When someone says the words ‘fantasy gaming,’ I immediately think of the countless hours I’ve devoted to leveling characters, crawling through dungeons, and falling in love with the escape of an entirely different world.
Today’s fantasy games wouldn’t be so immersive and exciting without the influential titles that came before them, and those classic games deserve recognition for helping the genre level up. Here are seven titles that totally changed the fantasy gaming landscape.
1. The Legend of Zelda
The Legend Of Zelda franchise is one of the most recognizable and acclaimed series in the gaming industry. It has earned countless accolades and is widely considered a classic. But what makes it such a success?
A large part of The Legend of Zelda‘s appeal is the relatable protagonist, Link–an unlikely hero thrown into the impossible. Link never speaks, which allows the user to make their own inferences about the character, creating a deeply personal experience. The series also owes a debt to the incredible music of Koji Kondo, composer of the game’s earlier works and one of the most respected individuals in the entire audio industry.
2. Final Fantasy
Prior to the 1987 release of Final Fantasy I, developer Square Enix was facing bankruptcy. This title was meant to be their last ditch effort, and not even Square Enix anticipated the phenomenon it would become. Following the first Final Fantasy’s overwhelming, positive reception, Square Enix gained a new lease on life and today has sold 100 million copies of the Final Fantasy series—making it one of the best-selling franchises of all time. The series has impacted the fantasy RPG genre in incalculable ways. From the introduction of a side view perspective for combat and an evolving class-change system to the focus on storyline and character development, Final Fantasy has always sought to revolutionize the way games should be made.
The lucrative Pokémon brand, which includes TV series, manga, toys, movies, and trading cards, has established itself as the second most profitable video game franchise in the world. Pokémon’s world takeover started with two games for Gameboy Handheld called Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, first released in Japan, and then in the U.S.
The game took the protagonist on an adventure through the Kanto Region where players caught and trained creatures called Pokémon, and then used them to battle against computer trainers and friends. Pokémon solidified itself as a classic by maintaining a large audience after every new game, and it garnered a significant cultural impact. That’s especially evident in Japan, where its logo has become an integral part of pop culture with parades and large stores dedicated to the franchise.
Given the recent success of Pokémon Go and the news of an upcoming live-action Pokémonmovie, the legacy of Pokémon is more secure than ever.
4. Elder Scrolls
Bethesda Game Studios tackled its first action-adventure RPG in 1994 with the initial Elder Scrolls installment, Elder Scrolls: Arena. The series has grown in scope and ambition since to include five major games, with the latest being the critically acclaimed Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. The franchise’s success stems primarily from elements that they introduced and developed from the very beginning, including a nonlinear style of gameplay with a huge focus on exploring and engaging an open world. These attributes have become standard for any action-adventure game that intends on making waves in the market, but Bethesda continues to dominate the genre through its constant push for better and more immersive graphics.
The definitive stealth franchise in gaming, Thief was first published in 1998. Although its scope may not be as epic as the other entries on this list, it makes the cut due to its impact on game creation as a whole. Thief distinguished itself at release with its unique gameplay, which was focused on sneaking through a medieval, steampunk-like environment while looting and avoiding enemies by using weapons like a bow and arrow. This focus on strategy rather than just hacking and slashing through bad guys was well-executed and revolutionary at the time, and there is a strong argument that Thiefindirectly, if not directly, inspired the creation of blockbuster games such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and the Assassin’s Creed series.
Ultima is one of the oldest entries on this list, but it would be a crime to continue without including the 1980s juggernaut. At the time of its ascension, the game was one of two RPGs dominating the industry. This was so much the case that other games of the same genre began advertising themselves as time-wasters until the next Ultima game was released. Its use of time travel as a plot device, tiled graphics, and party fighting systems became ideal characteristics for any fantasy game released in Ultima’s wake. It was also one of the first open-world fantasy games, which definitely led to the development of several other now-gigantic franchises on this list.
Another true classic, Wizardry was made by Sir-Tech in 1981 and rivaled Ultima in sales and general success. This game is commonly known as the first to bring the popular appeal of Dungeons & Dragons to life in digital color. Wizardry established the command-driven combat system, which would later become a staple of fantasy RPGs. It also introduced a prestige class system that gave characters access to classes that required a specific set of skills or alignments obtained throughout the game. Wizardry‘s widespread success earned it a massive following in Japan, where it may have even inspired Hironobu Sakaguchi to go on to create the Final Fantasy series.