With this console cycle slowly coming to an end, and Ni No Kuni sparking such a renewed interest in the genre, I thought that it would be the perfect time to look back at my favourite JRPGs this generation – which hopefully will serve as suggestions to those of you who have missed out on the genre’s highlights…
I’d like to stress that I have not played every single RPG this generation has had to offer, If you feel that I have missed any standout titles that you think are worth mentioning, please do so in the comments below…
Number 10: Nier
Starting off with possibly the weirdest game on this list, Nier is an action RPG from Cavia and a sequel to their previous game Drakengard. Players take the role of Nier, a man who is trying to find the cure for his daughters illness. Nier is a very atypical JRPG protagonist, being and older man instead of the usual teenage hero found in many other games. The game’s story is also unique, with new details being revealed during repeat playthroughs.
Combat is frantic, utilising a real time battle system with the player having access to upgradeable weapons and magic attacks. Sometimes it feels like a bullet hell game, with projectiles being fired at you from every angle. Also of note is Nier’s amazing soundtrack. Each track is a joy to listen to, and it really adds to the game overall. While Nier has some graphical and gameplay issues, its interesting premise and fun combat system make it a game that is definitely worth playing.
Number 9: Eternal Sonata
Eternal Sonata is a gorgeous game, taking place in a dream world created by real life pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin at his death bed. The game has a musical theme running throughout, with characters and even attacks being named after different musical terminologies. Even the story’s chapters are based on different pieces of Chopin’s work. While the game starts out fairly simply, the plot slowly unfolds with new characters being introduced and plot twist abound.
Eternal Sonata’s battle system evolves along with the story, adding new layers of strategy to each encounter. Players also have to contend with light and dark areas in the battlefield, which determine what attacks you can use. Eternal Sonata is a pleasure to play through and the PS3 version adds even more content that you can enjoy.
Number 8: Resonance of Fate
While Tri-Ace may be well known for the Star Ocean series, if you ask me what their best game was, I’ll answer with Resonance of Fate. The world of RoF is covered in poisonous gases and humanity has taken refuge in the Basel (I’m assuming it’s a reference to the Tower of Babel). The setting for the game is pretty cool, but most of the areas are pretty samey.
While the game’s story isn’t anything special for the most part, the main characters make it more than worth your time to go through. Great voicework and some excellent dialogue help to create some of my favourite JRPG characters of all time. The battle system is another amazing part of the game, with characters capable of insane athletic feats. What’s most interesting is that enemies can only move when you do, allowing you to plan out your attack. Add in some insane gun customisation choices, and Resonance of Fate is something truly special.
Number 7: Valkyria Chronicles
When I bought my PS3 a few years ago, this was one of the first games I picked up for it and I’m glad I did. The World War 2 inspired story was something new to me, and helped to set it apart from other JRPGs I played before it. While every looks colourful, Valkyria Chronicles deals with themes that many other game tend to avoid, like racism and the tragedies of war. Likewise, the game’s strategic battle system ensured that you had to think ahead and position your characters effectively. While it seems like Saga had abandoned the series outside Japan, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up both this and its portable sequel.
Number 6: The Legend of Heroes:Trails in the Sky
Coming out long after the PSP was thought to be dead, Trails in the Sky was a pleasant surprise for me, boasting a wonderful cast of likeable characters and a detailed world. While the story itself may not hold too many surprises, the adventures of Estelle, her adopted brother Josh and the rest of the cast is one you’ll want to see through to the end. There is a lot to do in Trails in the Sky, which may be a bit of an understatement. Each new town you visit contains many new faces and quests for you to find.
Those that don’t like to read through large amounts of text (or don’t own a PSP) may want to look elsewhere, but for everyone else this is a lengthy adventure that should not be missed. Hopefully the rest of this series will receive a worldwide release, since I’m dying for more.
Number 5: The World End With You
While nowadays Square Enix might not be on the best of terms with their fans thanks to some weird business decisions, during the DS’s lifetime they released some amazing games for Nintendo’s portable. While I enjoyed games like The 4 Heroes of Light and Dragon Quest IX, The World Ends With You always stood out to me. Every part of the game is interesting in some way, from the dual screen battle system to the funky soundtrack full of great music. TWEWY recently got an iOS release which also hinted at a possible sequel. Hopefully Square Enix delivers, since this is one series I’d be glad to have more of.
Number 4: Tales of Graces F
I’ve already reviewed Tales of Graces F here, so you’ll most likely already know why this game is so high up on this list. It keeps everything that Tales games are known for, great characters and expansive worlds, while adding its own twist to the formula. The fast paced battle system also helps to appeal to newcomers, which makes it a great starting point to the series. Namco Bandai are known for publishing some amazing JRPG, which leads me on nicely to the next game on this list.
Number 3: Ni No Kuni
It took a long time to reach us, but it was definitely worth it. Combining the likes of Pokemon and Tales with Studio Ghibli’s art style was a stroke of genius. Every part of the game’s world is beautiful, with stunning landscapes and some inventive monster designs. This is not a game you’ll want to rush through, as doing so will mean that you miss much of the game’s content. Along the way you find new pages for your wizard’s companion book, which is full of a ridiculous amount of information on items, enemies and even fairy tales from the game’s world.
While the beginning of Ni No Kuni may be somewhat grim, with main character Oliver’s mother dying, the journey as a whole is upbeat and whimsical. Ni No Kuni is a game that should be picked up by both JRPG and Studio Ghibli fans alike.
Number 2: Xenoblade Chronicles
With this game being so high up on this list, it’s strange to think that at one point it was unlikely that it would get a worldwide release. Thankfully everyone can now enjoy this fantastic game, which also serves as one of the Wii’s final great games. Sporting a massive open world full of things to find and a fast paced battle system, Xenoblade shakes up the JRPG formula to deliver a truly unique experience.
Many times I found myself just exploring each area without a goal in mind, taking in the sights and jumping off a few waterfalls for good measure. It’s a game that rewards you for going off on your own, with experience being given for even small things like finding a new type of flower. The world itself is far from the norm, set on the bodies of two giants. Each giant also has its own theme, with the game having a nice balance of organic and mechanical areas.
The story tying everything together easily keeps you hooked, and the amount of extra content will keep you going long after it’s over. There is more than enough to last you past 100 hours, which I found out myself last year. Make sure to check out The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower too, two games that, while not matching the greatness of Xenoblade, are interesting games in their own right.
Number 1: Tales of Vesperia
Making this list was extremely hard, and choosing the number one spot was even harder, but Tales of Vesperia is definitely worthy of this position. Vesperia was one of the first JRPGs I played this generation, and it was the perfect was to start. As with Graces F, Vesperia also has great characters and an expansive world. However, I personally prefer the characters in Vesperia. This is mainly because of the protagonist Yuri. While being somewhat young, he’s not as naïve as other JRPG protagonists, creating a character that is far more interesting than others. The supporting cast is also stellar, with great dialogue between them.
While the combat system isn’t as accessible as Graces F’s, it feels more complex thanks to the way moves are chained together. Vesperia’s soundtrack is another high point of the series, with a great range of town and battle themes. This all combines to make Tales of Vesperia my favourite JRPG of this generation.
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