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16 JRPGs that Influenced and Changed the Industry and Genre

  • Jul 31, 2009
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The JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) is a very popular genre... especially in the 90's and early millennium. We're going to look at ten JRPGs that pretty much changed the industry and influenced the genre. We're not talking about the BEST JRPGs, we're only talking about some that had large amounts of influence. Some of these games haven't even sold nearly as much, but their influence can often be seen. For those wondering, Zelda isn't here because it plays more like an adventure title than an actual RPG. It has lots of RPG elements, but it's mostly an Adventure title. This has always been debatable. Let's not mistake Zelda's influence because it's really huge. But I don't consider it to fall into the category of JRPG.
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In the year 2009, Final Fantasy VII is often attacked either by forces who weren't around in 1997 or by those who don't particularly like it's popularity. But if you actually DID play it in 1997 or 1998 then it's influence is undeniable. More than half of the JRPGs which came out for YEARS following Final Fantasy VII had Final Fantasy VII as an inspiration. This is the game that MADE the JRPG popular outside of Japan. Before it was such a little known genre people didn't even know there were six other Final Fantasy games before it, let alone that many of them didn't get a release. But Final Fantasy VII did more. It was one of the first games that truly made us accept the death of a main character. It's story is often cited as being far more mature than any Final Fantasy before it. Sure there are moments that can be a little iffy, but in 1997 we'd never seen anything like it. The reason it seems to get a lot of flack is because people compare it to the games of today... and that's unrealistic. No one expects a movie made in 1939 to compare to a movie made in 2009. The same should be true of video games. A game made in 1997 shouldn't have to compare to a game made in 2009. It's simply a game which made one of the biggest dents in gaming ever. Without Final Fantasy VII... one has to wonder how long it would be before the JRPG would ever be willing to take risks... or how long it would be before so many more outside of Japan discovered this genre. Love it or hate it, Final Fantasy VII did influence a lot. One last note: "Overrated" does not mean bad. We can say a lot of games are overrated, but no one ever seems to realize just what that word means...
See the full review, "One of the Greatest Games Ever Made".
Final Fantasy IV
If you're looking for a JRPG that really changed things, look no further than Final Fantasy IV.  Before Final Fantasy IV most characters were basically cardboard cutouts used to fill a specific role.  But Final Fantasy IV made sure that the importance of character development and motivation was well known... as well as being one of the first RPGs to pioneer that story was extremely important.  Final Fantasy IV single handedly pushed the RPG genre into territory we didn't think it could go.  It may not be as pretty as Final Fantasy VII or the latter games of the series, but what it did for the JRPG was basically give it life.  Without Final Fantasy IV it might've been a long time before we thought of RPGs as interactive novels.
See the full review, "The Final Fantasy to Make One of the Biggest Dents in the Series".
Dragon Quest III
Final Fantasy VII made a worldwide impact, Dragon Quest III made an impact in Japan. If you've never read: When a Dragon Quest game is released in Japan they encourage it be released on Sundays or Holidays. This is because releasing it on a normal day often causes kids to skip school and adults to skip work. Dragon Quest III is what made this possible. The Dragon Quest series as a whole is truly what jump started the JRPG. The third installment is often said to be the most influential of the NES era (although number IV is often said to be the best). To this day, Dragon Quest III is still an unusually popular game. In Famitsu some years ago, Japan voted this the third best game ever made... and that was in 2004! It's influence is still there in large numbers!
Pokemon Red
Ah, Pokemon. Is there any JRPG series that's been bigger worldwide than Pokemon? Nope. If you were there in 1998... and in middle school or elementary school, then you know how big this craze was (even though it isn't as big now). People who didn't even know what the hell a gameboy was... suddenly bought one. The idea of "catching them all," started here... before the TV show (in Japan the game was released in 1995). There have been a couple of games that you can see this coming through. Dragon Quest Monsters has a bit of influence. The Aeon vs. Aeon battles in Final Fantasy X have some influence (actually the Aeons period in Final Fantasy X) and of course... most RPGs specialize in this monster capturing stuff. All influenced by Pokemon. When a Pokemon game launches they're still big events. Even adults continue to play Pokemon. I was twelve when I first played Red and Blue versions. Ten years later I still play Pokemon! But the first in the series are perhaps the most influential.
Here's a little known fact about Tales of Phantasia. It originally debuted in December of 1994 in Japan. It hit the United States for the first time in 2006. This was a Super Famicom game. So why is it so high up on this list? Two words: Voice Acting. Seriously. Tales of Phantasia was the first game to have clear voice acting. The Super Famicom could do that... the Super Nintendo? Well, not really. It's also one of the first JRPGs to showcase a lot of dark themes. In the beginning an entire village is ransacked, burned down and the denizens killed. Rumor has it this is why the game didn't come to the states in 1995. Who knows. But it was the first time we saw voice acting (including a song which was on Japanese Pop Charts). It was also the first time a battle system was set in real time. Instead of having turn based combat or active time battle stuff, players actually moved the character around and committed strikes on their own. Over the years the Tales series has improved it's battle system (with Tales of the Abyss being the best), but Tales of Phantasia probably furthered battling in an RPG at a time when most times battling could feel sluggish because of sifting through lots of menus.
I have to preface this choice. Why is it not XenoGEARS some of you might ask. Well, let's talk about that. Xenogears was huge. In fact, without Xenogears there'd be no Xenosaga. Xenogears was a very big title. And it does have influence, but there's something HUGE that Xenosga does for the JRPG that very few JRPGs even today don't do quite as well as this one. And it's something I feel gives it the edge over Xenogears. That's the fact that of all the JRPGs out there, Xenosaga is a cinematic masterpiece! Sure, there are times when you could be sitting around for like... an hour before actually playing, but notice how the cutscenes really come to life. Look at the movement and facial expressions of the characters. Watch as they actually walk around and commit more actions. That's not something you got a whole lot of in Final Fantasy X. You got cut scenes but the characters were still, for the most part, quite wooden. Final Fantasy X still needed flashy FMVs to make it's cinematics come alive. Xenosaga didn't need that. It's already there. If it weren't for the fact that we were playing a video game, we'd probably be convinced we were watching an anime. This is how lively these cinematics are. To this VERY day, few JRPGs take cinematics as seriously as Xenosaga did.
Final Fantasy Tactics
Despite Final Fantasy Tactics dropping down in January of 1998 the Tactical RPG genre didn't really become popular for years after it's release. As a result, the first Final Fantasy Tactics was quite complex and quickly forgotten until it's re-release. But in terms of its influence, Final Fantasy Tactics may be one of the most influential tactical RPGs of all time. It owes just about all of that to its job system which made using characters really fun and exciting. With so many different jobs there are so many different ways to customize each character. Combine that with the fact that they DO have their own unique abilities as well and Final Fantasy Tactics really is a fascinating experience. It's story takes on several dark and political themes that some RPGs are still a little scared to tackle. Of course, there have been a few other Final Fantasy Tactics games that came by after that were never as good, but did improve on the number of jobs out there in Tactics land. Yet Final Fantasy Tactics is well known for being one of the driving Tactical RPGs!
See the full review, ""If William Shakespeare Made a Game..."".
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There are quite a few Final Fantasy Titles on this list, but none are quite as important as Final Fantasy VI. While Final Fantasy VII is the golden standard of influence, people often forget that Final Fantasy VI completely changed the scope of the 16-bit RPG. It has a very deep story as well as fourteen playable characters (two of which are hidden). For Final Fantasy in particular, Final Fantasy VI really pushes the envelope. And it does so without fancy CGI cutscenes or awesome voice acting. And with it's large cast the characters all have a lot of unique personality. At the time of its release in 1994 it was often labeled as "The Perfect RPG" because it combined so many different elements so well. It is because of Final Fantasy VI that Square felt they had to work as hard on Final Fantasy VII as they did. Here we get characters who care and love one another and an opera scene that will blow your mind. Who'd have thought so much could be conveyed with 16-bit graphics? It doesn't end there. More so than any other RPG before it, Final Fantasy VI really showcases what it means to have an epic ending. 21 minutes long! And it's done WITHOUT CGI and flashy graphics. Safely to say: Final Fantasy VI was perhaps the most influential RPG of the 16-bit era. Well... unless you want to look at one of its competitors...
See the full review, "The Finest Fantasy of Them All".
Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is often referred to as the greatest RPG of the 16-bit era. More often than not however it consist of the legendary "Dream Team". There's Yuji Horii (Creator Dragon Quest), Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy) and Akira Toriyama (character designer for Dragon Ball). These three came together and created Chrono Trigger. The adventure centered on a bunch of teenagers going through time and finding out how to save a future they'll never be a part of. It's mysterious and unique and has a good story overall. Yet it was also short. Very short. You can beat it in less than a dozen hours. How to compensate... well, first there was the New Game+. Chrono Trigger was one of the first to do it... and video games have been running off with New Game+ ever since. Resident Evil, Metal Gear, Legend of Mana, Disgaea etc. etc. have been using the New Game+ for quite some time, but before they were, Chrono Trigger was doing it. And yes, they've been really pushing it. But there are also multiple endings in Chrono Trigger. And while this was nothing new even when Chrono Trigger came around (other games had multiple endings) Chrono Trigger had you able to do it in more different ways. The game which often credits its multiple endings to Chrono Trigger the most is Star Ocean. Chrono Trigger's battle system was also influential at the time by giving everyone unique abilities and then giving them the chance to combine them...
See the full review, "A Timeless Classic".
The Persona series as a whole is often overlooked, but when it comes down to it, there are few RPGs that push storytelling and mature themes quite like Persona. I know what you're thinking "What else does it do?" Well, I think it's very important that there is a JRPG out there which is willing to go above and beyond. It not only does a spectacular job developing characters, but the story is so amazing and deep that very few RPGs can compare. Throughout the last few years, the JRPG has become a sort of childish indulgence. By that I mean, RPGs like Final Fantasy VII and Xenogears/Xenosaga are being passed over for RPGs with whiney children (the only ones of which are any good are those Tales games). Persona goes back to that golden era where RPGs weren't usually about whining protagonist or anything like that. Part of what makes Persona so influential is that it shows that the line still hasn't been crossed. There's a maturity that the JRPG hasn't achieved since the days of the late 90's (and Xenosaga). That is to say it seems to think it's audience is mostly comprised of emotional teenagers... this is hardly the case and Persona manages to showcase that the JRPG can be more.
Tactics Ogre
This is a special little game. It's no where near as known as it could be. Before creating Final Fantasy Tactics: Hitoshi Sakimoto created Tactics Ogre. While it isn't as deep as Final Fantasy Tactics... it was the game which showed us Final Fantasy Tactics was entirely possible. It's story is enticing... full of all the political themes that Sakimoto is known for. Beyond that, when the game came out you really couldn't find a better Tactical RPG. Without Tactics Ogre there would be no Final Fantasy Tactics, and Atlus wouldn't be releasing nearly half of their Tactical RPGs they've got now!
Grandia is a little known gem, but there is one thing about it which people are always going on about it for: The Battle System. The battle system is a very important part of the RPG and twelve years later... Grandia still has what is said to be the most complex battle system. In fact, Grandia is one of the few RPGs that has a reputation based off its battle system alone! The games almost never sell well, but the first game in particular has a strong following, many of whom cite the battle system as the reason to play. Like the Tales series, you have a few games that try to emulate it too. It doesn't always work out, but once again it shows that even the simplest things in an RPG can be influential.
See the full review, "Absolutely Grand".
Final Fantasy X is one of the most favorite of the series. In Famitsu they voted this the greatest game ever made in Japan. But what's the influence on the JRPG? Well, in terms of story, Final Fantasy X became a modern day example of how to do it. So much so that many JRPGs following really tried to emulate much of what Final Fantasy X did. The battle system has often been a favorite in the RPG community and went on to influence that Lord of the Rings RPG (its gameplay was more or less a replica of Final Fantasy X). But it's influence is probably even better seen by the likes of Wild Arms 4 and 5. Its sphere grid went on to inspire the License Board in Final Fantasy XII and the Revelations Board in Rogue Galaxy. The battle system probably still stands as the strongest influence, but in the mid 2000's Final Fantasy X was by far one of the most powerful driving forces for the JRPG.
See the full review, "One of the Finest Fantasy Games Out There".
Wild Arms. Here I've cited Alter Code F, but really, it's just the first one. Remember how we talked about Final Fantasy VII at the start? Well, most of us didn't know how the RPG would transition to the Playstation. Wild Arms showed us how. Wild Arms, in particular was influenced mostly by the Super Nintendo classic: Final Fantasy VI. Wild Arms proved just how the JRPG could be done. Despite Final Fantasy VII making the dent, it was Wild Arms that paved the way for Final Fantasy VII to become a huge icon in the first place.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
It seems odd to include the cult classic tactical RPG here. But I include it because it has a weird sense of humor and because it has puzzle elements that people are really starting to pay attention to. While the third game doesn't really get much acclaim or attention for... well... anything, the first game gave us a very different perspective about the JRPG, especially in the tactical realm. In fact, it's one of the games that started showing everyone that the tactical RPG can be quite interesting. With its geo symbols and interesting take on the job system, it can be quite a unique experience. Since Disgaea came around, Atlus in particular has been experimenting with Tactical RPGs. Did Disgaea really start pushing people to really see how to experiment with the SRPG? Who knows. But it certainly plays a vital role.
Valkyria Chronicles Boxart
Valkyria Chronicles is the most recent on this list. It's last, however, because at the moment we can't say how it's influence will be. But in 2008 when it came out, finding an RPG so completely original it was hard. As gaming ages, coming up with new innovative gameplay styles becomes harder. But Valkyria Chronicles IS that game that is very original. Especially in the year 2008 when it was released. It's hard to say how its gameplay will be influential but they're talks about a sequel. But why it's so unique is because it combines Western Real Time Strategy, with Japanese Turn Based Strategy. And it works very well. Almost flawlessly. The enemy AI can be grating, but for this "experiment" it went off almost perfectly. I'm confident that more SRPGs will take inspiration from Valkyria Chronicles in the future. But until that happens I can only really place it down here for the time being.
See the full review, "A Deep and Enriching Experience".

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December 11, 2009
nice one, Sean. Although I have to admit I haven't played like half of these titles. Loved your # 1!
About the list creator
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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