To the casual gamer, Japanese RPGs are usually synonymous with Pokemon or Final Fantasy. But the genre offers up much more than ball-dwelling monsters, and blonde spiky-haired swordsmen. With Final Fantasy XV set to rejuvenate everyone’s interest in JRPGs on September 30, gamers will have a few months to brush up on their JRPG chops before Noctis and his entourage take over.
That’s where we come in. From the classic SNES era to the recent gaming generations, here are what we consider to be 10 of the greatest JRPG’s ever created.
There’s a very simple reason why Pokemon games are the poster-child for JRPGs: they’re really good.
But while Pokemon Red and Blue started the craze, we think Pokemon Gold and Silver are the standout games in the franchise. From day and night cycles, new Pokemon types, breeding options, and the ability to visit other Pokemon regions, Gold and Silver provided the formula that the newer Pokemon games still follow today.
Combining characters from Disney and the Final Fantasy franchise into one game should have been a recipe for disaster, but Kingdom Hearts managed to make it work perfectly. In telling an idyllic coming-of-age story about Sora, Riku, and Kairi, Kingdom Hearts blends the boundless energy of an over-imaginative child, with some of gaming’s most unique action-RPG gameplay.
We absolutely loved Xenoblade Chronicles when it came out in 2012, and our opinion hasn’t changed since. The game effortlessly blends an enormous open-world with one of the best RPG combat systems we’ve seen in a long time. The Nintendo Wii’s lack of graphical grunt is a minor downside, but that is quickly overshadowed by some truly beautiful artwork.
Combined with a bunch of likable characters and a compelling storyline, it’s no surprise why we – and many others – think Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the defining JRPGs of the last gaming generation.
Dragon Quest V
With two beloved remakes over the last two decades, there is no doubt that Dragon Quest V is a timeless classic. Featuring artwork from the creator of Dragon Ball, and a sprawling coming-of-age story told over different time periods, Dragon Quest V has resonated with players over the last three gaming generations.
But beyond the game’s unmatched storytelling, Dragon Quest V was a big influence for some of its fellow JRPG peers. If it weren’t for the original Dragon Quest V‘s monster-collecting concept, we probably wouldn’t have Pokemon.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana started off as a Final Fantasy spin-off, but it quickly became one of the most unique JRPGs ever made at the time. This is quite a feat when you consider how many other RPG games also feature super-powered swords, giant chickens, and cute forest sprites.
Combining RPG combat elements with the real-time action of The Legend of Zelda, Secret of Mana eschewed the usual RPG level-grinding cliche in favor of actual skill and strategic thinking. But beyond the game’s beautiful graphics and epic story, Secret of Mana had an innovative co-op multiplayer system, something that was unheard of back in the SNES days.
Part high-school simulator, and part supernatural murder mystery, Persona 4 is a creepy, yet brilliant game that really shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. Not many games can combine an RPG with a weird story about television sets that lead people to their soulmates, but Persona 4 somehow managed to pull it off.
The game may be nearly a decade old and has been remade once already, but we’re holding out hope that a PlayStation 4 re-release of Persona 4 is on the cards soon.
If you took everything that epitomizes Japanese anime, put it into a game, and cranked it up to 11, the result would probably look like Xenogears.
Like most Japanese anime, too, not everything in Xenogears makes sense. The game is stuffed with giant robots, religious mythology, mentally-unstable protagonists, and even some Sigmund Freud for good measure. And you know what? We loved every moment of it, even when we had no idea what was going on in the story.
At first glance, Earthbound is unconventional, surreal, and just plain weird. But that’s exactly why we – and plenty of others – love it.
What makes Earthbound special isn’t its story, characters, or gameplay (athough they are all fantastic), it’s how the game takes the usual JRPG tropes and cleverly subverts them into a satirical look of the real world. There probably isn’t any other game out there that has players fighting against a giant pool of vomit.
While having Ness on the Super Smash Bros. roster is great, we would love nothing more than an Earthbound sequel, just so we can experience another helping of Nintendo’s quirkiest franchise.
Final Fantasy VII
An argument can be made that Final Fantasy IX, VI, or X are all amongst the greatest Final Fantasy titles ever, but no game in the franchise shook up the JRPG genre like Final Fantasy VII.
The tragic story about Cloud, the beauty of Cosmo Canyon, and fighting Sephiroth under the backdrop of his thumping musical score – Final Fantasy VII is less of a game, and more like a series of unforgettable memories. And of course, there’s poor Aeris. We still tear up a bit when we think of that scene.
Let’s just hope that the upcoming HD remake can capture the lightning in a bottle once again.
It may be two decades old, but Chrono Trigger is not only our pick for the greatest JRPG ever, but it is arguably one of the greatest games ever made.
Conceived by the creator of Final Fantasy, the creator of Dragon Quest, and the creator of Dragon Ball, Chrono Trigger has stood the test of time through its incredible art style and cast of lovable characters. Throw in a post-apocalyptic time travel storyline, a soundtrack for the ages, and 13 different endings, Chrono Trigger is Square Enix’s masterpiece, and something that the studio hasn’t been able to match since.
It was a hard task to narrow this list down to just 10, and there are a number of great games that just missed the cut. But that’s something we’ll now throw over to you. Which JRPG was your favourite? What were some other great JRPGs that didn’t make our list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.