Hello dear readers and welcome to Shoot the Rookie, where today I’m sharing a very special guest post with you! A few weeks ago I launched The Great JRPG Showdown, and today my partner Seb has written a post telling us about his top 5 JRPGs. Huge thanks to Seb for writing such a wonderful post for my blog, I hope you’ll all enjoy it! Take it away, Seb…
My Top Five JRPGs of All Time
I’ve been playing JRPGs for most of my life and as a general rule I absolutely love them. I’ve also recently realised that I am, in fact, very bad at the genre on the whole. This is because I take only a passing interest in things like acquiring equipment, boosting stats and generally getting stronger. I tend to be more of an “oh look, my health bar increased” and “oh I’ve got some money, maybe I’ll buy a hat” type of gamer.
This doesn’t tend to go very well in role-playing games and I’ve run into a lot of difficulty spikes over the years. I don’t let it stop me though, and you could say that battling on while largely ignoring that side of the game has become my calling card.
So, what does the genre have to offer someone like me? Which games shine brightly enough that they can’t even be dulled by a fifteen-tier menu about levelling up a pair of shoes? Read on to discover my top five JRPGs of all time!
Final Fantasy VII
I had to restart FFVII after getting stuck in the Temple of the Ancients. This was my first foray into the JRPG world and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. There was no way I was giving up though, as I’d already seen too much to be able to let it go.
I’d played a lot of games by this point, but nothing that even approached the scale of FFVII. I grew up in arcades and tended to favour side-scrollers from the likes of Capcom and Sega. I’ve always found that there’s something about Japanese games – the art style, the locations, the music, the characters – that appeals to me. FFVII is exceptional in this regard, with its crazy melting pot of ideas all brought to life by Nobuo Uematsu’s signature blend of sweeping melodrama and creepy carnival weirdness.
But more than that, this was one of the first games I played where you get the freedom to just enjoy existing in the world, rather than always having to be pushing to finish the level. Obviously you have a quest to fulfil, but you can also just kind of hang around, explore the environment, chat to people and go to inns and restaurants and stuff. It’s a game you can enjoy when you’re not really doing anything, and that’s something that I’ve come to value very strongly.
I bought the CD soundtrack from a local import shop for £40, which was all the money in the world back then. I’m listening to it as I write this and it’s so enormously evocative that I can’t imagine having never played it. It’s a big part of my life.
Final Fantasy VIII
Having played FFVII, I then obviously couldn’t wait for more of the same. This game isn’t that, and I know that the changes to the battle system and whatnot didn’t work for a lot of people. But I didn’t mind, because for me it still gets all the important things right. I also somehow felt more of a personal connection with this game than its predecessor, though I can’t quite put my finger on why.
I don’t really understand the junction system, but I somehow managed to get by. It had something to do with Bahamut’s card, a lot of Demi spells, and using GFs to absorb all the big attacks in the final battle. The last disc took forever.
Final Fantasy games can be slow burners, as you gradually get to know the world and the characters and start to feel like a part of it. They also tend to be very good at big, memorable set-pieces where the important stuff goes down and the characters really come into themselves. The parade scene in Deling is absolutely astonishing and one of the high points of the entire series. I was lucky enough to see Distant Worlds a few years ago and they ended the first session with Liberi Fatali, which hit me harder than any of the other pieces they played. It’s a tough choice but if I had to pick a favourite Final Fantasy game, it would be this one.
First time around with Xenoblade Chronicles I played basically the whole game as Sharla and just tried to keep everyone alive and let the rest of the party fight. I completely ignored the Monado until the very last battle, when I had to reluctantly play as Shulk because it was completely impossible otherwise. Having revisited the Definitive Edition, I’ve now realised that I was missing out on a great deal and actually learned how to play it properly, to the point of fully rebuilding Colony 6 and comfortably beating some of the game’s toughest enemies.
It was definitely worth it. Xenoblade games have a lot of depth and are extremely rewarding if you’re willing to put the work in. This goes against my instincts somewhat, but with this game I found that doing side quests and building affinity was actually really enjoyable. It lets you see much more of the characters, the world and its people, and I find that very motivating in a way that doesn’t happen with just trying to build strength.
That said, the combat is also a lot of fun and feels very dynamic compared to turn-based systems, plus the lively exchanges between the characters keep you going to the point that it never starts to feel like a grind. The English voice cast deserve a special mention for one of the most colourful, expressive voiceovers in any videogame ever. It’s brilliant from start to finish.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has my favourite JRPG battle system of all time – there’s so much going on, all in real time, and with so many overlapping systems that it often feels like complete chaos. Switchable blades, tons of different attacks, everything on cooldowns, trying to control space, distance, timing, buffs, debuffs, status effects, element orbs, chain attacks, everyone yelling at each other – break, topple, launch, smash! It took me a while to get the hang of it, but there’s really nothing quite like it.
So the combat’s fun, and that’s a good start. Additionally, the way that levelling up and party relationships work is brimming with personality and charm, which meant I found myself rotating blades and drivers a lot and spending ages trying to work out this-or-that character’s personal tastes in cake or fine art.
It’s a lively world full of people, with absolutely tons going on. I left quite a lot of the blade quests unfinished, so I know there’s still much more of the game that I haven’t seen. I was more thorough with the equally excellent Torna expansion and actually went after everything. I’m feeling I should probably revisit the main game at some point.
Lastly, in Mythra and Lora the games have two of my very favourite videogame characters of all time. If you’re curious, you can read all about why in my previous guest post on this blog for The Great JRPG Character Face-Off.
Persona 5 is a game that doesn’t shy away from the big ideas. It’s about fate, identity, perception and free will. It’s about the eternal struggle between darkness and light. It’s about abuse of power. It’s about anguish, courage and salvation. It’s about a bunch of highschoolers. It’s about all of these things, but it’s ultimately about the mystery and power of the human heart.
The personas are drawn from international legend, literature and folklore and as far as I understand it, embody persisting elements of the psyche and of society – the sea of human souls, if you will. Somehow this is all squeezed through the prism of a tarot deck and illuminated through tales of the everyday struggles of an extraordinary cast of characters living in Tokyo.
It’s not a game that gives you the unlimited freedom of an open world – you have a finite amount of time and you have to choose how to spend it. You can stay at home and read, work casual jobs in Shibuya, or hang out with oddballs in Shinjuku. You can get involved in politics, or the mafia, or you can really put the J in JRPG and, erm, spend your evenings with your teacher who moonlights as a housemaid? The tricky part is that each day only comes around once. What are you going to do with it?
It pulls all this off with a frankly ridiculous amount of confidence and flair. The visual design, the sound, the music, the Japanese voice acting. It’s all perfect. I’ve no idea how they did it, but it’s the most complete and compelling work of art I’ve come across in all of videogames.
So, there we are! How do you like my top five JRPGs of all time? Thank you for reading my lengthy ramblings, and also much appreciation to @pix1001 for giving me another chance to feature on this fantastic blog. See you next time!