Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) aren't exactly new to the video game industry, which often means it can be difficult to choose one JRPG from the options available when you've got a hankering for a new one. Let’s face it; even if you haven’t played them, you probably know most of the classics: Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, Tales of Insert-Title-Here, and Another Final Fantasy Game (they really are good), etc.
There are still dozens of other great JRPGs out there though! Looking for something more now that you’ve played all those? Here are a few more that shouldn’t be ignored.
Image © Square Enix
Despite being developed by the renowned Square Enix and an excellent critical reception, The World Ends With You (It's a Wonderful World in Japan) never really took off like many of Square’s other titles. This is truly a shame, as it’s one of the best titles they’ve released in the last decade, and is still my favorite DS game to date.
The World Ends With You eschews the traditional fantasy setting of many role playing games and takes place entirely in Shibuya, a district of Tokyo. Continuing the theme of breaking tradition, The World Ends With You had a very hands-on battle system, requiring players to manipulate the DS stylus on screen to create different attacks. It was often a little tricky at first, but once you got the hang it, the battle system was one of the most interesting found in any game! Luckily for those without a DS, the title is still very easy to find, as it was ported to iOS and Android.
Image © Microsoft Game Studios
Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey may not have pulled in the Japanese fanbase the way Microsoft had hoped, but that is by no means reason to not play it. This is still one of the best JRPGs you can find for Microsoft’s previous console, boasting an impressive story, characters with real depth, and a beautiful world.
The highlight, however, would have to be the dream sequences. Lost Odyssey’s protagonist, Kaim, has lost most of the memories of his 1000 year life, and he gradually regains them through short stories you may read throughout the game. They’re beautifully told, in large part thanks to the elegant writing that goes into them, especially when combined with the game’s haunting music and scenery. For these alone I’ve found myself playing the game repeatedly over the last few years.
Image © Namco Bandai Games
What were Frederick Chopin’s final moments like? It’s not a question we often think about, is it? Eternal Sonata tries to bring us to that world regardless, the world of a musician’s dreams and whimsical fantasy, and to great effect at that. Eternal Sonata’s biggest draw at first might be the quirky premise, but from there, seeing the world becomes a real treat. Following Chopin’s development in particular, often because of the actions of heroine Polka (a reflection of his real life deceased sister), helped make him one of the most interesting game protagonists I’ve seen in any game.
Image © Namco Bandai Games
I dream of the day I meet someone else who has played this without my prompting. The voice acting may have had a few issues, and getting a handle on the card-based combat system was more difficult than many would expect, but Baten Kaitos is still one of my favorite Gamecube games.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean deserves a look from every JRPG fan the world over, as it plays host to one of the most beautiful game worlds I’ve ever seen. Even though it released over ten years ago, the pre-rendered backgrounds have held up remarkably well, and you’ll be battling yourself constantly not to stop and stare as you’re pulled along in one of the most intriguing storylines in RPG history. The entire world is airborne, with the Earth poisoned and ocean a myth. Instead, people live in a series of floating islands, and having wings is perfectly normal. Trust me when I say it’s hard not to get sucked into this world.
If nothing else, Baten Kaitos also deserves credit for having the most surprising plot twist I’ve come across in any game I’ve ever played. No joke.
Image © Sega
Resonance of Fate (End of Eternity in Japan) got a raw deal. While a solid game for anyone who doesn’t mind a steep learning curve, Tri-Ace made the odd decision to release it the same week Final Fantasy XIII was due. This is truly a shame because the game had a number of cool features going for it. The battle system, though difficult, was unique and a lot of fun once you adjusted, and slowly unlocking the steampunk world on display was a gratifying venture. The title eventually managed to sell well in Japan, but in the West it is relatively unknown.
Image © Atlas
Chrono Trigger isn’t the only game with an awesome time traveling story! Atlus knocked it out of the park with Radiant Historia, a game almost completely split into two separate but interactive storylines using the same characters.
After our protagonist Stocke comes into possession of the White Chronicle, he is capable of seeing the future and altering history’s course as he sees fit. If he fails, the entire world will become unraveled, and it’s up to him and a few unexpected allies to tip the scales in the right direction. Along with a well-told and fairly unique storyline, the game offered a different take on turn-based combat, in which only your enemies fought on a grid. Depending on the strikes you used, you could alter their positions, thus dealing more damage or less damage at any one time. Learning the system was fairly simple, but actively putting it into practice during combat meant you couldn’t mindlessly use any one attack in battle, making for a much more engaging experience than what you might get in a normal RPG.
Image © Square Enix
The inclusion of Dragon Quest on here might seem a little strange to some. It is by no means a small series… In Japan. Once you leave the Land of the Rising Sun, however, Dragon Quest’s presence diminishes greatly, which is a shame, since Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride was yet another fantastic RPG for the Nintendo DS.
For the most part, Dragon Quest V does very little to break the RPG-mold in terms of gameplay, which isn't too surprising for a remake of a 20-year old game. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t creatively made, however, being one of the only titles I’ve played in which you follow the hero through decades of his life, rather than a scant one or two. You see your hero through childhood, marriage, and fatherhood as you move forward in your quest to save the world. It’s a fun experience, and like any that made this list, well worth giving a try if you don’t mind taking the time needed to do so.
Image © Sony Computer Entertainment
It’s not too surprising Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits was ignored, really. Despite being an interesting RPG with a cool story, it was competing with several much more well-known brands on the PS2. Thus, it wasn’t something many people found themselves looking for when it first released.
Arc the Lad has us following Kharg and Darc in two very different corners of the world. Kharg appears to be human, and Darc a deimos, two races which have historically never gotten along. Unfortunately, they both depend upon the same resource to survive, and so they must learn to either work together to save the "Spirit Stones" from a massive human army sweeping the world, or be destroyed. It’s a suitably dramatic plot, and probably the most standard RPG of the games on this list. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of fun to play through, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to give their PS2 another spin.
Image © Sting
To be honest, I’m not sure if this game fits on the list as a JRPG or not, but considering how little it fits into any one archetype it caters to: Why not?
Knights in the Nightmare has us controlling a disembodied wisp questing to take back his castle. In this he is joined by Maria, a Valkyrie who gradually helps him regain his memories of why the castle is in such ruin and what happened to all the knights once guarding it. The entirety of the gameplay is made up by battle preparation and actual combat, spaced throughout by lengthy bits of the memory of the castle itself remembering the tragedy that occurred, as well as the actions in real time of the knights’ remaining ghosts. It’s a grim game, to be sure, but conquering each challenge as it comes is incredibly rewarding, especially some of the brutal boss fights.
At its heart, each fight is a turn-based strategy battle, with you moving your knights into attack and your opponent doing the same. While this is going on, you have to dodge of plethora of flying objects throughout the screen in order to keep your wisp alive. If he dies, you automatically lose the fight. Finally, it isn't just enough to defeat all the enemies on screen. Instead you must defeat certain types of enemies to fill out a tic-tac-toe-like 'Enemy Matrix' before you run out of time (or die).
And here you have them, just some of the great games that often go unrecognized by the gaming community! There's a lot of competition to be the best in the JRPG world, and many games get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps a few of these deserve another chance?
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Chet started working at GoBoiano as an Anime Reviewer this past year. A longtime fan of manga and anime, he looks forward to sharing his passion with as many people as possible, all while trying to properly learn how to use the internet. When he's not eating crepes or reading manga, he can often be found reading Brandon Sanderson or playing a new JRPG.
Follow him here @Cheddarchet.
Thanks for reading!