If you haven’t observed already, I have a soft spot for JRPGs. To my joy, they were making a small comeback in 2012 and the trend continued well into the following year. In addition, thanks to a newly acquired PlayStation 3 at the beginning of 2013, I was able to enjoy a good number of JRPGs.
Which allows me to share the top 3 JRPGs of 2013 that I enjoyed most:
3. Tales of Xillia
Not all Tales games are created equally, but they definitely tend to still be a cut above most JRPGs. In fact, the Tales series is arguably the third most popular JRPG series, just behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. It has a clear footing in Japan and a growing presence worldwide.
Unlike some games, JRPGs are largely reliant on plot. Xillia takes an interesting turn by allowing the player to play the game from one of two perspectives, Milla or Jude. I actually really enjoy having this option and the changes are different enough to keep things interesting. However, overall, the story inevitably suffers from a bit of pacing issues. I really didn’t find it engaging until I reached the city of Sharilton, which is a good 8 to 10 hours into the game. Even then, there are brief moments of lag. Things get much more interesting once the plot twists kick into action, and there are plenty of them in this game.
Also, I’m not usually a stickler for voice acting, but the English voice acting leaves a bit to be desired. Milla’s voice felt particularly off at first, but it eventually grew on me. To also be noted, Teepo’s voice was at times a bit harsh on the ears. However, the voice acting is not a deal-breaker, if you’re worried about that.
If there is one element from Tales games that shines above the rest, it would have to be its battle system. It’s something that manages to always improve with each Tales iteration. Stemming from Tales of Phantasia’s Linear Motion Battle System, Tales of Xillia now boasts the Dual-Raid Linear Motion Battle System and the new Link Mode (which allows you to team up with characters to utilize special combos). In a nutshell, this system basically combines RPG elements with those commonly found within fighting games. This makes battles fluid, fun, and engaging without relying on the commonly seen turn-base battle mechanic.
In the long haul, Tales of Xillia ended up ranking among my favorite Tales games. It doesn’t quite beat out Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss, but it has a good footing in third place.
2. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni no Kuni had the honor of being the first new game I would play for 2013, and what a great start that was! For those unaware, Ni no Kuni is a special collaboration between LEVEL-5 and the famous Studio Ghibli. This is basically a match made in heaven, as this game managed to capture the endearing charm found in most Ghibli films and combine it with good ol’ classic JRPG gameplay.
As expected, the game’s artistic direction is absolutely gorgeous. There is so much detailed poured into each environment, whether it be the bustling streets of the homey, mid-20th century American town, Motorville, or the various settings of the whimsical and colorful fantasy world being overtaken by the Dark Djinn. It looks and feels as if you’re in a Ghibli film. Along with a plot focused on mending people’s broken hearts, it also comes with all the charm to boot.
Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of Studio Ghibli’s films, also lent his talents to this game. This resulted in a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack (all performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra) that certainly makes most games green with envy.
The battle system is like a mix of both Pokémon and Tales. Monsters called Familiars can be recruited and fight for the player. They all have their own stats, moves, and can evolve into other forms, just like Pokémon! However, unlike Pokémon, the human players can fight too and you can actively control the Familiars in battle just like in Tales games.
Ni no Kuni is definitely a gem. A big, shiny one. An excellent JRPG and a fantastic PS3 game. I certainly hope this isn’t the last that we’ll see Studio Ghibli involved in game development, because I would love to see (and play) more.
1. Fire Emblem Awakening
Surprise, surprise! Yes, Fire Emblem Awakening is not only claiming the top spot on my list for top 3DS games of 2013, but for JRPGs of 2013 as well. Which was a tough decision, because Ni no Kuni is pretty great. However, as a frequent player of traditional JRPGs and not so much tactical-style games, Fire Emblem had a much bigger hurdle to overcome. Which it did.
Needless to say, I did have a low standard set for Fire Emblem, as it was a game series which has struggled to keep my attention in the past. However, Awakening does an excellent job of removing hurdles which has prevented (new) players from enjoying the franchise in the past, while still maintaining elements previous fans enjoyed.
I also feel as the newly added “dating sim” mechanics ended up greatly benefiting the series by getting players more engaged in the story and growth of the characters. Seriously, I don’t often delay beating the game in favor of grinding just to unlock dialogue between characters. This may attest to the game’s writing, which successfully conveys the multitude of different personalities in this game in fresh and amusing ways.
The way the game carries you along is quite remarkable. Everything culminated so perfectly at the end with the dialogue, setting, music, etc. that the memory of it still strongly resonates with me. Once it was over, I hesitated moving on to another game. I simply wanted to experience that adventure all over again. It is moments like this that remind me why I love video games.
It is thanks to Fire Emblem Awakening that I understand the passion fans have for this franchise. If you were disappoint by Fire Emblem games in the past, or tactical games in general, then you should definitely consider giving them another chance with Awakening. Just like I’ve declared it to be the must-have 3DS game of 2013, it is also a JRPG worth its weight in gold (the Fire Emblem currency, not the shiny metallic stuff).
Now you know my picks, but what do you think? Was there JRPGs that I missed, that you think should be on this list? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!