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What makes an RPG “great/memorable”?

May 23, 2019
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Let me preface this with saying that these views are my own and not saying anyone else’s views are right or wrong.

After a lot of thinking, RPG’s are undoubtedly my favorite genre of game. The ability to take either a predetermined character with a backstory, or create my own character and build him/her/it from scratch can not be rivaled by any other type of category (and I pretty much play every genre heavily except horror). RPG’s have such versatility as to how you can apply stuff that you can pretty much make an RPG out of....anything.

There are plenty of good and bad RPGs but what makes an rpg “great/memorable”? In this scenario I am specifically talking about videogame RPGs (not to take away from other mediums like board games or larping, etc.)

Well first...what makes an RPG a “true” RPG? It isn’t as simple as “taking over control of a character” because that would make something like Call of Duty an rpg. Creating your own custom character with stats and abilities? NBA2k is now an rpg. Making choices that affect the story? Until Dawn/Man of Medan is an rpg.

For me, an RPG has to have some combination (or more) of a few key elements:
  1. the ability to customize the abilities/talents of a character/team based on how you want to play (specialist vs all around, range vs melee)
  2. Branching storylines that can both cross with each other and also be completely separate storylines
  3. The ability to choose how you want to interact with the world (good vs bad, angel vs asshole, pacifist vs violent etc) and these choices having a direct effect on how the game world responds to you as the player
  4. A “bearable” combat system. Doesn’t matter if the first 3 are wonderful if it’s a slog to go through your game.
So let’s get into what some of my favorite RPGs are. Now over time my tastes have changed with my age, so something I may have liked 10 years ago might not fulfill my needs today. There are still a number of RPGs I haven’t played or am still playing through but it’s very rare that one grabs me in such a way that I don’t put it down until finished.

I am not saying any of these games are the cream of the crop, just that playing these specific games made me go “wow, that was an experience” and caused me to judge other RPGs much harsher by causing my expectations to go up.

Fable 1: This is pretty much my base when it comes to judging modern day action RPGs. If you can’t outperform a game that came out in 2004 then I don’t know what to tell you. For all it’s flaws the game had me captivated. A solid balance of combat, gameplay logic, and story. I sincerely hope this reboot blows away my expectations and brings me the feelings I had when I first played the original.

Pokemon: I mean come on...this might be one of the few RPGs where leveling doesnt actually feel grindy. The simple yet complex way you can set your team up and approach battles puts it ahead of hundreds of other RPGs. Sure the story is mediocre but this is the perfect example of how a game can be carried solely by its gameplay loop.

Mass Effect 1/2: These two games were the first time I felt like my choices affected the universe, not just a town or kingdom. Wonderfully crafted universe and storylines that kept me involved and trying to choose the “right” (or wrong 😈) answer based on how I wanted to play. Having so many different ways to fight was a cherry on top of ice cream whether I wanted to be jean grey or slightly mutayes Rambo, I could do it. Too bad mass effect 3 ending blew my day and andromeda didn’t scratch that same itch.

The Witcher 3: Easily my favorite RPG of this gen. The number of side quests and side storylines in this game were so amazingly good I’m not even sure if any other game can compete narrative wise. Even the freakin DLCs trumped most games main stories. My first play through I wanted to do everything and “do” everyone cuz duh I’m a badass Witcher. Did I look like a fool at endgame when I saw the consequences of some of my actions. The variety of the ways I could approach fights also helped push this higher on my list, as well my choices in conversation and decisions to do actual quests actually mattering when it came to other quests on both a small and large scale (defense of home base for example). Bonus points for Gwent being addictive as hell.

Kingdom Come Deliverance: I ignored this game completely as I thought it looked stupid. Then gamepass said “hey try this out”. Boy was I wrong about it, after getting around the somewhat unforgiving combat learning curve at the beginning of the story I was pulled into an almost too convincing medieval world that I had not to this day experienced. I didnt feel overpowered, I didn’t feel catered to, and every combat situation made me tense up and properly plan and attack or defend. I do hate how the story abruptly ends at a climax point but hey, nothing is perfect. For all it’s issues, once I got into the meat of this game I didn’t put it down until I was done.

Nier Automata: For how weird this game was, I loved it. Combat didn’t feel dated. And the story kept me locked in. And the music....some of the best tracks I’ve heard in a game easily. Then again I’m a sucker for Sci-fi based RPGs. Throwing in the 2nd and 3rd play through that changed how you battled is what pushed this game a tier higher, as I had to deprogram myself from playing the way I did the entire game.

KOTOR: I don’t think Mass effect in particular would exist if KOTOR hadn’t been released. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I like vast sci-fi game worlds with good storylines and the ability to build my character the way I want to. Another game that needs a high quality reboot.

Elder Scrolls 3/Fallout 3: Oddly enough i feel the third iteration of both of these series are the ones that left the most lasting impression on me. If you looked up “sandbox rpg” in the dictionary these two games should be in the list somewhere. I don’t think their successors ever hit the “sandiness” these two hit. (Yeah new Vegas was great everyone knows that)

Final Fantasy 13: YEAH I SAID IT. I LIKED 13. Sure there are arguably “better” FF’s but 13 is the one I couldn’t put down. Not sure where 15 went wrong.


So my question to you GAF, is what makes an RPG grasp you in a way others haven’t? It doesn’t even have to be the entire game. Was it story? Addictive gameplay loop? Well thought out character skill tree builder? Rewarding combat?

If you could combine certain things from multiple RPGs into one finished game, what would they be?
 
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johntown

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I would say story and side quests that are done very well.

Elaborate and well thought out dungeons.

An immersive and exciting world that has plenty of secrets and hidden gems to find.

Having a good loot system as well.
 

Mozzarella

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The whole writing quality of the game.
1- The Main Story: the journey the player goes on, what obstacles they meet and how they overcome them.
2- Characters: the interesting cast the player meets and helps or romances or fights alongside/against.
3- Worldbuilding: how alive the world is and how it functions without the player, its interesting lore and locations.
4- Bonus: Side quests: how interesting the different side storylines the players takes or discovers.
5- Bonus: Atmosphere and Immersion. probably a subjective matter that is different for each individual.

Thats my take, i feel everything else like combat is just a cherry on top, it doesnt really matter that much, otherwise Planescape Torment wouldnt be ever memorable until this day.
 

Harry Tung

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Engaging story that resonates deep within, a kickass soundtrack, memorable characters, good combat system with lots of customizing and a interesting and colorful world ripe for exploring.
 
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A story that pulls you in. Characters that makes you feel that you have a personal connection to them. Limitless customisation. A banging soundtrack and side quest that actually have a purpose of doing.
 
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Dr_Salt

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For me, story, writing, characters, atmosphere and music. For example I prefer playing fallout 1&2 over any of the modern day fallout games even if they are dated by modern game standards.
 

Belmonte

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There are so many moving parts in a RPG and so many ways to make it, that it is very hard to pinpoint one thing that makes it memorable.

Some of them have outstanding exploration, like Morrowind.
Lots of choices and consequence and cohesion like Fallout 1.
Lot of charm and heart like Dragon Quest.
Complex battle system like Wizardry.
Great story and characters like The Witcher 3.
A balance of all things like Baldur's Gate.
 

Darkmakaimura

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The atmosphere and theme.

One thing that stands out is music. Big factor for me. RPGs with some of the best music for me include....

Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star.

The Elder Scrolls especially Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim.

Trails in the Sky/Zero and Azure/Cold Steel/Hajimari.
 
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May 23, 2019
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Engaging story that resonates deep within, a kickass soundtrack, memorable characters, good combat system with lots of customizing and a interesting and colorful world ripe for exploring.
what makes a story engaging and what’s some recent ones you’ve played?

A story that pulls you in. Characters that makes you feel that you have a personal connection to them. Limitless customisation. A banging soundtrack and side quest that actually have a purpose of doing.

Does a character need to relate to your personal life to pull you in?
 

levyjl1988

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Memorable characters. eg) Morrigan and Allister from Dragon Age Origins
Character banter, it really expresses their perspective and the comedic commentary is worth it. It feels even more dynamic when there are dualities.

New Game Plus, nothing feels more reassuring than playing the game normally as designed by the developers and then playing it over with that experience, knowledge, skills, and power to overcome past difficulties with ease, it represents the growth and the closing of the gaps that showed extreme difficulty.

Character creation, creating a character from scratch. Designing their look, face, gender, making your own waifu. That sense of personalization is great.

An origin story, nothing attaches more to the player than starting off weak, establishing the lore, and the overarching problems. Playing through it and then being transferred to the main establishment of the game. Like it converges to the main story. So far Dragon Age Origins is doing it and CyberPunk 2077.

Memorable musical scores that evoke the atmosphere and enhances the sense of urgency or the mood/tone.

Good game design would be great also, like not missing items, points of no return sucks.
 

UltimaKilo

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It’s quite the simple formula:

Engrossing, deep story lines with plot twists, suspense and good writing.

Incredible soundtrack

Great art direction

Well developed characters and lore
 
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Hydroxy

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Epic storyline, memorable characters, beautiful overworld, decent voice acting, unique /interesting battle system, memorable music/theme.
 

Perrott

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TheContact

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Visuals are important, and I don't mean quality of the graphics. An example of this would be the pre rendered backgrounds of Chrono Cross, one of the more detailed and beautiful games on the PSX


It definitely needs a great OST and an involved story, but most importantly if it has great replay value, that is ultimately what is going to make it the most memorable.
 
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DonF

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What makes every game memorable! Everything! Mainly, great story and crew/cast of characters, music and mechanics.
I loved mass effect as much as dragon quest XI, legend of legaia and final finstasy ix. 4 very different games, yet all memorable to me (first games that came to my mind)
 

LateBloomer

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for me story and characters are main drivers for enjoying an RPG. But when it comes down to it I have to enjoy the battle system for it to be a great RPG.
 

T8SC

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A solid, but not overly complicated, story.
Relatable characters.




Death by Masamune.
 

Investor9872

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What makes an RPG great?

1) Story and character telling
2) Moving and memorable musical scores
3) Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay
 
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Irobot82

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When the villain succeeds instead of the heroes thwarting them at every turn. Like FFVI, Keftka completely destroys the world. He won, even in the end everything was still fucked. Great game. The sense of hopelessness.
 

rahuljx

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Story for sure. The moment I start noticing gameplay loops I feel like the immersion breaks. Personally branching story paths dont do much for me because I simply dont have the time anymore to see everything. Also I grew up with strong linear story telling in games and so Im partial to that.
 

DeliciousDoc

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I think
1)a story and setting that stimulates your imagination and immersion,
2)characters that are interesting (using archetypes is fine if you give the character depth beyond it,
3) a stimulating battle system where you feel like you are making smart choices with some audio visual style so you feel badass and
4) a villain that has had as much thought put into as the main cast, preferably a group of them.
 
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yurqqa

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Interesting and believable characters and a good script.

like Trails in the sky (especially the first one. After that it goes more and more to teenage drama).

Or Disco Elysium. Characters are believable, because they are consistent even though they are unbelievably unique.
 

Northeastmonk

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A lot of amazing RPGs come with amazing intros. That first time you walk outside your house in Chrono Trigger. The sea crashing against the beach in Final Fantasy VIII. The train coming to a stop in Final Fantasy VII. The space ship in distress in Xenogears. You feel like you just stepped inside of something unique. The music to each game also draws life into the world. You feel as though you’ve been taken away to a dream world. Then every piece of fabric starts to encapsulate your mind with its themes of survival or living in peace after a Great War. You feel like you have known this character your entire life. You want to see the challenges that come after a long hard day of exploring. You meet new people when you travel to their world. Befriend a frog, a robot, or a girl from another time. When you enter into combat, it feels like you can destroy a creature twice your size if you had to.

There are parts to RPGS that help you escape into another life for a while. The intriguing military lifestyle of the characters in Front Mission 3. Being a soldier who comforts the dead in Valkyrie Profile. Setting off on an adventure in Lunar to become like the dragon master. Witcher 3 had stories to be told. You met someone, ate at their house, heard their problem, and then witnessed it first hand.

I won’t play just any RPG on the market. I’ve played the well known RPGs. I played TES4/5 for countless hours, but I also don’t go back to them. I played through Fable, Fallout series, Mass Effect trilogy, and so forth. A lot of those games are good for what they did. They built a story, combat was satisfying, and they allowed me to relax in their world. I’m also at that point to where I’ve seen modern games handle RPG elements better than modern RPGs can. I like the plot in Dead Space more than I do the plot in the Tales series. I like Suikoden 2 more than I do Octopath Traveler. I’m at that point where Dark Souls is my preferred choice over the latest Star Ocean game. I’d rather play the classic JRPGs. I think a lot of it is immersion. You can be more immersed in modern games just because they don’t have to be turn based. Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics haven’t exactly been outdone. I don’t think Square has done a better 2D JRPG than Chrono Trigger. I don’t exactly want them to try either. It stands as a staple in the genre. It also shows that they can’t outdo some of their past works.
 
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Ten_Fold

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The characters and gameplay for me. The story is whatever since they usually all have a pretty decent one (expect KH). If I like the main characters design and the gameplay I’ll probably pick up the rpg.
 

Siri

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In an RPG without level-scaling it’s the sensation of euphoria you feel when, finally, after hours and hours of levelling up, you return to an NPC who demolished you earlier, and now it’s your turn to demolish the NPC. This sensation is enhanced if, along the way, you’ve learned new skills, and those skills (which you didn’t have earlier) are now used to take down the NPC.

There’s a certain rpg out there (which I won’t name, but is beloved by many) in which this sensation is highly diminished because the character you play as doesn’t really feel all that much different at the end of the game. I like to feel a major difference in my character at the end of an RPG.

A really great RPG will also have greater challenges as the game progresses. Deus Ex has been a good example of this.
 

xpresstuning

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Role playing video games are also my favorite genre, alongside first person shooters and strategy games. As for what makes them great, well that depends on so many things that i can't even begin to imagine writing down because it would consume a couple of hours of time better spent furthering that time into Persona 4 Golden, which i am currently chiseling away at each weekend. So i'll keep it short.

First and foremost, regardless whether the story is paper thin or extremely heavy, it needs to be there and it needs to be well written. I'm playing a role in a fictional universe. I'll need an obvious reason for existence, and meaning in that world.

Secondly, it depends on the sub-genre, fundamentally. Depending on the sub-genre, there are design elements of which quality are going to be vital for me to enjoy the game and think of it as great. For example, if it's a dungeon crawler then the game needs good loot management, good dungeon design, good combat to stimulate and keep me invested.
 
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Fbh

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It's different for each type RPG.

But for the more traditional ones the 2 most important things to me are story and pacing:

A good and engaging story with likeable characters and some good worldbuilding can easily make me overlook average gameplay.
-A good example of this is the Witcher 3. A game with average combat and somewhat repetitive mission structure but which I absolutely adored because of its world, story and characters. The fact the vast majority of sidequests had fun and unique stories to tell kept me engaged for 150+ hours like very few games before it.
-A bad example of this is FFXV, a game with a very underdeveloped and unfinished feeling plot where most of the interesting stuff happens off screen, characters are one dimensional to a fault and you are expected to buy a movie and 2 seasons passes to fill in important gaps in the story. And side missions which mostly come down to "find or kill this for me...because sidequest!!!"

At the same time I also think pacing is really important and something a lot of RPG's struggle with, I'd rather play a well paced 25 hours long RPG than a really slow paced and filler heavy 80 hours+ one. Sadly there's always this expectation that RPG's should be long and content packed which IMO often results in games being stretched thin for the sake of meeting those expectations.
-A good example of this is Chrono Trigger: You can beat it in under 30 hours and it results in a really nice and enjoyable pacing where no area drags on for too long, the combat remains fun and engaging all the way through without getting repetitive and you always feels like the next big story development is just around the corner.
- A bad example of this is Persona 5. A game with a fun plot, enjoyable characters and great combat which was held back from turning into an all times classic (at least to me) due to a horribly slow pacing with countless scenes of characters talking in circles, hours and hours of filler in between actual story developments and dungeons which eventually just turn into endless repetitive corridors or bad puzzles. I still enjoyed it but I thought it was an amazing 60 hours games that was unnecessarily stretched to be 100 hours.
 
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May 23, 2019
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In an RPG without level-scaling it’s the sensation of euphoria you feel when, finally, after hours and hours of levelling up, you return to an NPC who demolished you earlier, and now it’s your turn to demolish the NPC. This sensation is enhanced if, along the way, you’ve learned new skills, and those skills (which you didn’t have earlier) are now used to take down the NPC.

There’s a certain rpg out there (which I won’t name, but is beloved by many) in which this sensation is highly diminished because the character you play as doesn’t really feel all that much different at the end of the game. I like to feel a major difference in my character at the end of an RPG.

A really great RPG will also have greater challenges as the game progresses. Deus Ex has been a good example of this.
Name the rpg, no hate here. Is it Witcher 3? Cuz I can kind of agree with you there
 
May 23, 2019
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It's different for each type RPG.

But for the more traditional ones the 2 most important things to me are story and pacing:

A good and engaging story with likeable characters and some good worldbuilding can easily make me overlook average gameplay.
-A good example of this is the Witcher 3. A game with average combat and somewhat repetitive mission structure but which I absolutely adored because of its world, story and characters. The fact the vast majority of sidequests had fun and unique stories to tell kept me engaged for 150+ hours like very few games before it.
-A bad example of this is FFXV, a game with a very underdeveloped and unfinished feeling plot where most of the interesting stuff happens off screen, characters are one dimensional to a fault and you are expected to buy a movie and 2 seasons passes to fill in important gaps in the story. And side missions which mostly come down to "find or kill this for me...because sidequest!!!"

At the same time I also think pacing is really important and something a lot of RPG's struggle with, I'd rather play a well paced 25 hours long RPG than a really slow paced and filler heavy 80 hours+ one. Sadly there's always this expectation that RPG's should be long and content packed which IMO often results in games being stretched thin for the sake of meeting those expectations.
-A good example of this is Chrono Trigger: You can beat it in under 30 hours and it results in a really nice and enjoyable pacing where no area drags on for too long, the combat remains fun and engaging all the way through without getting repetitive and you always feels like the next big story development is just around the corner.
- A bad example of this is Persona 5. A game with a fun plot, enjoyable characters and great combat which was held back from turning into an all times classic (at least to me) due to a horribly slow pacing with countless scenes of characters talking in circles, hours and hours of filler in between actual story developments and dungeons which eventually just turn into endless repetitive corridors or bad puzzles. I still enjoyed it but I thought it was an amazing 60 hours games that was unnecessarily stretched to be 100 hours.
Man I couldn’t stand ffxv. I wanted to love it but it felt like such a chore playing it.
 

Tschumi

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This is a tough ask but... it has to redefine RPGs and thereby redefine your level of immersion. It needs to have something that none of its peers or predecessors had, which heightens your ability to believe it and put time into it. Diablo 1 had visuals and atmosphere, sound. Morrowind had world and art, a sense of the epic. Witcher 3 just took all of those things to the nth degree and added in 'hollywood game' sensibilities. Those are my most memorable RPGs, and these are the reasons.
 

Rentahamster

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It's great because all the characteristics of an RPG are done well. i.e. The story is engaging, the characters are interesting, the character progression is interesting, the combat is fun, the graphics and art style are visually interesting and aesthetically beautiful, the music is inspiring and beautiful and sticks in your brain for decades.

If these qualities are of high enough quality, then playing the game triggers a much more positive emotional response in your brain, which cements it more heavily in your long term memory, which makes it memorable. Especially if you're still young.
 
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Humdinger

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  • A good, interesting main character, preferably with an interesting backstory (although a blank slate like in Elder Scrolls can work, too)
  • An enjoyably immersive environment. I'm not sure how to specify "enjoyably immersive," but it's a key. It's probably subjective. I prefer beautiful, natural, outdoor environments. They don't have to be realistic, necessarily -- it's okay if they are fantasy worlds. On the other hand, I find it hard to get enjoyably immersed in RPG worlds that are urban and artificial (this is why Cyberpunk isn't doing much for me).
  • It has to have a good upgrade system. That means meaningful upgrades, not just +5 this or that.
  • A sense of exploration and discovery. When I was a kid and my family was taking vacations, I remember looking out the window at the mountains and hills and wondering what was over that ridge. That's the feeling I'm talking about -- that sense of an adventure calling you, and the sense of wonder and discovery in that.
I could go on (good combat, etc.), but those are the main things.
 

iorek21

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You know, the game's quality is probably the most important aspect for making it memorable, but I also like to consider the moment in my life in which I'm playing it.

For example, 2009 was a kind of troublesome year for me, personally, so it's no surprise that some games released at that time are held dear in my heart.

Although The Last Remnant wasn't released in 2009, I played it in that year, and it's one of my favorite RPGs of all time, even if it's a very flawed game.

So I guess quality counts, yeah, but the context in which you play it can make a huge difference