Role Playing Games have been hugely popular in the gaming world ever since their text-based ancestors.
In the original video game RPG, playing would consist of sitting at your computer and reading a bunch of text that guided you through a story. When faced with a decision to be made, the player would select one of a few different choice options, which would affect the outcome of the story.
Since that time, things have gotten much more refined. With the evolution of graphic and story telling technology, the RPG genre has evolved to contain a number of sub-genres, all of which bring to the table their own unique elements and looks to the table. One of the most beloved sub-genres of RPG has become the classic Japanese Role Playing Game, or JRPG.
JRPG’s mostly all follow a specific formula, with each game doing its best to push the boundaries of said formula while still remaining within its confines. Your protagonist sets out on his quest, and along the way meets friends who help him along his way (Your protagonist can be a female too, by the way. Shout out Final Fantasy X-2). Your main party generally consists of 3 or 4 of the characters you meet along the way – who can be interchanged throughout the game – and you enter combat situations together, utilizing the abilities each character brings to the table.
Let’s get to it, shall we? What follows is my list of JRPGs that any fan or newcomer simply must play. These games both exemplify the genre, and have helped to shape it.
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is one of the most successful and best-known JRPGs of all time. It was the first entry in the Final Fantasy series to utilize three dimensional graphics throughout and certainly had the longest, most in-depth story of any Final Fantasy game at that point. The story is nothing short of epic.
A corrupted government stealing the planet’s natural resources to the detriment of it’s population, all for the benefit of its corrupted leader. That’s the scenario we are thrust into. Over the course of the story, you play as Cloud, a new member in the “terrorist” organization known as Avalanche. Avalanche is fighting against SHINRA, the aforementioned corrupt government, in hopes of saving the world. People die, plot twists surface, and sheer awesomeness abounds.
Final Fantasy VII is a must-play for any JRPG fan for a few reasons. First off we have the characters – every character is completely unique and well thought out, which was yet another new element to the JRPG genre at the time of it’s release. Usually you just had characters filling the roles of generic character classes like mage, warrior, monk, etc. Not in FFVII. Each character had his or her own unique story, set of skill specific to that character, and awesome special abilities.
Then we have the soundtrack. The soundtrack to Final Fantasy VII is so exquisitely composed that I listen to it in my spare time. Seriously, I’m actually listening to it as I type this right now. And the soundtrack is one of the more underrated elements of any JRPG, or video game in general really.
Final Fantasy deserves an in on this list because of it’s revolutionary impact on the JRPG genre, it’s excellent story, it’s varied and engaging characters, and it’s mega-badass soundtrack.
Earthbound is a really special game, and it definitely doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, likely because it released for Super Nintendo so long ago. If you’ve ever played Super Smash Bros and have wondered where the character of Nes originated from, look no further. He is Earthbound‘s protagonist.
Earthbound is a game that both exemplifies the JRPG genre, and ruthlessly (and lovingly) parodies it. Not only does it cleverly parody the genre without insulting it – really it’s in tribute – but Earthbound contains it’s own signature brand of wit that makes the game a hilarious, and epically enjoyable experience. I just replayed it recently and was laughing throughout, all the wile feeling the loving pangs of simplistic JRPG nostalgia.
Earthbound hits every possible stereotypical element of a JRPG, and then pushes the cliche to self-aware absurdity without compromising the element itself. It deftly walks a very thin line, making for an extremely impressive and overall incredibly enjoyable gaming experience
Earthbound nets a spot on my list because the artful and self-aware implementation of it’s story, characters, and combat system (I got to name my main attack “poo poo”).
For me, Chrono Trigger is as close as it gets to perfect when it comes to a JRPG. Scoring, story, characters, art, side quests, everything.
Every single element sets the gold standard. And it’s not surprising when you have the legend Akira Toriayama on board (the wonderful human behind Dragonball and Dragonball Z).
The story takes place across different periods of time, each a different incarnation of the same general landscape. By time hopping to various periods of civilization, the main character, Chrono, and his friends attempt to figure out how to save the world from annihilation
One of the best aspects of Chrono Trigger is the uniqueness that it brings to the traditional combat system of JRPGs. Generally, you have characters that can use spells like Fire, Blizzard, and Thunder, and those spells level up more powerful versions like Firaga, Blizzaga, and Thundaga. Chrono Trigger doesn’t go near this age old formula.
In Chrono Trigger, each character is of one elemental type, and gets his or her own unique skill set. While this is both refreshing and awesome, C-Trig takes it one step further. It implements a dual and triple-tech system, where depending on the characters you have in your party at a given time, certain moves are unlocked for two or three characters to perform in unison – generally with an awesome animation – for extra damage.
The soundtrack is pitch perfect throughout, composed by the same man who did the music for Final Fantasy VII, Nobuo Uematsu. I even have one of the main character’s theme songs set as the ringtone for whenever my brother calls me.
Chrono Trigger is more than just an entry in the JRPG genre. It defines the genre, If you’re going to play one JRPG in your lifetime, this it. I dare you not to be moved, in awe of, and thrilled by its storyline.
Written by: Richard Reitzfeld