While there are a lot of indie subgenres that demand their moment in the spotlight, such as the breakout craze of Roguelites, or the wonderous world of walking sims, there are a few that have been a mainstay in the gaming zeitgeist since day one, and one of those is the RPG genre.
An RPG is a way to truly immerse yourself in a fully realized world of myth and wonder. It’s a means of escape as you can put yourself in the shoes of a fictitious hero, and it’s usually an excellent vehicle to deliver a compelling narrative, a killer combat system, and inevitably ends with you having to kill god with the power of friendship.
Maybe that’s a little reductive, especially where indie RPGs are concerned, as this niche avenue of RPGs really does try to shake things up, and on many occasions, has done so with aplomb, gifting indie fans RPG experiences that are right up there with the golden era hits of the 1990s.
However, you may be wondering what indie RPGs specifically deserve your time and attention, because heaven knows there’s a lot of them to sift through. Well, I aim to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Here is Indie Game Culture’s Best Indie RPG Games. Enjoy!
Let’s talk about what qualifies for this list. I’m not just going to be putting any random game on this list. Here are the selection criteria I’m going with:
- The game has to be made by a small studio without being published by a large publisher. (i.e., EA, Activision, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, etc.)
- The game must have a Metacritic score of 75 percent or higher.
- All games must have role-playing elements
- We will be leaning more toward traditional RPG formats, rather than action RPG titles
Okay, make sure you have your Mana fully charged; we are about to dive in!
- Developer: Toby fox
- Genre: RPG/RPG Maker
- Metacritic Score: 92%
We open things up with a game that practically needs no introduction, but hey, let’s give it one anyway. Undertale is an RPG Maker game developed in full by Toby Fox, and sees you take control of Frisk as they must navigate the strange underworld they have accidentally fallen into, and find a way to get back to the surface.
It’s a simple premise, but through some of the best comedic writing ever seen in an indie project, a wonderful turn-based meets bullet hell battle system where you can choose to be a murderer or a complete pacifist, and some of the finest chiptune songs on record, the game managed to transcend the indie scene and is regarded as one of the best RPG games of all time.
Not bad for a game that only cost $40,000 to make. It’s a joyous experience from start to end, and one you can complete in one sitting if you feel like it. So carve out an afternoon for this one!
- Developer: ZA/UM
- Genre: CRPG
- Metacritic Score: 91%
Ah, Disco Elysium. Up until very recently, upon the release of Baldur’s Gate 3, the gaming community pretty much unanimously regarded this game as the finest example of a CRPG ever made, and despite Baldur’s Gate 3’s clear quality, I still do. This title plays rather similarly to games like Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland, Tyranny, and a handful of other isometric RPGs. However, the twist here is that the game strips the combat away entirely, making this a DND-inspired detective game where you choose your own adventure as you aim to solve the murder of The Hanged Man.
I truly have never experienced a game that has been written as masterfully as this one. You could play it ten times through with wildly differing roleplaying parameters, and you would still find new and interesting pockets of info you missed completely. Which only goes some way to showing the sheer depth of this game’s narrative and world.
Revachol is a joy to explore; it’s a comically dark experience, every character is as deep as an endless abyss if you’re willing to dig; and while the politics and lore can get very dense indeed, I regard this as my own personal pick for the best RPG of all time. So make of that what you will.
- Developer: Red Hook Studios
- Genre: Roguelike-RPG
- Metacritic Score: 84
While this one is definitely more of a Roguelike at heart, I think that Darkest Dungeon has more than enough RPG elements to justify a spot on this list.
Darkest Dungeon is a title that marries the tactical aspects of a turn-based battle system with the permanent and often gut-wrenching outcomes of a roguelike format. This means that players will need to roll with the punches, think through every move carefully, and probably will need to improvise when they inevitably lose party members through no fault of their own.
Then in terms of presentation, the dark, gritty graphic novel art direction only heightens our love for this epic title. It’s German Expressionist art meets Lovecraftian horror, and it’s beautifully unsightly.
It’s not one that will appeal to everyone, as it is a very punishing game, and RNG can play a huge role in your demise, which can be frustrating, but if you can get past this, you’ll discover that Darkest Dungeon is an RPG gem.
- Developer: Dead Mage
- Genre: RPG/Hack-n-Slash
- Metacritic Score: 82
I was tempted to put something like Hades on this list, as it flirts with the idea of becoming a pseudo-RPG at times, but in truth, Children of Morta is a much better fit for an RPG list if you compare the two. Children of Morta still has a Roguelike undercurrent running through the game, and also has the player fight using a hack-and-slash system rather than a more methodical and traditional turn-based system.
However, the game is still a quintessential RPG thanks to the way the story is told through not one, but a family of heroes, which you will control throughout your adventure, either solo, or with a group of fellow players.
You still need to build your characters carefully, have a mix of attackers, defensive bulwarks, and healers in your party, and you still need to tactically prepare for each encounter as you dungeon crawl, but it’s a much more dynamic RPG than others, taking a leaf from the likes of Diablo and Path of Exile.
It’s a fun co-op adventure, and well worth checking out!
- Developer: 6 Eyes Studio
- Genre: Tactical RPG
- Metacritic Score: 82
Fell Seal is a game that seems like it was hand-crafted for all of the extreme tactical RPG fanatics, serving as a clear spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics, with just a light sprinkling of Fire Emblem in there for good measure. Through a clever use of verticality, terrain, and a wide range of classes and abilities, the game provides one of the most deep and rich tactical RPG combat systems around. It’s like a medieval, magical game of chess, in the best way possible.
The game is essentially a modern take on the tactics formula, bringing with it a slew of quality-of-life improvements, and a wonderful story that stands on its own as a unique and riveting adventure. Not to mention, the game also looks like a beautifully illustrated storybook, which serves as a treat for the eyes as you cast goblins and ghouls into oblivion.
It’s one for the more slow-paced and methodical RPG players out there, and it arguably serves as the best re-imagining of the tactics formula out there today.
- Developer: Ska Studios
- Genre: RPG/Souls-Like/Metroidvania
- Metacritic Score: 84%
I considered adding Tails of Iron to this list, but in truth, if you’re looking for a 2D Souls-like adventure, then it’s hard to look past Salt and Sanctuary, which is probably the game that is most loyal to the Souls format from a 2D perspective on the market. This title will see you start from nothing and explore punishing and brutal locales, battling hulking behemoths as you go.
The game toes the line between traditional Metroidvania and Souls-like RPG masterfully, offering plenty of classes to choose from, lots of armor, weapons, and items to make use of, and a blend of melee and magic attacks to use in your quest to take down all the abominations that stand before you.
If you’re in the mood for a pocket-sized, but equally punishing indie Souls-like, then look no further than this one!
- Developer: Moi Rai Games
- Genre: Adventure-RPG
- Metacritic Score: 80
Calling all Pokemon fans, there is an Indie RPG that allows you to collect cute creatures and train them to become unstoppable forces of nature. It’s fun, we promise. Please don’t call PETA; they’re insufferable.
This game is a typical side-scrolling adventure title, which regularly pivots to turn-based combat, allowing you to battle using your tamed creatures. The battle system is rich, with lots of combos, items, and 111 monsters to choose from, meaning that it never feels stale as you encounter little beasties, and it all happens seamlessly akin to Chrono Trigger, so there are no Pokemon-style battle transitions either.
This is essentially what Pokemon would be like if it were a Metroidvania title. It marries rich RPG turn-based combat with tight platforming and Metroidvania world design. So if that sounds like your thing, give this a try.
- Developer: Dreams Unincorporated
- Genre: RPG
- Metacritic Score: 79
If you’re looking for an indie RPG with killer visuals and a story that can hold your attention, the Cris Tales is it.
Cris Tales is a compelling love letter to JRPG games of old that plays around with the concept of time to great effect, allowing the player to hop into the past and the future to benefit them in battle. Through a clever timed battle mechanic, the player can look at the script in real-time, and alter the past or future to turn the tide in battle, changing enemy statues, allowing you to synchronize attacks, and so much more.
This is definitely the USP for this game, but the art style is also very striking. It’s as if Cartoon Network decided to commission a JRPG in their heyday, and it’s a sight to behold. All in all, this is a little RPG gem well worth looking into.
- Developer: Lab Zero
- Genre: Action-RPG
- Metacritic Score: 79
From the makers of Skullgirls, we have Indivisible, an indie Action-platformer meets RPG with a whole lot of character. Not to mention DLC and crossover content with games like Hyper Light Drifter, Super Ultra Time Force, Guacamelee, and more.
The art style is akin to classic 90’s anime, but with a modern-day polish. The gameplay is smooth as butter, with satisfying platforming, fun exploration, and a combat system that implements a button-comb system that is easy and accessible, but tough to master.
What I will say is that the end-game content isn’t as challenging as it could be, and the story isn’t as competent as some others on this list, but holistically, this game still offers a rich enough experience to warrant you playing from start to end.
- Developer: Pixpil
- Genre: Action-RPG
- Metacritic Score: 78
If you’re a fan of the Earthbound (or Mother) series, then Eastward is an absolute must-play, as it acts as a spiritual successor to these titles, modernizing the formula and offering a unique, mature setting to explore.
I’ll say it outright, as a game, Eastward is a bit of a flawed gem. The combat is a little awkward to work with, playing like a rather unrefined top-down Zelda outing at times, and the game seems to throw a lot of things at the wall to see what sticks, akin to Dave The Diver, but not in a good way.
However, if you can muddle through these aspects, you’ll be treated to one of the most peculiarly sublime RPG narratives within the indie scene. The setting is so wonderfully realized, the art direction is inspired, and while you may come away with mixed feelings about Eastward, the highs alone make it worth a try.
- Developer: Sidebar Games
- Genre: RPG
- Metacritic Score: 78
Golf Story takes a pretty tired sports game formula, and tweaks it to create a genuinely enthralling RPG gold epic. Instead of fighting monsters, you play golf to gain experience and get money. The quests involve doing different challenges like putting, hitting out of sand traps, and hitting the ball into other targets. It sounds weird, but inexplicably, it just works.
It’s a title that offers a surprisingly rich narrative telling a story of a father-son relationship, and peppers in a bucketload of Austrailian gags that will make you say, ‘Streuth, that’s funny.’
This is a quintessential cozy, post-dad game that you can work through at your own pace, perhaps bucking the trend of all the RPGs on this list that have you battling against god, but hey, a par five with a water feature is a tough battle too.
- Developer: Brave at Night
- Genre: Simulation-RPG
- Metacritic Score: 75
Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Especially if you’ve been stockpiling provisions and letting your people suffer.
In this resource management sim meets RPG, You play as the king and have to manage your castle and the relationships in your family. This will inevitably lead to some difficult decisions as you will need to manage your conquests, your love life, and your kingdom, with the ‘good option’ not always being immediately clear.
It’s akin to games such as FTL: Faster Than Light but also titles like Let’s Build A Zoo, or Graveyard Keeper. It’s high stakes decision making, where one false move could see you decapitated.
It’s very much a casual RPG where you can pick up and play as you like, so if that sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to check this one out!
Best of the Rest
We would love to keep going but had to cut the list off at some point. Here are the honorable mentions that just missed out on a moment in the spotlight
- Death’s Door
- She Dreams Elsewhere
- Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
- Guild of Ascension
- The Life and Suffering of Sir Brante
- Garden Story
- The Forgotten City
- Black Book
- Nobody Saves The World
Question: What is an RPG?
Answer: An RPG is a game where the player takes control of a character or a team of characters. I know this is incredibly broad and could be applied to most video games. For video games you also have one or more of the following:
A leveling system where your characters gain experience through fighting monsters and/or completing quests.
• A skill tree.
• Gives the player some degree of control over the story.
• Can be either Single-Player or Multi-Player.
• Active or Turn-based combat.
Question: Are these games PC exclusive or are they on console?
Answer: These games should be available on consoles as well as PC. Here is a list of what platforms you can get the games on:
• Disco Elysium – Windows, macOS, PS4/5, Stadia, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Slay the Spire – Windows, macOS, Switch, PS4, Xbox Series X/S
• Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights – Windows, Switch, PS4, Xbox Series X/S
• Darkest Dungeon – Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Children of Morta – Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark – Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Tails of Iron – Windows, PS4/5, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Monster Sanctuary – Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Cris Tales – Windows, PS4/5, Stadia, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
• Indivisible – Windows, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
• Nobody Saves the World – Windows, Xbox Series X/S
• Eastward – Windows, macOS, Switch
• Golf Story — Switch
• Yes, Your Grace – Windows, macOS, Switch, Xbox Series X/S
If I had to pick one game from this list, it would be Monster Sanctuary. The other games are great, and each offers something unique. Monster Sanctuary feels different to me. It’s a little like the Pokemon game I’ve wanted for a while now.
Each of these games does being something a bit different. If you haven’t yet, check them out and enjoy the stories, they have to tell!