The 20 JRPGs you need to play
There comes a time when every person has to sit down, reflect on their life’s accomplishments, and ask themselves, “What JRPGs should I play?”
Do not worry. I am here to help you.
This post first appeared on Kotaku Australia on October 5, 2021. It has been reframed as a weekend read.
Here is a list of Japanese RPGs worth your time. Some are new; some are old; all are excellent. Each one is worth playing today, even if you have to dig up your dusty old Super Nintendo and try to find cartridges at a yard sale. These are games that are both timeless and timeless. They are the creme de la creme. They have the most spiky hair. The longest of swords. The meanest of demons.
You should really play all these games. Presented in no particular order:
Final Fantasy VI
Platforms: Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Game Boy Advance, iOS, PC
Part steampunk, part star warsand 100% damn awesome, FFVI is the best of Final Fantasys and one of the first RPGs to show people that yes, video games can pack an emotional charge. The adventures of Terra and Celes and their fight against the demonic clown Kefka still hold up today, even if their animations are a bit limited. Really, the constraints of 16-bit graphics leave a lot to the imagination, which is part of what makes Final Fantasy VI still shine in modern times. (Play the original version if you can, rather than the ugly PC remake.)
Platforms: Super Nintendo
In the early 90s, a small company called Quintet released a handful of action RPGs for Nintendo systems. Many are very good”ActRaiser, Soul Blazer, Terranigma“but the highlight is Gaia Illusion, an original adventure in which you play as a psychic boy named Will who must travel through a twisted version of the real world, navigating his way through both fantasy tropes and real-world landmarks like the Great Wall of China. Will’s journey is satisfying and surprisingly touching, filled with little lines and moments that touch on mortality and the meaning of life.
Lunar: full eternal blue
Platforms: Sega Saturn, PlayStation
No game has mastered the concept of the traditional JRPG “a turn-based musical adventure filled with interesting people and places” quite like the Lunar series, created by the talented team of a Japanese studio called Game Arts. Eternal Blue is the best of the bunch, and while the hero, Hiro, can be a bit gritty, the acting is warm, charming, and surprisingly authentic. Killer soundtrack, too.
Ni no Kuni
Platforms: PlayStation 3
If you look up the word “charming” in the dictionary, you probably won’t find it. Ni no Kuni. I don’t know why you thought a niche roleplaying game would be mentioned in a dictionary. But Ni no Kuni is a great game nonetheless,” a beautiful and fun adventure that is essentially an explorable Miyazaki movie. (Read my review.) The sequel is also worth playing and has a vastly improved combat system.
The Spooky Star IV
Platforms: Sega Genesis, PC, PS4, Xbox One
In the 90s, when Final Fantasy had exploded and JRPGs were as ubiquitous as MOBAs are today, Sega came up with their own version: phantom stara sci-fi epic that would be star wars What dragon quest was from the Lord of the Rings. While some Nintendo naysayers and fans have called Sega’s series knockoffs, people who have actually played Genesis RPGs have been treated to high-quality sci-fi action RPGs. The Spooky Star IV in particular is transcendent.
the trigger of a stopwatch
Platforms: Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, iOS, Android, PC
Listen, you know all about the trigger of a stopwatch. Time travel, talking frog swordsmen, Lavos, Lucca, mute Jesus protagonist, floating magical sky kingdom. If you’ve never played it before, try to keep your expectations in check “it probably won’t change your life” but it’s still a top notch RPG. (We recommend the DS version.)
Platforms: Playstation3, PS4
personas 5 is part high school simulator and part dungeon-crawler, which sounds like a pretty boring combination until you play it and see what it’s all about. Although the fifth Character can drag a little towards the end, there is a vibe unlike anything else. Coffee and curry, anyone? (Read our review.)
Final Fantasy VII
Platforms: PlayStation, PC, iOS, PS4
In this game you have to fight with a giant cannon.
Platforms: PlayStation, PS1 classics
There are games that make sense, and then there are Xenogears, a sprawling epic about giant robots and religious mythology that somehow manages to be both poignant and incoherent. If you can look past poor dungeon design and excruciatingly slow text, you’re in for a wonderful adventure about people battling the odds “and giant robots” to save the world from what may or not be God himself.
The legend of heroes: paths in the sky
Platforms: PSP, PC
One of the most interesting RPGs of the modern era has one of the most boring titles: The legend of heroes: paths in the sky. I promise you, it’s a lot less generic than it looks. There are blimps and twists and little fun moments pretty well crafted by the localization team at XSEED, who pulled out all the big guns for this one and its sequel, which are basically two halves of one game. Don’t forget to talk to the treasure chests. (Learn more about what makes Trails in the sky so good.)
Platforms: Super Nintendo, Wii U
Yes, Nintendo’s cult classic is as good as everyone says. Yes, it’s quirky and funny and full of memorable moments. No, it’s not really a fetus.
Platforms: Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS
radiant history is like a Chrono Trigger for the modern era. You know “time travel, strategy-packed combat system, lots of melodrama” works. It’s pretty awesome.
Platforms: Super Nintendo
JRPGs are, as a rule, not very good at puzzles. But Lufia 2 rivals Zelda in its ability to surprise and challenge you with puzzles in every dungeon. It’s a great game, and it’s holding up well today. Just watch out for the bugs “one or two levels of the game are so flawed they appear like gibberish onscreen, and you have to walk in a straight line to get out. (Also: avoid the DS remake, which is basically a game different.)
Platforms: PlayStation, PS Classics
game of thrones meets Pokemonbut really, it’s much better. Suikoden IIThe story of is one of the most emotionally resonant I’ve found in a video game, and its “Oh, holy shit” moments are about better than the “Oh, holy shit” moments of n’ anyone else. If you like stories of friendship and betrayal and all that jazz, this JRPG is for you. Beat the first Suikoden is useful but not essential. (First time playing? Read our tips.)
Super Mario RPG
Platforms: Super Nintendo, Wii Virtual Console
How many RPGs let you play as Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom? Well, ok, a lot these days. But Super Mario RPG was the first and still is one of the best, and it’s the only RPG with a weapon that lets Bowser throw Mario at enemy Koopa Troopas, which is about all you need to know.
Final Fantasy IX
Platforms: PlayStation, PS1 Classics, PC
Clever, shrewd and remarkably well written, the ninth Final Fantasy is a Shakespearean game with more humor than you might expect from a game about a thief in love with a princess. The random encounter rate is way too high, but pretty much everything else makes up for that.
Dragon Quest VIII
Platforms: PlayStation 2, iOS, 3DS
The best of dragon quests is cel-shaded and goofy and full of charm. If you don’t mind silly accents and a bit level, you’ll love it.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Platforms: PlayStation, PSP, iOS, PS1 Classics
Video games love to glorify war, but in Final Fantasy Tactics, war is real and unpleasant” if you look beyond the fact that it is fought by magicians wearing funny hats. FFT is a game full of death, betrayal, and bad news for everyone except you’re the player, in which case you’ll love the game’s sleek job system and addictive grid-based combat.
Kingdom Hearts 2
Platforms: PlayStation 2
If you don’t spend too much time thinking about the convoluted mess that Tetsuya Nomura calls a plot, jumping and cutting through Disney worlds is actually a whole lot of fun.
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One
Before Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker got trapped in the quagmire of mobile gaming, they made some fantastic RPGs, including the Microsoft exclusive lost odyssey, easy to play today thanks to Xbox One backwards compatibility. With a compelling story around a team of amnesiac immortals and solid old-school mechanics, lost odyssey always well worth your time.
This article has been updated since its original publication.