Atari has had an impact on the history of video games. For one, it served as a proof of concept — a way of showing the world how fun the latest tech could be. Beyond this, Atari showed other tech companies that the demand for video games was growing. No other genre proved this better than the RPG. The Atari had some of the earliest video game RPGs ever made. What’s more, the Atari also had some of the very best video game RPGs. But what are the best Atari RPGs of all time?
Let’s stroll back in history and identify the top contenders for the best Atari RPGs. From the kind of fantasy RPGs that popularized the game type to new and inventive takes on the classic genre, the Atari allowed the RPG genre to thrive in tabletop or role-playing formats. With this in mind, let’s rank the absolute best Atari RPGs of all time.
What Are RPGs?
RPGs, of role-playing games, have the unique advantage of existing long before video game consoles came into existence. Unlike, say, a first person shooter or a sandbox game, role-playing games originated as a TRPG (or tabletop role-playing game). These tabletop RPGs took place not with controllers and televisions but with real-world discussions among players seated around one another. Dungeons & Dragons is undoubtedly the most famous example of a TRPG. This iconic fantasy TRPG deserves praise for popularizing the game type.
LARP, or live action role playing, also played a part in the origins of the RPG video game genre. Tasking players with physically acting out their characters’ actions, the eventual advent of RPG video games would translate this physical performance into commands on a controller. While TRPGs and LARPing remain popular today, there’s no doubt that video game RPGs have taken on a life of their own. It all began with the Atari, with some of the earliest RPGs finding their start on the console.
Video game consoles and desktop computers effectively transformed the RPG genre for good. By allowing players to immerse themselves in a virtual world fully, it suddenly became much easier to take on the role of the main character truly. This became more true when video game consoles fully embraced 3D graphics in the late 1990s. With this move, video game RPGs truly came into their own. Concurrently, with the advancement of the internet, RPGs could return to their multiplayer roots with MMORPGs: massively multiplayer online role playing games.
A Brief History of Atari
The importance of Atari to the success of the video game industry cannot be overstated. First founded in June of 1972, Atari would lay the groundwork for the entire electronic entertainment industry throughout the 1970s and into the ’80s and ’90s. Before that could happen, Atari had first put out a video game console. Thus, the Atari Video Computer System was born. Designed to bring all four pre-existing Atari games from the arcade to the home, the VCS came with the console itself, a pair of joysticks, two paddles, and games.
The success of the VCS was so great that Atari sold the company to Warner Communications just four years later for around $30 million. Concurrently, the home computer market was blossoming. Under new management, Atari expanded its efforts. They new owners worked to tackle both the video game console and the home computer markets at once. Ultimately, their success was twofold. By the ’80s, Atari had a hold on the home computer market with the Atari 800 and the console market with the Atari 5200.
Millions of Atari home computers and consoles were sold, making Warner Communications one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative entertainment companies of the early 1980s. Of course, as we know, it all came to a screeching halt with the video game crash of 1983. Atari would not recover until the company was sold and restructured. The release of the Atari ST in 1985 revitalized the company, and the release of the Atari 2600jr and the Atari 7800 further boosted their rebounding success. 1989 saw the handheld Atari Lynx, while 1993 saw the unsuccessful Jaguar.
The Best Atari RPGs
The failure of the handheld Lynx and the new Jaguar console badly hurt Atari in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It resulted in them exiting the console market altogether. However, the company’s success in the ’70s and early to mid-’80s is too great to be ignored. As we discussed above, part of this success is due to the popularity of Atari RPGs. Below, we’ve assembled the best Atari RPGs that money could buy.
7. Wizard’s Crown (1986)
|Available Platforms||Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, PC|
One of the most intense and exciting RPGs in the genre’s early years, Wizard’s Crown was truly remarkable for its time. The game’s goal is simple: recover a magical crown from a wizard named Tarmon, who locked himself away in his lab more than 500 years earlier. To do so, players must strategically utilize the game’s detailed system of tactical combat moves. It’s the true epitome of what the RPG genre was capable of at the time, and it’s no surprise it sold so well for Atari. The game was exciting, had great graphics, and was a real blast.
Legend of Faerghail (1990)
|Available Platforms||Atari ST, PC|
|Developer||Electronic Design Hannover|
Given the RPG genre’s origins in tabletop form — namely Dungeons & Dragons — it’s not surprising that so many Atari RPGs fell under the umbrella of fantasy. That’s not to suggest that they were all derivative, however. Look at Legend of Faerghail: One of the best Atari RPGs for its clever spin on the fantasy role-playing genre. Set in a fantastical medieval world, the game allows players to customize their characters like a few other games. Combine this with the many attributes and skills for players to learn, Legend of Faerghail earns its place here on this list.
|Available Platforms||Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, PC|
Ever heard of an RPG about futuristic vehicles? Right out of the gate, Autoduel made waves for its unique subject matter. Set in 2030, Autoduel imagines a world where vehicles are forms of protection and defense against ruthless criminals on the road. Regarded as one of the toughest RPGs of the time, Autoduel allows players to distribute points between driving, marksmanship, and mechanical skills. The game was very open-ended, allowing players to complete missions, customize cars, travel between cities, and more. All in all, Autoduel still manages to stand out decades later.
|Available Platforms||Atari 2600|
Dragonstomper isn’t just one of the best Atari RPGs of all time — It’s also one of the very first. Following the life and times of a dragon hunter on a quest to slay a dragon and recover a stolen magical amulet in the process, this staple of the Atari 2600 gave players all kinds of customizable options to tinker with on their virtual quests. It helped set the stage for countless other RPGs that followed, not to mention that it set the bar quite high in the process.
|Available Platforms||Atari ST, SNES, PC|
While some might remember Drakkhen as a game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the truth is that the game actually originated for the Atari and was later ported to the SNES at launch. One of the very first RPGs to introduce 3D graphics and utilize real-time strategy tactics, Drakkhen was truly one of a kind. Complete with an open-world feel as well as day and night mechanics, it stood apart from other Atari RPGs at the time for its sheer number of advancements. No wonder it was appropriate to port to the SNES: It was truly ahead of its time.
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1986)
|Available Platforms||Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, NES, PC|
While it’s the fourth entry in the long-running Ultima series, Quest of the Avatar was so much more advanced and intricate than its predecessors that it practically served as a new beginning for the franchise. Getting away from its hack-and-slash origins, Ultima embraced an RPG format for this fourth entry (and is all the better for doing so). A bigger map, more challenging gameplay, an unprecedented amount of customizations and interactivities between characters… Ultima IV stands apart from many other Atari RPGs even still to this day.
Dungeon Master (1987)
|Available Platforms||Atari ST, SNES, PC|
Not to be confused with the person tasked with running a Dungeons & Dragons game, Dungeon Master is undoubtedly the best of the Atari RPGs. Unlike other RPGs then, Dungeon Master made good use of unrivaled real-time combat elements taking place through a 3D first-person perspective. There was nothing that looked or felt like Dungeon Master before its release. Likewise, countless Atari RPGs tried to replicate it following its release. Not only was it the Atari ST’s best-selling game, but it’s also the best of all the Atari RPGs.