The most hardcore genre in gaming history is the RPG. Scan any RPG-related forum and you’ll come away with a clear impression that RPG players are among the most hardcore fans in the world. Which makes sense, because role-playing games are driven by story and story by character and if your average person is going to be loyal to anything it’s going to be to another person or the closest analogue at hand. And this is the sublime place where role-playing games, more so than any other genre, take us. Like other storied mediums, the best RPGs make us love them.
Unfortunately, between greedy IAP practices and Google’s lax vetting process, Android’s RPG market is glutted with games that are either half-finished or play like the RPG version of Farmville. But guess what? Hardcore Droid has got your back. We’ve braved the crap app sea in your honor yet again, paying real money for RPG loot that should have been earned in-game, dutifully handing over our credit card credentials so that our devices might be used like old-school arcade machines, except instead of quarters we pumped our machines full of singles and fives for health potions, healing, and too often just the ability to continue playing. In my mind’s eye the Insert Coin message would appear on my screen when I died, only it read Insert Five Bucks, but I digress. The real point here is we did all this so that you don’t have to suffer though such freemium ripoffs, and so we might bring you this list—this epic list of gems we’re calling: The Most Hardcore Android RPGs Ever Made.
Shadowrun Returns ($9.95 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
Old school tabletop fans, rejoice: your prince has returned. Shadowrun, the granddaddy if cyberpunk RPGs, has made its first migration to Android, and the results are excellent. The first storyline is linear, yes, and the app clocks in at $10–but the story is gripping, the graphics are beautiful, and the gameplay is more fun than a barrel of cyberdecks. Once the next adventures begin arriving as DLC, Shadowrun Returns might become the best value on the RPG market.
The Bard’s Tale ($5.95 on Hardcore Mobile)
HD Score – 4
For ‘Droid enthusiasts hardcore about their Western RPGs, it really comes down to a small handful of choices and The Bard’s Tale is one of the best of the lot. Inxile’s port of the 2004 classic PC and Console game played like every ‘Droid gamer’s WRPG wish list made real. Of all the Android apps tagged with the RPG moniker, The Bard’s Tale is one of three where the lion’s share of Western RPG cornerstones are solidly set in place. The game features rich character customization via a balanced and functional RPG system, a protagonist who physically changes as he dons new arms and a cool, somewhat unique magic system, wherein the bard (that’s you) conjures one to a few fantasy-themed familiars to assist him as he quests and battles. Though it was a port, we loved it so much that we named it Best RPG of 2012, in our Hardcore Holiday Issue, I wrote: “It’s overall design, a hybrid of open-world and action RPG with aspects of narrative driven adventure games sprinkled into the mix, makes for the best kind of role-playing game,” which still holds true. If you’re both an Android and WRPG fan, go here and download it now. I’m not kidding.
This is the only instance where we’ll cite a company rather than a game or series. In Kemco’s case it makes perfect sense. Founded in 1980, the company has literally been around forever; and from then until the early oughts they were primarily developers and publishers of console games. In 2011 they moved into the mobile gaming space with their critically acclaimed and commercially successful Symphony of Eternity, an excellent JRPG that stood as one of our picks for 2012’s Most Hardcore RPG list. Since the time of Symphony’s release, Kemco has released title after quality title of JRPG. From the Symphony series to the Alphadia series to individual gems like Grinsia, Kemco has built a reputation for producing quality, mobile-friendly, old-school JRPGs. With the release this winter of Symphony of the Origin and RPG Alphadia 2, Kemco has solidified said reputation as the go-to publisher for fans of the old school, Japanese role-playing
Arcane Legends (Free on Google Play)
Although it’s a free to play MMORPG that runs on IAPs, Arcane Legends somehow made our Most Hardcore list. No easy feat.
Having cut their teeth on a handful of MMO titles, developer Spacetime Studios managed to tag all the bases when they created Arcane Legends. While the game’s art direction, controls and role-playing system are not going to win any prizes for originality, each of these elements is well-rendered and produced with great aplomb. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun to play. And lastly, while Hardcore Droid is at war with greedy IAP schemes, from what we can see, players can have hours of fun without spending a dime, so Arcane Legends gets a bona fide pass.
Final Fantasy III ($15.99 on Hardcore Mobile)
HD Score – 4
Final Fantasy III—the final in the series originally of the NES era—is its own interesting entity as the visuals haven’t just been giving a coat of polish. Instead, the game’s been catapulted into the 3D realm. This was the other game in the series that didn’t make it out of Japan until 2006 and took six more years to find its way to Android.
It’s still hugely old-school (this was the entry originally notable for the introduction of the Job System) and arguably the asking price is somewhat outlandish, but this remake beefs up the story and gussies the presentation up nicely.
Of course this one had to make it on here. Aside from VII, Final Fantasy IV is in effect “the other Final Fantasy” that always gets mentioned by players.
It’s another all-out 3D remake (hence the, again, hefty price tag), but this one would have been worth it even without the graphical overhaul. Its slightly darker storyline is a welcome change, following the dark knight Cecil’s reformation and featuring characters getting bumped off semi-regularly. It’s also less daunting for players used to the modern entries in the series as this is the game where the Active Time Battle system was introduced Chaos Rings II
Another original Square Enix mobile title, Chaos Rings II also looks sincerely quite gorgeous. It’s got a cool, dark storyline about the lead character having to murder his brother. Furthermore, though the world is (unsurprisingly) on course for destruction, the whys and hows behind this are revealed uniquely in the style of a murder mystery.
Once again, pricey, but this is a console-quality JRPG that actually deserves the label “epic.”
Final Fantasy Dimensions ($19.99 on Hardcore Mobile)
HD Score – 4.5
Final Fantasy Dimensions is a completely new entry in the series, dressed up in an old-school presentation. It borrows a lot from Final Fantasy V and its more complex version of the Job System.
Most unique is that Dimensions (originally released episodically) puts the player in control of two different parties. You switch back and forth between them thereby getting to witness story events from two different perspectives. It’s an interesting twist on the established Final Fantasy formula, making the title that much more intriguing.
Oubliette (Free on Hardcore Mobile)
Oubliette is a challenging and immersive Roguelike that actually predates Rogue. Initially developed by a trio of college students, including John Gaby, the man responsible for the present mobile port. The original iteration was built on a main frame computer in 1977 making Oubliette the 3rd or 4th computer role-playing game ever made. Video game historians can check out our interview with Gaby, in which he discusses Oubliette past and present.
Though the cumbersome menu system has been ironed out a bit, the learning curve remains steep. Craig Stern on IndieRPGS.com concurs, stating that the game will likely “pose too much of a challenge for casual gamers who tend to give up quickly. That said, players who enjoy a real challenge, don’t give up easily, and relish a chance to test some real strategies will be generously rewarded.”
Read our interview with John Gaby
Tales of Illyria ($3.95 on Google Play)
HD Score – 3.5
If you’re an 80s baby, chances are you played The Oregon Trail in school. The gameplay in Tales of Illyria, a party-based episodic Android RPG from developer Little Killerz, is the lovechild of Oregon Trail and Heroes of Might and Magic. Much of it plays like highly random interactive fiction with cool, strategic combat. Like Knights of the Old Republic, you have the option during side quests to choose between good and evil, and, just like the original KotOR, your choices don’t impact the main storyline. Illyria is an ambitious RPG that raises the bar for expansive mobile gaming worlds across all genres and platforms.
9th Dawn ($2.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
When graphical computer games first started gaining popularity in the early 1980’s, Richard Garriott’s Ultima series created many RPG standards still used today, including detailed plot lines, inventory/loot systems, and party-based combat. 9th Dawn pays homage to the original Ultima series, closely resembling the retro graphics and gameplay of the iconic role playing legend. Creating an open-world experience on mobile platforms is a difficult task, but 9th Dawn accomplishes it quite well. Fans of the original Ultima games will love the many modernized elements offered by this rich and compelling Android RPG, including multiplayer and dynamic combat. Regardless of your level of familiarity with classic computer RPGs, this title is a worthy addition to any mobile gamer’s library.
Avernum: Escape from the Pit ($9.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
Originally released on the PC and Mac, Avernum is a party-based open world role playing series developed by Spiderweb Software. Jeff Vogel based the mobile iteration of Escape from the Pit on old school RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Ultima 7. A somewhat modernized version of one of Spiderweb’s earlier game worlds, Escape from the Pit is reminiscent of tabletop role playing games. Pits tend to be gloomy places, and this title is filled with a lot of neutral and dark colors to recreate that atmosphere. Avernum: Escape from the Pit is a bit more expensive than your typical casual Android title, but the game’s length makes it a worthwhile investment that easily beats the entertainment value you’ll get from a movie or album at the same price point.
Avadon: The Black Fortress ($9.99 on Hardcore Mobile)
Another party-based open world RPG from Jeff Vogel, The Black Fortress is the first game of Spider Web’s new Avadon trilogy. The turn-based combat and vast world translates so well you’ll think you’re playing on your computer. If you enjoyed Neverwinter Nights, this role playing game is right up your alley. Choose between a Blademaster, Shadowwalker, Shaman or Sorceress, recruit 2 more party members, and investigate a conspiracy against Redbeard, the powerful and mysterious commander of the fortress of Avadon.
Read our interview with Lord Vogel
Dungeon Ho! ($0.99 0n Google Play)
HD Score – 4
When your friends are trying to set you up with someone, the first thing you want to know about is what your possible mate looks like. If they’re ugly, you’ll usually hear about their personality instead. Dungeon Ho! has a lot of personality. Underneath this Ho!’s barebones production values lies a deep and rich rogue-like RPG. The difficulty level creates a barrier of entry that will turn away your average casual gamer, but hardcore role playing fans will love the title’s depth and the excellent writing. Dungeon Ho! features a wide array of skills, weapons, and spells to manage during battles. What the game lacks in looks, it more than makes up for with beautiful atmospheric music and expansive gameplay, creating an immersive RPG experience.
Aralon: Sword and Shadow ($0.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
While it admittedly suffers from an occasional bug or three and the second half feels at times unfinished, Aralon is the real deal. It boasts a functional story, an open 3D world filled with engaging baddies and bits and pieces of story, and it’s backed up by a rich, original role-playing system. Character creation and development come replete with a host of options: three distinct races, seven classes and a decent skill and leveling system. It also boasts day and night cycles, nuanced character customization and a decent selection of weapons and armor. In the final analysis, there’s a definite pleasure to be had in traipsing around a huge open virtual world on the tiny screen. We reviewed it promptly when it finally made its way to the Play Store this February. Hardcore Droid contributor, Travis Fahs gave the game a winning 4 out of 5, writing: “You really won’t find a more robust modern RPG experience on your ‘Droid.”
Ravensword: Shadowlands ($4.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4.5
Featuring some of the best 3D graphics on the Droid, Ravensword: Shadowlands has all the basics of open world RPG gameplay (level exploration, grinding for gold/experience, upgrade items, etc.) in a condensed mobile package. Think of it as Skyrim lite. You play as a soldier who survived a mysterious event that wiped out both sides of the battlefield. As the game progresses, you learn what happened and why you were spared. Ravensword: Shadowlands is one of the most expansive open-world RPGs available on the Android.
Epic Pirates Story ($0.99 on Google Play )
HD Score – 4
If you ever wanted to be Jack Sparrow, Epic Pirates Story is the game for you. Choose your pirate’s gender, name the pirate and island home, and then set out on a swashbuckling adventure to build your following and seek revenge against the pirate king who captured your father. The gameplay is addictive and the writers did a great job of incorporating humor into the story into this Android RPG, earning it a spot on this Best of list. No man is an island but with Epic Pirates Story you can at least own one.
QuestLord ($1.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
In QuestLord you play as a human, elf, or dwarf and set out to, of all things, save the realm from destruction. The 8-bit graphics, solid mechanics and accessible user interface make for a solid RPG experience. QL is a winning nod to the 8-bit retro RPGs of yore and comes replete with compelling gameplay, secret passages and monster-battling action. Gamers pining for the hay days of RPG gaming on the PC can add another star to QuestLord.
Gurk III ($1.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
Gurk III is yet another solid send up to classics of the 8-bit era. It’s a marvel how fresh the gameplay feels despite the dated veneer, as this game’s combat is chock-full of variety and tactical complexity. For the old-timers, picking up Gurk III is like catching up with a friend you hadn’t seen in years and finding they’re still fun to be around. For the young ‘uns, its like finding a pristine NES in your attic with a cartridge from the future in it. A gem for RPG enthusiasts of all stripes, and well-deserving of its place in our list.
Chrono Trigger ($9.99 in Google Play Store)
HD Score – 4.2
With the growing presence of the “soft-grunge” tumblr aesthetic in the mainstream, a question for the hardcore gamer arises: why don’t these poor souls get on the real tip and dip into ‘90s gaming nostalgia? Perhaps one of the greatest RPGs of any time, Chrono Trigger blew gamers’ minds when it was released for SNES 1995, and from the sound of Joe Matar’s glowing review of the Android port, it’s still blowing minds well into 2013. This is pretty much the same classic you should know and love, with its colorful 16-bit graphics, amazing midi soundtrack, and gloriously satisfying story-line all intact. Granted, it suffers from frustrating web authentication and an inconvenient save system, but we’re still giving Chrono Trigger an enthusiastic pass. The game is just that good.
Age of Pirates RPG ($0.99 on Google Play)
HD Score – 4
Designed by the Trese Brothers — a garage band indie with a growing line of similarly complex games under their belt — Age of Pirates is a sailing game designed for the sort of RPG fanatics who crave open-ended gameplay and endless replay value. If you can you look past the primitive visuals and clunky user interface, Age of Pirates rewards you all this as well as a vast oceanic game world where it really is up to you how you choose to carve out a living on the high seas. Whether you prefer the clever mercantile system with dynamic port economies or the endless opportunities for ruthless piracy, Age of Pirates proves itself a gamer’s game to the marrow.
Lesabel ($3.99 Google Play)
HD Score – 3.5
A majority of Diablo clones put out for Android just fail us miserably by offering cheap, one-note gameplay or worse, ruining an otherwise playable game with shifty in-app purchases. The developers of Lesabel have done their part to break this cycle of shoddiness in making an action RPG . While it might look a lot like Dungeon Hunter on the surface, Lesabel distinguishes itself with great co-op multiplayer and stand-out visuals with great post-processing effects. It also speaks volumes that you get exactly what you pay for with this title, as it’s blissfully free of in-app purchases.
Read Lesabel Review