Quest like it’s 1999 with these perfect RPGs for beginners
Once upon a time, turn-based RPGs ruled the gaming landscape. Then, somewhere around 2007, everyone decided they were dead for some reason. Now, they’re back and better than ever.
Seriously, who could have guessed that Octopath Traveler, a 2D turn-based RPG that looks like a PS1 game, would become one of the most hyped games on the Nintendo Switch? And that’s not all: we’ve had tons of have thriving series like Shin Megami Tensei, Entrian Odyssey, Bravely Default, Trails in the Sky / Trails of Cold Steel, and that’s just naming a few. While you may have heard of these games, you might have been scared of trying them if you’re not used to the genre. After all, how are you supposed to enjoy a game if you can’t even grasp how to play it?
Well never fear, because we’re here to list the 5 best RPGs for beginners to sink their teeth into. Trust me, I understand RPGs, it’s my favorite genre, and these are the best… for newbies.
5: Pokémon (any core game)
There is perhaps no series of RPGs for beginners better than Pokémon, the franchise that single-handedly broke thousands upon thousands of kids into the genre.
What makes any core Pokémon game great is its accessibility and ballooning complexity. At the start, battles will play out like simple rock paper scissors matches while you work out the mechanics. Get farther in, and you’ll be diving deep into creating diverse teams of monsters, knowing when to use an all-out attack or cripple your opponents stats, or managing your items against tricky gym leaders. Combine this with well crafted worlds with tons of secrets to uncover, and you have yourself a quintessential RPG anyone can enjoy.
The best part about Pokémon is that practically any game in the core series is a good place to start. “Core series” meaning games that are generally named after a color or gemstone. If you had to twist our arms so we’d give specific recommendations, we’d go with Pokémon X and Y or Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, all on the 3DS. These feature the most quality of life improvements that make the games even more accessible for newbies.
Available on: Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
4: Paper Mario / Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Tired of the usual melodramatic fantasy stories about teenagers charged with saving the world? If so, you gotta check out Paper Mario.
Not only is Paper Mario a great RPG for beginners, it’s just a great Mario game in general. Exploration is a mix of platforming and puzzle solving, and combat is full of tiny minigames that test your reflexes. And believe it or not, the writing is really clever and funny too! The story focuses more on madcap episodic tales over an overarching plot, so you’ll be exploring pyramids one minute and then solving a penguin “murder” mystery the next. It’s great stuff.
Paper Mario and its sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, are stellar RPGs that anyone should play. Though future Paper Mario games would drop many of the RPG elements, their style of gameplay would continue on in the Mario & Luigi series. Still, we recommend starting with the first two Paper Mario games because they’re just that good.
Available on: N64 / Wii U for Paper Mario, Gamecube for Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
3: Persona 4
If you want a crash course on every Japanese anime and RPG trope there is, play Persona 4.
By no means is that a bad thing. On the contrary, Persona 4 is so fun that it’s more than worthy of its anime adaptation and numerous spinoffs. The game is a mix of a slice-of-life high school life sim and a supernatural murder mystery, so you’ll be making friends by day and fighting bad guys by night. On top of that, Persona 4 has some Pokémon style monster collecting as well, so you’ll be hard at work building your ultimate team when faced with tricky bosses. Add in accessible battles with easy to understand mechanics, and you have a game that gives you a ton to do without any of it seeming out of place.
Though Persona 4 might sound complex, newcomers can easily set the game to Easy mode and enjoy the story at their own pace. Though this is true of many games, Persona 4 is especially good for beginners because of how well the old school dungeon crawling is broken up into easy to digest chunks. Plus the characters are lovable, the English dub is one of the best there is in gaming, and the music is ridiculously infectious. I couldn’t write this without “Your Affection! Your Affection!” repeating in my head.
Available on: PS2, PS3, PS Vita (Enhanced “Golden” Edition)
NOTE: Persona 5 is probably equally worthy of this spot. However, since I haven’t played it myself, I can’t personally vouch for it. I know, I’m a heathen.
On one hand, I don’t want to recommend Undertale because of how hard it relies on subverting RPG conventions. On the other hand, despite what you may or may not have heard about its avid fans, everyone should play Undertale.
Undertale takes everything loveable about RPGs and completely removes the filler. It takes less than 10 hours to complete, but feels just as involving as any 60 hour RPG. Not to mention the battles themselves are remarkably innovative. They’re a crazy mish mash of turn-based combat and bullet hell space shooters, though the difficulty stays pretty light for most of the game. This is without mentioning how you can choose to slay or have mercy on every monster in the game, but trust me, the less that’s said about this mechanic, the better.
On top of everything else, Undertale is barely $10 MSRP and runs on even a potato computer. Just know that this is one of the best RPGs for beginners, and you too will be making jokes about determination after just one playthrough.
Available on: PC, PS4, Switch (upcoming)
1: Chrono Trigger
Any list of RPGs for beginners that does not have Chrono Trigger on it is wrong.
Seriously, Chrono Trigger is so good that I don’t know where to start. It’s a time-traveling epic that sends you everywhere you could imagine, from prehistoric times to a post apocalyptic future. Though Chrono Trigger was originally a Super Nintendo game, it looks jaw-droppingly gorgeous to this day. Heck, not only does it look gorgeous, it sounds gorgeous with one of the most memorable RPG soundtracks ever. There are so many incredible moments and set pieces I want to describe here, but really, I’d be doing them a disservice without you witnessing them firsthand.
On top of all this, Chrono Trigger‘s battle system is as simple and intuitive as you could ask for. While you aren’t given a ton of different commands to choose from, where and how you trigger them affects everything. For instance, some attacks may hit multiple enemies when used at the right moment, or you can hold off a character’s turn to execute cool looking double or triple attacks with fellow party members. Battles that would feel tedious in any other game are fresh and exciting in Chrono Trigger from start to finish.
All of this is wrapped together in a ~15 hour package with loads of replay value. If I haven’t made it clear by now, you absolutely have to play Chrono Trigger if you somehow haven’t already. Chrono Trigger isn’t just one of the best RPGs for beginners; It’s one of the best video games of all time.
Available on: SNES, iOS / Android, Nintendo DS, PC.
Also available on PS1, PS3, and PS Vita, but these versions are not recommended.