Xenogears is, perhaps, the most epic and ambitious RPG ever conceived. Like a lot of the coolest RPGs, it combines sci-fi and fantasy. Up close, it tells the story of Fei Fong Wong, the mysterious orphan whose carefree life in his village is disrupted when a bipedal Gundam-style robot crashes into his village. He climbs in to try to fight off the pursuers and off we go into a story that involves political intrigue, philosophical allegory, split personalities, nanobot orphans, the history of the universe, robots, a great cast of well-developed characters, and all sorts of interesting allusions and references to everything from classic films to the old testament. If you’re the type of person who might be interested in reading, say, Dostoevsky, Xenogears is the game for you.
1. Suikoden 2
Suikoden 2 may not look like much at first glance but it is, hands down, easy choice, the top of this list. The story is well told, beautiful, emotionally powerful and at times even poetic. It tells the story of Riou, a young soldier, who is the victim of a false-flag attack — his own country attacks his unit, pretending to be the enemy to get out of a recently signed peace treaty. From there, he travels with his best friend, Jowy, and sister, Nanami until fate irreversibly forces them apart. Jowy, an aristocrat of his country, uses political savvy and cunning to get into the royal circle; meanwhile, Riou becomes a war hero fighting for independence. There’s a beautiful emotional push-pull of the dichotomy where Jowy and Riou have the same goal, but are forced to fight each other. Of course, the gameplay is brilliant as well. The main battle system is simple and easy to get into, but the real key here are the subsystems. You collect 108 characters who populate your castle. Not only do you collect warriors, but also shopkeepers, chefs, journalists, etc. As as you do, your castle slowly transforms from a dump into, basically, a theme park full of fun minigames — including, but not limited to, an Iron Chef cook-off. If video games had oscars, Suikoden 2 could win one every year.