Pick the Best Japanese Role-Playing Game for Someone That Never Plays Them

Illustration for article titled Pick the Best Japanese Role-Playing Game for Someone That Never Plays Them

In today's turn-based edition of Speak Up on Kotaku, commenter Monsieur.Froid admits that his Japanese role-playing game experience is limited to Final Fantasy XII. We cannot let that stand. Help him choose a more definitive JRPG to get him hooked on the genre.


Denizens of Speak Up, I demand an audience! (Editor's Note: No! Well, okay.)

I am in search of a good, nay, GREAT JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) for somebody who never plays JRPGs. I have only ever played Final Fantasy XII, and what kept me going wasn't the story, but simply a desire to know what happened to Balthier by the end of it all.


I don't care if it's zany or mundane, sci-fi or real-world, turn-based or strategy. What is the best JRPG for somebody who never plays JRPGs? Also, if you recommend one, please also give the console that it can be found on.

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Nightshift Nurse


A lot of people in this thread are recommending some excellent games - don't listen to them! While well intentioned, most people here are making recommendations from the perspective of a long-time fan - which means they're telling you to go play games that would likely turn anyone unfamiliar with the genre off playing them forever. Let me be clear, Grandia, Persona, Suikoden...these are all phenomenal series and ones I would recommend you explore at some point. But for various reasons, none are beginner friendly. Many are what I'd label beginning-intermediate...the games you should consider once the fundamentals and quirks of the genre are digested.

Now on to what I feel are more appropriate recommendations:


This might be the best jumping off point for someone new to the genre. The beat 'em up mechanics are immediately accessible to even the greenest of JRPG players (seriously, if you've ever played Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, God Hand, etc. you'll understand Yakuza's combat systems).

The story is neither high-fantasy nor sci-fi, but a contemporary Japanese crime drama - which is unique among any variety of RPG. And note that if you stick to the main quest it's not only excellently written, but superbly acted and well-paced. But if you're looking for some trademarked Japanese oddness or humor, the side-quests frequently range from the humorous to the bizarre.

Combat and exploration is handled much the same as any other JRPG, with your character moving around an area until he encounters an enemy (except in certain situations, enemies can be seen and therefore avoided), at which point the perspective shifts to a combat arena where the action takes place.

The number and size of the neighborhoods one can explore is limited in scope, so if an expansive world is a high priority for you this aspect may be frustrating. However, the locations available to you are absolutely pregnant with content: sidequests, minigames, sandbox-esque stat-building, optional boss battles, and so on.

Yakuza 4 is a good game to start with as it's story is not especially dependant on an understanding of what happened in the previous three installments. Otherwise I'd recommend starting with part 1 if you have access to a PlayStation 2.

Yakuza 1 and 2 are PlayStation 2 games, while Yakuza 3, 4, and Dead Souls (I wouldn't start with this one, though) are PlayStation 3 titles.

Final Fantasy 6 and 7

Not only do they represent the best installments of the greatest RPG series of all time, both are very accessible to newcomers. Their mechanics possess depth while not straying into the needlessly convoluted systems of a good many other JRPGs. The stories are complex, the characters are appealing, the designs are top notch, and the scores are excellent. The sheer amount of optional content in each is also staggering, which is fantastic if you're the type who enjoys exploration and discovery.

If you're looking for a quintessential, turn-based type of experience, neither one of these games will steer you wrong. I'd recommend playing both at some point...especially since both can be purchased on the PSN for a total of $20.

Final Fantasy 6 is available on the SNES, GBA, PlayStation 1 or as PSN download.

Final Fantasy 7 is available on the PlayStation 1 and as a PSN download.

That covers the basics, here are a couple more I'd recommend - keeping certain caveats in mind:

Wild Arms

Specifically the first Wild Arms for the PlayStation 1. If you can get over the crude battle graphics, the game is accessible, charming, and rather unique in its Wild West setting. The game also employs item-based puzzles that are a nice break from the norm of many JRPGs and ventures into more Zelda-like territory. One word of warning though, if either Final Fantasy titles is "too anime" for your tatses, then avoid this game at all costs. While charming and fun, it's also waist-deep in anime tropes that anybody lacking the kind of nostalgia these cliches would tap into might find annoying.

Wild Arms is available on the PlayStation 1 and as a PSN download.

Valkyria Chronicles

This ranks among the best seventh-generation JRPGs available on any platform. It's real-time unit movement and aiming should be accessible to most anyone and the alternate-universe World War II setting is unique among its peers. That being said, if you're unfamiliar with the careful reading and management of stats, you may initially find this game daunting. A demo is available on the PSN though, so I'd encourage you to try it.

Valkyria Chronicles is available on the PlayStation 3.

Also, if you're at all interested in exploring the beginnings of the JRPG, consider Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior (Quest), or River City Ransom on the NES. River City Ransom is easily the most modern and polished of the bunch (the original beat 'em up hybrid), but all are simple and straightforward by virtue of representing the beginning (or damn close to it) of the JRPG. Just be warned: Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior contain a great many 8-bit conventions such as high encounter rates, frequent grinding, and a lot of backtracking in an effort to help pad their length. If you can look beyond those issues though, it's a fun peek at how things started.