The Best JRPG City

The Best JRPG City

Here is a fact: There are a lot of incredible cities in Japanese role-playing games. From the simplicity of Pallet Town to the squalor of Midgar, JRPG cities are usually interesting, memorable, and full of dressers to crack open.

But when we're determining the BEST JRPG city — and determining THE BEST THINGS is what we do here on THE BESTS — we have to narrow down the list to one. Sorry, Midgar — you're gritty, but you're not my favourite. Lindblum, you're up there, as are Fourside and Rabanastre and Zeal and Inaba and North Window Castle and many, many more. Lots of strong runner-ups here, but they can't all be THE BEST.

The best JRPG city is a little place called Etrenank, best known as the capital city of Solaris, from a video game called Xenogears. You don't get to visit Etrenank until very late in the game, and when you do, you've really earned it. You've been fighting against Solaris's enigmatic agents for hours and hours, gradually learning that this technocratic country — which floats in the sky, concealed from human sight — has been the source of the world's woes for generations.

You've figured out how to dismantle all three of the "gates" that protect Solaris from being spotted or entered by surface-dwellers — lambs, as they're called. Taking down these gates is an ordeal in and of itself.

The Best JRPG City

Once you finally reach Etrenank, you discover that gravity is reversed and that everyone lives upside down. Also, you find out that Solaris is a draconian society where the elite first-class citizens brainwash, enslave, and subjugate the lower class through an elaborate dystopian system involving ID cards, security drones, and immutable castes. Third-class citizens live in a honeycomb of tiny pods, only leaving when it's time to work. If they speak out, they're killed by drones.

The Best JRPG City

As you explore Etrenank, you'll make your way from the miserable third-class block to the elaborate homes of the first-class, who live on the backs of those below them. (Could this be a metaphor for something? Hmm.) I mean, check out this sweet sky mansion:

The Best JRPG City

You'll also sneak through tunnels, watch an emperor speak, uncover all sorts of twisted secrets, and leave feeling like you only got a taste of what Solaris has to offer.

The Best JRPG City

This is all to say that Etrenank is the best JRPG city. You probably wouldn't want to live there, but in a video game it's fascinating, a place that's visually astonishing yet incredible at evoking nausea and dread. Xenogears gives you a nice chunk of Etrenank but won't let you see all of it, which is perfect — both you and your characters are left wondering just how much bigger this country is, and how its citizens can live with themselves, and just how the hell you can fight them.

As you wander through the sewers and mansions of Solaris, discovering how they live and where the city's food comes from (hint: it's called "soylent"), it's hard not to feel at least some level of queasiness at how Etrenank's people live. And that's what makes it so interesting. Not because it's gritty or cool — plenty of JRPG cities are gritty and cool! — but because it can evoke emotions in a way that very few other cities can. That's why it's the best.

Screengrabs via The Dark Id.


    The best JRPG cities would have the best music, the best shops/facilities, and usually something to do post-game like some kind of gladiatorial combat arena, a procedurally generated dungeon that leads to an even harder boss, or some kind of hot spring where you see wacky shenanigans from all your male characters.

      pfft, rather the hot spring with all your female characters a la FFX-2 :P

    TBH I was kind of hoping for a list -_-
    @MarkSerrels make this a tell us damnit topic
    I would argue that Esther (FF8) serves a similar capacity to Etrenank
    My vote would go for Palumpolum in FF13. Sure the game may not have been the best but as far as cities, you get to see a pretty substantial part of it, sneaking in through sewers, meeting family and new friends, fighting some pretty important battles, getting a look at how the city works (carbuncle falcie working the nutriculture complex) and so on. A lot of important events also occur.

      I like Esther, but it's not at all on the scale of etrenank which just has more going on in it... which is sort of ironic considering Square reallocated a large amount of Xenogear's remaining funds to FF8 late in development.
      Plotwise Etrenank is more central to the game than esther ever was in FF8, it's the mysterious home of those vague and superior dicks who live in the sky and manipulate the filthy land dwellers (i.e. you and most of your party). It's the home of one of your party members who after spending so long on the land can't help but admit the place isn't quite the paradise she was half brainwashed into thinking it was. They run terrifying and awful human experiments behind the scenes there and its basically the primary villain's playground.
      It's also pretty damn big, there is a LOT to etrenank and it takes a good while get through it all and unlike Esther, a lot of the storybeats that happen there have been foreshadowed or referenced since the earliest parts of the game.
      Finally and most importantly, in a story where you are shown so much and given context or allowed to understand so little, THIS is the place where things actually start to get explained.
      Plus the place is ruled by a guy who belongs on a heavy metal album cover and that's rad.

      Ultimately I suppose It's really the impression they left as well. To me, Etrenank will always be the place where everything got very serious in Xenogears and the scale of the plot went up a level or two, whereas - again, to me - Esther will always be that very cool place in FF8 that marked the beginning of the story no longer making any damn sense.

      Last edited 09/08/15 11:25 am

    Balamb Garden, because it feels most like home.

      It has a T-Rex and it can almost fly. That is all.

    I initially misread the title as "The Best JPEG City" and I was like WTF?

    Anyway, continue on.

    Looks cool, but Inaba's my favourite, even though it's not exactly a city. Argonia from DQVIII is a close second.

    Chrono Trigger, The Kingdom of Zeal. Great music and visuals.

    If that's the criteria then Resonance of Fate's Basel Tower is the best JRPG city. You get to see how every aspect of life is managed, seedy underbellies and all. In fact, the entire game is set in one giant arcology of sorts.

    Xenogears definitely had the best soundtrack hands down and best story. To be honest i can barely remember this city well. Xenogears is definitely much better to me than FF7 but i still have better memories of Midgar for some reason. To me the most impressive city was FF12's Rabanastre even though the game itself was Meeeeh. In the end its all a matter of opinion. My Suikoden 2 castle would be up there as well. :P

    Gosh, I'd say your base by the end of any chosen Suikoden game is pretty damn city-like.

    Personally, I like the various cities in the Grandia series of games. Each one has its own (for want of a better word) culture, design and maybe even lore.

    But then again, I'm a sucker for that series because of it's battle system and how some optional character detail is collected over dinner at the inns.

    It's amazingly unfair because they're MMO cities, but the 4 main cities in Final Fantasy XIV are really nice, with totally different architecture, colourful NPCs and great BGM. My order of preference would be Limsa Lominsa, Ishgard, Ul'dah then Gridania.

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