When it comes to combat systems, Japanese RPGs are often considered behind the times when compared to their western counterparts. The traditional turn-based system that is so synonymous with JRPGs was popularized by the Dragon Quest series in 1986 and Final Fantasy in 1987. Both series set the standard for RPGs and turn-based combat in Japan when several other games in the genre used almost identical systems for their own games.
As a result, it’s easy for gamers not familiar with the genre to ignore most JRPGs as being antiquated without realizing that developers have come a long way in modernizing the systems in three decades. Even the JRPGs that implemented more action-based combat systems are often misunderstood by some Western gamers because of the similarities in the menu systems. However, for those willing to take a chance, JRPGs have some of the best fighting systems in any genre and are worth taking a look at.
10 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes Of An Elusive Age
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age is the most recent entry in one of the most iconic JRPG games of all time. The game has kept the series’ traditional turn-based combat but modernized it enough so that the game feels familiar yet fresh at the same time.
The battles are fast-paced and simple by design so that even those new to traditional JRPGs. The Pep meter mechanic provides stat boosts to individual characters. In addition, when fully charged each character will get special moves called Pep Powers which when activated cause incredible damage.
9 Chrono Trigger
Released in 1995 on the Super Nintendo Chrono Trigger and is widely regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. It was developed by a JRPG dream team of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest developers, artists, and composers like Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yuji Horii, Akira Toriyama, and Nobuo Uematsu.
The game was one of the first in the genre to feature visible enemies on screen and used a modified version of Final Fantasy’s Active Time Battle system. Special attacks and magic are handled by the game’s Tech system which allows the characters to fight strategically and execute cooperative techniques for Double and Triple attacks.
8 Shadow Hearts: Covenant
The Shadow Hearts series is based in an alternate universe version of the First World War. The second entry is often considered to be the best in terms of its Lovecraftian story and the balanced combat system.
Combat in Shadow Hearts is turn-based but the character’s action are determined by their stats. In addition, it implements a sanity system where the player will lose control of their characters if the meter reaches its maximum. What makes Shadow Hearts unique, though is the Judgement Ring which requires timing and skill. It also allows players to build up combos by picking attack magic sequences building up to more devastating attacks.
7 Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne was released on the PlayStation 2 and is still considered to be one of the best JRPGs of all time. The game was set in a post-apocalyptic modern-day Tokyo which was a stark contrast to the usual fantasy setting found in the genre.
Additionally, Nocturne’s turn-based battle system was tough but fair and required strategy and quick thinking. It uses a system where the player is required to find and exploit their enemies weaknesses. Doing so will gift the player with additional turns in battle but missing or getting blocked will also cost them multiple turns leaving the player vulnerable to attack.
6 Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
From the fourth entry to the twelfth the Final Fantasy series used a moderated version of the Active Time Battle System seen in. It was ultimately a traditional turn-based combat system that forced players to act quickly on the battlefield.
Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit system was a huge departure for the series and in many ways resembled western RPGs like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The player is tasked with programming their party member’s behaviors in combat in order to focus on their enemy’s weaknesses or stay on top of health bars with health potions or magic.
5 Persona 5
Released on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 in 2016 Persona 5 is a spin-off from Shin Megami Tensei series and is regarded as one of the best JRPGs developed for both systems. The game won awards and critical acclaim for its story, characterization, and an incredible art style that manages to be one of the most striking looking games on both systems.
Persona 5’s turn-based combat system is a culmination of Persona 3 and Persona 4’s best features. In typical Shin Megami Tensei fashion, battles require strategy by focusing on elemental vulnerabilities and making the most of player turns. The knockdown system gifts the combatants with additional turns and of course, the implementation of demons via the game’s Persona system is addictive as it ever was.
4 The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel Series
The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel is a series of JRPG connected to the Trails in the Sky series although aside from allusions to certain characters and locations it isn’t a requirement to enjoy entries in Cold Steel story arc.
Cold Steel’s battle system is turn-based but also allows characters to move freely on the battlefield. Each character has their own individual attacks, weapons, S-Craft skills, and magic Arts which are unlocked by equipping Quartz. The most interesting feature is the Tactical Link System and the player can unlock special offensive and defensive moves by making sure certain characters are bonding either at school in their free time.
3 Star Ocean 3: Till The End Of Time
The Star Ocean series is one of the few JRPGs that implement science fiction and a certain amount of space travel by exploring new worlds. The games were developed by Tri-Ace whose founding members worked on Tales of Phantasia, and just like the Tales series, Star Ocean uses a real-time combat system.
Star Ocean: Till The End of Time is widely considered to be the best in the series but combat is largely the same throughout all five games. The battle system feels more like a beat-em-up than a traditional JRPG so just about anyone can pick it up and seamlessly combine physical and magic attacks. In addition, players can select any character in battle or they can customize party members A.I. in a similar manner to Final Fantasy XII.
2 Tales Of Graces F
The Tales of series is the third biggest-selling RPG series in Japan behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Unlike those games, though it does not use a traditional turn-based battle system. Instead, it uses a real-time action system called the Linear Motion Battle System (LMBS) which works similarly to the Star Ocean series.
While most of the Tales games play in a similar manner it is Tales of Grace f on the PlayStation 3. Battles are fast-paced and fast attacks also known as A-Artes can be combined with stronger B-Artes and chained together with a full Chain Capacity meter for some unique attacks. In addition, players can switch between characters at any time during combat as well as move freely on the battlefield. However, free movement can come at the cost of Chain Capacity forcing gamers to fight strategically.
1 The Grandia HD Collection
Until the recent Grandia HD Collection on the Nintendo Switch, the series hasn’t seen a new entry in the mainline series since Grandia III in 2005 on the PlayStation 2. However, the series has always been heralded as having one of the best turn-based systems in JPRGs.
The series turn-based system functions in real-time and all the characters move and run within a limited space. Additionally, all the characters and enemies appear as icons queued an action bar at the bottom of the screen. Players can choose their means of attack when their icon reaches the “ACT” mark at the right side of the bar. It’s simple to pick up but the execution makes for complex and exciting battles that never get old.