For those who aren’t familiar, JRPG stands for Japanese Role Playing Game, which are essentially RPG titles that were made exclusively in Japan, then eventually made their way stateside shortly after. In the early 90’s, JRPGs were the stable genre that many would flock to since you had the likes of Squaresoft (Now Square Enix) and Nintendo dishing out some of the best titles of our generation. Fast forward to today and while the JRPG genre has somewhat waned in terms of its overall dominance in the RPG field, many hardcore fans around the world highly regard them as the creme de la creme of role playing titles. Let’s take a closer look at some of the industry’s biggest names and how they stack up on our top ten JRPG anime games list!
10. Tales Series
- System/Platform: Multi-Platform
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
- Release Date: December 1995 - Present
The tales series has a remarkable track record spanning back over 2 decades, and still continues to shine on as one of the better JRPG titles to hit the store shelves. Starting with Tales of Phantasia back in 1995, the series has always made its mark on the genre by demonstrating just how enchanting a story can be, and the remarkable journeys the player can embark on once they dive deeper into the game. What separates Tales from the other JRPG franchises is that it encompasses a lot of manga influenced art styles and uses a specific action based fighting system known as the Linear Motion Battle System.
To many in the west, the Tales franchise has slowly grown in popularity, but in Japan, it’s actually the third largest property in terms of JRPGs just behind both Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, both of which still continue to generate incredibly high numbers to this day. The biggest title that generated the most attention thus far both domestically and internationally was Tales of Symphonia, which opened the door for more Tales titles to be shipped to the west and continue to shine on with its spectacular settings, and captivating character backstories.
9. Valkyria Chronicles
- System/Platform: PS3, PS4, Windows
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sega
- Release Date: April 2008 [JP] - May 2016 [UK]
Valkyria Chronicles is one of the leading titles from software giant Sega, and arguably the largest in terms of sales in the tactical JRPG genre. Much of the series takes place in a fictitious European setting known as Europa, where players must use their strategic thinking to overcome the enemy and ensure that the Gallian Militia come out on top. Much of the story revolves around the Ragnite Ore, which results in the attack on the nation of Gallia from the East European Imperial Alliance.
Using Sega’s Canvas graphics engine, it allows the motion of characters on screen to resemble that of pencil drawn paintings in motion. It’s such a fantastic game to dive into because there’s never a guarantee of whether you’ll succeed in a mission or not, and using very tactical approaches is the only way to successfully complete your objectives. Going into a mission blindly would be costly, and would put the team in danger, so Valkyria Chronicles teaches players how to think on the fly, use sound judgement, and deal with problems in an efficient manner in order to move forward. With Valkyrie: Azure Revolution slated for a January release next year, fans of the series will have something great to look forward to.
8. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
- System/Platform: PS Vita, PS4
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Developer: Media.Vision
- Release Date: March 2015 [JP/Vita] - February 2016 [EU/NA/Vita] | February 2016 [JP/EU/PS4]
The Digimon franchise has been around for just as long as the Pokemon series, and despite being somewhat niche in the west it still has a strong following in Japan. Digimon takes place in a unique universe where humans and creatures known as Digimon work together to battle enemies and save the world from ruin. Unlike in Pokemon where the goal is the become the best pokemon trainer, Digimon focuses on real life elements while allowing users to train their monsters and ensure the safety and well being of humanity.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is one of the entries in the long running Digimon franchise, and is the fifth game in the Digimon Story series. What’s striking about Cyber Sleuth is that it goes beyond the norm to create unique features in JRPG titles, one of which only found in Cyber Sleuth is the New Game Plus mode. This mode allows players to keep all of their Digimon, along with other benefits that will help the player further in the game. While the story is enough to keep fans of the series engaged, the gameplay feels more or less like your typical RPG in terms of battle encounters and leveling up which is why it lands on the number eight spot.
7. Xenoblade Chronicles X
- System/Platform: Nintendo Wii U
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Monolith Soft / Nintendo SPD
- Release Date: April 2015 [JP] - December 2015 [EU/NA/AUS]
Monolith Soft promised to take things a step further after the already successful Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, and released the mammoth title Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U which became one of the highest selling titles for the console. It’s the spiritual successor to the Wii counterpart, and centers around the player creating their own character while being assisted by Elma and Lin Lee in efforts to save the world from ruin, and coexist with the creatures that live on the alien planet.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is beyond amazing and is what new JRPGs should take note from simply because the game is so expansive, allowing players to traverse this incredibly open world either by foot or by your own customized mecha, collecting rare items from unimaginable places or battling fierce enemies in the sky. This truly made the game feel incredibly immersive as you could pretty much fly anywhere on the map, get hired by a team of specialists that cater to specific styles of combat, and just explore uncharted territory at your own will. With over 200 hours of gameplay ranging from sub quests to the more serious story driven objectives, Xenoblade Chronicles X offers so much in terms of creativity and gives players a chance to truly feel as if they’re apart of a real universe.
- System/Platform: PSP, PS Vita, PS4, Windows, iOS, Android
- Publisher: Spike Chunsoft [JP] NIS America [NA]
- Developer: Spike Chunsoft
- Release Date: November 2010 - October 2016
Created by Spike Chunsoft, Danganronpa takes place in an elite high school called Hope’s Peak Academy, which selects ultimate students along with one ultimate lucky student, and from there the true adventure begins. In the first game Trigger Happy Havoc, players must guide Makoto Naegi through a labyrinth of clues along with fourteen other random students, and their only way out of this school is to murder another student without getting caught. Monokuma, the sadistic teddy bear, is the one who tells you of this ordeal and reminds you that you’re in the school forever until you can “graduate”.
Our writer Jenangelx3 states that Danganronpa’s popularity stems from its intrigue, and how mysterious everything feels from the get go. You’re never really sure how things will turn out, and each time you play more details about the characters are revealed as you attempt to befriend them and survive. The deaths in the game are very unforgiving and somewhat scarring, but that’s what gives Danganronpa it’s charm when compared to other JRPG titles. The uncertainty behind each decision you make is what helps to liven up the experience, and really make the player feel as if they’re truly in the game.
5. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
- System/Platform: Arcade, PS2, PS3, PS4, Nintendo 3DS, PSP, PS Vita, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Atlus [JP] Atlus USA [NA]
- Developer: Atlus, Arc System Works
- Release Date: September 1996 - Present
Shin Megami Tensei, better known as just Persona recently, is created by Atlus and features a very deep and compelling story that has the player solving numerous problems and overcoming tricky puzzles to progress through this incredibly popular franchise. Persona was actually a spin off of the Megami Tensei series, but eventually became such a hit that Atlus decided to push it on its own. Dating back to the original release of Revelations: Persona back in 1996, the series focuses on exploring the inner realms of the human psyche and following characters along a deep progressive story seeking to finding themselves.
Persona has captured the hearts of many fans around the world due to its compelling story, and vast array of characters that all contribute to the overall experience as you play. While we could choose a favorite from the series, the Persona franchise is just so rich in terms of its consistent gameplay that picking one out from the bunch would be difficult. As you battle various types of enemies ranging from demons to personas, various clues are given to the player to solve upcoming puzzles or to defeat bosses. With the well received Persona 5 out now for the PS4 in Japan, and in April in the US, we can only be certain that this series will not die out anytime soon.
4. Phantasy Star Online
- System/Platform: Dreamcast, Nintendo Gamecube, Windows, Xbox
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Sonic Team
- Release Date: December 2000 [JP] - March 2002[EU/ Ver.2]
Phantasy Star Online originally started out as an offline title for the Sega Genesis back in the mid nineties and eventually grew so much in popularity that Sega decided to take it online. Phantasy Star Online separates itself from the classic titles by focusing more on a hack and slash approach in comparison to the more traditional turn based approach we all grew up on.
Many can attest to this and say that Phantasy Star Online came out well before its time, much like its console father the Dreamcast. Phantasy Star Online was one of the first games on a console to allow players to battle against other players through a network, and could run flawlessly without many issues on Planet Ragol. Taking inspiration from Diablo, Sonic Team made sure to create a game that felt immersive but also rewarding, using various classes such as the Hunter and implementing races as well as weapons for a more diverse experience. What truly sold players on the experience was the communication system that allowed you to chat with virtually anyone across the world, and that was unprecedented at the time.
3. Final Fantasy
- System/Platform: Multi Platform
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Square Enix
- Release Date: December 1987 - Present
Final Fantasy will be a series that will stay ingrained in the souls of many RPG fans whether you’ve played through every game or not, simply due to the fact that Square Enix’s title is just so breathtaking in every aspect. Whether it’s the action packed Final Fantasy 7, the title that truly took the entire world by storm, to the more compelling Final Fantasy 10 which took players on an emotional roller coaster, Square Enix knew how to pull our heartstrings and sell us on a remarkable story that would stay cemented in our hearts forever.
Final Fantasy originally found its home on Nintendo’s Famicom system back in the late 80’s and surprisingly, the game was created by Sakaguchi as a last ditch effort to revive the game industry at the time. Fortunately the game took off and eventually led to the creation of more titles which we all know and have enjoyed. With so many Final Fantasy titles out there, we simply couldn’t place one on our ranking, and also so many of the titles showcase various types of gameplay mechanics ranging from the more traditional turn base to Final Fantasy XV’s more open world hack and slash approach. With it’s incredibly long and riveting storylines, nostalgic orchestrated pieces, to spectacular character designs, the Final Fantasy franchise will continue to breathe so long as we do.
2. Dragon Quest
- System/Platform: Multi Platform
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Armor Project
- Release Date: May 1986 - Present
Debuting a year earlier than FF, Dragon Quest had a head start in the RPG race and most certainly gained a lot of traction by doing so. Illustrated by the legendary Akira Toriyama, the man behind Dragonball, Dragon Quest felt somewhat connected to that universe which is why to this day it still manages to come out on top as one of the best RPG titles out there. Dragon Quest was known in the west as Dragon Warrior due to legal issues, until Square Enix officially stuck with Dragon Quest in 2005.
Dragon Quest is so popular for a variety of reasons, namely Toriyama’s role in creating the characters, but mainly for its iconic characters such as slime. Japan is known for its love for cute characters and the cast of characters in Dragon Quest spoke to much of the audience which led to its quick growth in popularity. Evolving to a more open world approach with the likes of Dragon Quest Heroes I and II, along with its online MMO Dragon Quest X, the series has no plans of slowing down and with a truly remarkable plot to back it up, there’s no telling where this series will go next.
- System/Platform:Nintendo Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, DS, 3DS, N64, iOS, Gamecube, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo Switch
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: February 1996 - Present
This is arguably the best selling RPG on the planet right now and for good reason. Pokemon launched its legendary series back in 1996 with the iconic Red and Blue (Green in Japan) versions of their game, which to this day is still regarded as an instant classic by many. Growing from there, Nintendo took the franchise and ensured that no other RPG can top it by throwing in a unique feature that allows players to catch Pokemon, raise them, level them up, and take them out in the wild to battle other Pokemon to grow their team. Not only that but the gym battles are the icing on the cake, along with the elite four to really seal the deal and you have yourself an international juggernaut.
Fast forward to today and Pokemon has sold well over 200,000,000 worldwide and with the recent blockbuster release of Pokemon Sun and Moon, Nintendo is swimming in yen right now. Pokemon GO was just the precursor to all of this hype, and has become the highest selling mobile game of this year raking in $200 million just in a month, but that’s not even a Nintendo creation. There’s simply no stopping this powerhouse because quite frankly, who doesn’t like going out and catching Pokemon?
We simply can’t count on our two hands just how many new JRPG titles are coming out, but Blue Reflection, Yoru no Nai Kuni 2, Nier: Automata are just a taste of what’s to come out very soon for all of us hardcore JRPG fans. Which JRPG franchise stands out to you the most? Which title can you never let go of? Let us know in the comments section below, and be sure to share with your friends also to keep the Honey’s community buzzing!
As always, if you want to know about all the latest buzz straight from the bee’s nest in Japan, be sure to keep it locked here at Honey’s Anime.