The 10 Best JRPG Game Series & Franchises of All Time
JRPGs offer some of the longest-running series out there, with many franchises exceeding 30 years of history - so we've rounded up the absolute best!
JRPG games are known for their notorious time demands, expansive universes, party & turn-based combat, and of course… edginess! With several JRPG series spanning over 3 decades, there are a few that stand out among the rest, and that have lasted the test of time – besides the fast-paced evolution of gaming & consumer needs.
A solid introduction for newcomers, and an essential reference for JRPG veterans, the following list presents the biggest JRPG series of all time, including all of their main games & spinoff releases, the dates & platforms they released for, as well as more information for each game, and what’s the best introduction for each franchise.
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Atelier is the perfect JRPG franchise for female gamers, since each entry focuses around a young girl protagonist, striving to become the town’s best alchemist, while forming deep relationships along the way, putting an emphasis on strong emotions and realistic situations – stuff guys usually get bored with.? In all seriousness, if you enjoy great storytelling, stress-free progression, and enough challenge where it’s needed, you simply can’t go wrong with any of the Atelier games.
Each game follows its own particular story, always revolving around a different character. While there are also specific arcs (like the Dusk or Mysterious trilogies) that share the same world and NPCs, you can easily pick any game to start with, without worrying about missing any deep connections or references between them. Naturally, the most recent releases like Ryza will offer a much more polished & modern experience to newcomers, so don’t feel guilty for jumping straight to them (like I do?)!
Even though we are missing a huge chunk of Atelier games in the West (Salburg, Gramnad, Iris as well as the Mana Khemia games – the only Atelier games without… Atelier on the title!), Koei Tecmo has been remastering and localizing the franchise like crazy due to its popularity, so hopefully we will receive remastered versions with English subtitles for these gems at some point!
Dragon Quest was the first JRPG ever made – at least in terms of how we know them today – and even though it was a catalyst for Final Fantasy’s creation, it was also overshadowed by its success, especially in the West. Having many handheld and Nintendo exclusive releases didn’t quite help with spreading DQ’s popularity either, but it did help with creating a loyal fanbase, and nowadays most games are available on multiple platforms.
The DQ franchise has always offered a ton of innovation to the JRPG genre, and even though it can get a bit too grindy at times, its world is so captivating that you just want to get further into the story! Not all games and characters are connected, but there are many world elements that persist through the games, so playing them in chronological order is not a bad idea – especially from an “evolutionary” standpoint.
Of course, if you seek a more modern experience you won’t get much from the earlier entries, and it’s common knowledge that DQ XI is a masterpiece on its own. However, for old-school JRPG fans, I would heartily recommend DQ V on the DS, and DQ VIII (preferably on the 3DS) as they are just priceless JRPG experiences when played on a handheld.
Final Fantasy managed to nail the JRPG recipe that would capture the western audience’s attention, and became a household name during the end of the ’90s for PlayStation gamers worldwide. A more accessible “Dragon Quest”, deep stories and extended grindy gameplay, was just what we needed to get into the world of JRPGs, and spend endless nights alongside Cloud, Yuna, and countless more memorable characters.
In every entry, there’s a different world with different characters, but just the aesthetics are enough to let you know it’s a Final Fantasy game. Culminated through 3+ decades, and never falling off the mainstream, it’s a franchise that can offer thousands of hours of story, and is sure to continue doing so for many more decades!
It’s hard to tell what is the best place to begin your FF journey, but if you are looking for a more modern experience, then FF VII‘s remake is impossible to disappoint. If you’re going into this hardcore, then definitely start from the beginning – the pixel remasters of the first 6 games are amazing, and it will only get better from there! And if you want a Final Fantasy experience that is probably never going to end, then look no further than the MMORPG FFXIV!
Fire Emblem is the ultimate tactical JRPG, coming from a studio that has impacted Nintendo’s growth in many more ways than are widely spread. Its chess-like strategic turn-based combat is not for the faint-hearted, while the permadeath feature that popularized the series, will make you think… thrice before taking any action during a battle.
Getting into the older games is not exactly easy sadly, since there are many important entries released exclusively for various Nintendo platforms and handhelds – there’s at least one for pretty much all of them! If you don’t have any of them, you could also try emulating the NES / SNES / GBA / GCN / Wii / DS / 3DS platforms on your PC.
A lot of people do have a Switch nowadays, so if this is the case for you, definitely look no further than Three Houses, as it’s the most recent main entry, it’s huge, and also offers the option to play with or without the permadeath feature!
Hyperdimension Neptunia may be small amongst all the titans included in this list, but it has yet a big role to play in this niche of “playful” JRPGs. It’s a franchise created by important developers (Idea Factory and its main studio Compile Heart), that celebrates gaming, JRPGs, friendship and… love, like no other!
Neptune is the main character in a world where gaming affects everything, and she’s the main star along with her friends throughout all of the main entries and spinoffs of the franchise! Visual novel gameplay is heavily used to tell the story, and don’t expect any heavy innovations in the genre, apart from the quirky enemies and characters you’ll meet through the journey!
The 1st game has received so many remasters and remakes, that it’s definitely the one you should start with! Even though the mainline games have left a big gap, there are a ton of spinoffs that are also super fun, and again, it’s a developer worth paying attention to for JRPG fans!
The Legend of Heroes is the most story-heavy JRPG series on this list, offering probably one of the most expansive storylines throughout multiple arcs, and challenging turn-based combat. It’s a hard franchise to get into at the same time, due to its rocky localization history and demanding gameplay mechanics.
You’ve probably heard a lot of praise already about the story’s insane depth, and none of it falls flat. I personally haven’t encountered another franchise where even random NPCs can have so much backstory, as well as impact the grand scheme of things, so if you want to get “lost” in a JRPG’s world, I don’t think there’s a better franchise for it!
Old-school JRPG fans should definitely begin with the origins (in terms of Western localizations at least) and the Trails in the Sky trilogy. If you’re just starting out with TLOH now you’re actually lucky, since the 2nd big arc has just been localized (zero / azure / reverie), therefore you can follow a more proper order, and end up with the Trails of Cold Steel quadrilogy.
Monster Hunter is a perfect blend of Hack n’ Slash & JRPG games, since it offers endless slaying satisfaction, while keeping the strategy & RPG elements directly tied to your character’s skills & progression. You won’t be eradicating hordes of enemies on this one, but rather focus on powerful beasts and monsters, that take quite a lot of knowledge and thinking to take down.
Probably one of the hardest franchises even for experienced JRPG fans to get into, due to its immensely deep systems, synergies and monster hunting realism, but please trust me, it’s more than worth it! It’s really rare when so many genres and mechanics have blended so successfully into one game, and Monster Hunter is definitely a celebration of RPG games in general.
I definitely suggest you begin your journey with Monster Hunter: World, since it’s been around for some time, offers a wealth of content, as well as a huge community to help introduce you into its unique world! Traditional JRPG fans that really can’t get into the Monster Hunter games, can still find a lot of enjoyment in the Monster Hunter Stories spinoffs, since they incorporate a classic turn-based combat system with elemental weaknesses and a charming story!
Pokémon games hardly need an introduction, since they still remain one of the main gateways for new people to discover the marvelous world of JRPGs! Heck, they’re even responsible for introducing gaming to millions of people! Going strong for almost 3 decades, it’s the absolute monster-collecting RPG even if we use just its scale for comparison, so if you’ve never played a Pokémon game, it might just be time!
GameFreak wasn’t afraid to try new things even from the first entries, and it paid them back tenfold! Trading & battling with other players has always been a core focus in the Pokémon games, and it even led Nintendo into incorporating unique connectivity features or extensions with all of their handhelds, and even the home consoles, to enable accessible trading since the stone age – the original GameBoy that is!
Every single Pokémon game has been localized (except Pokémon Green, which released alongside Red in Japan), and honestly, there are many places where you could start your Pokémon journey. Sword & Shield are currently the most competitive, since they offer the biggest amount of Pokémon from all generations & full-blown online features, while the most recent entry Pokémon Legends: Arceus is also a fantastic starting point, since it breaks away from the other games’ traditional playstyle, offering more freedom in every aspect.
Shin Megami Tensei offers what every other JRPG franchise has failed to – a truly dark & occult narrative, told through one of the most challenging turn-based combat systems, whose hard setting is hands-down the most rewarding to overcome, out of any other JRPG I’ve played. In SMT you can recruit a wealth of demons to fight by your side, each one supplying you with unique synergies, as well as elemental powers and weaknesses, and even fuse them to create new unique demons with tailored combinations.
Don’t let SMT’s rumored difficulty scare you off however, since most games also offer easier settings that are friendly to new players, without taking too much of the reward for overcoming challenges! Metalheads will certainly get a lot more mileage out of the SMT franchise, since it’s not everyday we get a truly “metal” game, that’s not cheesy and cringe?!
Even though the franchise acquired most of its fame through PS1 & PS2, it’s been a Nintendo exclusive experience for the past decade, with most of the entries receiving localizations and remasters. It’s hard to recommend a good starting point since it will mostly come down to which platforms you have accessible, but I would definitely go for SMT V, Record Breaker (even better on the 3DS), or SMT III due to its wider availability with the Nocturne HD Remaster.
Tales of… games distinguish themselves from the pack by offering a unique combat system that blends turn-based & real-time tactical combat in a flawless mix of JRPG greatness! Combine that with organic storytelling that evolves from text-based, to short-voiced dialogues and full-blown cinematics, for an experience that is really hard to find in any other JRPG franchise.
Every game offers a different tale, and different characters, therefore you don’t really have to stick with a certain playing order, unless you want to experience them chronologically that is! As expected, the most recent entries offer much more polished and fluent gameplay, so leaving the older games for last, might leave you with a bitter taste!
While most of the Tales games have been localized in English (except Tales of Destiny 2 & Tales of Rebirth), I would definitely recommend Tales of Symphonia as a starting point, since it’s the oldest “modern” Tales game, or even better Tales of Vesperia since it’s available in most platforms, and offers a much more “current” experience.