9 Underappreciated JRPGs That Are Worth Your Time

Nine Underappreciated JRPGs That Are Worth Your Time

You've heard of Final Fantasy VII. Everyone's already told you to play Chrono Trigger. But what about the lesser-known JRPGs? What about the gems that don't get discussed all that much?

Today we're highlighting some under-appreciated gems from the past few decades, across all consoles. I'm sticking to games that don't get discussed very often, so you won't find the likes of Xenogears or Skies of Arcadia here. I'm also staying away from games I talk about all the time on Kotaku, so the Suikoden and Trails series don't make the list. (You should play them, though.)

Onward, then. Maybe you'll discover something cool to play; maybe you'll see something that brings back fond childhood memories. Maybe you'll just rush to the comments to complain about how your favourite game isn't on here. Either way, enjoy!

(Also see: The 20 JRPGs You Must Play)

Radiant Historia

Platform: DS

Not enough people talk about this Atlus-developed RPG, which came out here for DS in early 2011 just as the system was fading out. (Maybe that's why?) Best described as a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger with a dash of Final Fantasy Tactics, Radiant Historia has an excellent score (composed by the insanely talented Yoko Shimomura) and a really neat battle system, which are the two things you'd want most in a JRPG. The game also plays with time travel in some interesting ways, allowing you to move back and forth along a timeline full of alternate histories so you can see what would happen if you made certain pivotal decisions differently. It's all very cool.

Soulblazer

Platform: Super Nintendo

If you want to be In The Know, you have to learn about the Quintet trilogy, a series of action-RPGs for the Super Nintendo that subvert the traditional Zelda formula in some interesting ways. All three games — Soulblazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma — are worth playing, but today we'll give some love to the first one. Soulblazer puts you in command of an angel, sent to a world that had been ravaged by a soul-stealing monster named Deathtoll. As you hack-and-slash your way through underwater tunnels and creepy old mansions, you'll gradually rescue all of those souls, watching them repopulate their homes and villages. It's a cool game, and holds up pretty damn well today, exploring some dark, interesting themes that genuinely Make You Think.

Secret of Evermore

Platform: Super Nintendo

At some point in the mid-90s, the company then called Squaresoft decided it might be fun to make a game by Americans, for Americans. What they came up with was Secret of Evermore, a Secret of Mana clone that takes a dude and his dog to four different eras — prehistoric, Greek/Egyptian, medieval, and futuristic — as they try to figure out how to get home. It's a fairly fun action-RPG with some interesting albeit imperfect ideas. Casting spells, for example, requires you to follow alchemical formulas using ingredients like limestone and dry ice. Did I mention there's a dog?

Brave Fencer Musashi

Platform: PlayStation 1

This is a weird one. Brave Fencer Musashi is one part Zelda, another part Final Fantasy, and 100% food puns. At its core it's a three-dimensional action-RPG, putting you in the floppy shoes of a blue-haired hero with a whiny attitude and two big swords. As that hero, the eponymous Musashi, tries to figure out how to get back to his mysterious home world, he finds true love. Also: he slashes his way through monsters, builds relationships with the local townspeople (all of whom follow personal schedules and routines), and plays with a bunch of action figures.

The Last Story

Platform: Wii

It's hard to imagine playing a modern console game that isn't in HD, which is probably why nobody talks about The Last of Us, which came out in 2012 for Nintendo's underpowered Wii. That's a shame. It kicks arse. It's got a great romance — unusual for video games! — and a surprisingly smart combat system. Really good writing, too.

Wild Arms

Platform: PlayStation 1

I have to confess: I'm not super-familiar with the Wild Arms series, a set of Western sci-fi JRPGs that were prevalent on the PS1 and PS2. But I have played the first, and it's great, complete with a solid story, some cool environment-based puzzles, and giant golems. Worth your time for sure.

Lufia 2

Platform: Super Nintendo

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced Lufia 2 has the best puzzles in JRPG history. Combining traditional turn-based combat with the type of puzzle-stuffed dungeons you might find in a Zelda game, Lufia 2 was ahead of its time. Today it's still brilliant. The story's fun, the music is great, and it all has a rhythm that can't be beat. Just stay away from the DS version, and watch out for glitched floors.

LandStalker

Platform: Sega Genesis

Back in the 90s, pretty much everyone was trying to clone Zelda. A company called Climax Entertainment might have done the best job of it with LandStalker, a Sega game that used an isometric perspective to emulate 3D graphics. There's a ton to like about this game — the characters, the dungeons, the treasures — and although the platforming can be a bit finnicky, it's definitely worth your time today.

Shining Force 2

Platform: Sega Genesis

If you're into Fire Emblem, do yourself a favour and check out the Shining Force series. It's got some rough spots, and it hasn't aged super gracefully, but when it comes to top-down strategy RPGs, few other games compare. Like its tactical siblings, SF2 lets you recruit and level allies, then take them to the battlefield for grid-based combat against bands of enemies. Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya on Game Gear is also a worthy contender.


Comments

    Underappreciated? I see multiple titles here that either spawned frachises or were already franchise games.

      This so much. Several of them are rated just right< in my opinion too. Like The Last Story. That's one you either loved or hated (I came on the hate side).

      Jason's articles always confuse me. Sometimes he seems like he knows his stuff but other times it seems like he doesn't really know much about JRPGs after all.

    Played Wild Arms 1,2, & 3 and loved them. Never found the ones after that anyone at my local.

      IIRC... Wild Arms 4 and 5 were only ever released in NA. So us folks here in AU never got them =(

    Surprised Vandal Hearts isn't on here. Still the best JRPG ive ever played.

    Vagrant Story. Breath of Fire 2.

      Someone else knows Vagrant Story. Just gonna put this out there but we might be soul mates ;)

    God I love the quintets. Last story was incredible

    I'd rather see something a little more current from present and previous gen.

    Last edited 14/05/16 1:27 pm

      I don't think I've seen any really great JRPGs in the current gen. A bunch of OK ones, but no great ones.

      Last gen there were a handful of great ones - somebody mentioned Lost Odyssey, although I wouldn't really call it underappreciated. I'm tempted to add Eternal Sonata, which was very good considering it was released very early in the PS3/360 era. "Ar Nosurge - Ode to an Unborn Star" I found to be pretty playable, although it was handicapped by being a sequel to a game never released in English. "Nier" perhaps. "Ar Tonelico Qoga - Knell of Ar Ciel" was in all honesty fairly mediocre but had some interesting ideas.

      Personally I'd put Final Fantasy XIII on the list, not because it was a great game (it wasn't) but because it was an OK game that received an utter panning from the critics.

      On the other hand, almost anything from NISA seems to be far more popular than is deserved. Not many bad games, but lots of meh ones.

      I was really looking forward to Tales of Zestria in this gen, but the extent to which it limits your movement in the late game is infuriating. By the end of the game you've opened up most of the map, but are locked out of most of it because the game wants you to follow the story. There were several missions/quests that I didn't finish at the end of the game because the game would literally not allow me to go to where I needed to go to finish them.

      And then they put the end of the game at approximately that point where most Tales Of games seem to flip to over to another world and find you're only halfway there.

      I mentioned that people complain about FFXIII being linear, but TOZ was in my book even worse, as it pretended to offer a fully open world and then put arbitrary limitations on you accessing it. GRAAAH!

        Ar Tonelico Qoga was pretty mediocre coming off Ar Tonelico II, which was probably the high point for that franchise.

        While it didn't come out until last year in English, Trails of Cold Steel is easily one of the best of last gen and I feel like the entire Trails franchise (along with all of Falcom's other stuff especially Ys) doesn't get anywhere near enough attention.

        Tales has kind of gone off the rails too. Vesperia's still probably the high water mark for the series, and Xillia was good if a bit obviously rushed out the door, but Xillia 2 and Zestiria were both huge disappointments. Hope they can recapture whatever it was that made that franchise work.

          The Atelier games are also getting better over time. Getting rid of the calendar in Atelier Shallie was a major change, but it eliminated the issue with earlier games where you were afraid to explore because you may not find anything useful and the days burned could be critical.

          I've played Atelier Sophie in Japanese briefly and it also seems to have some interesting new ideas. Briefly because my understanding of Japanese is pretty terrible.

          I have to (mostly) agree with you WRT the Tales franchise. I don't think I even finished Xillia 2, and while I did finish Zestiria I was dreadfully disappointed by the suddenness of the ending. Also agree Re: the Trails games.

          Oh, I forgot to mention Nier, which is getting some latter-day recognition, although it was a little too twitch-heavy for my tastes.

          The Neptunia games also improved over time, but the trajectory there was from "terrible" (the first game) to "actually quite decent" (in the Rebirth remakes) although I have a mixed opinion on Neptunia VII.

            The Neptunia games have iterated to the point that they're pretty decent. And yeah, the original game was awful.

            I've got this terrible habit of buying Atelier games and never playing them because I want to do them in order and I get stuck somewhere. My biggest issue was always the time management and I'm really glad they stepped further and further away from being so punitive with it. I got most of the way through Ayesha Plus while on holiday last year and really was enjoying it, need to get around to finishing.

            Have Sophie ordered but something about it really fails to grab my interest the way the previous ones have. I think it's the art. They had two character designers and the result feels really inconsistent and jumbled, because one artist is okay and the other really isn't. Think they were better when they had a single artistic style (Mel Kishida for the Arland ones, Hidari for the Dusk ones). It was always going to be tricky for another artist to come in after HIdari though, her style is beautiful and I found her attention to detail on clothing pretty interesting - the characters' clothes feel like they could actually exist and not look as ridiculous if recreated in real life.

            Gust apparently have another new IP in development (Koei Tecmo mentioned it in an earnings call a couple of weeks ago) which should be interesting. Also presumably have another Atelier in the pipe by now - curious whether that'll be a follow-up to Sophie or not.

            On Tales, I really wanted to like Tales of Zestiria, but it's massively flawed. A generally unlikeable cast that don't interact well together is the biggest issue. Tales games live and die by the character interactions, and they were just not there. Everyone's so dour and serious. It just didn't come together. Plus the cast felt like it had been designed entirely around their Armatization system for combat, which I absolutely hated. I wasn't so worried about the length, it didn't feel too short or long to me (but I did do the DLC thing right after and that added several hours) and honestly the plot wasn't good enough to extend it out further anyway. Berseria's looking like it's got some potential but I'm pretty hesitant after a lot of hit & miss, especially since it's a prequel to Zestiria and Bamco seems to be going all-in on that game by doing an anime adaption that pretty much no one asked for and stuff. Will still get it though. I've bought entire systems just to get Tales games before.

              I bought my 3DS originally for Tales of the Abyss, and my Gamecube was bought largely for Tales of Symphonia...

              Zestiria is the first Tales game where I mostly left the characters on auto. Given that the combat is in some ways the core of the franchise, that's pretty damning. And I agree that the characters were mostly pretty ordinary.

              I was just hoping that they would turn it around mid-game, and then the mid-game turned out to be the END game. So, so disappointing.

              I've only actually finished two of the Atelier games (Ayesha and Shallie) in part because the calendar constrained me too much - but I still had fun with the journey. :-) It's dreadfully premature to make a call on Sophie on the basis of playing for an hour in a language I only know a little of, but the changes to the alchemy system looked pretty interesting.

              I finished both without a walkthrough, whereas with the earlier games it felt like a wasted week could be fatal, and getting the equipment to save time required very specific ingredients from very specific places. Still keep planning to finish the remaining games (they are all on my Vita) but... so many games.

                For me, I got into Tales playing Phantasia SNES emulated with the DeJap translation. Got my Gamecube for Symphonia, Modded my PS2 to import Abyss (and added a HDD so I could play the undub), Imported a JP-region 360 to be able to play the Asia release of Vesperia (took them 9 months to even confirm it for Australia), PSP was purchased for Eternia and the tipping point for buying a Wii was the Symphonia sequel (very bad reason to get that system in retrospect!). One of the big reasons I jumped onto Vita early was the remake of Tales of Innocence, but Namco let us down on that (at least we got Hearts).

                I actually started dabbling with Atelier way back with Iris - finished the first one and got a bit of the way into the second and third. Same with Mana Khemia and its sequel. They're good games, but I think my first love when it comes to Gust's stuff is always going to be Ar Tonelico.

                I really want to get back to Atelier Ayesha at some point. I was right in the endgame when I stopped (holiday ended) and just haven't gone back. Probably only a few hours of it left. I'm super bad at finishing JRPGs though.

                  I bought my XBox 360 on the strength of Vesperia (although the 360 had some other good RPGs early in its lifetime, a trend that disappeared very very quickly.)

                  The Wii had The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles, and could also be used to play the original Symphonia. Weird story with my Wii is that I won Xenoblade Chronicles in a competition *first*, and THEN bought a Wii. I also have Japanese Vita versions of Tales of Innocence and Tales of Hearts, but encountered similar problems as with Sophie, i.e. RPGs can be troublesome to play when you don't know the language they are using.

                  I have one of the PS2-era Atelier games (can't recall which one) but my favourite PS2 RPG was probably Grandia 2.

    One that is best in my books is The Legend of The Dragoon

    Shining Force II is still my favourite game of all time, and the game that started my long and grindy path to RPG obsession.

    There are few in mind Secret of Mana, Parasite Eve, Legend of Dragoons, alundra, beyond the beyond, breath of fire series, chocobo dungeon, grandia, ogre battle, grandstream saga, legend of legaia, thousand arms and my personal favourite, Azure Dreams.

    These less know JRPg, along with the big ones, like Tales series, Suikoden series, Xeno series, FF series, Persona series are practically my childhood :)

    Terranigma

      Was mentioned as part of the quintet trilogy, terranigma being one of the games in it. Soulblazer was first however so it was suggested you definitely try it first, but that you should play the rest too.

        Soul Blazer was alright, Illusion of Gaia was terrible, and only Terranigma is really worth playing.

          Oh absolutely, Terranigma kicked major ass once it got going. One of my favourite games of the snes era. I love it for much the same reason I love Mystic Quest. As you complete parts of the game you make a noticeable impact on the state of the world, making it more beautiful. Soundtrack for Mystic Quest is the music of the gods however.

    On another note, RPGLimitBreak is streaming, the lesser known speedrunning event dealing exclusively with RPGs. Seemed relevant given the article content
    https://www.twitch.tv/rpglimitbreak

    Landstalker is rad.

    Goes double for Shining Force 2. One of my favorite games.
    Wish more of the Shining games made it to the west.

    Totally agree. God I loved that game.

    A pity most of these ideas seem to have been abandoned in favour of action-rpg or FPS fare. I have played all these game over the years and it's quite hard to find something now that lives up to a lot of them, also Phantasy Star (not the online variant).

    Last edited 16/05/16 10:45 am

    Man, that game, The Last of Us, on the Wii - that was an RPG to remember!

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now