What is a JRPG?
Image via Square Enix

What is a JRPG? Japanese Role Playing Games, defined

JRPGs have keyblades, Buster Swords, and other cool weapons.

A JRPG can be confusing to a someone used to Western titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. However, it is a sub-genre that should very much be explored for those who haven’t taken the plunge.

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JRPG heroes like Cloud and Neku have really spiky hair
Image via Square Enix

What is the difference between a JRPG and an RPG?

JRPG has historically been used to refer to a role-playing game that has been developed in Japan. Thus, “Japanese RPGs”, or JRPGs. Though they have a different moniker, JRPGs still fall under the broad RPG umbrella.

While regionality plays a part in this, there are also aesthetic and mechanical conventions that typically define a JRPG style. JRPGs often draw on anime for character design; for example, the Persona series looks ripped from an anime and placed into a 3D setting. Turn-based or ATB combat, with a command menu, are frequent hallmarks of this style too.

Though it was used to denote Japanese development, game developers in Western regions have adopted and created games based around JRPG conventions. Cassette Beasts, Chained Echoes, and TemTem are some examples. It has been frequently debated whether or not to call them JRPGs or not, similar to the arguments over whether the animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender is an anime.

Is it a good term to use?

Another debate is whether or not JRPG should even be used today. The lines are starting to become blurred as “JRPG” projects like Demon’s Souls, Elden Ring, and Dragon’s Dogma 2 adopt ideas commonly associated with other RPG sub-genres.

“For us as Japanese developers, the first time we heard it, it was like a discriminatory term, as though we were being made fun of for creating these games, and so for some developers, the term can be something that will maybe trigger bad feelings because of what it was in the past,” said Final Fantasy 16 producer Naoki Yoshida to SkillUp. Yoshida later said that the term is now considered as a positive, but as the genre beams and fades every few years, the perception of JRPGs can certainly be shaky.

Some great JRPGs you should play

If you’re looking to start playing JRPGs, your best bet is the Final Fantasy series. While it’s more than two decades old, Final Fantasy X would be my recommendation with its HD remaster on modern systems. The story is fascinating, the turn-based combat is deep, and the progression system is complex. The most recent entry Final Fantasy XVI could be a good transition as the action’s intense and the story’s deeply inspired by Game of Thrones.

Another JRPG I’d recommend is Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, especially if you love Studio Ghibli’s films. It has easy-to-understand Pokémon-like mechanics, an engrossing story, and a gorgeous world partially created by the Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle studio.


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Chris Penwell
Chris is a writer for multiple outlets, including Destructoid! He loves narrative games like Kingdom Hearts, Life is Strange, and Beyond Good & Evil. However, he does enjoy Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from time to time.