Role playing video games, also known as RPGs, have been enjoyed by nerds worldwide for decades, ever since Dungeons & Dragons erupted onto the scene, changing the face of gaming forever.
But the success of Ultima and Wizardry really took it a step further by bringing all that fun into the digital realm. As the proliferation of these games ensued, so did their styles. However, for the sake of posterity, we can pretty much categorize it all into two distinct groups: Eastern and Western role-playing games (ERPG and WRPG respectively).
The main divergences are that ERPGs focus more so on turned-based battle systems, set menus and linear, yet complex plots while WRPG delves into character development and creation (through stat attribution) and open-ended storytelling, doused with lore.
In other words, RPGs are fairly complex, a multi-layered experience that allows the player to become fully immersed in a well-defined world (usually fantasy-based), told in a manner that shares narrative elements with the likes of the Lord of the Rings (hence why they’re typically fantasy-based). But because of this complexity and the player's augmented sense of inclusivity, gaming developers have to be on their A-game.
One mistake can unravel the RPG’s blueprint at an exponential rate whereby every fault becomes glaringly obvious.
This is a list of such games, where the world's we're meant to explore are hollow or unrealistic, the characters are lifeless or the ways in which the games are played fail to captivate.
15 Final Fantasy II-Family Computer/PlayStation
Before you attempt to burn TheRichest.com down, understand that we had to take a jab at Final Fantasy (FF) in a list such as this.
FF is in a league of its own (and rightly so), but this means that the franchise goes by its own special set of rules. It works like so: when a FF game falls below the “Final Fantasy Awesome Line” (mind you, this is hard to do) as this one does, it’s equivalent to when a “normal” RPG tumbles below the “good” line. So in the language of Final Fantasy, FFII isn’t “good.”
As to why, it’s because the gaming developers, in what would end up being a signature trait, ditched the tried-and-true XP/level-up system in the pursuit of continuous innovation. It was innovative but failed horribly.
The premise of this new system was based on how life actually works: if you punch and kick a lot, then your punches and kicks are going to improve.
It’s science. No, common sense.
Such was the case in FFII. For example, by utilizing physical attacks, your character became more powerful.
But this concept failed. It had an interminable flaw, too, which players could spam relentlessly. To increase your defense, all you had to do was go up against weak enemies and get the crap beaten out of you.
Sure, the story in FFII may have been more fleshed-out than the first, but that’s not saying much. FFII was pretty generic as all heck (rebels fighting against an evil empire). And this would’ve been fine, except the franchise would soon prove that they were highly capable of telling such a derivative tale in a way that gave it an extra oomph.
But you have to start somewhere, right?
14 Disciples of Steel - Atari ST/MS Dos
Old games are hard.
What Computer Gaming World had to say about Disciples of Steel (DoS) makes one want to run to the hills: that it’s “role-playing with all of the tedious details and none of the fun.” What’s more, they named it the 48th worst game of all time.
Sure, CGW published the story in 1996, and there have been plenty of other games since then, but that’s still pretty bad.
However, people will argue that this tediousness was what made DoS great because it was deeply embedded in traditionalism. If you wanted to play a freakin' game spelled R-P-G, then this game was for you.
For everyone else, it was the same old thing.
The story was hella cool, though. A hero had formed an army called the Disciples of Steel to obliterate an oncoming threat: a horde of orcs and goblins. (Who doesn’t love some orcs?) Sure, these so-called disciples may have won, but their victory was more aptly written as “won” because only 11 men survived ... and all disappeared on their venture home.
Now, the hero’s step son is the hero ... who’s fated to drive out the evil for good?
But what blasted all this awesome out of the water was that, like most games of that era, it was insanely hard. And the controls were not only complex (like the immensely intricate character stat/class relationship) but inconsistent.
If you could get past all that, there was something to enjoy. But it was hard to get there. Very hard.
13 Beyond the Beyond—PlayStation
Beyond the Beyond (BtB) needed to be good, for the sake of PlayStation gamers in the West. It was the area’s first old-school RPG (think Final Fantasy). And how couldn’t it be good? Ami Shibata, a popular manga artist, designed the characters. Plus, BtB featured a fighting system very similar (read: heightened interactivity) to that of the legendary and grossly underrated Legend of Dragoon four-disc RPG, whereby pressing the “X” button during battle, right when the sword/fist/lance/mace/spear/whatever made contact with the enemy, dealt more damage.
In this fantasy world, a young swordsman must fight to try and wound the broken treaty between the Beings of Light, who rule the surface world, and the Warlocks of the Underworld who—surprise, surprise—have control of the world beneath it.
The problem in BtB? It was basically like every other RPG that had ever been released by anyone ever. Its graphics (save for the 3D battles) were exactly like role playing games for the SNES, with the pixelated overhead view. Sure, that can conjure up nostalgia, but why bother with this game when there are millions else like it ... that do it better?
While it was universally panned, the “harshest criticism award” goes to the Official PlayStation Magazine, which gave BtB its lowest score possible: 0.5 out of 5. Dang!
12 Hyperdimension Neptunia-PlayStation 3
There were so many things wrong with Hyperdimension Neptunia. It was so bad in fact (GameRanking’s aggregated score was 50.78% and Metacritic’s was 45/100) that its developers decided to revamp it entirely and rerelease it on the PlayStation Vita (the end result of which boosted GameRanking’s and Metacritic’s scores to 70.94 and 69/100 respectively).
Sure, the concept was unique in a good way (featuring four warring goddesses, each representing a different gaming system and possessing certain aesthetic qualities of their respective console) but that was it.
Besides many reviewers believing the game was sexist and senseless, what really made this game so annoying was the fact that items, during battles, seemingly had a mind of their own. You could choose what items you wanted your characters to use, but that didn’t necessarily mean that they would. The only time they did was when certain conditions were met. For example, if your HP was down to 25%, then, most likely, a healing item would be utilized.
11 Lunar: Dragon Song—Gameboy DS
When you want to play a turn-based RPG, it’s usually because you want to strategize. Sure, you have to wait your turn, but the wait is justified because you get to get the right sequence down so you truly lay waste to your foe.
But if the gaming developers don’t spice up this crucial aspect of gameplay enough, then the whole experience gets tantalizingly painful.
Well, in Lunar: Dragon Song (LDS), nothing good came of waiting. LDS hacked the battle system to pieces, so much so that it massacred the very concept of turn-based fighting. There’s a reason why Eurogamer referred to the system as “comfortably the worst in 20 years of RPGs.”
Sure, you can choose what attack you want to use, but you don’t have control over whom your character attacks as though they’re all drunk out of their minds and swinging their weapons willy nilly.
So you could have an insanely powerful foe and another one that was just barely holding onto life, so far gone that even Lucia Collins, your weak healer chick, could’ve just coughed and killed him as a result. But instead, the DS would have your powerful character, Beastman Rufus Clow, with his carnage-inducing, lightning-summoning sword, waste his move by attacking that nearly dead creature rather than the powerful one.
What’s more, gameplay outside of this highly annoying battling system was even more infuriating. In the words of Famitsu Weekly magazine: “bothersome and stressful.” You basically had no choice but to die of boredom by walking 24/7 because running made you lose health. So if you were sick of getting passed by snails and started running, then, by the time a bad guy came along, you were screwed. Hence why Famitsu gave LDS 27 out of 40.
10 Quest 64—N64
Quest 64 was supposed to be an amalgamation of epic proportions, bringing together the expansiveness of Mario 64 with the masterful storytelling and roleplaying prowess displayed in Final Fantasy VII.
And yet, on all counts, Quest 64 failed.
Sure, the scenery may have been pretty (up to basically 20 feet because you couldn’t see beyond that short distance), but that was pretty much it. Like the story itself—where Brian, an apprentice Spirit Tamer, must find the missing “Great Book” (and his father who’s gone after the tome)—gameplay was rather rigid, whereby Brian basically traveled on one road, going from town to town, completing snooze-fest worthy quests.
Basically, everyone viewed it as an overly simple, bare-bones RPG. Electronic Gaming Monthly, which rewarded Quest 64 a whopping 3.83 outta 10, gave the best advice for gamers: “Wait for Zelda.”
9 Space Siege—Microsoft Windows
So much wasted potential. Space Siege began with, literally, a bang, or a whole multitude of bangs: combat engineer Seth Walker watches as Earth is destroyed by the insect-like race known as Kerak. Then, in addition to losing his home world, he must grapple with what it means to be human and if it’s worth it.
Throughout gameplay, you must choose whether Seth should be installed with cybernetic implants to bestow upon him the powers of a truly unstoppable killing machine—but at the risk of losing his humanity. For example, installing a cybernetic eye makes Seth 10% less human. Whoa. It’s a true philosophical quagmire that’s exemplified by characters imploring you not to do so.
But all of this awesomeness was destroyed by gameplay: do a left click, and Seth moved. Right click and Seth fired. Wow. So much fun. Plus, if Seth was walking towards an area that you left-clicked and you saw an enemy and fired, he had to stop moving to attack.
Apparently, cyborgs can’t multitask.
It doesn’t help that when something of substance happens, you’re forced to witness horrific cliché after horrific cliché, making you wish nothing does happen.
8 Rise of the Argonauts – PlayStation 3/Xbox
It’s a shame when people mess up great stories, especially Greek Mythology. It’s happened in movies hundreds of times. But this form of blasphemy isn’t just reserved for film directors. It happens in games as well, like 'Rise of the Argonauts,' which obliterated the tale of King Jason of Iolcus in his search for the legendary Golden Fleece. Even if you’re not that familiar with the tale, you should know that this tale is inundated with fighting and death and destruction and carnage. And there’s not much of it here.
The summary of Justin Calvert’s review on GameSpot was spot on: Jason spends too much time talking and not nearly enough time-fighting in this Greek mythology-inspired action-RPG.
It’s incredibly boring.
What’s worse, the beginning of the game took way too long to get to the fighting, so you didn’t have anything to really hold your interest. You ended up getting so fed up with all of the walking and talking that by the time you got to the rather fun fighting sequences, you didn’t care how great they were.
7 Might and Magic IX – Microsoft Windows
There was so much riding on this game. For one (or should we say, for nine?), it was part of an acclaimed RPG series. Heck, it was the ninth one! Plus, it was augmented by Lithtech 1.5 engine, making it the first Might and Magic game to feature three-dimensional graphics.
The game was also set in a completely new fantasy world, moving on from the one that had been your playground since the fourth game. And this was a big deal. IX was a new beginning.
This new world was at risk of being destroyed, too. Your mission was to unite six clans to prevent its destruction.
But, other than wanting to beat the game, there was no other real compelling reason to save this world. Sure, it was all nice and shiny and pretty and 3D, to boot.
But that was it. You couldn’t even interact with most of it! You could just stare at its beauty. This created a sense of emptiness. And the rest of the game followed suit.
So many things seen in the previous games were also missing: your character avatars were gone and replaced with thumbnail icons, the very helpful note categories were nonexistent, the mapping system was sparse, there were fewer professions and alchemy might as well have just been fictional because you couldn’t find it here.
Then there were the bugs. So many bugs. It was an infestation! Plus, the dialog was not only bad but poorly worded.
There’s a reason why Might and Magic ended here.
6 Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage – N64
The idea of role playing is to get fully immersed in the role of your character. But when your character basically looks like the Pokemon Polygon, you know there’s a problem, especially when he’s supposed to look like a human, not a 'lil' deformed creature.
Plus, the environment was basically nonexistent. And when we say that, we don’t mean that subjectively. By trying to render gameplay in real time (emphasis on trying), the developers screwed up the texturing and let choppy frames run amuck. Basically, every reviewer commented on all of the above, IGN even describing it as a “bitter coating” that was difficult to swallow.
Sure the battle system may have been unique, mixing in some real-time elements that all manifested in a radar, but that couldn’t save this sorry excuse for a game.
5 Raven’s Cry-Windows
When a game is set to be rereleased due to original garnering poor critical and community reception, you know that that the first one must’ve been bad. Such was the case with Raven’s Cry. (As an interesting side note, the rereleased version, Vendetta: Curse of Raven’s Cry, was pulled for reasons unknown.)
The concept was provocatively captivating, though. The main character, completely consumed by revenge after his loved ones were slaughtered, goes on a rampage, inducing Fear, a skill which you accumulated by killing enemies, gaining Notoriety (a very Assassin Creed II-esque system) and making his foe bleed and suffer, a choice which affected the morality aspects of the game.
But all of this was lost in a sea of stupidity: large chunks of content were missing, technical issues saturated gameplay, the graphics could kill you (read: bad), the controls and combat were clunky, offensive and racist writing permeated every facet of the game and the voice acting was a joke, the latter of which had an interesting story: the voice actor for the lead character was found off the street.
Out of the copious amounts of negativity thrust at this game, probably the one most worth noting was Polygon, which included the release of its “Worst video games of 2015.”
4 Mimana Iyar Chronicle—PlayStation Portable
Lackluster is the word that comes to mind when you think of Mimana Iyar Chronicle.
Not even the story was compelling: a girl named Sophie Rothorn hires a washed-up mercenary Crais Sewell to protect her as she travels the world collecting seven gems. Why was she doing this? Unlike Sonic the Hedgehog, who, by collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds transforms into the Super Saiyan-like Super Sonic, Sophie’s reason is because they’ll let her go to the Temple of Water.
And you’d think that the story would get interesting, especially when their little duo started accumulating more and more girls, making the group some sort of traveling harem.
But it didn't. And it was really an effort to like any character.
What’s worse, gameplay was antiquated in almost every way. IGN said it best: “everything feels about a decade and a half behind.”
Another problem was that there was too much fighting. You’d think that would be a good thing, but not in this game. The battle system was so boring that it was more of a colossal drag than anything else.
3 Evergrace - PlayStation 2
When a game is originally set to debut on a then-new system but then suddenly switched to an older console before being swapped back to that first gaming system, the end result won’t bode well. This actually happened with Evergrace in regards to the PlayStation 2, PlayStation and, again, the PlayStation 2 respectively.
As you can imagine, poor visuals coupled with excessive lagging abounded ... and were not appreciated.
Fighting sequences were also flawed, an overly bland affair, of which required no strategy. You were sure to win so long as you properly maneuvered your character to the back of your enemy and did the following: attack, attack, attack, attack, attack.
Sure, the concept of controlling two characters was intriguing, both of which were transported to a mysterious new world. But that wasn’t enough.
It’s bad when the only positive things anyone could really say about the game were its innovative use of the DualShock controller buttons and the fact that, by equipping your character with certain clothing, your corresponding avatar would be garbed accordingly. Wow. Great.
2 The Last Remnant – Xbox 360
The main reasons why the Last Remnant was so atrocious was because of the following: crazy glitches (GameSpot, IGN, and 1UP.com all mentioned frame rate problems and “texture pop-in,” with IGN even saying it’s a “coding disaster”) and annoying quests. While abysmal reviews were had by all, 1UP.com stood out from the bunch, swatting the game’s cutscenes as well as the utter fail that was its battling system, calling it “boring” and the worst part of the game.
Why was it the worst part of the game? You basically did nothing. Once you gave your commands to your assigned union, all you could do was watch the insanity ensue, during which, the intrusive camera angles made it impossible to enjoy the movie (that's basically what it was, not a game), zooming you so far into the heroes’ business that you sometimes couldn’t see them. Or you may have found characters inside various enemies as though they were swallowed whole.
Not even a compelling story could save it: a brother, in his pursuit to find his captured sister, gets dragged into a battle between ferocious monsters and an army, the leader of which, at the end of the bloody combat, decided to aid him in the brother’s quest.
So much wasted potential. So much.
1 Two Worlds - Xbox
If you thought the frame rate in Aidyn Chronicles was deplorable, then Two Worlds might kill you. Strangely, even with a debug console and after turning off graphical features, gameplay doesn’t improve. All this did was raise the bar from complete-and-utter trash to near-playable. Basically, Two Worlds was beyond help.
It doesn’t help when the voice acting was also a joke. And there’s a reason for that. Game developer Reality Pump turned to its staff for the job rather than seeking out trained professionals. Hm.
Sure, the fantasy landscape was a lot like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (which is a huge plus) and the plot, for the most part, was non-linear, giving you the freedom to just run around and do random stuff (which can be fun), so long as you had the hero save his sister who’s been captured for ransom. While you might have saved his sister, you didn’t save Two Worlds.
This duality was best portrayed in Hyper magazine, whereby the reviewer loved the hugeness of the world but struggled with it being “not finished, buggy as hell.”
Do yourself a favor. Don’t even try it.
Sources: Eurogamer; Famitsu Weekly magazine; IGN; Hyper magazine; GameRankings; Wired; Kotaku.com; GameSpot.