From the iconic EarthBound to the expansive Trails series there have been many incredible JRPGs released over the years, but which ones are considered the best of all time? With the once-niche genre growing in popularity all the time, here are 10 JRPGs you must play in 2022.
Widely known for its often anime-inspired design, turn-based combat, and grind-heavy gameplay, the Japanese role-playing genre has produced some of the best games of all time. There’s a lot to choose from nowadays so we’re here to break down some of the best JRPGs that everybody should play at least once.
Whether you’re eagerly awaiting the next Final Fantasy installment or celebrating the Persona games finally coming to Nintendo Switch, there are more than enough games to keep you busy. Here are the top 10 JRPGs of all time.
10. The Legends of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
The Legend of Heroes Trails series is a decade-spanning JRPG franchise that currently contains fourteen interconnected games that are all part of the Trails universe. Trails in the Sky was the game that kicked off the entire saga and it still holds up well to this day.
The game follows the journey of Estelle Bright and her adopted brother Joshua who journey across the land of Liberl completing their training to become bracers – members of a non-government organization that act to protect society and keep the peace.
The gameplay is comprised of overworld exploration and turn-based battles which set the foundation for the unique mechanics that would define the rest of the franchise. Trails in the Sky is a great introduction to one of the vastest worlds in all of gaming and is an essential must-play for anyone interested in the series.
If reading the term “Xeno” has made you think of the Xenoblade Chronicles games we wouldn’t be surprised. Xenogears is the predecessor to Nintendo’s modern breakthrough JRPG series and its legacy exceeds far more than just what came after.
While the gameplay and mechanics are admittedly dated and somewhat janky now, the strongest part of this JRPG is its storytelling. Xenogears tells an epic tale, full of ambition and scope that is still one of the most unique narratives by today’s standards, let alone when it was originally released in 1998. It follows a young material artist and painter called Fei who travels alongside his allies across the world in order to uncover the mysteries surrounding them.
Without a doubt, this is one story that everyone should experience. To top it all off, Xenogears’ music is widely regarded as one of the best game soundtracks of all time – having been created by Yasunori Mitsuda who also scored Chrono Trigger.
EarthBound, otherwise known as “Mother 2” is one of Nintendo’s flagship JRPGs. Released in 1995 in North America – a year after its Japanese release – Earthbound initially sold poorly, something that was attributed at the time to the game’s simple graphics and satirical marketing campaign.
It was only years later that a dedicated community of fans began to rally around EarthBound – particularly after Ness became a playable character in the Super Smash Bros series. By the early 2000s, EarthBound’s goofy tone, weird humor, and lovable party members had won over the hearts of gamers and it was eventually deemed one of the greatest games of all time.
EarthBound is a truly unique and captivating JRPG that’s rightly regarded as a classic. Since its initial release, the game has had several ports and was recently added to Nintendo’s Switch Online service so there’s no better time to jump in.
7. Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver
In many ways, Pokemon is the unsung hero of the JRPG landscape. These creature-collecting adventures have gone on to create one of the most popular media franchises in the world and still contain a lot of traditional JRPG elements to this day.
Each Pokemon game sees the player starting their journey as a Pokemon trainer, choosing a partner, and setting out from their hometown on a grand adventure to win gym badges, complete their PokeDex, and become a Pokemon Master.
HeartGold and SoulSilver were the first Pokemon remakes to benefit from the enhanced Nintendo DS hardware, thus providing welcome nostalgia for veteran fans while introducing the Johto region to a brand new generation.
6. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Dragon Quest is a historic IP that’s always been somewhat overshadowed by Square Enix’s other long-running series, Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. Despite this, the beloved JRPG has a hugely dedicated fanbase and is currently at the height of its modern popularity thanks to the fantastic Echoes of an Elusive Age.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is perhaps the most fondly remembered entry in the series. Released for the PlayStation 2 in 2004, it became the fastest-selling PS2 title in Japan within just a week of sales and was met with critical acclaim after its worldwide release in 2005.
Journey of the Cursed King tells a fable-like tale of the hero protagonist who, alongside his party of allies, journey to defeat the sinister court jester, Dhoulmagus, who has cast an evil spell across the kingdom of Trodain.
Dragon Quest VIII is a charming JRPG that features wonderful character designs from Dragon Ball’s Akira Toriyama, an extremely lovable cast of characters, and it was the first game in the franchise to utilize fully 3D models and environments. It’s not only a great introduction to the world of Dragon Quest but it’s a must-play for any JRPG fan.
5. Kingdom Hearts 2
After Kingdom Hearts stole the hearts of millions with a charming premise that brought beloved Disney characters and the world of Final Fantasy together, the anticipation for a sequel was at an all-time high. By September 2006, Kingdom Hearts II had been released worldwide and was an immediate success, shipping well over a million copies in both Japan and North America.
Kingdom Hearts II continues the story of Sora, Donald, and Goofy as they search for their lost friends and battle the sinister Organization XIII. The game doubles down on everything that made the original great while introducing new Disney Worlds to explore, and fresh faces to play as (including fan favorite Roxas.)
The gameplay is a great step up from the original, with the addition of Drive Forms making the hack and slash combat much more exciting, and the Gummi Ship sections were overhauled in direct response to fan criticism.
The graphics were also massively improved, making the anime-inspired character designs and the colorful cast of Disney characters look better than ever before. Overall, Kingdom Hearts II is an essential entry in a truly unique JRPG series filled with magic and wonder.
4. Nier: Automata
Though it could easily be categorized as an action RPG, the beauty of Nier Automata is that it simply doesn’t pigeonhole itself into a specific genre. Created by Japanese studio PlatiunumGames, Automata follows the story of two androids during an ongoing war between Machines of alien origin, and human-crafted Androids.
The game has an open-world structure and often times during missions the core gameplay can suddenly change on the fly. Players can go from hack-and-slashing through enemies in a third-person perspective to platforming through side-scrolling segments in a matter of minutes. Shoot ’em-up encounters and bullet hell bosses only add to the melting pot of ideas that all remarkably blend together to offer a wholely distinct experience like nothing else in video games.
Needless to say, Nier Automata is considered one of the most captivating video games ever for this reason. The game features 26 possible endings and most fans will say it’s well worth experiencing them all.
3. Persona 4 Golden
Persona 5 Royal might be the most stylish JRPG of all time but Persona 4 Golden is arguably the title that put the Persona franchise on the map. Golden is the enhanced and definitive edition of 4 that was released exclusively for the PlayStation Vita in 2012 and it is an absolute must-play for any gamer, let alone JRPG fans.
Trading the lively city environments of previous (and future) entries, Persona 4 Golden immerses the player in the rural town of Inaba after the protagonist is sent to live with his uncle and younger cousin for one calendar year. What begins as a quiet countryside experience unravels into an enticing murder mystery that the player and his newfound friends must solve by harnessing the powers of their Personas to defeat monsters known as Shadows.
Persona 4 Golden features turn-based combat in randomly generated dungeons. The core gameplay loop is split between dungeon-crawling and increasing your social links with other characters which can result in unlocking Personas and gaining new skills.
Persona 4 Golden is the magma opus of the PlayStation Vita, a JRPG masterpiece that cemented the series’ greatness and paved the way for the future.
2. Chrono Trigger
Released in 1995 for the SNES, Chrono Trigger is an RPG created by a powerhouse group that Square dubbed the “Dream Team”. Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator, Yuji Horii, and Dragon Ball mangaka Akira Toriyama were the core force behind Chrono Trigger, and the result was an epic sci-fi adventure unlike any other.
The story of Chrono Trigger follows the titular Chrono and his party members as they travel through time in the hopes of preventing a global catastrophe. Set in an Earth-like world, the story spans various eras of history including the prehistoric age, the middle ages, and a dark post-apocalyptic future. Throughout the game, the party revisits the different periods to gain information, meet new allies, and develop equipment. It’s a narrative that’s full of rich worldbuilding and is universally praised for its lore.
The gameplay is relatively traditional for a JRPG with turn-based combat and overworld navigation. One standout element for the time however was the inclusion of openly visible enemies on field maps, as opposed to random encounters.
Chrono Trigger is a true classic that anyone interested in the JRPG genre should pick up.
1. Final Fantasy VII
The seventh installment in the Final Fantasy series is nothing short of a groundbreaking achievement. Widely regarded for popularizing the role-playing genre, and boosting PlayStation sales worldwide, FF7 is undoubtedly the most impactful JRPG ever released.
Not only did the game introduce new mechanics including Materia and Limit Breaks, but it was also the first Final Fantasy game to feature 3D graphics and full motion video with 3D models being superimposed onto pre-rendered backgrounds. Compared to earlier entries, Final Fantasy 7 opted for a steampunk science fiction setting that served as a backdrop to Cloud’s timeless story.
The game’s narrative is captivating, compelling, and full of memorable characters. It’s an emotional story full of depth and surprising twists that will leave a lasting impact on any player.
In short, Final Fantasy 7 was a generation-divining title that did wonders for the JRPG genre, and for that, it more than deserves the number one spot on this list. With the reimagined remake trilogy in full swing, and the upcoming Crisis Core Reunion remaster, now is the perfect time to go back and experience the original game.
Those are our picks for the best JRPGs of all time! While you’re here, check out some more video game rankings below:
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