JRPG fans are no strangers to seeing some of their favorite games wither away from mainstream memory like sand through an hourglass. For every mainline mainstay like Persona 5, there are several games that most folks won’t even recognize a few years down the line (if they ever did, to begin with). In fact, some of the best JRPGs are blips on most folks’ radars. That’s just the nature of a somewhat niche genre worldwide. Let’s take a look today at 10 aging JRPGs in need of either a remake or a at least a remaster, all the better to glorify brilliant games anew and expand their audiences into the modern era.
We’ll even tackle this list in ascending order, which means that while I urge you lovely readers not to do this, there’s undoubtedly no stopping at least a few of you from jumping straight ahead to the top spot and reading the rest thereafter. You know who you are.
Don’t worry. I’ve been known to do the same thing.
10. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals has long distinguished itself from dime-a-dozen JRPGs courtesy of a fairly unique approach to gameplay. At first blush, the game’s combination of a conventional SNES-era overworld and multiple dungeons to traipse through doesn’t sound like anything special. Solid, perhaps, but hardly revolutionary. What this JRPG does differently is that it turns its dungeons into a series of genuinely impressive puzzles not entirely unlike The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and other contemporary action-adventure games.
Dungeons are turn-based and enemies won’t move unless you do. In this fashion, a player can feasibly avoid monster encounters altogether, although a little grinding can save some frustration in the long run. But since your primary focus is puzzle-solving, it’s great not to have to worry about losing cognitive momentum on a bunch of flappy birds and token goblins.
While it’s technically the second game in the Lufia duology, Rise of the Sinistrals is a 99-years-past prequel to the original Lufia and thus, with a clever little title tweak, could easily be mistaken for being the first. A jump straight to the second of these JRPGs would probably be for the best, as the actual first game… really isn’t all that great.
9. Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
The worst thing that can be said for the Ogre Battle series — and I’ll admit, it’s a pretty accurate slam — is that it’s called Ogre Battle. The name, which is in fact a reference to a Queen song, does nothing to suggest the franchise’s relatively grounded sociopolitical storytelling and fantastic isometric JRPG gameplay. Instead, it sounds like a bargain bin fighting game that even your rich collector uncle doesn’t have in his collection.
But Ogre Battle rules. The first game, The March of the Black Queen, would be the perfect starting point for a series revival because it introduces the world and several key characters whilst featuring real-time strategy battles that can feel riveting to this day (if you can ignore the hilariously tinny, utterly random, announcer who says “fight it out” before each match).
Ogre Battle was Yasumi Matsuno’s big claim to fame before when he teamed up with Square Enix and created Final Fantasy Tactics. You’ll definitely notice some similarities between The March of the Black Queen and that more famous title, but it’s Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together that really cemented Matsuno’s penchant for dark narratives and expansive battlefields. Any revival of this mesmerizing brand of JRPGs, however, would be best served to return to the beginning.
8. Wild Arms
The mid-to-late 1990s were a breeding ground for bizarre JRPGs with impressively original settings. One of the best examples of this is the Wild Arms series, which began in 1996 (1997 in the West) for the Sony PlayStation. Developer Media Vision combined high fantasy with a distinctly Wild West aesthetic to create an environment uncommon even among WRPGs, let alone the JRPG genre.
With names like Rudy Roughnight and Jack Van Burace, the cast embodies Wild West tropes but maintains a palpable level of Japanese scriptwriting and its traditional focus on character development. Wild Arms spawned four sequels, of which Wild Arms 2 and 3 are especially strong entries. Like Ogre Battle, any successful reintroduction to this franchise would likely require a remake or remaster for this anti-highfalutin, high-noon-gunfight JRPG franchise to reemerge in the 2020s.
7. Persona 2: Innocent Sin & Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
It would be silly to ask if you’ve ever heard of Persona 2 in a world where the Persona franchise has skyrocketed to become one of the most well-known, best-regarded, and financially victorious JRPG brands around. But there’s a certain sense of truth to the question; in much the same way as Grand Theft Auto III is often considered the true start of the GTA franchise, Persona 3 comes across as Persona‘s real genesis.
Persona 3 is when perhaps the single most iconic feature of the franchise emerges — the Social Link/Confidant system, in which spending time with various characters unlocks not just handy gameplay bonuses but genuinely heartfelt stories.
Innocent Sin and its direct sequel Eternal Punishment came along before that defining aspect, but they are nonetheless absolute must-plays for any Shin Megami Tensei fan. Their stories are even darker, and the two titles complement each other well by developing an extended cast and allowing for a female protagonist in the second game, which is all too rare in JRPGs even today let alone 21 years ago.
6. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Nintendo and Square Enix had an unfortunate falling-out soon after the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, which is a real shame as the game is, quite candidly, among Mario’s best quests ever and in the running for best JRPGs of its era. In some ways, it feels like a precursor to Paper Mario; in others, it’s the origin story behind the Mario & Luigi series of handheld RPGs that spawned a few years later. But it’s also vividly its own thing, and inarguably a JRPG in need of a remake or at least a remaster.
Super Mario RPG is familiar to some extent but turns the brand’s trademark plot set-up on its head by adding Bowser to Mario’s retinue and introducing a villain you can really root against. Battles are turn-based and conspicuously similar to other SNES Square fare. There’s even a Final Fantasy-inspired optional superboss.
While the game is available on the SNES Classic console re-release, it’s already quite the endeavor to find one that scalpers haven’t hiked the price up to ridiculous levels. Besides, I practically faint with glee imagining this game paired with graphics more akin to, say, Super Mario Odyssey‘s.
5. The Legend of Dragoon
When it was originally released in North America back in 2000, critical reception to the awkwardly-titled The Legend of Dragoon was muted. Many outlets wrote it off as a bad Final Fantasy VII wannabe with good production values and nothing else going for it. Although it sold fairly well, a planned sequel was nixed in pre-production and the game remains a one-off to this day.
Over time, JRPG fans have warmed up to this strange, beautiful video game. The 3D polygonal character designs definitely show their age, prompting in part the reasons why this JRPG needs a remake or remaster. But it’s the battle system that best defines The Legend of Dragon; regular attacks and magic are conventionally executed, with the player selecting a strike or spell, but special techniques require a more hands-on approach with fighting-game-like button timing. Furthermore, most characters can transform into powerful dragoons, which opens up plenty more layers of depth.
The story of The Legend of Dragoon is also pretty good. Surely, it’s better than folks tended to say back then. Dart’s a likable hero and his motley crew of cohorts would fit right at home in any upper-tier Tales of game. There are some bizarre difficulty spikes that a remaster could smooth over. I’d love to see Bluepoint bring this back and maybe even give us the sequel fans deserved.
Konami saddened all sorts of fans when it became clear they were no longer interested, at least for the time being, in cranking out lavish new installments in franchises like Metal Gear and Castlevania. But for us JRPG fans, we’d already been feeling the pain for years when we realized the beloved Suikoden series had ended with its fifth installment, leaving some big plot threads unresolved and closing the door on the only JRPGs around that dare invite their players to recruit a whopping 108 party members.
The Suikoden games generally deal with the multitude of wars in a singular setting throughout the centuries, with the first and second pretty closely related, the third entry set at the edge of the timeline, and the fourth and fifth (as well as a tactical RPG spinoff of the fourth which was honestly so much better than the mainline entry) all set in the years beforehand. While it’s true that the first Suikoden pales in comparison to its sequel, it sets up some important events that would make a remake or remaster of Suikoden II feel all the worthier if newcomers are introduced to the original ahead of time.
One could even envision a game that connects the first two Suikoden in one package, remaking Konami’s incredible series in all its initial glory. But as a starving Suikoden fan? I’d settle for just about anything at this point.
On some levels, Xenogears is one of my favorite games of all time. If you’d asked me about my favorite game back when I was a teenager, I’d have probably spoken the game’s name without hesitation. To call its story labyrinthine is an understatement. To say that its core cast’s journey fascinating wouldn’t quite do things justice, either. And to say that creator Tetsuya Takahashi had a sprawling vision for a full-fledged franchise… well, you get the point.
Xenogears is unlike any other Japanese role-playing game around. Its mature themes, including such controversial subjects as child abuse, Jungian paradigms, and a spiff on the staple JRPG “religious zealotry” shtick that actually feels compelling, came together in such bleak fashion that Square initially considered the project to be Final Fantasy VII before shuffling it off into something without the FF moniker. By the end of a lengthy campaign chock full of iconic moments like a heroine bitterly remembering her murderous streak to the heroes unwittingly consuming the canned flesh of demihumans in a very Soylent Green moment, Xenogears is destined to stick in your brain for good or for ill.
The problem here is that Xenogears is infamously unfinished. With its first disc charting 50-60 hours of playtime and featuring plenty of towns, dungeons, and plot points, the second disc is an apparent rush job wherein a plethora of moments that should land with a narrative whopper are resigned to relative thuds because they’re told to the player via seemingly endless monologues rather than experienced firsthand. (The world’s population is turning into monsters? Oh, no! Tell us about it, game, because we sure ain’t playing it.)
The truth behind Xenogears‘ seemingly incomplete nature is a bit more nuanced than fans had long assumed, but the result is the same — of all the JRPG on this list, it is likely in truest need of a remake or a remaster. Alas, with Takahashi’s excellent string of successful Xenoblade games over at Nintendo, it’s quite possible that Square Enix would rather bury his earliest Xeno in the mud forever.
2. Final Fantasy VI
By contrast, Final Fantasy VI is probably a JRPG that doesn’t need a remake or remaster. It’s also far from Wild Arms levels of obscurity; at least among Western JRPG fans, it’s commonly regarded as one of the best entries in one of the very best franchises. Why, then, does it nearly top the list? Because it’s so good, and because Square Enix has, for whatever reason, never capitalized on that fact.
For a long time, I’ve gotten the impression that Square’s local Japanese fandom doesn’t love FFVI as much as we do. I have no firm evidence to back this up, and in fact, a recent poll flies directly in the face of my claim. But, through the grapevine of my elder JRPG gurus who are now well into their forties and fifties and know so much about the genre that even a professional games journalist with a Cloud Strife figurine on my desk cannot compare… well, enough of those gurus have whispered to me that it’s FFIV that remains strongest in retro Final Fantasy hearts over there that I can see why IV has two remakes to VI‘s zero.
Final Fantasy VI is an emotional rollercoaster expertly wrapped in a package that appears to be as straightforward as they come. A rebellion wars against an empire. There’s a sad gal searching for the meaning of love. A thief with a heart of gold. A womanizer king. A guy with more muscles than brains. But then it throws curveball after curveball. There’s a purple octopus with a love of the fine arts. A genetically engineered general whose redemption arc is one of the best female hero moments in the genre. And… a nihilistic clown who darn near completely destroys the world.
It seems we’re destined to perk up at the occasional Pixel Remaster, as Square’s calling ’em now. I’ll be fetching FFVI‘s whenever it arrives, to be sure. But when it comes to JRPGs, necessary or not, a remake or remaster of Final Fantasy VI would sell boatloads and make millions of people very, very happy.
1. Chrono Trigger
There is, simultaneously, a sense of inevitability as well as irony in the fact that Chrono Trigger is my easy choice for a JRPG in need of a remake or remaster. On the one hand, the game is so universally beloved, it tops similar lists left and right. Perfect pacing, a simple-to-grasp but stellar time travel storyline, charming characters, and one of the greatest realizations in turn-based combat history are just four reasons out of dozens that Chrono Trigger is an icon of Japanese RPGs at their finest.
On the other hand, my writing for this entry is notably shorter than it is for a few of the games it beats out. There’s nothing that can be said of Chrono Trigger‘s almost absurd degree of quality that hasn’t been said already. While that admittedly sounds like a journalistic copout, it’s the gospel truth. The Chrono franchise bowed out with only its second major installment, Chrono Cross, back in 2000. Plans for a third game, Chrono Break, never materialized. But it hasn’t mattered. Not really. Because the game’s immense fanbase refuses to let go of the past. Bill Clinton was still in his first term as President of the United States when Chrono Trigger was released. It doesn’t matter. Replaying the game in 2021, it still feels fresh.
A remake likely isn’t mandatory in this case, but a remaster is needed to ensure that this monumental JRPG’s legacy flourishes for another two decades and more.