Read Pix’s companion piece here!
An Important Statement: So, something weird happened. Somehow I fudged the numbers on this post and poor Final Fantasy VI, aka the game where a burly man can suplex an evil train, missed out on a gong! While not the biggest controversy at an awards ceremony lately, this did make me do a little sad!
Final Fantasy VI should have come joint third, bloody Persona 4 stole its spot, which is a shame because I love me some Final Fantasy VI! It’s got the perfect blend of fantasy and science fiction, Magitek armour, a massive cast of characters (including a nasty purple octopus called Ultros and Kefka, who is probably the best villain in the series) and, of course, a top tier Uematsu soundtrack… Terra’s Theme, wow!
So yeah… sorry about that! Now, back to the original piece…
So, after three solid weeks of voting by you, our lovely audience, the judge’s panel finally has what it came for – a box full of ballot cards containing everybody’s top five JRPG titles of all time!
But before we unveil these true heroes of the genre let’s have a little reminder of how we reached this point and what exactly it is that all of you lovely people were voting for in the first place, shall we?
The Great JRPG Showdown is something of a sequel piece to 2020’s community event The Great JRPG Character Face-Off, the brainchild of Pix of Shoot the Rookie, aka Scotland’s most powerful anime fan and gamer, and me, some bumbling oaf from northern England who likes video games. Now, we don’t want to boast about that last event, but we think it may have weakened COVID19 enough to take it down with a few limit breaks… or vaccines, maybe? Where is this even going?
ANYWAY, the trophy for the greatest Japanese Role Playing Game character went to Persona 5‘s Ryuji, which was a total shock result for me! While the hotheaded track champion and heart stealer was on my list there was just no way I could have called that win, what a ruddy shock! Ryuji deserved the win though, he captured the hearts of you, our voting audience, and that is pretty damn awesome! Final Fantasy X‘s Auron was on his heels in second, followed by fellow stoic swordsman Frog from Chrono Trigger in third.
So, in the year of our Lord 2022, we formulated a cunning sequel – why not get your opinions on not just the best JRPG character… but the best JRPG full stop!?
Well, first of all, thank you so much for your engagement and the excellent conversations that went on during the voting process! We had threads on Twitter, amazing blog entries, all sorts and we are super grateful for each and every one of them! While I was running around grinding levels IRL to beat the stress of a promotion at work (apparently I can’t reduce my actual boss’s HP to zero, it’s illegal) Pix heroically forged ahead, casting Haste on herself to get all the results in! It truly was quite a feat, and Pix deserve a gold Chocobo for doing it!
Anyway, having popped a megalixir I was back in the fight, just in time to count up the votes and work out the final numbers; to see exactly what you, our excellent friends, decreed to be, in no small terms, the greatest game in the JRPG genre!
So… let us begin by announcing the winner… which is…
FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE!?!?
April Fools (from eight days ago)! It wasn’t really Tetsuya Nomura’s filler-fest, I was just pulling your leg! Stealing your ethers! Casting Beserk on you all! I’ll stop now, sorry. Let’s go to the real winner… by way of third and second places…
3. Persona 4/Final Fantasy VIII/Final Fantasy IX
So, let me get this right… third place is a freaking three-way draw? And two of my votes are in there? Whaaaat!? Where does this humble writer even begin to pick this madness apart?
Well, Persona 4 I guess! I played a fair chunk of this game on the ill-fated PlayStation Vita, back when I had one of those and didn’t trade it in for my Switch and I did enjoy my time with it… until I didn’t. I can’t even explain why after all this time, perhaps the randomly generated dungeons put me off a bit. Or maybe it’s because I just wasn’t very good at it?
So yes, I can’t say I stuck with Persona 4 to the end, but I can still vouch for its quality. Atlus is really good at crafting a good anime-centric high school story and the cast and setting of Persona 4 are proof of that just as much as Joker and co in the 2016 sequel. The characters are great, especially Shae the martial arts movie buff, she had some fantastic dialogue throughout the game and was a loyal friend and badass fighter to boot. Must say though, I didn’t like Teddy very much, I found him deeply irritating in fact! Morgana was about five thousand times better, not even exaggerating.
The visuals and music are also what one would expect from an Atlus game, so expect lots of colour, stylish menus and some of the most memorable music in video games. It also has a similar combat system to that seen in 5, as well as the same time-of-day structure and jumping between worlds that anyone who’s played that game can come to expect. So give it a whirl, maybe you’ll get on with those random dungeons better than I did.
Crazily two of my top five drew for third as well, Final Fantasy entries VIII and IX to be precise!
Yep, two-thirds of the series’ PlayStation era made it to third and, while I was expecting to see the ninth instalment somewhere up here, it is something of a shock to see the adventures of Squall and friends make it too, especially with VIII being super divisive among the fanbase.
But I loved Final Fantasy VIII from the moment I got my hands on a bootleg copy of it back in high school. Sure, the combat was easily exploitable and some of the story beats were all over the place (looking at you, Master NORG) but overall it really captivated me. The graphics were phenomenal for the time, the score is easily one of the series’ best and I actually got on with the characters, even Squall himself, though he can be a salty toad at times to be sure. This seems like a very good opportunity for me to reach out to the internet and shout “PLAY THIS GAME!”… you won’t regret it!
Then there is the following game, the entry that steered the series away from its increasing sci-fi trappings and right back to basics in a fantasy setting. The visuals were as polished as VIII and the soundtrack worked just as hard to transport the player into the place, and moment, the screen depicted. IX also saw a return to the series’ more traditional combat system, albeit with some interesting quirks, and also introduced us to a series of vignettes following the story’s other characters while exploring towns and other places of interest. These easily missable sections add some hilarious story elements too, like Vivi and Quina having to get married.
Both of these Final Fantasy games absolutely deserve to be part of this award ceremony, and maybe they deserve second place… but then they’re up against…
2. Persona 5/Chrono Trigger
Wow, another tie? Clearly we JRPG fans just find it too hard to choose our favourite games, eh?
Let’s start with Atlus’s mind-bending epic Persona 5, shall we? First released on the PlayStation 4 in 2016, this game reached meteoric levels of popularity in pretty short order, taking on some true giants of the genre in the hall of fame – as we can clearly see here! The game is very anime stylistically and has some very adult themes as it follows the story of the Phantom Thieves, a bunch of high school kids in Tokyo who find that they can change the hearts of the world’s villains by entering an alternate world, the Metaverse (not the Zuckerberg thing) where they can fight the inner incarnations of these people to essentially reprogram them. It’s an insane premise that somehow works, tapping into that twisted content that anime can deliver so well.
The story is backed up by some solid gameplay too. Dungeons are varied and complex, combat is traditional, good old-fashioned JRPG style (something Square Enix has been too afraid to go back to for years) the visuals are vivid and eye-catching and the music is incredible to boot.
It’s also the only game where a talking cat makes you go to bed at a sensible hour, so beat that.
And that brings me on to 1995’s classic JRPG, and top rival to Persona 5 for your hearts, Chrono Trigger!
This was a non-Final Fantasy game developed by Squaresoft for the Super Nintendo by a real dream team of JRPG visionaries, all of which burned the candle at both ends to make this masterpiece. The game’s composer Yasunori Mitsuda actually made himself so unwell working on this game that legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu had to step in to help out! That’s the level of passion that went into this game!
So what happens when master artists collaborate? They create one hell of a JRPG, that’s what. Chrono Trigger is about a red-haired boy called Crono who, after a fateful day at the village fair, finds himself thrown back in time to medieval times where he must rescue his new friend from the clutches of an evil sorcerer called Magus. But it doesn’t end there, as our heroes follow this by visiting the post-apocalyptic future, prehistory and even the end of time itself as the stakes rise and, suddenly, old Magus isn’t the biggest problem anymore.
Chrono Trigger was different to other Squaresoft games at the time, with enemies visibly patrolling the dungeons and several smaller overworlds instead of a single world map. It also had a killer soundtrack and some really cool combat quirks, allowing the varied range of characters to perform combos on the bad guys for massive damage.
Chrono Trigger has become an unstoppable cult classic since its release and with very good reason, give it a try you maniacs!
THE WINNER: Final Fantasy VII
As it turns out, the real winner was the game that inspired one of the most divisive video game remakes of all time, Final Fantasy VII!
As it happens, this was also my number one vote, so I guess you could say that my single vote is what made it win! Anyway, let’s not focus on that right now, you Persona fans can crucify me later, I promise. For now, let us celebrate Squaresoft’s 1997 masterpiece and talk about how it may have pulled off the win, albeit with a very, very narrow margin.
Reading into the history of Final Fantasy VII and talking to fellow fans has really just cemented my suspicions as to why it is so beloved. One huge reason was, I think, timing. VII was the first game in the series to be released on a 32bit system, as it was exclusive to the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo lost their exclusivity rights as Squaresoft needed the game to have more storage than Nintendo’s cartridges could provide. The PlayStation’s CD format was more manageable, even if the game had to be split across three of them!
The PlayStation contributed to VII‘s success in another way. On its release the grey box was a game-changer, offering what was, at the time, groundbreaking 3D graphics and presentation, improved audio quality and a lot more grunt than either the Sega Mega Drive or Super Nintendo could provide. It took the world by storm and soon picked up a massive user base, meaning that, for many gamers (including myself), Final Fantasy VII was their first experience playing a JRPG. The power of nostalgia is all-conquering my friends, playing this game takes me back to being twelve years old around my friend’s house, jaw on the floor at how immersive and technical this game was!
But saying that Final Fantasy VII won on just being in the right place at the right time would be a little insulting, wouldn’t it? For this is an excellent game in its own right. The visuals (at the time, anyway), the score, that twisting story, the characters, the battle system, those memorable scenes… this game had it all and knew exactly what to do with them. Nobuo Uematsu’s musical genius is firing on all cylinders in this game, not even the Playstation’s inbuilt sound chip can cheapen his work as each track fits the scene so perfectly. Backgrounds are full of detail and look beautiful, the combat flows back and forth like some mad game of chess… perfection!
And who can forget the story? Amnesiac ex-SOLDIER Cloud, his childhood friend Tifa and the mysterious Aeris, the evil Shinra corporation killing the world for cheap power and, of course, everyone’s favourite super-edgelord himself Sephiroth, hatching a mad plot to become a literal god (classic Final Fantasy villain then!) with the aid of a long-dormant alien/deity thing, Jenova.
So yes, I do wholeheartedly agree that Final Fantasy VII deserves the win. Not only are you all beautiful people, but you are also clever too!
And, just like Cloud facing Sephiroth in the blackness of the void, we have ended the competition with a mighty limit break. Working with Pix once again has been a joy, as has reading all of your votes, reasoning and blog pieces on the subject of your favourite JRPGs of all time. Though many entered, only one left.
Well done Final Fantasy VII! The original, not that remake thing…