As any avid JRPG fan will tell you, there’s a lot of great games in the genre but there are a lot more terrible ones out there. For every Suikoden II or Persona 5, you have 10 Mystic Quests or Time and Eternity’s. It’s enough to make a more casual consumer rightfully wary about trying out some unknown games in the hopes of finding a hidden gem or two, so here’s a short list of a few unknown JRPGs worth checking out.
To start things off we have Xenosaga. Before Monolith Soft became known for Xenoblade Chronicles, its bread and butter was the Xenosaga series – JRPGs set in the distant future that had you battling the Gnosis alien race for the sake of the universe. In addition to that classic turn-based combat goodness, the series also featured a swathe of interesting characters, themes, and even the ability to pilot mechs into battle.
Five total games were made for the series with only three of them ever reaching the United States, all of which were exclusive for the Playstation 2. To date there hasn’t been a Western re-release so if you’re interested in checking it out you’ll need to purchase a copy online. Thankfully, used copies of the games run relatively cheap and you can get the first one for at little as $10.
Lunar: Eternal Blue
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue is legendary among classic JRPG fans for two reasons. For being a damn good game and for being incredibly rare.
The game, originally for the Sega CD and re-released for the original PlayStation, tells that ever so classic tale of a hero named Hiro as he encounters the mysterious Lucia and quickly ends up entangled in her mission to stop the all-powerful Zophar from destroying the world. It’s a tale as old as gaming itself, though what sets Lunar 2 apart from its peers was its expansive cast of supporting characters, surprisingly brilliant story, and just a pitch-perfect JRPG experience.
The only downside is trying to find a copy of the game. Copies of the the PlayStation version, Eternal Blue Complete, have been sold anywhere from $40 to as high as a few thousand. A quick search online will find relatively affordable used copies if you’re fine with stumping up the $40. Otherwise your best bet is to just get lucky and stumble onto it at random somewhere.
Mobile gaming has often been criticized for too many games following the same business model, but there are gems for those willing to search through the hordes of freemium games. Chaos Rings is one such gem.
While a bit simple, the game features multiple scenarios where you can play as different characters with their own unique stories as you explore the Ark Arena and are forced to fight through monsters in traditional JRPG combat. Chaos Rings is a good case for sticking to basics and making the most out of a simple foundation. They may not reinvent the wheel, but for those looking for turn-based fun you can’t go wrong with them.
Perhaps best of all, the four games are all easily downloadable on iOS with a bundled PS Vita release in Japan.
Arc the Lad IV: Twilight of the Spirits
The Playstation 2 was a haven for JRPG fans what with Final Fantasy X, Dark Cloud, and the Suikoden games, but one of the first was a little game by the name of Arc the Lad IV: Twilight of the Spirits.
The game saw you take control of two protagonists, Darc and Kharg, as they both go on a journey to gather allies and the Spirit Stones in an attempt to stop the nefarious Dizweld Army. It was split into two halves with Kharg representing humans, and Darc representing the monstrous Deimos. The game may seem a bit quaint for some now, but back then it was great and still is.
It is also easily available in the PlayStation Store for $15 along with the previous Arc the Lad games.
It may be a bit hard to believe now what with the rampant success of games like Bravely Default and Persona 5, but it wasn’t too long ago that traditional JRPG turn-based combat was frowned upon. Critics saw it as archaic and dull. Which was unfortunate, as it let a gem like Lost Odyssey go far more underappreciated than it deserved.
The plot follows Kaim, an immortal with amnesia as he is forced to confront the looming dangers to his world as everything grows increasingly reliant on magical technologies. Not to mention the ghosts of his past once Kaim’s memories do finally begin to return. While not wholly original in plot and execution, Lost Odyssey, much like Chaos Rings, shows that if it’s not broke then don’t fix it.
The game is currently an Xbox 360 exclusive and can be found rather easily for under $10.
.Hack has always existed in a very strange place. Many if not most seem to have heard of the franchise in some regard, but almost nobody seems to have actually played the games. Which is a shame since the .Hack games are actually some of the best JRPGs on the Playstation 2.
.Hack G.U. was an episodic JRPG series that followed Haseo in his journey through the online video game “The World” in an attempt to figure out what was causing players to go comatose and to avenge his fallen friend Shino. Split between three parts, Rebirth, Reminisce, and Redemption, fans were treated to three full games filled with memorable characters, engaging combat, tons of content, and a deeply engrossing story. There was a quadrilogy before this, but as great as those games are they haven’t aged nearly as well and are much harder to find working copies of.
The games are all available on PlayStation 2 for varying prices online, but fortunately for any curious gamers, the trilogy is getting a remastered re-release next week on November 1st for PS4 and PC.
As one of the earliest JRPGs to ever grace Sony’s little gray gaming box, Wild Arms stood out to many not only as a great game, but as one of the very few Wild West-inspired JRPGs.
Wild Arms saw you follow the Dream Chasers, a band of merry adventures who travel together seeking nothing but adventure and fortunes. Specifically Rudy, a boy who can control the Ancient Relic Machines (ARMS) spread across the land of Filgaia. Together with his friends and the ever beloved turn-based battle system, Rudy must travel through the wastelands in that time-honored tradition of stopping the bad guys from destroying the world.
The Wild Arms games are rather popular with the JRPG crowd and are pretty easily available. The first one discussed here can be found online for around $10. Or, for people who want things a bit easier, Wild Arms 3 is available via the Playstation Store for download.
Shadow Hearts had a bit of a tough time coming onto the Playstation 2. In an era where every game was transitioning to fully-rendered 3D environments it was Shadow Hearts that stuck to the tried and true pre-rendered backgrounds and never quite found the broader appeal of other games because of it.
Shadow Hearts is a JRPG series that walks the line between horror and historical fiction wonderfully. Set in post-World War I Europe, Yuri Hyuga is on a journey to stop the mysterious Roger Bacon from unleashing his dark magics upon the world. Aided by his companions which included a Taoist monk, American spy, and a quirky vampire, Yuri fought his way through one of the best written JRPGs on the PS2.
What really set Shadow Hearts apart from the rest was its lenience on horror ideas and iconography. The game is as much a horror game as it is a JRPG and spawned a couple great sequels and even has a prequel in the game Koudelka.
Unfortunately, like many obscure JRPGs of the day, Shadow Hearts is a difficult game to find. The cheapest is Shadow Hearts: From the New World at around $50 with Shadow Hearts itself running around $100. Still, for those who try it they won’t be disappointed.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Originally released for the Nintendo Gamecube, Baten Kaitos showed a world where the oceans were sucked dry and people lived amidst floating islands flying with wings. It featured the one-winged Kalas, a young man seeking revenge for his grandfather against the Alfard Empire. And wouldn’t you know it? The Alfard Empire wishes to resurrect an evil god who nearly destroyed the world millennia ago.
Baten Kaitos may follow the tried and true JRPG story model, but in terms of gameplay and ideas it is wholly unique. Combat is done via a turn-based card system and requires careful planning different than your usual JRPG fare. Couple this with a few unique puzzle mechanics and a fully-realized cast and Baten Kaitos is a damn good time.
Sadly, it is also another rather pricey game that will require some serious dedication to get unless you’re lucky. Currently at the time of writing the game retails online for around $100.
Skies of Arcadia
Last, though certainly not least, comes the Dreamcast JRPG classic Skies of Arcadia.
Whether you were a JRPG fan or not Skies of Arcadia was a breath of fresh air to those who managed to play it. The world was vast and vibrant, filled with all sorts of swashbuckling action and a surprisingly good story. As you may have noticed by now, JRPGs tend to have a trend of having a group of youngsters team up to stop the big bad evil empire from destroying the world and Skies of Arcadia is no different in this regard. Vyse and his band of airship-riding pirates travel and explore through the world on a mission to stop the Valuan Empire from reviving ancient weapons that can destroy the world if misused.
Like other entries on this list, it’s in the execution that Skies of Arcadia truly shines. Offering not only traditional JRPG fun, but a large, colorful world to experience. To date it remains one of the best reviewed games for the ill-fated Dreamcast. Although unfortunately that critical acclaim never translated well to sales.
The game saw a port to the Nintendo Gamecube as well, both of which retail for around the price of a full game and are well worth the purchase.