If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, it can be a little tricky to get started with Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs). They all belong under the same umbrella, but they can vary greatly in delivery. If you pick something that is too difficult, you might get discouraged from continuing. But on the other hand, if you pick something that is too easy, you might get bored and quit. Finding a balance is key; plus, with the addition of JRPGs in your app store, it's easy to play on the go, wherever you are.
So, whether you're a pro looking for a good turn-based game or a newbie looking for something that guides you step by step, where do you start? Our top choice, Final Fantasy IX, is a great middle-ground to get you started on your JRPG journey. And if you want to discover your own game, keep reading for tips on how to choose the best JRPG for your iOS or Android.
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Table of Contents
The simple answer is that JRPGs are roleplaying games that originate from Japan or are made by a Japanese developer. But, there is so much more that is unique for JRPGs compared to traditional RPGs.
When you talk about JRPGs, opinions are divided on what actually constitutes one, and entering the discussion can easily send you down a rabbit hole of opinions and theories. For the sake of this article, we will focus on the most commonly accepted view of JRPGs in order to simplify your search and our definition.
While there are plenty of JRPGs that stray from this norm, most traditional ones will have a clear influence from manga and anime. The games themselves also tend to have a more cinematic storyline with a focus on beautiful graphics, evocative music, and complex stories.
While there are games that were played in Japan even before the official release of the first RPGs in the west, it is debatable whether these particular games can be classified as an “RPG” or not. The genre as a whole didn’t really take off in Japan until after the release of the western RPGs Ultima and Wizardry.
Finding inspiration in the western RPGs, developers started building on the concept of RPGs in Japan. Despite the popularity of Ultima and Wizardry in Japan, they faced an uphill battle in creating and selling their Japanese RPGs on the Japanese market.
So, another couple of years went by before the release of what would kick off the golden age of JRPGs, not only in Japan but worldwide: Dragon Quest.
So, what actually separates a JRPG from a regular western RPG? This is where things get a little bit tricky. Let's take a look at the main differences.
There is a lively debate on what actually constitutes a JRPG as opposed to a regular RPG. Making that distinction, particularly in regards to some of the more popular video game RPGs originating from Japan, may not always be that easy. Take a look in any gaming forum and you'll see what we mean.
However, many people within the field agree on this: if it comes from Japan, it is a JRPG. It may seem like a too-simple explanation, but it is the most inclusive definition. If you really want to split hairs, there are some design elements to look for if you want a traditional JRPG experience.
To find a traditional RPG, look for turn-based combat, progression focused on stat increases and better equipment, and anime-style visuals. These are generally seen as the most common design choices of early JRPGs.
So, is it necessary to be able to speak or read Japanese in order to play JRPGs? Absolutely not! Many games are released even in western countries and translated into both English as well as other languages.
If you focus on smaller and rarer games, you might have a hard time finding any versions in other languages than Japanese, but for the most part, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Choosing a JRPG to start out with isn’t necessarily as easy as just picking the first one you can find. There is a huge variety of games to choose from and the experience of playing each can vary drastically. Also, keep in mind the limitations of playing on a smartphone.
Picking the right game to start with can spark an interest or create a new hobby that will last you a long time while picking the wrong one can steer you away from the genre entirely. Be aware of your preferences as they most likely will not change just because you are trying a different genre of game,
Like regular RPGs, JRPGs have a huge variety of sub-genres to offer that will fit almost any preference you have! Be sure to have a clear idea of what you like before beginning your search to help narrow down the field.
When choosing among JRPGs, you can find games that fit nearly every genre you’re interested in, whether it's fantasy or sci-fi. As previously mentioned, the main difference between JRPGs and RPGs is the fact that JRPGs are made in Japan or by Japanese developers.
This means that as a genre, JRPGs cast a wide net of sub-genres among its games. No matter what kind of gaming you are interested in, whether fantasy or horror, you are guaranteed to find it represented in the JRPG category along with its own unique twist on the formula.
Some popular genres include fantasy, sci-fi, or fighting. They're fairly self-explanatory, but fantasy games are held in magical, otherworld-type realms, sci-fi may include futuristic settings, and fighting games are all about brawling.
Games that can be strongly associated with the fantasy genre include Final Fantasy or the Mana series, sci-fi includes Phantasy Star, while games similar to Smash Bros can be considered fighting games.
Aside from choosing the genre of the game, there is also a distinction between how different games are played. The combat system is incredibly important when deciding what to purchase and can often make or break a game for people.
JRPGs have come a long way from simple text-based console windows, as well as their origin as table-top games. Today's JRPGs have a plethora of combat styles to choose from. You can go fast-paced with action-heavy titles or slow it down with a more deliberate strategy like in turn-based titles. It's up to you to choose which fits your playstyle!
The cliche of JRPG battle mechanics hinges on turn-based combat. This style of play has been around since the beginning of the genre and definitely has its fans and detractors. There is nothing wrong with enjoying more deliberate action but if you want something quick there are plenty of faster action-based combat systems where you are forced to think on your feet and react quickly.
When talking about action JRPGs, there is a lot of variance between different games in the sub-genre. You have games that take advantage of the Active Time Battle system, which is a combination of real-time and turn-based combat. You can find this system in the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger. They offer a great mix of strategy and reflexive input.
For top-tier action, look for real-time combat systems. They offer responsive and immediate controls over the characters. This also has a lot of variation but typically will be seen in games in which you have to constantly be on guard. The Mana series has always done well with this combat system and should be high on your list if you want action-packed gameplay.
The gold standard of JRPG battle mechanics is turn-based combat. This is the granddaddy of combat systems and has stuck around for plenty of reasons. Like the name mentions, it hinges around taking turns to
It offers a ton of strategy and possibilities as your actions can fit into a menu rather than in the combination of buttons pressed. This system typically comes with a robust magic or attack catalog for your characters as well as stunning pre-rendered action visuals.
When you’re just starting out, don’t jump feet first into the deep end and get overwhelmed. At the same time, you want something that will keep you interested.
For example, a game such as Pokémon might be considered too simple a game, but others might enjoy playing it for hours for different aspects, such as monster collection or being able to train and name unique characters. A lot of it is personal preference, but we also recommend checking out reviews to see what's worth picking up.
There are also other games that might start out easy but have a very steep learning curve that might fit perfectly for one type of player, but prove difficult for another. The games in our list are all considered a good place to start with JRPGs, allowing you the chance to learn while simultaneously challenging you as you go along.
Just because the game is downloaded on your phone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be free. Apps and smartphone games often contain in-app purchases and different kinds of extensions that can mean that you end up spending more than you wanted to.
Many JRPGs on both IOS and Android will have free versions of the game that lets you try them out before you decide if you want to continue on with a bought full version or not.
There are also completely free games that will have paid extensions that you can purchase in order to continue playing, level up, or get rid of immersion-breaking ads. Go in with a game plan so you don't break the bank when you hit a wall in the game.
Aside from paid or free versions, there are also games that come with in-app purchases. These are not necessarily something you will need in order to play the game, but they might be helpful, particularly if you want to level up quickly or gain additional perks.
In some cases, you are able to purchase these items for “free” by performing tasks or going on missions in the app. They often take the form of unique game currency you will be rewarded with. However, earning them this way might be tedious, take a long time, and ruin your enjoyment of the game.
Despite the addition of in-app purchases, app games can still be worth your time. They're a convenient and easy way to game while on the go and are often made to be easily digestible versions of the originals. Plus, almost everyone has a smartphone now, so you won't need to go out and purchase an extra game console!
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Considered One of the Best JRPGs Made
Final Fantasy IX
A Highly Underrated Final Fantasy Entry
Dragon Quest VIII
One of the Most Visually Stunning Games on the Market
Chaos Rings III
The Perfect Game for World Explorers
Easy to Get Started and Addictive
The World Ends with You: Solo Remix
Try Something a Bit Different With Tons of Style
Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
An Excellent Game for Norse Mythology Fans
Phantasy Star Classics
Play Three Great Games In One
Secret of Mana
A Reimagining of a Classic JRPG
Final Fantasy VI
For Those That Want to Experience a Classic JRPG
This is a dizzying time-travel plot combined with great combat where your goal is to prevent a global catastrophe. Overall, since its release in 1995, it is still to this day considered the best game ever made.
You play as Crono, a brave young man, as he travels between time periods searching for his new friend Marle. In your travels, you put together a diverse cast of characters, from a knight who is a talking frog and a fierce warrior woman from the prehistoric era, and discover the true nature of the world.
In this game, you'll get multiple endings, plot-related sidequests focusing on character development, and a unique battle system. There are some critiques focused on the controls being unreliable. Yet, most reviews praised the game as a masterpiece in the genre. It is definitely worth multiple playthroughs to experience all the game has to offer!
Along with Final Fantasy VII, this is one of the best early 3D entries into the series and while initially overlooked, it's a great game for both JRPG-beginners and veterans alike.
This game is modeled after the first Final Fantasy and unlike many of the others, this is played in a medieval setting where you're tasked with fighting a war between nations as plucky thief Zidane. It starts with Zidane kidnapping Princess Garnet who is more than willing to join the band of misfits and together embarking on a large, expansive journey.
According to Final Fantasy fans and critics alike, this is considered one of the best Final Fantasy games ever made. While a few reviewers mentioned the game required some level-grinding to keep up with the difficulty, lots of reviewers loved the gameplay and the story of Zidane and his adventures.
You will be hard-pressed to find more beautiful and unique designs among other games in the same genre. The art style was created by Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragonball Z, so the character design will be instantly recognizable for fans of Toriyama.
In this game, the kingdom of Trodain has been cursed by Dhoulmagus, and it is your job to save the kingdom and turn the King and Princess back to their respective forms after the curse turned them into a horse and a troll. The journey is epic and filled with loads of wonderful characters.
The gameplay remains similar to earlier games with experience level systems and turn-based combat modes. A few reviews complained about the lack of a landscape camera mode as the portrait mode reduces visibility during gameplay. However, most reviewers praise the game as one of the best JRPGs in existence.
Unlike some of the other games on this list, this one isn't a port, meaning that it was created with the intention of being played on a smartphone and it shows! It is also made with top-notch production value and lets you explore a world that will keep you entertained for hours.
This game takes place in a world where adventurers flock to a continent in the sky in search of their deepest desires. Nazca, the main character, is following his dream to find paradise. Join in as he explores amazing locales in his search and discovers the secrets surrounding the land of Marble Blue.
Some players found the in-game currency, ohnz coins, quite difficult to collect as there weren't many activities that offered them causing it to become a grind to gather them. Many players praised the game as on par with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. They found the gameplay and art direction to be stellar in delivery.
Whether you're into gaming or not, chances are that you have heard of Pokémon Go when it took the world by storm upon its release. What separates this from most games is that it uses your mobile device's GPS system. You have to physically walk around to find and have the chance to catch various Pokémon.
In this game, your goal is to walk around collecting Pokémon as well as battling against other players. You also register data with Professor Willow as you discover more creatures and complete challenges. When you start playing, you will register with one of three teams that serve as your teammates as you battle for control of gyms attached to popular real-world locations.
There have been a few user complaints centered around playing in rural areas and the game world being sparsely populated. Most players loved that the game got them out of the house and walking around. It has acted as a great motivator to get daily exercise and get moving!
Set in modern-day Tokyo, this game might perhaps be a bit on the odd side, but don't let that deter you from trying it out. It features a unique dual-view battle system and fashion-based equipment, among many other special features.
Inspired by Japanese youth-culture, this will hit home with players that have an interest in Japan. You play as Neku, a young boy, who wakes up mysteriously in the middle of Shibuya and has to compete in a fight for his life. Discover the mysteries surrounding the world as you fight using a unique battle system.
A few reviewers had trouble with the touch screen controls, especially with the more complicated moves that you could acquire. Most reviewers loved the music, the art style, and the gameplay saying that it is a must-play for JRPG fans. The story is reportedly very poignant and heart-wrenching, so have tissues on stand-by for the finale!
This is another one of the more unique JRPGs. This one mixes a Norse mythology-inspired storyline with side-scrolling and turn-based gameplay. It offers multiple endings for a story tailored to your decisions.
In this game, you play as a Battle Maiden called Lenneth Valkyrie in the most epic battle in history, Ragnarok. Your task is to recruit fallen warriors and train them so they can fight against the end of the world. At the end of story chapters, you will learn how well your warriors fared against the apocalypse!
There are some legitimate critiques over the controls as the platforming sections can be especially difficult without using a standard game controller. Several reviews hailed the game as a forgotten classic due to its engaging story, multiple endings, and impactful combat system.
This package comes with three amazing games that defined an era of JRPGs, the Phantasy Star Saga. It comes with entries II, III, and IV and also comes with MFi controller support for better control of the game. Note that there are in-app purchases, as well.
The Phantasy Star Saga is set in the Algol Star System with dark forces threatening the peace of multiple worlds. Each game sees a new, more dire threat to the solar system. Fight the likes of Head Rot, Pug Hit, and Slugmess as you seek to stamp out the dark forces surrounding you!
One major drawback that reviewers pointed out was that in order to save, you had to watch an ad that stopped player momentum. Other than that, players loved the sense of nostalgia they got from playing one of the most highly regarded JRPGs from the early years of console gaming. If you have any interest in where the genre came from, this is a must!
This is one of the first JRPGs released in 1993 for the SNES and still continues to have a large following even today. Some say it bridges the gap between Zelda and Dragon Quest. The game is set in a high fantasy universe where you follow three heroes as they attempt to stop an empire from conquering the world.
Unlike many other RPGs this is not a turn-based one, but instead features battles in real-time with a power bar mechanic. The game also has a unique ring-command system that allows you to pause in the middle of a battle and allows the player to make decisions. The system is also set to allow a second or third player to drop in and out of the game at any time.
Reviewers had issues with the controls in the app version and the game crashing. However, most loved the intense wave of nostalgia they felt playing the game and even people new to the series enjoyed it, with one even saying it aged well.
This is one of the more popular games in the Final Fantasy franchise, not just in mobile gaming but on other consoles as well. It is the last traditional Final Fantasy game in the classic 2D design and considered as a fan-favorite by many.
The game is set in a fantasy world where you follow Terra, a magic wielder sought by the Empire as a living weapon, as she befriends many memorable characters and fights against an evil set on destroying and rebuilding the world in its own image. Take up arms against this evil empire to prevent even more suffering!
Users have stated that the controllers take some effort to get used to so be aware there is a learning curve. Many others were ecstatic to play one of their childhood favorites. They were delighted to jump back in with their favorite characters from childhood and nostalgia brought on by the masterful soundtrack.
Some of our recommendations have finicky controls but also support wireless controllers. If you have a spare console controller at home, you can connect it to your phone for an easier time. Check out this video by YourSixStudios to learn how to connect it and have better control over your new JRPG!
JRPGs are great, but there are plenty of other amazing, just as immersing genres to check out. See our other picks below!
No. 1：Square Enix｜Chrono Trigger
No. 2：Square Enix｜Final Fantasy IX
No. 3：Square Enix｜Dragon Quest VIII
No. 4：Square Enix｜Chaos Rings III
No. 5：Niantic｜Pokémon Go
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