I’ve written about this subject before, but every day it seems like there’s a new screed, a new attention-grabbing editorial or essay. “Are JRPGs Obsolete?” “Do JRPGs Still Matter?” “Has The Age Of JRPGs Passed?” “Will Xenoblade Revitalise The Japanese RPG?” “Will Ni no Kuni Revitalize The Japanese RPG?” “Will Persona Revitalise The Japanese RPG?” No. Shut up.
Allow me to prove my point. I’ve put together a list of 10 JRPGs — all modern, all different, all excellent, all worth playing today. They represent every major console, Wii U aside, and they were all released within the past five years. All 10 are worth your time.
Worth playing if only for the dreams — fantastic short stories that you’ll see intermittently as you play — Lost Odyssey is a long, sprawling fantasy game designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy. Released back before Japan abandoned all hope on the Xbox 360, this is the best JRPG you can get on Microsoft’s console.
Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Otherwise known as The RPG Jason Won’t Shut Up About, Trails in the Sky is a long and sprawling PSP adventure that captures everything there is to love about JRPGs: it’s charming, funny, and chock full of great music, even if it can sometimes feel a little slow.
Ni no Kuni
Allow me to quote my recent review: “Whimsical, charming, beautiful, fascinating, smart, pleasant, challenging, slow-paced, grand, surreal, and aggressively colourful… it’s a fantastic Japanese role-playing game, one that will stun your senses and break your heart in the best possible way.”
Almost a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger, Radiant Historia captures the glory of a classic Super Nintendo RPG and throws in some modern conveniences: you can fast forward through dialogue, for example, and see random enemies before they get all up in your battle screen. Kidnapped princesses, time travel, giant suits of armor: this one’s got all the fixings of an old-school RPG.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
As Stephen Totilo has pointed out, this game is reason alone to get your hands on a 3DS. Sort of like a chess game on crack, Fire Emblem tasks you with strategising and scheming across big battlefields, levelling up your characters, and trying to figure out which people will make the best babies.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Few games are as smart and quirky as Nintendo’s Mario-helmed RPGs, and Bowser’s Inside Story, released for the DS back in 2009, is proof of that. You spend most of the game inside Bowser’s body. If that’s not enough to convince you to play it, I don’t know what is.
Proof that JRPG designers aren’t afraid to experiment, Valkyria Chronicles is a tactical role-playing game set in a 1930s version of Europe, in which you move soldiers around a battlefield in what can be best described as a cross between real-time and turn-based battling, XCOM-style. This one is lovely, and not to be missed — even if Sega never will bring over the third one.
The World Ends With You
For a while I didn’t think I would enjoy The World Ends With You, a Square Enix-helmed RPG that takes place in a twisted version of Tokyo, Japan. But there’s something really appealing about the evolution of grumpy protagonist Neku from misanthrope to hero, and the battle system feels very good, especially on iOS.
The Last Story
One of the best JRPGs this generation, The Last Story is only held back by its inferior hardware. This is a game meant to be seen in high-definition, but it’s chained to the Wii, a console that can’t output HD. Still, The Last Story is a lovely little love story with a really cool battling system that almost feels like a fantasy version of Gears of War.
Persona 4 Golden
Every day’s great at your Junes. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love Persona 4, the RPG-slash-high school simulator that has you taking tests in the morning and fighting demons in the afternoon. Playing it on the Vita means playing it wherever you want, so for anyone without the bandwidth to sit in front of a TV for 60+ hours, Golden is the version to go with.
Ten wildly different JRPGs, all great in wildly different ways. If you’ve played them all and you still think the JRPG is dead, or dying, or obsolete, or antiquated, or irrelevant, or afraid of change… well then you’re just lying.