On 7 February 2015, it’ll have been exactly one year since Bravely Default was released to North America. It was also the day I picked up a copy of Bravely Default, my first ever JRPG.
I qualify this by saying that I have been playing Pokemon games all my life, which are a pseudo-JRPG, and that I’d played Fire Emblem Awakening, a Japanese SRPG that was actually what made me interested in getting into deeper, more mature RPGs.
That over, I’m going to go through the 6 JRPGs I finished in the last year in the order I played them, as well as the dozens more I haven’t quite finished, and give a few thoughts on the genre as well as some JRPGs I’m excited to play in 2015. It’s going to be a long ride, so get yourself ready for a hearty, warming bowl of JRPG goodness! I’m keeping everything spoiler-free, so don’t worry if you haven’t played any of the following games.
1. Bravely Default
Released: 2014 | 3DS | Feb-Jun 2014 | Read my review | List Price: $39.99
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Summary: Bravely Default made a big splash early last year by being an ode to all that was great about the SNES-PSX era of Final Fantasy games: four crystals, a memorable cast of characters, a great soundtrack, and a lengthy plot that comes with plenty of twists and turns. Too bad it gets grindy and repetitive for the last third or so. Just know that it’s OK to rush that bit and get straight to the end if you want to. The longest game on this list, it was my first JRPG, but I think I may actually have liked it more if I’d played some classics first, since it references a lot of old Final Fantasy games, such as the Job System from V and the crystals from I-IV and IX. Altogether, Bravely Default showed the world that Square Enix is still wholly capable of creating a new game that is pleasing to its general audience.
Favourite Moment: The true ending. After countless hints, you’ve inevitably guessed the real villain and you’re rewarded with a grueling, multi-stage boss battle that’ll test everything you’ve learned over the preceding 60 hours.
Favourite Track: Baby Bird. All the Special Move themes are great, but Edea’s is the best of them all. Honourable mentions: Land of Light and Shadow, Land of Immortality, You Are My Hope
Summary: Many hail it as the best Final Fantasy game, some even say it’s the best JRPG of all time. It’s my favourite JRPG so far, and though it isn’t perfect, I’d recommend it to just about anyone. It has a series record of 14 playable characters, and that speaks to how well its story is told, since it still manages to make each character feel special. I played it on GBA, which is generally agreed to be the best one in every way except sound (the GBA’s soundchip couldn’t do Uematsu’s immaculate score justice). It wasn’t too difficult, although I had to resort to a guide past the halfway mark to defeat some of the harder bosses and see every side-story. It might just be because VI was my first Final Fantasy game, but no JRPG since has managed to capture my attention quite like this one. (And that’s saying something, since I played it in daily 45-minute increments during my breaks while working at summer camp!)
Favourite Moment: After a certain catastrophic event, a character is stranded on an island, and there’s no other choice but to…
Favourite Track: Terra’s Theme. It’s kind of a recurring leitmotif, but I’ll never forget with I first got onto the world map and it was played full force. Honourable mentions: Shadow’s Theme, Celes’ Theme, Battle Theme, Kefka’s Theme
Summary: If you don’t think either FFVI or FFVII is the best JRPG of all time, then you probably think Chrono Trigger is. A lighthearted take on the genre, Chrono Trigger brought together the all-stars of the mid-90s Japanese entertainment industry: Hironobu Sakaguchi of Final Fantasy, Yuji Horii of Dragon Quest, and Akira Toriyama of Dragon Ball. While it’s not as special to me as Final Fantasy VI, I really enjoyed the unique battle system and the lack of random encounters. The story and the central time-travel mechanic was interesting and entertaining all the way through the relatively short 20-25 hour duration, and the characters are all endearing and memorable. Out of all on this list, it might actually be the best for a JRPG beginner, because it’s easier and shorter than VI. (But go play VI afterwards, it’s so good!)
Favourite Moment: About two-thirds in, your party’s a member down and you have to go to the ends of time and space to get your friend back.
Favourite Track: Frog’s Theme. It’s just so majestic and gives you a great idea just how chivalrous our little green amphibian is. Honourable mentions: Delightful Spekkio, Epilogue
Summary: Though not actually a JRPG, since it was not made in Japan, this narrative-focused 2D platformer plays a lot like one, with a timeline-based pseudo-turn-based battle system that some liken to that of Grandia. It’s the shortest game on this list, at only 12 hours, but that feels just about right. Although produced by Ubisoft, Child of Light gives off a decidedly indie vibe, and though it doesn’t end up feeling quite as special as anything else on this list, Child of Light is on nearly every platform under the sun and you really owe it to yourself to give it a go.
Favourite Moment: After you get betrayed, the story takes a darker turn. It’s also one of the coolest settings I’ve seen in a game, and the beautiful watercolour art only makes it all the more breathtaking.
Favourite Track: Aurora’s Theme. There’s only really one standout track in Child of Light, at least for me, but it’s recurring and it’s haunting.
Summary: Easily the most famous Final Fantasy game, VII brought the series to a whole new generation of gamers. At the time, the jaw-dropping CGI sequences and 3D environments took the world by storm. It hasn’t aged as well as earlier sprite-based RPGs have, but Final Fantasy VII is still a masterpiece to behold. I found the story to be a little too convoluted and complex and by the end I still didn’t know who some characters were or whether they were supposed to be bad guys or good guys, but the protagonists are all likable and memorable. The soundtrack is what you’d expect from the franchise, but this time played through the PSone’s CD-quality sound system. Altogether, you can’t go wrong with Final Fantasy VII, but personally I found it slightly overrated.
Favourite Moment: The one everyone talks about, at the end of Disc One. It was already spoiled for me, as it will be for anyone who’s been on the internet enough, but that didn’t stop me from saving before it and watching it five times over.
Favourite Track: Aeris’ Theme. Kind of goes hand-in-hand with my favourite moment. Honourable mentions: Tifa’s Theme, Still More Fighting, Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII
Summary: Some call it the beginning of the end, when Final Fantasy began to ditch the formula that had made it so special and started to alienate its fanbase. I really enjoyed it, though, and I found the conveniences it provided to the player, such as a hint system and the ability to heal for free at save points, a breath of fresh air in the wake of more old-school JRPGs. The main character only got more and more annoying as the game wore on, but all the other characters grew on me, and the story is genuinely interesting and thought-provoking. It is pretty linear though, and unless you don’t value your sanity, don’t bother trying to collect all the trophies or finish all the minigames.
The Catcher Chocobo race. A certain character’s triumphant escape from a wedding. So majestic.
Brass de Chocobo Suteki Da Ne. The melody was repeated throughout the game, but it’s only once you get to the credits when it really packs an emotional punch. Honourable mentions: Tidus’ Theme, Battle Theme
Whew! Those are all the JRPGs I finished this year! But for posterity’s sake, here’re all the other JRPGs I have but aren’t finished. A lot I still intend to finish, but some I’ve given up on.
I’ll probably never finish – [Playing right now] – Bought, haven’t started yet
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked
Persona 3 Portable
[Persona 4 Golden]
[Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection]
Final Fantasy Origins
Final Fantasy V
Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy IX
Legend of Mana
That’s one year of JRPGs in the books! Here’s to another great one! What are your opinions on the games I talked about? Do you have any suggestions on what I should play in the coming year? Tell us in the comments!