You’ve heard of Final Fantasy VII. Everyone’s already told you to play Chrono Trigger. But what about the lesser-known JRPGs? What about the gems that don’t get discussed all that much?

Today we’re highlighting some underappreciated gems from the past few decades, across all consoles. I’m sticking to games that don’t get discussed very often, so you won’t find the likes of Xenogears or Skies of Arcadia here. I’m also staying away from games I talk about all the time on Kotaku, so the Suikoden and Trails series don’t make the list. (You should play them, though.)

Onward, then. Maybe you’ll discover something cool to play; maybe you’ll see something that brings back fond childhood memories. Maybe you’ll just rush to the comments to complain about how your favorite game isn’t on here. Either way, enjoy!

(Also see: The 20 JRPGs You Must Play)

Radiant Historia

Platform: DS

Not enough people talk about this Atlus-developed RPG, which came out here for DS in early 2011 just as the system was fading out. (Maybe that’s why?) Best described as a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger with a dash of Final Fantasy Tactics, Radiant Historia has an excellent score (composed by the insanely talented Yoko Shimomura) and a really neat battle system, which are the two things you’d want most in a JRPG. The game also plays with time travel in some interesting ways, allowing you to move back and forth along a timeline full of alternate histories so you can see what would happen if you made certain pivotal decisions differently. It’s all very cool.


Platform: Super Nintendo

If you want to be In The Know, you have to learn about the Quintet trilogy, a series of action-RPGs for the Super Nintendo that subvert the traditional Zelda formula in some interesting ways. All three games—Soulblazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma—are worth playing, but today we’ll give some love to the first one. Soulblazer puts you in command of an angel, sent to a world that had been ravaged by a soul-stealing monster named Deathtoll. As you hack-and-slash your way through underwater tunnels and creepy old mansions, you’ll gradually rescue all of those souls, watching them repopulate their homes and villages. It’s a cool game, and holds up pretty damn well today, exploring some dark, interesting themes that genuinely Make You Think.

Secret of Evermore

Platform: Super Nintendo

At some point in the mid-90s, the company then called Squaresoft decided it might be fun to make a game by Americans, for Americans. What they came up with was Secret of Evermore, a Secret of Mana clone that takes a dude and his dog to four different eras—prehistoric, Greek/Egyptian, medieval, and futuristic—as they try to figure out how to get home. It’s a fairly fun action-RPG with some interesting albeit imperfect ideas. Casting spells, for example, requires you to follow alchemical formulas using ingredients like limestone and dry ice. Did I mention there’s a dog?

Brave Fencer Musashi

Platform: PlayStation 1

This is a weird one. Brave Fencer Musashi is one part Zelda, another part Final Fantasy, and 100% food puns. At its core it’s a three-dimensional action-RPG, putting you in the floppy shoes of a blue-haired hero with a whiny attitude and two big swords. As that hero, the eponymous Musashi, tries to figure out how to get back to his mysterious home world, he finds true love. Also: he slashes his way through monsters, builds relationships with the local townspeople (all of whom follow personal schedules and routines), and plays with a bunch of action figures.

The Last Story

Platform: Wii

It’s hard to imagine playing a modern console game that isn’t in HD, which is probably why nobody talks about The Last Story, which came out in 2012 for Nintendo’s underpowered Wii. That’s a shame. It kicks ass. It’s got a great romance—unusual for video games!—and a surprisingly smart combat system. Really good writing, too.

Wild Arms

Platform: PlayStation 1

I have to confess: I’m not super-familiar with the Wild Arms series, a set of Western sci-fi JRPGs that were prevalent on the PS1 and PS2. But I have played the first, and it’s great, complete with a solid story, some cool environment-based puzzles, and giant golems. Worth your time for sure.

Lufia 2

Platform: Super Nintendo

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Lufia 2 has the best puzzles in JRPG history. Combining traditional turn-based combat with the type of puzzle-stuffed dungeons you might find in a Zelda game, Lufia 2 was ahead of its time. Today it’s still brilliant. The story’s fun, the music is great, and it all has a rhythm that can’t be beat. Just stay away from the DS version, and watch out for glitched floors.


Platform: Sega Genesis

Back in the 90s, pretty much everyone was trying to clone Zelda. A company called Climax Entertainment might have done the best job of it with LandStalker, a Sega game that used an isometric perspective to emulate 3D graphics. There’s a ton to like about this game—the characters, the dungeons, the treasures—and although the platforming can be a bit finnicky, it’s definitely worth your time today.

Shining Force 2

Platform: Sega Genesis

If you’re into Fire Emblem, do yourself a favor and check out the Shining Force series. It’s got some rough spots, and it hasn’t aged super gracefully, but when it comes to top-down strategy RPGs, few other games compare. Like its tactical siblings, SF2 lets you recruit and level allies, then take them to the battlefield for grid-based combat against bands of enemies. Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya on Game Gear is also a worthy contender.