The 20 Best JRPGs of All-Time

Video Games

JRPGs can trace their roots to quite a few decades ago. After all, the first examples weren’t released for the NES. Instead, the first examples were released for the first PCs in the 1970s and 1980s. Since that time, JRPGs have seen both rises and falls. For example, the late 1980s to the mid 1990s are seen as having been a particularly good time for the genre. Similarly, we are now in the middle of a renaissance, not least because of new technologies that have made it easier for JRPG makers to connect with JRPG players than ever before. As such, if people are curious about JRPGs as a whole, they have plenty of options to choose from.

20. Chrono Cross

Chrono Cross was the follow-up to the much superior Chrono Trigger that came out at the end of the 1990s. It was very well-received in its own time, as shown by how it managed to get a 10.0 from GameSpot. However, hindsight has revealed a number of blemishes. To name an example, it had a huge cast of characters but it wasn’t capable of making enough use of them, with the result that it felt paper-thin in this regard. In any case, a remaster is coming out in the not too distant future, so if people are curious, they should wait until that comes out.

19. Kingdom Hearts II

There was a time when people cracked jokes about Square Enix’s team-up with Disney. However, there could be no doubt about the project’s success by the time that Kingdom Hearts II came out. Its source material provides it with a great deal of its charm. Still, it is important to note that Kingdom Hearts II was just a very well-made action RPG, so much so that it received an expanded re-release called Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix.

18. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Currently, the Fire Emblem series is at a high point in its existence. This is surprising because Fire Emblem Awakening was meant to be a swan song for the series. Fortunately, it did better than anyone expected, which is why we got Fire Emblem Fates and then Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Out of those two, the latter is the better game, if only because its story actually managed to do its job.

17. Monster Hunter: World

The Monster Hunter series has been very influential. For proof, look no further than the fact that it inspired an entire sub-genre of games. However, it wasn’t until Monster Hunter: World that it managed to make a strong impression on an international audience, which was one of the main reasons that it was made.

16. Octopath Traveler

Octopath Traveler is a RPG that came out in 2018. It is an excellent example of how Japanese video game companies are taking inspiration from the past but updating them for the present. In fact, this can be seen in Octopath Traveler’s very visuals, which have been called HD-2D because of their use of SNES-style sprites and textures with HD effects and polygonal environments.

15. Vagrant Story

Matsuno Yasumi has been responsible for a number of very well-known JRPGs. One excellent example would be Vagrant Story, which isn’t as well-known as some of its counterparts but is nonetheless remembered with fondness by a lot of people out there. It was very unusual in a number of respects. For example, it was an action RPG that possessed elements of both puzzle games and platform games. Similarly, it had no shops, which can seem almost blasphemous in the context of JRPGs.

14. Radiant Historia

It is no exaggeration to say that Radiant Historia is one of the best RPGs of the early 2010s. There were those who compared it with Chrono Trigger. To a considerable extent, this was because of its focus on traveling back, forward, and between timelines for the purpose of creating an acceptable outcome, which made for a lot of interesting scenarios. Still, Radiant Historia wouldn’t be as good as it was without the storytelling to sell everything.

13. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

The Disgaea series is a tactical RPG series known for a number of things. For example, it has a very comedic take on demons, though it isn’t shy about playing to other emotions when the circumstances are right. Similarly, it is famous for the big numbers that become possible when the player is willing to grind and grind and grind. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness would be the game that started up the whole series.

12. The Legend of Heroes: Trail in the Sky

As mentioned earlier, JRPGs have been around for a long time. For an example, consider how the Trails series is a sub-series of The Legend of Heroes series, which started up in the late 1980s. Having said that, the Trails series is much better-known than the rest, not least because it has more than twice the number of titles that have been released so far. It was The Legend of Heroes: Trail in the Sky that got this sub-series going by being a very well-made if somewhat conventional JRPG.

11. Persona 3

Speaking of which, the Persona series is another example of a sub-series that has managed to become more popular than its parent series. However, this didn’t happen with the first Persona game. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that it was Persona 3 that revealed the sub-series’s full potential by combining a high school setting with both RPG elements and social simulation elements. A formula that has been applied to both Persona 4 and Persona 5 with excellent results.

10. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

When people joke about the player fighting God in JRPGs, Shin Megami Tensei is one of the series that they are joking about. It has a lot of similarities with its Persona sub-series, though it isn’t 100 percent the same. For example, Shin Megami Tensei likes to have folkloric, legendary, and mythological figures running around as themselves rather than representatives of the human mind in either modern or even futuristic settings. Similarly, it also likes apocalyptic stakes, though it tends to present those in a much more upfront manner. If people want to check out Shin Megami Tensei, they should know that Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has just received a remaster.

9. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

Final Fantasy has had a lot of spin-offs. However, few of them can match the fame of Final Fantasy Tactics, which remains one of the most iconic turn-based tactical RPGs ever made. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions would be the remake that was released for the PSP in 2007, which has since managed to make its way to both Android and iOS.

8. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together

The team that made Final Fantasy Tactics got the chance to do so because of their success with Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, it received a remake as well, which came out in 2010 and 2011. Thanks to that, it is more than capable of competing with the other turn-based tactical RPGs inspired by them. Unfortunately, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together was last released for the PSP, though there have been recent rumors of upcoming ports.

7. Suikoden II

Suikoden is named for a classic Chinese novel called Water Margin. Although it incorporated the idea of gathering together the incarnations of the 108 Stars of Destiny, it went its own way, thus making it that much better because of it. Suikoden II was something of a commercial disappointment when it came out. Since then, it has received a reassessment by interested individuals, with the result that it has become better and better rated until it is now considered to be one of the greatest JRPGs of all time.

6. EarthBound

There are a lot of people out there who will know Ness better because of Super Smash Bros. than because of his own game. However, if they are curious about where said character came from, they should know that there was a RPG called EarthBound for the SNES. The game was very goofy. For example, its enemies ranged from murderous taxi cabs to sentinent piles of pukes. Similarly, the player had to find a Pencil Eraser so that they could remove the pencil statues blocking their way forward. Still, EarthBound was nonetheless very enjoyable not in spite of that but rather because of that.

5. Secret of Mana

Strictly speaking, Secret of Mana wasn’t the first Mana game. It had a predecessor that was marketed as Final Fantasy Adventure in the west, presumably because that made it easier to sell when compared with letting it sell on its own. Regardless, Secret of Mana was interesting in that it had a real-time battle system rather than the turn-based battle system that was more common with its contemporaries. Something that enabled it to stand out very well at the time. It is interesting to note that there are 3D remakes of both it and its successor Trials of Mana.

4. Final Fantasy VI

Confusingly, Final Fantasy VI was once called Final Fantasy III in the west. This happened because a number of its predecessors didn’t manage to make it over to the west, with the result that Final Fantasy IV became Final Fantasy II while Final Fantasy VI became Final Fantasy III. In any case, this was one of the very best of the JRPGs that were released for the SNES era, which is no mean feat considering the sheer number of JRPGs that came out for said console. Even now, it can be surprisingly enjoyable.

3. Dark Souls

There are those who would argue that Dark Souls isn’t a JRPG because it doesn’t conform to their idea of what a JRPG is supposed to be. However, it is important to remember that the label is a very loose one to begin with, seeing as how it is much more defined by geographical origin than by gameplay mechanics. Dark Souls claims a high position on this list for being one of the most influential JRPGs of recent times, having inspired a whole host of not just successors but also imitators.

2. Final Fantasy VII

Unsurprisingly, Final Fantasy VII was going to show up at some point on this list. Its predecessor was good. However, Final Fantasy VII managed to be better by being willing to innovate while retaining the elements that people loved about what was already a long-running series in the late 1990s. Nowadays, the game looks a bit outdated. Fortunately, Square Enix is in the process of making a multi-part remake, though interested individuals should be warned that they are not just remakes but something new in their own right.

1. Chrono Trigger

If Final Fantasy VII isn’t number one, then that leaves Chrono Trigger, which came out a bit earlier in the mid 1990s. This game had everything. Its characters were very memorable, both because of their looks and because of their characters. Similarly, its battle system was simple and intuitive but offered plenty of challenge while feeling fair the entire time. Chrono Trigger’s story was centered on time travel for the purpose of overcoming an overwhelming enemy that was destined to bring about the devastation of the planet. Something that made a wide range of incredible settings possible, with examples ranging from the magi-tech lost age to the apocalyptic ruins of the far future.

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