The Japanese Role-Playing Game genre is my go to for gaming. It might have something to do with my love for reading at a young age, or being slow paced enough for me not to fumble my controller. I just enjoy experiencing stories, learning each game’s combat rather it’s turned-based or in real time, and just losing myself (hopefully) in the world. I’m getting to the point in life where I can’t spend 60+ hours on one game anymore, but I try to find ways to tackle the many JRPGs that I haven’t finished as best as I can.
In 2020, Pix1001 and Craig Rathbone (Winst0lf) collaborated to bring us the Great JRPG Character Face-Off! This was an event to vote for our favorite characters from any JRPG. With thousands of options, it was fairly easy for me to decide which characters I enjoyed the most out of all the games that I’ve played. This year, they have up the ante and presented the Great JRPG Showdown. This was surprisingly easier than my character choices. There was still some heartache when choosing my top 5, but at the end of the day I feel confident in my response. So without further ado, here are my choices for the Great JRPG Showdown!
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
I wouldn’t say that I’m the biggest Dragon Quest fan. The games are fun enough if you are in the mood for a classic JRPG and some can be an instant classic for some. At this point I have only played four games in the series being Dragon Quest 7, 9, 11, and of course Dragon Quest 8. I remember my brother borrowing this game from a friend and finding it difficult at some points. I would watch him and help him along the way as best as I could. One day I just decided to pick the controller up myself and finished the game before he did.
I became captivated by the world and story that the game presents. There were lots of twists and turns that kept the adventure alive, and the intense fights that I faced kept pushing me to come up with new strategies. Dragon Quest VIII follows the protagonist and his group on a quest to defeat an evil court jester named Dhoulmagus. Dhoulmagus has put a curse upon the kingdom of Trodian, turning the king into a troll and the princess into a horse. The plot seems simple, but the heroes find themselves battling more than just a clown’s evil schemes.
I think that’s why I like this game so much. The fun but difficult enemies were fun to fight, the characters were memorable, and up to that point I had not played another game like it. Finishing this game may have been a turning point in my life since it was one of the most challenging games that I had finished (I didn’t have enough points in my courage stat). It pushed me to start looking at other “tough” games and start using my brain more than just running away from all of my problems. Video games were teaching me better life lessons than school ever did.
Tales of Symphonia
Of course I was going to include my favorite game of all time. Tales of Symphonia felt like a masterpiece when I played it for the first time in the mid 2000s. It was one of the first games I played that made me believe that video games were just as good at telling a story like books and film.
Tales of Symphonia follows the journey of Lloyd Irving as he helps his friend, Colette, become the new Chosen of the world. You finish the journey in the first 10-15 hours, and then the real quest begins after that. What follows are great twists and revelations that most games fail to deliver since they are easy to see coming. I don’t want to spoil this 17 year old game for anyone who hasn’t played it. It goes on sale on Steam for like $5 often, so you have no excuse to play it (unless you don’t have a PC…)!
Persona 4 Golden
Persona 5 is a damn good game. If the Persona series wasn’t popular enough, the fifth entry brought it to the top. While I enjoyed the game and the joys of rebellion, my favorite Persona game will always be Persona 4 Golden.
The thing I like the most about Persona 4 is the theme. Pursuing your true self. At a young age I struggled with my identity and how I wanted others to see me. I was a quiet, timid person who didn’t have a lot to say or things to really bring to the conversation (some things hardly change…). I used to hate being myself around people since it’s hard being a nerdy black guy in an area where you are either in a pretend gang or a good ‘ol southern child. I didn’t fit in anywhere except for the band room and my confidence stat was undeveloped. I’m not going to say Persona 4 changed things around for me, but it did start helping me understand that it is okay to be me if I’m true to myself. To this day, I know exactly who I am and what that means. I refuse to just blindly follow the same thing that the people around me believe, and instead choose to follow what I believe in my heart. I’m [REDIACT] and I am no longer afraid to be who I am.
Oh yeah. The whole mystery murder story is great. Yes Yosuke and Teddy can be annoying, but that’s life. Not everyone that you meet is going to be a respectable citizen with high morals. Both characters have good qualities about them, but you also have to acknowledge the flawed parts of their character. Let’s see what else. I did not guess who the murderer was the first time playing until the final hints. Everyday’s great at your Junes. I will murder anyone who tries to hurt Nanako again. Anyone.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
I am a recent fan of the Legend of Heroes games. I may be at the end of the Cold Steel Saga, but I already have the Sky trilogy ready to go and now the Crossbell games are officially coming this year and next. That is a lot of games to play, but I’m committed since this has been one of the best series I have ever played.
Trails of Cold Steel follows the trials of Class 7, a group of students at Thors Military Academy. While the main plot focuses on Rean Schwarzer, the whole cast of Class 7 have equal importance to the story and help make this series so great (and a pain to complete). Every character is important to the story even if it is just for backstory notes. Just when you think you are done with a side character in the first game, they magically come back in the final game and reveal they have been helping you in the background. It’s the type of character development that you like to see the main cast go through, but you see it for every character introduced. Sure it gets overbearing to try and remember each important main and side character you meet, but that is where the character notes section in your journal comes in handy.
Outside of that, the combat system is one of my favorites. You are able to fully maximize a character’s strengths using the game’s orbital system or challenge yourself and make them the opposite to what they are meant to be (kinda like the materia system from Final Fantasy 7 but fleshed out way more). My favorite characters and setups have to be Elliot, Emma, and Kurt. Elliot is designed to be a healer and support character. With his master quartz, he is able to restore more health using basic healing spells at a reduced cost. If you give him the right set up, You can fully restore anyone using the base level healing spell and reduce his delay time. Emma can use powerful spells and with the right setup, not only can she cast the most powerful magic at a reduced cost, but she can make them critical hits and restore her magic points with each hit. Kurt is my new favorite. He starts off with a master quartz that makes him deal critical damage for each attack he evades. If you find the right equipment to raise his evasion to 100%, you can send him to the front lines and let him deal well over 10,000 to anyone who tries to hit him. The system can be broken if you know how you want to develop your characters and that makes going into battles so much fun.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
There were a lot of games that I could have chosen as my number five pick. I ultimately decided to go with this game since it was the very first JRPG that I ever played. Some would call Super Mario RPG one of the greatest JRPGs right there next to Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. I am in the camp that it is not a game I go back to often, but it is a really good game. This was another game that I would watch my older brother play. I remember during some of the boss fights, we would select our attack and then run out of the room because we were scared our attack wouldn’t finish the boss (don’t do that there are reaction inputs). Out of all of the games on this list, this is the only game that I have never finished, but I have played it so many times that it feels weird to ever think about seeing the end.
The story is the same old Mario flair. Mario goes to beat up Bowser for kidnapping Princess Peach (Toadstool in this game), but is interrupted when a giant sword falls onto Bowser’s Castle. From there, Mario learns about the Smithy Gang, a bunch of weapon themed enemies that are trying to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. During the invasion, the Star Road is destroyed and seven stars fall onto the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s up to Mario and Co. to gather the stars so that people’s wishes can come true again and defeat the Smithy Gang from taking over. It is a story that fits in the Mario universe and sadly something unique that we will never see again.
Ok. I’m going to go ahead and say it and you can all hate me later. Geno is an overrated character. Besides looking “cool,” having cool attacks, and a cool blue cape, there is nothing interesting about the guy. He has no development. He is just a star warrior who takes the body of a doll and helps Mario so that he can repair the Star Road. That is all to his character and he gets replaced quickly by Bowser. I understand the cool factor about his character, but I don’t think he is worth all the praise people are willing to give him. That’s my opinion and if you want to fight about it, come find me on the streets.
And those are my choices for The Great JRPG Showdown. Thank you again to Pix1001 and Chris for hosting an awesome event! Tune in next time where at least one of my picks will be different.