10 Modern JRPGs Worth Playing

Let's make something clear. Japanese RPGs are not dead. They have never been dead. They will not be dead any time soon.

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.

Lost Odyssey

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."

Radiant Historia

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.

Valkyria Chronicles

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.


    I find the lack of Tales of Graces F disturbing, lol.

      Except all tales games are practically one and the same.
      I feel Xenoblade Chronicles should have a place on the list replacing Mario and Luigi though. Despite being a Wii game.

    Where the f**k is Xenoblade? I know the author doesn't like it but it's still well worth playing even if he himself doesn't like it.

    No Tales of Vesperia? While I enjoyed Lost Odyssey, ToV is by far the best JRPG on the 360.

    Last edited 16/02/13 9:15 pm

      Had to many flaws to be the best. First being the horribly slow cut scenes that had each and every character pause for 30 seconds between each single line sentence to pad out a 2 minute scene into 10.

      Though most people agree LO to be the best 360 RPG and i'd agree, though I think Tale of graces F should be on that list too.

        As soon as Graces F gets a 360 release I'll add it on there for you.

          Ment on the article list since its not a 360 only one :P

            I know, just havin' a dig :)

      I like Tales but I prefer turnbased soooo...

    It's just 10. Doesn't mean there aren't more games he likes

    I want to take Persona 4 Golden behind the bushes and get it pregnant.

    What on earth, over half of those are not "JRPG's" Rather T/S RPG's (tactical or strategy).

    But also I disagree with both Valkyria Chronicles, Last story being here, both were average at best to me. Tales of graces F or xilla better than both, even xenoblade was better.

    Also since half of these aren't even Jrpgs (which is really only games like Final fantasy or Tales/ninokuni, if we are being technical. Games like fire emblem while from japan are not JRPG's) You should have skryim there too, or mass effect 1 (2 and 3 were terrible), the witcher both 1 and 2 (not sure if 1 is too old).

    But i understand since there isn't 10 actual great Jrpg's this gen xD

      Majority of people will disagree with you on Valkyria Chronicles and the Last Story. Both have almost universally been praised above other JRPGs of this generation. Each to their own I guess. Not sure why you don't think half of these aren't JRPGs. JRPGs by definition are RPGs made by the Japanese. You seem to have pigeon holed the phrase into something it's not. It's like saying a Western RPG is only a game which strictly follows the Dungeons and Dragons motif. It's entirely untrue. Where you totally lost me was mentioning Skyrim, Mass Effect and The Witcher. These games have nothing to do with the JRPG market.

        JRPG, is a term coined as an RPG which follows a pretty strict pattern, like finaly fantasy that has certian characteristics about how the game is narated and played, pretty much All final fantasy and Tales games and lost odys are distinctly Jrpg's. This style is usually very different to Western Rpgs like fable, or amalur which are typically free raoming and less restrictive.

        The term is being used rather literally to mean a japange rpg, which would be fine for some random newspaper article to the masses, but i would assume on a game site it would be used differetnly is all.

        You would notice a review of valky chronicles or fire emblem, they are not called Jrpg's (they dont follow that specific pattern i mentions, even if they are made in japan) and isnstead are typically called strategy or tactical rpgs.

        So the inclusion of these tactical rpgs makes the list fall outside of its Jrpg temrs hence my reasoning for" if your not going to use real jrpgs you might as well include them all" hence skyrim.

        Anyway i was just nitpicking and i know alot of people loved last story but i never understood why. I finished over 50% of the game using 1 single move in eveyr battle. (after reading reviews of its awesome battle uniqueness and the like this pissed me off to no end + it was on the wii). I found it enjoyable till i got sick of the say move in the battles, so i wouldnt call it great.

          They're actually called Simulation RPGs in Japan (people assume the 'S' in SRPG stands for Strategy but it doesn't).

          I don't like The Last Story either. The combat system makes it feel like you're basically just watching the game play itself and the controls feel wonky as hell, plus the plot I played (about 3-4 hours) wasn't very interesting. That Jason would list it and not Xenoblade (which is a vastly superior game) is puzzling.

            I would have pegged simulation as more of a harvest moon type of rpg, though im not that familiar with the jap terms, at least in the western world its usually tactical rpg, which makes alot more sense when referring to final fantasy tactics and the fire emblem type.

            But xeno blade was definitely better than last story. Thats exactly how i felt about the combat, it was a joke, I literally just did that dash move back n forth for easy quick wins, and i did it for 20 odd hours before i cracked it and never touched it again (there was very little story by that time too, like at all)

              It's Simulation RPG in Japan because the genre has its origins in games like Nobunaga's Ambition, which had mangement sim and strategy elements in addition to the tactical combat and kind of RPG system. I guess they considered it as 'simulating' an army or something? Fire Emblem basically set the current template though.

              The Harvest Moon style is a lot more of a simulation, but yeah I'd say those are SRPGs in the Japanese sense too.

    Blue Dragon, Mist Walkers other Xbox360 RPG was pretty good too! If you love DragonQuest, you'd like it I reckon http://youtu.be/k4ZXRY18mDk (only 360p - highest quality I could find)

    Worth a pick-up if you can find a copy, and have nothing else to play :)

    Last edited 16/02/13 9:57 pm

      Blue Dragon has an amazing battle and job system.

        Yeah, but those Dragons... tough as nails. I finished the game without defeating the last 1 or 2 - couldn't take any more weeks of grinding ahhhh (this was years ago!)

        Amazing battle system? That's quite a stretch. I honestly found it really boring after I hit the second disc... of course, chances are I was incredibly over-levelled. I still need to finish the game (I lost interest in the gameplay and story).

          I think it depends on how much you like turn-based rpgs, I just really enjoyed the way you could manipulate the turn orders and use the enemy formations to your advantage, using charge attacks(or magic) and stopping that meter in just the right place in combination with spells that maybe target a specific row or hit enemies standing behind each other, you could end matches before any enemies got a proper turn.

            Yeah, when turn-based was turn-based :(

      I feel like Blue Dragon was great at the time, but a lot of that was because there wasn't much else in the market - just Eternal Sonata from memory.

        I played it quite late (was a late adopter of this gen, and I loved every minute. It is as the guy says above the job system, reminded me of FFV only far more advanced and much more addictive.

    I'd like to finish Lost Odyssey, but I don't think I'll be powering up the 360 again any time soon...I did quite enjoy it though.

    I wouldn't put Valkyria Chronicles up there. While the gameplay is good, the story and characters are written from a very bad anime that doesn't feel like it's part of a real world. They take 10 minutes out of your time to talk about bread!


    Take note, Gergo Vas. Also that other guy that I hate.

    No Demon's/Dark Souls, I am disappoint.

      Really? You don't think there are enough Dark/Demon's Souls articles on Kotaku?

    "JRPGs are dead. They will always be dead. Here's a list of ones I hate:"

    Look, I wrote an article.

    When people say they're dead, I think they rarely mean they aren't somewhat successful, they just hate them for things like padding hundreds of hours out with grinding and ridiculously archaic save systems.

      This was a list of games he deemed successful in their execution not commercial success. And if you don't like all these games, that's your choice, but I don't get why. I even like the parts where you grind for hundreds of hours and I don't mind archaic save systems. Please don't get upset just because other people like something I guess you don't

    Just playing through LO now, after hearing about it on here few months back, better than any Final Fantasy since 9, maybe 10, absolute classic. got Blue Dragon to come after it, looking forward to that too. JRPG's aren't dying, maybe, but these days good ones are becoming a rare breed, proper turn based ones at least.

    No Eternal Sonata!?

    Xenoblade should be on here too. I also really want to play Radiant Historia, its just a shame its so hard to find at a halfway decent price.

    Poor guy, he forgot to post Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2. He musn't be getting enough sleep.

    Last edited 17/02/13 10:51 am

    "Modern JRPGs"

    Then he lists Trails in the Sky (first released 2004). Not disputing that it's a good game - it's very good - but a lot of its charm is because it's a throwback to an older style.

    Also, Mario & Luigi listed and not Xenoblade? :( Nier? Resonance of Fate? Current Tales games are all pretty good too.

    No Dragon Quest IX? For shaaaaaaame!

    Where is the Last Remnant love? So many original mechanics that were truly amazing.

      That game was terrible though, the original version was so broken. You were literally told about 1/5 of the actual mechanics behind levelling up and skills and all the battle stuff. (alot was changed for pc.

      It was also insanely repetitive and painfully slow story wise with a super harsh difficulty curve (in no small part to worst tutorials in the world) While it was original and quite a nice take it was woefully inadequate.

      Now if they did a sequel and polished it properly and streamlined some of the levelling processes and gave you more freedom about skill choices during fights it would definitely be a worthy game, but its currently nothing more than mediocre.

        I played it on 360 and loved it, sure it was slow but I still had a great time :)

    Going back a while but Rogue Galaxy on the PS2 was wonderful. One of my favourite JRPGs.

    My question is: where do you find the time, Jason, to play them all? God RPGs take so much bloody time! I love them when they're good but goodness me what a commitment.

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