What makes a great JRPG?
Story is the heart of any great JRPG, while Western Game Dev’s RPG’s focus on open world non-linear exploration. Typically when making great JRPG is telling a tightly written story. Which of course implies the necessity of a good villain, and good characters.
What is the best JRPG of all time?
- 1: Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne Remaster (2021 Video Game)
- 2: Persona 4 Golden (2008 Video Game)
- 3: Persona 5 Royal (2019 Video Game)
- 4: Yakuza 0 (2015 Video Game)
- 5: Final Fantasy 7 (1997 Video Game)
- 6: Chrono Trigger (1995 Video Game)
- 7: Devil Survivor Overclocked (2011 Video Game)
- 8: Final Fantasy 6 (1994 Video Game)
- 9: Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions (1998 Video Game)
- 10: Earthbound (1995 Video Game)
10 Best JRPG Villains And Antagonists Of All Time
- 1: Tohru Adachi – Persona 4 Golden by ATLUS
- 2: “My Little Master” – Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne Remaster by ATLUS
- 3: Monokuma – Danganronpa Series by Spike Chunsoft
- 4: Sachiko Shinozaki – Corpse Party by XSEED
- 5: Kefka – Final Fantasy 6 by Squaresoft
- 6: Hikawa – Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne Remaster by ATLUS
- 7: Sephiroth – Final Fantasy 7 by Squaresoft
- 8: Kamoshida – Persona 5 Royal by ATLUS
- 9: Naoya – Devil Survivor Overclocked by ATLUS
- 10: Argath Thadalfus – Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions by Squaresoft
An introduction on JRPG greatness
This topic is beyond the scope of a 2000 word article. What makes for a good JRPG is an ineffable quality which is very difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, I will do my damndest to give my thoughts on the topic in as far as it is possible to do so.
Now, let’s discuss the key point. What makes for a great JRPG? After playing through more of them than most people even know the names of, a good villain, this is what makes the best of the best. A good JRPG needs a good story, a good story needs a good villain.
The Villain Makes the Game
Why is Final Fantasy 7, and 6 known as the best in the series, rather than say, 8, or even 9 to be honest? Kefka, and Sephiroth. Period. Kefka was the evil clown who in the first act poisons the Town of Doma. Laughing and cackling as he goes…. You see the poor victims of Kefka succumbing to the poison and dying one after another, one of the main character’s whose name I forget loses his father and escapes into exile. Kefka then torments the main characters profusely, until eventually destroying the entire world, about halfway through the game. He was unique as the first villain in a big game who actually SUCCEDED in destroying the world, and the next half of the game took place in a post apocalyptic wasteland.
Without Kefka, FF6 is unplayable
Kefka’s Personality was so wonderful, he LOVED being evil. He delighted in tormenting his poor suffering victims, and yet, he was brilliant, and funny, he truly was a good clown.
Without Kefka, that game would have been unplayable…. flat out….
The murder of Aerith
Then we come to Sephiroth, the most iconic villain in gaming. Sephiroth was the stoic, philosophical, foil to the noble but emo Cloud. Sephiroth was mostly notable for the person he killed. Cloud’s love Aerith. She played the christlike sacrifice, the game made you love and adore her, then cut her down halfway through, and stole that character from you. In a gameplay sense you were now missing a good healer. In a storyline sense you have just been stabbed through the heart.
Killing off Main Characters
Sephiroth, while interesting certainly, was only great because he killed that character. That game would not have been remotely as good, if Aeris had survived.
So yes, a good villain makes a game.
And for that matter, so does killing off a main character.
A JRPG is an exercise in story
Furthermore, a JRPG is not like other games. It is in a sense, closer to a novel than a traditional videogame. A JRPG lives and dies on the quality of it’s story. If the story is well written, then the JRPG will succeed. Even if it has a really clunky interface. Your story is more important than the gameplay, although gameplay should not be neglected.
Persona 2 was genius!
For instance, think of Persona 2. ATLUS’s flagship title back when most dead memes had not even been born yet, when Youtube was just a glimmer in the eye of, whoever Google bought it from….
Persona 2 was terribly designed
Persona 2 was one of the worst designed games I ever played. The battle system was like pulling teeth, the graphics were vile, although revolutionary for their time, the controls were clunky, the level design repetitive and terrible. Persona 2 was so bad in theory that it would never even be spoken about were it not for it’s more ineffable qualities….
The story on the other hand was fine literature
Persona 2 is one of the most beautifully written games in the history of the medium. It is so well written it’s horrible game systems will live on for eternity. If they made a full remake, it would be arguably the best game ever created.
The characters are so wonderfully written, all of them have distinct personalities which are burned into my memory. I know them, like I know….. Like I would know my friends if I had such. Let’s say, I know them like I know my own cats.
Lisa Silverman the white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes who speaks fluent Japanese, going by the nickname “Ginko”. She is bright, and cheerful, and fun, and just the best in the world. Ginko is best girl in that game, hands down…. Maya doesn’t even hold a candle to her.
Maya on the other hand is the motherly figure, who looks after all the team members and operates as the christlike character who dies…. sorry spoilers but she kind of …. dies is not the right term….. ripped out of time? I forget, something weird like that…. never existed… who knows? Maya is toast.
The silent protagonist Tatsuya, is just….
So lively and full of personality for a silent protag.
Hard to explain why he just fills out the role really well.
Eikichi…. Is the punk rocker, comic relief who can be serious, dammit…. He plays a foil to Ginko. They are always fighting, it’s funny…..
A dynamic changing world
The story itself would take several pages to try and fail to explain, but the depth and length of the story, is like swimming in a great lake or something….. So much depth, so much dialogue. A huge big city and at EVERY SINGLE PLOT POINT every character in the entire world, will have new dialogue for you…. I mostly just skip it, it would add 10 or 20 hours to the game to read it all…….
The story is epic.
The end boss is epic.
The game is terrible…..
who cares? It’s a JRPG, it’s the story that matters…..
Persona 5: Gameplay isn’t everything
An example of a game that does both well, would be Persona 5.
Persona 5 takes the….. gameplay elements to the next level. The story is very serviceable. Very serviceable indeed.
Persona 2 is better. But they are both still very good.
The greatest JRPG (almost) : Persona 4
A nice middle ground can be found in the perfection of Persona 4.
Too good to explain, you have played it or you have failed at life. It’s ok… You probably thought the purpose of life was to get a good job, find a nice wife or husband, and start a family.
The purpose of life is to play Persona 4 Golden.
You screwed that up.
But it’s ok,
many people fail at life.
It’s not entirely your fault.
Persona 4 has the best characters, out of anything, ever.
Those characters are lodged in my heart like cholesterol, they will never be truely gone…. When I one day pass, and my wife is holding my hand, as my child looks at me…..
I will think of Chie.
In heaven, I will go to Chie.
Chie is the water of life.
The gameplay is magnificent
Persona 4, gets gameplay pretty good. It has nice systems, good controls, a nice world to explore, good cutscenes, good everything. It’s no Persona 5, in terms of gameplay, which we have already established is irrelevant. But the story and even more than the story, which is weaker than Persona 2’s infernal machinations, the characters…..
My heart confesses to Chie
I love you Chie.
I know you don’t exist.
But I’m asking you now,
Marry me Chie.
Well with that aside, we must move on…..
The Greatest Villain in Gaming : Adachi
What else makes for a good JRPG… oh yes and the villain, the great villain of Persona 4, Adachi…. quite possibly the finest villain in any game ever…. He is so cool, you freeze when you touch him. Then he shatters you and makes a snide and derisive comment.
Persona 4 is a whodunit. Once you realize it’s Adachi…. Your goofy friend Adachi. Adachi who Nanako’s dad is always giving a hard time for not working enough. Adachi who vomited when he saw the murder victim, etc, etc….
Adachi quietly suffers under the casual abuse of fools
You begin to see things from his perspective. You begin to realize that the casual frustrations you saw him suffering through, were anything but casual to him, and internally he was filled with anger, and murderous rage.
He was also, extremely bored….
He kills to relieve his boredom.
I felt bad for him when the scooby gang finally wised up and defeated him. He was a good villain. You can even intentionally screw up the investigation, become his friend, and betray the scooby team, leaving them languishing in confusion and bafflement, and the mystery unsolved, as the two of you burn evidence and laugh.
This leads onto another aspect of JRPG’s that generally yields very positive results when applied correctly.
Choices matter in a JRPG
Choice and consequence.
The beauty of any good JRPG, is that, choice and consequence matter. People do not like feeling as if they are just reading through an interactive book, they enjoy the ability to make decisions, big and small, which affect the story.
This can be anything from, doing a quest unlocks some special story elements, or dialogue chosen affects the outcome of future dialogue, characters, situations etc. Or it can be as big as…..
Branching Paths and Multiple Endings
In Shin Megami Tensei 4, going down the path of chaos, law, or neutrality, will put you on completely different story trajectories. You will get differing dialogue throughout the experience, different quests, and quest outcomes, and late game, you are on a totally different path, not just a different ENDING.
I feel multiple endings are overrated. They are needed sure, but in and of themselves, they are not enough.
Multiple endings are not as rewarding as different quest paths unlocking based on player choice, or even, the ability to change dialogue by making different choices or statements. A good JRPG has all of these things, not just one or two….
The music can make or break your game
Good music doesn’t hurt either…. in any game this is true, but in JRPG’s, moreso.
The music of Persona 4 is so iconic….
Those songs are burnt into my mind, I could sing signs of love…. well actually since the lyrics are so incomprehensible i need to be reminded they are in english, I do not so much sing signs of love as I mumble it to the music….
The OST of Persona 4 is what you need to achieve in your JRPG.
Music saved Persona 5 from mediocrity
Persona 5, arguably as good or better. Give the devil his due, Persona 5 has excellent music. I myself have dabbled in remixing it/adding lyrics, to some moderate to large success.
But something about Persona 4. I think it just, those songs are more iconic, they are classics, that live forever.
But why did it fail?
This might actually be why Persona 5 failed, no iconic villain.
The villain is weak…. Closest thing I can come up with is Kamoshida, the pervert who makes women kill themselves and torments the volleyball team, lording over them like the king of college.
He IS a good villain, just… he’s no Sephiroth, let’s put it that way….
And beyond him, aren’t all those villains mostly just forgettable?
That is why the game never achieved greatness. The story was serviceable. It lacked a great iconic villain. Now do you see how important that is? That should have been the greatest game in the series. Adachi murders that game and nobody knows he did it….
He laughs with sardonic malice.
Why Final Fantasy 9 is not as beloved as 6 or 7
FF9 is like that…. Who even was the villain of that game. I have no memory of such. I just remember, good characters, good gameplay, good systems, good story, good everything on paper…..
Lot’s of people LIKE the game…..
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Make a good villain, and your game will live forever.
Neglect your villains, and your game will, be popular but people will call it underrated, for eternity.
So there we have it….
The greatest JRPG of all time: Nocturne
Oh and while we’re on this topic? Have you played Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne Remaster???
This is truly the greatest thing ever.
It is hands down my favorite game of all time.
The coolest villains
It has at least two iconic villains. Hikawa, the out of control cult leader who destroys the world in the first 20 minutes of the game….. laughing at the slowness of kefka in such…. and Lucifer, AKA: “My Little Master” who sometimes takes the form of a little boy holding the hand of an elderly caregiver, and other times takes the form of an old geriatric man, rich and holding a glass of brandy, while a very beautiful young women attends to his many requests. Visually it is beautifully rendered.
An intellectual feast of a game
The story is written to be magnificent and epic and heady…. The villains play a big role in the story, but primarily it is a philosophical musing on what kind of world you would like to create, after the old world was destroyed.
You can even side with Lucifer and kill God.
The gameplay and level design are tight and beautiful.
It is a thing of beauty.
The story, is so well written…. The characters…. weak….
The characters are dead on the inside, I don’t know how else to put it, they are hollow shells designed to be mouthpieces for the ideologies they represent, so the player may choose the one they like the best.
Model your game on this masterpiece
Study this game, if you wish to know to make a good JRPG.
It is everything I want in a game, or many things I want,
with certain aspects done so well…. it beggars belief….
It staggers the mind….
It on paper, isn’t the best game ever made….
Defacto on the board, it is the best game ever made.