It's our turn to strike
There was a time that Japanese RPGs were the pinnacle of game design, with developers constantly one-upping each other with better storylines, combat systems, and mechanics. Now, the art of the traditional JRPG is all but dead, with only a handful being released each year, and the biggest developers moving away from the old-fashioned turn-based format.
We think its time for a resurgence. We want to see Square-Enix go for a more traditional turn-based experience with its next Final Fantasy, and we want more developers to create throw-back experiences that tap into what we loved about the genre in the past. With that in mind, weve put together a list of the best JRPGs, focusing on the traditional turn-based formula (hence the lack of tactical, strategy, and real-time RPGs on this list). And now, without further ad--RANDOM BATTLE!
10. Paper Mario
Mario has been well-acquainted with JRPGs since Nintendo lent the franchise to role-playing masters Squaresoft in 1996. After Super Mario RPG introduced many SNES owners to the genre, Nintendo decided to handle the next Mario adventure internally, handing off development to Intelligent Systems, the dev team responsible for titles like Metroid, Fire Emblem, and Advance Wars. That team took the first titles fast-paced combat, improving it and making it more inviting to new players by marrying it to a unique art style.
Paper Marios flat characters and cardboard world are so endearing, and are made even more inviting by the outstanding localization that features witty, all ages writing that isnt childish. The combat and stats seem simple on the face of it, but quickly reveal the kind of hidden depth Intelligent Systems is famous for. Later Marios RPGs have all followed in this titles footsteps incredibly well, but its the N64 original that still stands the test of time, remaining the best RPG to star an Italian plumber.
9. Lunar: Silver Star Story
Lunar Silver Star Story is as classic a JRPG as you can get, featuring the same top-down, turn based RPG action we grew up loving. Though the gameplay was nothing ground breaking, the game really stood out because of its involving story, large cast of lovable characters and gorgeous fully animated, and voiced, cut scenes.
The story revolved around small-village boy, Alex, his flying cat, Nall, his childhood crush, Luna, and his monetarily motivated friend, Ramus. The group sets out on an adventure for fun and profit that quickly turns into a struggle for the fate of the world. Along the way Alex and the gang forged new allies and formed a party of very colorful characters. Silver Star Story endeared us with its charming characters and authentic love story and, of course, it's distinctly JRPG flavor.
8. Skies of Arcadia
Set in a world of giant airships and goofy outfits, Skies of Arcadia brought 3D, turn-based RPG combat and a high flying adventure story to the Dreamcast. Players lead their party as Vyse, an air pirate so honorable hell only attack ships bigger than his. This JRPG classic was a hit on the Dreamcast, and was eventually ported to Gamecube with minor tweaks. Alas, being on Nintendos system meant there was no VMU to blink and alert players of nearby treasure, but the version was still a good one.
Skies of Arcadias soundtrack is almost as beloved as the game itself - with over 60 tracks, it was eventually released as a double-disc album. The gameplay is solid, and the world and story are rich like a great anime series. The game is partially voiced, filled with flashy battles and splashy animation, and references to literature like Moby Dick and the work of Jules Verne rise the story above many of its contemporaries.
7. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy X blew us away when we first saw it on PlayStation 2. At the time, it wowed us its voice acting (yes, we know it wasnt perfect but it was a first for the series), stunning cut scenes, and moving soundtrack. It introduced the sphere grid concept of leveling and gave us a diverse cast of memorable characters that we eventually grew to love. So much so, that there was hardly a dry eye when the final scene unfolded.
The game brought together what the series did best: easy to grasp turn-based system, and slightly confusing but powerful storytelling. Final Fantasy X resonated with fans and sold so well that it warranted a sequel, a first for the series, and is about to get an HD makeover on the PlayStation Vita.
6. Persona 4
Modern JRPGs have been taking a beating lately, as some reject the genre as old, left behind by modern gaming tastes. Most of the best Japanese RPGs of the last five years either attempt and fail to update or become increasingly niche. The Persona series is one of the few to really push JRPGs in challenging, new directions via mature plots and characters. Persona 4 is the best in the series, creating an interesting world that is at once familiar and fantastical.
In a small town in Japan, you play as a new high school student thats out to make new friends, so long as you arent travelling to a shadow dimension through your TV set. You have to balance real life and leveling up in the shadow world, empowering your other self while making social connections in the real world while trying to solve a series of murders. That unique equilibrium (along with an eclectic soundtrack) is what makes Persona stand out from the crowd of other loot-collecting adventures.
5. Pokemon: Black & White
If you ever hear anyone saying JRPGs arent as popular as they used to be, they somehow havent heard about Pokemon, a hardcore RPG that sells in the millions. The monster-collecting portable exploded onto the world with Red/Blue/Green on the Game Boy and hasnt slowed down since. Every new generation of kids jumps on board with each new entry in the franchise, and the most recent one is the strongest yet.
Pokemon Black/White had the same engrossing mix of leveling, team building and OCD collection aspect that have drawn people in for years. Capturing each of the unique pocket monsters is an adventure in itself, but B/W also had the best plot in Pokemon history, asking difficult questions never before addressed in the series. You can put in hundreds of hours and still not have caught them, but you wont mind, as youll be embraced by a whole new community of gamers.
4. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Though many games on this list were created during the heyday of the genre in the 16-bit era, Dragon Quest VIII is actually a fairly recent release. Square-Enixs first earnest attempt at bringing the highly popular series stateside went extremely well, mainly because the game itself was one of the best the genre had seen in years and it did so while remaining true to its traditional JRPG roots.
Grinding for experience, random battles, menu-based combat Journey of the Cursed King is as true a JRPG as any other, with awesome character design and an engaging plot. Sure, it goes on for a little long (and the story eventually goes from stellar to sort of silly), but its still one of the best JRPGs of all time and definitely the best one in the last few years.
3. Final Fantasy VI
Squaresoft was the king of RPGs in the 16-bit era, publishing hit after hit on the SNES, and Final Fantasy was its premiere franchise. Many argue over which core FF is the best, IV, V or VI. FFIV was one of the best launch games for the SNES, FFV had an addictive job system that was the basis for the unforgettable Final Fantasy Tactics, but FFVI ultimately has the most to offer. With the best story, characters, and music in the franchise to that point, Final Fantasy VI remains one of the best JRPGs ever made.
A masterpiece made by a great development team operating at the best of its abilities, Final Fantasy VI tells a tale of loss and redemption in a world thats being crushed under the weight of technology. The dense cast of characters each has their own story to tell and reasons to want to save the ravaged planet, and the way the sprawling tale comes together over dozens of hours is a thing of beauty. With too many unforgettable moments to name, Final Fantasy VI is a standout in an incredibly accomplished series.
Earthbound is essentially a parody of the traditional JRPG, making it all the more remarkable that, in its satire, its one of the best. You step into the shoes of the heroic Ness (named as such in reference to the system it was released on, the SNES), a child gifted with powerful psychic abilities and tasked with attempting to save the earth from an alien invasion and a being of pure evil known as Giygas.
Though it sounds like an extremely clichd JRPG story, its actually a coup beneath the surface, Earthbound has an absurd sense of humor, with insane enemies and allies that lampoon the entire genre while outpacing it every step of the way. From battling New Age Retro Hippies to teaming up with nose-shaped aliens called Mr. Saturns, the game leaves no ridiculous stone unturned in its attempt to create one of the most beautifully absurd games of all time. Heres hoping Nintendo eventually localizes its (actually better) sequel someday
1. Chrono Trigger
With so many great JRPGs to choose from, so many densely plotted adventures that can last hundreds of hours, 1995s Chrono Trigger is the unchallenged best in genre history. It brought together many of the best people behind series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to create one of the most singular titles in gaming history. The story begins simply enough at a carnival, but soon it spans centuries, twisting back and forth to tell a tale unlike any other.
Supported by timeless graphics and some of the best music in gaming history, the adventures of Crono and his friends takes so many unpredictable turns, simultaneously approaching gameplay in a way that still feels fresh today. The multiple endings and countless secrets makes it feels like well never see the end of it, and even when we did see everything, wed return to it happily no matter the countless remakes. If you havent played Chrono Trigger, then you havent truly experienced video games.
We know, we missed your favorite game, or you think we chose the wrong game from X series, or we're dumb for thinking that Y is better than Z. Listen, we're going to level with you: it's fine. It's alright that you disagree with us, and we want to know more.
So tell us, which turn-based RPG is your favorite? Which did we miss? Which do you think deserved a better spot? Let us know!