting based action system that made the previous two titles critical darlings.
The ability to create your own “Shepard”, and make impactful (story changing) decisions made Mass Effect 3 an instant classic. Mass Effect 3 was a great conclusion to its ground breaking Space Opera tale.
The only thing that marred the game’s reception (amongst fans) were its endings, which many felt left plot holes, and inconsistencies after experiencing all possible outcomes.
NER’s take on the game’s ranking: I liked the Mass Effect Series, and truly the original one was one of the reasons to show off my Xbox 360 to friends back in its hey day. Mass Effect 3 brings some closure to the trilogy, even if some fans were disappointed by the endings, I was not.
To be fair, most games have plot holes in their story telling, the fact that this is a futuristic space soap opera that allowed gamers to make powerful choices in its narrative from the very beginning (Mass Effect 1) only served to muddle things.
Some gamers are a bit fickle though, and the third entry was bound to disappoint. Even recent games like Final Fantasy VIIR feature irrational plot devices, and we sort of accept them for what they are and move forwards, choosing to focus on the good bits in these games instead.
In terms of visuals, gameplay, and storytelling Mass Effect 3 had few rivals. The trilogy was a seminal moment for gaming, and with over 5 million units sold (across all platforms) the third entry in the series was, commercially, a very successful game.
2. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2007) – Metascore: 93
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was an earth shattering experience upon its debut on the Xbox 360 in 2006. The game didn’t lose any of its luster months later when it launched on the PlayStation 3. Quite simply, there was nothing remotely close to it on home consoles at the time.
Lush forests, and green hills extending as far as the eye could see made Oblivion an incredibly immersive experience in the early days of the PS3. The amount of customizable options for creating your avatar, and building said character during gameplay was unparalleled, and in someways superior to Skyrim’s.
Other fantasy RPGs would come afterwards, but fall short (Two Worlds anyone?). Before Skyrim launched and redefined what was expected of Open-World RPGs, Oblivion was the one to rule them all.
NER’s take on the game’s ranking: Personally, I think Skyrim is the better game. That said, if you handed me a PlayStation 3, and told me: “You can only play one!” I would probably pick Oblivion, solely on the fact that Skyrim runs so poorly on Sony’s machine.
Picking Skyrim over Oblivion, or vice versa, is largely a subjective matter, and in 2007, Oblivion was certainly a ground breaking experience. So Objectively, I can’t really really come up with a strong argument against the game being ranked this high.
Though I did find the game annoyingly repetitive (oblivion gates, copy and paste dungeons, etc.), some of the game’s major quests (such as the Dark Brotherhood’s) are superior to their counterparts in 2011’s Skyrim.
1. Mass Effect 2 (2011) – Metascore: 94
Largely considered the greatest game in the series, Mass Effect 2 was everything that a sequel should be. Larger, and more refined than the previous entry, Mass Effect 2 was an action-RPG for ages.
Unlike, Oblivion (or Skyrim’s) Mass Effect wasn’t about freedom of exploration (though the exploration component here was largely improved from the first game with better designed planets), but about strong storytelling, and the ability to alter it with decision making.
It is a system that Bioware had worked in perfecting since the days of KOTOR, and Mass Effect 2 was the culmination of the developer’s effort to that end. With over 4 million units sold, Mass Effect 2 was not only a critical success, but financially speaking,it was a very successful game for Bioware.
NER’s take on the game’s ranking: Once again, my favorite amongst these entries remains Skyrim, but I am thinking of the Xbox 360 version, and this is a PS3 list. That said, Mass Effect 2 was a near flawless experience, and one of the reasons why Bioware was such a highly regarded developer at the time.
As with all of the games on this list, there is no good argument that can be made for the game not being ranked here. As far as RPGs went (JRPG or WRPG) you couldn’t do much better than the Mass Effect trilogy.
Conclusion on the Top Five PlayStation 3 Role-Playing Games
It is almost shocking that no Final Fantasy game made this list given the series’ dominance on PS1 and PS2. In fact, Final Fantasy XII (the series’ only main entry during the PS3 era) doesn’t even make the top ten (or even top 20) cut. Coming in with an 83 rating, Final Fantasy XIII is widely regarded as the worst modern FF entry.
The problem for JRPGs was not that Final Fantasy went south, it was that other similar series either disappeared (Suikoden), or delivered pedestrian efforts during this era (Star Ocean).
The Souls series did better (critically) than any other JRPG franchise during this time. FromSoftware’s success, and the rise of the Western RPGs benefited from a trend that favored action based RPGs as opposed to traditional turn-based games.
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