Pay to win games have swallowed such a large share of the mobile gaming market that at this juncture about 80% of mobile games suck—the mobile gaming market, to be honest, is a vast mountain of dung. Still, there is within that heap numerous and sometimes hidden gems—titles built by smart, ultra-hardcore microdevs as well as games with formidable names and reputations, games born of franchises like Final Fantasy, Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate—yes sir, the latter one, at least, is represented on this list. Games that are so superior to the rip-off, shovelware that dominates mobile gaming that it’s not even worth the effort to bother comparing. But free, or the illusion of it, is a powerful motivator and with each passing year this intoxicating illusion causes the digital nothingness that is pay to win to grow more powerful.
But, again, there’s hope. If you are on top of the mobile gaming market like I am—I’m the editor and owner of Hardcore Droid; I have to be on top of the market–then your rummaging through mobile apps day in and day out, free to play and paid alike, searching for said gems. To be sure I’ve found many wonderful games in that reeking heap. And I imagine that if you are like me and you love to kick back at the end of the day with your tablet or phone and level your fighter/thief, delve one level deeper into a forbidden mine or force a dog-faced gnoll to forever cease his incessant yipping, then you are in the right place because this list—this handful of gems is not only a definitive lists of the best Andorid RPGs of 2014 (most of which are available for iOS too) it’s also a list of titles that represent a measure of hope for the future of mobile gaming. I would venture that if you are a mobile gamer and an RPG fan, and you haven’t downloaded any one of these titles, then you will have something to look forward to when you’re done.
The World Ends with You ($17.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.5
From its nouveau manga aesthetic to it heart pounding techno soundtrack and rhythm based combat there is nothing cliché about Square Enix’s wonderful JRPG, The World Ends with You. While the controls suffered a hair via translation from its original home on the Nintendo DS, the Android port remains a solid port of a title that turned most traditional JRPG conventions on their head. What’s more, it provides a winning combination of surprising narrative with a solid RPG system and unique, thrilling combat. While its $17.99 price tag may turn some gamers away, if you’re a JRPG fan, we say pony up the cash, you won’t regret it.
Dungeon Crawlers ($1.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 3.9
Despite what the name may suggest, Dungeon Crawlers is actually much more than your average dungeon crawler RPG game.
One part traditional dungeon crawling RPG, and one part turn-based strategy game, Dungeon Crawlers is one the more intelligently designed RPGs out there. Fans of RPGs featuring turn-based tactical combat will be hard pressed find a better example of this sub-subgenre on ‘Droid. Factor in a surprising, and very much welcome, sense of humor, and Dungeon Crawlers proves to be a welcome breath of fresh air for the genre.
Bardbarian ($2.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.5
Bardbarian is an odd duck in terms of genre classification. Is it a real time strategy game? Is it tower-defense? Is it an RPG?
The answer across the board is “yes.” Bardbarian is a little of all those things, but above all else it is simply fun. This charming little hybrid is perfect for any mobile gamers looking for a medieval fantasy RPG that is determined to be different.
Read Bardbarian HD Review
Quest ofDungeons ($1.99 in Google Play Store)
Hardcore Games Score – 80%
While it has a couple things going against it; namely, a dopey name and rehashed graphics that we’ve seen elsewhere in mobile gaming, Quest of Dungeons remains a solid Western-Style ARPG (read: Diablo Clone). It’s also a well-balanced turn-based, Diablo clone with retro 16 bit graphics, hosts of functional loot, weapons, armor, hordes of enemies and a tough boss to battle on every floor of its very replayable procedurally generated dungeon. What’s more the bosses and enemies are varied, have individualized AI routines and it’s a bona fide rouguelike replete with dire situations and perma-death. If you are a fan of roguelikes, retro graphics and/or Diablo-clones, or even any two of the above, you’ll likely be right in your element. We liked it so much, Contributor, Wesley Garis gave it an 80% on sister-site, Hardcore Games.
Heroes of Steel Elite ($1.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.6
That’s about all you can say once you realize just how hardcore the Trese Brothers’ Heroes of Steel Elite truly is. As the episodic follow up to the similarly great Heroes of Steel, Elite carries over the brain-teasing, yet still intense, combat system that made the first game so great, and expands upon its other virtues in nearly every way. If you’re looking for a mobile RPG that will kick your ass and keep you coming back, look no further.
Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall ($4.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.0
As much as RPGs use the word “quest,” I rarely play one that feels like a genuine journey. Too often, even the best games in the genre make you hop from event to event, and emphasize the final destination, over the path that led you there.
Tales of Illyria: Beyond the Iron Wall is the antithesis of those games. By borrowing elements from the Oregon Trail series, TOI take the player on a true quest, where every step could trigger some climatic moment, and the welfare of your party is always upon your shoulders. In his review, our own Will McCool called it maybe the best game he’s ever played on Android. It’s hard to disagree.
Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition ($9.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.2
Most mobile RPGs usually have to make some sacrifices regarding just how complex they are. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is not “most mobile RPGs.”
Instead, this is the insanely deep RPG milestone that blew away fans everywhere in 1998 with its large cast of compelling characters, world-spanning plot and complex, yet extremely rewarding, mechanics. Better yet, this is the more recently released enhanced version of the game, meaning you get the add-on adventure Black Pits, which features some old-school D&D style mechanics. Download this game, and you might as well sign your free time for the foreseeable future over to it as well.
Read Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition HD Review
Crystal Story II ($1.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.5
While there’s no shortage of JRPGs available for Android, finding one that’s actually worth your time and money is a much trickier proposition.
What Crystal Story II lacks in visual panache, it more than makes up for by providing a classic Final Fantasy style RPG experience that features more depth and gameplay variety than you see in even the biggest retail releases. While the greedy gamer in me wants to keep this gem a secret, it’s my journalistic responsibility to inform you that Crystal Story II may just be the best JRPG available for Android.