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1. Pool of Radiance. This is the game that really hooked me on CRPGs, even though I'd played Telengard, Bard's Tale, and others before it. It was really the package as a whole that captured me--I was already interested in AD&D and its subculture, but unfortunately knew no one who was into it. This game seemed like a great introduction, and it was. Unlike almost every CRPG after it, the world of Phlan is genuinely interesting and you feel like you're not just building up a set of characters, but a struggling town as well. I ended up playing almost all the Gold Box games, including the Dragonlance and Gateway series.
You might be surprised to see some titles missing, such as Ultima, Arcania, Phantasie, Daggerfall, Final Fantasy (not if you know me!), etc. The truth is, I missed a lot of those games when they were fresh, and it's been hard to get into most of them today. This is particularly true of the Ultima games, which really strike me as a "had to have been there" kinda thing. I know a lot of folks drool every time "Final Fantasy" is mentioned, but I (thankfully?) didn't own an NES or SNES, so wasn't corrupted by their influence. I have played FF IV on my DS and the first game, and while I can see their good points, disliked both. Chrono Trigger was fun, but again I think people like to go on about it because it has a certain cachet with a certain set, and will help deflect the endless hordes of Final Fantasy fanboys who think you're an idiot because you aren't obsessed with all things Japanese.
The same goes for Diablo and its clones. I understand that publishers and seemingly designers are now convinced that "action" must take precedence over all else, but ^$%# that. 'nuff said.
Rampant Games' Jay Barnson saw fit to comment this list with a post of his own titled "Picking Favorites", and lists some of his favorites too (although not in the form of a top ten):
I’ve always listed Ultima VII: The Black Gate as my favorite CRPG, and Baldur’s Gate 2 as a close second. I’m not sure those two are at risk of being dethroned quite yet, and my list of top ten CRPGs probably would include Final Fantasy VII and Diablo 2 (but probably near the bottom), I’d have a tough time figuring out where everything else fits. I’ve tried to order my other favorites – new and old favorites, and new and old titles (not always corresponding), but I have trouble narrowing it all down. On the indie side, I’m pretty sure the indie game Knights of the Chalice has found its way to my top ten, and there’s a handful of other indie RPGs that have probably found their way to my top twenty. There are some old classics I didn’t really play until years after their release, which I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit missing the first time around. But Wizardry 8 is a prime example that probably belongs somewhere in my top ten list, though I’m not sure what it would bump. Unlike Matt, I would probably have Final Fantasy VII and Diablo 2 on my top ten list – I think – though they’d now be somewhere near the bottom, if they haven’t been bumped by newer discoveries.