I was raised in the glory days of Japanese RPG's (JRPG's) on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were the biggest game franchises, and real gamers could debate their merits endlessly. We remained engaged in the stories of the games, even though the soldiers, princesses and schoolchildren all had spiky day-glo hair. We waded through hours of randomly triggered menu-based battles instead of playing Doom or baseball. And we loved every minute of it.
For us, the present generation of video game consoles has been a disaster.
There hasn't been a great JRPG for any of the Big 3 consoles (XBox 360, Wii, Playstation 3) in their combined 16 years of existence. Squaresoft, once the unquestioned king of the genre, appears unable or unwilling to make one. Atlus, XSEED and tri-Ace have all tried to fill that massive void, and created decent work. But none of it meets the standards of their forebearers or their Western rivals Bioware (Mass Effect, Dragon Age) and Bethesda (Fallout, Oblivion). What, then, is an old-school otaku JRPG gamer to do?
Buy a Nintendo DS. Not a 3DS. Those have very few games at all and no JPRG's as of yet. The DS Lite and DSi cost $130 and $150 new respectively, with games for $35 or less. The DSi has downloadable games and a mediocre camera to justify its higher price tag, neither of which are relevant to JRPG gaming. Stick with Lite. Both units may be old and technically obsolete thanks to the 3DS, but their game library is gigantic. It is also rife with great JRPG's. Start with these two:
- The World Ends With You —Unique, one of the best ever.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor —Great story, loud hair, tactical combat, monster breeding.
Don't like handheld games? Too broke to invest in another system? Too bad. No JRPG for any Big 3 console could reach the standard of the two above. However, there are options:
- PS3 owners should consider Valkyria Chronicles. It's the latest in the venerable Valkyrie Profile series and probably the best AAA JRPG for any of the Big 3 systems. It also came out in '08, and has fallen steeply in price.
- The Wii is in even worse shape. The only decent new RPG's it can boast are Monster Hunter and Harvest Moon.Those franchises are as tired as Saw.
- The XBox 360 offers some interesting candidates. Tales of Vesperia is the best-regarded AAA JRPG for the system, but is mediocre historically and features a clumsy implementation of the series' trademark side-scrolling battle system. The best options may be a pair of XBLA Indie games that cost less than $5 total: Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves The World. Made by a two-man team called Zeboyd Games, they feature awesome music, hilarious parody, and deep yet accessible gameplay. They are VERY old-school, featuring 8 and 16-bit graphics (displayed in 720p, of course!) and a bad inventory system. Despite that, they are satisfying and well-made games, and more than justify the tiny investment they demand.