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#1 Posted by redcream (866 posts) -

I am a fan of JRPGs as I love power leveling my way to victory but ever since I've grown old a bit, I find myself getting tired of all the world saving narrative all of them seem to have. Dragon Quest 8 is excellent but the characters are what drives the story rather than the plot itself which is, same goes for Persona 4 and 5. I love those games to death but all of them have this "teenagers aided by older people/magical creatures to become a hero of the world" type of deal. I'm not saying it's always a bad thing and writers could certainly play around it but it is all too often used as an easy way to give importance to the journey.

So are there any other great JRPGs not about saving the world? And what's the best story, regardless of whether or not it uses the same, tired narrative structure? Suikoden 5 comes to mind but let me what you guys think.

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#2 Posted by Zeik (5170 posts) -

Since you mentioned Suikoden 5 I assume you've played Suikoden 2 already, but if not, get on that asap.

This is a highly subjective subject, but if you're just looking for non-traditional JRPGs that aren't about saving the world that's a little easier. The Legend of Heroes series (Trails in the Sky, Trails of Cold Steel) mostly falls into that category, in a similar way to Suikoden, where it's more about local territory conflicts between countries than saving the world from evil.

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#3 Posted by Seeric (329 posts) -

It's not the best story and it's still ultimately about saving the world, but Dragon Quest 5 felt really refreshing. I loved that it spans a (by RPG standards) long stretch of time where you follow a single character across their life. I also like how the earlier portions of the game simply involve the main character trying to live their life and settle down rather than actively seeking to right the world's wrongs or get revenge on the villain.

There's also a fantastic obscure PC JRPG called Demon King Chronicle. It's hard to explain exactly what it's about and a lot of details concerning its plot and characters deliberately leave some room for interpretation, but the best way I can think to describe it is that it's "a story about the nature of stories". It has stories within stories, stories about characters telling stories, and attempts to address how we shape stories and are in turn shaped by them. I'm probably making it sound more obtuse than it actually is (though it's not exactly straightforward either), but I'd strongly recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of stuff.

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#4 Posted by Fezrock (663 posts) -

I'm also super tired of the "teens saving the world" trope, and yet I still think Final Fantasy Tactics has the best story. It helps that most of the characters aren't teens, and that the world saving only shows up near the end; the vast, vast majority of the game is about a country falling apart.

Also, Xenosaga 1 & 2 (I actually like them more than Xenogears) have a great story and are more about unraveling the mysteries of the universe than trying to save it. Things fall apart a bit in Xenosaga 3, and there is universe saving by that point, but the journey until then is so good.

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#5 Posted by mach_go_go_go (204 posts) -

Earthbound.

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#6 Edited by BBAlpert (2864 posts) -

I don't remember too much about the specifics of the story myself, but I think I've heard really positive things about FF9's use of a cute fantasy setting to talk about heavy shit like the ethics (or lack thereof) of superpower governments maintaining and using WMDs in a post 9/11 world.

Edit: I guess it was "in a PRE 9/11 world" I must have been thinking of.

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#7 Posted by Ungodly (434 posts) -

I always thought Chrono Trigger had a great story. Yeah it’s a simiple ‘Save the world from a horrible monster’ plot, but the way everything comes together was interesting, and the individual character moments were also great.

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#8 Edited by Efesell (4002 posts) -

Hrm... snap decision makes me wanna say Trails in the Sky.

A part of the young me still wants to say Xenogears or something but I saw that game again recently and I just can't.

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#9 Posted by TheRealTurk (342 posts) -

@bbalpert said:

I don't remember too much about the specifics of the story myself, but I think I've heard really positive things about FF9's use of a cute fantasy setting to talk about heavy shit like the ethics (or lack thereof) of superpower governments maintaining and using WMDs in a post 9/11 world.

That would be a hell of a trick, given the game came out in 2000.

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#11 Posted by imhungry (1066 posts) -

Suikoden 2 got mentioned already so that's good. As far as good JRPGs without plots focused on saving the world the one that jumps to mind is The World Ends with You, though this is still very much about magical teens. It's got some great character development and a fascinating unraveling of the world it build though. Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is also a pretty great story about war and all the dark things that come along with it. It did some pretty cool stuff for the time with branching narratives and such, haven't played it in a long time though so I don't know how it holds up.

Vagrant Story would probably be a pain to play today but is also another political story, though with the inclusion of magic that might veer it into saving the world territory. I guess if you count P5 as being a game about saving the world then this would be too. Ultimately, I don't really have an answer to either question since I've never really understood the notion of evaluating plot and characters as separate.

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#12 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8631 posts) -

I'll add another vote for Suikoden 2. I'm also very fond of Final Fantasy X's story, as well as Trails in the Sky 2.

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#13 Posted by eladren (348 posts) -

Dan Ryckert's life

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#14 Posted by SethMode (1663 posts) -

@eladren: Nah, too easy. Sure, there are some bumps here and there but most of the time you hit for critical no matter what you do or how prepared you are.

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#15 Posted by Pilgrimm1981 (130 posts) -

I'll say Shadow Hearts and it's sequel Covenant for the PS2.

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#16 Posted by mackgyver (806 posts) -

This is an older SNES JRPG but Terranigma has an awesome story which involves the playable character being sent by evil, but ultimately, you end up destroying evil. Definitely give it a try.

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#17 Posted by oldenglishc (1533 posts) -

I'll say Shadow Hearts and it's sequel Covenant for the PS2.

This is my choice too. It's a love story for the ages all set in an alternative retelling of WWI filled with actual figures from history and dick demons.

Phantasy Star VII is a close second.

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#18 Posted by GrayFox666 (147 posts) -
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#19 Posted by Teddie (2081 posts) -

I'd probably go with Nier and Nier Automata at the absolute top, their base stories and characters are engaging enough as-is, but utilizing the medium to further the storytelling works incredibly well with the stuff Yoko Taro wants to talk about.

FFIX is great with the way it discusses mortality, and has such charming and fully-developed characters by the end of it. It's also directed by a man celebrating his history with the franchise, so everything about it is overflowing with passion in a way the series really hasn't had since.

Persona 4 is a pretty formative game for me considering I played it when I was the same age as the characters, but I'd still say the murder mystery holds its own as an intriguing story for the majority of the game, helped by the fact that JRPGs don't really do murder mysteries as central plotlines.

Tales of Berseria is a weird one, because a lot of it isn't great (especially if we're talking level design, oh boy), but the ways it counters the usual JRPG tropes by being a revenge quest with a bunch of misfit anti-heroes as your party members was fun the whole way through.

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#20 Posted by Tesla (2275 posts) -

It's gotta be Chrono Trigger. It's interesting without being a convoluted mess like every other JRPG story. There are plenty of other JRPG stories that I enjoy, but Chrono Trigger is the only one I feel like I could summarize for a non-gamer without feeling like a rambling lunatic.

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#21 Posted by Vookatos (21 posts) -

I don't really like most jRPGs because they rely heavily on anime tropes, which, if we go further than SNES era, usually means hot springs and boob jokes along with pretty samey characters, so, honestly, the only ones I liked are Nintendo-made RPGs like Mario ones and MOTHER. Ni No Kuni was also quite charming, going to pick up the sequel soon.

Still, I think my favorite video game story is MOTHER 3. I quite like well-executed tonal whiplashes, and that game can go from heartwrenching to hilarious in a minute. While its satire is pretty weak, I really like its criticism of capitalism, and the fact that it tries to not be black-and-white with its themes.

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#22 Posted by nutter (1505 posts) -

I think I’ve only completed two proper JRPGs in my life:

Final Fantasy 1

Phantasy Star 4

I couldn’t begin to tell you the plot of either.

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#23 Edited by Ravelle (3247 posts) -

Star Ocean 2 is one of my favorites, Bravely Default's also really good.

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#24 Posted by BBAlpert (2864 posts) -
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#25 Posted by BladedEdge (1275 posts) -

Well, the answer to the topic is very clearly Xenogears, followed by Lunar 2, or so my nostalgia says. With special mention of Lunar 1 because of that song, which still exists on my play-list in 2018.

But "its subjective" is more or less right. And both of those fit squarely in the 'teenagers save the world' trope, I just don't happen to mind that at all.

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#26 Edited by soimadeanaccount (588 posts) -

I am still clinging onto Xenogears, Xenosaga is also up there if I want to be ever slightly more logical about it.

Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts 2 is another pair...if we want to talk about an actual complete game

I have a hard time separating if I actually like Persona 4's story or just its amazing cast of characters. In some way Persona 3 story might actually be better, but the cast is no where as close. Persona 5 is interesting, but I think falls apart near the end. One of these days I want to sort them out for myself.

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#28 Edited by Karmosin (371 posts) -

Trails in the sky, specifically First Chapter is a great story which has a strong personal plotline (Estelles father dissapearing, with her and Joshua trying to find him), during which they stumble upon several seemingly seperate events which evolves into a much bigger conspiracy. It is very well-told and alot of fun to play through. They especially tie the adventerous vibes really well with its more political themes towards the end. Its Sequel, second chapter follows directly after. It also has a strong emotional core, but also has a bit of a pacing-issue I feel and the plotline itself does feel much more "anime" even though it is still intriguing and fun.

Third chapter is good, but It's the cast and their interactions, as well as the build up for future events which makes it really work.

Playing through Trails of Zero right now, and it's certainly promising.

Suikoden 2 is fantastic, it holds up really well in the story-department.

Persona 2 has in my opinion the best story in the series. It is certainly the most bonkers out of the whole series, but I love it.

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#29 Edited by Garr123 (37 posts) -

It's Suikoden II. It doesn't indulge in many JRPG or anime tropes and even with the bare bones translation, the game's story is still well-conceived and intelligently delivered. I appreciated that the main conflict wasn't "we need to save the world from this dark wizard/dragon/god" and instead "this person whom I care about made some really shitty, but rational, decisions during wartime."

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#30 Posted by BisonHero (11516 posts) -

@ravelle said:

Star Ocean 2 is one of my favorites, Bravely Default's also really good.

Oh crap, is Bravely Default's story actually good? It seemed OK from what I played of it, but I had heard it gets kinda off the rails at the end. Unrelated to that, my interest in finishing the game kinda petered when I got to the...enemy kingdom? The one with like fire or lava or something? All I remember is my last save in the game is in the area with this hot disco banger:

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#31 Posted by MerxWorx01 (740 posts) -

Kingdom Hearts, the citizen kane of jrpgs.

Online
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#32 Posted by TwoLines (3651 posts) -

If we're counting tactical RPGs, then Tactics Ogre on the PSP is my choice. Not only is the story interesting and full of intrigue, but also the PSP translation is absolutely magnificent. The writing in that version is fantastic.

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#33 Posted by Humanity (18156 posts) -

Resonance of Fate - it’s a ride.

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#34 Edited by Efesell (4002 posts) -

@bisonhero: Bravely Default has a really interesting story twist but then imagine if you then stretch a reveal over the course of like 12 hours.

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#35 Posted by Ravelle (3247 posts) -

@ravelle said:

Star Ocean 2 is one of my favorites, Bravely Default's also really good.

Oh crap, is Bravely Default's story actually good? It seemed OK from what I played of it, but I had heard it gets kinda off the rails at the end. Unrelated to that, my interest in finishing the game kinda petered when I got to the...enemy kingdom? The one with like fire or lava or something? All I remember is my last save in the game is in the area with this hot disco banger:

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I really liked it, it's not amazing by any means but it's charming with some neat characters, the music and direction of the game also help a bunch. The end has you do a bunch of boss fights over again but they get weaker every time you fight and you breeze through it, it's worth it though because you get some really interesting story bits and the ending's super neat as well.

You Are My Hope gets me pumped every time.

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#36 Posted by Mamba219 (263 posts) -

Many of the ones mentioned above are great examples. Suikodens II, III, and V. Persona 4. Dragon Quest V. Final Fantasy Tactics. Tactics Ogre.

But the one I will always think of as the deepest and most intense was Xenogears.

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#37 Posted by Markus1395 (72 posts) -

Well, Final Fantasy Tactics is both my all-time favorite game and by far my favorite gaming narrative, but I'm not sure it counts as a "JRPG". I mean, it's an RPG from Japan, but I tend to think of JRPG as more of a genre than anything else, and FFT certainly doesn't fit in that genre.

I find most RPGs (and most games, honestly) generally don't have great overarching narratives, or at least pretty uninteresting ones, and instead get by on the strength of their characters. Which is totally OK, don't get me wrong! But I think the absolute best example of that is Persona 4. The main story is fine. A somewhat interesting murder mystery. But what makes that game great is it's cast of characters, which are definitely my favorite in all of gaming. So I guess that'd be my favorite JRPG story?

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#38 Edited by Bonbonetti (96 posts) -

RPGs in general are rather orthodox. Western RPGs who break the formula are typically shamed and shunned by the media and mainstream; they want a traditional Western RPG done to perfection. JRPGs on the other hand, get shamed and shunned for being "too orthodox" and not different enough.

Back to your question though.

Okage: Shadow King. It had a very unusual plot in my opinion, the game-world itself was unique and different, as was the visual style.

Eternal Sonata. I have lots of warm fuzzy feelings for this game. The plot is based around the composer Frederic Chopin and his music. It's not the most innovative in terms of gameplay perhaps, but it felt more personal than most JRPGs simply because of the storyline or plot, and how it is being told.

Lost Odyssey. It has an adult protagonist and adult main characters, not teenagers. The plot itself feels aimed at an older audience, and that makes it quite different form most JRPGs. I would describe the storyline as an epic dark journey, with some unusual quirks. I still think of it as one of the best JRPGs I have played, because I could relate better to the characters and the storyline was more engaging to me. Not that I hate playing a kid or teenager in a JRPG, but it's nice to play an adult character for once since it's so rare.

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#39 Edited by SaturdayNightSpecials (2575 posts) -

I haven't played very many in which the story was a positive. One was Tales of Symphonia, which in spite of trotting out most of the stock JRPG/anime story beats and character archetypes, was uplifted by tolerable dialog and characters I didn't hate (features that quickly went missing from the series). Dragon Quest VIII and Skies of Arcadia are similar cases. Characters and dialog are so so important. There is no plot so fresh or interesting that it can't be fucked up by bad characters that make you want to die.

As someone mentioned above, Okage is a really interesting one. Maybe it's not a contender for All-Time Most Original Game Story, but it's almost shocking to look back at Okage now in contrast to the past 10 years. Early on, the PS2 had tons of off-beat Japanese games in every genre, so maybe Okage's delightful weirdness wasn't so remarkable in its day. Now it's like a miracle when any JRPG takes risks with its narrative or characters. At least, it's a miracle when such a game is released to the West. Is Japan finally now content with paint-by-numbers creativity in games, or are there cool, weird RPGs that just don't leave Japan anymore? I really don't know!

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#40 Posted by TommyTours (69 posts) -

@mach_go_go_go: Collect four thingys and destroy bad guy?

Earthbound is great but I definitely wouldn’t call it’s story anything more than “present”.

Conversely, I would say Mother 3 is my pick for this, it may have been a time and place thing of when I played it as well as the fact that I played it on a JP cart using a Gamefaqs translation making me pay more attention to the script than I might normally, but it was one of the first games that really made me feel something.

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#41 Posted by Nick (1010 posts) -

Chrono Cross

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#42 Edited by BabyChooChoo (7077 posts) -

@bonbonetti: One of the many things I appreciate about Lost Odyssey is that Kaim is one of the best cases of somber JRPG/anime protagonist. I feel like a lot of stories do it because they think it's cool. Not that it's inherently a bad thing, but I just feel like that trope overstayed it's welcome long before Lost Odyssey even came out because very few writers actually do anything interesting with it.

With Kaim, it's very clear very early on that life has just made him that way. He's tired and just emotionally beaten down and just sorta done with everything. Then, he meets Cooke and Mack and eventually reunites with Sarah and you see life start to pour into him again along the way. He talks more, becomes more expressive, etc. He's still relatively quiet and reserved compared to the rest of cast because that's also just who he is, but it's still a huge difference than the Kaim we meet at the start of the game.

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#43 Posted by FrodoBaggins (1800 posts) -

Legend of the Dragoon? He'll I don't know. Most of them are pretty bad to be honest. Though there was that one Dragon quest game where you started as a kid and grew up.

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#44 Posted by pweidman (2810 posts) -

Of the JRPGs I've played(only a couple FF games among them), I enjoyed the story in Lost Odyssey the most. Very emotional, and sincere. There were also some very poignant poems in the game that hit hard too.

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#45 Edited by Efesell (4002 posts) -

@pweidman said:

Of the JRPGs I've played(only a couple FF games among them), I enjoyed the story in Lost Odyssey the most. Very emotional, and sincere. There were also some very poignant poems in the game that hit hard too.

The 1000 Years of Dreams is quite a contender here.

Also somewhat weighted in favor being a collaboration from a best selling author in Japan. Or maybe not as much given it was his first attempt at writing something that would work in a video game.

Either way it's a hell of a thing.

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#46 Posted by vocalcannibal (407 posts) -

Besides the Persona/misc SMT games, which plenty of people have gone/will go to bat for, I'd say Tales of Berseria makes a good case. I was a big fan of Symphonia back in the mid 2000s and then none of the other Tales games really grabbed me after that.

Berseria doesn't have the strongest overarching plot, but the party dynamic is amazing. You're not really out to save the world as much as complete the singular task of getting revenge on the guy who ruined the main character's life, who the rest of society idolizes and adores. It feels like playing the likable mid-tier villains in a normal jrpg, rather than the clear-cut heroes. That was cool and new to me, as a big fan of the genre.

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#48 Posted by JoeDangerous (518 posts) -

@ravelle said:
... The end has you do a bunch of boss fights over again but they get weaker every time you fight and you breeze through it, it's worth it though because you get some really interesting story bits and the ending's super neat as well ....

That's interesting. I see a lot of people say this, but I had the opposite reaction: I found each new round to be crazy and exhilarating. Each boss was mildly difficult on their own, but as soon as they started pairing bosses together to compliment jobs I started to actually have to form strategies! Even further when they put bosses in packs of 4 and then gave them brand new tactics based on THAT group: wow wow wow I got handed to a few times. Almost every iteration I got so strong that I thought I was breaking the game, then realized I had to be that strong to win those fights.

That's my take anyway. It can be seen as somewhat lazy, but the boss fights always evolved tactics wise and towards the end made me really hunker down. That one fight with the group of 4 where they blow your fire resist to absurd negative levels then have the mage job bosses cast different sets of fire attacks? Yeesh.

That being said I'll throw my two cents in for the story: I had fun with it, but if you catch the plot twist early it feels silly when they go for the big reveal. Still... I like this game enough to consider it one of my top ten after all these years. Fun times.

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#49 Posted by Topcyclist (20 posts) -

Not a JRPG but dont you wanna look at WRPGs for less epic stuff and more down to earth melodrama etc. Witcher 3 isnt about saving the world and more about surviving an attack from other worldly things. I never got over the save the world stuff since each story i played did it different enough. Same reason people still like marvel movies. Its not about the story its the journey. Theres a million ways to tell a heros journey. But enough of my thinking out loud...go get some WRPGs. Shemnue 3 isnt about saving the world likely. Gradina 3 if you want some jrpg. you can also try gradia 2 with its religion plot. Xenogears maybe (never finished it). Pokemon definitely doesnt have the save the world stuff. Still you can t do a rpg without some heros journey which often includes epic test for your hero.

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#50 Posted by cikame (2550 posts) -

Fun fact, i've never finished a JRPG.
That being said, i have fond memories of Eternal Sonata, Resonance of Fate and Trails in the Sky, which has a phenominal soundtrack.

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