The Best JRPG Of The Decade (So Far)

The Best JRPG Of The Decade (So Far)

There have been many JRPGs released over the past five years, and many of them are great. Only one can be safely labelled the best.

Said JRPG is called Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and despite the awfully generic title, it’s a stellar game, one that calls back to SNES and PS1 classics but ditches the obsolete nuisances that marred those games. Like other recent games inspired by the 90s — Shovel Knight, Pillars of Eternity, etc. — Trails in the Sky plays less like an old-school game and more like how we remember an old-school game, full of life and joy and charm.

There are no random encounters; all enemies are visible on the battlefield before you attack them. You can flee from every non-boss battle with an 100% success rating — the developers at Falcom knew that putting a random number generator on escaping combat would be a serious waste of time, so they didn’t bother. Trails is full of player-friendly tweaks like that: If you die in a battle, for example, you won’t lose much progress, because you can start again right from the top without missing a beat.

Trails in the Sky, which you can play on PC, PSP, or Vita (via PlayStation Network) is essentially one enormous game broken up into two large chapters. The first, FC, came out in 2011. The second, SC, was released last month after a long and painful struggle. I’ve beaten FC and played some 12 hours of SC, which is more than enough to say that it’s excellent, even if I am only on chapter two. (I estimate it will take me 80 hours to finish it.)

What makes it so great, then? For starters, there’s the soundtrack.

Now That’s What I Call Combat Music.

The battle system is quite good, reminiscent of Grandia in that it’s turn-based, but both your turn order and battlefield positioning play important roles in the outcome of every fight. You’ll see a large stack of portraits in the top left corner representing when each of your allies and opponents will take their turns. To beat challenging bosses, you can use this to your advantage by casting spells that delay opponents and speed up your friends.

Trails in the Sky‘s biggest selling point is that it’s a game for people who like to read. It’s a game for anyone who wants to dig into a brand new world and just explore, talking to every NPC and checking every hidden corner for secrets. Nearly every character in Trails, from shopkeepers to guardsmen, has a unique name and personality, and often they have their own little stories, too; keep talking to them between every plot point and you might see them fall in love with one another, or get married, or go travelling to other cities where you can find them and chat with them more.

Unlike many video games, the dialogue in Trails feels like a reward rather than a chore, especially when you’re investigating mysteries and solving unusual side quests. One optional mission in SC, for example, features a wife who asks you to beat her husband at poker so he’ll stop gambling so much. Another tasks you with investigating the mystery behind which member of a political campaign hit another in the back of the head. Both the main story and side quests unravel in delightful, twisty ways.

Like the PlayStation versions of Lunar: Silver Star and Lunar: Eternal Blue, Trails in the Sky is full of personality. The writing is generally excellent, and it’s really fun to watch the main character, a spunky warrior named Estelle, evolve from a peppy, somewhat spoiled brat to a badass, mature woman who can hold her own in just about any fight. The story starts off with her going off on a quest to hunt down her father, but it expands into much, much more. It’s a slow burn — and you have to know that if you start playing Trails, you’re committing to at least 100 hours worth of a meaty RPG — but it’s worth it.

It’s been a solid decade for JRPGs so far, don’t get me wrong. Other contenders for Best of the Decade include Ni no Kuni, Bravely Default, Radiant Historia, and The Last Story. Trails in the Sky beats them all.


  • Glad your having fun with this game. But perhaps you should get halfway through it before you christen it the best JRPG of the Decade

  • I hope that the title of “Best JRPG of the Decade” is a subjective one because while Trails is certainly loved by a group of JRPG players, it’s certainly not “The best” from an objective standpoint. Especially if you look at Metacritic. I also haven’t really enjoyed it so far (Up to Ch 2) so my opinion trumps all. ^_-

    Seriously though, the last decade has been an absolutely fantastic time for JRPGs and while there have been a lot of comments about stagnation, there have been some really good titles that have tried out different ways (and often succeeded) to shake up the formula. I’m not even sure what my favourite JRPG of the decade would be, there are so many I have played and loved like Suikoden V, Four Heroes of Light, Bravely Default, Eternal Sonata and the Atelier series, and Disgaea 5.

    • One that immediately comes to mind for me is Lost Odyssey. Loved it and the soundtrack was awesome too.

    • Very good points @germinalconsequence and besides everyone knows the best JRPG of the last decade is Final Fantasy 13-2!

      • Haven’t played XIII-2 but certainly XIII was excellent and didn’t deserve all the hate that people leveled at it. Lightning, Vanille and Fang are the best 🙂

        • I spent 60 hrs with XIII, 80 hrs with XIII-2 (and earned 100% achievement), and 70 hrs with XIII-LR.. Those are big numbers for me because I don’t actually get alot of time to game. There was just something about those games that really hooked me.

    • You really can’t judge trails in the sky until you beat the last boss.

      trails in the sky is just a tip of the ice berg in terms of actual relevance of the trails continent (Zemuria)
      I would consider ao no kiseki more impactful

  • Trails in the Sky is definitely a great game. Define ‘of the decade’ though. The game came out originally in 2004, meaning it’s not in this decade and technically not in the last ten years either though the English language version came out in 2011.

    While extremely good and a massive recommendation, I don’t personally think it knocks out Xenoblade or Tales of Vesperia for me. Haven’t played SC yet though!

    • Ah, I remember back in the day when you didn’t play Xenoblade and you didn’t think it was a contender :’)

  • While best in the last decade is certainly up to personal taste, trails really did surprise the hell out of me with just how good it is. Went in expecting an average JRPG and just got so much more. More people should give it a chance.

  • Fire Emblem Path Of Radiance on GameCube – came out 2005 – my favourite JRPG of the last decade.

  • Best SRPG? I love that game and also trails although I’m yet to try SC. I need to hunt down my PSP for the save, I would really prefer not to have to play through chapter one again although maybe I should to refresh the story. It has been a long time.

  • Eh Xenoblade Chronicles X for me. It has its faults but at over 200 hours I am still coming back for more.

      • Still not sure if I wanna get the new one or not 😛 Any good? Don’t think I’ve seen any of your thoughts on it.

        • Sorry to but in on the conversation. But as a player of xenoblade chronicals X I thought it fair to jump in and say you should buy it.

          As a game it’s a bit divisive. It’s hugely reliant on atmosphere and the players imagination, while being punishingly complex and somewhat difficult. It’s the type of game that you will either fall completely in love with or feel disinterested with from very early on. For me it’s definitely the first.

          Atmosphere wise it’s avatar the last airbender, meets Jurassic park, meets battle star galactica meets mass effect 1. With mechs

        • I dunno! Not really feeling it. I knew I wouldn’t like it as much as Xenoblade but it’s still fun. I’m only about 8 hours in or so but there’s just so many things to do it’s kind of overwhelming. Feeling nothing towards the story, characters and music though which is kind of a bummer since that’s what I really liked about Xeny.

          I’d say still worth a purchase if you have a Wii U and like Xenoblade (which you do!)

          • For me the world building is up there with great Sci fi novels, the huge cast of characters makes it so epic than even Fallout seems small.

  • When was Disgaea released? Do that count? Cause.. that game was amazing. No game has drawn me back as heavily as that.

  • Has anyone actually played Xenoblade Chronicles X? I haven’t gone back to Fallout 4 since I fired it up. It’s amazing, best JRPG since Front Mission 3, and it does the game world up there with top Sci fi and fantasy authors, a real living and breathing world that most games fail at.

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