2023 has been hailed as a big year for video game releases, and Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) are no exception. There have been some phenomenal ones, from new IPs and sequels to remakes. So there were plenty of great gems to choose from!
In order to be counted in this top JRPGs of the 2023 list, the game had to be released in the 2023 calendar year. Additionally, the game must be made by a Japanese developer and have role-playing elements such as assuming the role of a main character in a story. While there are games that have been inspired by Japanese RPGs, like the excellent Sea of Stars, they don’t count as they were not developed by a Japanese studio. With that being said, here is our list of the 10 best JRPGs of 2023!
10. Disgaea 7: Vows of the Virtueless
Disgaea 7’s story is surprisingly funny, and it takes place in the Japanese-inspired region called Hinomoto. The main character, a demon swordsman named Fuji, meets a young girl named Pirilika, who’s obsessed with Japanese culture. The two characters complement each other well as Pirilika’s initial shallow understanding of Japanese culture expands as she learns through Fuji how Hinomoto is a place with real problems.
Disgaea 7’s turn-based strategy gameplay differentiates itself from its contemporaries because it encourages you to break the game as much as possible. Want to funnel all of your experience points into one unit and raise them to level 100 quickly? Go ahead! It’s a lot of fun going on a power trip, and it actually makes level grinding fun.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is a spin-off of the Dragon Quest franchise that focuses on catching monsters and training them to fight other monsters. While it won’t knock Pokemon off its throne anytime soon, it does manage to carve out a niche space for itself. You can have up to four monsters out in battle at a time, which leads to some chaotic turn-based battles. There’s also a fun monster fusion system that you’ll often find yourself losing time too.
The Dark Prince also acts as a sort of backstory to the mainline entry Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen. The main character in The Dark Prince is Psaro, the main antagonist of Chapters of the Chosen. It also does a great job of making sure you don’t need to play one of them to understand the other and act as independent games.
Atelier Ryza 3 follows Ryza Stout as she seemingly embarks on her third and last adventure. Near her hometown, a mysterious series of islands called the Kark Isles show up. As Ryza learns more about these Isles, she and her friends must save her hometown from being erased from existence. Atelier Ryza 3’s story is lighthearted compared to most Japanese RPGs, but it still manages to have heavy stakes and a lovable cast of characters.
Ryza 3’s unique turn-based and real-time action battle system will keep you engaged throughout the game. It has greatly evolved since the first Ryza game, and developer Gust’s ability to continually iterate on its systems and gameplay mechanics is unmatched.
7. Star Ocean: The Second Story R
Many fans consider Star Ocean: The Second Story to be the best game in the series, and I can see why. The story follows Claude Kenny and Rena Lanford on the planet Expel as they check out a mysterious meteorite called the Sorcery Globe that is seemingly turning the surrounding creatures into monsters. While the story may be simple, the events that take place eventually have astronomical consequences. The simple story also allows its charming cast of characters to shine.
This Second Story R remake updates the 2D real-time battle system by making attacks look flashier and adds some new mechanics, such as calling sidelined allies in the middle of battle to launch support attacks. These smartly added mechanics keep the spirit of the original game while also making it feel more modern.
6. Master Detective Archives: Rain Code
Danganronpa developer Spike Chunsoft is back with an exciting new mystery game, Master Detective Archives: Rain Code. A young detective, Yuma Kokohead, must explore the dark underbelly of Kanai Ward, a city where the rain never lets up. Kanai Ward supposedly has an “ultimate secret” and teams up with a ghost named Shinigami to uncover how the omnipresent Amaterasu Corporation is involved. The story’s immaculate pacing will keep you glued to the very end.
Yuma and Shinigami must navigate Mystery Labyrinths, supernatural dungeons where they can piece together clues and solve murder mysteries. The gameplay consists of using your clues to answer questions, choosing correct paths, and slicing enemies. It’s an interesting mix of different gameplay styles that keeps the action fresh throughout.
Fire Emblem Engage’s story follows Alear as they must travel across the continent of Elyos to find the twelve Emblem Rings that summon protagonists from other Fire Emblem games to defeat the Fell Dragon, Sombron. Engage’s story is actually quite disappointing and weak compared to other entries in the Fire Emblem series. It feels more like fan fiction, and as a result, the new cast of characters is sidelined, and the twelve Emblem Ring protagonists get more of the spotlight.
On the other hand, Engage has some of the best tactical turn-based strategy combat the series has to offer. Its wide range of different character classes has a lot of versatility, and the battles look more cinematic than ever. The dynamic camera captures so many different angles when your units engage in combat, and Engage just might be the most gorgeous entry in the series so far.
Persona 5 is Atlus’s most popular title to date so it makes sense that the company would want to milk it for all it’s got! At the very least, Atlus is willing to experiment with different genres for its spin-offs. This time, Persona 5 Tactica is a tactical turn-based strategy game that plays a lot more like X-COM rather than something like Fire Emblem. The clever use of cover-based mechanics and the smooth transition of Persona’s weakness system into a tactics game make it stand out from its contemporaries.
The story is charming as well. Tactica follows the Phantom Thieves during the events of Persona 5, and they are transported into a medieval-like dimension where they must free its inhabitants against the tyrannical rule of Marie. Two new main characters are introduced here: Toshihiro Kasukabe and Erina. They have great chemistry with the Phantom Thieves, and the themes of revolution fit well with both characters. Tactica is a great reason to hang out with the Phantom Thieves once again.
3. The Legend of Heroes: Trails Into Reverie
NIS America actually released three Trails games this year, including Trails to Azure, Boundless Trails, and Trails into Reverie. However, Reverie is the most modern one and is the culmination of all of the events in all of the other Trails games that came before. While it’s not approachable, as you need to play all of the previous games, the payoff is immense. The game follows three protagonists: Rean Schwarzer, Lloyd Bannings, and C. They all follow separate story paths and the pacing is great.
The excellent turn-based combat returns with a massive cast of over 50 playable characters. However, the game does an excellent job of dividing the characters over the three separate storylines to make battles much more manageable.
As the Final Fantasy series has evolved over time and shifted from its traditional turn-based combat, I’m glad that the Octopath Traveler series has stepped in. Octopath Traveler 2 follows eight separate character stories in the world of Solistia. The sublime pacing between all of the stories never makes any individual one overstay its welcome. Additionally, the gorgeous HD-2D pixel graphics are incredibly charming.
During battle, each character earns “BP” every round and can stack them in order to execute multiple actions at once when it’s their turn to act. By discovering an enemy’s weakness, you can “break” their shields and leave them vulnerable to major damage. Do I want to break the enemy’s shield quicker by spending more BP, or should I save it for when their shields are down? The BP system is an excellent mechanic that rewards careful strategy.
The latest entry in Square Enix’s long-running franchise, Final Fantasy XVI, follows Clive Rosfield as he tries to find the large creature, an Eikon, who supposedly killed his brother. What follows is an unforgettable adventure filled with politics, discovery, and romance. The gameplay is real-time action-based combat, and it’s explosive, dynamic, and fun.
The Eikons play a pivotal part in the story and become integral to the gameplay as well. Throughout the game, you’ll engage in these large-scale Eikon battles that feel like something out of a kaiju movie, and it’s a spectacle to see.
Final Fantasy XVI also received a DLC called Echoes of the Fallen this month and an upcoming one called The Rising Tide in 2024. Echoes of the Fallen provides great backstory and lore on the Fallen, a mysterious civilization, while also giving us even more exciting battles to fight in. The Rising Tide will introduce us to Leviathan, a staple creature in the Final Fantasy franchise that was conspicuously missing from Final Fantasy XVI.
And that’s our list of best JRPGs of 2023! With titles that showcase the diversity of JRPGs and just how different stories and art can be, our top of 2023 made a big impact. But with so many fantastic titles, we want to call out some honorable mentions that didn’t make the top JRPGs of 2023 list but are definitely still must-plays:
- Fate/Samurai Remnant
- Silent Hope
- Trinity Trigger
- Fuga: Melodies of Steel 2
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails to Azure
- The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails
Did your favorite JRPGs make the top list for 2023? Let us know on social media: @ButWhyThoPC.