The RPG genre can be a vast one, but there are always a few things at the heart of it: the constant growth and progression of your character or party driven by a focus on story – be that a story that is down to earth or entirely fantastical.
2021 was packed full of epic RPGs, some set in warped versions of our own world and others in entirely new fantasy locations. Despite there being exciting options across western RPGs, JRPGs, and beyond, a few have risen above the undoubtedly impressive pack. These are our picks for the best RPGs of 2021.
Bravely Default II
Bravely Default 2 is a fairly unassuming RPG on the face of it, with more than a few dismissing it for its minimalist story and strange, doll-like protagonists. But upon digging into its myriad systems, Bravely Default 2 reveals itself to be a rich and layered experience with its own sense of style. Each area is its own unique challenge, encouraging you to mix and match jobs while richly rewarding experimentation. After the credits roll, there's still plenty of impetus to explore Bravely Default 2's large world as you develop your job classes even further. It's a wonderful celebration of turn-based combat, buoyed by a smattering of quality-of-life improvements that help to make it more accessible than its predecessors. Humble as it may seem, Bravely Default 2 is among the deepest and most enjoyable RPGs released in 2021, and it certainly deserves to be counted among the best games released on Nintendo Switch. – Kat Bailey
For more, check out IGN's Bravely Default II review.
Deltarune: Chapter 2
The thought of a demo somehow becoming one of 2021’s best RPGs is a strange one, but even three years after the release of its first installment, Deltarune: Chapter 2 is full of surprises. It may not even be fair to call it a demo at this point, as the Chapter 1 & 2 bundle provides hours of story content and adventure tied together by a mysterious and alluring thread. The second chapter expands upon the themes and mechanics of its previous offering in almost every way, providing new opportunities for its delightful cast of party members to not just win battles in humorous and inventive ways, but express themselves in ways both big and small. Featuring some truly over-the-top intense boss battles and secrets hidden within its depths, Deltarune’s first two chapters alone absolutely deserve your attention. – Brendan Graeber
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
Don’t let the familiar franchise name or the “2” in the title dissuade you – Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin stands up on its own two legs, like an energetic, freshly hatched Rathalos. This turn-based RPG puts a spotlight on the stars of the beloved Monster Hunter series – the monsters themselves. Hatch, ride, and battle alongside a team of "Monsties" of your choice as you uncover the dramatic mystery of the titular Wings of Ruin. The built-in gacha-like monster collecting system and wild customization features are almost too easy to get lost in for hours, and the stimulating battle mechanics make it worthwhile, especially in the sprawling post-game and (free!) DLC event quests. Ultimately, Monster Hunter Stories 2 is an incredibly fun ride that provides a beautiful and unique take on the monster-taming genre. – Casey DeFreitas
For more, check out IGN's Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin review.
Shin Megami Tensei V
Shin Megami Tensei V is one of 2021's richest RPGs. The latest entry in the long-running SMT series, it matches an apocalyptic style with its standard array of quirky and memorable demons. Taking a cue from Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it largely shuns dungeons for a more open-world approach, giving it a refreshing and modern feel without sacrificing its depth. The crux of its gameplay involves capturing and raising demons, then combining them with other demons to create still more powerful monsters. SMT V's demons can be vicious, eccentric, cheerful, or outright crazy, each one demanding a slightly different approach depending on the circumstances. Mixing and matching demons remains compelling as ever, especially in light of SMT V's fairly unforgiving challenge. Few RPGs are as dense as Shin Megami Tensei V, and exploring its apocalyptic world is all the more fascinating thanks to its embrace of a more sandbox-like approach. – Kat Bailey
For more, check out IGN's Shin Megami Tensei V review.
Tales of Arise
The Tales of series has been comfort food JRPG goodness for years, and Arise keeps that warm familiarity while making a number of overdue changes to the Tales of formula. It amps up the formerly linear motion battle system to almost full-blown character action RPG intensity, all while retaining the jubilant anime franticness of everyone yelling attack names at once. Its story tackles hefty topics like the horrors of war, slavery, colonization, and the challenges of rebuilding after all that, and mostly manages to handle the difficult intricacies with care. But it also is still a Tales story, peppered with humor and light-hearted interactions between its complex and fascinating cast of heroes. With them at the helm of an adventure across a beautiful, intriguing new world, Arise comes together to give the Tales of series a much-needed reinvigoration while still feeling, thankfully, like a Tales game. – Rebekah Valentine
For more, check out IGN's Tales of Arise review.
All IGN Best Of 2021 Gaming Categories
- Best Game of the Year 2021
- Best Console Exclusive of the Year 2021
- Best Action Game of the Year 2021
- Best Action-Adventure Game of the Year 2021
- Best Puzzle Game of the Year 2021
- Best Racing Game of the Year 2021
- Best RPG of the Year 2021
- Best Shooter of the Year 2021
- Best Strategy Game of the Year
- Most Accessible Game of the Year 2021
- Best Music in a Video Game of the Year 2021
- Best Ongoing Game of the Year
- Best Performance of the Year 2021
- Best Story of the Year 2021
- Best Video Game Art of the Year 2021
IGN's Best of 2021 Awards were designed by:
Lead Design + Art Direction: Julia Rago
Motion Graphics: Will Batchelor