It was only during high school that I began to seriously embrace the JRPG genre. This was during the PSone era when Western RPGs for consoles were fairly thin on the ground and Japanese games such as Final Fantasy VII, The Legend of Dragoon and Dragon Warrior VII were all the rage.
I could only afford a new game every two months or so, so whenever a good JRPG came along I was eager to spend my cash on it since this genre represented excellent value for money and I certainly had no shortage of spare time to play during my teenage years – particularly during school holidays!
The first JRPG I played seriously was Final Fantasy VII on PSone after my school friend Russell kindly lent it to me. This triggered a mild obsession with the Final Fantasy series for me that reached its zenith with Final Fantasy X. Since then I’ve explored some of Square Enix’s other JRPG series and have become particularly fond of Atlus’ Persona franchise.
With the release of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch across European territories today I thought it was high time to compose a list of the best JRPGs I’ve played since Final Fantasy VII introduced me to the charms of the genre. Obviously Ni no Kuni is right up there but I’ll exclude it for now since it’s still in the process of cementing its classic status.
There are still dozens of classic JRPGs I’d still love to play (such as the games I listed last month) so forgive me if I neglect to mention any of your personal favourites.
So without further ado, here are my top five JRPGs of all-time:
- Grandia was in the bargain bin when I first caught sight of it so I decided to take a chance and try it out. I only later learned that it had first been released on the Sega Saturn (Japan only) and was considered to be a true JRPG classic. This status turned out to be correct because Grandia boasts an epic narrative spanning two discs and a rewarding combat system that requires plenty of strategy during boss battles. The game’s young cast of characters was also memorable and the dialogue was witty. I remember being overwhelmed by how many people there were to talk to in each town and how often their dialogue refreshed! Like Xenogears, Grandia’s polygonal graphics haven’t held up very well but the game is still worth playing through for the sense of adventure it so effectively conveys.
- I remember being interested in the Persona series since I first read reviews and saw screenshots for Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. Sadly, that game wasn’t released in Europe so it was only when I was browsing Take2 (now TAKEALOT) one day that my interest in the series was reignited when I saw Persona 4 for sale. Purchasing it was one of the best gaming decisions of my life as it turned out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined. Persona 4 is a very unique hybrid of life sim and RPG, and its very Japanese setting appealed to my interest in the country’s culture. I enjoyed the game so much that purchases of Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable soon followed, and I’m now eagerly awaiting Persona 4 Golden for PS Vita!
Final Fantasy VII
- You won’t find many FFVII players who are as hardcore as I am, and I think this has to do with it being my first JRPG and my ‘go to’ game whenever I was bored as a teenager (I’ve finished it around four times). I’ve increased my appreciation of the game’s legacy by playing through Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII on PSP and watching the feature film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, and I have a deep respect for Tetsuya Nomura (director of the Kingdom Hearts series) who not only created FFVII’s iconic character designs but also helped come up with the concept for the story. I’d love to see this game remade with HD graphics and a full orchestral soundtrack to do Nobuo Uematsu’s fantastic melodies justice.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
- I picked this PS2 game up cheaply a year or two after it was released and was immediately bowled over by its beautiful cel-shaded graphics, quaint towns and charming enemy designs. This was the first cel-shaded game I played in-depth and also the first title developed by Level-5 that I completed. Having already played three Final Fantasy games on my PS2 (FFX, FFX-2 and FFXII), Dragon Quest VIII marked a refreshing change of pace and atmosphere from this trio of blockbusters.
- This game is another one of those titles that was never released in Europe despite being a stellar addition to Square Enix’s JRPG line-up on PSone. Needless to say, I found a way around this restriction and really enjoyed Chrono Cross’ tropical setting and witnessing the repercussions of exploring (and interacting with) different time periods. The game boasts an incredible 45 party members and it was especially rewarding unlocking some of their ultimate weapons. In my opinion, Chrono Cross has a much better battle system than the Final Fantasy games on PSone, and it’s awesome being able to avoid enemies if you’re trying to press on with your next objective.
So there you have it – my personal JRPG favourites. What are yours?