What a year we’ve just had for role-playing games. Whether you’re on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, or PC, 2021 has been a surprisingly good year for RPGs as a whole. It hasn’t just been the latest sequels gracing our gaming platforms but also big name developers starting to take risks with new IPs and fresh concepts altogether. When you’re cooped up indoors with a controller in one hand and takeaway in the other, nothing helps pass the times better than a meaty RPG with a story that’ll stick with you long after the credits roll.
As with all of Wccftech’s lists we put together each year, a few simple rules apply. Early access titles cannot be included, which means Baldur’s Gate III still might not be a contender until 2022 at the earliest. The other important rule is that we’ve had to have played the game at some point. Wccftech might not always have the opportunity to review every remarkable game in the year they come out, so we wouldn’t want to limit being eligible to simply those that I and the other RPG crew have played through completion and put our thoughts to paper. This year had a fair share of games that each had their own fantastic merits, which also means that I had to, unfortunately, pick a few to remain as Honorable Mentions. You can, of course, cast your own vote in the community role-playing games poll at the very end of this article.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story (9.0)
The inaugural title for Riot Forge’s diverse variety of League of Legends-inspired games was perhaps the strongest entry that Riot could’ve come up with to grab the attention of fans that haven’t yet gotten into their premium MOBA. This RPG focused on six of League of Legends’ more notable castmates and putting them together in a party that showcases the strengths and synergies of each player that bands together, from Miss Fortune to Yasuo and Ahri. Each character brings something unique to the table, and it’s up to the player to come up with battle strategies that take full advantage of those unique skillsets.
Francesco de Meo had nothing but praise for Ruined King: A League of Legends Story in his review (save for lack of strong deviation from Airship Syndicate’s previous RPG):
While it doesn't innovate the formula introduced in Battle Chasers: Nightwar too much, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story's quality is undeniably high, so much that even those with little to no knowledge of the League of Legends universe can enjoy the game fully. With an engaging story, charming characters, and amazing combat system, the game by Airship Syndicate is the best possible debut for Riot Forge, and one of the best role-playing games released this year.
Shin Megami Tensei V (9.5)
While most of us might not have been able to see the real Shibuya in 2021, two fantastic role-playing games (and at least one Honorable Mention) took us to the home of Yoko Taro and Hidetaka Miyazaki. This latest trip across the Pacific Ocean brought us to a post-apocalyptic Tokyo landscape, an all-too-frequent occurrence in the Shin Megami Tensei series. Atlus’ latest digital devil saga re-implemented that Press Turn system along with a number of smart tweaks to modernize the experience and incentivize players to synergize their party in unique and creative ways. This Nintendo Switch-exclusive RPG has been praised across the board with proof that the 8-year wait since Shin Megami Tensei IV launched exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS has been well worth it.
Tales of Arise (9.0)
Without a doubt, Tales of Arise elevated Namco’s action JRPG series into AAA status across the new console hardware. Tales of Arise was not only a stunner no matter what console you played it on but also one of the meatier entries in the series. Despite playing as one character at a time in combat, players will frequently band together with flashy co-op attacks that bring your entire party into the combo as you take on larger-than-life beasts and the Five Lords. This was Bandai Namco’s breakout title to bring the Tales series up to a AAA production quality to join a number of prestigious JRPG developers. Overall, 2021 has been a great year for Bandai Namco’s studios with several award winners across various genres, including a second RPG we added as an Honorable Mention.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
In 2021, BioWare began its path towards redemption with Mass Effect Legendary Edition. The long requested remastered trilogy was finally released and it did so in a spectacular fashion.
Not only were all the games greatly improved from the visual standpoint, the earlier entries (particularly the first one) received significant gameplay enhancements, too. Mass Effect Legendary Edition is undoubtedly the best way to experience Shepard’s space opera, which remains unique across role-playing games for the impact of player choices throughout the trilogy.
The reception was rightfully great across the board and even sales were well above EA’s expectations (the game was even listed on Steam’s top-grossing list in the Silver category). It might not have been a new title, but BioWare definitely made the right choice in handling the remaster themselves; Rockstar outsourced its Grand Theft Auto Trilogy remaster, and we all know how that turned out.
Here’s hoping that in 2022, BioWare can continue its comeback story with the new Dragon Age game.
NEO: The World Ends With You (9.3)
Shibuya was once again a popular destination for would-be adventurers. This time it wasn’t ruined by demons and natural disasters, either. This surprise follow-up to a 14-year old Nintendo DS title wound up being one of Square-Enix’s standout role-playing games of 2021. If you’ve recently watched the anime adaptation of the original The World Ends With You or perhaps the iOS/Nintendo Switch releases, you’re plenty prepared for a shot at greatness and unspoken rewards in the Reapers’ Game. As Francesco de Meo mentioned in his review:
NEO: The World Ends With You is the excellent sequel of one of the most unique JRPG ever released, featuring a stylish setting, charming characters, engaging story, masterfully crafted action combat and tons of content that are on par (if not better) with the original.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous (8.0)
This sequel to Pathfinder: Kingmaker saw Russian studio Owlcat Games greatly improving on many aspects of the first entry in this cRPG series. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous also accommodates both factions of role-playing games fans, whether they prefer real-time combat or turn-based combat.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is a faithful adaptation of the tabletop RPG, featuring an engaging story, well-written characters, and extremely deep gameplay mechanics. Although Owlcat Games' did their best to make the game feel welcoming to newcomers with plenty of in-game resources and tutorials, and difficulty customization options, the depth of the experience can be intimidating. Those who brave through the initial confusion, however, will find one of the best computer RPGs released in recent times.
Ys IX Monstrum Nox (9)
Ys IX Monstrum Nox was only the latest of Adol the Red’s adventures but one that action RPG fans won’t soon forget. While the console performance for Ys IX was pretty rough at launch on the base model PS4, the backward-compatible mode on PS5 turned out to be a nearly flawless experience across the board. If you’ve already had the chance to see Adol’s adventures in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, expect everything in Monstrum Nox to be a worthy upgrade, both in terms of combat and exploration.
- Scarlet Nexus
- Monster Hunter Rise
- Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
- Bravely Default 2
- NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139
Vote for your favorite Role-Playing Game of 2021!
- Mass Effect Legendary Edition 32%, 93 votes93 votes 32%93 votes - 32% of all votes
- Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous 24%, 68 votes68 votes 24%68 votes - 24% of all votes
- Tales of Arise 22%, 63 votes63 votes 22%63 votes - 22% of all votes
- Shin Megami Tensei V 11%, 33 votes33 votes 11%33 votes - 11% of all votes
- Ruined King: A League of Legends Story 5%, 14 votes14 votes 5%14 votes - 5% of all votes
- Ys IX Monstrum Nox 4%, 13 votes13 votes 4%13 votes - 4% of all votes
- NEO: The World Ends With You 2%, 5 votes5 votes 2%5 votes - 2% of all votes