June 2021
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Top 10 JRPGs

The JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game, for the uninitiated) has been my favorite genre for many years.  Unfortunately it’s a genre that has been mostly neglected on the current generation of consoles, but there have still been some great releases here and there.  Today marks the release of what I expect to be another great, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.  So to celebrate its release I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite JRPGs from over the years.  Take note, I didn’t really get into the genre until the original Playstation (Final Fantasy 7 is actually what sold me on that system), so that’s why there aren’t any games included from earlier generations.  Enjoy!

10) Wild Arms 3

Wild Arms 3

After the release of what I considered to be two good but unremarkable games, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from Wild Arms 3.  I was more than pleasantly surprised, since Wild Arms 3 is a fun, charming game that incorporates some novel ideas and ingenious puzzles into the standard JRPG formula.  It’s a shame the series never reaches the same height again, but one great game is still more than many franchises ever offer.

9) Valkyrie Profile 2

Valkyrie Profile 2

While I never played the original, the second game in this series was absolutely phenomenal.  A plot that spanned many different characters and a very cool battle system that mixed real time and turn based combat were the highlights, but the spectacular for the time graphics certainly didn’t hurt the affair.

8) Tales of Vesperia

Tales of Vesperia

Before this gen, I did not like the Tales games.  Every time someone talked one up I would try it, but I just could not get into them at all.  I had never finished one before Vesperia – heck, I’d say I had never even made it half-way through one.  I suppose it was the lack of JRPGs this gen that made me cave in and give Vesperia a shot – and I was absolutely blown away.  Vesperia has some of the best characters in a JRPG bar none and the combat is divine.  As for its graphics, I’ve always been a big cell shading fan and that style in HD looks gorgeous.  It’s the full package, and it single-handedly turned me into a fan of the series – Tales of Graces f didn’t quite make this list but it did make my top 10 for last year, and Tales of Xillia is one of my most anticipated games this year.

7) Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Nocturne is unlike any other game on this list.  It has a very bleak, isolated atmosphere and a brutal difficulty level.  But maybe that’s what makes it so great.  This game starts out with the end of the world, and as you play you truly feel like the last sane person alive.  By the end, you’ll question how sane your own character actually is.  Not for the faint of heart, as this game has no problem wiping you out in even the normal random encounters, but worth every minute of your time if you don’t mind the difficulty and are a fan of traditional playing JRPGs with very unique storylines.

6) Suikoden II

Suikoden II

This game has reached near legendary status for both its quality and rarity – and its earned every bit of it.  Suikoden II tells the emotional story of two friends torn apart by war.  The traditional Suikoden elements are here, such as collecting all 108 of the side characters (which is very addictive).  But what makes this game special isn’t something out of the ordinary it does, but rather how well it does all of the ordinary things.  This is a AAA game from beginning to end, and it is downright criminal that Konami has refused to rerelease this game in the US in some form.

5) Phantasy Star Online

Phantasy Star Online

I debated putting this game on the list at all, and therefore consulted with a couple of good friends to get their opinions.  You see, PSO is not a traditional JRPG – it has a single player mode, but the focus of the game is its online mode.  Some have called it an MMO, but this too is misleading since the max number of people who can be in one game is 4.  I’ve always compared it more to Diablo, especially since it is also a very loot-driven game.  I had one friend who couldn’t believe I had it this low, and another who played devil’s advocate and gave me reasons why it might not should even be here (but then even he said he would have a hard time excluding it).  The fact is, this would probably be my #1 if not for one fact: since the servers have long been taken offline, you cannot play this game today and get the same experience from it.  Oh sure, there are fan run servers and you can even run your own, but all of that requires some technical know-how that will be beyond most people.  So here it sits, right in the middle of the list, a testament to one of the absolute best experiences I’ve ever had with a video game as well as a sign of what befalls all online games sooner or later.  RIP Phantasy Star Online – here’s hoping the upcoming PSO 2 does justice to your name.

4) Dragon Quest VIII

Dragon Quest VIII

The first of two Level-5 made games to make the list, who coincidentally are also the developers of Ni No Kuni, this game is as old-school as you can get.  You start off very weak, are not given many healing items and have to really work your way up in levels.  You earn everything you get in this game.  While doing so, you are treated to a cast of extremely charming characters who are very well written and voiced and a vibrant, colorful world to explore.  DQ8 is a very lengthy game, but odds are you won’t notice – everything is polished to a gleam and the game is simply a joy to play from beginning to end.  If Nocturne is the epitome of dark, bleak and depressing then DQ8 is its polar opposite.  This game also sports one of the best ending sequences of any game I’ve played.  Spectacular!

3) Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X

The first time I played this game, I did not like it.  At all.  And I told a good friend of mine this over several months, where we would bring up the game from time to time and he would explain to me why I was wrong.  So finally, with the release of Final Fantasy X-2 on the horizon, I vowed that I would play through FFX again to give it just one more chance.  And this time, I fell in love with it.  Once I played the game for what it was and stopped bemoaning the loss of things like an overworld map, it really started to click with me.  The characters were endearing, and their struggle had a very melancholy tinge to it.  The story, which admittedly is somewhat convoluted, made much more sense to me the second time around.  I also came to realize the brilliance behind the battle system, something that caused fights to stay fresh throughout the game.  In short, it went from a game I didn’t care for to my favorite Final Fantasy game and my #3 JRPG overall.  Not too shabby.

2) Dark Cloud 2

Dark Cloud 2

The second Level-5 entry, this one has one distinct thing that caused me to rank it above FFX in the end.  Where it took me a second playthrough to really appreciate FFX, I loved Dark Cloud 2 from the moment I first played it.  It is happiness in digital form.  An action-RPG, the intricate systems of the game are masterfully rolled out in such a way as to give you plenty of time to get used to each one before the next is introduced.  The random dungeons feel very organic, and lend themselves to playing through them repeatedly, which you will gladly do.  Crafting weapons by combining them is very addictive, as is most everything in this game.  And the soundtrack is stellar, with my personal favorite track being the acoustic guitar piece that plays when you clear a level.  The only knock I have against this game is the voice acting in the cut scenes, but that makes up such a minute part of the game that it’s hardly worth mentioning.  I’m still holding out hope that we’ll get a Dark Cloud 3 one day…

1) Xenoblade Chronicles


A Wii exclusive JRPG is my best JRPG of all time.  No, that’s not a typo, tho if I hadn’t played the game myself I definitely would think so.  Xenoblade combines all the best elements of an MMO – the vast, open areas, tons of quests, fantastic feeling of exploration – with all of the best aspects of a JRPG – tight, character-focused story, outstanding combat and multiple intricate systems in play.  And amazingly, it works.  But it doesn’t just work, it works shockingly well.  Xenoblade is a game that sinks its hooks into you and refuses to let go.  You’ll be just as motivated to keep playing by the story and fantastically voiced characters as you are the gameplay, gear hunting and level grinding – which is always a joy thanks to a dynamic combat system that is 80% real time and 20% turn based.  This is a game that will take well over 100 hours to complete and still leave you wanting more.  If you’re a regular reader, you’ve heard me gush about this game before – and if you keep reading, you’ll hear it again.  This game deserves every bit of it.

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