GamesRadar did a little top ten JRPGs that was half decent. It had your obvious behemoths like FFX, FFVI, and of course Chrono Trigger at #1, and your so-niche-that-how-could-it-be-excluded Persona 4, but I thought it was nice to see Skies of Arcadia and Earthbound get some due. Pokemon was also a good call - commonly forgotten in the genre just because it so far oversteps it. For the requisite Mario game I can't be surprised but also can't concede Paper Mario - I guess the idea of an art style was so mindblowing at the time and the combat has still never been replicated. Obviously I'd have SMRPG simply because it's shocking how few games in the subsequent fifteen years have managed to reach its quality of writing. And since RPGs are all about story, I feel it's a necessary inclusion.
With only 10 slots there's not a lot of room for surprises, but I thought maybe they woulda tossed in Xenoblade as the game that proves the genre is still alive in these days where Dark Souls and Skyrim have the Action RPG at its peak. Alas. My top 10 JRPGs, which is actually kinda hard because I fucking hate RPGs.
1. Skies of Arcadia Legends
natch - it's got everything and it's just a goddamned happy game that makes you happy. Music exploration fancy team attacks epic story romance without being sappy and even a little epilogue. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, and it'll feel like there's no end to the content.
2. Super Mario RPG: LOTSSSS
see above. HILARIOUS game. Oh I just noticed that now that this is on the blog it uh.... yeah... you see what I'm talking about.
3. Baten Kaitos: Origins
Greatest battle theme, the greatest battle theme, the greatest battle theme of all! I sung that. Now you should try. I didn't sing it to the tune of the battle theme though so kind of... stupid. Combos are like something that turn-based games have a really hard time with but this game made them amazing. While being gorgeous. I think it had some jokes, too. Aesthetic pleasure at its height. Paintings can't even touch this game. You hear that? PAINTINGS AREN'T AS DEEP AS THIS VIDEO GAME. I went there. Who cares about paintings anyway? You don't hear no Rolling Stone magazine running down the street raving about the new Degas print. I wonder if somewhere on the net people debate paintings as aggressively as people debate everything else on the net everywhere. Good thought.
4. Pokemon: Whichever
Yeah it's pretty obvious and the whole trade 'em and battle 'em kinda ruins the spirit of it all, but monster catching has been a thing in JRPGs since the beginning of time (I remember Lufia but I'm sure something predates that). And every other monster catching game sucks. Why would you want to play them? No one does. So good job Pokemon. You could've been Chao Garden.
I have a personal prejudice against games without attack animations (they're extremely boring) and I've tried to get over it in many ways, one of which was by playing Earthbound. Earthbound's comedy descriptions hearken back to the old Infocom "you are likely to be eaten by a grue" days, except updated for modern and nonsensical times. It's a game that always surprises you. Happy Birthday!
6. Golden Sun: Lost Age
Well, with a Player's Guide (or Nintendo Power for me), this game had limitless class potentiabilities. I liked it a lot at the time and think the sort of weird-Earth-history angle is a neat storyline, but these days Golden Sun kinda bores me. It's the epitome of the random-battle game and is flashy as hell and has puzzles, so, we'll call it good.
7. Xenoblade Chronicles
Ha, a cheap inclusion because I'm still playing it, this one does a lot of things well. Where other RPGs call to mind a laundry list of little things that annoy me, Xenoblade is a litany of good minor decisions. The plot might be somewhere out there but the dialogue is largely tolerable and the music beautiful. It's really cool to see a huge dinosaur monster at the beginning of the game and have to run away. The end.
8. Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean
Man I am getting really tired of writing this list. The other (and original) Baten Kaitos is notorious for its voice acting. I find it to fall into the so-bad-it's-good category and laugh it off. Anyway, it's included on this list because I'm running out of games I liked/finished and like its sequel has fantasmagoric art/music.
9. Tales of Symphonia
Eh I like the mashy combat, so what. And the game gives you plenty to do. It's a bit embarrassing to admit I like this game that is stupidly worshiped by JRPG idiots. It has a good story if you're a kid or haven't played many games, and the art style definitely works. Most of all it's loooooooooooooooong. And Sakuraba composed the soundtrack, so fuck off.
10. Barkley's Shut Up and Jam Gaiden
10. Barkley's Shut Up and Jam Gaiden
Have to give this game a shout-out even though I never played more than five hours so it feels like a dirty inclusion. Matter of fact, I should really Shut Up and Go Beat It right now.
You know I realized when thinking about this that a huge, HUGE element that elevates a JRPG (and other _RPGs might stand to steal this trend) is that thing you develop and restore/build as time goes by. Nearly every game on this list and particularly the ones nearest and dearest my heart have it. What I'm talking about is the Pirate Base in Skies, the claymation village in Origins, and that ruined town in Tales of Symphonia and Xenoblade. The place which is developed little by little as the game progresses through your actions, and usually has some payoffs for the cash/time you invest in it. That sense of a home base which functions as kind of a progress bar for your overarching quest is really key - it's something I want to have in mind for any game we create.
You know I should just start a blog. Cause that's basically what I'm doing here.