What's The Best JRPGs For Beginners?

The Best JRPGs For Beginners

OK. You've never played a JRPG before. You have no idea what a chocobo is. You've always thought Final Fantasy was the name of a metal band. This is going to be the place for you.

As Kotaku's JRPG columnist, I get a lot of messages from people who are kind of interested in the genre, but don't quite know where to start. Maybe they didn't grow up with the type of instincts required to really get into a tough turn-based RPG. Or maybe they have had a horrendous experience with one or two bad Final Fantasys and they're just totally turned off from JRPGs forever.

So today we're going to create a killer list of the best Japanese role-playing games for beginners, from the obvious to the obscure. If your nine-year-old niece asked you what new RPG she should play, what would you tell her? What about your friend who only plays shooters? Or your non-gaming boyfriend who wants to start getting into your hobby?

Here's the basic format you should use:

Name: Why it's worth playing: How to play it:

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.


    Name: Final Fantasy Tactics
    Why it's worth playing: Great storyline, simple to understand but hard to master gameplay
    How to play it: PS1, PSP, iOS, Android(?)

      Honestly, if I had to choose an accessible SRPG, I'd pick Pokemon Conquest. Before I played that game, I HATED SRPG games.

      I'd probably go for tactics advance first.
      Perhaps it"s because I played that first, but I didn't quite like the battle system in fft, particularly with the way magic has a delay before it was cast.

      That's ridiculous. FFT is my favourite FF, but I wouldn't use it as an introduction to the genre. It is not really simple to understand if you don't have previous references or experience managing classical RPG variables. The amount of mechanical complexity you start the game with is the same that most other RPGs have accrued towards the end of the game. And the game is savagely difficult: You completely may lose the tutorial fight! Then three fights in, there's a hugely difficult challenge that necessitates full understanding of the classes, terrain and timing, and tons of patience and trial and error to overcome. Give that to a beginner and he'll throw the game away in disgust and hate it forever, not knowing what he's missing.

    Final Fantasy VII
    Its worth playing because its like an entry level to RPG games that have a rich story and character development throughout the whole game. If you can finish this game all the way to the end you can eventually conquer all sorts of different RPG games out there. These days the RPG games have toned down a little bit and if you start by playing this one first then you should be fine all the others.
    You basically choose commands for what your characters actions are going to do to an enemy and you search around a vast world for different equipment as the story progresses. You will lose your sense of time while being mesmerized in the story throughout the game.

    2 entries that are some of the best for beginners IMO. (other than the screenshot above ^ because we all know thats the greatest RPG EVER)

    Lufia 2 Rise of the sinestrals (no need to play the first one, Lufia 2 is a prequel of sorts)

    Its a simple yet complex mix of JRPG, Visual and Audio puzzles and pet management, very first game i played with a pokemon style monster evolution system, but its only a secondary system to aid in combat not a primary thing.
    Great story, music and characters.
    Gameplay wise think, Zelda meets Pokemon meets Secret of Mana.

    Would need to emulate it due to the SNES cartridge being incredibly rare and expensive to buy :(

    Grandia 2

    Beautiful visuals, Good story, its a VERY linear game but doesn't feel too restrictive because the narrative is so good you just go along for the ride, so for beginners its a nice even paced base level JRPG, from memory the game is only about 20-30 hours long as well.

    It was originally a Dreamcast game (best platform to play it on IMO) but there is also a PS2 and PC port.

      I was very close to saying Grandia II, it was my 1st JRPG and still stands as one of my favourite all time games.

      Name: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
      Why it’s worth playing: It's the easiest Fire Emblem, and suited for beginners. It's not overly complex and the story isn't too heavy either: The real value here is in the gameplay.
      How to play it: GBA Emulator. 3DS owners who bought before the price drop can get it on their 3DS... Nintendo needs to release this on their eShop already!

      And if you liked it, Try Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. They are more difficult and more story-based.

      I'm going to agree with Lufia 2. Good pick.

    Name: Legend of Zelda (SNES)
    Why it’s worth playing: It was a childhood favourite for me, and it was a massively popular game - one of the best SNES RPGS in my opinion, alongside Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore and Illusion of time/Gaia.
    How to play it: I think GBA has it but you'll be able to play on an emulator (ZSNES is a decent one), it was available on iOS until the GBA emulator got canned. Sadly no iOS remake (say what you will but the Secret of mana iOS game was superb).

    Last edited 17/05/14 1:49 pm

      The Legend of Zelda is NOT an RPG.
      Let me make this clear, way back when the original Zelda game was still new, it could've been considered an RPG because the term hadn't been fully developed and the genre hadn't been fully defined yet. Today however, just because Zelda is set in a fantasy world and you get items etc. doesn't make it an RPG; it lacks most of the elements that define an RPG (experience getting, character level progression, stats).
      And don't say that it's a Role-Playing Game because you play a Role; by that logic Halo would be an RPG.
      Just thought I'd clear that up :)

      I realise it's a bit pointless to argue this, but the Zelda games are fairly atypical for JRPGs; I regard them more as action-adventure games, because the levelling mechanics are so primitive. There's more complexity in the levelling for Borderlands than for the Zelda games. There's nothing really wrong with that, but it means that as an introduction to other JRPGs they're not all that useful.

      I would probably agree with icemanff23 and say Final Fantasy VII, but I would really suggest playing it with a controller rather than a PC keyboard; the default keyboard mapping on the PC is absolutely terrible.

      So that would be:
      Name: Final Fantasy VII
      Why it’s worth playing: Great story, nuanced levelling & equipment system
      How to play it: With a controller :-)

    Name:Chrono Trigger
    Why it’s worth playing: Amazing story, easily accessible gameplay, insanely beautiful soundtrack and multiple endings.
    How to play it: SNES, NDS, SNES Emulator

    Name: Pokemon (All of the main series)
    Why it's worth playing: Nearly everybody know of pokemon. There isn't really a reason to not have played it. It's super accessible, fun, and it's packed with extra things to do.
    How to play it: I believe it's been on every Nintendo Handheld System. If you don't have a Gameboy, Gameboy Colour, Gameboy Advance, or a DS you could always try emulation. The newest ones are on 3DS

    Geeze, this is like someone asking you what's a good anime to start with. It entirely depends on what the person likes. So my list would be as follows:

    For the casual player:
    One of the Arland PS3 Atelier games. (Meruru, Rorona, Totori) They have simple battle mechanics, are fairly easy to play, and have a gathering and crafting (alchemy) system which is the main focus. The story is also generally fairly straight forward and simple to follow.

    For the action fan:
    Kingdom Hearts (PS3/PS2). You're not bogged down by random encounters, can skip fights and it supports a wide array of play styles. It's also got a fairly involved story with a few mature themes. If you're looking for something a bit more "adult", Dargon's [sic] Dogma (PS3, XBox 360) is a good game to get into.

    For the reader:
    I haven't played it myself, but I've heard people recommend Lost Odyssey (XBox 360) as a good JRPG but is very wordy.

    For the Retro Enthusiast:
    Chrono Trigger (DS, Wii VC). Even today, Chrono Trigger is pretty accessible and doesn't require a lot of experience with JRPGs to pick up and play. Having no random encounters also makes it a bit easier for people to "get". (Seriously, I've spoken to a few people who don't understand Random Encounters)

    For the strategy enthusiast:
    Fire Emblem: Awakening. (3DS) As much as I didn't really like the game, it's still got enough strategy to ask you to think about your matchups and composition, with the Casual Mode making it a slow immersion into its harsher nature.

    For those that want something a bit different:
    Resonance of Fate. (PS3, XBox 360) It's got a somewhat DieselPunk aesthetic, uses guns instead of swords and shields, and has relatively simple combat with some crazy moments. There are also moments where you're playing something akin to Blokus and it's mostly just a slice of life kind of story.

    ~ Fin ~

    Any of them that you're interested in playing is a good one to play.

      Well, starting with Etrian Odyssey probably wouldn't be a good entry point for beginners! That's why some people would be looking for a good game to start from.

        Why not? If they want to play it, I don't see why they shouldn't, just because they're 'beginners'? There's not really a 'beginner' JRPG.

        EDIT: Also Etrian Odyssey is technically not a JRPG in the first place, it's a dungeon crawler and Wizardy clone that's much closer to classic western RPGs.

        Last edited 18/05/14 11:34 am

    What - Grandia
    Why - It's worth playing because it's one of the first RPGs made with voice acting (although the standards back then were lower), the battle system is amazing, the cast is light-hearted but the theme is big. This was my first RPG, definitely a gateway drug.
    How - It's probably available on PSN, lest you just pirate it on PSX emulator.

    What - Wild Arms 2
    Why - Good characters, simple but consistent storyline, traditional JRPG system with a little twist on the side, good music. The game has a nice flow to it, a bit on the light & easy side.
    How - PSN / Emu

    FFVII is obviously really good because it spawned a generation... I think it looks quite dated by today's standards and the intro isn't the most captivating... but it's very rewarding if you can convince someone to stick with it.

    Secret of Mana is also really good... very cutesy, but enticing too.

    WHAT - Bravely Default

    WHY - the story is cliche but for a new JRPG fan it'll be fresh, the ability to adjust difficulty and encounter rate on the fly is great for beginners. Having the quick ending and the hard ending is also a good feature for people to decide if they like grindy RPGs and if they don't they can still finish the game.

    HOW - 3ds

    What: Persona 4 Golden
    Why: Even though it's an extended cut of a game made for PS2, it's still a pretty modern game with sharp visuals. It looks good, there's a wide range of catchy music that will get stuck in your head, the combat system is easy to pick up, most of the characters have depth and the game will keep you engaged with its day-to-day activities.
    How: PS Vita (one of the best games for the platform in my opinion). However, you can also find the original version of Persona 4 for PS2 (doesn't have the extended plot and additional features of Golden though).

      it's also getting an HD re-release on PS3 soon

        Sweet! This is one of my favourite games; glad to see more people able to get their hands on it.

    What: Final Fantasy X

    Why: Engaging story, interesting characters, and a perfectly sloped difficulty curve. It's only right near the end that grinding to match dungeons becomes a thing, and even then it's pretty minimal. Plus, all the side content is great. The music is gorgeous too! Character customisation is limited at first, but the further in you go, the more options for customising your stats, abilities, summons and equipment you get!

    How: PS2, or HD remake on PS3/PS Vita

      Would have to give it to FF10 too.
      As much as I can recommend Chronotrigger as a fantastic game, there are quite a few "Guide Dammit" portions of the game that can frustrate the uninitiated. FF9 too is a much underrated game that deserves more attention. An honourable mention should go to Mystic Quest for being created for the sole purpose of getting the western world interested in JRPG. I would put Secret of mana (and Seiken Densetsu 3) on this list along with Terranigma but they fall more under Action RPG, the Tales series (of Phantasia being way back when, and more recently Xillia) are also worth a look, it takes the traditional JRPG feel of a game and jazzes up the combat some

    Name: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3

    Why it’s worth playing: Everything that is great about a JRPG all in one package. From characters to story, visuals, dungeon crawling, combat, exploration and diversity, Persona 3 really has everything that will entertain every player.

    How to play it: Going with the original console versions is ideal - Playstation 2 has the most interactive experience, and you'll get a bundle of content if you get the "FES" extended edition of the game. Otherwise, Atlus released a nifty Visual-Novel style port to the PSP.

    Last edited 18/05/14 6:12 pm

    Name: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

    Why it’s worth playing: Easily the best game to ease someone into turn based gaming along with introduction to stats, skills and items. Brilliant story. never a dull moment. And I cannot stress the best thing about this game for beginners is: NO need for grinding and NO complicated levelling system.

    How to Play It: Not sure what this question means.....Use a SNES emulator? Umm...play it by following the storyline and don't be afraid to explore. There are no levels which you have early access to with ridiculous higher level enemies which just kill you in an instant.

    Come on! This game is the obvious choice for new JRPGers!! :)

    Great story, simple enough gameplay, the graphics have aged better than some of the other PSX era JRPGs and the ability for a second player to help out with some of the battles if necessary
    PSX, PS2, PS3 etc.

    An alternative might be South Park A Stick of Truth, it's not technically a JRPG but the gameplay is similar enough.

    Name: Ni no Kuni

    Why it’s worth playing: We're assuming that these are little kids or people completely new to gaming. So they're likely to have access to the newer consoles, not so much the older ones. I recommend Ni no Kuni because the game is colourful and easy on the eye. The story is fairly typical but well delivered. Combat requires some thinking, but is not overly complicated. Combat is also medium speed, it's not fast paced combat for gamer reflexes, it's also not slow careful tactical combat that would require a lot of knowledge of regular gaming staples. It involves collecting monsters, something that both children and adults enjoy.

    How to play it: Buy it. Play it slowly. Explore. Take your time. Save often.

    What: Any game in the Mario & Luigi series for portable Nintendo platforms.
    Why: Combining platforming and action-adventure element with the leveling-up system, item management and menu-based commands makes an excellent transition into the world of RPGs while not being full-blown RPGs themselves.
    How: Have a Nintendo DS or 3DS.

    Once you have piqued their interest, good actual RPGs to start are Lufia 2, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Final Fantasy IV, Tales of Symphony, or Baten Kaitos.

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