What games took you by surprise and showed you something you never expected to see or didn't know you wanted? Spoiler: Non-RPG Maker Non-RPG Maker games: Shin Megami Tensei: Shin Megami Tensei is a satisfying blend of urban, fantasy/myth and science fiction settings. Even though the gameplay can look pretty boring, it is usually a lot more enjoyable when you try it. This game is inspiring because it adds social aspects to battling, which is something that is still lacking in many modern RPGs. It also created the monster catching style of game which Poke'mon chose to mimic. Lastly, it pushed boundaries simply by being religion turned into an entertaining game, unexpectedly going beyond the monster designs and into the core of the story itself. Persona 3: The Persona series is an extension of the Shin Megami Tensei series. It is more purely urban. Persona 3 adds in a new element called social links where you gain strength from your friends. This might not seem that great on paper, but the experiences with all of the friends you are supposed to make in order to gain power makes the world a lot more lively. It is also nice that your game follows a calendar and you can only do so much exploration and training and other events in a day. It is nice and replayable and it also works well with the horror themes that are present from beginning to end. Overall, a well written game with great concepts and also pretty good for pacing yourself. It is also kind of hard to imagine how they made a game so complicated, although the dungeon and monster design is indeed pretty simple and recycled from older games in exchange. Lastly, the music is just amazing. After I heard so many great soundtracks, I didn't expect to hear one that sounds so fresh and beautiful again. The music is still a bit of a hit or miss, however and I don't like all of it. Earthbound: Earthbound began to get noticed by people mainly through Smash Bros. (like the Fire Emblem series did). Like Shin Megami Tensei, it does seem to have also influenced Poke'mon, although more subtlely. Mother/Earthbound Zero is part of this entry too. These two games introduced the modern setting to RPGs when they had started out with mostly Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Falcom's Dragon Slayer and Ys series. Although Megami Tensei had also existed on the Famicom, it is a future-based game. More importantly, these two games introduced a style that was casual and personal which was never done before. In Earthbound, it extended into more of a reality warping style as well as a world-spanning "coming of age" story. The scope and charm of these two games were unmatched in their time and they also were very well designed games with fantastic and equally unique music. They feel like they belong on their own plane of existence. Fire Emblem: This is likely the first game to make RPGs into a more social experience. Even before the recruitment systems of Megami Tensei and such, there was Fire Emblem with it's map conversation system. It is such a surprising mechanic that you can talk to people on a battlefield, unexpectedly, even recruiting many of them, while already playing a genre-defining game. Fire Emblem is also great for going on and making some of the most complex narratives in video game history and games 1-5 did so much experimenting and innovating with the format that it beat the innovation of Final Fantasy, while making game mechanics good enough to recycle into later games. It is great that Fire Emblem so commonly draws upon its past when other long-running, non-sequential RPGs will only make small references, change things completely or not pay attention to the past much at all. Tales of Phantasia: This game is very powerful in my opinion. Not only did they push the limits of the SNES technically with their sound (even having a lyrical song as the opening), but they also made a new type of action RPG which I found to be really fun. It doesn't play too much like its sequels, in my opinion and while most people think it is inferior to them, I think I rather replay Phantasia. The music is very great, although it can be hard to like at first, basically making the most of the sound system they designed and even making a music room that showcases some of the technical aspects of the sound design. Additionally, and I guess this should have been mentioned somewhere earlier, the whole game is voice-acted for your character's attacks. The control over the main character is less simplistic than it initially seems and allows for the use of a lot of skill (if you can figure out the secret inputs). The cast of characters are pretty special, but you only get 4 partners after all (or 5 if you have a non-SNES version). Equipment is very nuanced, with stab and slash stats and also weapon types to factor into what you should use and what attacks you can do effectively. There is also a strong skill system that is very similar to Chrono Trigger in how you learn various techniques through practicing the ones you have learned. The plot of the game is what felt most imaginative, however.... It feels like it stretches beyond most things by mixing a lot of time travel elements as well as battles that go on longer than you expect and enough content that you actually normally reach the end of the game around max levels. Plus, you get a seriously intimidating villain, who is even blonde and named Dios. Guilty Gear: Guilty Gear was the most intense fighting game I had seen and it was hard to believe that it was even harder to control than it looked. The futuristic fantasy setting for the game is also quite inspiring. The world is driven by a force that combines technology and magic. So many very original and fun character designs as well as the heavily rock music made this a franchise I could never forget. I was pretty averse towards metal music before Guilty Gear, but it still managed to slowly convince me that the music was good (once I looked outside of the most popular songs). However, Guilty Gear Overture is my favorite game in the series so far. Although it had been reviewed poorly when it came out, the game is incredibly complex, fast paced and competitive and it has perhaps the best presentation of the Guilty Gear story. It combines Real Time Strategy and Fighting game genres to make something new that hasn't been done after. It might sound like a MOBA, but it is much more of a Real Time Strategy game. Megaman Battle Network: This game is practically a dream for the Gameboy Advance. It is filled with secrets and post-game content that makes it really fun to share secrets about and study carefully. It has very punishing gameplay, but it is almost always satisfying. The design of the game makes sure that each battle is unique while still following an RPG style format. The battle chips can be traded between friends and you can battle each other with no real distractions from skill and deck-building. But most importantly, it is a game that emphasizes the social aspects of games and competition. It has a very nice cultural basis to its gameplay and setting, which is especially unexpected when you compare it to the mostly detached action platforming in the rest of the series... Megaman Legends: This game is an amazing mix between adventure and action-RPG. There are just so many subtleties that make you feel like you are exploring the uncharted or feeling the romantic vibes of an island, yet the area is mostly pretty small. It feels like the environment is very proper in scale, which is something I can almost never remember being in a big commercial game before. You also get the great fun of experimenting with weapons, as is expected in Megaman, but they even give you a highly customizable Mega Buster and a few other more in-depth mechanics. And yet the most unexpected part is how this game feels rather horrific. Even though there aren't too many big threats in the game, the first boss is a huge pain to fight and I don't think I ever fought such a tough first boss before. Additionally, the robot enemies sound really terrifying when you are traveling through the dark dungeons and they can come out of nowhere quite a few times. Survival is a real factor when it comes to dungeons. Corruption of Champions: Since this is a sexual game, I can't talk about too much, but this game showed me the power of a more taboo medium for RPG games. The main parts that make the game really strong are its modularity and transformations as well as random events. It also has some really great writing and combat and taught me the power of Interactive Fiction, which I did not know could pull off something like an RPG game so well. Spoiler: RPG Maker Games This next part is basically my favorite RPG Maker games like I listed a few days ago. The main reason I like RPG Maker is to give a voice to personal feelings in game design. Magical Camp: This is an erotic game, although it started out with pretty minimal erotic content. This game's concept is like a dream come true and I never even realized it until I saw it. The story/setting is about magical girls, but it is more practical than even Madoka Magica. The characters are all realistic and not too afraid to be themselves. In fact, many of your allies are of questioanble morality and your initial goal is supposed to be to escape from the camp, with these allies also being people who get in the way of you achieving that goal. It basically has a tug-of-war between being the chosen protagonist and also being in a place where you don't belong. As for the game structure itself, it is a hub-focused game, maybe a bit like Megaman. I had totally forgotten how much I loved the hub idea and it is done very well here since not only do you have a variety of people to talk to and important events there, but you also have a social link system, like Persona 3 (and beyond). The game has no level ups but is instead gives you power mostly through items, social links, transformations and events. The idea of a game without level ups seems like something I would not want to play, but with all of those mechanics influencing it, I find myself enjoying it potentially more than regular RPG progressions. Monster Girl Quest/Paradox: This is an outright hentai game, but it is perhaps the most known RPG Maker game (series) outside of Yume Nikki. I feel like these games really add a new dimension to turn-based gameplay. The erotic elements are used to give the combat more social stakes and pressures. I don't think the erotic content itself is very good and most people literally play the game for how well designed it is and how good the story is. It highly influenced Corruption of Champions and it is sort of an influence to me too. I love how the world of monsters is more of a focus and they are more human than in other games since their goal is basically to have human monster hybrids take over the world as the demon lord's grand plan. Embric of Wulfhammer: Another game that I didn't expect to like. Not only is this an RPG Maker game with seemingly no combat, but it also is focused around referential humor. I am not a fan of a lot of humor and referential humor is my most hated. But what made me fall in love with this one??? The protagonist is a true oddball. The world is purposefully a mess where you can simply retry if you get to the ending credits due to a bad end. Finding out how to progress the story is a big puzzle, but unlike most games that try to be a puzzle, most of it is found easily enough and in a way that makes it fulfilling to uncover.