Felt like finally putting together an actual list like this after seeing the number 5 around so much lately in the world of vidya, so here it is! As a note though, by JRPG for this I don’t literally mean “any video game from Japan with RPG elements”, I mean more typically what you’d call a JRPG. So things like Valkyria Chronicles, Nier, etc, won’t appear on this – not because I don’t love them, but because they just aren’t part of the types of games I’m trying to list out. I don’t really know how these work, so I just made some comments on each one. I was originally not going to put them in any order, but they ended up the way I’d have numbered them, so whatever.
The pinnacle of the Atelier franchise, for me at least. I’ve loved all the ones I’ve played (all of those available officially in English, including Iris ages ago and Annie) but Ayesha is the fullest and most polished game of all of them at this point. To be honest, I was having a hard time with thinking of a fifth – I just can’t remember all the games I’ve played off the top of my head as much as I’d want to (especially older ones – even those I do remember having played, I don’t remember the games themselves well enough), especially not when putting myself on the spot, so this is probably not my actual fifth, but it is for this list! The other 4 are solidly in place though. Good examples of games I don’t remember well enough or haven’t played recently enough again to say are my ‘top 5’ would be things like FF7 or 8, Chrono Cross, Suikoden 3 which I really enjoyed but I barely remember, and one of the wild arms (but i don’t even remember which, which proves my point) – so those are kind of like ‘runner ups’ I suppose for the fifth spot. I also wanted to put Xillia (1) here, but with the next game I felt it a bit silly to have two Tales games here – I mean its my list so I could have, but whatever. I think the closest thing to come to taking 5th place, which I’m editing this in years later, would be Persona 4 Golden (specifically Golden, I hated the original).
Anyway, Ayesha is the first Atelier that I know of with a genuine serious story. The game maintains the usual lightheartedness and wonderful slice-of-life feel, but at the same time its one of the only games out there where you are actually playing DURING the apocalypse rather than after or before – a slow one, but still the end of humanity. Not only that, but – and this is a big end game spoiler! – you actually help push it to happen faster in the end.
The world building and overall foreboding atmosphere really makes you feel like you’re living out the last days of humanity, yet manages to handle it subtly instead of forcing it into your face – it’s nowhere near Sora no Woto’s world building, but it brought me the same types of feelings at times. On top of that, it boasts the most perfectly polished synthesis system (said system being very unique to this franchise and easily the best part) we’ve seen and some of the best feeling combat. The characters are also great and I really felt like I cared about saving Nio.
I made a short mini-review at the number one spot of this post before, if you’d like to know more about why I love it so much.
Tales of Graces F
While what I linked above shows Xillia as my “top of the Tales franchise” – it’s only the top in terms of story and pacing (and that mid-way reveal, which is still one of the most awesome ever conceived)! I love all the Tales games for the most part, but Graces F has the PERFECT chemistry between each and every member of the cast. No other game has this kind of connection between the characters done so naturally and intriguingly, not just within the franchise, but in general. Many people hate on the story for being childish, but really the theme being “friendship” doesn’t make it “a kiddy story” because the point wasn’t about the actual plot events, but of the development of friendships and relationships between the cast members throughout their adventure (and some of them, their childhood as well).
It wasn’t about Richard and Asbel and how ‘the power of friendship’ wins, it was about everyone in the game and how their relationships with one another bond them together and form who they become in their lives. Friendship is the THEME – not the STORY. With some of the best and most lighthearted comedy and the most incredibly well done character interactions, this really is the pinnacle of that aspect of any video game for me. Along with that, the gameplay itself was some of the best in the franchise’s history, and the “Title” system was perfected. Even the childhood arc is something I really liked and felt was a perfect way of setting up the story. I literally played this through fully 4 times within the first 3 weeks of it launching in the US, and I intend on playing it plenty more in the future.
The Legend of Heroes : Trails in the Sky
This game is the most well made all-rounder I’ve played to-date, and on top of that it has unquestionably the most fleshed out and lore-filled world in any game I’ve ever seen. I actually wrote a rather lengthy review with a lot of focus on that aspect because it really sets this game apart from everything else out there – JRPG or otherwise. Everything in this game is built as it should be, designed realistically within the canon and within basic life needs, the pacing of the story is perfect, the story itself is extremely exciting and gets intense later on after slowly building itself up through a slice-of-life-esque progression, and features great concepts all executed perfectly.
On top of that is beautiful music, wonderful visuals throughout (including real cute sprite art), and a great combat system. This is a must-play, just be ready to put in a lot of time reading, as the best way to play this game is talking to every single NPC (EVERY SINGLE ONE) after every tiny step (I mean even the most miniscule) within the main story. Everyone in this game without exception has their own story going on, their own life happening as the story (and thus time) marches forward. It’s an incredibly memorable game for all sorts of reasons, the cast is fantastic and you grow very attached to them, the world is completely alive, the story is outstanding and full of unexpected twists and turns (including at the very end, as a teaser for the next game), and it is a one of a kind game in many regards. Truly an experience that nobody should miss out on – and one of the only ones that really makes you feel like you’re on a genuine adventure throughout.
I’m gonna cheat a little for this one only; when I say “Xenosaga” I mean the trilogy – yup, even 2…well okay, not really 2, but it’s necessary for story purposes. Easily the most complex (in the good way), deep, intricate, and intriguing storyline in any game series (even more than muh nanomachines and liquidocelots), extremely fun and fairly unique combat, a cast like no other, a legitimately overpowered weapon in the story that is legitimately overpowered in your party (I love the consistency about that, as it’s usually forgotten in most games), THE MOST INCREDIBLE MUSIC IMAGINABLE – very much Yuki Kajiura’s magnum opus, great graphics that even hold up today, some of the most emotional and powerful moments in game history, and so much more.
Xenosaga is truly the full package and then some and absolutely nothing in video games comes as close to being a classical epic as Xenosaga managed (epic as in the actual word, not the memey ‘totally epic dude’ way). It features the most memorable moments in games for me and ever since I played the first game, let alone all 3, I always do my best to play through the full almost 200 hour long story on an annual basis and the OST is some of my most played music over the years. This is a must play without question.
Star Ocean 2
Very specifically 2. The first game is average and after 2 this franchise went to COMPLETE shit and has since produced some of the worst JRPGs rather than the best and if you consider them canon they even manage to somewhat ruin the perfection that is 2, avoid them at all costs. SO2 though is without question probably my number one favorite video game of all time, let alone my number one top JRPG. This is another game I make sure to play pretty consistently once a year and have never gotten tired of. There aren’t even any flaws to it aside PEARS INTO PEACHES and SOUTHERN CROSS spam which, if anything, are more charm points rather than something to complain about.
A perfect mix of sci-fi and fantasy with a lot of romance and huge plot twists thrown in constantly. This game also has the most perfect example of how to do a game with two protagonists to pick from. Their stories are perfectly intertwined – yet they are so hugely different depending on who you pick and you can really see a full game’s effort put into writing each. Extremely memorable events throughout, a wonderful soundtrack, great combat (very similar to that of Tales), a massive world with lots of extras. Oh, and for some reason my favorite thing – an iron chef style competition you can actually compete in. My one actual complaint about this game is that the PSP version does it a disservice while in other ways makes it much better, but I’ll always prefer the original PS1 version.
Well, that’s it. Maybe some of these coincide with your own top 5?
Just curious, what would be your thoughts on Xenogears? Because I was thinking about trying that game soon. Is it worth it?
Never cared for it, but I did only try it like a couple times when I was way younger so I can’t say if maybe my attitude toward it now would be any different. I always had a grudge against it for pretending to be relevant to Xenosaga retroactively which (obviously) is one of my favorite games of all time, and the start of the Xenogears is just so goddamn boring and slow, never liked the combat system, never liked the characters, never liked the story. At least it’s a real “xeno” game unlike fucking xenoblade garbage.
Maybe nowadays I’d feel different but I completely hated it every time I tried it so far and I have no reason to believe it’s any less shit than I felt it was before. I’ve gotten pretty far into it too one of those times all the way near to the end and just quit because I still thought it was shit.
So I dunno, might be good but last I recall it was a turd. Not the biggest pile of shit in the world or anything THAT terrible, just a regular not very good turd.
If you liked Xenosaga, and especially if you liked Eva or any of the Eva-like anime that have come out since, you’ll probably enjoy Xenogears. I’d say yes, give it a shot.
I’ve never played Xenosaga, all I have to go by is this review http://www.platoscavern.com/aspx/m/1225223 I’ll still give it a shot if I ever find a copy or if they release a HD collection.
play xenosaga it’s one of the best games ever made
Maybe after I beat Star Ocean 2
star ocean 2 is better to me personally and probably my top ever game still but xenosaga isn’t far behind
I’ll be honest. That review isn’t entirely wrong, but it and a lot of people exaggerate how egregious the flaws are. I think it carries itself well and while you notice that’s it’s a very pretentious game you do actually get into how artsy fartsy the story is.
I’m not gonna edit the list retroactively, but as a small update – having finally played it Persona 4 Golden (Golden specifically, not the original release) has definitely taken one of these spots. I wrote a review here for it which explains the reasons, but that’s easily one of my top 5, if not the very top.
I’m totally on the same page with Trails in the Sky. As of the rest, ugh… well, not so much… Although actually I’m still sniffing my way around finally getting into the Atelier franchise, especially as the Escha & Logy game did surprisingly well in terms of reviews and such, but I’m a bit wary of it being just tons of grinding and crafting (which is fine by itself) over any attempts to deliver a substantial storyline, as the latter is of utmost importance to me. But we’ll see…
Btw, my own list as of now would’ve probably be dominated by Atlus, I guess.
Well, Escha & Logy is a direct sequel to Ayesha, so you’d want to play that before jumping into E&L. As for “grinding”, you can even literally play (and get non-‘bad’ ends) the Atelier games without fighting a single enemy outside of the ones required for the beginning tutorial. It’s far from a grinding type of game, even if you want to get the ‘true end’ instead of the MANY other endings you don’t ever have to grind to win any of the combat, just don’t AVOID fights. The best way to play is essentially killing every enemy in any zone you go to the first time you’re in them – this unlocks deeper areas sometimes (for more ingredients) as well as gives you some points towards other things for clearing the zone out. And even only doing that (which isn’t grinding, but just playing the game really) will pretty much set you up for beating everything but maybe one or two extra bosses. The majority of the “grinding” you’d be doing is synthesis because you have to make your own attack items, weapons, and armor.
It’s really not a grinding game though (especially not the Dusk trilogy which includes E&L, they are FAR easier games compared to their predecessors) – and there is story, it’s just story about the cast. Ayesha, E&L, and Shallie (which is all one trilogy) does have a bit of a story though as I mentioned with your typical ‘saving the world’ type of deal going on (albeit you sometimes help push it further towards destruction for your own goals, which is kind of a cool twist compared to usual). The prior games are pretty much all just slice of life.
I do think it’s interesting that you say you’re such a huge fan of stories yet wouldn’t agree on Xenosaga being one of the best games out there, let alone compared to Atlus titles.
Wow, it’s actually the first time someone described the Atelier series in a way that made me think I might really like those games. Good job, sir, and thank you for the effort. Now I really feel inclined to check what the fuss is all about. An jRPG that lets me choose how I want to play it? Definitely sound good to me.
As of Xenosaga, it’s not that I find its story bad. The little I did see of it, being European and all, therefore not getting any releases of most games in the series, didn’t impress me tremendously or anything. I wouldn’t mind a chance to see more of it, sure, but it’s not like can’t sleep because of it. A digital PSN release I could download through my secondary US account would’ve been nice, though. On the other hand, I for one can’t understand how anyone could not appreciate the Atlus narratives (well, not each and everyone, obviously), with their scopes covering motifs like different existential values being put to trial during redefining the post-apocalyptic world, as seen in the Shin Megami Tensei series. Or finding a will and reason to live after sustaining personal losses, as seen in Persona 3, then realizing own place in society, as seen in Persona 4, then finally gaining means to overcome limitations that stall one’s effort to attain any of the above, as will be seen in Persona 5, which I believe will complement the message of the predecessors greatly. But to each according to his own liking, right?
Well it’s not like I hate Atlus games or anything, I just find the quality of writing and the pacing of them to be “good” rather than “incredible” and I find that the games themselves (the gameplay aspects – especially in the Persona titles) tend to hinder the story and game overall more than help it. So I see where you’re coming from, I just don’t really feel it’s done on as good a level.
Speaking of which, Persona 5 just got a PS4 version announced (and also a delay implied, as the release date was 2015 for both PS3 and PS4).
Xenosaga is an incredibly complex story, so only seeing bits and pieces would never get across anything properly – I highly recommend trying it out some day, it might not be ‘the best’ in the end to you, but I think anyone who appreciates a good JRPG and an incredible story would at least enjoy their time with it.
My reply chains are all broken on here, I really need to find a new layout. I had to go through admin shit to reply properly.
I know, that new trailer was neat, still it’s a bit of a shame they still don’t have balls to go with the full-fledged female protagonist, as it would’ve changed the perspective greatly and IMHO enrich the series as a whole. That, plus the new logo looks tad like that of Gran Turismo.
As of the newer Persona games in general, I don’t believe it was even anyone’s goal to maintain a typically fluid flow of the main branch of the narrative with them, and the manner in which the change of pace had been achieved was the one I’ve welcomed gladly as both quite refreshing and compelling to me. I guess I’m simply into slightly unorthodox jRPGs, therefore the way you’ve described the Atelier games made them seem more down my alley than ever before.
By the way, Xenosaga and the first two Ar Tonelico games as of now are probably the two PS2-era positions in most dire need of a rehash or a mere re-release they’ll most likely never receive.