While I no longer heavily play JPGs since they have long past their heyday, my love for RPGs and adventure games as whole never faded. Because of this, I felt a desire to highlight a select number of titles I remember fondly that likely never reached an audience outside its native country.
And while some of these were eventually re-released years later on an updated platform, they remain playable in their original format only through the presence of emulation and concerted fan translation efforts. With the continuing shift of popular franchises and development houses sprouting up outside Japan, the era of JPGs ultimately nosedived and while still present today, is lost in a sense of nostalgia and attempts to recapture the magic of the 1990s.
Ultimately what I consider one of the best eras of gaming and genres that quite possibly put out some of the industry’s best works, has today completely stagnated. With Square Unix amidst financial turmoil and Final Fantasy no longer being their primary franchise, JPGs do seemingly feel dead.
Produced by the relatively unknown Quintet, Terrarium was the last entry in an unofficial trilogy of games that revolved around the theme of world creation. Illusion of Gaia its predecessor (and a title that did release stateside to favorable review), is largely similar to the spirit of Terrarium but widens the scope considerably.
Each character had their own distinct backstory and mechanically provided solid reasons to play the game several times over to experience them all. Secret of MANA among many things, was most fondly remembered for innovating the mechanics of an action RPG as opposed to the strategically engaging but often tedious combat of traditional turn-based titles like Final Fantasy or Lucia.
While much of the background number-crunching and level grinding elements were still in play, combat felt leagues more thrilling when players could actually swing their own sword in real time as opposed to inputting specific actions like on a tabletop Ring session. But above all else, Taken Densest 3 stands out for its staggeringly high potential for replayability through a combination of its multiple narratives, larger roster of characters, but also a complex and customizable class system.
Current availability: Taken Densest 3 has yet to release on any online networks or mobile platforms like other titles. To this day, the only way to experience Taken Densest 3 in English is to obtain a copy of the fan translated ROM and emulator.
However, given the game’s wide popularity in the emulation community, it does stand a good chance of eventually releasing on current platforms like Nintendo’s Virtual Console or the PlayStation Network. Also while I don’t have specific figures to back this claim up, I do feel strongly that many self-proclaimed fans of Final Fantasy have likely skipped over this title despite it becoming available years later through a multitude of different platforms.
To start I probably should mention that Final Fantasy V past any gauge of its objective merits or accomplishments is a title that holds a certain degree of sentimental value personally. While I wouldn’t argue for its narrative being anything but largely derivative, I never felt this was a huge factor to consider as it wasn’t ultimately what made its experience so memorable.
If anything, with its smaller cast of characters I found its focus that much more narrowed in over titles like Final Fantasy VI which suffered from being spread too thin. Lastly for a series that has become known equally for the quality of its music as the merits of the actual games, Final Fantasy V stands out with tracks like Dear Friends which lent its name to the first North American tour by Noble Seats back in 2005.
Current Availability: In its original format, Final Fantasy V is only playable through obtaining a fan translated ROM and emulation. Players begin their journey as the most basic of life forms and through its own progression system, advance slowly into larger and complex creatures.
The game begins the journey with players as a small fish where they are tasked in collecting points from killing other hostile creatures. This takes the place of a more traditional leveling system, but also allows players to continuously create altogether unique creatures that may or may not resemble a real world historical analogue.
Eventually the fish reaches land where the player obtains legs and from there continues to evolve into the Age of Man. Search For Eden did in fact release on the Super Nintendo in North America, and was perfectly available given one could find a copy.
Being a relatively forgotten title that holds no further interest to any large group, there is likely no chance of it popping up on the various online console stores. While at its most basic core Tales of Phantasma didn’t offer up anything innovative, the level of production and presentation was something to behold.
Going into the next console generation with the likes of the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, JPGs made the shift into utilizing 3D models as opposed to the typical 2D sprites. And Tales of Phantasma visually looks on par with many of these PlayStation titles, at least more so then the rather primitive graphics of similar era Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest entries.
Past its technical achievements, the game was known for its thrilling combat system which was a mix of the strategic side-view of Final Fantasy and the fast-paced real time action of Taken Densest 3. And unlike most conventional RPGs, Tales of Phantasma utilized AI to control most of the party leaving the player to focus solely on its main hero, where combat felt more like a proper action or fighting title, then that of the typical mechanically tactical turn-based RPG.
Current Availability: In its original release, Tale of Phantasma can only be experienced in English through obtaining a fan translated ROM and emulation. And while it has been ported over to proceeding platforms multiple times, it didn’t officially become available in North America until its release on the Game Boy Advance in 2006.
It was more recently made available on mobile devices however it was shortly discontinued within the same year (it was also met with harsh criticism for its shameful monetization practices). Currently, for those seeking to experience Tale of Phantasma in English have two options; track down a copy of the Game Boy Advance cartridge or emulate it.
As someone who grew up watching an unhealthy amount of anime, particularly of the giant robot variety, Front Mission was basically a Mecca fanboy’s wet dream. Owing much to how traditional tabletop RPGs play out, the game centered more on combat atop a grid than focusing in on narrative, exploration, or other common traits found in JPGs.
What ultimately made Front Mission a game to be played or ignored, depended largely on whether the player was already obsessed with Mecca to begin with. But none of this is to say that Front Mission lacked a strong narrative or thoughtful mechanics, in fact it was likely one of the more dialogue heavy games I played in its era.
This was an enhanced port of the earlier PlayStation re-release Front Mission First which added additional content linking it to later titles in the series. However, as a series that has often been overshadowed by the giants of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire has often felt like a throwaway title, largely only played by genre enthusiasts.
Its combat and mechanical core are fundamentally identical to typical RPG fare, and there have been frequent valid complaints about the inconsistent difficulty of the game that ranges from idiotically easy to downright impossible. But more importantly, Breath of Fire in its first few releases were altogether unique in what it managed with its narratives providing for a great degree of continuity and coherence between titles which was completely uncharacteristic of the genre.
Breath of Fire on the other hand delivered an altogether complex and tight narrative that spanned across three titles and hundreds of years. In Breath of Fire II, returning players witnessed first hand the effects of the events of the first game on a grand scale hundreds of years later.
We've included RPGs old and new to contend for top title on our list, so ready your stats and prepare to play. It's an RPG involving dueling dragons, beautiful goddesses, and lots of spells, it's none other than Cap com's Breath of Fire.
Exchanging the swords and sorcery motif of Dragon Quest for its own original space opera plot, the series is nothing if not interesting. Sociopath Traveler is an absolutely beautiful RPG that pays accurate tribute to SNES classics of the '90s.
Taking more than a few notes from the likes of Throne Trigger, Final Fantasy, and even a little Dragon Quest, the game is a memorable experience that any fan of the genre should play. The MANA series was a game-changer when it hit the SNES in the 90s, being one of the first true action RPGs that graced the home consoles.
The series definitely has a Zelda- issue feel to it but has all the charm and magical beauty of a Final Fantasy title. To put it in the simplest terms, the game is essentially a Zelda- like RPG with absolutely no spoken dialogue or text.
Though there might be some arguments whether the Zelda series should be considered an RPG or not, we have to give A Link to the Past the top spot on this list. Think about it, you explore a fantasy world collecting various weapons and potions, you dive into deep dungeons filled with monsters and traps, all while trying to defeat an evil wizard and save a princess.
Although Link has since made the jump the fully rendered graphics, everyone and their brother will compare the newer games to this title.