The Best JRPGs of All Time
This list is an opinion piece about the best Japanese Role Playing Games of all time. From any video gaming system, and any time period.
Persona 4: Golden
Flashback to 2008....a lonely young boy in highschool didn't have many friends to look to. Like most at this time he experienced bullying and social ineptitude. (Spoiler: it was me). At that time I played a video game called Persona 4 for the Playstation 2. It was amazing. One of the few video games I consider to be a true masterpiece. The story, set in a sleepy Japanese town surrounding a supernatural killer that only takes his victims when a mysterious fog rolls over the land, is absolutely phenomenal. The character development makes you feel as if you are growing with this group of friends over the 80+ hour adventure. You will laugh, you will cry, you will hate when it's over. In 2012 the game was completely remade for the Playstation Vita with loads of new content. This is the definitive version and is a must have for any Vita owner and JRPG fan. Persona 4: Golden gets the number one spot on the list, and in my heart.
Tales of Symphonia
Tales of Symphonia is arguably the best and most well-loved in the popular "Tales of" series. It was originally released in 2003 for the Gamecube, and was re-released for the Playstation 3 in 2014. Tales of Symphonia has an interesting story, what originally starts off as a quest to escort a young girl to a place of worship quickly turns into a grand adventure across two different worlds. The plot is so deep that you will wish there was more. Not only is the story rich, though. Where this title really shines is in its battle system. A real time system set on a plain makes for a fast-paced and satisfying experience, much more interesting to the turn based system we have come to know from previous games on this list.
Pokemon: Red and Blue
What can be said about Pokemon that already hasn't been said? I don't know, but I'll try. Pokemon is the single most wonderful time a child in the late 90's could have. It is almost impossible to recreate the feeling of catching your favorite Pokemon and conquering your favorite gyms. The newest installments do in my opinion successfully build on the precedent set by the originals, but the original games with their original 151 Pokemon will remain the core experience in my heart. If you haven't played a Pokemon game, you must have never played a video game. This is a franchise that is so well loved, and for a good reason. Pokemon: Red and Blue scores spot number 3.
Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance
I'll probably get crucified for it....but I enjoy FFT: Advance more so than I enjoy the original! Maybe it is just the nostalgia, but there was something special about following our misguided hero Marche into the world of Ivalice. Sure FFT had the grim war-talk, and the funny phrasing, but Advance had that child-like appeal that I hold so dear. The story was interesting and deep, and the huge cast of characters made for an experience that was never dull. And here the grid-based battle system was only improved upon! Final Fantasy Tactics: Advance scores spot number 4 on the list.
Ni No Kuni
Ni no Kuni is beautiful. Just so, so, so, beautiful. I'm not including a picture in this entry specifically so you can go look up just how breathtakingly beautiful it is. Brought to you by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Ponyo, Princess, Mononoke, etc), Ni no Kuni is an excellent (and yet again beautiful) cross-world adventure. With a fun little Pokemon element and a cast full of wonderful personalities, this game will definitely help you relive the days of your past youth. It's basically an explorable Studio Ghibli experience!
Final Fantasy Tactics
Mmm, mmm, mmmmmm. Sweet strategy goodness. Final Fantasy Tactics is the purest, and arguably the best, form of strategy RPG. With a depressing story and compelling grid based combat, you will definitely come back for more. This game shows the cruelties of war very convincingly, although all of the characters are dressed/talk a bit silly for the serious tone of the game...oh well though. If you like Final Fantasy, and you like strategy based combat, you've probably already played this. But hey, reading this gave you an excuse to play it again. So go do so!
Super Mario RPG
Super Mario RPG was a different path in Mario's career. We're all used to playing the traditional platforming titles, but this game came along in 1996 to change the way we think of our favorite plumber pal. As it was developed by Square (Final Fantasy) it makes sense that the gameplay and battle system would follow their formulas. While this system alone is not that interesting, it made for something different in the Mario franchise, and while different isn't always great, in this case it definitely works. Super Mario RPG is a fantastic last entry into the Mario series on the SNES, and needs to be played. Do it...now!
What do you say about Earthbound except that it's....strange? Earthbound was originally released in 1994 as Mother 2 for the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo). It is an interesting spin on the genre. This has prompted many indie developers to attempt to capture its charm, with little success I might add. In terms of gameplay there is nothing to write home about, it is as basic as it gets. But where it lacks in that department it makes up for in the strange yet witty story, and the challenging difficulty. If you can find a cartridge (it is SO expensive) it is definitely worth a play.
Next on the list is Chrono Trigger. A classic tale of time travel, adventure, saving the world, and giant green frog men? This game is based on the art style of Akira Toriyama of Dragonball/Dragonball Z fame. If you enjoy a good time travel tale and are into some 16-bit action rpg gameplay then you are in for a treat! While the story may not wow you with twists and turns, this title is definitely worth checking out. I mean, it's Chrono Trigger, just go play it.
Final Fantasy VII
We just need to get this one out of the way, honestly. You love it or you hate it, but there's no denying that Final Fantasy VII revolutionized the world of JRPGs as we know it. Firstly we have the groundbreaking 3D polygon goodness. Yes, it does look dated today. But back in 1997 we had never seen something something so glorious. Between these amazing visuals, the sound, and sheer scope of the story (3 discs!) it's no wonder that this game holds a special place in the hearts of so many gamers. Without it there JRPGs would not have taken the turn that they did in the late 90's. Let's just hope that we can eventually get back on track. I'm talking to you FF XIII...what an embarrassment.
Overall, I have discussed some very good JRPGs. All of which are worth checking out. But if you're only going to go for one, make sure it is Persona 4, and the version for Vita if you can afford it. It is a true masterpiece. Thanks for reading!