4 Overlooked RPG Gems

With so much emphasis on mainstream titles, here are some lesser known cult classics

August 11, 2010

For anyone that knows my gaming habits they understand that RPG’s are my love. From the Western RPG utilizing a derivative of the Dungeon and Dragons system, to the often odd Japanese RPG’s – I love them all.

There are a plethora of lists and discussion out there pertaining to the big and well known RPG’s. Titles like Final Fantasy, Fallout, Mass Effect, and so on spring to mind. However, there are many lesser celebrated but equally awesome RPG’s that bring something unique to the genre. These games often suffered from numerous bugs, lackluster graphics and stilted voice-acting, but there was something about them that made them unique.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

Arcanum – what an utterly fantastic game! Developed by the now defunct Trokia Games, Arcanum was released in 2001. Review scores were fairly good, but due to bugs and terrible graphics for its time, Arcanum did not get the recognition I felt it deserved. 

The sheer depth found in Arcanum is astonishing. A player can choose from many typical high fantasy races; Elves, Orcs, Humans, Gnomes and such. This is then tied together with a vast myriad of skills and racial traits that will have a meaningful impact on the game, even outside of combat.


You are then dropped into a freeform open world to explore at your digression.

Early players had to make a choice, go with the mastery of all things magical, or go with the new marvels of technology. These discaplines do not blend well with one another. However you can opt for a mixture for more flexibility, forgoing some of the more powerful abilities and items from either side. Arcanum was all about choice, and you sure had an abundance of it!

What also makes Arcanum so unique is its setting. Being in a world where magic conflicts with technology, you have a varied and interesting landscape to traverse. Then there is the diversity in style of play. Whether being an Orc gentile, beguiling his way through many altercations, or a techie Elf constructing steampunk weaponry, blasting his way through each encounter, Arcanum caters for it all. 

Arcanum is a true role-players role-playing game, and a must-play for serious fans of the genre. 

Shin Megami Tensei or MegaTen

Developed by Atlus, the MegaTen titles can be found in many flavours on a handful of consoles. Some titles on the PS2 included – Persona, Digital Devil Saga and Lucifer’s Call.  There is even a Free-To-Play MMORPG named Shin Megami Tensei: IMAGINE – and most are superb!

Like the Final Fantasy series, the MegaTen titles share similar themes between its iterations. All titles draw upon the occult and mythology for its denizens and lore. In most games you will have the ability to summon or recruit creatures spanning from demons to Greek Mythological creatures as well as many Asian inspired beings. You can then fuse said entities into new creatures obtaining new abilities as you do so.

The motifs behind the games are always strange, somber and surreal making them a great change of pace from the humdrum Sword and Sorcery settings. They are frequently set in Modern Japan, and often revolve around moral or metaphysical choices. There is also tremendous character growth in the series, where characters make true revelations about themselves and their reality.

The MegaTen games received praise from many reviewers and gamers, but outside the more dedicated JRPG-ers, they never found a strong footing in the West. Highly recommended!

The Gothic Series

Gothic is a true diamond in the rough. While it suffered from many bugs and bad voice acting, the sheer amount of role-playing goodness contained within is first-rate! 

Gothic was birthed by German developer Piranha Bytes. There are three games in the series as well as one expansion. I also want to point out another game, Risen, since it has the same gaming style and was developed by the same people. Risen was released on PC and Xbox 360 in 2009 and is also a great play in the same vein. (Ed. steer clear of Risen on Xbox 360, seriously)


Gothic is a challenging, oft ruthless RPG, where one gets to explore vast tracks of land, overcoming horrendous monsters and learning new skills as they progress. Early game is particularly arduous since the game allows you to journey anywhere. Bumping into something nasty which would deliver your demise in one fell swipe is not uncommon, but that makes Gothic exciting. 

There is a slew to do besides exploration. One can gather herbs, brew them into potions, or go mine ore then forge said ore into weapons of destruction. Each game also has a faction system giving the player access to unique items, spells, armor and minor story elements.

Overall Gothic is highly advocated if you enjoy large interesting areas to roam with no “fast-travel” option that so many of the new games have. The wilderness is also severe and very rewarding to explore unlike many newer dumbed-down games.

Shadow Hearts

Shadow Hearts was conceived by Sacnoth/Nautilus and released on the PS2. There are three in the series – Shadow Hearts, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, and Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

Shadow Hearts is a quirky game to say the least. It contains some truly odd characters.  From the over-the-top gay brothers who travel, offering services which include selling and stitching together items for your party of misfits, to the 400 year old Wrestler Vampire, and Mao the giant talking pink cat who loves to drink, and wishes to be a movie star! 

Shadow Hearts

All of this is set to a backdrop of twisted historical facts. Historical events, locales and figures pop up often which most people will recognise from general history.

From a gameplay perspective Shadow Hearts utilizes an awesome feature called the Judgement Ring. This Ring appears whenever issuing a skill or attack command, and a radar like line moves around a circle through lines of colour. You have to button-press on certain colours to successfully attack or use any skill. It is reflex based and makes sure you are paying attention to even the minor battles.

A very offbeat series of games, but that fact makes them stand out for me.

Drink the Kool-Aid, join us!

These games are all fantastic but do not get the recognition they deserve. Which RPGs do you think have cult status or were overlooked by the general public?  Share yours in the forums


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