RPG Site Best of 2022 Awards - our picks for the best of the year
2022 was quite a momentous year for RPGs, and video games in general. Starting early in January and February with Pokemon Legends: Arceus and Elden Ring, respectively, this year was hot out of the gate and never really let up. Square Enix alone published over a dozen games in 2022, and surprise RPG releases like Soul Hackers 2, Valkryie Elysium, and even Astlibra Revision meant that much of the RPG Site staff constantly had to shift and juggle different games throughout the course of the year to try to experience as many new titles as possible.
In late December, the RPG Site staff got together to deliberate all of the RPG releases of 2022 for our RPG Site Best of 2022 Awards, our annual feature where we rank the best RPGs of the last year.
If you've read through any previous end-of-the-year write-up from RPG Site, the general format should seem mostly the same -- our process has remained largely the same since 2018, only with minor tweaks each year. If you're new to the way we rank things, here's the run-down:
- First, we'll link a special edition of our Tetracast podcast, where we record all of the deliberations that resulted in the listings you'll find below. If you're curious how one game beat out another in any specific category, you can listen to exactly how the discussion unfolded!
- Second, there will be several Category Awards that highlight games that exhibit some specific excellence. These are most like the specific awards you'll find from other publications, but with an RPG-focused spin, of course.
- Past that you'll find five runners-up, games that we recognize as some of the best of the year, but did not land into our Top Five. You can think of these like our Top-Ten--but-Not-Top-Five, though that's a bit of a mouthful.
- Then we list our Top Five RPG releases of the year, specifically the four games which ended up falling just short of our overall winner, but remain RPG of the Year-caliber releases in their own right.
- Finally, at the very end, we list out the official RPG Site RPG of the Year 2022.
A couple of final important notes to consider:
- Our list includes games released between December 2021 and November 2022. This way we make sure late releases don't get snubbed. So titles released in December 2022 will be eligible in our 2023 deliberations.
- Only official English releases are eligible. Fan translations or imports might be discussed in passing, but will only be in contention with a formal release.
- Outside of our overall RPG of the Year, our list is unranked within the Top Five and Runner-Up categories.
- As always, we include some RPG-adjacent titles.
We also enjoy comparing our results with our readers! In the month of December, we hosted a 2022 Reader's Choice Poll via our Twitter page to determine your favorite RPGs of the year, along with your most anticipated RPGs for 2023. Finally, we've also published our own staff list of RPG Site's most anticipated RPGs of 2023 to round out our end-of-the-year feature slate.
As always, we start out the deliberations by listing out 50 or so RPGs that were released over the year with the goal of determining not only our Category winners, but our main RPG of the Year list as well. We started with a long list of games from across the RPG Site staff nominations - basically a complete listing of any game that our staff felt deserved to be in consideration.
Then we all whittled that list down to a list of about 20 contending games. From there, we narrowed it down to a final ten, then a final five, and finally a winner. Every year it's an incredibly grueling process with fervent discussions at practically every cut-off point about what games should remain in contention and which should be removed from the list. Because some of the discussion came down to the wire, for this year we've even included the Runner-Up in each of our categories.
Here's the good news: you can listen in to our entire hours-long deliberation on a special edition of our Tetracast podcast, because we recorded the entire thing. Find that special Best of 2022 edition of the Tetracast embedded below or available via iTunes or Google Podcasts, or Spotify! Also available on Youtube!
- 0:00 - Introduction
- 2:08 - A Look Back at 2022 and Outline
- 15:35 - Category Award Overview
- 16:22 - Best Remake or Re-release
- 38:59 - Best Writing or Storytelling
- 2:00:55 - Best Art
- 2:39:52 - Best Music
- 3:41:08 - Best Design and Immersion
- 4:24:51 - Best Ongoing Support
- 4:47:48 - Best Non-RPG
- 5:12:05 - RPG of the Year Initial Cut
- 5:42:36 - RPG of the Year Top 10
- 6:08:32 - RPG of the Year Top 5
- 6:15:37 - RPG of the Year 2022
- 6:34:55 - Thank You and Signoff
Over the last few years, our small list of commendations for RPGs that excelled in one specific way or another has grown into a full blown award slate of its own. While a game may not rank highly amongst our RPG of the Year listing, it might deserve mention for one specific thing that it does better than anything else.
Two categories, in particular, are worth calling out ahead of time. Best Remaster or Re-Release and Best Non-RPG. For these categories, the RPG Site Staff picks the best title in each listing to recognize titles that aren't found in our main list. The Best Remaster or Re-Release allows us to look at games that were originally released prior to 2022, but made newly available or refreshed in some way. The Best Non-RPG category allows us to look at games that we wouldn't formally consider in our main rankings, but wanted to recognize all the same.
Best Remaster or Re-release - Tactics Ogre Reborn
Runner-Up: Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster
It may have seemed like a relatively quiet year for significant RPG remasters and re-releases in sheer quantity alone, but some of the ones that did release were previously unthinkable several years ago. Between Persona 5 Royal being released on all other modern platforms and a new release for Final Fantasy VI that, frankly, didn’t look like complete shit (and a wonderful rearranged OST), this award could have gone to something a lot more recognizable.
Instead, it went to the brilliant re-release of Tactics Ogre: Reborn for going beyond being merely a touched-up remaster. A lot of welcome quality-of-life enhancements and gameplay balance changes make one of the best strategy RPGs of all time just simply a delight to play - whether you’re a newcomer or veteran. [Josh Torres]
Best Writing - Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Runner-Up: Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Another tough year in deciding a winner for the Best Writing category here at RPG Site. A handful of RPGs in 2022 achieved a level of excellence in their storytelling, though none united in almost every aspect aside from Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
Prior Xenoblade games have excelled in presenting a compelling main cast and/or intriguing worldbuilding to convey a variety of themes about the nature of life and how people find different ways to carve a way forward. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like the culmination of every single lesson Monolith Soft has learned up to this point with this iconic JRPG series.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 displays a mastery of natural human interactions with its cast. Although the Heart-to-Heart mechanic is gone in this entry, it easily has some of the most heartfelt scenes in the entire series. It all feeds into a story of a land torn into shreds by an endless cycle of violence and what life can be gained beyond the bloodshed. [Josh Torres]
Best Art - Elden Ring
Some people are going to look at this one and think: Really?! And, y’know, we get it - there were some really striking games visually this year, including this category’s runner-up, Pentiment. But great art design comes in many shapes and forms, and Elden Ring is a deceptively brilliant piece of work in this sense.
Some of this is the classic Souls series stuff, where grotesque enemies evoke a strong response and environmental storytelling is deployed to undeniably impressive effect. A lot of it, though, is new to Elden Ring - where wonderful art is the connective tissue that holds its wild and wide open world together. It helps to sell you on this world as believable in a narrative sense, but also helps to make it understandable to navigate.
If you want an example of excellent art and game design working in lockstep, you only need to look at the view from The First Step, where your Elden Ring journey really begins. To the uninitiated, it is simply a pretty view, but to the experienced, that view in itself tells a story yet to come - from the Erdtree looming, to Leyndell and even the Forge of the Giants off in the distance - and Stormveil, perilously close. It’s brilliant design, and a worthy winner. [Alex Donaldson]
Best Music - Triangle Strategy
Runner-Up: Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Best Music was easily one of the most contentious categories this year for RPG Site. This category never gets easier; a lot of notable contenders included Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, Harvestella, Elden Ring, The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero, and even Goddess of Victory: NIKKE.
I’m sure many, many people expected to see Xenoblade Chronicles 3 take the crown for this category and it was a very close runner-up. Ultimately, the scoring of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in its implementation into the game itself proved to be its Achilles’ heel. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is filled to the brim with wonderful tracks, though their integration left much to be desired - the ‘Chain Attack’ theme would often override unique boss themes quickly; the night versions of field themes were easily obscured due to how fast travel defaulted on the day versions of maps unless players went out of their way to select them; the main menu theme often interrupted the deeply atmospheric field themes - and the list goes on.
Meanwhile, Triangle Strategy fires on all fronts in a spectacular fashion not only on the quality of its musical performances, but also when it chooses to employ them. Tracks such as ‘Resolute Heart’ and ‘No Matter the Cost - Benedict’s Battle’ elevate the atmosphere at highly specific points in the story appropriately. ‘Destiny’ is one of the key tracks in Triangle Strategy that compels listeners to push on through a vortex of ever-increasing stakes. Triangle Strategy continually impresses with its soundtrack and allows players to hear its tracks with minimal interruptions. [Josh Torres]
Best Design and Immersion - Astlibra Revision
Runner-Up: I Was a Teenage Exocolonist
One of the trickiest GOTY categories to annually discuss here on RPG Site is Best Design and Immersion. It’s essentially the games that we felt were greater than the sum of their parts, which can mean a plethora of factors to consider when it comes to RPGs. What’s important is how well a game pulls in a player from beginning to end and how the marriage of its various systems promote that feeling of getting into the zone.
Astlibra Revision wins the Best Design and Immersion award this year because of how well it integrates all of its mechanics into its character progression, narrative, and overall presentation. It offers numerous ways to strengthen the main character in compelling ways from a Sphere Grid-esque skill tree in the form of a dungeon crawler, balancing a scale with various inventory items to maximize bonuses from buffs, constantly manipulating stats to prioritize grinding or progressing, inputting different motion commands to execute magical spells, and much, much more. Long story short, Astlibra Revision encourages people to play the way that’s most fun for them and has enough content to let players see how powerful their playstyle can get. [Josh Torres]
Best Ongoing Support - Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker
Runner-Up: Genshin Impact
In recent years, it’s been easy to argue that Final Fantasy XIV has eased into a steady cadence of content updates; and while the consistency has certainly been maintained with Endwalker, the long-running MMORPG deserves props for the sheer variety of content that has already been added both with and since Endwalker’s launch in December 2021. Beyond the expected new trials, dungeons and raids - the return of Ultimates with Dragonsong’s Reprise was warmly welcome by the community, and offered some of the most engaging content in the entire game. Not to mention, PvP’s major revamp with Crystalline Conflict accomplished what many thought to be impossible; making a PvP mode that XIV players actually want to play.
Island Sanctuary offered a new casual activity for players to relax to, Variant Dungeons offered a new and unique take on 4-man content with its twists, turns and puzzles, and quality-of-life features like Adventurer Plates and new Housing Districts have continued to build upon the game’s already rock-solid foundation. With 6.3 already on the horizon, beyond the critical acclaim for its story, Endwalker looks primed to be the most well-received patch cycle of the MMO to date. [James Galizio]
Best Non-RPG - AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initative
AI: The Somnium Files - Nirvana Initiative succeeds with a thrilling, thought-provoking story that twists the expectation of how a murder mystery visual novel should be structured. You play through day-by-day investigations where you carefully examine each piece of the scene with the help of your AI partner. It makes you question the order of events, the veracity of others’ words, and even the state of reality as we know it with the level of mastery that Uchikoshi is known for. As a plus, the characters show off believable chemistry and seamlessly blend into the existing world that the original AI created. It’s a marvel how the puzzle pieces itself together with a respectable degree of seriousness, even with all the sex jokes.
RPG fans, especially ones that enjoy character-driven narratives, should pick up the game, if only to experience that strange philosophical yet lighthearted story. It follows the plot of the first game with the option to turn off spoilers, so newcomers can enjoy it without any worries too. [Jess Reyes]
These next five titles made their way into our Top Ten RPGs of 2022, but did not quite reach our Top Five. Either they had one specific minor shortcoming or they were simply beaten out by later games on this list. However, they remain excellent games and are all titles we would highly recommend as some of the best of the year. In no particular order, our Runners-Up for RPG of the Year 2022 are as follows:
Expeditions: Rome released at a perfect time this year. Back in January, before the launch of Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Expeditions: Rome found a relatively light release window to have the stage to itself, so to speak. However, it deserves praise and recognition even among the year’s more pedigreed RPG releases.
Expeditions: Rome ended up being a strategy game / CRPG hybrid with far more interesting writing and characters than what might originally be expected. Ancient Rome may appear to be a bit of an overdone setting for an RPG, but by spanning multiple locations and time periods over a few major arcs, it never ends up stale and remained constantly compelling. On top of that, it had surprisingly complex quest design, a deep and strategic combat system, a fair degree of micro-management and party building, and one of the best antagonists in gaming this year. For those that even have a hint of interest in historical fiction or strategy RPGs, this game is an under-the-radar gem that can be recommended without hesitation. [Bryan Vitale]
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero
It took more than a decade to happen, but at long last, we finally got the long-await official localization of The Trails from Zero this year. Far closer in style to the Trails in the Sky games that it preceded than its Cold Steel arc that follows it, Trails from Zero let players experience the humble beginnings of Crossbell’s Special Support Section.
Trails from Zero is often looked upon with admiration in the pantheon of Trails games, and for good reason. When characters like Randy, Lloyd, Tio, Elie and all the rest are paired together with wonderful writers its hard not to fall in love. That’s to say nothing about the intriguing story or the expansive cast of side characters, including Crossbell itself! The release of Trails from Zero serves as arguably the best jumping in point for new players interested in the series, to get a taste of what makes these games great, and just in time too, with 2023 seeing three new Trails releases with Zero’s direct sequel, Trails to Azure, the follow up to Cold Steel, Trails into Reverie, and the spin-off adventure The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails! [Scott White]
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero placed 5th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus
The Pokémon series finally evolved with Pokémon Legends: Arceus. Game Freak’s first step into the open-world genre successfully experimented with new systems like crafting, dodge rolling, surprise Poké Ball throws, Strong and Agile moves, and many other additions that felt purposeful and fun. These weren’t bloated additions but ones that made it feel like a Breath of the Wild-like RPG that still carried the core concepts of Pokemon in its DNA with turn-based strategy and monster collecting. Mix that with the backdrop of an ancient Sinnoh in the existing lore and quests and you have a surprisingly competent game that outshines its past iterations.
Make no mistake. Pokémon Legends still has the pitfalls that a regular Pokémon game would have with the gimmicky personalities, predictable storylines, and performance hiccups, but it's the most refined spinoff I can remember in recent history. It’s a shame that didn’t progress even further in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, but hey. Progress was made. [Jess Reyes]
Pokemon Legends: Arceus placed 8th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.
Triangle Strategy won our Staff Choice for Most Anticipated 2022 Game last year and it was well-earned. It is a strategy RPG that captivated us; its inspirations from classic SRPGs are certainly nice, but the most impactful aspects of Triangle Strategy are the ones that deviate from those inspirations.
With a weaving narrative between the choices of Morality, Utility, and Liberty, players witnessed the consequences of what they believed was the right thing to do. Branching paths in Triangle Strategy relied on a set of scales governed by a majority rule and people had to find a way to convince as many of their allies as they could that their decision was the correct one. It’s a fascinating game to experience on a completely blind first playthrough.
There are aspects of Triangle Strategy that make it stand out from many RPGs this year. Its music is tremendous, several characters are masterfully done (Benedict is one of the best characters in a RPG this year), and it often varies up stages to provide interesting tactical scenarios. Triangle Strategy isn’t afraid to split your party members up and throw challenging enemy formations at players when they least expect it.
It is a highly replayable game too with a total of four unique routes and a New Game+ that scales up with your characters, so players are constantly pushed to play strategically rather than overcoming the odds with sheer brute force. Triangle Strategy may have its share of flaws, but we feel that it is definitely one of the best strategy RPGs that was released in 2022 - which was a bountiful year of strategy RPGs overall. [Josh Torres]
Triangle Strategy placed 6th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.
Live A Live
Although Live A Live can easily win the best remake title of this list, sadly it was never released in western shores before. For this reason the game is judged as a newly released title. The game is beyond charming and filled with many intriguing ideas for its time, obviously they don’t seem all that mind blowing under modern eyes. But even so, Live A Live does everything it set out to do, keep everything from the original and just make it better. The game is no longer held back by the Super Famicom hardware. Everything that couldn’t be done back then are now implemented into the game. From its 2D-HD visuals, to an actual theme song, this game will even make original players of the game go in awe of the amount of effort they put into the presentation.
While a lot of the gameplay elements in Live A Live are no longer seen as fresh through modern scrutiny. I do believe that every episode in this game offers something unique and worth the ticket of admission. [Chao Min Wu]
Live A Live placed 4th in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.
Finally, we have our Top Five RPGs of 2022. These are the cream of the crop, and all RPG of the Year contenders. If our discussions were held again, any one of these titles could have genuinely been our RPG of the Year for 2022. With the exception of our Winner listed at the very end, the following are RPG Site's Top Five RPGs of 2022:
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker - Top Five of 2022
It’s always hard to explain an MMO’s virtues to anyone that doesn’t play the game for themselves, yet in recent memory it feels as if Final Fantasy XIV has done wonders to make the game much more palpable for the types of players that would ordinarily ignore MMORPGs entirely. Endwalker excels in ways that feel separate from its existence as an MMO, even if those aspects - the raiding, the dungeons, and casual and battle content - are all still Creative Business Unit 3 hitting a stride.
Endwalker manages to close out nearly a decade of storytelling, and its subsequent updates have already laid the groundwork for a new story for players to look forward to in the decades to come. [James Gallizio]
Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker placed 3rd in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.
Astlibra Revision - Top Five of 2022
Stepping into 2022 against juggernaut titles like Elden Ring and Xenoblade 3, a game that is completely unknown has made me fall in love with side scrolling action RPGs all over again.
Astlibra is not only a memorable experience but it demonstrates what years of a passion project can do. Although the game looks a bit rough on the edges, it has proven itself to be a fantastic title and highly worth getting. The game’s addictive combat and compelling narrative has driven me to want even more from this already dense game.
Even if Astlibra is not going to win game of the year, this game has taught me that there is still some untapped potential with this genre and holds a special place in my heart. I am looking forward to the upcoming DLC from KEIZO and any future works from this creator. [Chao Min Wu]
Pentiment - Top Five of 2022
When Pentiment was first announced, much of the general interest in the game seemed purely on pedigree of the developer alone. This passion project was a novel curiosity with a unique art style that might strive to fill the space while we all collectively waited on what Obsidian Entertainment and Xbox Studios was really working on. However, the more time put into Pentiment, the more it stands out as one of the best narratives in gaming this year.
While it starts out as a bit of a slow burn, Pentiment has a way of enrapturing the player early and thoroughly. While not obvious from the outset, every since character interaction, meal-time conversation, and micro-quest builds and builds towards a fitting ultimate conclusion. While framed as a murder-mystery, this ostensibly ends up being a mere vehicle for motivating the many character interactions of a tiny Bavarian town, and few games manage to make such a hyper-focused setting as charismatic and engaging as this one.
Pentiment also manages to take well-worn and often rote gameplay elements found in many role-playing titles such as branching dialogue and skill checks and utilizes them in such a careful and meticulous fashion that nearly perfects their execution. Piecing together both the personal histories of each of the game’s various characters as well as the historical context of their beliefs and the town itself, Pentiment is a testament to the sorts of stories that can only be truly told in the context of a video game. [Bryan Vitale]
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 - Top Five of 2022
Although we formally don’t rank the games that make it to our #2-5 slots on our final Game of the Year top 10 list for the Staff’s Choice awards, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 can safely be considered our pseudo Runner’s Up for this year.
It exemplifies what makes the genre of RPGs so special - a compelling narrative revolving around a journey, a cast of main characters that you grow to love over time, a plethora of RPG mechanics to master, a fantastic soundtrack that enhances key moments, and more. In many ways, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels like the game that Monolith Soft has been building up to - ever since the start of the Xenoblade series 12 years ago.
Although this game’s premise is built off the backs of prior Xenoblade games, it isn’t afraid to reinvent itself. The way that Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s starting hours tells its own narrative through sheer gameplay design is a brilliant blueprint of what’s to come for the rest of its lengthy runtime. It starts players off with the Keves characters (Noah, Eunie, & Lanz) with Xenoblade Chronicles 1’s basic mechanics and later hands it off to the Agnus characters (Mio, Taion, & Sena) with Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s basic mechanics before combining them together to form the foundation of Xenoblade Chronicles 3.
Ultimately, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is about overcoming the past and the present to pave the way to the future. Everything about Xenoblade Chronicles 3 reinforces this idea in different ways, especially in its engagements with side characters and side plots. There’s a certain confidence in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 that truly makes it one of the most outstanding RPGs this year. [Josh Torres]
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 placed 1st in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.
Was it written in the stars? It’s probably fair to say that it wasn’t, but a great deal of how deserving Elden Ring is of the top awards and plaudits for this year can be justified in the sheer strength of feeling now that this was always going to be the case, a foregone conclusion. It feels like Elden Ring was born to get this award.
But when you really step back and think about it, there was much of the game that was unknown. Would the involvement of George R.R. Martin enhance or negatively impact FromSoftware’s patented Souls storytelling? Could the studio even navigate the many pitfalls of building an open world? And, perhaps more pressing than any of these points, would Miyazaki’s team be able to find a larger, wider audience for these games, or was that audience tapped out, maximized, with previous entries?
The answer to all of these things turned out to be for the positive. Martin’s story contributions work. The open world works - and in fact it doesn’t just work, but it actively contributes to the brilliance of the game. In a fairly uncommon twist, concessions and tweaks made to allow for traversing a large-scale open world ultimately work to enhance elements traditional to this particular formula of games. If you’re a newcomer this is noticeable, but if you’re a Souls veteran, about six or seven hours in the way you approach this game and its challenges will subtly begin to rewire - and you won’t even notice it happening. That’s genius design.
Games like Elden Ring don’t come about all that often. It’s the definition of being more than the sum of its parts, where one can point to individual pieces of its design and find games here and there this year, both RPG and otherwise, that do that thing better. But few games this decade, leave alone this year, gather together so many disparate elements into such a cohesive, satisfying, and enthralling whole. Now the biggest question of all looms large: will FromSoftware be able to do it again? This is Lightning-in-a-Bottle stuff. [Alex Donaldson]
Elden Ring placed 2nd in our Reader's Poll for RPG of the Year 2022.