It seems that the world is divided. And no, I’m not talking about today’s political climate. Instead, I’m talking about Western versus Japanese subjects. People either love or hate import cars like Hondas or Nissans, people either love or hate anime, and people either love or hate JRPGs. Now, I’m not saying it’s bad to like or dislike something. I love imports; I drive a Mitsubishi Eclipse that I’m slowly modifying. At the same time, one of my dream cars is a ’69 Dodge Charger (typical). In other words, I love both domestic and Japanese cars.
Going back to video games, I never really immersed myself into JRPGs. Most of the the time I was fixated on racing games (Most Wanted anyone?), and with the exception of Pokemon and Final Fantasy, I just wasn’t drawn to them as much. So why am I talking about it now? Well, I’m glad you asked, handsome reader.
I just started watching anime this year. There, I said it. After keeping anime at arms length and treating it like a virus, I finally gave into my curiosity and watched an episode, and in turn it got me looking into JRPGs. Now, this isn’t first time I have every seen an anime. I’ve watched Pokemon and Zoids and the like as a kid, but back then there were just cartoons. To my child brain, I saw nothing different between Batman: The Animated Series (my favorite cartoon of all time) and Gundam.
Later on, I watched Initial D, and I immediately fell in love with the show, but not because it was an anime. I liked it because it was about cars. I had never seen anything like this before, so Initial D was instantly ranked as one of the best shows I’ve ever watched. I also liked The Boondocks, which is also technically and anime, but I don’t know so feel free to fight over it in the comment section below.
This year, however, I decided to watch Attack on Titan (because they had just announced season two, which apparently took four years to make) followed by Sword Art Online I and II. I also re-reading a manga, Slam Dunk, which I never finished when I was a kid, and I bought the anime after I finished reading. This was the first time I intentionally watched a show because it was an anime.
(If you would like to read more about anime, there’s a great blog I found called Anime Girls NYC. Check them out.)
What stood out the most about these shows was the narrative; it was very well done, but I wanted more. I wanted something that I could interact with. So I embraced JRPGs, and it turns out, I’ve been playing them all along. But, after years of playing, which were my favorites, and why did I enjoy them so much? Allow me to answer.
So, I believe Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG with JRPG elements. Since some may not even consider it a JRPG, it’s ranked the lowest on my lists, but damn was it a good game. I had a blast playing this game, though at the time I barely had any clue as to what was going on with the convoluted story. It’s still one of my favorite games, and many people agree. Visiting worlds from my favorite Disney movies was mind blowing, and I loved every second of it.
As I said, what stood out to me the most was the combat system. It made the game feel like a western RPG, but the outlying elements such as the narrative made feel like a JRPG. The gameplay was fun, the characters were awesome. There were moments where you could laugh out loud and moments when you felt the despair that the characters felt.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for a new installment, fans of this series will soon get to revisit all their favorite characters again next year in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Pokemon (any of them)
Probably the first JRPG any one of us played, Pokemon is sure to be on the list of top ten most influential games of all time. Not only was it a first time game for many of us, it was the first role playing game many of us every saw. The turn based combat was dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of your Pokemon, not your abilities at button smashing. You had to be smart when playing the game, and the slower combat allowed you to analyze a situation and act accordingly.
In addition to the fun stories, the most shining feature of the series was catching all the Pokemon in the game. With literally hundreds of monsters to capture, train, and battle, you could spend hour after hour walking between towns, searching for the best Pokemon to add to your team. The games let you train and battle to become the very best like no one ever was. To catch all the Pokemon was your real test; to train them was your cause.
Each new game added a bit more to the formula, keeping it fresh and alive. Even after all these years, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down, especially with the success of Pokemon Go (not made by GameFreak), and later Sun and Moon. During E3 this year, Nintendo also confirmed a JRPG style Pokemon game for the Nintendo Switch, something fans had been asking for since the Switch’s announcement.
Though the number of games in the series are extensive given the vast amount of years the franchise has existed, all of them can be considered great. If I had to to chose which one I couldn’t live without, though, it has to be FireRed, which was a re-release of Pokemon Red. I just liked the region and system of FireRed. It is also the first game I got on an emulator on my phone, and I still play it today!
Sword Art Online: RE: Hollow Fragment
I can hear the gasps and sounds of disgust already, but before you hit the X on the top right corner and throw me in the luny bin, allow me to explain. Sword Art Online as an anime had its imperfections. Not to go into much detail, but the story, though decent and fun, had a few outstanding issues, plot holes, and cringe worthy moments. Still, I believe the level of hate it has gotten is unfair. Personally I enjoyed the show, and I can’t wait to see the new movie, SAO: Ordinal Scale.
Anyways, why did I put Sword Art Online on my list? The anime it’s based on had mixed reviews, and the combat system, gameplay, and general features of the game were decent, but not the best; so why did I like it? In one word; Story.
The story is one of the best I’ve ever come across in games, TV, or books, and it kept me playing well into the late night. On top of that, the game is huge. I’ve put in well above 50 hours and I’m still not even close to being done. Usually, with a game this long, players tend to lose interest, or the story becomes dull and stagnant, but not here. Sword Art Online‘s narrative is what the anime could have and should have been.
You don’t need to watch the anime or read the light novels to enjoy this game. It does a pretty good job of setting everything up, and explaining why characters like Leafa and Sinon, characters who were never in SAO, are present. The story is fun, interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes sweet, and sometimes sad, and it drives you to keep playing. If you like playing JRPGs for the narrative, you need to check out Sword Art Online: RE: Hollow Fragment.
[SPOILER] There’s even a sex seen with Kirito and Asuna during their honeymoon, so all you horny little buggers that wanted to see that in the anime get to see it in the game. Just don’t expect it to be a hentai; it’s tastefully done (you don’t really see anything, you just hear them do the deed).
Final Fantasy VII
What can I say that hasn’t been said about the Final Fantasy games already? You get interesting and well written characters, a fun and compelling narrative, heavy steaks that keep you immersed in the game, and a very well done turn-based combat system. Final Fantasy basically defined the JRPG genre, so it’s no surprise it makes the list of everyone’s top JRPGs. But, if I had to say which game is the best, non other then Final Fantasy VII comes to mind.
A lot of people and gamers prefer Final Fantasy VI, but personally, I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII the most. The story has you play as Cloud as he teams up with a plethora of interesting and unique characters in order to fulfill his mission. Each character brings something to the table, and I enjoyed interacting with them.
With many twists and turns and moments full of emotion, as a kid I couldn’t get enough of this game. Very few games manage to connect with players like Final Fantasy VII did, and if you’ve never played it I highly suggest you do (or you can wait for the remake when it comes out ten years from now [seriously, it was announced in 2015, are they going to pull a Final Fantasy XV and keep us waiting forever?]).
[SPOILERS] Let’s be honest, what made FFVII so impactful was Aerith’s death. In fact, so many players refused to accept that she was really dead, and came up with intricate and sometimes insane ways to bring her back to life. We all tried one way or another to bring the character back from the dead, but no matter how complex the instructions got, nothing could return the beloved character. Aerith’s resurrection has become a gaming urban legend ever since.
My favorite JRPG by far, Persona 5 holds many of the features fans of the series love, but it manages to innovate itself and modernize it’s core system in order to appeal to a new generation of gamers. Much like Final Fantasy, Persona 5 did not ignore the times like other franchises do. Introducing us to a charismatic main character and allowing us to role play and create a unique experience, Persona 5 manages to have the right mix to appeal to everyone.
For many, the number one spot would go to Final Fantasy, and I wouldn’t blame them, but in terms of character and style, Persona 5 has something that Final Fantasy doesn’t. It has a punk, no holding back air to it, which sets it apart from Final Fantasy‘s more elegant and traditional style. The theme, visuals, combat system, and story are all unique, and let this game stand out from the rest. Persona 5 has hours of gameplay, and I never felt tired or bored with it. A good stating point for new comers, Persona 5 can be played without ever touching the previous games, though I suggest you do play them all.
If I had to chose which JRPG was my favorite, I’d have to say Persona 5, because to me it defines what a modern JRPG is.
So those were my favorite JRPGs. Did you agree, or do you think I missed one? Keep in mind, this was just my personal list of my top JRPGs, and everyone has different tastes and opinions. More importantly, what are some of your favorite JRPGs, so that I can play them as well! Feel free to leave comment below.
If you enjoyed Sword Art Online and would like to know how a game like SAO can function in real life, check out my blog post: Sword Art Online; Could it Happen?. If you would like to read my view on the violence and video games topic, read my post: Violence in Video Games.