Hello everyone, Clay here with another article for you to consume, digest, and ponder. Today I wanted to talk about the genre of Japanese Roleplaying Games, or JRPGs. My intro to gaming was the venerable Atari 2600 and Odyssey 2, and in the early 80’s rather then get a NES like most kids my dad ended up getting me not one but 2 Sega Master Systems (one for his house, one for my mom’s) and when I got a bit older I didn’t get the SNES or Genesis, but rather a PC (a Compaq Presario 520 all in one desktop and if I ever got a classic PC this is what I would want).I actually really got into the JRPG genre thanks to a PS One that I got in 1998 for Christmas. Mine was a Costco bundle that came with Cool Borders 2 and Jet Moto 2. I remember playing the hell out of both those games, and then slowly discovering the JRPG genre and becoming hooked. I had played RPGs on my PC and a few action RPGs like Zelda, Faxanadu, and Crystalis on an NES I did end up getting eventually, but nothing stuck till the PS One. Well, except one instance…but we will talk about that later.
Since then I have played tons of JRPGs on all sorts of systems, from the NES up to PC rereleases and stuff on the PS3 / XBox 360. And I wanted to talk about what I consider to be the top 5 JRPGs of all time (and a couple of honorable mentions), at least for now and for me. As always, these are my opinions.
Number 5: Breath of Fire 3
I got my PS One early on in its life cycle, and I will always remember the first game I bought with my own money for it. I had a part time job in High School working at a Wendy’s, and was at my dad’s one weekend and he dropped me off at a place called the West Oaks mall. It had a EB Games / Gamestop, and I had $20 on me, and I decided to see if there were any cool new games for my PS1. At the time, I still only had a couple demo discs and the two sports games. I saw the cover for Breath of Fire 3 on the used games shelf, and it was $20. I read the back and just went “WAIT DRAGONS?! I CAN BE A DRAGON!?” Suffice to say I immediately bought it, and when my dad came to pick me up a few hours later I rush home, loaded it up, and became engrossed in the world of Ryu and company.
What has always stuck out for me with this game is the story. It’s not one about saving the world. The world itself is never in real danger. Rather, this is the story of Ryu, and who he is. You actually play the game over 2 arcs: Childhood, and Teenager. As a child, Ryu gets involved in a few messes that he ends up having to help clean up, but nothing world threatening at all. All Ryu wants to do is find out who he is and where he comes from, and why he can transform into dragons. When you hit your Teenage years, the game continues with the world having changed, but now you have better leads, and you eventually discover what became of your people…and who is responsible. It’s a very personal journey and I adore it. One of these days I will have to do a full playthrough of it, but given the amount of grinding that it (And all JRPGs have for the most part) it might be hard to stream haha. Oh and the music stellar and I can still hum the overworld themes (both of them)
Number 4: Chrono Cross
I have a theory that a person’s favorite “Chrono” game is always going to be the first one they play. I feel this way because the first of the Chrono games I played was Cross, not Trigger (remember, I never had an SNES growing up). Chrono Cross is a unique game, exploring concepts of death and the multiverse, and has always stuck with me. I think part of the reason is the music. I flat out love every single piece of music from Chrono Cross. I listen to the theme, Scars of Time, all the time.
The story of Serge and his strange place in the world of Chrono Cross is also a fascinating tale. Which this one does have a “Save the World” plotline, that really doesn’t come up for a very long time. Most of the time, you are trying to figure out the story between Termina and Another Termina, the two parallel worlds that are connected. Further, the connection between Serge and the character known as Lynx. One thing that is unique to Cross is the sheer number of recruitable characters in the game, each with their own movesets and stories, and in order to recruit everyone you would have to play the game 3 times in a row (there is a New Game+ mode). Also, Cross has no grinding required. Or even character levels. It’s a fascinating game and one I recommend to anyone looking for something different.
Number 3: Persona 4
I did not have a PS2 until my wife and I got together. In fact we still have the original PS2 she had brought with her when we got married. I explored a few of the RPGs on that system, but none really clicked.
That is until Persona 4. I am still to this day not sure why. Maybe it was the combination of living the life of a High Schooler while also trying to solve a murder mystery in an Urban Fantasy / Supernatural setting. Maybe it was the way that the connections to characters in the world effected your dungeon exploration gameplay in a meaningful way through the Social Links / Persona connections. Maybe it was the story, one that brings up ideas of imposter syndrome and sexuality and identity into it in a sometimes light hearted, sometimes heavy handed, but always solid way. Hell maybe it was the raw style of the game, because to this day the only RPGs that ooze style like this one did are in fact the OTHER Persona games.
I am not sure. But I played the ever loving hell out of this, to the point where my wife HATES the battle theme (I dont disagree, it gets REALLY old really fast lol). I am impatiently waiting for the day Persona 5 comes to PC (please papa Sega have mercy) so I can finally become a phantom thief. But for now, Inaba will always be a special place for me. Also Naoto is best girl fight me.
Number 2: Tales of Symphonia
The Gamecube was a weird system for me. I bought it, not because of its games lineup or anything but because it was frankly the cheapest console out there at the time. I got mine brand new for $100 at a Gamestop. I ended up falling in love with quite a few titles on it including the Metroid Primes but the one game that made the system for me and introduced me to one of my favorite series of JRPGs out there was Tales of Symphonia.
I don’t remember ever hearing a single thing about this game. I just saw the cover, read the back and went “Huh, a JRPG but with a fighting game combat system? That’s different!” I had just finished Baiten Kaitos (another excellent game, and one that deserves a re-release!) that had a card based battle system so I figured I would give this one a shot. It took the game almost no time at all to hook me. Between the Skits, the character, the world, the plot, and the gameplay, Symphonia got its claws into me and would not let go. Because of Tales of Symphonia I have now played Abyss, Vesperia, Berseria, Zesteria, Graces F, and Xillia. Even a couple of the PSP releases of the Tales games (Radiant Mythologies). All because I took a chance on Symphonia. This is one that I want to play / stream and review, as I own the PC release of it now. I no longer have the Gamecube you see.
Also I have to give props to the story and a major plot twist that at the time I did NOT see coming, at all. Once the halfway point hit I was like “OMGWTFBBQ!” and the game just went off the rails in the best way possible.
Before we get to my number 1 let me bring up 2 Honorable mentions. These were JUST outside the Top 5 for me.
Honorable Mention: Grandia 1
JUSSSSTTTTTTTIIIIINNNNNN. A PS One game with voice acting. A plot that doesn’t start out as Save the World but rather is focused on our MC, Justin, becoming an explorer and crossing the great “End of the World”. A creepy organization in the background doing…things! that you eventually have to deal with. A combat system that was unique for its time, and involved both character leveling and magic / weapon levels. Party members that eventually leave, replaced by new ones who you grow to love.
Everything about Grandia 1 is awesome. While graphically it has not aged that great, I am still hyped for the HD release that is still supposedly coming to Steam. Just an all-around fantastic game.
Honorable Mention: Legend of Mana
Wanna know why I love Legend of Mana? First the art, then the music, then the nonlinear gameplay with multiple stories and endings and choices. Plus insane replayability through the weapon system and customization options. Hell, the best way to learn about Legend of Mana is to watch my streamed Playthrough of the game right here!
Number 1: Earthbound
I was in middle school, and a kid asked me to sleep over at his place. My mom said sure, and when I got there his mom took us to a local Blockbuster. He had just gotten the Super Nintendo, and me and him were gonna rent a game and see how it was.
The game we chose was Earthbound. I don’t remember much about the sleepover, other then we stayed up all night taking turns with the controls. We had no idea what this game was about other than the fact that we were beating up crows, locals guy, dogs, gang members, and police officers. We found the humor, a lot focused on strange things like cults about the color blue and barf to be hilarious. I know we got as far as the town of Summer, and the Pyramid, but could not figure out the way through it, and by the time the next day came about we had to return the game unfinished. The game, however, never left my mind as I grew up. This video is a good look at Earthbound by the way, and is by one of my favorite youtubers.
It was not until I was around 28-29 did I play Earthbound again, on my phone via an emulator of all things. There is something magical about this game and its story, and world. The journey of Ness and friends, to different places and locations, using things like psychic powers to crush giant ants and moles, and learning a musical song that will defeat a great evil is timeless. There are tons of videos out there, and tons of discussions, talking about why Earthbound is one of the greatest JRPGs of all time, and I don’t need to really hash those back out. I can say this, however: One of the reason I bought the SNES Classic was because Earthbound was on there. I mean sure games like Link to the Past, FF6, Super Metroid, and Super Mario RPG are all great games on there as well, but for me I only had eyes for Earthbound. This was my chance to own a “real” copy of it (the game still goes for like $100+ cart only, and I no longer have a SNES system) so I knew I had to go for it. And when I got my New 2DS XL the first virtual console game I got was Earthbound.
Earthbound is a special game for me, a game that I feel opened my eyes to the world of JRPGs. It was the first real JRPG I ever played, long before the PS1 era and such, and its colorful world, cast of characters, and story of hope has stuck with me to this day. Just talking about it has now made me start humming the Onett theme. In fact, I might just reinstall an emulator on my phone and play through Earthbound again. Ness needs to hit some fools with his bat while Paula prays. Oh, and if you ever play the game, pay attention to the city names. You might notice a silly pattern.
Stay nerdy everyone, and I will see you in Onett. Fuzzy Pickles!