While it's easy for a gamer to use the internet to find great RPGs from the past, there are many fun ones out there that can slip between the cracks. Maybe their gameplay was too different, or they were poorly marketed, or they were published by someone other than Square Enix, or they had negatives that sunk their review scores. These are not the best games of the decade nor are they the most obscure. They are ones that I personally believe became relatively forgotten and passed by as the internet chose to focus on other things, and I find myself recommending them to people the most often, as most gamers I talk to never tried them.
1st Place · Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2
What it is: Atlus's successful attempt to combine SMT with Final Fantasy.
Why it's worth looking into: With storytelling, pacing, and a difficulty level like a mainstream JRPG, Digital Devil Saga 2 is fun without being frustrating, and tells a heart-wrenching tale that focuses on the characters while sticking to overall SMT themes of demons and the end of the world. It gets kudos for pulling a Final Fantasy IV by changing the party members around for meaningful plot reasons.
Why it is not a must-play game: As the title implies, fully appreciating DDS 2 requires you to spend 40 hours on the inferior DDS 1 first, doubling the time commitment.
2nd Place · Sacrifice
What it is: An unconventional RTS that came out back when the definition of "RPG" wasn't as all-encompassing as it is now.
Why it's worth looking into: Possibly the only game ever made with story paths that don't just branch from the start, but cross back on each other and give you a chance to change allegiances whenever you want, all within a coherent, structured plot. While the final stage is always the same, the events that lead there change drastically depending on which god(s) you supported. Toss in a kooky art style and bizarre, but simple, gameplay mechanics, and you have one of my favorite video games.
Why it is not a must-play game: Aside from no one on Earth but me thinking of it as an RPG, the controls take some getting used to.
3rd Place · Gladius
What it is: A tactical JRPG developed in America rather than Japan.
Why it's worth looking into: For fans of strategy games and tactics RPGs, Gladius includes many new spins on the formula that grew a bit yawn-inducing during the Decade of Copying Tactics Ogre. There's an unequalled balance between the freedom of customizing your army and satisfying the strict size/race/gender requirements that some stages require. Also — yetis and satyrs!
Why it is not a must-play game: Frustrating, constant load times require a lot of patience, and if you hate swing meters this game will be your personal Hell.
4th Place · Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
What it is: A simplistic adventure RPG.
Why it's worth looking into: One of those giggly games that makes you happier as you play it, Rocket Slime thrives on its fast pacing and hilarious localization. Don't be turned away by the kiddy aesthetics — while it is in no way challenging, it's packed with a barrage of jokes and references catered to older gamers. Crushing adorable foes in tank battles is the highlight of the gameplay.
Why it is not a must-play game: All around, it isn't unique enough to say "This is a game everyone must play."
5th Place · Odin Sphere
What it is: The prettiest 2D action RPG of the last decade.
Why it's worth looking into: The most artistic game I've ever played, Odin Sphere's presentation features amazing visuals, great music, excellent storytelling, and my favorite Atlus USA translation. The gameplay itself can be tricky due to how far outside the box resource management and item use are, but it isn't complicated and once you get the hang of things, the originality is a breath of fresh air.
Why it is not a must-play game: Crippling slowdown that must be seen to be believed.