JRPGs, or Japanese Role Playing Games, continue to be some of the most popular and acclaimed games. While best can mean different things to different people, the ideal JRPG blends together an engaging story, innovative and exciting gameplay, and a world brimming with discoveries. While this list does have over forty entries, it’s with good reason. Each game chosen is innovative, beloved, and just a damn good time.
So this list isn’t twice the size, we opted to only choose a max of three games from a series. While we’re sure some of you will disagree, there were many games that didn’t make the cut. Be sure to let us know in the comments if you think we missed something. We like to think we’re good about adding things if we think it is worthwhile.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Endless Ocean
Baten Kaitos is a little-known game that was released on GameCube in 2003. It focused on cards and deck building in turn-based battles before it was as popular as it is today in games like Slay the Spire and Hearthstone. The game featured a mechanic where many things in the game’s world could be turned into a card and used in battles – from spells to even food.
Despite not selling well, a prequel was greenlit and produced. It expanded the game’s universe and was just as well-loved as the previous entry. Perhaps it will one day find its way onto the Nintendo Switch?
Chrono Trigger is often regarded as the best JRPG of all-time – usually fending off its top spot from Final Fantasy 6. There was something about the age of Super Nintendo JRPGs that drew people in and held fast. Today, it still has people harkening for a remake.
Chrono Trigger’s legacy maintains thanks to its small cast of likable and distinct characters and simple, but effective turn-based battle system. The story is also timeless as you move through various points in history in an effort to save the world from certain doom.
Unfortunately, so many people get caught up in comparing Chrono Cross to Chrono Trigger that it often gets a lot of unnecessary hate. When looked at on its own merits, it holds up. It’s filled with a strong cast of core characters and dozens of exciting and varied party members to use in battle.
Battles are a nice change of pace with a stamina point and element system that add a bit more strategy to it than other turn-based games. It also features one of the best soundtracks in a JRPG ever. It will be out on the Nintendo Switch soon and even more people will be able to enjoy this classic JRPG.
Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King
Dragon Quest 8 brought more eyes to the Dragon Quest games than previous entries. It continues its more old-school battles but embraces a fully 3D world. It features a distinct cel-shaded art style that is easily identifiable and full of charm.
With this being the first fully 3D outing for the series, getting to explore the world feels much grander than past entries. It also helps that its cast of characters is charmingly portrayed through great writing and voice acting. It’s no wonder some consider it to be the best JRPG on the PS2.
Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Dragon Quest 11 doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it didn’t really need to. It takes the best parts of the Dragon Quest series like turn-based battles, goofy, loveable characters, and a world-class story and presents them in a package that is better than ever.
Echoes of an Elusive Age offers plenty of post-game content to keep players interested, and despite its length, the game’s pacing isn’t bad. It weaves in challenging boss battles, big story moments, and new characters at the right moments to keep things moving along.
Earthbound is one whacky, fun ride. It was the first game in the Mother series to make its way to the United States. Since its release, it has acquired a cult following. It follows a group of kids in an eccentric Americana kind of world as they battle intergalactic foes.
Its expensive marketing campaign included advertisements that said that the game “stinks” to really play up its humorous side. Humor in-game comes in the form of battling piles of vomit, poop jokes, and a group of elders who sit around, eat cake and stare at a rock. It’s weird.
Final Fantasy 6
Final Fantasy 6 is the game that has JRPG fans clamoring the most for a remake. It, alongside Chrono Trigger, is often considered to be one of the best JRPGs of all time. It features a sprawling story with various characters and their points of view.
Final Fantasy 6 also features one of the evilest and most sadistic villains of the series: Kefka. He is a deliciously diabolical bad guy who is just completely off the wall and unhinged.
While the game often uses Terra in promos and art as the lead, there isn’t really a singular lead character. The cast as a whole carries the story forward. Perspectives change throughout giving you glimpses into everyone’s stories until they all meld together.
Final Fantasy 9
Final Fantasy 9 is arguably the best Final Fantasy game to date. It embraces all things fantasy and builds a world full of knights, creatures, magic, and royalty. Its turn-based battle system is fun with each character offering a distinct, important role.
The story dives deep into death, morality, and the need to belong. It celebrates the games that came before it while also tweaking things so it doesn’t feel like you’ve played it before. With whispers of a remake in the wind, there’s hope that the best JRPG from the PlayStation can eventually entice new audiences.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake
Final Fantasy 7 Remake brings the beloved classic into the current gaming age. While things are quite the same as the original, all of the core characters are there. Thanks to voice acting and motion-captured performances, it’s easier now more than ever to fall for them.
The action gets an upgrade as the game moves away from turn-based combat. The frenzied fighting does slow down when selecting abilities, magic, or items. This helps give the game a balance if you preferred the turn-based battle of the original. While it is being released in parts, it’s easy to love and appreciate this first outing since it hones in on the Midgar portion of the story.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
The Fire Emblem series has always held an edge over other series thanks to its tactical, strategy-based gameplay. Since the game uses permadeath for characters who fall in battle, it’s important to be strategic and intentional with your gameplay. One wrong move can end in death.
Support systems act as opportunities to get you to know your party members better. This also helps broaden the scope of the game’s world, story, and characters. Path of Radiance is also the first game in the series to introduce full-motion movies and voice acting.
Many JRPGs employ magic in one way or another, but oftentimes it is limited to battles. Golden Sun allows players to use magic, or in this game’s case, Psynergy, outside of battle too. For example, a wind spell might be used to unblock a path in the game. As you learn more spells, you can go back to previously explored areas and unlock new paths.
The game also introduces Djinns, elemental entities hidden throughout the world, that you can equip to bolster stats, use summons, and different abilities. Sometimes you must defeat them in battle and other times you’ll just come across them in the world.
On paper, Grandia 2 seems like most JRPGs. When you really get into it, however, the game does a lot of things differently for the time.
The game took turn-based battles and added extra strategy. A gauge shows when both you and your enemies’ actions will happen, but those can be manipulated by being hit which adds an extra layer of strategy. The game also features magic, and more powerful spells take longer to cast.
Grandia 2’s story introduces several notable characters with varying backgrounds: a mercenary, a songstress, and a beastman. It doesn’t feature any side quests, however, but that does mean more attention is given to the main plot.
Kingdom Hearts 2
While many would say the first Kingdom Hearts game was quite good, its sequel achieves greatness. Its perfect blend of Disney with zany JRPG tropes and Final Fantasy characters helps clench it as the best game in the series.
It introduces more lore about the Heartless and Nobodies at a time before the Kingdom Hearts universe was saturated with spin-offs and sequels. Its plot is not overly complicated and it is easy to root for Sora, Donald, and Goofy.
Legends of Heroes: The Trails in the Sky
Trails in the Sky is one of those JRPGs that it is easy to get lost in for hours. There are numerous games in the series, and they are all connected. This first entry is one of the largest and longest JRPG adventures available. There is a vast world to explore with countless people to talk to and meet.
The game takes place in a society fifty years after the start of the Orbal Revolution. During this time, the world and its landscape have largely changed due to new technology. Unfortunately, that means there have not only been positive changes like new forms of transportation but also new weapons of war. The Trails series as a whole is home to several games many might consider being the best JRPG of all time, but we think the first one deserves a place on this list.
The Xbox 360 isn’t often synonymous with the best JRPGs but it had a fair few hits. Perhaps the most popular is Lost Odyssey. The game follows Kaim, an “immortal” who has amnesia. While the game relies on some old-school RPG mechanics, its biggest legacy is its storytelling.
Kaim, having lived for a thousand plus years, has experienced numerous things throughout his long life. Players are given glimpses into his past through visual novel-style storytelling. It’s a unique way to unfold additional narratives through text-based stories.
Lunar: Eternal Blue
One of the best parts about older JRPGs is that there are often even more stories, sidequests, and dialogue than some of its current counterparts. This is, in part, because of the lack of voice acting. Lunar: Eternal Blue offers players a rich, fleshed-out world with a lot of stories to discover through text.
Despite being released in the late 90s, the game does feature hours of some fully voice-acted, anime cutscenes, but the gameplay portions are not voice acted. These standout at a time when the Final Fantasy series ruled much of the JRPG realm but didn’t yet have vocal performances.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
After the success of Paper Mario, it is not surprising Nintendo greenlit another RPG starring everyone’s favorite Plumber. Superstar Saga has Luigi joining Mario as they try to take back Princess Peach’s stolen voice. The game is full of Nintendo charm. It’s always odd thinking that a Mario game could be considered to be of the best JRPGs, but they’ve done it time and time again.
It’s a funny, whacky, and exciting game that has plenty of cameos. In the game’s turn-based battles, players control Mario and Luigi simultaneously. Timing attacks through button mashes help bolster and add engagement to what otherwise might be stagnant battles.
Ni No Kuni
If you’re a fan of Pokemon or creature collecting, Ni No Kuni offers that in a Studio Ghibli-style world. There is so much wonder and spirit to Ni No Kuni, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. You’ll collect and train familiars to use in battle and be able to control both your party members and their little buddies in combat.
It’s worth picking up the gorgeous remaster, it almost feels like you’ve stepped into a Miyazaki film. If you do fall in love with its charming world, Ni No Kuni’s sequel is on equal footing with the first and a worthwhile run.
Some don’t consider NieR: Automata a JRPG because of its more action-oriented battle style. It does have many RPG elements and it is Japanese-made, so here we are. It’s a fantastic game with multi-faceted characters and a story that you’ll have to complete several times to see the true ending.
Its story is built upon the backs of its android characters who begin to struggle with their purpose and duty. There are several characters to play as, each with specific and individual views, that help unfold the game’s twisting story making it one of the most innovative and best JRPGs.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Paper Mario was good, but thanks to better hardware, The Thousand-Year Door makes its sequel an even better game. In a world that is so saturated with Mario Kart and mainline Mario games, it makes these genre-bending outings even better with everyone’s favorite plumber.
Thanks to an adorable and well-used art style, Paper Mario stands out amongst other JRPGs. Even though it follows Mario as he tries to rescue Peach again, its journey with its inventive use of a flat, paper-centric world and turn-based battles makes it stand out. There’s a lot to see and discover in the game.
Persona 3 took the game into full 3D for the first time. While previous entries had their own level of success, Persona 3 helped get the game closer to the mainstream. The game’s dark, gritty story is an easy lure for lovers of the genre. Pair that with the game’s excellent battle system, and you have yourself a top-tier game.
There are several versions of the game. The original uses AI to control all party members except the main character. The PSP of the game version lets you control them but the world is now 2D and you move around it using a cursor.
It’s still fun and honestly streamlines things a bit. Regardless of which version you play, it’s easy to get sucked in.
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden takes the best parts of Persona 3 and improves them. While it doesn’t reach the eventual highs of Persona 5 Royal it’s still an addictive gameplay loop. You’ll spend time managing your personal life and taking your preferred party into the TV World to beat baddies.
Battles are turn-based and expand upon the best parts of Persona 3. Golden takes the base game and adds additional story content and several new events and balances. If you’re wanting to dive into what many consider to be the best JRPG and Persona game, it can now be found on PC via Steam.
Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 Royal is one of the best-reviewed JRPGs of all time. It took an already great game in Persona 5 and added worthwhile content, more varied gameplay, and even more fun. If you haven’t played any of the Persona games, Royal finesses and streamlines pretty much everything. It is a great entry point in the series.
It has a cast of well-developed characters with sympathetic plights and histories to fall and care for. Plus there’s the lovable cat who swears he isn’t a cat named Morgana, and in all honesty, a JRPG isn’t complete without some non-human sidekick or party member.
Phantasy Star 4
Despite mostly good reviews upon its release, Phantasy Star 4 is now often considered among many as one of the best JRPGs of all time. Phantasy Star is a series that seamlessly blends both sci-fi and fantasy elements – something not often seen even today.
The story uses manga-style art to help convey emotion and tone across the game’s 16-bit adventure. Battles are presented uniquely by having the players seen using attacks, skills, and magic from behind.
Pokémon Red and Blue started a now billion-dollar phenomenon way back in the mid-1990s. The loop of going out to adventure and catching your favorite monsters revolutionized the JRPG genre. With the challenge of battling other trainers both out in the world and in gyms, it was easy to always strive to grow stronger and be the best there ever was.
It would go on to spin off into a still-running anime, films, toys, and much more. Today, Pokemon Red and Blue don’t quite hold up but it’s hard to ignore their legacy and importance for starting off such a hugely popular series.
Pokemon Heart Gold
Pokémon Gold and Silver took the best parts of Red and Blue and made them even better. With the addition of new Pokémon, more gyms, trainers to battle, and stories to discover, the next installment improved upon every facet of this blossoming franchise.
It was remade ten years later for the Nintendo DS as Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver. They are truly the definitive version of the game. It adds upgraded graphics, animated sprites, and a more fleshed-out story to the already addictive catch ‘em all gameplay loop.
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology
Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology is a remake of one of the best JRPGs on the DS. It is an innovative take on the JRPG with its use of Time Travel. Players are able to move across timelines to do side quests, the game’s main quest, and find new events to make decisions that evolve the timeline further.
Overall, Radiant Historia’s legacy is that it shies away from many JRPG conventions and adds a level of unpredictability with its mechanics. Besides time travel, the game also takes the turn-based battle system and adds a grid-based arena where fights take place that adds a little more complexity.
Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana is a bit of an oddball in an era that was defined by JRPGs built around turn-based battles. Square opted to go for real-time battles. Combat is fun, frenzied, and varied with the ability to control any of the three main characters at any time.
Each character has a distinct playstyle and role that makes it easy to determine the best course of action when going up against foes. You can even play co-op with friends which makes it stand out further in a crowded field of legendary JRPG games.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Even though it’s set in an alternate, Lovecraftian timeline, Shadow Hearts: Covenant does take place in the world we know today – just with a few twists. It’s rare for a JRPG to explore our own world and even use events like World War 1 in its plot. Despite all the darkness surrounding its themes, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is surprisingly funny.
When the game isn’t using darkness and humor, players may themselves in battles where timing is everything. Through the use of a mechanic called the Judgment Ring, the strength of attacks, abilities, and even items can be dictated. It is even used outside of battle at shops to help earn discounts from merchants. It’s an innovative and surprising twist that helps Covenant stand out as one of the best JRPGs.
Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne
Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is unforgiving with its battles, but that’s part of the fun. There is an art to perfecting your party of demons to combat random encounters and boss battles. The game’s post-apocalyptic world is full of dangerous creatures, plenty of side quests, and some wacky and unsettling story moments.
The recent remaster of the game smooths the graphics out, adds more voice acting, and offers a suspend save feature. The game, like many classic JRPGs, relies on save points. With how long and grueling Nocturne can be, the ability to suspend a playthrough alleviates some of that frustration.
Shin Megami Tensei 5
The SMT series is known for its brutal, turn-based battles. SMT5 is no exception and continues to offer grueling yet fun battles with demons you recruit. Thanks to the quality of life changes like the Leyline Fountain which basically turns every save point into a healing stop, shop, and fast travel site. It helps alleviate some of the headache-inducing running around in past entries.
Decisions in the game will determine the fates of characters you meet and help determine a multitude of possible endings you get. It’s also fully voice acted, and the performances don’t usually fall into annoying anime stereotypes.
Shining Force 2
Tactical RPGs have been a popular subgenre for a long time, but most cut out exploration entirely. Instead, the story is told through cut scenes in between and sometimes even in battles.
Shining Force 2, however, allows for player-controlled exploration in between battles.
You’re able to look around towns, talk to people, and be present in the world. Once you move into a battle, you’ll control your team in a grid-based arena and move them around and try to defeat the leader or entire team of baddies. It’s unfortunate more tactical JRPGs didn’t follow this formula, and it makes Shining Force 2 stand out even today.
Skies of Arcadia
The Dreamcast was short-lived, but it was home to some truly incredible games – like Skies of Arcadia. With its steampunk vibes and the city-in-the-sky world, it’s easy to get enveloped in the clouds. There’s a lot to explore over the game’s vast world with secrets to uncover and characters to recruit.
As you explore, you’ll not only level up and strengthen your party but also the ship used to explore the world. You can also recruit people to help out on your ship making it important and rewarding to explore the world and its towns fully.
Suikoden 2 uses a 2D art style that was a little dated at a time when Final Fantasy had finally taken the leap into 3D characters and worlds. Nevertheless, its innovation in other ways has helped this 1998 gem remain its moniker as a masterclass in JRPGs. The game features over one hundred recruitable characters, with a little less than half of those available to use as part of your party.
Super Mario Rpg: Legend of the Seven Stars
It’s easy to forget that Mario and friends have had their own RPGs, but if you’ve played the game, it won’t soon leave your mind. It’s a fun and exciting romp through familiar Mario worlds and lands through a JRPG lens.
With the help of Square, Super Mario RPG helped show that Mario can really tackle any genre successfully. Battle use specifically timed button taps as you control Mario, Peach, and even Bowser against hordes of monsters.
Tales of Symphonia
The Tales of series have always been mainstays in the JRPG genre for good reason. Tales of Symphonia, originally out on the GameCube, is often regarded as one of the most iconic entries in the series, and it’s also the best selling. The game’s charming cel-shaded art style was an easy draw for new and old fans of the series, though it was abandoned in later releases.
The game featured the familiar Multi-Line Linear Motion Battle System which allowed players to control one character in real-time on a field while other party members act through AI. The game became so popular it was adapted into manga, anime, novels, and even an audio drama.
Tales of Arise
While it’s still the new kid on the block, Tales of Arise is largely the breath of fresh air the aging series needed. It’s earned some of the best reviews for the series, and fans love it just as much as critics. It even walked away with Best RPG at the 2021 Game Awards.
Its story delves into pertinent world issues like racial disparity and acceptance. While some of the narratives can be quite dark, there’s still plenty of the series’s trademark humor. Its battle system is fast and fluid and the flashiest it has ever been with a varied cast of characters to play.
Vagrant Story may come from the creative minds at Square, but it plays like nothing that came before it. It is an action-adventure RPG that focuses on weapon creation, puzzles, and strategy. There is a lot of grey area within the story, and it can be difficult to decide who is telling the truth within the story.
With all the said, Vagrant story’s graphics are incredible when compared to other games from that time period like Final Fantasy 8 and Metal Gear Solid. There is simulated lighting in environments and on characters, emotive character models, and locales inspired by France.
Forgoing the traditional fantasy setting for a JRPG, Wild Arms took players on an adventure to the Wild West. You follow several adventurers in a world where guns are seen as forbidden technology.
Throughout your adventure, each character has use thanks to special tools they get to help reach new places in the world that were previously impassable. Because the game only has three party members, you really get to spend a lot of time getting to learn how to use them in battle.
The World Ends With You
Before the stylized menus and world of Persona 5, there was supremely stylish The World Ends With You. Armor comes in the form of fashion and wearable pins act as your magic and abilities similarly to materia in Final Fantasy 7.
It first came out on the Nintendo DS and features something called the Stride Cross Battle System. The equipable pins house your skills and to use them you’ll need to execute certain taps, pushes, and movements using the touch screen. Its influence is still felt today in its Nintendo Switch port that requires the movement of Joy-Cons or tapping on the screen.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
Originally released on the Wii, the Definitive Edition of Xenoblade Chronicles can be found on the Nintendo Switch. It’s an easy buy if you’re a JRPG fan with over one hundred hours of gameplay. It offers a lot of innovation that makes the game’s large scope less daunting. You can change the time of day easily to hunt at night for a quest if need be and there are plenty of fast travel options.
Battles are in real-time and there are a lot of customization options for each character’s weapons, abilities, armor, and more. It’s easy to try out many different things if the gameplay starts to feel a bit stale. Just change it up!
Xenogears is a massive game that touches on several cornerstones that, at the time, seemed taboo to touch. You had religion, crucifixion, Freud, and a number of other things waiting in the wings to blend together. Somehow, though, it all works.
The game is often considered one of the best JRPGs of all time and still has a cult following to this day. Besides its delightfully weird and complex story, the game features a battle system that combines ATB and an almost fighting game-like style that is flashier and more immediately satisfying than other JRPGs of the time.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Yakuza: Like A Dragon was an unlikely entry into the Yakuza world thanks to its inclusion of turn-based battles and a JRPG-obsessed hero. The game itself is truly a love letter to the genre. It employs a job system that is quite literally all about actual jobs in the real world and turn-based battles that work much like old-school JRPGs. It, of course, contains a million and one mini-games and a lively city to explore that has become expected in the Yakuza series.
Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana
There are a number of JRPGs that have fallen to the wayside but the Ys series has endured thanks to frequently improved upon gameplay and engrossing stories and characters. Its action RPG gameplay is quick, rewarding, and just flashy enough that it is easy to get hooked.
In battle, you’re able to swap to your character of choice on the fly, and all of them play differently enough and feel fun to play. When not fighting, you’re trying to survive on the island, the giant set piece that encompasses the whole game. It’s a tactic that might feel limiting in any other game but works here with the different layers of progression as you explore the map.
What are the best JRPG games in your opinion? Let us know in the comments section.