It’s always the best time for the best JRPGs. JRPG is a simple term for a complex genre that’s evolved across decades of Japanese RPGs. It encompasses everything from the expected spiky haired heroes politely taking turns to hit the local fantasy wildlife to twisted realism, cinematic action, dense political intrigue, and even RPGs that aren’t from Japan but capture the underlying spirit of this malleable category.
There are so many on PC these days it can be tough to know what to play—and even if you do already know what to look out for, it’s all too easy to miss something incredible in the deluge. Whether you’re longing to relive the good old days of chunky cartridges and poster maps or are eager to explore the RTX-enabled frontiers of modernity, you’re sure to find a new (or maybe old) favourite below.
Best action JRPGs
Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade
Release: 2022 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
2023 games: Upcoming releases
Best PC games: All-time favorites
Free PC games: Freebie fest
Best FPSes: Finest gunplay
Best MMOs: Massive worlds
Best RPGs: Grand adventures
Everybody roughly knows how Final Fantasy 7 goes, even if they’ve never played it. Cloud, Sephiroth, that scene in the city of the ancients with… well, you know. It’s all been GIF’d to hell and back, and picked apart on a thousand rambling podcasts too.
This remake takes a sledgehammer to everything we thought we knew, mixing everyone’s favourite scenes from the original with not just brand new material but huge plot twists of its own as well. And thank goodness it did. Nobody seriously expected the modern big-budget reimagining of one of the most familiar games of all time to do anything other than play it safe, but FF7R—just like the original—dares to aim higher.
It looks fantastic, the new dynamic combat system’s a bottomless well of fun (and cool screenshot fodder), and unlike most remakes, you don’t know exactly how it’s going to end.
Read more: Thanks to Final Fantasy 7 Remake I finally appreciate Final Fantasy 7
The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails
Release: 2021 | Developer: Falcom, PH3 GmbH | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
No one makes action RPGs quite like Falcom: Their games feel like a triple shot of hot espresso for my gaming soul, and Nayuta’s no exception. This is a tightly focused adventure—one hero, one helper, the next stage is that way, why are you still here—through a world packed with colourful fantasy stages with some truly heartstopping boss fights waiting at the end of them. There’s always a new reward just around the corner, or just one more thing (honest) that needs checking out before quitting for the day.
In spite of the Trails name no knowledge of that ongoing RPG series is needed to enjoy this standalone game, and no knowledge of that series’ battle systems will help here either. The game plays like a fantasy platformer, flowing effortlessly between 2.5D leaping around and thrilling 3D arenas. There’s an underlying rhythm to every level’s streamlined layout, and with practice you soon find yourself tearing through light puzzles and powerful monsters alike with an almost arcade-like sense of speed and grace.
Xuan-Yuan Sword 7
Release: 2020 | Developer: Softstar | Steam Deck: Unsupported | Steam
Softstar’s long running series of RPGs have gracefully evolved over the years, from traditional turn based battles to the all-out action found in this spectacular game. There’s a real buzz to the seamless combat encounters: a few short cooldown timers are the only real hint of Xuan-Yuan Sword’s ancient roots peeking through.
This nonstop rush extends to the streamlined story, with clearly marked quest triggers making it easy for the game to cram as many heartwarming and dramatic events as possible into its relatively short run time. It should feel like unwelcome hand-holding, but it works: in practice it only means you’re never more than a few minutes away from another unforgettable moment or jaw-dropping reveal, and the story simply doesn’t have the time to make you gather herbs halfway up a mountain for some NPC you’ll never see again. Xuan-Yuan Sword 7 is just pure, undiluted adventure.
Legend of Mana
Release: 2021 | Developer: Square Enix, M2 | Steam Deck: Unsupported | Steam
Perfectly preserved pixel art and beautifully retouched locations combine in this dreamlike experience that has you reshape the world as you play. The action here is on the simpler side—nobody’s going to be recording DMC5-style combo videos of this game—but that’s part of its charming balancing act. It’s an easily understood (although still flexible) game, and that means the time spent between seeing the title screen and hitting an impossibly adorable mushroom in the face is kept to a bare minimum.
Outside of battle it’s just as alluring, with multiple stories for you to enthusiastically chase or save for another day falling into your lap with only the lightest exploration.
This PlayStation remaster even has more to offer than just a pretty coat of paint and a lightly reworked soundtrack: for the first time ever, English speaking gamers can play Ring Ring Land. This was a fun little minigame designed for the PocketStation, Sony’s Tamagotchi-like PlayStation memory card, and previously only available in the Japanese version of the game.
Best turn-based JRPGs
Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of an Elusive Age
Release date: 2018 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
You can always rely on the turn-based RPG to show the rest exactly how it’s done. This most recent entry in the series pits a vibrant, likeable cast against a realm’s worth of iconic monsters in a beautiful fairytale, one that makes weaving some genuinely touching scenes through a heap of sincerely offered fantasy tropes look easy. Whether you’re laughing, crying, or just whacking another adorable slime, you won’t be able to put it down.
Need a little challenge in your classic RPG? You’ve got one. Combat can be tweaked to suit your tastes, making every fight as tough as you dare.
And if you need a little added nostalgia, you’re in luck. This slightly reworked “S” version of the game also comes with an impressive 2D pixel graphics mode, for that authentic “Sitting on the floor playing SNES games” feel.
Read more: Dragon Quest 11’s localization is brilliant, underappreciated writing
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Release: 2020 | Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
It shouldn’t work. Yakuza is a series about a tough guy with an elaborate tattoo named Kiryu who enthusiastically beats up other tough guys with elaborate tattoos, only pausing to give out surprisingly wholesome advice—it’s definitely not an RPG starring a guy named Ichiban who takes turns dishing out violence with his pals. But Like a Dragon does work, even though it’s stranger than pretty much any RPG that ever asked me to wander through a massive dungeon and kill the ancient evil waiting at the end of it.
It’s got meta Dragon Quest references. A job system with actual jobs. Crawfish as mighty summons. It’s the perfect RPG for people who need a break from castles and sword fighting, or newcomers who’d like to dip their toe into roleplaying waters, and a game so good it throws in the legendary Virtua Fighter 5 and a whole host of other Sega arcade hits as a cheeky little bonus.
Read more: Yakuza: Like A Dragon review
Etrian Odyssey HD
Release: 2023 | Developer: Atlus | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
Take a trip back to the early Wizardry-era days of gaming with Etrian Odyssey HD, finally freed from its Nintendo DS shackles and available for all. This is the sort of dungeon crawling experience that quietly takes over your life, every new labyrinth floor something to be explored with caution, every intense boss battle a real test of your highly customisable team’s abilities. The game may look traditional, but here even the most basic aspects of old-timey dungeon crawling have been given a new twist with parties made up of troubadours, landsknechts, and hexers—there’s not a paladin, wizard, or barbarian in sight. The story may take a back seat, but even that’s part of the game’s charm—there’s enough room in here for your imagination to breathe, to make up a little story of your own.
Once feared for its difficulty, this new version of Etrian Odyssey includes some great new extras that make it easy to fine-tune the experience to your liking, either preserving the intense original experience or creating something less demanding.
Read more: Handheld gaming’s greatest dungeon crawlers manage to hold their own on PC
Cosmic Star Heroine
Release: 2017 | Developer: Zeboyd | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
Cosmic Star Heroine is a rare breed of new-retro RPG smart enough to know when to pay tribute to its heroes (Chrono Trigger, in this case), and when to play to its own strengths, avoiding falling into the trap of mindlessly retreading old, familiar ground. The battle system stays fresh thanks to a few well thought out intricacies, skills often doing things far more interesting than simply causing damage, and encouraging the use of a broad range of techniques instead of a narrow few heavy hitters.
The story’s just as much fun, using a narrative style that’s sprinkled with humour strong enough to make me smile in the middle of a dungeon. It’s also keen on getting straight to the point and then heading straight for the next one, making this RPG a highlight-packed adventure free from any major lulls in the plot or the forced padding of random enemy encounters.
Best strategy JRPGs
Tactics Ogre: Reborn
Release: 2022 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
Even just a quick play of Reborn makes it easy to see why this tactical RPG has not just survived through the ages but been welcomed with open arms on every format it’s ever graced with its presence, from the humble SNES right through to the Steam Deck. Every fight takes place on immaculately designed and highly intricate battlefields, shaped to test even the most seasoned tactician’s party in a hundred ways. Its story can take multiple branching paths, with key moments forcing you to make tough choices between the lesser of two evils, rather than going down a binary “pet bunnies/kick bunnies” route.
And thanks to some new features, Reborn makes it easier than ever to see it all. Major plot branches can easily be revisited, terrible turns can be undone, and it’s all been slightly tweaked in a way to make sure it’s tough more often than it’s terrifying.
Read more: Tactics Ogre: Reborn review
Phantom Brave PC
Release: 2016 | Developer: Nippon Ichi Software | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
Disgaea may continue to hog Nippon Ichi’s strategy spotlight, but for me this pastel-hued take on the developer’s numbers-laden strategy style is the best game they’ve ever created. The gridless battle system replaces the genre’s frequently stiff tactical squares with looser, more organic circles, and the ability to confine friendly spirits in nearby objects opens up all sorts of cunning strategies.
The dialogue’s no slouch either. Marona’s story hits that perfect Ghibli-esque sweet spot, mixing the wide-eyed innocence of childlike wonder with occasional bouts of soul-crushing melancholy.
This PC port may not have all the extra bells and whistles some of the more recent PlayStation 2-era remakes do, but at least it doesn’t smear the gorgeous pixel art in the process (unless you want it to). It also includes an optional hi-res UI, togglable Japanese audio, and the ability to play in the original’s 4:3 aspect ratio if desired. Basic stuff, but that’s all a game this good really needs.
Vestaria Saga 1: War of the Scions
Release: 2019 | Developer: Vestaria Project | Steam Deck: Unsupported | Steam
Vestaria Saga looks like Fire Emblem and plays like Fire Emblem, and the reason why it’s so authentic is because the driving force behind it is Shouzou Kaga, famous for… creating Fire Emblem.
Sticking so closely to what Kaga knows does mean this isn’t a surprising game in many ways—if you’ve played any of Nintendo’s classic Marth-referencing adventures before then you’ll know almost exactly how this works right from the beginning, and many of the tactical “twists” will feel familiar—but that’s all part of the appeal. This is a great, although often challenging, and wonderfully nostalgic strategy game, and one that’s obviously been made by somebody who loves the genre even more than its fans do. A sequel, Vestaria Saga II: The Sacred Sword of Silvanister, is also available to buy if you can’t get enough.
Best story-heavy JRPGs
The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero
Release: 2022 | Developer: Falcom, PH3 GmbH| Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
Zero’s the first of a two part story focussed on a brand new cast in a new city, making it a great way to dip your toes into Falcom’s complex tangle of ongoing revelations and arcs within arcs, to give the series a go and see if it’s something you want to spend the next few months of your life utterly absorbed by.
And if you don’t? Zero’s still a wonderful RPG all by itself. Lloyd and friends are entertaining people to spend time with, and the city they live and solve crimes in is so richly detailed it’s almost another character in its own right. Falcom have a real knack for crafting satisfying climaxes set to dramatic battle music that must be turned up as loud as your speakers can go, and Zero ends with a memorable bang rather than a weak “To be continued…” message. The game’s unique combination of turn-based combat laid on top of a tactical grid and highly customisable spell system is a strong complement for its story.
Read more: Trails from Zero is the perfect entry point for Falcom’s sprawling JRPG series
Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age
Release: 2018 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
An RPG story’s depth is often measured by raw word count, or by counting how long and how often we have to sit back and wait for the characters to stop talking. Final Fantasy 12 instead offers us subtle detail backed up by a bottomless well of historical lore, a tale where every minor detail has been included for a reason, where every facial expression and shift in someone’s posture—even when they’re standing in the background—has been created with purpose, where easily ignored NPCs can shed light on everything from local struggles to the lives of your own party members. This Ivalice epic may not have as much to say as some other RPGs, but it’s always trying to tell you something.
It also has one of the best combat systems in the entire series, happily accommodating and celebrating everything from safe and serious builds to wild ingenuity and outright broken ideas. If you’ve got a good idea, Final Fantasy 12 will make it work.
Read more: 15 years on, Final Fantasy 12’s combat system is still the best
Corpse Party (2021)
Release: 2021 | Developer: Mages | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
Nobody ever said role playing games had to have combat, did they?
Corpse Party started life as a doujin RPG Maker-like project, its general excellence and supremely creepy story expanded and refined over the years until it reached its current form. But can a game featuring cute 2D sprites of school kids really be scary? Oh yes. Some of the grisly events in here are truly the stuff of nightmares, and this game has the honour of being the only one that’s ever given me an onomatopoeia-induced shiver.
This newer version of the two Corpse Parties that are confusingly available to buy includes new characters and extra scenarios on top of the usual multiple endings for each chapter, ensuring there are plenty of gruesome delights for new and returning horror fans.
Best JRPG classics
Release: 2018 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
Chrono and friends quest to save the world and each other is a brisk, heartfelt, and impressively reactive RPG where even apparently small changes can have a huge impact on later events. Chrono Trigger really was that good, and it’s still that good today.
It’s still that good on PC too, thanks to a patched-up port based on the excellent DS remaster that defaults to the untouched original pixel art, uses a pleasantly blocky SNES-ish font, and has an entirely optional widescreen mode that actually shows more of the surrounding area, instead of stretching the image to fit. It even has flexible “bookmark” saves on top of the standard permanent ones, making it easy to put the game down at any point—and making Chrono Trigger the perfect pick for cheeky Steam Deck sessions when you’re supposed to be busy doing something else.
Read more: 4 years after its final patch, Chrono Trigger on PC is getting a new update with 21:9 support
Ys: The Oath in Felghana
Release: 2012 | Developer: Falcom | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
This extensive reimagining of Ys 3, the “black sheep” of Falcom’s timeless action RPG series, still feels as fresh as a daisy even though it’s now old enough to be considered a classic in its own right. The main draw here is the game’s irresistible “just one more hour” blend of combat and adventure, every new location delivering an exciting combination of nonstop swordfighting, cunning traps, and some of the best tunes the genre’s ever had. And thanks to a good range of difficulty settings the combat can be as easy or as challenging as you like, with tougher options expanding boss movesets, instead of just inflating their health bar and damage output.
When you don’t know what sort of RPG you want to play, but you know you want it to be good, this Ys is the perfect fit.
Final Fantasy 9
Release: 2016 | Developer: Square Enix | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
Final Fantasy 9 moved away from the sci-fi leanings of the previous two FFs on the PlayStation, opting instead for a charming fantasy world filled with monkey-tailed heroes, princesses, the sweetest mage the series has ever seen, and… whatever the heck Quina is. But underneath that sweet fairy tale veneer is a story that isn’t afraid of going to some dark places.
An interesting twist in the battle system directly ties the ability to learn new skills to specific pieces of equipment, giving you a clear reason to keep weaker gear around even when something stronger is available and forcing a little more tactical thinking than might normally be required. As with other Final Fantasy reissues, various speed up and character boosting options have been grafted onto the base game, making it easy to spend as much or as little time grinding levels and skills between those incredible story beats as you please.
Read more: For Final Fantasy 9’s 20th anniversary, play it with the beautiful Moguri AI upscale mod
Shining Force 2
Release: 2011 | Developer: Sega | Steam Deck: Verified (by me) | Steam
HD remasters with extra scenarios and fresh features are always appreciated, but sometimes it’s nice to play an old favourite on a new machine exactly how you remembered it—and that’s where the Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics collection comes in. My head may wish for true widescreen support, or some lavish compilation of the classic Shining series, but my heart is mostly just grateful that playing one of the Mega Drive’s best RPGs is still so damned easy.
Shining Force 2 is a welcoming and wildly inventive RPG, a colourful fantasy adventure taking on everything from deadly flowers and ninja rats to tiny kingdoms and riverboat battles with giant kraken. You’ll never quite know what’s coming, but it’ll always be fun. The story often goes in directions that more serious takes on strategy roleplaying don’t, making the game a great choice for genre newcomers as well as experienced fans who’d like a little break from weapon triangles, political intrigue, and permadeath.
Read more: Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics now has VR and multiplayer support
Best genre-breaking JRPGs
Collection of SaGa Final Fantasy Legend
Release: 2021 | Developer: Square Enix, Racjin | Steam Deck: Verified | Steam
SaGa games are famously—and unapologetically—happy to do their own weird thing, and this collection of well-emulated of Game Boy classics are no exception to that divisive rule. The monsters look strange more often than they look intimidating, the characters themselves are in no danger of passing for ordinary little RPG heroes, and hacking god to pieces with a chainsaw is a perfectly valid battle plan.
But beyond those oddball first impressions lie a trio of games that just love getting straight to the point. These RPGs were always meant to be played in short, irregular bursts, created for people who don’t have the time for “normal” RPGs but still want to experience the genre’s depth and complexity—and take on divine beings with something from Doomguy’s arsenal too.
Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters Daybreak: Special Gigs
Release: 2017 | Developer: Arc System Works, Toybox | Steam Deck: Unverified | Steam
This spooky strategy RPG is weird, confusing, and brilliant. Imagine Ghostbusters, if Ghostbusters was set in modern Japan and got itself all mixed up with some tactical roleplaying. Heck, the unlikely gang of spirit smashers in here even have their own cobbled together lo-fi tech and legally distinct Egon-alike who likes to stand right next to what is definitely not a containment unit.
Battles against the undead are handled via a stylish mix of careful pre-fight planning, allowing you to set up all sorts of traps, talismans, and ghost detecting effects on the field, and a visually detached attack phase, everything playing out via camera feeds on a tactical tablet screen. The twist here is that everything costs money, so there’s always a need to balance the bustin’ with the budget.
If you’d like to play an RPG that genuinely isn’t like anything else—this game even manages to give standard responses to ordinary questions a unique, emotion-driven twist—you really need to give this a go.
Zwei: The Arges Adventure
Release: 2018 | Developer: Falcom | Steam Deck: Playable | Steam
Falcom’s stunning 2D action RPG knows that the best way to win a gamer’s heart is through fluffy animals, a full belly, and a lighthearted, self-contained, story filled with friendly bickering. You can’t start without picking and then naming a cute pet for the games’ troublemaking teenagers, and the story opens with one of the main characters lazing in bed, dreaming of delicious food.
Delicious food is actually one of the things that separates this from other ARPGs, each mouthwatering delight not just a source of healing but also precious experience points too. This instantly creates an interesting game-long conundrum: do you keep a big pile of sweets and snacks to hand in case you get hurt, or do you chow down as soon as you find them, eating your way straight to the next level up? Whatever you decide, you’ll definitely find plenty of food to go around as you battle through the game’s almost roguelite style dungeons, the frequently unserious dialogue and straightforward monster-whacking within giving this adventure a bright and breezy tone.
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