Top 10 Underrated Action RPG Games [Best Recommendations]

Who does not wish they could go on a globe-trotting adventure to save the world? Well, that is why games, and specifically RPGs, exist. They allow players to escape their everyday existence, to step into the shoes of a legendary warrior destined to defeat some massive monsters in their quest to rid the world of evil. With the rise in popularity of titles like Dark Souls and Skyrim, action RPGs are becoming extremely popular and more commonplace than turn-based games.

This genre uses a system that joins together role-playing mechanics with real-time combat. While classic Final Fantasy games make use of a turn-based combat system that prioritizes team management and being well prepared for battle, the player’s reflexes and skills are directly tested in an action RPG. There are quite a few beloved franchises and games which helped define the genre, but a few memorable ones did slip through the cracks.

OK – that is enough stalling. Here are the top 10 underrated action RPG games.

10. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

  • System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, iOS & Android
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Square Enix 1st Production Department
  • Release Dates: November 21, 2013 (JP), February 11, 2014 (NA)

When it comes to Final Fantasy XIII, there is no middle ground. You either love or hate it. The sequel, Final Fantasy XIII-2, attempted to steady the boat and rectify some of the more common complaints aimed towards its predecessor. Unfortunately, this made it feel rather forced, incorporating a huge open world just because fans did not enjoy the linear narrative of the original. Lightning Returns was the last entry in the series and sold the worst of the bunch.

It’s a shame too, as the combat is really fantastic. Square Enix did a great job of developing the Active Time Battle system from the first two games, allowing for a fast-paced and highly customizable experience. Taking a page from Final Fantasy X-2 – a risky decision to say the least – players pick which outfits Lightning can take into battle, with each attire having its own attack gauge and moves mapped to the controller’s face buttons. As the menu was no longer needed to choose your next move, Lightning Returns features one of the most fluid battle systems in Final Fantasy history.

Unlike the rest of the trilogy, Lightning Returns is enjoyable despite its flaws. The quest system, which imposes a timer on players, is not particularly great, and the missions can be dull. Still, for an action RPG, there is a fun time to be had.

9. Grim Dawn

  • System: Microsoft Windows
  • Publisher: Crate Entertainment
  • Developer: Crate Entertainment
  • Release Dates: February 25, 2016

Grim Dawn does not break any new ground, instead opting to offer something which Diablo fans could quickly pick up and play. Taking place in the dark and desolate world of Cairn, the human race is on the brink of annihilation due to coming into contact with creatures from a few other dimensions. While Diablo III is colorful and pretty, Grim Dawn lives up to its name by presenting a slew of some of the most depressing and overwhelming morbid environments to explore.

The hack-and-slash combat is satisfying from the get-go. There are six different classes to pick from, eventually allowing for dual classes. This allows for a great degree of customization in the level-up system, with a substantial amount of powers to unlock. The loot system is expansive and addictive, as monsters and chests drop half a wardrobe worth of content every single time. Honestly, it can be slightly overwhelming at times, but there is also a solid crafting system to keep players engaged.

8. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

  • System: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: 38 Studios, Electronic Arts
  • Developer: 38 Studios, Big Huge Games
  • Release Dates: February 7, 2012 (NA)

We are unlikely to ever see a sequel to 38 Studios’ Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, as the sales figures left something to be desired. Which is a shame, as few recent action RPGs boasted a combat system as enjoyable as this 2012 release. There are four playable races, with each having three class trees and 66 abilities to unlock. Depending on how they are leveled up, a character can end up being a melee fighter, a rogue, or a mage. As the game never locks the player into a particular style of play, it is possible to create a warrior capable of unleashing impressive fireballs from a distance while also kicking ass in a one-on-one situation.

Things are not quite as great when it comes to the story, which follows a chosen one on a generic quest to punch demons in the face, and the side-quests are also rather mundane. Still, Kingdoms of Amalur makes up for that shortcoming by being absolutely gorgeous. The environments are really colorful and vibrant, with every region having its own unique look to keep things interesting. Still, the combat is the main reason to give this one a try, and we wish more developers would take a page or two from it.

7. Alpha Protocol

  • System: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
  • Release Dates: June 1, 2010 (NA)

Alpha Protocol is a third-person action RPG which allows players to control Michael Thorton, a secret agent who works for a United States agency that conducts covert operations. While the gameplay is pretty mediocre due to the stupid AI and the unpolished gunplay, Obsidian did a fantastic job of implementing player choice into the mechanics. Even before the launch of the story, players can customize their Thorton by selecting his agent history. This directly influences the character’s special skills and the best way to approach future missions.

Thorton’s appearance and the weapons taken into the field are also in the hands of the player, allowing for this special agent to truly feel like a unique person by the end of the game. There are various non-playable characters to interact with, and conversations incorporate the Dialogue Stance System, which offers three different attitudes to be taken. This system is similar to the one found in Obsidian’s popular RPG Fallout: New Vegas.

Alpha Protocol is rough around the edges and was pretty buggy upon launch. It can be picked up for practically nothing nowadays and is one of the developer’s most ambitious releases.

6. Pillars of Eternity

  • System: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Publisher: Paradox Interactive
  • Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
  • Release Dates: March 26, 2015 (PC), August 29, 2017 (Xbone & PS4)

Hailed as one of the best isometric role-playing games of the last few years, Obsidian really pulled out all the stops for this release. A spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, Pillars of Eternity features a real-time tactical combat system with a pause function so players can plan out their next move. A really smart design choice was to not reward experience for killing enemies, only for completing quests and new areas, meaning that stealth is actually a legitimate option. In games like Diablo, it is advisable to slaughter everything in an area to maximize loot and to level up. While that is an option in Pillars of Eternity, it is not the only way to play the game.

Replayability is the word of the day here, as Obsidian included eleven different classes that all drastically alter the game-play. It's not just the available attacks and powers which are affected, as the dialogue options are also changed depending on the starting class. The combat is genuinely complex, with a gorgeous art design leading to a detailed and rich world to explore.

5. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

  • System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom
  • Release Dates: April 23, 2013 (US), April 25, 2013 (JP)

Does this still count? As Capcom has re-released Dragon’s Dogma so many times, we doubt there are all that many gamers who do not know about it. Delivering one of the best combat systems of the last few years, which combines elements from Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus, Dark Arisen is the definitive version of Capcom’s action RPG.

As with pretty much all RPGs, there are a few unique classes to pick from to alter how the player approaches a battle. Where Dragon’s Dogma really shines is when it comes to the fights themselves, as they are challenging but rewarding. Depending on the vocation (class) selected, some characters will be able to climb the larger enemies to deliver some sweet justice.

As there is quite a bit of variety in the enemy design, pawns can be created to accompany the protagonist on their journey. Including the player’s character, a party of up to four members can be put together and taken out into the world. Creating a perfectly balanced team determines whether a battle ends in death or victory.

4. Jade Empire

  • System: Xbox, Microsoft Windows, macOS, iOS, Android
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios, 2K Games (Microsoft Windows), TransGaming (macOS)
  • Developer: BioWare
  • Release Dates: April 12, 2005

The best Star Wars game not based on the franchise, Jade Empire places the protagonist in the middle of two conflicting ideologies – the Way of the Open Palm and the Way of the Closed Fist. Initially similar to the light and dark sides from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, this martial arts based RPG goes one step further by not clearly defining whether one side is good or evil. While the gameplay itself tends to present Open Palm as being considerably more heroic, Closed Fist practitioners are thugs; this is due to the latter’s teachings being twisted.

The real-time combat is based on traditional martial arts. Different fighting styles can be discovered and learned by completing side-missions and exploring the regions. It is not just hand-to-hand combat either; as there are weapon, magic, support and even transformation styles included within the game. Depending on which philosophy the player decides to follow, missions can be completed in one of two ways. The character’s actions also determine their alignment and which spells can be used.

Jade Empire is an immersive action RPG set in Chinese mythology. While similar to some of BioWare’s other games, the rarely explored setting and unique combat make it worth trying out.

3. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

  • System: Microsoft Windows
  • Publisher: Activision
  • Developer: Troika Games
  • Release Dates: November 16, 2004 (USA)

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is one of those names which always features in any underrated games list. Developed by Troika Games and based off White Wolf’s table-top role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade, this 2004 release has aged like fine wine. The first thing players do is create a male or female vampire by selecting from a few different clans to join. Depending on the decision, points will be made available to assign in three areas. An automatic character can also be created by answering a few questions before the game decides what would be the best for you.

There are three main play styles: physical, social, and mental. At first, points are provided for all three areas, but this changes as each clan has a preferred way of approaching a situation. Some might prefer to use brute strength and melee combat, while others prioritize seduction and manipulation. Bloodlines’ world building is absolutely fantastic, as the behavior of random NPCs changes depending on your actions. Clans are an important part of vampire lore, as they tend to hunt in packs, and this is reflected in Troika Games’ action RPG. Each one of the seven families has their own moral code and bias, adding weight to the in-game choices made by the player.

2. NieR

  • System: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Cavia
  • Release Dates: April 22, 2010 (JP), April 27, 2010 (US)

With the exception of Nier: Automata, which is hardly underrated, the entire Drakengard universe could have placed on this list. Following the fifth ending of the first entry in the series, NieR is a spin-off and home to one of the best stories in gaming. In order to avoid spoilers, let's just say we recommend preparing a box of tissues. Like its highly rated sequel, Cavia’s game includes multiple endings and requires at least three playthroughs to experience the full story.

The gameplay is simplistic but engaging. Nier is controlled from a third-person perspective, as he visits different areas and engages in hack-and-slash combat. While not as complex as Nier: Automata, there are enough weapon varieties and unlockable skills to keep players coming back for more. The world is huge and encourages exploration, with experience being gained through battle and completed missions.

It is tempting to just ignore everything released before Automata, especially since PlatinumGames’ action RPG does not require prior knowledge of the series. While not as great as its follow-up, Nier is one of the best JRPGs of the seventh generation and well deserving of its place on any list.

1. The World Ends With You

  • System: Nintendo DS, iOS, Android
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Jupiter, Square Enix, h.a.n.d
  • Release Dates: July 27, 2007

Many great RPGs can be found on the Nintendo DS, but few manage to combine its unique features as expertly as The World Ends With You. Before we mention the action part of this RPG, let us talk about the story. It is brilliant. Wait, is that not enough? Okay – ever wondered what a game based on Battle Royale or Future Diary would be like? Well, this is pretty darn close. The plot centers around a competition known as the Reapers’ Game. This brings together a few dead characters in an alternate plane of existence, where they are given a handful of missions to complete by the end of the day. Failure results in their very existence being erased. Lasting a full three weeks, the winner is granted the option of resurrection or moving on to a higher form of existence.

The gameplay uses the Stride Cross Battle System, which requires players to give their all for every single battle. Both screens on the DS are utilized, as two different characters fight the same enemies but in separate planes. The main character, Neku, is controlled by initiating actions via the touchscreen, while his partner can be left in the capable hands of the AI. There is a slew of attacks available in-game, determined by which pins are equipped prior to battle.

The World Ends With You was a departure for Square Enix, an experiment that proved worth taking. With no word of a sequel, it does not seem likely that another opportunity to explore this universe will surface. From the engaging story, to the fast-paced combat and moving soundtrack – The World Ends With You is the full package and the most underrated action RPG of all time.

Final Thoughts

Whether you prefer a sword or a gun, the action RPG genre has something for everyone. With turn-based gameplay becoming considerably more niche, the gaming industry is unlikely to suffer a shortage of reflex-based RPGs any time soon. The listed ten titles may have failed to take the market by storm when they were released, but they have stood the test of time and are deserving of attention.

Which underrated action RPG deserves a sequel? Please let us know in the comment section below.

Dragons-Dogma-Dark-Arisen-game-Wallpaper-2-700x394 Top 10 Underrated Action RPG Games [Best Recommendations]


Author: Mark Sammut

Born and raised on a small island in the Mediterranean, my life goal is to experience as many different ways of life as possible. Since time and money are in short supply, anime and film provide the best opportunity to experience far away cultures and worlds. When I'm not watching the latest episode of Gintama, or wondering what series to watch next, you can find me in the corner of the closest coffee shop; writing away on my aging laptop.

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