Haven't played any of these so I was wondering what you anime experts out there thought.
I've only actually played two of these (Tales and Mario), and I have to recommend Paper Mario above all others. I'd say everything about it still holds up really well (whereas I find Tales of Symphonia a little hard to go back to on the gameplay front), and it's just generally a really charming game.
You came to the right site for anime experts. Have you e-mailed gokugokugoku.com perhaps?
I feel like I've spent half my life playing jrpgs, a lot less last generation but picking up a little steam again here, and I've played one of those games to completion. I feel bad now. Ok well that game is Mario, and I'm also going to go with Mario. It's on the shorter side, comparatively, it's charming, has good writing and is generally well regarded.
I feel like the legend of heroes games sound like some of the deepest, longest and well written(and localized) jrpgs that have ever come out but I haven't played any of them. I always want to start game series from the beginning(vinny syndrome) and all of these sound...daunting.
Not that the heroes games are on the forefront of mechanics, but I feel like everything else on there has aged some at this point and seem more like a "I want to see what this specific game is about" or "I want to relive nostalgia". Only having played some valkyrie profile, watching symphonia and barely touching last story I can't comment on those but mario and the heroes series are my picks for someone asking out of the blue without any other general questions or likes/dislikes mixed in.
I’ve only played a few of these games.
The Last Story is great and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. There may also be a sequel on the way?
Skies of Arcadia is great and might just be the best SEGA game ever made.
I really like Tales of Symphonia. The gameplay struck a nice balance for me as I never loved the later Tales games expansion into more 3D combat. Also avoid the sequel at all costs.
Valkyrie Profile is neat, if you like Lightning Returns this is basically a better version of that game.
The only two I can't speak for are The Last Story, which I've been meaning to play for years, and Trails in the Sky, which I've played quite a bit of, but haven't beaten. Everything else on this list is either good or great.
Valkyrie Profile is a outstanding, but very weird; heads up. It's combat is still pretty unique, and you'll be regularly gaining and losing party members as the game progresses. There's also some classic JRPG bullshit where it's true ending is concerned (meaning I have no idea how anyone manages to figure out how to do it without help).
Tales of Symphonia is still one of the greatest of it's franchise, but at this point it mainly holds that position with it's writing: both in terms of individual characters and the dynamics between them, and also in terms of the major narrative. It's combat feels a bit shallow compared to the franchises newest entries.
Skies of Arcadia is often considered one of the all time greats, and I'd have a hard time disagreeing with the sentiment. There's a remaster of sorts for the GC, which is probably the best version to play.
Persona 2 is still a really solid SMT game, and personally speaking it's the only Persona game I actually like. Turn-based fights, demon fusion, bizarre interactions with said demons, and supernatural investigations in Japan; what's not to like? This is prior to the social sim elements Persona became known for with P3.
Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door is fantastic. Not sure anything else needs to be said there.
Trails in the Sky, no contest. Excellent story, excellent localization, great characters. Can't go wrong. Gameplay is a bit old fashioned but it's been touched up recently to add things like fast forward which helps mollify some of the slow combat.
I don't know that Skies would work nowadays without the nostalgia, Valkyrie Profile is a weird mess that you should play eventually. Innocent Sin has a wild story but was a bad game to play then and I can't imagine age improving it.
Thousand Year Door is a real solid #2. It has some padding that it could lose but mostly it's just really charming and good.
Of the three I can personally comment on:
It's probably been like a decade since I played Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but to this day it stands in my memory as the best Mario RPG and one of the single best games on the Gamecube. I'm sure certain segments are probably a little tedious these days, but it's charming as hell. This is the one I'd wholeheartedly recommend, full stop.
Having played Tales of Symphonia this very year (obligatory plug for the blog I wrote) it was a mostly positive experience. The combat is fun, the characters are a pretty likeable ensemble, and in general if you want a very "traditional" JRPG experience it's got that for you. My one big warning sign for that one would be to mention the game's pacing, which is also very "traditional." Expect plot tangents that don't necessarily go anywhere, dungeons that are slightly too long for their own good, and a bunch of secret side-stuff that you'd basically never see unless you used a FAQ.
My hazy memories of playing the fan translation of Persona 2 on an emulator was that it had a pretty weird, crazy story that took a while to get anywhere. I don't think that older style of Megami Tensei combat is necessarily all that fun, especially when you throw in stuff like demon negotiation in the mix.
Of the games I can't comment on, Trails in the Sky (alongside its various sequels and spinoffs) has been in my backlog for a while. I hear nothing but good things about the quality of writing in those games, so that might not be a bad thing to look at either.
If I were to recommend something unequivocally without knowing anything about your taste for stories and gameplay then I guess out of those Paper Mario would probably be my pick due to it having the most general mainstream appeal and still being a pretty fantastic game. It's light on the story for sure but the writing that is there is fun and everything about it is generally fantastic.
My actual pick for what I'd like someone to try and play would probably be Valkyrie Profile. It still has one of the most dynamic combat systems in JRPGs and the vehicle of storytelling is extremely interesting and continues to be one of the fresher feeling JRPGs in my mind. It's incredibly atypical for a JRPG, especially for that era, which is probably why I have such affection for it having spent so much of my life going through other JRPGs.
Tales of Symphonia and The Last Story do actually rank among some of the more memorable games in the genre too, but Symphonia more for being an outstanding example of working within the Tales mode of cliche and The Last Story for its interesting gameplay more than anything else.
Skies of Arcadia is fantastic and has pretty much everything going for it. If you're looking for one of the shining examples of the genre, this is probably the one to go for. I will say though that this is also one of the few games that I felt really did get bogged down a bit by random encounters due to the nature of exploration in the game.
Persona 2 is pretty great and is either my 2nd or 3rd favourite in the series depending on which day of the week it is. It's pre-social link mechanics so in that respect its much closer to being a SMT game that happens to focus on high schoolers but the writing is great. The gameplay is pretty standard fare for SMT but I can't imagine it's held up particularly well to modern standards so take that as a caution.
Trails in the Sky is personally something I'd only recommend if you're willing to commit to going through the entire trilogy. This isn't to say that First Chapter isn't a good game, but taken alone then the pacing of that entry would probably feel horrifically slow for most anyone. On the whole though the trilogy represents what I'd say is a fairly unique form for the medium of games itself in that it takes such an indulgent amount of time to tell its story which, if you're committed to following it through, allows for some truly fantastic character work and writing. That being said, it's a commitment and even after having played through it, I respect the trilogy much more than I really enjoyed it, though that has a lot to do with my taste for the protagonists themselves.
Valkyrie Profile is such an interesting gem of a game, but man the scope of the Trails games is so cool. They are the kind of games that inspire a lot of passion if you're into what those games are about (heavy on the world building with more nuance and detail than typical for the genre).
Haven't played enough of Last Story or Symphonia to render judgement beyond the fact what I did play in the early goings didn't grab me. Never got that far into Thousand Year Door either despite playing all of the N64 original. Never played Arcadia unfortunately.
Persona 2 is...interesting, but very much a crusty old-ass rpg. Not something I'd recommend unless you have a high tolerance for that sort of thing.
Valkyrie Profile is neat, if you like Lightning Returns this is basically a better version of that game.
Are you one of the 3 ppl that likes LR or have I mentioned I really like LR that many times in the forums? Either way, I guess it'd be a crime not to play VP.
@liquiddragon: Alright, if you've gotta choose which one to try first, then it's got to be Mario. It's not necessarily my favorite in this list, but it's probably the safest recommendation out of the bunch.
Oh, and I am one of those three people that enjoyed Lightning Returns.
Skies of Arcadia is in my top 2 or 3 JRPGs of all time, and is really the final evolution of the classic style. Encounter rate is absolutely too high, but everything else is perfect. I would recommend the GC version, as I think they did adjust the encounter rate some (still too high), and it includes the DLC that you probably can't get for the Dreamcast version any more. You do miss out on having Cupil on your VMU and Pinta's Quest, though.
The Last Story was very good as well. It seemed like a Final Fantasy game in most things except name, but I did really enjoy it.
Out of all these games I'll always go to bat for Trails in the Sky, it led me down a rabbit hole of learning some rudimentary Japanese and using fan spreadshseets to play Cold Steel 3 and 4 which are yet to be localized.
It's a game that is like reading a goodnovel, its a slow-burn at first. Heavy on character building of not just your party, but the entire world around you, every village, town, and city. All NPCs have dialogue that changes as the story progresses in time, so every time a major story beat is passed or time of day moves forward, their individual story moves forward. This wraps around a core of good characters as the main cast that is a story of mainly self-discovery in the first Trails mixed with some political intrigue.
Also the JDK band is consistently the best at making music in the video game space.
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