The best JRPGs (Japanese role-playing games) captivate gamers in ways other genres cannot. This genre has existed since the days of the NES, with titles like the original Final Fantasy games. Even today, headlined by games like Persona 5 Royal, JRPGs are some of the most successful games on the market.
The top-down aesthetic transports players to a simpler time when life and video games occupied only a few mere pixels on the screen. The games feature well-written, almost novelistic characters with something to say about the world. These games often utilize turn-based but can be innovative and active. When every part of the JRPG genre comes together in perfect unison, gamers get to experience something truly special. Have a look at the 22 best JRPGs everyone needs to play right now!
1. Chrono Trigger
The timeless classic that never goes out of style, Chrono Trigger revolutionized the plotting, characterization, and conception of JRPGs. The story focuses not just on Crono and the weight of the world he must carry as the apocalypse nears but also on the other colorful cast of teammates who follow him. The interactive turn-based battles never get old, with new combinations of dual and triple tech attacks to keep players fresh.
2. Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy VI still stands out amongst the 16 mainline titles in the series as one of the best JRPGs. The old-school graphics still look fantastic decades removed from the SNES, and the solid battle system doesn’t complicate things for gamers. Antagonistic Kefka demonstrates that an incredible villain will elevate any story no matter what other characters are involved in the conflict. His destruction gives the plot of the game a true feel of devastation.
3. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
The best RPG on the Nintendo GameCube, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door incorporated every charming aspect of the Mushroom Kingdom and then cranked the charisma up several notches. Snappy dialogue, an unrelenting story, and endless papery goodness have made this game live on for years and through many underwhelming sequels.
4. Persona 5
Persona 5 differs from a lot of the other all-time great JRPGs because it has modern graphics and contemporary storylines rather than medieval fantasy plotlines. For many people, this updated take on the genre helps to energize and invigorate the player. Joker stands out as one of the great characters in the genre’s history, and the socializing gameplay has been copied in many other recent JRPGs.
Earthbound’s cult reputation has superseded its tangible effect on the genre, and that says something. Players who go in with a clear head and form their own opinions will most likely find something to love about this offbeat game. Ness and his friends experience a different type of worldwide adventure than those other heroes experience, with hamburgers and junk food replacing potions and gemstones from other games on the list. It may not have the same mainstream audience, but it deserves a spot on any list of the best JRPGs to play today.
6. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem’s first Switch game isn’t like the other best JRPGs here. However, the added story elements and exploration affirm its presence here. Three Houses features an eloquent and vast adventure with poignant characters and just enough classic strategy combat to keep newcomers and veterans of the series happy.
7. Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana provides a distinct gameplay style incorporating multiplayer cooperation and real-time combat. These unique traits never appeared in the other Squaresoft-developed games of the 1990s, like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. While it won’t be for everyone, the contrast certainly carved Secret of Mana its own trophy case in the genre’s Hall of Fame.
8. Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology
Next on our list of the best JRPGs is the Nintendo 3DS version of Radiant Historia. For the complete package of grid battling and multi-timeline hysteria, look no further than this version. Protagonist Stock’s personality fits his name, but the complex storytelling and player-manipulated endings influenced by the JRPGs of the past make this a comforting playthrough for any fan of the category.
9. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario RPG probably felt like an odd creative choice back in the SNES days. Squaresoft turning Mario into a role-playing hero couldn’t have turned out any better, with this game crafting the base for many further Mario series. The stout nature of the avatars was already adorable and will look even better in the Nintendo Switch remake!
10. Xenoblade Chronicles 3
The most recent game in the Xenoblade series scales grander than its predecessors, making it the clear best title in the franchise. Drawing on open-world gaming elements from this generation’s The Legend of Zelda titles, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 brings some Western RPG elements to the JRPG genre.
11. Sea of Stars
One of the most anticipated and best JRPGs of 2023, Sabotage Studio’s Sea of Stars respects the elder games that inspired it while building a special foundation all its own. While Chrono Trigger fans aren’t going to be completely transported back to the 1990s, the music and combat are a step above almost all other games galvanized by the SNES days of gaming lore.
12. Octopath Traveler
Most JRPG fans know Octopath Traveler for its revolutionary graphical style. The game’s world shines and mesmerizes with bright yet retro settings. The solid gameplay offers eight different character classes to choose from and a typical fantasy story to enjoy. Further, Square-Enix titles have capitalized on the graphics and adopted them permanently.
13. Breath of Fire 3
Breath of Fire 3’s name to fame is the relatable and likable hero at the story’s core: Ryu. Beyond his grounded quest, the title was one of the games that showed the power of the PlayStation 1’s horsepower with scenic settings other games of the late ’90s couldn’t quite achieve. It was easily one of the best JRPGs of its time and remains so today.
14. Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
For anyone who wants to play a contemporary JRPG that checks every box, Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition sticks to the script in the best way possible. With over 10 Dragon Quest games to draw on, this edition refines every fantasy element and RPG gameplay quality anyone could ask for. The game’s versatility demonstrates the ability to play the game in both modern and classical graphics modes.
15. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy’s foray into the world of 3D isn’t easy on the eyes in 2023; ignoring this outdated aesthetic, the seventh entry revolutionized gaming and remains a must-play for those who love the series and the genre. Final Fantasy VII possesses one of the best protagonists in the series, Cloud Strife, and matures the plotting of the story.
16. Phantasy Star IV
When Sega was still part of the RPG conversation, Phantasy Star climbed the ladder to become a relevant option amid Squaresoft’s dominance. Phantasy Star IV ups the stakes with a novelistic story and tried-and-true qualities of the best JRPGs. Players can even find the game on the Nintendo Switch!
17. Tales of Symphonia
Tales of Symphonia doesn’t execute all of its ideas flawlessly, but the aspirational gameplay and developer’s effort to upgrade the JRPG genre in the early 2000s made it a favorite. The game made a clunky foray into 3D, as the previous four games in the series were 2D, but the move let gamers know where these types of stories were headed.
18. Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver
A Pokémon game is only as good as its animal companions, and HeartGold & SoulSilver possess an immaculate collection of monsters. These games remade the GameBoy Color games for a new age, re-introducing the Johto and Kanto regions to kids and adults worldwide regardless of experience level.
19. Nier: Automata
Sometimes, finding a diamond in the rough can become tiresome when so many of the best JRPGs copy one another. Nier: Automata incorporated other non-role playing interests to appease gamers who may not otherwise be interested in the game. Action-oriented combat in real-time makes this dystopian science fiction setting more alive than ever!
20. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
The Mario & Luigi franchise brought so many innovations to gaming that a gamer could spend all day long listing them. Bowser’s Inside Story outstandingly made the King of the Koopas the main character, or at least his digestive tract. Brimming with creativity and fun, exploring the inner workings of Bowser has never sounded more exciting! With this title, alongside Paper Mario, Nintendo proves they can deliver some of the best JRPGs available today.
21. Kingdom Hearts 2
Kingdom Hearts 2 rounds out all of the edges of the original Final Fantasy/Disney combination outing. Much like Secret of Mana and Nier: Automata, Kingdom Hearts 2 will satisfy action fans who want their RPGs to feature more successive and immersive combat. The game forced the franchise into the mainstream for the foreseeable future!
22. Chrono Cross
Chrono Cross doesn’t incorporate every element of Chrono Trigger. Still, it gives enough respect to the first game’s legacy that veteran fans will get misty in the eye remembering Crono’s maiden journey. New characters and storylines underlie a universe still stricken by themes of time and travel and make it one of the best JRPGs to play today.