In my opinion it’s really hard to argue with the RPG as one of the absolute best genres of games out there. Whether tabletop RPG or as a video game genre there is a whole lot to love about what these games bring to the table.
But as much as I love the classics like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6, all the awesome Legend of Zeldas, sometimes you want something just a little different. I’d say you can only sink so many hours into Skyrim…but we all know that’s a lie.
Nevertheless, sometimes we just want a different gaming experience.
The good news is there are some incredibly innovative takes on the RPG genre in video games out there. While I’m not sure how to classify this special “sub-genre” of RPG video games, so I’ll call them Oddball RPGs. Those games that clearly take after this genre but offer you a truly different and unique experience.
Unique RPG Video Games That Are Amazing
This list blends a bit of everything that is to be found in the weird, wacky, and unusual video game RPG world. We have a Western (eat your heart out, Red Dead Redemption), a gritty film noir style RPG, an homage to H.P. Lovecraft, rage at the office worker drone corporate life, and South Park?
Yup, among others. That’s just a start to the many really unique and different takes on the RPG genre.
West of Loathing
This was an absolutely delightful game that I adore. It’s funny, it’s surprisingly clever, it has a very odd stick figure art style and it absolutely fits into the RPG mold. Except a black and white basic art stick figure RPG set in the Wild West as opposed to dragons and fantasy adventure.
The graphics are hilariously simple, yet once in a while you catch some really great detail or style work within the style.
Choosing from classes like “Cow Puncher,” “Bean Slinger,” and “Snake Oiler,” the right tone is set right off the bat as you set off in this weird Wild West world that is under assault from demonic cows, among many other things. The humor is amazing and surprisingly clever in some places.
The leveling system is well thought out (just for the love of God don’t forget to spend your points if you put that on manual), you can customize your character, find various sidekicks each with their own skills, and go through this weird, weird world having a blast along the way.
Creepy clowns, terrible ghosts, dancing skeletons, and hidden jokes and humor (LOVE the “Dave Cemetery”) only scratch the surface of what is possible here.
This was one of the early games I streamed on Twitch and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Cow Puncher Sally McWhisky with the drunk Doc Alice and strange “something’s not quite right with him” horse named William DeFoe, we have caused plenty of problems in the town of Loathing as well as the surrounding territories.
This is one of those rare games on Steam that is ranked as “Overwhelmingly Positive” with a huge number of reviews.
The writing is absolutely fantastic, the humor rotates between dark, sarcastic, witty, and incredibly clever, with great subtle gags worked in throughout in the background. The kind of combination that made The Simpsons amazing during its Golden Years.
The game isn’t soul-crushingly hard but it is a challenge and when you unlock a new area or have the wrong sidekick for dealing with a boss…you take a beating. There’s enough challenge to keep it fun without too much of a grind that many RPGs fall into the trap of at one point or another.
A thoroughly delightful game with multiple choices that matter and a really great gaming experience.
You can check out my early stream on Twitch, but after that Twitch I just kept going and never stopped playing! An absolute gem of an RPG that just happens to be goofy, oddball, and awesome.
Pro Tip: Crazy Walk Mode is an option in settings. TURN IT ON!!! Once I found that and my heavily stat boosted Rastafarian hat there was never going to be another way for me to play this fine game.
Actually now that I remember just how much I loved going through this crazy strange RPG the first time – I think I’m going to fire up another run through!
I wonder how the Snake Oiler plays compared to the Cow Puncher?
Yeah, this is definitely an RPG although it’s definitely not what you think of when it comes to RPGs. Many other genres of game have realized that the general RPG style works really well for other settings, and Disco Elysium took the gaming world by storm by applying a dark, dark modern film noir setting with great writing and RPG elements.
While this is a very, VERY long way from the fantasy RPGs many of us know and love, Disco Elysium does an incredible job of making your moral decisions matter. Of creating a story that doesn’t have an obvious white knight paladin route. And above all, of telling a truly incredible story that is engaging, morally challenging, and truly thought-provoking in a way very few games remotely try to be – and even fewer achieve.
All this comes together to make for a very satisfying game experience that keeps you thinking about it long after you’ve finished.
Also too often a rarity in video games today.
Widely considered to not only be the best RPG of 2019, but one of the best and original in many years, this detective story allows you to be imperfect, awful, or just doing the best you can when there aren’t always clear good decisions to be made.
You are…well actually in the introduction you don’t know. You don’t know where you are. Or who you are. And if you think this amnesia play is overplayed, not the way they introduce it and then throw you into the mix.
Depending on how you stumble through the intro, possibly literally, you realize your are a detective who has definitely seen better days. But you are stuck playing the part of a detective during a crucial murder mystery where the players around you know who you are. But you need to discover that while doing your best to solve the case.
This is a truly incredible game and one that really plays up the Noir aspect.
BE WARNED: When this game hits you, it hits you hard. If you have a rough time with down tone games or you need something cheerful right now, then save this one for later.
I’m going to let the book lover/English professor in me leak out in this description.
This is an extremely powerful game, and in my opinion it not only counts as an oddball or different RPG, but it does things for detective games, noir games, and RPGs that game developers are going to be thinking about and borrowing from for many years to come.
If you really need a change of pace from conventional shooters or RPGs, and you don’t mind diving down the deep rabbit hole, give this one a fair shake.
Every decision matters, how you play affects the world, and it is a truly unique RPG game in 1970s noir style that delivers a gaming experience that you won’t forget.
It starts a touch slow, but once you’re sucked in this is a story you will not quickly get away from.
Suits: A Business RPG
I’m not sure how this game flew underneath my radar for so long. Especially considering I read Jennifer Government all the way back in 2003 and have had my unfortunate fair share of soul-sucking cubicle jobs.
So many stupid white collar cubicle jobs.
Suits has a very simple childish drawn design that definitely sticks out and forces them to deliver on story, which is something that Suits does a good job with. While I’m a fan of the simplistic in many other games, Suits admittedly doesn’t do this as well as others. It’s not a detriment, but they don’t put their own spin on it in a way that makes it special.
It works to give that feeling of dread and monotonous exasperation where nothing is great. Or good. Or even “nice touch.” Just dystopian future corporate RPG. The theme works, though at a cost when it comes to graphics.
That being said, you get that feeling of the old Newgrounds Era gems you’d find while trying to whittle away long hours at a soul-crushing office job where you were another nameless cog in the machine that didn’t even always seem to know it was running – and in that respect the game really lives up to its name and theme.
The beginning does a nice, if maybe overly direct, job of setting the dystopian feel. Making you nothing but another cog, in a place spending minimal effort for all the disposables. Your first battle is with a stapler that refuses to work, and your first new item to go with your cheap suit and brief case is a paper hat.
And from there the “adventure” continues….
A very different gaming experience that gets very positive reviews for good reason (give the game an hour – despite the choice in graphics and slight early jankiness it will grow on you), and the sequel is even better.
Among the games on this list, this is one of the most likely that you have run into, or heard other gamers, talk about. This is more conventional in the sense that it is clearly a fantastic world with very RPG elements in a very old school early gamer bit graphic style. That is then the ONLY part of Undertale that you would call conventional.
You are a human child in a world of monsters where the cutest ones can be the biggest bad guys and you are often put into conflict. Fight back…and bad endings can happen. The biggest goal with Undertale is to make the fully Pacifist run that sees you make the underworld of these monsters a better place and even helps to redeem the angriest and saddest of the residents.
And it is not easy. Not at all.
Especially because of this jerk:
Undertale is an incredibly interesting RPG because it takes away something that is synonymous with most RPG systems: rewards for combat. The ultimate goal with exploring this underworld land of monsters is to resolve as many conflicts as possible without violence and to dodge, weave, and survive long enough for other things to happen.
In fact, the perfect game for Undertale is one where you complete a perfect Pacifist run-through, getting everyone over to your side through the power of love, care, and friendship.
Even when dealing with this guy:
You won’t find another game like this one. Even years after release (And some very well-deserved game of the year rewards) it stands out as a truly unique game and experience.
While it didn’t quite hit the mark for me and what I enjoy, I can’t deny that it was a really cool, different experience that was well executed and many of my gaming friends absolutely raved about it.
Braden did a great Pacifist run-through of this unique and challenging RPG on Twitch, all three parts of which can be found here:
- Part 1 of Undertale Pacifist Run-Through
- Part 2 of Undertale Pacifist Run-Through
- Part 3 of Undertale Pacifist Run-Through
South Park: Stick of Truth
I mean, they don’t hide the fact they went RPG in the town of South Park for this game that is super crass, hilarious, wonderful, and awful all in one mix. Which is pretty much what you demand out of a South Park experience.
So dealing with the elephant in the room: this game isn’t going to be for everyone. It very, very much won’t be for everyone. If you have any reservations about South Park at all, go ahead and skip. On the other hand if this sounds like one of the best things ever, then it is a lot of fun as a very off the wall RPG in the way that only South Park can do it.
Your choices of starting class among the trouble makers of the town of South Park are: Fighter, Mage, Thief, and of course, Jew.
You really couldn’t possibly have thought South Park would wait that long to get into the offensive humor. Needless to say, Cartman has a lot to say about that particular class.
From there the game does a surprisingly good job of recognizing how RPG video games work, spoofing them effectively, all while including a combat system that is familiar and does work quite well. In all fairness, there are a couple glaring weaknesses with this system. Especially if you aren’t prepared when the hard level up in difficulty happens.
Those are legitimate gripes to a game that is really interesting, blending traditional RPG mechanics and quests with fun South Park insanity all into one crazy burst of awesomeness. But the gripes – they can be game breaking if you’re really unlucky. And no one likes dumping 20 hours of gameplay to start over.
That said, please don’t let that scare you off if this is the type of game you believe that you’ll enjoy. With South Park the good news is you should already know whether you love it or not.
Advice from over 70 hours of game play: As much as I hate guides, you NEED to be very carefully about how you craft and boost your weapons, especially in regards to the type of status affects they can create. This is especially true of (MILD SPOILERS) the fight with former Vice President Al Gore.
This game in some ways is a conventional RPG but the South Park spin on it is so odd and unique that it’s hard not to include it on this list. It’s gross, it’s over the top, it’s full of foul language, and all in all it does an incredible job of creating a worthy RPG in the South Park world.
Stygian: Reign of the Old Ones
This is not going to be for everyone, but for tabletop RPG players who love the story, love the worlds of H.P. Lovecraft and are fans of Cthulhu settings,
One of the things that jumps out is how seriously this game takes roleplaying. Sanity is a CRUCIAL mechanic and it is directly tied to how you play your character. If you chose to be “humanist” in the beginning but then start swindling people, you will lose sanity as you act out of sorts with what you said your character was.
Which surely must be signs of insanity, right?
On the other hand, if you roleplay hard into whatever you choose (swindling because you’re materialistic, non-caring because you’re nihilistic, kind because you still hold out hope) then you GAIN sanity.
That is a freaking cool mechanic.
This game won’t be for everyone for a couple of main reasons:
- This is very much like a really old school PC RPG with a lot of story and point, click, and then make a decision based on the interaction
- It is dark and set in a Lovecraftian universe – and fully lives up to that setting
If those sound like positives instead of negatives…well good news!
You’ll probably like this game. While I have to be in the mood to dive into it, Stygian offers a nice balance of mystery, story, and enough choices that really matter to keep the replay value at a solid level. The graphics and sound work together well. The tone is moody, a touch frightening, and this is a clear RPG with a strange setting and old school direction that’s a far cry from what we’re used to seeing now.
This feels like a truly classic game despite being a relatively new RPG and captures a Call of Cthulhu taken to the next level feel, which is a pretty extraordinary combination.
Definitely for Lovecraft fans, old school RPG fans, and anyone looking for a slightly different RPG experience. Try not to get sacrificed!
Well we started down the route of dark, gothic, Lovecraftian RPGs so why not end on that same note? Admittedly I’m a bit late to the game with Sunless Sea, which has had a strong cult following for quite some time now. Yet this unique brooding game on the oceans during eternal night still has not become widespread among general gamers, casual gamers, or even RPG gamers.
And that really is a shame. Especially with an opening screen like this to set the tone.
This is a game set in an underworld underneath the surface of Earth. The two sections are aware of each other and may even have limited relationships, but you are a captain in this mysterious and dangerous world below the surface where there are terrors in abundance. Create your backstory, choose your win conditions, and prepare for a journey.
Exploring is a huge part of this game and one thing I love is that the map is “re-rolled” each time. Some locations will normally be in a general area of the map, but that isn’t a guarantee. And that means each game gives that bit of trepidation or terror looking for a location you don’t know about, no matter how many times you’ve played. Because what if fuel is getting low and you don’t know if it’s there?
Good stuff, and great unique RPG game that deserves its cult following.
Now to be fair, there are some justified criticisms leveled at Sunless Sea. From grammar in parts of the text to unintuitive layouts that sometimes make it really confusing to figure out something that should more or less be relatively simple. But if you are willing to learn, what comes up is a game that gives those Lovecraft vibes while delivering a very unique story and gaming experience that many gamers will absolutely adore.
What’s Your Favorite Off the Wall RPG?
Not every RPG is in the same mold. Personally I love RPGs. They are pretty much my favorite genre of game, or else tied with Stardew Valley, Graveyard Keeper, and My Time at Portia style Farming/Life sims. I think these games are incredible. Most are high fantasy and I love this genre in books, tv/movies (good not crappy ones), and video games.
But only paying attention to fantasy adventure RPGs means you’re going to miss out on some truly amazing video games that are out there.
There is nothing wrong with a great high fantasy RPG. Despite there being many dozens of incredible fantasy RPGs, there are many non-traditional ones that offer a great gaming experience and as a gamer who has always loved this genre – I just want to play them all!
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- Deadly Days Video Game Review
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- My Time at Portia Beginner Tips
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.