[The Japanese role-playing game is a surprisingly important genre for developers to study - both in terms of gameplay and storytelling, and Gamasutra presents an 'Essential 20' explaining and chronicling the top JRPGs of all-time.]
gap between Western and Japanese RPGs is so huge that they sometimes
don't even seem like they belong in the same genre. Western RPGs
usually concentrate on open-ended gameplay, with a "go anywhere,
do anything" mentality.
Japanese RPGs concentrate on narrative
and battle systems, being more eager to tell a story than let the
gamer play a role. However, Japanese RPGs didn't just appear out of
nowhere -- as their roots lie heavily in early American computer RPGs
of the 80s.
of the most popular games back in the day were Ultima and
Wizardry. Although all had followings amongst hardcore
Japanese gamers, they were a little bit too uninviting for your
average console owners, whose ages skewed a bit younger. Yuji Horii,
a developer at Enix, decided to take on an interesting experiment.
combing the overhead exploration aspects of Ultima (the third
and fourth games, specifically) and the first person, menu-based
battle system of Wizardry, a new game was born: Dragon
Quest. Released for the Nintendo Famicom in 1986, the game became
a phenomenon, and went on to inspire dozens of clones. Most of these
are best left forgotten, but it did inspire two more notable
franchises: Square's Final Fantasy and Sega's Phantasy
in America, it wasn't until 1989 that Nintendo translated the game
for English speaking audiences, redubbing it Dragon Warrior.
Despite the huge amount of effort put into the localization, the
subpar graphics and stodgy interface failed to win over many gamers.
Throughout the rest of the 8 and 16-bit eras, RPGs in America -- and
especially Europe -- were relative rarities. While Square continued
to translate most of its better games for America, most publishers
had left the market, with only sporadic releases from the likes of
Capcom, Sega, Working Designs, and a handful of others.
until Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation, with its flashy
full motion cutscenes, that Japanese RPGs truly obtained worldwide
then, a vast majority of JRPGs have been translated into English,
whether they're contemporary releases, remakes of old titles or even
fan-translated ROMs for play on emulators.
As of 2008, the Japanese
RPG has become a subject of scorn for many Western critics, deriding
it for its conventions -- slow, menu based combat, random battles,
overreliance on narrative -- and for its failure to evolve. In spite
of this, there are still many fans of the genre, who continue to
enjoy them for their interesting plots, characters, and battle
is a list of twenty of the best JRPGs of all time -- well, an
attempt, anyway. Each of these has been selected for excelling in
some significant way, whether it's through compelling narrative
devices or intriguing gameplay mechanics.
To avoid redundancies, only
the best installment of a franchise will be chosen as a
representative. The exception to this rule includes the Final
Fantasy games, many of which are so vastly different from each
other that they can barely be recognized as part of the same series,
outside of the name.
worth bearing in mind that there are technically a few different
subgenres of the Japanese RPG. These include action-RPGs like Ys,
Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana, and (arguably) The
Legend of Zelda.
There are also strategy RPGs, like Fire
Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Shining
Force, and the like. There are also a handful of
Japanese-developed online RPGs, like Phantasy Star Online and
Final Fantasy XI. For the sake of focus, these types of games
will be excluded from the list.