No, the seventh generation isn't over just yet. Despite the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, 2014 will still see a number of high profile releases such as Tales of Xillia 2, Lightning Returns, Persona 5 and Drakengard 3. Due to boredom and a desire to gush about the things I like, I'm jumping the gun. Preemptive Strike, get it?
I'm defining the generation by platform rather than release dates or the power of said platforms. PS2 is sixth generation, 3DS and Vita are eighth. This excludes a couple of great games from the running, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
Without further ado, these are my favorite JRPGs on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS and PSP.
10. Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2
If you're still reading, congratulations on keeping an open mind! I like you. Unless you're plotting against me and/or writing nasty things in the comments.
Listing two games in the same place feels a bit like cheating, but I like them both equally for different reasons. Where the original was linear to a fault and slow to open up, XIII-2 gave players access to its core mechanics in a more timely fashion while also attempting to address complaints of linearity with larger areas, side quests, monster taming and alternate endings. These changes, along with several refinements to combat/Paradigm Shift, made for a more enjoyable gameplay experience.
At the same time, you no longer had a full cast of playable characters, and the overall tone of the game wasn't that of your typical RPG adventure, which despite the original's less-than-stellar storytelling was a feeling that I thought it captured quite well. If only by visual cues alone, XIII's journey felt grand.
Both games were absolutely gorgeous, with XIII perhaps being the nicest looking game of this entire generation thanks to both its art direction and technical achievement. Hamauzu's score for the original was also extremely well done, handily earning its place in the series alongside Uematsu's fabled work.
They're flawed games that weren't at all what I was expecting of Final Fantasy—and as disappointing as they were unexpected—and yet I still enjoyed them a great deal.
9. Valkyria Chronicles
A distinctive watercolor art style, an emotional story with a large cast of likable characters and gameplay unlike any strategy game I've ever played (granted, I don't play many strategy games), it's hard to imagine not liking Valkyria Chronicles. Despite some easily abused orders and classes, I still found it to provide a satisfying challenge without ever feeling like a chore. It's one of this generation's most pleasant surprises, and while its sequels aren't bad by any stretch of the imagination, the handling of this IP will also be one of the generation's biggest disappointments.
8. Blue Dragon
There isn't too much for me to say about this one. I'm a sucker for Akira Toriyama's art and it was really neat seeing it come to life in HD for the first time. A lovely score by Uematsu accompanied what was a pretty swell traditional JRPG, with my only real complaint being some pretty awful screen tearing. Not on the same level as Mistwalker's next game (more on that later), but pretty darn good in its own right.
7. Tales of Vesperia
I've never had a particularly strong attachment to the Tales series. Phantasia, Destiny, Eternia, Symphonia and Abyss were certainly good games, but they've never grabbed me the way their competition—both large and small—managed to in their respective generations. That is, until Vesperia came along.
Besides there being a metric ton of content (much of which I've yet to do), it boasts some of the finest cel-shading I've ever seen, what was the best Tales combat system yet and easily one of my favorite JRPG protagonists ever. The plot drags on a bit as they often do, but it was still quite epic. As far as I'm concerned, Vesperia reached heights that the series has fallen woefully short of ever since. I don't speak of it often as it's a tired subject, but I would pay obscene amounts of money for Vesperia PS3 in English on either PS3, PS4 and/or Vita.
6. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Studio Ghibli + RPG, what could go wrong? Lots of things, really. Luckily, nearly everything went horribly right with this charming collaboration. I say nearly, because the combat is sort of a mess. Poor party AI and some pathfinding issues are a drag on what could have been a truly excellent combat system. It's serviceable, however, and the rest of the game more than makes up for its shortcomings.
The art direction in general is lovely, while Ghibli's admittedly sparse animations are a real treat. Short but sweet, they almost felt like rewards for reaching in-game milestones, like how I saw the CG cutscenes in certain PSone RPGs. The story's simplicity was refreshing, as was Oliver's character.
This is possibly Level-5's best original RPG yet.
5. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
There's one series that I look to when I want a quality, old school JRPG, and that's Dragon Quest. "But DQIX has multiplayer now, it's ruined!" you may be screaming, and I can't say that I agree.
Sure, there's multiplayer, but nearly everything that I've come to enjoy from Dragon Quest is still intact; a party of blank slates didn't have any real impact on my enjoyment of the game, although I would have preferred a pre-defined cast. The art direction shines, making it one of the few truly good looking 3D games on the DS and character models displaying your equipment was a great addition.
All in all, Dragon Quest IX is probably my second or third favorite in the series.
4. The Last Remnant
i.e. the most criminally overlooked game Square's made this generation.
Okay, so the Xbox 360 version had its fair share of technical issues, the PS3 version never surfaced and people don't usually look to PC for JRPGs, but this is still one of the most interesting JRPGs this generation, and an honest attempt by Square at trying something new.
Combat is turn-based, but instead of controlling single characters in a party you've got multiple 'unions' made up of up to five characters battling opposing unions. This makes battles feel much larger in scale than your typical JRPG. There are a ton of side quests, the story is solid (although the main character is sort of a doofus) and the game looks really sharp on PC, in addition to running much better than its 360 counterpart.
It's not only a great game in its own right, but also exactly what I wanna see more of from Square.
3. Radiant Historia
Ask anyone what their favorite Atlus game is and you'll likely hear one of two things: Shin Megami Tensei (proper) or Persona. Fine choices, and obvious ones seeing as they're flagship franchises. I'm of a significantly less popular persuasion, adamant that Radiant Historia is the best thing Atlus has ever made.
Blasphemy!, you're shouting at your monitor. Maybe. However, a traditional band of adventurers appeals to me more than a group of high school students ever could, as will a fantasy setting over modern Japan. It certainly helps that Stocke's crew are a genuinely likable bunch, that manipulating both enemy positions and turn order is a nice spin on an otherwise straightforward turn-based combat system, and that the game has one of the most interesting implementations of time travel I've seen in a game. Oh, and it has an absolutely brilliant score by the equally brilliant Yoko Shimomura.
Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I deem the game worthy of favorable comparisons to Chrono Trigger for its subject matter. Had it released two decades ago, I think we'd be have a beloved classic on our hands.
2. Xenoblade Chronicles
Ever since Final Fantasy XII, I've been waiting for another developer to tackle a game of that scale―a JRPG with an expansive, unique world to explore. Monolith heard my prayers and delivered what is perhaps the most mesmerizing game world I've ever seen.
It isn't just large though. Not only is the setting itself unique (living on a giant?), but the individual areas that make up this world are varied, unlike so many other open world games. Dense jungles, a snowy mountain, massive plains and a sea with islands floating overhead, each with its own identifying structures and geography. No copy/pasted terrain here.
Just as breathtaking was the game's score, which was composed by a group that I wasn't at all familiar with. Yoko Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda contributed for a couple of tracks, but the bulk of what is probably the second best OST of the last decade was done by people I'd never heard of before.
The insane amount of side quests were repetitive, but you really didn't have to do most of 'em, and the game was plenty long to begin with. Combat, while nothing revolutionary, was solid, and each character had an interesting play style. I thought the affinity system was pretty neat as well, especially the heart-to-heart scenes.
It's hard to believe that we almost missed a game this good. It's one of two JRPGs this generation that I'd include in an all-time 'greats' list. The other is...
1. Lost Odyssey
This is it. This is my―y'know what, let's drop the J―this is my RPG of the generation. This game has filled me with so many feels. I liked what Mistwalker was doing with Blue Dragon, but they worked some magic here and just knocked it out of the park.
Between the classic turn-based combat, the premise of immortals and the many lives they've lived, the incredibly well written "A Thousand Years of Dreams" sequences and another classic score by Uematsu, no other RPG has left this sort of impression on me in years. Everything comes together in such a way that, in my opinion, demands a place alongside the genre's greats, and earns it.
I could go on, but I think I've talked enough. Instead, I'll leave you with some honorable mentions.
Nier - Unremarkable but solid gameplay, too much recycled content. Its story and incredible OST nearly make up for these shortcomings. Seriously, this is the greatest OST of the last 10 years.
Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together - I wasn't sure about including remakes, although if I did this would certainly be near the top.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin - Again, a remake. My preferred vision for Persona; an interesting cast minus all of the repetition that Social Links bring, demon negotiations à la SMT proper, no randomly generated, all encompassing dungeons and, most importantly, no awful calendar system.
Anywho, thanks for reading my first blog post. Hopefully it sucks less than I think it does.