The magic behind the JRPG, or Japanese role-playing game, is its ability to transport players from real life to the colorful and vibrant world of anime. With the genre’s blend of life simulation, combat, magic, entertaining characters, and immersive environments; it’s easy to see why JRPGs are a mainstay of the gaming community.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 best JRPGs in the last two years!
1. Persona 5 Royal (2019)
In 2020, Persona 5 was ranked the highest-rated video game of 2020 across all platforms! The secret to its success? A robust life simulator combined with creative dungeon crawling, combat, and great storytelling.
If you don’t have the resources to visit Japan, Persona 5 is your next best bet. Its jaw-dropping fictional recreations of Shibuya Station and Akihabara will make you forget you’re playing a video game as you experience life through the eyes of a High Schooler in Tokyo. With events such as the school’s cultural festival, hangouts with friends, and even a trip to Hawaii, you will fall in love with the game and its colorful characters.
Be warned, this game will make you not want to put it down – but at the same time, you’ll want to go out and experience all these awesome things yourself! Whether you’re working at a convenience store, doing club activities, eating ramen after class, or fighting demons in an alternate reality; Persona 5 has all the charm of a slice-of-life show with the action of a shonen anime.
2. Genshin Impact (2020)
Released just last year, Genshin Impact is the highest-earning game in the world. It even beat the likes of Fortnite, GTA V, and Call of Duty. Set in the colorful world of Tevyat, the player steps into the shoes of a Traveler looking for their kidnapped twin sibling. To look for clues, they will have to traverse the Seven Nations in the world.
Each of the Seven Nations is themed around a certain element. For example, Monstadt is the City of Wind and has towering windmills, glowing dandelions, and air currents all around. Meanwhile, the mountainous nation of Liyue is full of valleys, giant statues, and palaces – fitting for the nation of Earth. The closed-off nation of Inazuma represents Electricity and is surrounded by an unending thunderstorm. This is in contrast to the swaying cherry blossom trees and glowing flowers inside the country.
The nations also have their own patron deities called Archons, who wield their respective element with god-like power. With every area you explore, you come across copious amounts of lore and legends that spice up the story. Additionally, cut scenes are tailored to the aesthetic of each nation, ranging from European stained glass to traditional Chinese and Japanese paintings. The immersion is multiplied even more by activities such as fishing and cooking, the latter of which will make you extremely hungry.
Despite the amazing world-building and attention to detail, the main draw of Genshin Impact is its characters!
With colorful personalities, quests, and hangout opportunities; it’s no wonder why the Genshin Impact community is so hyper and active online. Unlike the other games on this list, this is not a game you can pick up and finish in a month. Like a comic publication, the story and its playable content are released gradually over each patch. This gives players time to save currency between updates to summon new characters.
Technically a CRPG because it was produced by Mihoyo, a Chinese company, Genshin Impact has all the trappings of a JRPG which places it on this list.
3. Shin Megami Tensei V (2021)
For a game that just came out earlier this month, Shin Megami Tensei V is already making waves in the gaming world! Metacritic gave it an 86% and called it a “masterfully made JRPG and fascinating work of art.” It even has a perfect score of 5/5 from NME! Also by Atlus, Shin Megami Tensei has been described as the “edgier and less sociable little brother of Persona.”
Surprisingly, it is also the darkest entry on this list, set in a world where God has died and a lesser pantheon of deities are striving to take the empty throne. Much like the bleakness of its story, the complicated and thrilling combat is equally unforgiving – not hesitating to kill players. Even seasoned RPG players will have a hard time with this one.
The main character is a forbidden being who is neither human nor demon. Living a double life as a high schooler and a collector of demons, he travels between normal Tokyo and a surreal post-apocalyptic version of it. The latter features nightmare-like dungeons designed to confuse the player and overwhelm him with enemies. Thankfully, the protagonist has his powers to defend himself, along with a customizable party of demons wielding various elemental powers. With less emphasis on slice-of-life, the story is not afraid to go on a large-scale journey of epic proportions that determine the fate of the universe.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (2019)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a mentally stimulating and engaging war strategy game that mixes epic fantasy with a life simulator Rated 9.5 out of 10 by IGN, the tactical game is a JRPG through and through but has several unique features that are all its own. Set in the war-torn land of Fodian, the player controls a mercenary-turned-professor who must choose to teach one of the three ruling nations. (This affects the story, gameplay, and obtainable units).
The turn-based tactical battle style is intuitively strategic and unique to the Fire Emblem series. One must choose the right weapon for the right unit, level up and train one’s army, and reposition troops around the battlefield when needed. It’s exhilarating to be a war tactician, executing different strategies to turn the tide of battle. While this is already enough to make an exciting game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses also adds in a lot of heart and emotional connection to really make you feel close to your troops.
Taking a page out of the Persona series, it also has a life simulator in the game’s fictional academy – which is a welcome rest in between fights. While the large is beautiful and reminiscent of medieval Hogwarts, the true star of the life simulator is the bond between your character and their students. Beyond teaching them in class, one can eat lunch, attend choir practice, and do other leisurely activities tomorrow. Prepare to be emotionally attached to the cast as you are immersed in this beautiful world!
And the best part is, you get to choose how much of each part you experience. If you prefer combat, then speed through the hangouts or automate them! If you love the life simulator, then feel free to go into detail as much as you want – from every bit of dialogue to every tantalizing piece of lore.
If the player chooses, permanent character death is an option, which is much more devastating after all the time and resources you’ve spent with these characters. Speaking of characters, the game devotes a good amount of time fleshing out their stories and personalities beyond their archetypes. And as if all this isn’t enough, after a certain amount of time, the game has a five-year time skip that leads to an epic all-out war! Play the game!
5. Tales of Arise (2021)
With its dramatic and lush storyline, rewarding combat system, and thrilling action; Tales of Arise is widely considered to be the best game in the Tales series. Starring one male and one female protagonist, the player travel around the world of Dahna, making friends and leveling up along the way. Coupled with a soaring orchestral score that adds to the immersion, travel is a joy in Tales of Arise.
The story itself is deep, whimsical, and varied; ranging from lighthearted jokes to philosophical inquiry about life and even questioning of class systems. You will be thoroughly engaged as you fight to free the world’s cities from tyranny.
If you liked Genshin Impact, then you’ll love this game! (Plus, it doesn’t have the game’s notorious gacha system). Just like Genshin, there are treasure chests to be found, materials to be farmed, and collectibles to find. One also needs to swim, climb ladders, and sprint across the land to reach these special places. Additionally, there are moments of respite between exploration and battles where one can bond with party members and even make special dishes! Activities like fishing are also available.
Need more reasons to play this game? Perhaps the dungeon crawling will convince you! The elaborate puzzle-filled dungeons were designed with love and painstaking detail.
6. Final Fantasy 15 (2019)
Final Fantasy XV is a fantasy game with a blockbuster story that is perfect for both long-time fans of the series and first-timers. A gateway drug, if you will, to this celebrated series! Set in the magical world of Eos, the player controls Prince Noctis who is accompanied by three companions with unique personalities and battle styles.
The dynamic between the main party is chaotic, unbridled fun, and they go from exchanging witty banter to outright dissing each other before making up as brothers do. This is no band of strangers drawn together by circumstance. Instead, they are all close friends who know each other well. You’ll definitely be pulled into a wild ride and realize why many players say the game feels like a road trip with your best friends.
Unlike the other turn-based games in the Final Fantasy series, FF XV features real-time combat. This makes for great fun as you and your compatriots swoop in on hoards of monsters to bring them hell! Not to worry, the A.I. in this game is smart and adjusts to your equipment and chosen weapon. Additionally, the battle animations for all the characters are stellar, with huge visual pay-offs! It’s borderline addictive to teleport around your enemies as you and your party overwhelm them with attacks.
As for the story, it’s an epic saga of royal proportions that is sure to enthrall players. Eos is made of four distinct nations to adventure through that offer plenty of immersion, awesome world-building, and gorgeous views. Rest zones such as inns and campsites offer rest, as well as level up opportunities that consume experience points. There’s drama, romance, action, and a little bit of something for everyone.
7. Pokemon Sword and Shield (2019)
Yes, Pokemon games are JRPGs! And classic ones at that, being among the first of their genre to gain international popularity. As the latest main series game, Pokemon Sword and Shield delivers by maintaining the charm of a classic Pokemon game while innovating on many of its well-loved traditions.
Set in the beautiful Galar Region which is based in England, the game’s expansive world has train stations, soccer stadiums, bell towers, and a blend of realism plus anime! As the player travels through the world, they will face enemy trainers, challenges, and gym leaders to become a Pokemon champion! With your Pokemon walking closely behind you, you are sure to feel closer to your mons!
The game contains many quality-of-life improvements and special features unique to Sword and Shield. For example, Dynamax allows you to supersize your Pokemon, making use of the huge soccer stadiums of the Galar Region. Additionally, travel has vastly improved. The player’s bike works on both land and sea! And unlike Pokemon games of the past, fast travel in the form of a bird Pokemon taxi allows for fast travel without unlocking the move Fly!
But the biggest improvement by far is that the game feels more like a living breathing world, especially compared to its predecessors. Wild Pokemon walk around in the overworld and hide in the grass, sometimes running away or towards the player.
Players who live in the U.K. are sure to get an extra kick out of the British-isms in the game’s dialogue, as well as the cities that are based on English cities in real life.