Top JRPGs to discover
JRPGs are a sub-category of the role-playing genre. From anime-style visuals to turn-based battle systems, many JRPGs often boast similar features that make them stand out from their Western counterparts. And while the genre arguably peaked in the 90s, Japanese developers have been consistently delivering masterpieces of gameplay and storytelling for decades on end. So, which JRPGs stand tall above the rest? Let’s check four Japanese role-playing games for newcomers to the genre to try.
Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise is an RPG published by Bandai Namco in 2021 on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation. The seventh mainline entry in the Tales series is neither a prequel nor a sequel, meaning newcomers can dive straight into the game’s experience without any prior knowledge of its mechanics and lore. Much like the Final Fantasy franchise, all Tales games tell a self-contained story. And Tales of Arise is definitely one of the strongest introductions to the series.
The latest instalment in the franchise depicts the divide between the advanced world of Rena and the Renan-occupied medieval world of Dahna, where a man and a woman from opposing sides unite to end the Renans’ reign of oppression and spark much-needed change. The game’s narrative tackles mature themes of isolation and discrimination. With a reinvigorated real-time combat system and a poetic art direction, to boot, it’s hardly surprising Tales of Arise bagged the best RPG accolade at the Game Awards 2021.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
Released in the summer of 2022 on the Nintendo Switch, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 soon became an unmitigated fan-favourite. As of 2023, this modern title is one of the highest-rated JRPGs on Metacritic. While this 2022 sequel brings an epic conclusion to the trilogy it wraps up, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 tells a mostly standalone story so as not to drive away the latecomers to the series. And it delivers on each and every front.
Gameplay-wise, an enhanced and rebalanced combat system adds more excitement than ever to battles. In the visuals department, the game rises above the technical constraints of Nintendo’s handheld console to offer a gorgeous immersion in a stunning open-world environment. And over 100 optional quests allow players to explore every nook and cranny of this massive open world, offering some of the most freedom ever seen in a JRPG.
Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Dragon Quest XI is the eleventh mainline installation in the long-running Dragon Quest franchise. Originally released on the 3DS, an enhanced port hit the Nintendo Switch in 2019 before landing on other platforms. This new Switch release expanded on an already solid plot by adding new endings while offering gamers to tune in to an orchestral soundtrack. And this JRPG’s sheer depth of content quickly cemented it as one of the very best role-playing titles out there. From battling against dragons to harvesting resources, ridding the kingdom of Dundrasil from a swathe of monsters and saving the world takes a lot of heavy lifting.
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Octopath Traveler II
Octopath Traveler received favourable reviews when it came out on the Nintendo Switch in 2018. Before long, however, many gamers started to blast this JRPG for its lacklustre and repetitive stories. And Square Enix visibly listened to these grievances to set the records straight with the release of Octopath Traveler II in early 2023.
This standalone sequel massively improved on its predecessor by introducing much-awaited quality of life features like double combat speed and revamped capture mechanics. The game also added more nuance to its roster of characters by having them interact with each other while giving extra depth to its world by allowing gamers to enter buildings like inns and taverns. Of course, the game’s campaign structure remains polarising. But this endearing throwback to classic 90s JRPGs is worth the journey anyhow.
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