The JRPG has seen something of a re-emergence this generation. However, the PlayStation 3 didn’t quite have the vast library of Japanese RPGs that the PS1 and PS2 had. This could have been because it was assumed that gamers were leaning more towards linear and cinematic action games like Gears of War and Call of Duty that also focused heavily on multiplayer.
Even Square-Enix admitted to taking inspiration from the Call of Duty franchise by making it the most linear and least popular game in the franchise. It was a worrying trend for console RPGs and many developers opted to work on handheld consoles like the PSP and Nintendo DS instead.
Nonetheless, there were still some great JRPGs with incredibly endearing stories on the PlayStation 3 that players could sink their teeth into.
10 Ar Nosurge: Ode To An Unborn Star
Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star is a prequel to the Ar Tonelico trilogy that began on the PlayStation 2 with Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia and ended with Ar Tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel on the PS3. Despite being an RPG the story is presented as a visual novel with a heavy focus on building relationships with any character which in turn unlock new abilities known as Song Magic.
As a result, Ar Nosurge succeeds in delivering a deeper more character-driven story than the Ar Tonelico series. All major characters are given their chance to shine and the player can choose to delve even deeper into their psyche providing more meaning and focus to the overall narrative on an emotional level.
9 Eternal Sonata
Developed by Tri-Crescendo Eternal Sonata bears many of the same hallmarks found in the Tales and the Star Ocean series in its execution. However, the storyline which revolves around the famed composer Frédéric Chopin stands apart from your typical fantasy or science fiction based RPG.
The game takes place in Chopin’s dream world in his final hours before passing of tuberculosis. The dream world itself is based loosely on Chopin’s musical scores and the game features several key moments that include actual moments of the composer’s life and relationships. Eternal Sonata features one of the most original and emotional stories told in a JRPG and certainly on the PS3.
8 Valkyria Chronicles
Set in a sort of a Second World War alternate reality Valkyria Chronicles is a strategy RPG with a story that centers on a rebel leader named Welkin Gunther. Gunther and his squad fight back against the Empire, trying to prevent them from stealing a precious fuel source and defending Europa from occupation.
The game’s story is told through 18 chapters and every one of them is captivating and heart-rendering in equal measure. Despite being filled with familiar anime tropes Valkyria Chronicles manages to address horrors of WW2 in a far more mature manner than most western games in the same setting. Despite being one of the best PS3 exclusives it was criminally overlooked but now it’s available as a remaster on the PS4.
7 Tales Of Xillia
Tales of Xillia is the thirteenth entry in the mainline Tales series and was released on the PlayStation 3 in 2011. Xillia’s execution stands apart from other games in series by offering the player two interwoven perspectives to play from with Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell.
Initially, the game’s plot has a rather slow build introducing the player to its world and mechanics. However, the pacing becomes almost relentless once the protagonists become fugitives keeping players gripped throughout. Additionally, the diverging character arcs that complement each other provide a lot of incentive for a second visit.
6 Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch
With beautiful signature animation and visuals created by Studio Ghibli and gameplay developed by Level-5 Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch was a beautiful and emotional RPG experience right from the opening. Taking on the role of a young boy named Oliver the player is literally pulled into another realm called The World of Magic.
Ni No Kuni invokes a sense of childlike wonder and fantasy initiating a sense of familiarity with Studio Ghibli's classics like Spirited Away. Fans of Hollywood fantasy films like Harry Potter, The NeverEnding Story, and Willow will also fall in love with Oliver's journey.
5 Tales Of Symphonia Chronicles
Originally a Nintendo GameCube exclusive in the west Tales of Symphonia was one of the best JRPGs if its generation. For many, it served as an introduction to the Tales games and as a result is looked upon as the Final Fantasy VII of the series.
This remastered version includes the original Tales of Symphonia and its sequel Dawn of the New World. However, it’s the original that stands the test of time in regards to storytelling. Its themes of discrimination and extreme views provide a much darker theme than one would expect at first glance. Yet despite Symphonia having the appearance of another clichéd JRPG, there are enough surprises and twists keep players guessing with characters are far more layered than they seem.
It’s quite possible that there will never be a game where the term “a diamond in the rough” was more suited to a videogame it is Nier. From a gameplay perspective, Nier was a flawed action RPG that was mistakenly confused as a God of War clone upon release. However, flaws aside Nier possesses one of the most well-crafted storylines in any generation.
Nier is connected to the Drakengard series and like its sequel Nier: Automata no prior knowledge of those titles is required to enjoy the game. There are four endings to achieve but you only have to restart the game at the halfway point with a new game plus feature. To try and explain what happens in Nier with a few short paragraphs would be impossible, it’s a game needs to be experienced first hand. The equally thought-provoking but infinitely better-polished sequel Nier: Automata is available on the PS4 and Xbox One.
3 The Legend Of Heroes: Trails Of Cold Steel I and II
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel that saw its first two titles released on the PlayStation 3 and PSVita and eventually ported to the PS4. The third and final part of the story Trails of Cold Steel III is set to be released on the PS4 with claims that it has more written words than all 7 Harry Potter books combined – that’s over a million words in one videogame script.
That should give you an idea of how much story, characterization, and scope this series focuses on. The games are meant to be played together and even though Cold Steel functions as its own trilogy. In addition, prior knowledge of the Trails in the Sky trilogy released on Steam/PSP also compliments the story arc. The Trails series is one of the most intricate, ambitious and well-written videogames ever developed.
2 Persona 5
Being of the of best games and JRPGs on the PlayStation 4 it’s easy to forget that Persona 5 is a ported and slightly enhanced PS3 game. Nevertheless, that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the most artistically timeless and stylish games on both generations.
Like Persona 3 and Persona 4 before it, Persona 5 begins in a contemporary Japanese setting placing the player into the shoes of a new high school student, making friends with other misfits and social outcasts through the Social Links mechanic. The story is one of intrigue incorporating psychology and philosophy in a way that feels organic rather than forced. Persona 5 should be on everyone’s radar if you’re looking for a great story.
1 Yakuza 5
The fifth entry in the Dragon of Dojima saga, Yakuza 5 is one of the biggest games in the series with a much larger scope. This is in part due to putting the player in the shoes of five protagonists with their own unique yet interconnected stories. The story is crafted like a great Netflix box set with an unpredictable plot that will keep players guessing as it throws red herrings, betrayals, and action at the player from beginning to end.
One would obviously get more out of Yakuza 5 having played previous entries in the series but it does work very well as a self-contained story too. However, with the third, fourth and fifth entries getting the remaster treatment on the PS4 the complete saga is best experienced in order on a more modern machine.