The holiday season can be a stressful time with annoying relatives, snotty children, and the rampant excesses of gift giving all contributing a state of confusion that can only be solved by sitting in front of a TV for a few hours with a good video game. And for those looking to veg out this holiday season, there is nothing better than a good JRPG to while away the snowy hours between family, friends, and work. Unfortunately, finding a good JRPG can be hard as the genre is a broad tract that can often be difficult to navigate without a guide. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with a countdown of the years best RPGs!
1. Hyper Dimensional Neptunia RE;Birth (Vita)
While the Vita has lagged behind the 3DS in most fields, it has managed to carve itself a niche as the console of choice for obscure Japanese games. Boasting such impressive titles as Persona 4 Golden and Tales of Hearts R —which I will discuss in a bit— the Vita’s library of RPGs has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years. My personal favorite of these games however is this remake of the first game in the Hyper Dimensional Neptunia series.
A sort of tongue-in-cheek parody of the previous generations’ console wars, Neptunia thrusts players into the less-than-subtly named land of Gameindustri where nations based on Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and Sega battle it out for the hearts and minds of the public via their respective goddesses: girls who embody their nation’s primary video game console. Packed full of obscure gaming references, a story so goofy you can’t help but love, and characters that are actually as endearing as they are cute, Neptunia is a charming series of games that hits directly at the core of the things fans of Japanese games and anime love.
However, up till now the Neptunia series has been rightfully lambasted for featuring weak gameplay and graphics that are as cheap as they are lazy. While RE;Birth is by no means a perfect game, the porting of the game to the Vita and replacement of the original game’s awful combat —with the much cleaner engine found in Neptunia Victory for the PS3— has made for a much more solid game that may very well be the best in the series. So if you’re looking for a game that crosses the mediums of anime and video games and you can take a joke or two at the expense of your favorite gaming console, then you’ll probable enjoy Neptunia RE;Birth.
2. Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3)
I covered this game back in August when it first came out, so I will keep this short. Tales of Xillia 2 is a very good RPG that manages to improve on its predecessor in almost every way. Unfortunately, the game is held back by a poorly thought out advancement system that forces players to repeat hunting and fetch quests to advance the plot. If you can overlook this fact, you will find a fun game with a mature story and great characters that will please both fans of the Tales series and neophytes alike.
3. Tales of Hearts R (Vita)
A remake of a Japan-only DS Tales game of the same name, Tales of Hearts R translates its 2D inspiration into a vibrant 3D world stocked with amusing characters and the sort of breezy yet powerful storytelling fans have come to expect of the series. If you’ve liked Xillia, Symphonia, or any other game in the series you will probably like Hearts R as well.
Just keep in mind that the move to the Vita, while improving massively upon the original in every way, is not as impressive as the PS3 iterations of the series.
4. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
Persona finally comes to the 3DS in this crossover between the third and fourth installment. Though it boasts many of the same gameplay elements, such as leveling and fusing personae, the core of Q is actually taken from Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series, a dungeon crawler known for its difficult gameplay and first person battles. This fusion of series is rather odd, but honestly it works quite well and makes Q well worth the purchase if you can stand the intense difficulty curve and unforgiving gameplay.
5. Bravely Default (3DS)
The Final Fantasy series has been rather lackluster as of late, with the FF13 trilogy proving to be something of a mixed bag and various spin-off titles aimed primarily at niches other than the traditional JRPG fan. Despite this, SquareEnix has managed something of a miracle with Bravely Default, a RPG for the 3DS that takes inspiration from the venerable gaming series but possesses its own unique flair.
This fusion of the old —such as Final Fantasy’s job system and magic naming scheme— along with the new — such as job advancement— makes Bravely Default among the best RPGs of this console generation, and I cannot recommend it enough for those who enjoy the FF series but feel that it has become stale in its old age.