Before we get deluged with hate mail from fans of Runescape, Dragons Age Origins and World of Warcraft, we ought to point out that this is a list of casual RPGs, not multi-million-dollar budget console or PC games or MMORPGs. All the games on our list can be played in your browser for free. None of then require you to sign-up. Nor should any of them take much more than a few hours to complete.
If you are into RPGs with huge persistent worlds, state-of-the-art 3D graphics and months of game-play, then our list might not be for you. On the other hand, if you like your games to be short and sweet, to feature innovative game-play mechanics and above all to be fun, then you are in for a treat. These are what we consider to be the ten best casual RPGs to have been released this year. Fill your boots.
1 Epic Battle Fantasy 3
If we ordered this list by the sheer size of a game, then there would have been absolutely no doubt that Epic Battle Fantasy 3 - a turn-based RPG with a tongue-in-cheek humour - would have come out on top. After all, the game boasts more than 70 varieties of monsters for you to fight, no less than 80 types of equipment for you to find and use, and that's before we even get to the 80-plus skills and spells at your disposal. This game really does deserve to have 'epic' in its title.
But of course size is just one of many things we consider when rating a game. There's also graphics, game-play, innovation, the quality of story-line... and so on. Epic Battle Fantasy 3 performs brilliantly in these areas too, although the somewhat childish humour might not be to everyone's taste. You take charge of three young heroes out to defeat an evil demon that they foolishly woke up. During your quest, you will explore a Zelda-style world, buying and selling gear, gleaning useful information from friendly NPCs and - of course - battling a huge number of nasty critters. You can play Epic Battle Fantasy 3 here.
Robinson Crusoe didn't know how lucky he was. The deserted island he washed up on was a veritable paradise compared with the god-forsaken tropical atoll you start this game on. Robinson may have had to cope with a lonely existence but at least he was not inundated with waves of monsters bent on devouring him. That's the situation you find yourself in Castaway, a slick isometric RPG game by Likwid Games.
Still, things could be worse. Soon after you start the game, a little green blob flops down beside you and demands to become your pet. Even if it was possible to refuse this unusual offer, you would do well to accept it, because your pet will prove a vital ally in the challenges that lie ahead. Castaway is a slick RPG games with beautiful graphics, a captivating storyline and some neat ideas (the pets being just one example). It is let down just a tad by a weak ending but nevertheless should not be missed by anyone who enjoys a good RPG grind. Play Castaway here.
I know they are ugly and revolting and are only here because an explosion at an ice cream factory messed up their DNA but I can't help but feel a smidgen of pity for the mutated bugs in this game. Ostensibly, Toxers - a quirky RPG dreamed up jointly by Bad Viking and robotJAM - is about a group of human survivors desperately seeking to escape a city that has been beset by dirty bug-like creatures.
But probe beneath the carapace of the game, and a wholly different story emerges, a tale of an oppressed species of bug - spearheaded by a heroic leader - striving to establish a home for themselves amidst a tribe of hostile, murderous humans. Well, that is how I saw it, anyway. Those of you who did not bud off the great Bugzilla will probably see it differently. Either way, this is an entertaining, innovative and surprisingly long (for a casual game, anyway) jaunt through RPG land. Play Toxers here.
4 Mardek RPG
If you have not yet come across the Mardek series of RPG games, then you are in for a treat. Inspired by the 8-bit classics of the past - think the Final Fantasy games before they became big, bloated and mindless - the Mardek games have proved to be among the most popular causal RPGs available on the web. You can play the first two games in the series here and here. Once you have finished them, don't forget to come back here and play the third chapter. Else you might miss out on a brilliant story-driven RPG offering hours and hours of entertainment. Play Mardek RPG here.
5 Monster Slayers
Kudos to the developers of Monster Slayers for making an RPG strategy game that is an absolute doddle to play. There are no impenetrable menu trees of options to search through, there are no keyboard shortcuts to learn. The game is so simple you don't even need to read the instructions. Simply tell your squad of soldiers to do one of fours things: fall back, defend, attack or fast forward. That's it. We love games that make gaming accessible to everyone, and Monster Slayers does a great job of that. You can play the game here.
6 The Enchanted Cave
What makes a good game? Some will say brilliant graphics. Others will point to a captivating storyline. Others still may cite innovative game play. The Enchanted Cave - a dungeon crawler inspired by the legendary classic NetHack - does not score particularly well in any of these areas. And yet it is undoubtably a good game. It has that ineffable quality - possessed only by a few games - that allows it draw you in without you noticing. You know the kind of game we are talking about. You start playing the game in the early evening and the next thing you know it is five in the morning and you've got to go to work in a couple of hours. If you're worried about your career or need a good night's sleep, stay away from this game. Others can play it here.
One can't help but admire Grapefrukt for their chutzpah. The Swedish game studio has take one of the most complicated game genres - RPG - and in a stroke reduced it to the complexity of a child's toy. The company's new game Glorg is arguably the easiest to play RPG ever made, requiring the use of just one button. The simple control mechanism might limit the game-play compared with fully-fledged RPGS but Glorg still manages to be an intriguing and addictive game. And one that anyone with a finger or more can play. You can get your fix of Glorg here.
Ge.ne.sis is a solid RPG that clearly takes its inspiration from the Japanese RPG tradition (think strangely-garbed androgynous people battling their way through a linear storyline) rather than the Western RPG (elves, goblins, never-ending dungeon crawls, tons of loot). So if you like JRPGs, you will probably have a lot of fun with this game. Certainly, the storyline is pretty solid, the graphics are colourful and appealing and the battles are suitably tactical and intricate. Fans of Western RPGs however will probably want to stay away. Play Ge.ne.sis here.
9 Blast RPG
If you are looking for a thoughtful RPG full of challenging puzzles, interesting NPCs and an intricate storyline, then you best skip this game. For with Blast RPG, legendary game developer Nitrome has dispensed with all the excess RPG baggage and created a slim-line RPG focused on one thing: combat. The result is a high octane action game that pays just enough homage to the RPG genre to be considered a member, though purists might deem the game's unusual game-play mechanic - more Toss the Turtle than Monster Den - to be taking things just a little too far in the wrong direction. Blast RPG is an odd take on the RPG formula but we like it. Play the game here.
10 Book of Mages: The Dark times
In Nob Studio's latest casual RPG game Book of Mages: The Dark Times, you start off as a pathetically useless wizard. You wouldn't know a spell if it spun you around in a shower of sparks and transformed you into a wee frog. Of all 100 mages in the game, you would probably be the 150th best. But somehow you will have to transform yourself through study, practice and dedication into the best mage in the world. Book of Mages: The Dark Times is a fun turn-based RPG strategy game where you battle with rival wizards until you are listed as the number one mage in the legendary Book of Mages. The game can be played here.
If these games haven't sated your appetite for casual RPGs, then you may want to check out our list of the Top 20 browser rpg games.