JRPGs are a classic genre of games that the most gaming elite cherish. As of late, they’ve been on the decline in acclaim and popularity, but that doesn’t mean the classics have faded any further from our hearts. Here are five of my all-time favorites, beloved and cherished because of awesome gameplay, story, and memories. This is not an article for the objectively ‘best ever’ JRPGs of all time (I wouldn’t be qualified for that without far more research), just an attempt to point out some of my personal high points of the entire genre.
5: Legend of Legaia (Playstation 1)
Perhaps a strange choice for any List save for maybe a ‘Top Forgotten PSX RPGs’, but Legend of Legaia rests soundly as one of my favorite of all-time. Its story was hardly a-typical for a Japanese game – it focused on a cast of kids with special powers looking to save a world overrun by monsters. But, at the time, it felt like a straight-forward and fresh take on typical JRPG tropes.
While most games in the genre have no excuse for a world teeming to the brim with horrific monsters outside of the safety of certain areas, Legend of Legaia justified it through evil Mist that had corrupted once peaceful creatures into bloodthirsty monsters. The Mist, being fairly pervasive, led to a massive decline in human civilization, forcing people to flee to safe zones around powerful, magical trees. In a theme typical to Final Fantasy games, your three young characters must travel the world, re-activating dormant trees and destroying mist generators to return order to the world. It is simple and mostly forgettable, but still strangely distinct and fun.
I also remember finding the combat to be particularly fun. Instead of leaning more toward a high fantasy setting of Knights and Wizards, Legend of Legaia embraced its Asian roots and gave us a fighting game disguised as a turn-based RPG. Each turn, you string together a series of high, low, left, and right attacks which create special combos. It may sound like typical Japanese game design over-convulation, but it is rather simple and fun.
All in all, Legend of Legaia is mostly an average experience, that stood out to me and my friends at the time as an above average experience. I will always hold it in high regard.
4: Final Fantasy VII (Playstation 1)
I have mentioned my love of Final Fantasy VII several times, but even if you haven’t read those posts, I doubt you find it much of a surprise that this is mentioned as a favorite. But I can’t help myself: Final Fantasy VII was just too good and came around at such a perfect time for so many of us, that it is impossible not to recognize it.
That said, I don’t think it is the best JRPG of all time, and definitely not one that I would objectively put in the top three. I can never see it surpassing something like a Chrono Trigger. Still, for such a unique setting, cast, and incredibly fun system of character customization, Final Fantasy VII is an unforgettable experience. It perfectly blends humor with seriousness, immediate romance with epic and worldwide problems.
As the reason why I asked for a Playstation instead of a Nintendo 64 one fateful Christmas in my youth, Final Fantasy VII changed the entire direction of my gaming life. Instead of continuing my love of Mario in Super Mario 64 or getting addicted to classics like Ocarina of Time and GoldenEye, I spent most of my time looking for other JRPG experiences like Final Fantasy VII. And given the Playstation’s extensive library when it came to RPGs, it led me down the path to a great many great, okay, and just plain horrible games.
3: Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast)
Often the first and only thing you ever heard from reviewers or people who played Skies but didn’t get into it was “I can’t walk an inch without another random battle!” It was an unforgiving fact that Skies of Arcadia did have a high rate of random battles, but that never stopped me from falling in love with one of the most unique, interesting, and fun JRPG experiences of all time. Skies of Arcadia had two very stand out features that I still dream of seeing again to this day.
First, though Final Fantasy games had really pioneered the awesome feeling of getting an airship and zipping across the overworld without a care in the world, Skies of Arcadia took the feeling to an entirely new level. All of the overworld travel involved doing it in an airship, given that the world of Skies of Arcadia was a series of floating islands and continents. In place of a lot of boss battles, you fought turn-based ship versus ship battles, which proved to be an extremely fun alternative to strictly doing old-fashioned JRPG combat.
Second, as a game about flying around the world in a suped-up airship, Skies also featured a heavy focus on exploration and discovery. In turn, your discoveries could be sold to other explorers for profit. For the time, it was a unique and interesting way to take advantage of some extra space, and it gave the Skies overworld a unique, living feel to it. Unlike other JRPGs which consist of open fields surrounded by mountain ranges with single caves that lead to a village on the other side, Skies of Arcadia felt freer than any other JRPG I have played.
Whether you pick up the Gamecube port or just play it on the Dreamcast, Skies of Arcadia is one of the best JRPGs ever and an obvious choice to be anyone’s favorite. As a huge Dreamcast fan, Skies easily rests in the top 3 for the entire system’s library.
2: Dragon Warrior (NES)
I would hate to have to decide where Dragon Warrior for NES (the first game in the long-running Dragon Quest series) resides on an all-time list of best JRPGs, but for me it second to one. It is the first JRPG I ever played, and, despite being a child at the time, I recognized its splendor even then.
You see, Dragon Warrior is not a terribly complicated game. It’s not even that difficult, assuming you know what you are doing. While other JRPGs spend a lot of time on plot and character and world development, Dragon Warrior simply asks that you, as a lone hero, vanquish an evil Dragon Lord. In order to do this, you must first gain some experience and better gear, so the game sends you on a series of quests, most of which are there own distinct subplots.
In a way, it is reminiscent of DOOM’s plot (scientists of Mars have opened a portal to Hell, close it) which is perhaps why I love the game’s overall feel of minimalism and simplicity. Even the way random battles draw themselves on the screen has a subtle beauty. For many, it may be a game that is far too sparse and plain, but I see a formula perfected.
1: Final Fantasy Tactics (Playstation 1)
As much as I would like to pretend otherwise, there has never been nor ever will be a better JRPG for me than Final Fantasy Tactics. Chrono Trigger? Boring. Super Mario RPG? Silly. Final Fantasy VI? Worthless! – Final Fantasy Tactics trumps all others.
What other game has an intricate and interesting plot dedicated to political intrigue, historical cover-ups, evil magic, and betrayals that still makes sense? What other game has a character development system as open and as fun as Final Fantasy Tactics’? There may be some, but I doubt there any that combine both into a great, unforgettable experience with a beautiful art style, great soundtrack, and fantastic replayability.
Really, what else is there to say? Final Fantasy Tactics is a great game and the purest, truest definition of a classic that can be had. It represents by itself the best elements of JRPGs and why the genre is loved and remembered fondly by so many. Without any doubt, it is my favorite JRPG of all time.
But what about you? What are some of your favorite JRPGs of all time?