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The best JRPGs on PC

Best JRPGs -

Not long ago it was unthinkable that Japanese RPGs would be ported to PC, much less that some of the best JRPGs ever made would find their way to our platform. Japanese RPGs actually have a rich and mostly forgotten PC history, and that's finally come back around. Today, you can play blockbusters like Final Fantasy on PC, cult favorites like The Legend of Heroes, and even western games made in the style of Japanese RPGs.

We've collected our favorites below, with consideration of how they look and play on PC. That means, for example, that the ugly PC port of all-time great Final Fantasy 6 isn't on this list, and we didn't include other emulated classics, like Sega's Phantasy Star 4 or Shining Force.

Here's our guide to the best JRPGs on PC—and not even half of them are Final Fantasy games.

Best JRPGs - Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Developer: Square Enix | Link: Humble | CDKeys

Tom S: The best Final Fantasy, obviously. What do you mean Vaan is an earnest, irritating child and the plot makes no sense—have you met Tidus from Final Fantasy 10? I’ve never really been into Final Fantasy for the plot anyway; I’m in it for the spectacle, and I love Final Fantasy 12’s world and the weird band of heroes you assemble. That’s the main reason I persisted long enough to properly engage with the gambit system and, oh boy, it’s a beauty. 

I love RPGs that allow any character to become anything you want. I can arm Vaan with a greatsword and watch him get pummeled forever on the front line of every fight. I can develop a team of four attack mages if I want. That would be dumb, probably, but the point is I’m free to make my own bizarre mistakes and break the game in cool new ways. The fast-forward command in Zodiac Age is a blessing too. I wish more games let me buzz through the nonsense to get to the good stuff—in this case, a combat system that allows for a ton of experimentation and whole deserts full of T-Rexes to test it on.

Basically what I'm saying is don't play Final Fantasy 12 if you want to be able to enjoy other games.

Wes: Don't listen to the naysayers who claim Final Fantasy 12 plays itself—its combat system is brilliantly customizable, letting you take precise control over your party in critical moments and automate the busy work with super specific AI commands. It's way more satisfying to put together intricate rulesets that tell your party members to cast haste when there's MP to spare, heal when you drop below a certain HP threshold, and target the enemy you know needs to go down first. It's like a strategy game layered on top of traditional JRPG combat, and just one of many ways Final Fantasy 12 is brilliant.

Another way: an all-time great localization by Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder, which gives FF12's dialogue far more flavor than your typical JRPG. A voice cast of British stage actors are a vast improvement over familiar anime voices.

Jody: Wes is spot-on about the combat—it's so good it ruined the similar system in Dragon Age: Origins for me. Leveling up is a great fun too, with new abilities chosen from a massive chessboard web thing, each new choice unlocking similar abilities around it. That system kind of ruined the similar one in Path of Exile for me, so basically what I'm saying is don't play Final Fantasy 12 if you want to be able to enjoy other games.

The plot's not such a strong point, borrowing from Star Wars even more shamelessly than Star Wars borrows from its own inspirations, but I found myself not really minding. If you're going to steal then steal the good stuff. That's a saying I made up myself.

Best JRPGs - Nier: Automata

Nier: Automata

Developer: Platinum Games | Link: Humble | CDKeys

Wes: There are horny robots in sci-fi, and there are sad robots, but it's rare for there to be robots that are both horny and sad, and even rarer for those two emotions to somehow power a story as fucked up as it is philosophical. Nier: Automata is tragic and touching and a very particular flavor of weird that's hard to pull off in a game, much less an action-RPG that's mostly about flashy sword combos. Automata relentlessly pursues the idea of peeling back the layers of a story, letting you see it from multiple perspectives before the eventual payoff to make it really hit home. Action game developer Platinum is also in fine form here, delivering a combat system that looks incredibly deep and flashy, but plays like a much simpler Bayonetta, with enough upgradeable weapons and abilities to satisfy the RPG side of the equation. 

Andy K: The atmosphere in Automata is so distinct, so unusual, that there really isn't another game like it. Its blend of bleak sci-fi and melodrama is beautifully harmonious, and provides a nice contrast to the kinetic, thrilling combat. The fighting doesn't have the same level of intricacy or depth as other Platinum games, but the gorgeous, interconnected, and varied world makes up for it. From sun-bleached deserts and crumbling cities, to abandoned amusement parks and robot villages, it's a hell of a place to exist in.

Wes: One extra note: while Automata's PC port is serviceable, a few nagging issues can be easily fixed with the community-made FAR tool.

Best JRPGs - Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX

Developer: Square Enix | Link: Humble

Wes: No other RPG I've ever played has the consistent charm, whimsy, and characterful writing of Final Fantasy 9, Squaresoft's Playstation swan song. At the time it was designed as a throwback to the earlier era of Final Fantasy, and even 15 years later it's a lively game with genuinely touching moments and comic relief that's actually funny. Zidane, for example, is still a refreshing protagonist compared to most stoic or emo JRPG heroes. He's playful, occasionally an ass, and almost indomitably optimistic—but a few darker moments keep him from being one-note. As in many other JRPGs, the plot gets messy by the end, and the final boss is infamously out of left field, but FF9 is the rare occasion where those issues really don't matter much. It really is about going on this journey with these characters and exploring every single nook and cranny of their world, because there's always something there to reward you.

Marvel at how they don't make 'em like they used to. And to be honest, they barely made them like this, even back then.

The PC version of FF9 isn't drastically improved like FF12, and sadly its PS1-era pre-rendered backgrounds getting the up-res treatment can only go so far. Some of those backgrounds are video files thanks to moving elements, and they're pretty blurry on a bigger screen. On the bright side, the port runs great even on a laptop's integrated graphics, and the character models look nice and sharp with cleaned up textures true to the original art. There are also lots of little enhancements that make the game nicer to play: an easy UI option for challenging random NPCs to a game of cards, a fast-forward option, and cheat codes for skipping encounters, getting max money, etc. that can help you focus on the story. Final Fantasy 9's greatest weakness was always a slow battle system that pushed the Playstation to its limits, and fast forwarding is a welcome fix.

If you've never played FF9, you have a chance to marvel at how they don't make 'em like they used to. And to be honest, they barely made them like this, even back then.

Best JRPGs - Valkyria Chronicles

Valkyria Chronicles

Developer: Sega| Link: Humble

Austin: As a strategy game, Valkyria Chronicles is much less complicated than the likes of XCOM, and I reckon that's a point in its favor. It's deep enough to get its hooks in you, but not so granular that you lose sight of its characterful cast or remarkably touching story. Where many strategy games often turn into spreadsheets, all stats and resources and hit percentages, Valkyria Chronicles keeps things small and personal and uses the squads you assemble to tell a bigger story about an underdog country's fight for survival in a war-torn continent. Likewise, the combat, which is part top-down strategy and part third-person-shooter, does a good job of inserting you directly into conflicts. It was great on PlayStation 3, and its fabulous 2014 PC port really got it to sing. 

Best JRPGs - Tales of Berseria

Tales of Berseria

Developer: Bandai Namco | Link: Humble | CDKeys

Austin: There are still far too few Tales games on PC, but at least we got a good port of Berseria, the best Tales game in a decade. In a series filled with sickeningly saccharine stories, Berseria had the guts to actually get a little dark, and not in the usual edgy JRPG way. Well, not just in that way, anyway. Protagonist Velvet's hunt for revenge is reckless and seemingly futile—and, as a result, dramatic and actually interesting. Berseria's story is more than just bearable, and that's a huge step forward for Tales.

That said, combat is the breadwinner. Fighting in Berseria is every bit as fast and flexible as previous Tales games, but it makes several additions that simplify the process of upgrading and using skills without sucking any fun out of it. It's still immensely satisfying to create your own combos by stringing together basic attacks and punctuating your assault with extravagant special attacks, and now it's much more intuitive thanks to improved skill-mapping and character-swapping. 

Best JRPGs - Disgaea 2

Disgaea 2 PC

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software | Link: Humble

Austin: Disgaea has only gotten better with age, and bears the distinction of being one of the few true Japanese tactics RPGs on PC. It's one of those rare series that's so consistently good, your best bet is just to play the newest one you can. So in the absence of Disgaea 5 and Disgaea D2, PC gamers will have to make do with good ol' Disgaea 2, which is like winning $60 million instead of $70 million. Woe is me, guess I'll just have to make do with this fortune instead. 

Disgaea 2 really is a treasure trove. This is a game where you can stack eight characters on top of each other like a totem pole and then hurl a meteor at an unfortunate slime to deal 10 million damage. Between proudly over-the-top turn-based combat, dozens of unlockable and customizable characters, and infinite Item World dungeons to conquer, it's a frankly irresponsibly deep game that can guzzle hundreds of hours in a single breath. It's got that classic Disgaea humor and strategy, and just plain more of everything else. And thankfully, it also got a much better PC port than the original Disgaea.  

Best JRPGs - Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden

Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden

Developer: Tales of Game's Studios | Link: Official site

James: I’m annoyed that Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden isn’t just a joke. Hold it up to any SNES JRPG and you’ll find that its world is as detailed, battle system as complex, and story as melodramatic as the rest. Shut Up and Jam Gaiden was made for laughs, but nothing within betrays its cyberpunk setting and rich, sprawling lore. That’s the whole point I suppose: it was created after the developers read Michael Jordan’s Wikipedia page and got stuck on a tidbit about the fan debate over whether the movie Space Jam is considered canon. It was unclear if the debate referenced the Looney Toons universe or Michael Jordan’s life, so they set out to make a game that melds real players from the NBA and a ‘post-cyberapocalyptic New New York’.

The world lives in fear of basketball, a game recently outlawed due to Charles Barkley’s reckless use of a Chaos Dunk that killed a stadium full of people. With all those lives and the death of a sport on his hands, Barkely leads a tortured life, so when another Chaos Dunk kills millions in Manhattan and he takes the blame, he sets out to find the truth. It sounds stupid, and it really is, but the long con—the real punchline—is finding out how much you care a dozen hours in.  

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment | Link: Humble | CDKeys

Andy K: It was clever of Ubisoft to get Obsidian on board for its South Park game. Without the Pillars of Eternity studio's RPG chops, I don't know if it would've been half as good. What I love about The Stick of Truth is that, as well as being a wonderfully authentic, interactive episode of the show, it's a great RPG too. It's more streamlined and accessible than Obsidian's usual fare, but that makes it a perfect fit for a game like this.

Based heavily on the turn-based combat of Final Fantasy, it makes use of elemental magic, buffs, debuffs, and summons—albeit with a typically absurd or offensive twist. So instead of summoning Bahamut, you summon a gun-toting Jesus. And instead of inflicting poison, you inflict 'grossed out' and make enemies puke. It's an entertaining combat system, brought to life by superb animation and an abundance of very silly jokes.

Best JRPGs - Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X / X-2

Developer: Square Enix | Link: Humble

Sam: The first Final Fantasy to have voice acting also had terrible voice acting—something that subsequent games, including FF10-2, would rectify. Final Fantasy 10's notorious laughing sequence is far from the only thing it deserves to be remembered for, though. Its progression system all happens via the Sphere Grid, sort of like a boardgame where every node unlocks a new ability or stat boost. This allows for extensive (and by the late game, wonderfully breakable) customisation of characters, allowing you to turn a white mage into a warrior if you really want to.

It's one of my favourite games ever made and I play it every couple of years. There you go.

This supplements what's otherwise a fairly traditional turn-based combat system, but battles tend to be over quickly and progression is always brisk. Along with a neat, intuitive crafting system and more in-depth use of the summon creatures from previous games, there's a lot going on in FF10—plus it has Blitzball, an underwater football-like minigame that's one of my all-time favourites (though everyone else seems to hate it). Even if the story, involving a giant city-destroying whale and time travel (of a sort) doesn't suit you, the tropical fantasy setting is original and still evocative more than 15 years later. 

It's one of my favourite games ever made and I play it every couple of years. There you go. 

FF10-2, meanwhile, picks up after the city-destroying whale is gone—and the world is a cheerier place. It brings revamped combat, built on a job system where your party can switch roles mid-battle. The tone is noticeably sillier and more slapstick than the first game, which doesn't appeal to me too much. That said, I know a whole bunch of people love 10-2's all-female cast, and the choice to travel where you want from the start of the game is bold and interesting, even if the main story arc is dull compared to the first game.

Wes: I couldn't care less about Tidus, Yuna and crew, but I love the battle systems of both games. 10's had some brilliant tactical depth, fun customization, and the still-appealing concept of breaking damage limits to crack that 9,999 ceiling. 10-2's is different, but even better, combining fashion with the classic Job system. It's super fast-paced but miles deep, and swapping jobs mid-battle and gradually collecting skills that work well together is JRPG combat at its best. Plus, both games look great on PC thanks to some HD touching up, and they'll run on years-old hardware, even integrated graphics. What a combo.

Best JRPGs - Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

Developer: EasyGameStation | Link: Steam

Lauren: In traditional JRPG fashion, Recettear stars a plucky teenage heroine up against preposterous odds. Unlike the hordes of heroes before her, Recette’s nemesis is a mountain of debt she can only pay off by managing her absent father’s floundering item shop. With the guidance of Tear, her loan shark turned business partner, Recette splits time between bartering with customers, arranging her shop, and diving into randomly-generated dungeons for marketable loot. Each day, Recette chooses what to do with the four time-slots between sunup and sundown while the calendar marches towards her next loan payment. Recette’s adorable naivete is explained no better than by her well-meaning catchphrase “Capitalism-ho!”

The whole thing is this bundle of sunshine and sweetness, even though it's about being crushed by debt.

Recettear became the first Japanese indie game to release on Steam when it was translated and localized for Western audiences in 2010. Despite the two-man translation team and very conservative sales expectations, Recettear was well-received by critics and players, more than doubling the first month’s expected sales. Recettear offsets the repetitive burden of shop-ownership with the repetitive demands of dungeon crawling in just the right ratio to make both more engaging than they would have been alone. To its benefit, Recettear scrapes the surface of systems like party management that are often deeper in larger games without allowing them to weigh down the flow between activities. Despite its age, Recettear continues to spread by word-of-mouth and inspire new indie games like Moonlighter to emulate its management-meets-dungeon-crawler hook. 

Jody: Recettear is a great way in if you've not played many JRPGs. It doesn't take the more ridiculous cliches of the genre seriously, and it's got a much better translation than 90% of other Japanese games, with actual jokes and relatable characters. It's set in this weird pseudo-French fantasy land but everyone has motivations that make sense, from the drunk thief to the greedy fairy loan shark (don't listen to Tear's advice to start at 130% and haggle from there, that's way too high). The whole thing is this bundle of sunshine and sweetness, even though it's about being crushed by debt.

Best JRPGs - Cosmic Star Heroine

Cosmic Star Heroine

Developer: Zeboyd Games | Link: Humble

Wes: Zeboyd Games has been adding modern twists to the designs of classic JRPGs for years now, with games like Cthulhu Saves the World. With Cosmic Star Heroine, the team set their sights on Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star and made this tight sci-fi RPG with a clever, brisk battle system that requires some real thought and planning. Combat revolves around abilities that can only be used once until you defend, turning battles into strategic matches where defending at the right time is especially important. The story outside of battles is just as brisk as the fights, making Cosmic Star Heroine the rare JRPG that doesn't outstay its welcome. It's less homage than it is a thoughtful 2017 take on how JRPGs were made 20 years ago, and how they could've been done better.

If JRPG battle systems are your thing, Cosmic Star Heroine is a fantastic playground.

Best JRPGs - Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Developer: Nihon Falcom | Link: Humble

Steven: Don’t let the lo-fi graphics fool you. Ys: The Oath in Felghana is a rich and exciting action RPG that has aged wonderfully from its original PSP version (which was itself a remake of an even older PC version). Forget the slow tedium of turn-based battles: Oath in Felghana is a run-and-slash action RPG with some seriously intense bullet-hell boss battles set to a killer synth rock soundtrack. If you like the idea of a Japanese-flavored RPG but aren’t looking for a 150-hour-long story or all the boring side quests, Ys is a great alternative. It’s relentlessly fast-paced and there’s a wide selection of difficulty levels so you can tune down the grinding if you’re really looking to breeze through it.

There’s still all the trappings of a JRPG, but Ys is lean and incredibly punishing. It sometimes feels more like an arcade game than a proper RPG, but if you love min-maxing stats there’s still level and equipment progression to mess around with. Like Final Fantasy, there’s a reason why there’s over a dozen entries in this series (and any of the ones on Steam are worth playing).

Best JRPGs - The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky

The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC

Developer: Nihon Falcom | Link: First Chapter (Humble), Second Chapter (Humble)

Wes: This is going to come across as a strange endorsement, but I don't think the first chapter of Trails in the Sky, likely Nihon Falcom's most beloved RPG series, is anything special. The character archetypes and dialogue and general vibe are about as straightforward anime JRPG as they come. The turn-based battle system is pretty straightforward, with just enough complexity to get by thanks to the way you mix magical orbs to unlock new spells. Fans like to point out that every NPC in the game has their own little life, with new dialogue to discover every time you go back to them across a sprawling journey. And that is true, but it's all the same basic, largely uninteresting RPG background patter you've seen before.

So why is Trails in the Sky SC—or Second Chapter, the sequel to that first game—on this list? Because, while I think Trails in the Sky is actually a pretty average JRPG, it does a remarkably good job of introducing you to its world to tell a larger story, continued directly in this sequel. It's a slow burn that makes you invested in the Bracer Guild (a sort of anime civilian marshal service), several kingdoms with their own political machinations and rich history, and characters that manage to be endearing in spite of their tropes. The individual story beats may often be cliche, but over the course of two games Trails in the Sky manages to go deep and wide, giving you the satisfaction of solving small mysteries and saving whole countries. If that world pulls you in, you'll have a pair of games that tell a single, sprawling story across a hundred hours, like a longform TV show. There's really no other RPG series on PC quite like it.