JRPGs is a large niche with a wide fanbase, which makes deciding what to play (especially for the uninitiated) quite hard. This is exactly why we’ve scoured through the depths of the internet and picked 10 great JPRGs that everybody can enjoy, whether or not they’ve dabbled with this genre before. They may not be considered the best by some, but they’re a good starting point nonetheless.
Our list of top JRPG picks will make you wish you had played them sooner. Whether they’re set in a colorful storybook world, or a rural everyday town, we absolutely guarantee it’s going to be an adventure that you’ll remember fondly.
Some people today might not even know that one of their favorite games is actually a JRPG. It’s much easier to call a game an RPG, but you’ll be surprised by how many popular titles are in fact qualified as JRPGS.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A JRPG?
By definition, a JRPG is a Japanese role-playing game; and that’s really all there is to it. These are the criteria we considered for this list:
- Character Development
With all that being said and done, here are our top picks for the best JRPGS of all time.
10 Fire Emblem: Awakening
|Initial Release Date||April 19, 2012|
Starting off this list is a game that introduced me to the series. This entry takes place 2000 years after the original Fire Emblem. After being found in a field with no recollection of your past, you must aid your fellow companions in defeating the Risen. Just like in the previous installments, you can fully customize your character. Moreover, the customization options are diverse, allowing a more intimate experience for the player. Being able to change different hairstyles, gender, eye shape, and much more is very appreciated by fans of customization like myself.
Battles swap from expressive pixels to 3D visuals, and it’s pulled off really well. I’ve always been a sucker for games that have the option to make the character any way you want, so this was a plus for me. You can select from the colorful cast who you want in battle, being able to mix and match to your liking. Players have the option of either controlling each character or having the AI do all the dirty work. What I love about this title in particular is how hands on the game is. Anyone who’s new to the Fire Emblem series will catch on pretty quickly on how everything works, so it’s a great title to recommend for beginners.
The visuals for battles transition flow smoothly and effortlessly. You’ll come to notice many different art directions that this game went with, and they blend well together. Not only is it a great way to dive into this series, but Fire Emblem: Awakening will have you hooked from the get-go.
9 Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
|Initial Release Date||July 22, 2004|
A franchise loved by many, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door adds an RPG twist to the popular series. Improving greatly from the previous installment, Paper Mario follows the same repetitive trope of rescuing Princess Peach. While Mario games aren’t really my first choice because of this, Paper Mario changes it up a little. What do I mean exactly? What makes these particular games so interesting are the vast differences from past titles. Paper Mario is set in a world full of…well…paper. No, really. Everything from trees to enemies is made of paper, and yeah; its cooler than it sounds. When Princess Peach is taken, you and your trusty pal Goombella must traverse through the lively world with the task of saving her.
During your journey, you meet many unique characters to join you along the way. What makes Paper Mario so memorable is how fresh the new game mechanics are. For a Mario game to adopt RPG elements had fans excited from the get-go (myself included). While the game uses classic RPG ingredients, it also adds new ones as well. For example, if you time it right, pressing A efficiently will land you a few extra hits on the enemy.
The battles take place center stage (no literally, on an actual stage) with a crowd watching and all. If you fail to entertain the crowd throughout the battle, they will attack you without hesitation. If all of this won’t convince you to give this one a try, then I honestly don’t know what will.
8 Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
|Initial Release Date||March 23, 2018|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4|
|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment JP|
Now let me start this off by saying that Ni No Kuni is absolute eye candy. Then again, for being co-produced by Studio Ghibli, it was a given. Ni No Kuni: Revenant Kingdom is the sequel to Wrath of the White Witch, taking place hundreds of years after the events of the original. The game is played from a third person perspective, also combining classic RPG combat mechanics with an open world twist. You’re able to recruit monsters and aid them while fighting too.
This is one of those games where you have many things to do, so you’re never bored. When you aren’t in combat, you can help run the kingdom, assigning tasks to your people for the benefit of the domain. You can also freely explore the open world, which is a must with a game as beautiful as this one. Watching a Ghibli movie is great in and of itself, but getting to actually experience the journey is everything you could ever ask for. Met with positive reviews, fans of this series, both newcomers and veterans, will agree that this game is a joy to play – from beginning to end.
7 The World Ends With You
|Initial Release Date||July 27, 2007|
|Platform||Nintendo DS, iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch|
|Developer||Square Enix, Jupiter, h.a.n.d. (Mobile and Switch Ports)|
If you’ve always wondered what it’s like to be a Japanese youth wandering the streets of Shibuya, then this game is just for you. (What, just me?). The World Ends With You is definitely one of the most distinctive titles I’ve come across. Getting fairly decent scores upon its release, the game has garnered a dedicated cult following, so yeah – it’s kind of a big deal. The story centers around the protagonist, Neku Sakuraba, and his group of friends banding together to determine their fate.
There are many things that set this game apart from others. Let’s start with the visuals, as they’re some of the most unique I’ve seen. Basically, the art direction for TWEWY is AWESOME. The art style is so specific that you could easily pick it apart from others, which is a breath of fresh air as far as JRGPs are concerned. The aesthetic really gives off this vibe of teenage rebellion and fighting for your right to survive.
The characters are all interesting and special in their own right, full of color and personality to match. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, but suffice to say, the character development in this game is some of the best I’ve seen. Learning their backstories and why they fight makes you feel connected to them in a deep way.
The combat in this game is very distinct, which is best shown in the DS version. You’re able to use both screens for combat, and even go as far as shouting into the microphone to land certain attacks. Now I think we can all agree that nothing is better than a game that uses its systems to their fullest potential. Before actually getting my hands on this title, I heard many positive things about the game’s soundtrack.
Me being a huge fan of the Jet Set Radio series, a couple of my friends recommended that I listen to it immediately; and oh man was I NOT disappointed. For those who love fighting against society (well, at least in video games) this one is just for you.
6 Chrono Trigger
|Initial Release Date||March 11, 1995|
|Platform||Super NES, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, I-mode, iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows, Apple TV|
Otherwise known as one of the best video games of all time, Chrono Trigger is not something to take lightly. This game’s strong suit is the development of certain characters, and overall storyline. Some of the main characters come from different eras of time, which adds more variety to the games’ central theme. The story is marked by many twists and turns, some of which will catch you off-guard.
Games from the past usually don’t hold up well to today’s standards, but Chrono Trigger certainly delivers. It was the first game to ever implement “New Game +” system not only letting the player start over, but taking all the equipment and essentials from their previous playthrough. This changed the community indubitably, with many more games adopting this system over the years, and allows you to enjoy the game once more. As I said before, if there’s one thing gamers look for, its replayability; and Chrono Trigger has delivered it perfectly.
5 Pokemon Emerald
|Initial Release Date||September 16, 2004|
|Platform||Game Boy Advance|
|Publisher||The Pokemon Company Nintendo|
The sister game to the original Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Pokemon Emerald twisted this new generation on its head, introducing a batch of new and vibrant Pokemon we still love to this day, with gorgeous animated sprites as well. This installment to the series takes place in the Hoenn region, one that is known best for its tropical and lively atmosphere. Just like previous installments, you take on the Pokemon league challenge and fight some evildoers along the way. This time however, you face two opposing teams with different ideals.
To be honest, there isn’t one defining feature that stands out, because this game perfects every aspect of what makes a great game. The trials and tribulations faced throughout your conquest, the people you run into and grow to love, to the game’s soundtrack blasting with magnificent trumpets; it’s all a delight to experience. Not only is the game itself non-stop joy, but the post-game content will give you a difficult time putting your Gameboy down.
4 Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne
|Initial Release Date||February 20, 2003|
Set in a post-apocalyptic modern-day Tokyo, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne will have you emotionally invested from the very start. This game leans towards a more darker theme, having the protagonist (which I should say is only a HIGH SCHOOLER) turned into a demon. (Poor kid.) Given the time this game was released, the graphics were very impressive, but hey; that’s just Atlus for you. Nocturne is said to be difficult for some players, but the challenge is well worth taking up. I think the coolest thing about Nocturne would have to be the morality system, hands down.
Good or bad, ultimately, the choice is yours. The choices you make throughout the game will determine the ending. This definitely gives the game more replayability, which is something I personally always look forward to. Sure, many JRPGS were on the market when this game was released, but that didn’t stop it from absolutely dominating. The game was so highly praised that it sold 185,000 copies in its first week.
Who knew so many people were that excited to experience a hellish apocalypse?
3 Xenoblade Chronicles
|Initial Release Date||June 10, 2010|
|Platform||Wii, New Nintendo RDS|
The team behind Xenoblade Chronicles had to work with the limitations of the Wii, and they definitely pushed the console to its fullest graphical potential. It’s also worth mentioning that this game blew everyone’s expectations with its incredible soundtrack and astounding gameplay. I’m sure many of us know how annoying RPG battles can get over time, but that’s not the case here. You’ll find yourself hoping to come across enemies because, well, it’s just too much fun giving them a beatdown.
The cutscenes have movie-like quality and fidelity, with lively animations and deep storytelling to match. The atmosphere is something probably not quite done before, exploring the breathtaking setting of… a dead corpse. Yes, you are exploring what is essentially the body of a dead titan. Pretty crazy, huh? Your goal is to fight your way through hordes of robots, reach the top of the titans head, and claim the divine sword. Such an interesting concept for a game; I mean, honestly, who comes up with that?
|Initial Release Date||August 7, 1994|
|Platform||Super NES, Game Boy Advance|
|Developer||Ape, HAL Laboratory|
No game has ever given me an experience quite like Earthbound has. To call it unique is most definitely an understatement. If there’s one thing this game is known for, is for how different it is from anything out there even to this day. Earthbound brings you a story about a boy named Ness, whose life changes after a meteor hits his hometown of Onett. From there, he goes through many, and I mean many things a 13-year-old boy probably shouldn’t. This game is well known for its quirky dialogue, cracking jokes left and right, as well as catching you off guard when you least expect it.
The battles are simple yet comfy, with many enemies that are just downright goofy. If I have to give advice to anyone playing Earthbound, it’s that you have to talk to everyone. I’m not kidding, EVERYONE (yes, including NPCs) have something interesting to say. I know there are many who won’t believe me on that since most games don’t take the time to care about NPCs, but just trust me on this one.
Many things will make you laugh in Earthbound, but when it tugs at your heartstrings, you really feel it. I should also probably mention that the final boss is one of the most terrifying battles in video game history, but you’ll have to check that out for yourself.
1 Persona 4: Golden
|Initial Release Date||July 10, 2008|
|Platform||PlayStation 2, PlayStation Vita|
|Publisher||Atlus, Square Enix, NIS America, Ubisoft|
While Persona 5 has the best battle mechanics of all time, it falls short story wise. This is where Persona 4: Golden shines through, as it excels in every way a JRPG ever could. You begin your journey moving into the rural, quiet, and dull town of Inaba. It’s there where you forge unbreakable bonds with friends, and try to solve the case of mysterious murders “fogging” the town. (Cmon, I had to have at least one corny joke in here).
This game does a fantastic job balancing slice of life segments and dungeon crawling. The main focus of the game is to find out who’s the killer of the town. I’ve always been a sucker for mystery solving games like Ace Attorney and Danganronpa, so I was (and I cannot stress this enough) immediately hooked. During your free time, you can hang out with friends, and the bonds you form could boost your experience in battle. Persona games have always excelled at characters, as they always feel like actual real friends. The character development shines the best if you aim for the golden ending, so I highly advise that.
Just like my experience, you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more time with these friends over real ones. I can sit here and try to explain why this game is “golden” (well there goes another one) but honestly, you have to play it yourself to get the full experience.
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