For many long-time Japanese RPG fans, the PlayStation is where it all started with many classics that are still beloved today. Nowadays, original black label copies of JRPGs like Suikoden, Xenogears, Star Ocean: Second Story, the PS1 era Final Fantasy series and more still sell for a small fortune on selling platforms like Amazon and eBay.
Of course, what made fans of JRPGs fall in love with the genre wasn’t the potential fortune they were holding on to, but the stories. Fans were willing to look past wobbly translations, and even outdated graphics because the genre whether western of Japanese are capable of connecting to its players in ways that the popular action or racing games of the time couldn’t. For many, RPGs proved that games could be close to books or films on an emotional level. Here are 10 of the best stories in JRPGs on the PlayStation.
10 Lunar Eternal Blue Complete
Released on both Sega Saturn and PlayStation, Lunar Eternal Blue Complete was a remake of the 1995 Sega CD original. It featured updated graphics, additional anime cut scenes, expanded soundtrack, more voiced characters, and one of Working Designs nicest gaming box sets ever put together.
Eternal Blue takes place 1000 years after the events of the Silver Star Story and its central themes of friendship, love and saving the world on a grand adventure. There’s very little here that’s complex but the depth can be found in character interaction. Even the NPCs have their own stories and conversations and help the world of Eternal Blue feel alive despite the dated engine.
9 Kartia: The World Of Fate
Kartia: The World Of Fate (or The Legend of Kartia as it was known in European territories) was a tactical RPG developed by Atlus. While it was a fairly simplistic approach to the genre when compared to intricate and complex titles like Final Fantasy: Tactics and Tactics Ogre its story stands as of the best on the PlayStation 1.
It’s a linear tale, but players have the choice of two characters with their own intertwining storylines. Toxa a young freelance knight, and Lacryrma a shrine warrior and the daughter of a legendary hero. It's set in a world where greed and power (the Kartia) has spilled out into all-out war Atlus’ strong writing, well-developed characters, and world-building stand the test of time.
8 Vandal Hearts II
Konami’s Vandal Hearts like Kartia is a strategy RPG that places more emphasis on the story than it does the complex and technical need for micromanagement seen in other tactics titles. Although its world has a fantasy setting featuring magic and legendary weapons the tone is dark and story focus on the moral and social implications of war.
These themes are explored in the first two titles in the series but Vandal Hearts II is the darkest of the two. The villains aren’t grandiose or impressive like a Sephiroth or Ghaleon but they are truly vile like Warden Mohosa who has an unhealthy interest in his younger prisoners. Or the manipulative and treacherous cult leader and main antagonist Goddard, The Diviner.
7 Valkyrie Profile
When Valkyrie Profile was originally released in 1998, it was one of the most unique JRPGs produced. Instead of a Tolkienesque or science fiction often found in a Final Fantasy or Star Ocean, it was based on Norse Mythology.
The main character Lenneth a Valkyrie is ordered by the Aesir king Odin to gather the souls of fallen warriors to fight in the Sacred War against the demonic Vanir. The fallen warriors (also known as Einherjar) have their own tragic backstory which in turn reveals memories of Lenneth’s former life. In addition, there are three different endings for fans to discover. Valkyrie Profile was eventually ported to the PSP and is considerably cheaper than the PS1 version.
6 Lunar Silver Star Story Complete
Lunar Silver Story was developed by Game Arts and originally released in 1992 on the Sega CD but was remastered and reworked in the complete edition in 1998. It was translated and published by Working Designs in the west in another one of their famed boxed sets.
Lunar was a refreshing change of pace for RPG fans that were getting used to moody and brooding character dramas seen in a Final Fantasy or Xenogears. It was a light-hearted title with endearing characters but a great plot and a great villain in the fallen hero Ghaleon.
5 Final Fantasy: Tactics
Final Fantasy: Tactics was remastered with an improved translation, dialogue and voice acting on the PSP and later on IOS devices. However, even without the improvements at its core FF: Tactics has one of the best stories on the PlayStation.
Filled with political intrigue, betrayal, and a story loosely based on the War of the Roses it was and still is incredibly mature in its execution. FF: Tactics is also part of arguably the best-developed world in the Final Fantasy universe with Ivalice which features Final Fantasy XII and Vagrant Story.
4 Arc The Lad Collection
The Arc the Lad series was a popular tactical RPG series in Japan that began in 1995 and remained an exclusive there until it was released as a collection of four games in 2002 for the PlayStation 1. The collection featured the first trilogy and Arc Arena: Monster Tournament in a wonderfully put together boxed set by the former publishers Working Designs.
As a full complete set, gamers will find a massive adventure lasting up to 100 hours with well developed and lovable characters. In addition, there’s a Suikoden-like save data transfer between helping to fully flesh out the world of Arc.
If there was a game in any console generation that is an anime fan's dream come true, it's Xenogears. It has an incredible science fiction setting, giant mechs, and believable and relatable characters. There are no side quests to speak and the game compels the player to keep pushing forward to progress the plot.
Right from the opening anime cutscene gamers will be hooked on the story full of twists and turns. The game’s plot is incredibly complex as it deals with religion, science, philosophy, and metaphysics it’s very deep for any form of media, let alone a video game. The second disc forces players to watch a narrated and anti-climatic slide show, but it was the only way to finish the story. Without that, Xenogears would easily be considered the greatest JRPG of all time.
2 Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is, without a doubt, the most influential JRPG of all time. Nearly two decades later it still takes the top spot in many gamers favorite games of all time lists and helped bring what was a very niche genre to the mainstream in 1997.
With an episodic remake due in the first quarter of 2020 now would be as good a time as any to experience the FFVII as a complete story. Even with a slightly wobbly translation and basic character designs by today’s standards, it’s a testament to the quality of the story and characters that it remains beloved today. It has an incredible world to explore, great characters and one of the most recognizable villains in gaming history. Final Fantasy VII is a piece of gaming history that should be experienced by all JRPG fans.
1 Suikoden 2
Konami’s Suikoden 2 like its Vandal Hearts series operates in a world that operates under shades of grey. There’s no clear cut morality in the game’s story or its characters' choices other than the truly evil, despicable and sociopathic Prince Luca Blight.
There is, however, a battle of good and evil but it’s those that are swept up in the tragedies of war that take front and center. Friendships become blurred and companions lost. Suikoden 2 was very much ahead of its time in terms of storytelling and is considered a masterpiece by its fans. Unfortunately, getting a hold of a hard copy of Suikoden 2 could set you back quite a few dollars in 2019. Thankfully, however, it is available as a PSOne classic on the PlayStation Store for the PS3/PSP/Vita. Ironically, it would probably cost less to buy a preowned PSP, Vita, or a PS3 to purchase/play Suikoden 2 for a couple of dollars than it would buy a genuine copy of the game.