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Best Overall: Dragon Quest XI S at Amazon
"The best Dragon Quest game ever made."
Best Style: Persona 5 at Amazon
"Persona 5’s distinct personality and fresh combat system make it one of the most important JRPGs of this generation."
Best Mario RPG: Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door at Amazon
"Retains all the charm from a Mario platformer, viewed through the lens of a compelling, engaging JRPG."
Best Presentation: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch at Amazon
"A gorgeous, well-designed game that benefits from an enriching partnership with Studio Ghibli."
Best Final Fantasy: Final Fantasy VI at Amazon
"One of the most important and influential JRPGs of all time."
Best Classic JRPG: Chrono Trigger at Amazon
"One of the best games of all time, period."
Most Unique: EarthBound at Amazon
"One of the quirkiest, most heartfelt JRPGs ever made."
Most Underrated: Radiant Historia at Amazon
"Its branching timelines, strong plot, and meaningful player choices stand out among the crowded JRPG landscape."
Best Story: Xenoblade Chronicles at Amazon
"One of the best RPGs of the 2000s."
Best Pokemon RPG: Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver at Amazon
"Stellar Pokemon and world design, still the best example of both to date."
Modernizes the classic JRPG formula
Great characters and towns
Fun combat that's simple but engaging
Can get a little grindy at the end
Not for players who don’t enjoy menu-based combat
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition is the most recent mainline entry in the 30-year-old series, and it also happens to be the best Dragon Quest game ever made. Lovable characters, a finely-tuned battle system, and a world that feels alive give Dragon Quest an identity that’s wholly unique. It doesn’t do anything to revolutionize the genre, but it’s such a perfect example of how to make a JRPG for a modern audience without sacrificing the core tenants that popularized the genre.
Dragon Quest XI S is rigidly traditional in many of its battle systems, but it has enough modern conveniences and quality of life enhancements to make the game easy to play. For example, enemies roam the overworld, effectively eliminating random encounters, and the ability to speed up combat animations makes long grinding sessions a lot more manageable. Plus, you won’t even need to grind until the very end of the game, which makes Dragon Quest XI S’ pacing sublime throughout the adventure.
You won’t want to put Dragon Quest XI S down until you’ve completed the roughly 70-hour journey. The towns are a blast to explore, the plot is satisfying, and the characters are just plain fun to interact with. Dragon Quest XI S is a special JRPG, and it’s one that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.
Fun balance between school life and dungeon crawling
100 hours is a massive time commitment
Persona 5 oozes style from start to finish throughout the 100-plus hour journey. Part high school simulation, part dungeon crawler, the Persona series is unlike any other, and Persona 5’s distinct personality and fresh combat system make it one of the most important JRPGs of this generation.
Like any good JRPG, Persona 5 is full of memorable characters and scenarios. The difference here is Persona's unique take on the genre. Where Dragon Quest is an homage to the JRPG genre as a whole, Persona 5 feels like it’s trying to boldly expand in new directions thanks to its hip feel and high school-inspired gameplay sections. It feels like a new milestone, one that will influence the genre for years to come.
Great variety of locations
Fun, interactive combat
Mario has done just about everything, including starring in a handful of great JRPGs. The best of the bunch, though, is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, which released on the GameCube in 2004. The game retains all the charm from a Mario platformer, viewed through the lens of a compelling, engaging JRPG.
The world design is just as good as a 2D platformer—Mario travels across all sorts of unique locales, from a run-down city to grassy plains to an overnight train. The levels are always well thought out and gorgeous, and seeing how the plot plays out in each location is a blast. Each world pops thanks to the paper aesthetic, and the GameCube graphics still look great today.
The combat is unique here, too. Instead of just selecting moves and watching how they play out, you can influence the action with properly timed button presses. Getting just a touch more damage per attack is extremely satisfying, and it’s surprising that more JRPGs haven’t tried to introduce real-time combat elements in turn-based games.
Beautiful Studio Ghibli cutscenes
Unique monster combat
Menus presented as a gorgeous, hand-printed book
Ni No Kuni feels more like an anime than any other JRPG on this list, and that’s probably because the cutscenes were created by Studio Ghibli, one of the most revered anime studios in the world. The beauty and polish of the Studio Ghibli cutscenes translate to the rest of the experience, resulting in one of the most charming, gorgeous JRPGs out there.
You play as Oliver, a young boy thrust into tragic circumstances. He embarks on a journey to save his mother, traveling through a fantasy world filled with monsters (some of which are friendly). These monsters are key to the combat—like Pokemon, selecting and leveling up your monsters is a core part of the experience. Ni No Kuni is a gorgeous, well-designed game that benefits from an enriching partnership with Studio Ghibli.
One of the most influential JRPGs
Still largely playable today
Some modern players may miss today’s conveniences
JRPGs would not be where they are today without Final Fantasy’s influence, and Final Fantasy VI (Originally known as Final Fantasy III in the West) is the best entry in the series to go back and play today. Final Fantasy VII and VIII are still classics, but their 3D graphics haven’t aged as well as the 2D entries in the series. Final Fantasy VI is one of the most important and influential JRPGs of all time, and it’s still worth playing today.
Don’t know where to start with Final Fantasy? Check out our comprehensive guide of where to play each mainline Final Fantasy.
Looking for more retro goodness? Check out the best SNES games.
Great time travel plot
Fun gameplay and characters
Joining the likes of EarthBound and Final Fantasy VI on the Super Nintendo, Chrono Trigger is regarded as one of the best JRPGs of all time, and as one of the best games of all time, period. Chrono Trigger was a collaboration between the minds at pre-merger Square and Enix who came together to make the best JRPG they possibly could. The result is a sweeping tale of time travel with great sprite work, characters, music, and storytelling. There may be no such thing as a perfect video game, but Chrono Trigger was pretty close to that mark when it released, and it still holds up today.
Enjoyable pop culture references
Combat can be overly difficult during the late game.
On the surface, EarthBound is a Dragon Quest clone in a contemporary setting, but deep down, it’s one of the quirkiest, most heartfelt JRPGs ever made. Created by Shigesato Itoi as a love letter to America, EarthBound unabashedly references American locations, lifestyle, and pop culture. The game is confidently weird, to the point where it’s spawned a passionate fanbase that discusses theories about the game and hopes the franchise will someday continue.
You play as Ness, a young boy who is ordered by a talking mosquito to save the world against an existential threat known as Giygas. Ness accepts, and what follows is one of the craziest, most fun stories in any JRPG. Along the way, Ness and Co. must deal with a cult, zombies, aliens, and more in their quest to stop Giygas from destroying the world, all against the backdrop of modern-day America. Sounds crazy, right? That’s because EarthBound is crazy, in all the best ways.
Time travel plot where your choices matter
Great story with lovable characters
Atlus’ Radiant Historia originally launched on the DS, and its branching timelines, strong plot, and meaningful player choices made it stand out among the crowded JRPG landscape. This is a hidden gem that was given a second chance on 3DS with Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, and time-bending JRPG fans shouldn’t miss out on this one.
You play as Stocke, a soldier who has to choose to fight alongside his old friend or his longtime mentor in a war between two nations. But Stocke has the power to travel through time, so it’s possible to go back in time and change your decision, allowing you to see the story play out from both sides. Radiant Historia is rife with consequential player choices, and the game has a handful of endings that are directly impacted by the way you play. Each decision feels like it has weight, and you will likely spend hours seeing how each choice plays out to try and decide if you made the right decision.
Interesting combat with the Monado
Graphics are very muddy
Fans may recognize Xenoblade Chronicles protagonist Shulk from Super Smash Bros. Originally released on the Wii in 2010 in Japan, Xenoblade Chronicles was part of Operation Rainfall, a fan-led movement to get Nintendo to localize previously Japanese-only JRPGs and bring them to the West. Luckily, Nintendo and Monolith obliged, bringing over Xenoblade Chronicles as one of the Wii’s final major releases in 2012.
JRPG fans in the West should be glad that Xenoblade Chronicles made it overseas because it’s one of the best RPGs of the 2000s. Shulk and his band of characters are well written and memorable, and they’re supported by stellar storytelling and music. The story and soundtrack are incredibly well-done, and even though the game is held back a bit by the Wii’s limited technical capabilities, the magnificent plot and unique gameplay make the world soar.
Faithful remakes of the original
Exploring two regions is a blast
Your partner Pokemon follows you
The second generation of Pokemon is fondly remembered for including two regions in one game, and that feature is executed just as well in Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, the DS remakes of Gold and Silver. Exploring both Johto and Kanto is incredibly fun, and it adds value and diversity to a franchise that usually tends to play it safe. Even HeartGold and SoulSilver largely adhere to the usual Pokemon blueprint: travel from gym to gym, take down an evil team of wrongdoers and eventually tackle the Elite Four and the Champion. What sets these games apart is the stellar Pokemon and world design, still the best example of both to date.
Creating your dream team of six Pokemon never gets old, and you’ll feel closer to your Pokemon than ever before in HeartGold and SoulSilver. That’s because the lead Pokemon in your party will follow you around at all times, forging a bond between trainer and Pokemon that’s not found in most Pokemon games.