In honour of Final Fantasy XIII-2's release this past week, we've decided to compile a list of our ten favourite Japanese role-playing games for the current home console / handheld generation. While things have been tough in general for Japan as of late, there have been a numerous titles to truly capture the spirit of a JRPG and pushed the genre in new directions.
JRPGs are notoriously difficult to define, but for the purposes of this article, well stick to games made by Japanese companies that display some, if not all, of the qualities which distinguish The Land of the Rising Sun from a typical Western RPG - third-person perspective, predetermined character progressions, turn-based combat, etc... Note: These titles are listed in alphabetical order.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
A prequel to Final Fantasy VII, Crisis Core on the PSP struck a chord with fans hungry for more from the universe of their favourite JRPG. The game pushed the processing power of the PSP, producing fluid combat and impressive graphics. Unlike other Final Fantasy VII spin-offs, Crisis Core did its source material justice.
Dark Souls is a beautifully crafted game that's both challenging and rewarding at the same time. As you progress, you will find yourself fighting personal battles all the time as you try to overcome the games obstacles, but at no point does it ever feel like its too difficult or too punishing - you just need to persevere. The new open word mechanic does present some problems, but it makes the world seem much more real at the same time.
Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
Disgaea 4 brings plenty of improvements across the board, polishing already established mechanics while adding some new ones to the mix. It's an overall enjoyable experience and one that I can easily recommend to anyone looking for a fun strategy RPG to dive into. The story is full of fun and nerdy tropes. It offers a deep battle system complimented with a number of other features like the Item World, Cam-Pain and Evilities.
Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy has been a staple of RPGs since its inception over two decades ago. Final Fantasy XIII had the burden of carrying the fate of the Japanese RPG genre, which was experiencing declining popularity in the West. The game was praised for its gorgeous presentation and robust combat system, while criticized for its slow progression and strictly linear design. In the end, XIII was a commercial and critical success.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep offers a lot of content and it holds up really well with regards to story and the gameplay. The multiplayer is a welcome addition and above all, the combat and gameplay remains fun and allows players to be a bit more inventive throughout. Theres also a lot to do after the game is over without even taking into consideration the multiple story campaigns and also the Final Episode.
Lost Odyssey received a great deal of attention when it launched on Xbox 360 in 2008 largely thanks to the involvement of Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy. Fortunately, the game (for the most part) lived up to expectations with a moving story and high production values. Some of the shamelessly traditional combat mechanics were less well received.
Tales of Vesperia
Tales of Vesperia at first glance appears like it took every JRPG trope out of the book for its story, but for fans of the genre, Tales of Vesperia (and the series in general) excellently de-constructs them in a way which feels incredibly unique. The game's action-based battle system, a mix of traditional RPG elements and fighting game aspects such as the publishers Tekken franchise, also help to create a very impressive game.
The World Ends With You
This is simply one of the most worthwhile RPGs I've ever played, and certainly one of the best to ever come out on the Nintendo DS. Sadly, it looks like The World Ends With You will end up being one of a kind, since Square Enix is unlikely to make a sequel in the face of mediocre to poor domestic sales. Still, it is an admirable experiment by a publisher that has become increasingly known for milking Final Fantasy for all its worth.
Much like Demon's Souls, Valkyria Chronicles was a sleeper hit in the West - so much so that Sega didn't have enough copies to meet demand. The games unique graphics engine, which was able to produce a watercolor art style, was very appealing. In addition, the inventive turn-based combat system was able to successfully implement realtime actions, making for an experience unlike anything in the genre.
Xenoblade Chronicles is fast-paced, user-friendly, free, open, and respectful of its audiences time -- all of the things that JRPGs are typically accused of not being, in other words. But it doesnt lose the essence of the genre all the same, delivering the engaging melodrama, epic sweep, and charm that Japanese games are best known for. Its a beautiful blend. This is a game that deserves to be played, and by more than just the genres die-hard fans.
- Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
- Eternal Sonata
- Resonance of Fate