While role playing games are popular all over the world, Japan has such a unique take on the computer RPG genre that they are referred to as “JRPGs”. Unlike Western RPGs, JRPGs often don’t let players shape every aspect of their character. They are strongly story-focused and there isn’t much scope for doing things your own way. What these games do offer is plenty of grinding for XP and colorful, wonderful worlds with amazing art design.

If you love playing with character statistics, exploring fantastical worlds, and doing it within that unique anime aesthetic, then JRPGs might really be for you. It can, however, be an incredibly dense and complicated video game genre to get into, so here are five titles which I think are perfect for those new to JRPGs.

Chrono Trigger (SNES, PS1, DS, Android, iOS)

chrono trigger

This game is not only a great way to enter the world of classic JRPGs, it also happens to be seen as one of the best JRPGs ever. Period.

Chrono Trigger originally came out for the Super Nintendo (the Super Famicom in Japan), but since then it has been ported to just about every platform. Chances are that you can go onto your phone’s app store right now and find a version of the game to play immediately.

I would recommend that you play the Playstation 1 or Nintendo DS versions of the game if possible, since these are the versions of the game that come with those wonderful fully-animated cutscenes. But even if you play a version without that update you’ll still experience one of the most charming and fun adventures to grace any gaming system.

If the art style of the game looks familiar, that’s because the characters were designed by the same guy who did the art for both the Dragon Quest games AND Dragon Ball Z. In fact, Toriyama is the creator of the ultra-popular Dragon Ball franchise.

Chrono Trigger tells the story of Chrono (or whatever you name him), who gets pulled through a time portal and has to fight his way through several eras in order to change a seemingly inevitable apocalyptic future. Despite its age, Chrono Trigger still feels pretty fresh today and I still play it whenever the mood strikes me. It’s not hard to get into, but it can be tough to really master. The challenge curve is just right for those who want to try an old-school JRPG without being brutally beat down.

Persona 4 Golden (VITA)

persona 4

This was originally a Playstation 2 release and really brought the Persona series to mainstream attention. The Persona games are themselves a spinoff of the Shin Megami Tensei series – a truly hardcore RPG series that I wouldn’t recommend to most people.

Persona games focus on more than just grinding for loot and XP in a dungeon. The games are usually split between the normal, mundane social world of the teenage protagonists and a hidden world of spirits and monsters.

The first three Persona games were also pretty great, but they still carried some of the hardcore elements of Shin Megami Tensei with them. Persona 4 is widely seen as the best and most popular title in the series and it was re-released on the Vita with quite a few refinements and some extra content.

I guess I should really be recommending Persona 5, which has just come out for modern consoles, but number four still feels like the more classic tale. You play a young man who moves to a new town to live with your uncle and his daughter. Your uncle is a police detective and there have been a spate of murders. People disappear for a while and then turn up dead in the strangest places. It turns out that they are somehow being sucked into a strange TV world, accessible by passing through a TV screen when the time and place is right. You have to put together a team of allies and rescue these victims before they are killed. Ultimately you need to figure out why all of this is happening.

Persona 4 really is great. If you don’t have access to a Vita or PS TV, then you might as well go with Persona 5, but otherwise don’t hesitate. Also, don’t be tempted by the original PS2 version. The refinement and extra content make this the definitive experience.

Final Fantasy (Various)

final fantasy

Final Fantasy is a huge name in the JRPG world. It’s one of the big franchises and as I write this we’re on number fifteen when it comes to main numbered entries. Yeah, there’s not much final about this fantasy, folks.

Final Fantasy games don’t have to be played in order. They aren’t sequential. Each tells a self-contained story and is usually set in completely different worlds, with some exceptions. When there is a Final Fantasy direct sequel, it will list the main number first and then the sequel number. For example, we have Final Fantasy 13, 13-2, and 13-3.

The reason I haven’t actually specified a specific numbered entry as my recommendation is because there are plenty of accessible Final Fantasies to choose from. The very first game and its sequel are only worth playing out of a sense of curiosity, to be honest. The best game in the series is widely considered to be number seven, although I personally don’t like it much.

Square Enix, the studio that owns the series today, has re-released many of the titles, giving them a minor makeover and improving some features. For example, the PS2 title Final Fantasy 12 got an excellent PS4 remake. The progression system was simplified and the game got a fast-forward option that recognizes people no longer have 100 hours to grind XP anymore. If you want more modern graphics and decent voice acting, 12 is the way to go right now.

If you don’t mind a more classic feel, then the re-release of IX is also great and has new features to make life easier for new players. Of the 2D Final Fantasies I would recommend number six. Great story, and the gameplay still feels fairly modern compared to the series as a whole. My favorite? It’s number eight, but it hasn’t aged all that well, so here’s holding thumbs for a remake of that one.

Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2, iOS, 3DS)

Dragon Quest 8

Dragon Quest is another giant in the JRPG world. Since 1986 there have been 11 main-series titles, not counting all the spinoffs. The last game came out in 2017, but Dragon Quest 8 is still seen as one of the best titles of them all.

In many ways Dragon Quest games tend to stick to the basics of being a JRPG. The stories are pretty straightforward and they don’t mess too much with fanciful combat systems. Dragon Quest 8 didn’t shake that up much, but garnered fans and admirers thanks to a good yarn told well via pretty cel-shaded graphics and charming Toriyama character designs.

There’s a king and a princess, both whom have been cursed by the main villain by being turned into a troll and a horse, respectively. It’s a simple enough place to start an adventure. Our hero travels with the king and princess, looking for a way to lift their curse. Of course, different characters, obstacles, and motivations cross their path along the way. All in all, this is a good entry point into the world of Dragon Quest.

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem

Until the release of Awakening, the Fire Emblem series was very much an obscure franchise. A tough strategy-RPG hybrid, each battle plays out like a fancy game of chess. Each piece is a character that’s commanded by you, the main character. A standout feature of Fire Emblem games is permanent death. If one of your characters dies during a battle, that’s it. They are gone forever unless you reset the system and start the whole thing all over again.

Awakening was rather controversial among fans because it gave a “casual” option where death is not permanent, taking a lot of the tension out of the game. Don’t get me wrong, you really should play Awakening with permadeath on, but if you want to be eased into this gameplay style and pace, casual mode is a good place to start.

Providing a less hardcore play mode is only one of the reasons this game became so popular; popular enough to save the franchise as a whole. Awakening also introduced the concept of marrying characters to each other and producing children who could then also be recruited when they’re grown up. So now it was not only a kickass strategy RPG, it was also an excellent Waifu simulator. Building aspects of a dating sim into a sweeping fantasy epic with an addictive combat system paid off big time. Thanks to the massive financial success of Awakening we got the massive three-part epic Fire Emblem Fates. I would not recommend starting with that monster as your first go, however. Awakening is just the right size.

I put a solid 200 hours into this game on my 3DS and I’m not even particularly a fan of SRPGs. It’s just a quality title that fans of both video games and anime will love.

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