Yeah a bit of a cheat this one, as I’ve only properly played 5 Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) so that’ll be why your favourite isn’t in the list… I have tried to play plenty, but never got more than 2 hours into anything other than these 5.
I have really enjoyed the ones I have played (well the top 3 anyway) so I wouldn’t rule out playing more in the future. Anyway, on with the countdown!
Number 5 – Final Fantasy VII (PSX)
My first JRPG, and apparently, the first one many of my friends played too. This game was a major event back in a high school, and for a while it seemed everyone was playing FFVII. I was quite enjoying it, albeit a departure from my usual choice of game. I do remember that trying to navigate the world map while also dealing with random encounters tested my patience, but the whole thing collapsed when my memory card corrupted around 20 hours in. I appreciate in the grand scheme of things, 20 hours isn’t very long, but that was pretty huge for me at the time, and certainly more than I’d be happy to play over.
I pretty much swore off the genre after this, and it would be quite a few years before I was to try them again.
Number 4 – Bravely Default (3DS)
I gave this a go when struggling to find something other than Animal Crossing or Mario Kart to play on my 3DS. Discussions about it described a game with a similar feel to Final Fantasy VII which made me think perhaps I’d enjoy it. I was aware of the “outrage” at the changes made for the Western release from the anti video game censorship crowd, but they all seemed like changes for the better to me, so figured I’d give it a go.
I mostly enjoyed the game for maybe 18 hours. The story was nonsense and even with the localisation there was a a sufficient creepy ‘ick’ factor that never quite went away. (I think it was hard to distance from the fact that these characters were originally written to be 15 years old). However, the gameplay mechanics were fun, and I liked the ‘job’ system in building my party. It all got a bit grindy and dull though, and I just lost the will to come back to it.
Number 3 – Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360)
A game I played mostly by chance, got a bargain on release without knowing anything about it and fired it up just to see what it was. I was blown away by the graphics, it was easily the best looking game I’d seen so far on a console, and at first was just playing to admire the aesthetics. I got sucked in though, and it became the first JRPG I ever saw through to completion. The story was ridiculous, which I suspect may be an essential criteria for a JRPG, and the costume designs left me questioning the usefulness of such armor in a swordfight.
I really liked the combat though, and the timing based boost you could give to your attacks was surprisingly satisfying. I sometimes think I might replay this, but then I laugh at the thought of me replaying anything, never mind a 40+ hour epic, and the impulse goes away.
Number 2 – Panzer Dragoon Saga (Sega Saturn)
Only played through this for the first time last month, and I am amazed how well it has held up. I was a big fan of Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon Zwei first time round on the Saturn, and this is doubtless the main reason I took to Saga the way I did. The art style was consistent with the previous games, and immediately felt like a comfortable return to that world.
The shift to turn-based combat was a concern before I started, I didn’t know how the previous rail-shooter style would translate. I need not have worried, the combat is superb, with the two basic attacks being lifted straight out of the other games to feel instantly familiar. The need to constantly keep re-positioning around the enemies and the bonus to attack speed granted for attacking as you move ensures that the combat remains engaging.
I found the controls in general to be very well done, particularly in the parts where you’re navigating the world on your dragon. When revisiting early 3D games you often have to make allowances for the controls and/or camera, but I can honestly say I had no issues with either.
While the story here is no exception to my understanding of the JRPG norm, I did find myself happily reading all the subtitles and enjoying the many cut-scenes. This extra flavour for the world is a big part of why I’ve gone back to playing the original games, and why I’m optimistic that I might even beat them this time round.
Number 1 – Eternal Sonata (Xbox 360)
Or, the one time I liked cel-shaded graphics.
I know about as much about JRPGs on the whole as I do Classical Music. The only composer I really like is Chopin, so the premise of this game immediately had me intrigued. The game is set inside a dream Frédéric Chopin has while he dies of Tuberculosis. Yeah. We’re well set up for another nonsense story, but this one did really hook me.
Until Eternal Sonata, I always found cel-shading to be a bit of a novelty. It’s such a perfect fit for making the whole game feel like an elaborate cartoon. It’s joyful, twee and yet manages to be interestingly educational at the same time, as along with the story cut-scenes it also has video history lessons relating to Chopin’s life. (From reading some commentary these weren’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it)
The music in the game is obviously Chopin influenced, and accordingly spectacular. There are very few game soundtracks I listen to outside of playing the games, but the 4 disc album produced for this is still a staple on my iPod.
I remain annoyed the PS3 release afterwards had extra content, as I didn’t want to start over from the beginning after I completed it on the 360. I think I’d happily replay it now though if it was given a refresh for the modern consoles.
I’ve heard plenty of critique about Eternal Sonata, more than one person declare it “the worst JRPG I ever played”. I take some amusement from this, as it seems likely that as a generalisation, I can still say I don’t like JRPGs, and perhaps I like the ones I do because they are outliers within the genre.
I remain open to suggestions from anyone who can suggest games I might like based on what I’ve written above. I’ll be honest though and say there is next to no chance of me playing anything 16-bit or earlier.
I am thinking of playing Skies of Arcadia Legends, it always sort of appealed to me on Dreamcast, and now I’ve got the GameCube version which I’ve heard is generally an improvement.