Japanese Role Playing Games, or more commonly known as JRPGs, have long had a storied history with the world of gaming with many of the greatest games of the 90s and early 2000s being JRPGs. However, the genre did start to wane as the 7th Generation began though it still had a good number of gems sneaking through. Recent years, fortunately, have had a greater surge of quality titles erupt within the genre.

So, as a celebration of the genre’s history and being a massive fan of them myself, here are some of the best titles to grace the genre within this decade. But before that, I just want to say that I’m going to be cheating a bit here as I’ll also be counting remasters/remakes/re-releases that launched within this time frame as well. So then, without further ado, here are my picks for ten of the best JRPGs of the decade:

Persona 5

“A game that oozes with style from every pore” is the most perfect phrase to describe the excellence that is Persona 5. Every facet of its art direction and U.I embodies a suave smoothness that elevates even the most mundane of tasks into an enjoyable activity though in a way, it is those so-called “mundane” tasks that really make the franchise what it is.

However, style isn’t the only thing Persona 5 has got going for it. The social links or as they’re known in this game, “Confidants”, have been the most prominent feature contributing to the series increasing success since their introduction back in the third game. As such Persona 5 has developed this feature into its best iteration yet, providing not only a marvellous cast of characters to get to know and form relationships with, but also tying that aspect more closely to the game’s mechanics with each confidant providing different abilities and bonuses as your relationship with them progresses.

The dungeons, which were by far the weakest part of its predecessors, have received the most massive overhaul, turning what was once a chore for most people into one of the best parts of the title as you get to dive into and explore these beautifully crafted labyrinths. The combat also gets a slight bump in improvement though it remains, for the most part, fundamentally the same as previous instalments bar a couple of new additions.

All in all, the latest entry in the Persona franchise proves to be absolutely worth the wait as it takes the foundation laid by its predecessors and builds upon that to the greatest degree possible. Persona 5 a triumph of a game, one that deserves a shot by every gamer.

Pokemon Sun & Moon

The 7th generation of Pokemon games finally took the series fully into the 3rd dimension, featuring character models and locales that are to scale and also providing a fresh take on this now 23-year-old franchise which is a rarity for such a long-running series especially Pokemon.

Transitioning from the traditional gym system, that has so defined the experience of a Pokemon game for so many years, to the concept of island challenges which can range from battling Pokemon to taking specific photos and solving quizzes, provides returning players with novel and refreshing change of pace. The fully 3D environment also brings the world of Pokemon to life in a way quite unlike before with the critters appearing around locales like towns and trees. The game itself however, still retains the classic random encounter system of past titles.

The story, or rather the presentation of it, takes on a more cinematic presentation, making great use of the visual overhaul to more effectively sell the fun and wonder that represents a Pokemon adventure. The actual content of the story itself is more or less in line with the quality of previous titles which works for what it is but could definitely leave some people wanting more.

The core gameplay of Pokemon Sun & Moon is ever the same for the most part but the addition of Z-Moves does provide some nice variation to the combat. In my opinion, the 7th generation of Pokemon games are the best titles in the series yet and one that I’d happily recommend to any turn-based JRPG enthusiast.

Nier: Automata

While not exactly what I would personally consider a JRPG, Nier: Automata is nonetheless an incredible experience and a truly one of a kind game within the landscape. Every facet of Automata’s design is crafted to suit its thematic goals, from its central narrative and the way its told to the mechanic of death in combat, all work in conjunction to produce an experience like no other.

The narrative is key in Automata with its account on androids and trans-humanism. The tale that the game tells is done so in a way that fully takes advantage of its medium, creating a story that cannot exist within any other medium. Also, the story told here is absolutely incredible experience.

Of course, a game needs to be fun as well and while Yoko Taro’s previous games have always had a solid foundation when it came to their tales, themes and intriguing design, the actual execution of their gameplay never crawled past mediocrity. Thankfully, Nier: Automata has finally done so thanks to the fact that the formulation of its combat systems was handled by Platinum Games. Battle in Automata is a dazzling spectacle of fast-paced strikes and dodges, though the latter can be abused, the combat still proves to be a thrilling endeavour for any player to execute. Hacking and slashing isn’t the only way to put down foes either as the game mixes in bullet hell mechanics in various ways that helps to vary battles and thus provide a more exciting undertaking.

Overall, with the combination of its narrative, design and gameplay, Nier: Automata exits as a unique experience in the world of video games. It’s, personally, one of the greatest games I’ve ever had the opportunity to play and one I believe deserves to be, at least, tried by everyone.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV does not have the greatest of legacies, especially within the Final Fantasy fan-base. I admit that FFXV is, on the whole, a very flawed title but, even so, it works remarkably where it counts and at the end that is what elevates the entire game and cements its inclusion on this list.

The game’s biggest flaw is most definitely its tale or rather the way it’s executed. The story starts off strong, building its momentum at a good pace until midway way through the game. It is after this point that the game starts to barrel towards the end with its focus being on hitting the main plot points of its story rather than approaching them organically. However, even in the face of that, the main characters manage to eminently likeable and endearing. The bond between the four and Noctis’ self-journey to be king are the two components that really elevate the title. The ending also deserves special mention because for as much as the game falters along the way, FFXV reaches the finish line in a truly epic and beautiful way.

The combat in FFXV feels a bit off at first but after a couple of hours, once I started to get the hang of it , everything just clicked for the most part. Executing attacks, switching swords on the fly and zipping around the field is whole-lot-of-fun and the addition of combo attacks and magic work well to diversify battles. It also helps that the game looks visually incredible, adding dazzling spectacle to the art of battle.

Final Fantasy XV is not the easiest recommendation but one I still like to dole out because, for all its shortcomings, I loved my time in its world.

Valkyria Chronicles

While originally released in 2008, Valkyria Chronicles only made its way to PC and current gen platforms this decade and thus I’m counting it. While the franchise has seen subsequent releases over the years, with the latest game, Valkyria Chronicles 4, only recently coming out, the first title, the one that started it all, still remains the best the series has to offer.

Starting off with the most obvious, Valkyria Chronicles is just an absolutely gorgeous game to behold. The watercolor pastel style of its graphics lends the game a charming and timeless visage, a style that still stands as unique even now.

Looks aren’t the only the thing this game has going for it as its beauty is matched by its gameplay. Employing a special system termed “BLiTZ”, combat in Valkyria Chronicles fuses elements from real-time and turn-based tactical games. The fusion works brilliantly, adding more control for the player to execute their tactics while simultaneously allowing for all the time needed to properly analyze and plan them. They are only five classes in the game though the characters within those classes possess a multitude of skills based on their personalities. While this can lead to a lack of variety in battles later on, the mission structures do help to alleviate that issue.

Valkyria Chronicles’ story also stands equally strong with its tale of camaraderie formed on the battlefield and the harshness of war. It might be a little tonally dissonant at times with a bit of ‘anime’ silliness but the core elements remain strong throughout.

Unique, challenging, fun and heartfelt, all in equal measures, Valkyria Chronicles stands strong all these years later as one of the finest soldiers within the genre.

The World Ends With You Final Remix

Another game that was also released back in 2008 but made its way to Android, iOS and the Nintendo Switch within this decade. The World Ends With You is an absolute stand-out within the JRPG genre, one with a sense of style and coolness that has rarely been matched.

The original, Solo Remix and Final Remix, all three versions of the game offer something different to experience though, for me, the original still remains the most unique, owing to the design of the system it was created for. Still, even with a step down in terms of the combat system, Final Remix offers everything else that made the original such a classic and even a bit more at the end. The touch-screen oriented combat system offers fast-paced real-time action through the use of ‘pins’ that grant a variety of offensive and defensive abilities which are activated through a number of touch-screen gestures. Style exists not just in the game’s look but within its world as well as the districts of Shibuya are peppered with various brands that reign supreme within them and adhering to the trends helps to enhance a character’s combat abilities in a battle. It’s a mechanic born from the particular world the game takes place in and is a great example of the title’s unique sensibilities.

The World Ends with You is a Neku’s tale, sure, there’s other stuff going on and no JRPG would be complete without a world-ending crisis but the protagonist’s journey, his growth, is the true heart of this story and adds to the facets that make this game such an endearing and well-loved title.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC

Trails in the Sky SC

Making it’s way out of Japan in 2015, roughly 9 years after its initial launch, Trails in the Sky Second Chapter finally continues from where it’s predecessor left off and brings, protagonist, Estelle Bright’s journey to close.

There’s a lot that can be said for what makes Trails in the Sky SC, and really the entire Trails series, so great. One aspect is the world it creates. Regular JRPGs all have towns and cities with NPCs to talk to but never has a game made them feel more alive. Every citizen has a story to tell, a story that constantly evolves as the game progresses on. The people don’t remain static, they go about their lives as you further your quest thus making the conversations you have with them feel real, and that brings a whole new level of immersion for a player.

NPCs aren’t the only ones richly crafted for the best banter is from the large party that journeys with you. Every character gets a chance to shine over the game 70 or so hrs of playtime, and the chemistry between the cast is expertly crafted, making every interaction a joy to see unfold. Part of this is due to the amazing localization efforts put into this massively wordy game in order to deliver the best product possible. The story equally benefits from the efforts for even though the tale may fall into the cliches at times, the writing and execution of its story beats is superbly done and wonderfully sells the whole affair.

Also, for as old as the game is, it sports a fair number of modern sensibilities. Encounters are visible, battles can always be escaped from, the ability to save anywhere etc. Combat in SC makes use of two main systems, Arts and Crafts. Crafts are straightforward in their construction and use while Arts are a more in-depth matter with different combinations of equipment leading to different gains for a character as well as different kinds of arts thus allowing for a fair bit of customization when it comes to character builds.

Trails in the Sky SC represents the pinnacle of a classic JRPG. A wondrous adventure across the land, a lovable and endearing cast of characters, a well constructed and executed story, a great battle system that contains both depth and fun, and a beautifully realized world. This is an exquisitely crafted package of what makes the genre so great.

Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem Awakening (Best JRPGs)

Fire Emblem Awakening is a game about war. A war bought about by tyrannical rulers and evil forces that threaten the peace of the land and a war bought about by love as the numerous possibilities of romance blossom amongst the battlefield.

Awakening tells the story of the Shepherds led by Prince Chrom of the Kingdom of Ylisse as they fight against various threats towards the kingdom. The story also incorporates a player avatar character who becomes more prevalent, story-wise, towards the end of the game. The tale spun by Awakening is a rather straightforward one, there’s likely not much that will really surprise but it does an admirable job of satisfyingly crafting the major moments of its tale. However, what really elevates Awakening is its cast for which the game does a wonderful job of fleshing out thanks to the inclusion of the “Support” system. This system grants benefits to allies who fight together and as they do their relationship grows leading to more details about their lives being known and to a possible marriage between the two. If two characters do get hitched, then a child will come your way to join the army which adds a fun new dynamic to the cast. All these characters and relationships present hundreds of support conversations to unlock which I spent the better part of 70 hours doing.

Aside from the character dynamics, the art of battle also proves to be quite fun. Playing out like an extravagant chess match, players will have to move units across a grid-based field to strike down foes while keeping various factors such as terrain and weapon advantage in mind. Also present is a variety of classes which the numerous characters can switch between and each class grants different permanent skills, all of which can be used to highly customize your units. The class change system can be a bit broken as putting enough time in it can result in some truly over-powered builds, but in a way, reaching that point is part of the fun.

Fire Emblem Awakening lacks finesse as a game, its story and characters can fall into cliches and its gameplay systems needed a bit more fine-tuning but despite that, when all the parts come together, a product that truly surpasses the sum is formed.

Shin Megami Tensei IV

SMT IV (Best JRPGs)

Shin Megami Tensei, or more commonly known as SMT, is the mother-ship series from which the Persona franchise spun off. While the spin-off grew to eventually eclipse it in terms of popularity, the SMT franchise still soldiers on, providing some most excellent games as it does, one of which is Shin Megami Tensei IV.

SMT IV actually marks the seventh entry in the franchise excluding the MMO, SMT Imagine. As an SMT game, it follows a similar story structure to that of its predecessors, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world and having branching story paths which represent order, chaos and neutrality. The two attributes that make the game are its story and gameplay. The strength of its tale lies its philosophical underpinnings as it is a tale about crafting your ideal world and the different choices presented to you throughout your journey help determine which path this ideal will follow. However, the approach that was taken to create such a story adversely affects its main character by turning them into a little more than representations of an ideal rather than fully fleshed out beings.

Combat in SMT IV builds upon the foundation of the “Press-Turn” system established by its predecessors. The system advocates taking advantage of weaknesses in order to gain more turns in battle and strives to create a quick-paced tempo in every fight. The other prominent aspect of gameplay is the recruitment and training of demons to fight alongside you. Conversing with and convincing various beings from a variety of mythologies is always a delight to experience no matter how many times you do it.

With fantastic fights and an epic tale, Shin Megami Tensei IV brings to the table a very different kind of JRPG and that makes it worth giving a shot.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni no Kuni (Best JRPGs)

And finally, last but not least, we have Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch which is a title that’s basically a classical Ghibli film transformed into a video game, which is fitting considering that the studio did the animated cut-scenes for this game.

Ni no Kuni is a game about loss and growing up, it’s a whimsical and charming adventure through another world every character and location in the game does an incredible job of fully embodying those aspects. It is a delightful story told through gorgeous visuals and animation, both of which are accompanied by an equally lovely soundtrack. Oliver’s journey is one that starts out with a tragedy but along the way gives rise to something far more joyous through the places he visits and people he encounters, both in his world and the other.

Gameplay also embodies the same charm as it focuses on collecting critters to fight for you via a real-time combat system reminiscent of the “Tales” series. Oliver and his friends can also join the battle as well as only they can utilize magic and items. Fighting can feel a bit off at first but settles in quite nicely as you progress on.

Ni no Kuni is, in a word, beautiful. It embodies a sort of magical experience that is rarely found in games and is one of the best JRPGs you’ll ever play.


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