It's the fate of the world!
So traditional role-playing games arent your thing. Maybe the combat is too slow, the protagonists too whiny, the outfits too ridiculous, or the games too long. Perhaps youre just not into the fantasy settings, or the princesses and knights and grumpy leading men with hearts of gold. There are many clichs associated with JRPGs, a lot of them with good reason, and you dont have the time or patience for that nonsense.
However, maybe it's time you give JRPGs a second chance. Theyre not all the epically long, convoluted melodrama-fests you might think they are. Not every game is for everyone, but any of these eight role-playing games could make you rethink swearing off the genre.
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden is your best pick from this excellent franchise. Its easily accessible, looks great on the Vita, and though it's 80+ hours long, the fact that it's on a handheld makes the length easier to swallow. As far as JRPGs go, this one rates pretty high on the J-scale; it takes place in modern-day Japan, with most of the cast made up of a gaggle of hormonal high schoolers. Dont let that discourage you, though--P4G isnt just a great JRPG for haters of the genre, its a gateway drug that will make you want to try more.
The modern setting is a refreshing change of pace from the fantasy-based JRPGs, and the grinding--one of the genres most hated mechanics--is actually pretty organic and addictive thanks to interesting, varied dungeons and a stellar combat system. Plus, you wont be fighting all the time; theres so much to do in Persona 4 (like taking midterms, dating, and part-time jobs) when youre not battling demons. Sure, youll want to stop an evil force from destroying Japan with an unsettling fog, but youll also be pretty intent on not letting your three girlfriends find out about each other.
The Xbox 360 isnt exactly known for its thrilling JRPG library, but Lost Odyssey is one exclusive worth tracking down and playing. Though its a bit on the depressing side (actually ranking on our top 7 saddest games), the plot is actually pretty interesting, with a thousand-year-old protagonist in a world on the verge of magical mass destruction. Okay, Lost Odyssey has its share of clichs, too--amnesia, long-winded story moments, men in belly shirts--but they dont take away from whats ultimately a very memorable gameplay experience.
What non-fans might enjoy about Lost Odyssey is the combat, which puts a new twist on the typical turn-based formula. By attempting to match up two concentric rings during an attack, youll be an active participant in battle, instead of just hitting the action button to use a weapon or magic. It adds a lot of depth to the gameplay, and if you think that JRPG combat is usually boring, this is exactly what you need to spice it up.
In the 18 years since Earthbound was released for the Super Nintendo in North America, its become something of a cult classic. Like the Persona games, it eschews more traditional JRPG settings for a modern environment, with weapons like frying pans and hospitals being one of the more useful locations. You even have to withdraw money from ATMs to get more cash. Earthbound, despite having some traditional RPG aspects, is an oddity.
There are quite a few reasons this game stands the test of time and appeals to those who dont typically play JRPGs, and a strong one is the tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. The game never takes itself too seriously, and its hard not to love Ness and his buddies as they embark on their epic journey. As one of the most collectible SNES games, its been really tough to get your hands on it (legally) for years, but thankfully, its coming to the Wii U Virtual Console in the near future. When that happens, even non-JRPG fans might find themselves loving this role-playing gem.
When you think about World War II video games, theres probably no shortage of titles running through your head--but are any JRPGs among them? Okay, maybe Valkyria Chronicles isnt exactly a WWII game, but it does take place during a sort of alternate universe version of the war. It has everything youd expect of, say, a typical military shooter--guns, tanks, soldiers, and explosive battlefields--but Valkyria Chronicles is actually an RPG that heavily borrows gameplay mechanics from other genres.
The combat is part turn-based RPG, part strategy, part third-person shooter. Units and weapons can be upgraded as the game goes on. Youll be ranked at the end of each battle, and youll find yourself replaying missions over and over in order to be the best. Though the latest entry in the series didnt make it overseas, Valkyria Chronicles (PS3) and VCII (PSP) are two JRPGs you can (and should) get your hands on right now.
Final Fantasy IX
Yeah, you know about Final Fantasy. You know about spiky-haired Cloud and emo Squall and ridiculously outfitted Tidus. Final Fantasy IX, released at the end of the PS1s lifespan in 2000, doesnt often get mentioned in the same breath as those beloved classics, but the things that set it apart might make it the one Final Fantasy that JRPG haters might want to play.
Final Fantasy IX does have some of the JRPG tropes youve come to despise, but most of them are integrated pretty well into the plot, instead of just being there for decoration. Theres a reason that guy has a tail and that girl has a horn; even summons are a major story point and not just a thing that happens, and FFIX does that way better than FFVIIIs laughable amnesia twist. Its battle system keeps things fairly simple and streamlined, with each character having distinct abilities letting you shape your party to your preferences. Plus, theres a sense of humor throughout that gives it a different tone than the other modern Final Fantasies--yeah, Zidane wants to find out where he came from, but instead of moping about it for 30 hours, he flirts with every girl he sees.
The World Ends With You
Another RPG set in Japan may not be what you were looking for, but for all the similarities The World Ends With You shares with other games in the genre, it does even more differently. Set in the Shibuya shopping district and starring an antisocial teenage boy who wouldnt be caught dead in a belly shirt, The World Ends With You takes place somewhere between life and death, with the main characters fighting to make their way back to the land of the living.
Aside from being beautifully designed, super stylish (shopping is part of the gameplay), and having a catchy soundtrack, The World Ends With You has some of the most unique combat youll find in a JRPG. Utilizing both screens on the DS or the touchscreen in the iOS iteration, fighting is fast-paced and addictive. If slow turn-based combat and generic fantasy settings are what you dont like about JRPGs, The World Ends With You is certainly one to play.
Like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger is a beloved title from the SNES era that went on to become one of the most collectible cartridges of the '90s. Thankfully, Square Enix made it available on the DS, PSN, and Virtual Console within the last few years, so you wont have to shell out a few hundred bucks to find out why this JRPG is worth playing.
First of all, time travel rules, and Chrono Trigger handles this sci-fi staple very well. Youll find yourself fascinated by the changes in different eras of the game, and youll want to discover how your present-day choices affect the future. Sure, its got some pretty overused JRPG clichs--a princess in trouble, anthropomorphic animals, a terrifying foe bent on destroying the world--but theyre incorporated into the game in ways that are anything but standard.
This delightful Vanillaware action-RPG slipped under the radar when it came out for the PS2 in 2007, but since then its been made more easily available on the PSN. You may have avoided it because the colorful cover art provided a glimpse of the RPG tropes found within. Odin Sphere lets you play through five different (but intertwining) stories, and among the playable characters are a scantily clad princess, a spiky-haired knight, a fairy, and a talking Pooka (an adorable rabbit-like creature). Wait, stay with us!
While many of the story elements sound like standard RPG fare, the combat is anything but. Fighting takes place on a side-scrolling 2D plane, and beating the hell out of waves of enemies is immensely satisfying. Its also genuinely challenging, especially late in the game; you cant sleepwalk your way through this one. Oh, and it doesnt hurt that those clich characters are actually pretty interesting, which will compel you to see each one through to the end of his or her journey.
So many belly shirts
Theres so much more to the JRPG genre than antiquated turn-based combat and archaic game mechanics, and if youre looking to branch out into an unfamiliar genre, this list is the perfect place to get started. Whats your favorite JRPG to recommend to new players? Be sure to leave recommendations in the comments.