If there is one genre of video game that blew my mind upon first encountering it, it’s the Japanese role-playing game, aka, the JRPG.
I first encountered A JRPG title way back in 1997. I was 12 years old and, just a couple of months earlier, had been involved in a road accident (never cross behind a bus, kids). My dad had bought “himself” (aka, my brother and I, as long as he could watch us play) a Sony PlayStation a few months beforehand and games such as Twisted Metal: World Tour and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee absolutely blew our minds. After many years of giving its all to entertain us, the poor Mega Drive was left by the roadside, boxed up and sent up to the attic (poor old thing, at least I’m using it again now, over 20 years later) and the big grey box was ruler of the living room whilst I recovered.
After I went back to school, I made a new friend, Russ. He was well into his anime back then and generally had a more cultured taste when it came to video games too, at least compared to my knowledge of Sonic, Streets of Rage and other staple SEGA titles. We kicked off a good friendship and, not long after, I went round to his house for tea one Friday after school. That was when he popped in a disc for a game called Final Fantasy VII (you might have heard of it) and proceeded to blow my mind.
I had never seen a game like that before. It had a really deep story, with the characters having dialogue bubbles so you could read their words real time! The game went into an entirely different mode whenever a battle kicked off, with more defined character models and deep, menu based combat that was strategic and looked fancy as hell on the 32bit system. Nobuo Uematsu’s score was full of epic earworms that I still find myself humming, apropos of nothing, to this day and the locations and characters were absolutely mindblowing! Cloud! Tifa! Red XIII! Amazing!
The PlayStation was legendarily easy to hack so it cost me only £5 to get my own copy (on 3 Memorex blank CDs, of course) and I was soon playing it for myself, albeit badly. I had no idea how EXP points worked, so if I couldn’t be bothered to fight and just wanted to experience the story, I’d just run away. I didn’t get far that way though and had to start again after a thorough mocking by Russ (I deserved it).
From there I also purchased and played the heck out of the other two PlayStation era Final Fantasy games, VIII and IX, which I also loved. I actually purchased an official copy of IX on release day and, years later, cannot find the bloody thing, which is heartbreaking. With the release of the PlayStation 2 in the early 2000s came Final Fantasy X which, despite me not entirely liking the voice acting and finding Tidus kind of annoying, I still really loved (mainly for Sir Auron, what a guy).
I also had some great adventures via SNES emulator, with such venerable classics as Final Fantasy IV, VI and the almighty Chrono Trigger.
And then the magic… died. I despised Final Fantasy X-2, it was nothing like the epic X and the tone really wasn’t my flavour. XI was online, which I just don’t enjoy, and I never got to grips with XII‘s mechanics until it’s PS4 release years later. So my love of the JRPG, sadly, died.
Until, my friends, the winter of 2018, when Persona 5 was reduced to a reasonable price in the store sale. Persona 5 had everything I needed, turn based combat, a gripping story and amazing characters (see my review here). It was the first JRPG I’d enjoyed since Final Fantasy X, hurray!
Now this is a collaborative piece, as I once more go head to head with my old time Blogger Blitz (created by the excellent Adventure Rules) rival (and vanquisher), the all-powerful Pix from Shoot the Rookie. We both got to the final in the tournament, which called for us to write fanfic pieces about our favourite gaming characters, and Pix came out the winner with her unstoppable Tokyo Mirage Sessions tag team, my poor Persona 5 pairing never stood a ruddy chance!
Still, it was a great honour to come second to such a powerful writer, and much was learned, including the fact that Pix is well into her JRPGs.So, what have we come up with, dear readers, to entice you further and even get you involved too?
Welcome, one and all, to the Great JRPG Character Face-Off 2020!
The goal is simple: to rate our top five JRPG characters, give infallible reasons why and see how they compare! We will also be asking you, dear listeners, to rate your top five JRPG stars too, be they stoic amnesiac warriors, pervy cowboys or even Meg Ryan lookalike dudes in weird dungarees!
So, without any further ado, let’s look at the best, the elite, the level 99 of JRPG characters…
Magus is a central character from 1995’s cult classic JRPG Chrono Trigger.
When our hero Chrono jumps through a malfunctioning teleporter to save Princess Marle, he ends of going back to his world’s medieval era, where he learns of a great war between Marle’s ancestors and the evil sorcerer, Magus, who uses an army of monsters to see to his nefarious deeds. The part also meets Frog, a brave knight turned into said animal my Magus’s magic who is out to vanquish the bad guy. As the gang jumps forward through time, to the bleak future, they learn that Magus summoned a world-ending being called Lavos, and see he must be stopped.
After storming his castle and seeing off his henchmen, Chrono and co finally go toe to toe with Magus, who fights with a scythe because he’s just that awesome. Upon his defeat, however, we learn that he wasn’t trying to summon Lavos at all, but rather trying to keep it at bay… and the heroes just messed it all up!
It’s worth mentioning that the dialogue leading up to the battle cannot be skipped, and instead is timed as this song builds up until it hits the crescendo and the battle begins, it’s epic!
From there, Chrono has a chance to convince the sorcerer to join them on their quest (he never left the party for me after that) and we learn a little more about him, his home land and how he ended up in the medieval times himself.
A deep, motivated and complex character (who looks ridiculously cool) the great Magus was definitely making this list.
Ah, Persona 5. It’s visually gorgeous, tells a fascinating story, has a kick ass soundtrack and, of course has some great characters.
The Phantom Thieves are a bunch of high school kids from Tokyo who, through a series of very unusual events, end up being able to travel to the “Metaverse”, and alternate dimension where twisted or evil people live out their manifest desires in “palaces”, essentially dungeons built around their particular nefarious goals and thoughts. It’s all super Freudian.
Anyway, I want to talk about one of the Thieves here, Ryuji.
He was the first friend that protagonist Joker made when he was transferred to Shujin Academy and never once wavers in his loyalty and courage. An ex runner on the school’s track team, he fell foul of the abusive PE teacher and ended up badly hurting his leg. Even worse, the rest of the track team blamed him when, as a result, they were binned off, to be replaced with volleyball instead.
Understnadably bitter, the boisterous, straight talking punk kid was ready to rock when the first Palace they ended up discovering was that very same teacher’s, revealing his abusive, perverted nature in all its awful glory and giving him a chance to “steal his heart”, taking a great treasure from the Metaverse version of the teacher in order to make him a better person in real life and admit his sins.
Even once this has been done, Ryuji’s unique, hyperactive charm never wavers, the Thieves meet new friends and take on new enemies, but there’s only one Ryuji!
He’s also obsessed with food, so I can definitely relate to that!
And now, dear readers, for something completely different.
Auron is a central character in Final Fantasy X, acting as protagonist Tidus’s mentor.
When star Blitzball player Tidus ends up transported to the strange world of Spira, he is surprised to find that his father’s friend Auron is there too (even though Auron kinda helped to make that happen), let alone the fact that he is known to many by reputation as a fierce warrior and guardian to the late Braska, a summoner sent to put a stop to the mighty Sin, a whale like monster that tours around the world trashing towns and killing people by the hundreds.
When Tidus ends up tagging along with Yuna, Braska’s daughter and the next summoner to take on Sin, he is soon joined by Auron on this quest for greatness.
So why do I love Auron? Well, number one, he’s a ronin, a samurai without a master (which is why he wears one arm out of its sleeve outside of battle, as per Japanese tradition). He’s also brutally honest with Tidus, often belittling him to get points across, fights like an absolute beast and wears cool sunglasses at all times, Albert Wesker style.
He also harbours one of the Final Fantasy series most fascinating backstories and secrets, though I shall not spoil that here!
Next we head to the classic medieval-fantasy world of Final Fantasy IX, a world of airships, black mages and, for such a cartoony looking game, a seriously dark tale of genocide, corruption and, er, body snatching?
Our (pervy) hero Zidane makes many friends along the way, austere knights, food obsessed… things (hi Quina) and beloved black mage klutzes, but my favourite among them all is Burmecia’s dragoon knight, Freya.
First off, she has to be one of Final Fantasy’s coolest looking characters, a ratlike humanoid with big, pointy bat ears and a tail, awesome! She’s also a dab-hand with a spear, strong willed and doesn’t appreciate being called “Ratchel” at any point. She’s also pretty handy in combat, her dragoon moveset and Jump skill (in which she leaves the lineup for a turn, only to crash back down and deliver a critical hit) being some of my favourite moves in the game.
Her motivation in life is simple, to search the world for hr lost love, the explorer and hero Sir Fratley and, even once Burmecia and Cleyra have been sacked and her people murdered in droves, she never gives up. What an absolutely aspirational heroine!
Who is Morgana? Morgana is the best, that’s who, the OG, the top dog (cat) of all JRPG characters!
Yes, this is Morgana – Persona 5‘s non-human guide to the Metaverse and all around snarky mentor figure. Joker and Ryuji first run into this strange, cat-like creature (who vehemently denies his feline nature) whilst trying to survive their first adventure into the Metaverse, freeing him from a cell in PE teacher Kamoshida’s Palace.
In return, he sticks with the gang, taking on the form of a black cat outside of the Metaverse, and helps them in their quest to make the world a better place by changing the hearts of bad, bad people. All he wants in return: the knowledge of where he came from and what he actually is, is he one of the Metaverse monsters, a human trapped in a strange body, or really a super powered cat? He has no idea!
In battle, Morgana is the team’s primary healer, dropping curative spells whilst dealing damage with swords almost as big as he is and his trusty slingshot. He can also, and here is the kicker, as no other JRPG character is capable of this as far as I know, transform into a vintage Citroen camper van! The team can sit inside him, readers, inside him, and he can transport them around!? Perfect!
As a general rule, I always turn off the voiceovers in JRPGs when I can, which is good because Morgana’s voice goes through me in this video!
Oh, he is also very strict when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, don’t even think of staying out late. He’s also obsessed with team member Ann, he is quite smitten with her and is most definitely her number one fan, which is very cute!
He does fall out with my number 4 choice, Ryuji a lot though!
And that, my dear, dear, readers, is my top 5! I spent days considering it and, much to my shock, not a single character from Final Fantasy VII made the list. Cid and Red XIII made the shortlist, but not quite sorry guys!
Please do read my collaboration partner Pix’s list too, I bet she’s got some absolutely cracking choices in there, seeing as how we were both Blogger Blitz finalists and all!
And one more thing… who are your choices for top five? Why not let Pix and I know via Twitter DM or email (my contacts page awaits!) and we will drop your mentions into a follow-up post on the 30th August! You could be FAMOUS!!!
(I sure hope someone picks Cait Sith, he was my close 6th place and is an underrated hero cat/toy/robot thing!)