To give credit where it’s due, Final Fantasy VII spurred a whole generation’s interest into RPGs – heck I probably still have the triangular shaped PC box around my house somewhere. It’s certainly not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a tendency to be lofted to an undeserved pedestal based more on popularity than overall quality or interesting premise. So instead of Final Fantasy VII, here are eight JRPGs that I would personally recommend anyone play first.
One of the key reasons to own a Dreamcast along with Jet Grind Radio, Phantasy Star Online and SoulCalibur. Skies of Arcadia was a decent enough RPG on the surface, if perhaps leaning a bit heavily on tired tropes. But the real draw in Skies of Arcadia was the ship combat. Rather than simply being a transport method, your ship got involved in fights as well. Exchanging broadsides and volleys of torpedoes, the ship-to-ship/monster combat was really well done, and one of the most memorable moments of the game is when you acquire the super-badass Delphinus flagship.
Super Mario RPG is noteworthy for what it could have easily been instead. If the folks over at Nintendo and Square had just slapped together another Mario game, save the Princess, defeat Bowser, etc, and just pasted RPG mechanics over it that probably still would have gone over well. Instead it had a rich story, well for a Mario game at least, that featured moments like the rivals of Mario and Bowser putting aside differences to fight a common threat.
It’s hard being a follow up to one of the best games of all time, so perhaps Chrono Cross had the right idea of only being loosely related to Chrono Trigger. Chrono Cross still had a lot of things going for it though. There was a huge cast of party members, so many in fact it was impossible to get them all in a single play through. A lot of this was due to the game’s most memorable feature, parallel dimensions, which leads to some interesting gameplay like retrieving the powerful Einlanzer sword from both sides.
Fact: giant mechs make every better. And Front Mission 3 combines the peanut butter of giant mechs with the chocolate of tactical JRPG combat. Prepare to spend way too much time customizing your team of wanzers, yes that’s what they are called, with all manner of options. Do you strike hard at long range with missiles and risk running out of ammo? Or maybe you prefer to move in quickly and dispense death from up close.
This might be a bit unfair, since I’ve otherwise stuck to games roughly in the same era, but Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is just too good to ignore. Mix one parts life simulation with equal parts of dungeon crawling and complex crafting and you’ve more or less got the base for Persona 4. What really ties it all together is the interesting story combined with a very likable cast of characters.
Well considering I called it “one of the best games of all time” earlier, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Chrono Trigger end up on the list. There’s almost not much to say about it, the game practically defines the word ‘iconic’ at every angle from the music score and aesthetic down to gameplay mechanics. If you’ve not played it yet you’re only doing yourself a disservice.
Ok, so maybe I have a thing for JRPGs with giant mechs, but Xenogears blew my tiny developing mind back in the late 90s. For its time, the game had a near impossibly dense and weighty story that crisscrossed and branches out to an insane degree than the typically ‘save the world from the bad guys’ plots everyone was used to. If Final Fantasy VII ushered in how far JRPGs had come, Xenogears showed what they could really be.
And finally, no list about JRPGs would be complete without a little star handed out to a personal darling from the Final Fantasy series. For me, I still don’t think you can do better than Final Fantasy III / Final Fantasy VI. Square was really at their prime with Final Fantasy VI. It was nearing the end of the SNES life cycle and was in a lot of ways the culmination of all the Final Fantasys that came before it. Awesome setting, a great cast of characters and very importantly a memorable villain. It’s honestly a strong contender for one of the finest games ever, not just RPGs.
There’s still a bunch of games I’d loved to have given some recognition here. What ones do you think I missed? In the meantime, I think I’m going to go up to the attic, dust off the old consoles and dig around in my boxes so I can replay these gems.