Steampunk, a genre quickly surpassed by its sibling genre, cyberpunk, is an undeniably fantastic setting for game worlds, somehow attracting more game developers into its ranks than it does any other form of art. While the majority of steampunk games seem to be in the stealth genre, stemming from the early Thief games, RPGs seem to be a close second in terms of visual style.
Something about the retrofuturistic grit and grime makes the perfect art direction for studios who want a departure from more common motifs, often paired with fantasy imagery for optimal conceptual contrast. Games like Final Fantasy took this idea in strides, and more or less single-handedly popularized that specific visual genre for generations to come, alongside the aforementioned Thief franchise. For those looking to explore the rusty browns of the genre’s undeniable highlights, these might be the best places to start.
10 Steamworld Quest
The most recent in the SteamWorld series, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is a different spin on the studio’s former efforts, adding an element of fantasy (a common recurrence between steampunk games). Instead of adapting the series to a straight-forward RPG, however, the SteamWorld devs implement a deck-building mechanic to keep the formula fresh. The unique spin on the genre is especially effective when paired with the game’s beautiful hand-drawn assets and vibrant world-building.
9 Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magick Obscura
Activision’s response to the popularity of early adaptations of tabletop RPGs to the virtual gamespace, Arcanum is a weird mash-up of D&D and Shadowrun. The game prides itself in being so free a world that an adventurer “might just as easily wield a flintlock pistol as a flaming sword.”
Regardless of its vaguely contrived advertising, Arcanum is actually an interesting CRPG, providing quite a large world and some great character-building mechanics, using basic stat chains instead of classes and providing some interesting opportunities for roleplaying.
8 They Are Billions
They Are Billions brings zombies to the steampunk crowd, literally unleashing billions of undead upon the last remaining human civilizations. Players take over here, gaining access to the post-apocalypse’s most advanced technology in order to build and protect their cities from the outside threat. Though maybe falling short of some of its contemporaries, They Are Billions is an undeniably addicting and time-consuming RTS worthy of genre fans’ time.
7 Torchlight II
In the vein of classic RPGs, Torchlight aims to pick up where Diablo left off with yet another fusion of fantasy and tech (an undying trend at this point). The games have received quite a bit of critical praise, improving on fans’ wants and needs from the formula, and adding some of the best multiplayer mechanics in the genre. Torchlight’s fun visual style and addicting gameplay makes it one of the better entries for those looking for something to pick up with their friends, and the second game is perhaps the best example in the series for those purposes.
An obvious child of Bioshock’s immense influence on the industry, Vaporum implements the first-person oceanic escapades into a grid-based dungeon crawler.
Though the game’s inspiration is dangerously implemented, down to the intro sequence and main plotline, Vaporum pulls it all off surprisingly well, and begins to forge a reputation of its own. Grid-based dungeon crawlers may be a relatively outdated system that looks unappealing to new generations, but the format does itself a lot of favors here. While not mind-blowing, it’s a must-try for anyone looking to get back to the old-school roots of first-person RPGs.
5 Skies Of Arcadia
Though it’s more or less been locked in time on the Dreamcast and Gamecube consoles, Skies of Arcadia is now a retro favorite among RPG fanatics. The game follows a group of sky pirates as they attempt to prevent an evil empire from unearthing a devastating ancient weapon. The game’s visuals were typically vivid for the generation, and its characters and systems would undoubtedly be in the ranks of fan-favorite RPGs, if not for having been left behind by its studio.
Kenshi is an interesting MMO. For one, it’s undeniably ugly, even so far as to be mistaken for a shovelware indie title by uncaring audiences. What players find upon beginning their journey, however, is much more unexpected. Kenshi is strange even in concept, it’s a mix of Eastern motifs with a subtle steampunk overlay and a surreal fantasy twist. Players take on the typical survival world but choose who they want to be in that context — a trader, a thief, an explorer, a warrior, or just another meal for uncaring cannibals.
3 Steambot Chronicles
Another RPG franchise lost in a former generation, Steambot Chronicles AKA Bumpy Trot was an action RPG for the PS2 that took a surprisingly western turn on its steampunk visuals. The games are more sandbox-style mech pilot sims, in which the player takes control of a young boy whose character is influenced by player choices throughout the campaign, much like Fable before it.
The majority of gameplay surrounds the creation and customization of mechs, with a secondary emphasis on music, as the playable character is a solo musician in his free time, which becomes more prevalent throughout the game.
2 Resonance Of Fate
Resonance of Fate can only really be described as a visual combo of Final Fantasy and Dark Souls, with the bonus addition of what the devs call “symphonic gunplay.” The game hardly got the reception it deserved in the west, and has become something of a hidden gem. The game’s story is set in the distant future on a ruined planet in which the players must constitute blazing gun battles with their foes in an effort to change the fate of the world.
1 Final Fantasy VI
Aside from the game-breaking popularity of Final Fantasy 7-10, the sixth entry in the franchise remains somewhat underappreciated in terms of modern crowds who might see the game as dated relative to Square Enix’s contemporary efforts.
FFVI, however, remains one of the best in the series, with a deeply interpersonal storyline and humongous scale. This was also the first title to dive headfirst into the steampunk aesthetic, taking a lot more visual influence from the movement than the previous entries’ mere flirtations with it.