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The beginner's guide to JRPGs

Jason Schreier

This is a column by Jason Schreier dedicated to the analysis (and occasional mocking) of his favorite genre, the Japanese role-playing game. Whether it's because they're too antiquated or just too niche, he believes JRPGs don't get enough attention in the gaming industry today. It's time to change that.

The JRPG is an intimidating genre. For gamers accustomed to short sessions of turtle-hopping or soldier-blasting, it can be tough to commit to a sprawling, complex role-playing game.

It's also a gigantic genre. There are hundreds of games out there with bizarre titles like Suikoden and Ar tonelico that are as hard to tell apart as they are to pronounce.

So if you want to get into JRPGs but you've never so much as touched a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest before, how do you know where to start? How do you know where to spend your time? How can you differentiate between silly tedium and fantastic adventures?

A few weeks ago on Twitter, user @gurpreet_kambo suggested that I write a guide for inexperienced role-players, helping you all sort through the dreck and ease into the genre one over-sized sword at a time. So I've put together a list of charming, accessible adventures that all make perfect entry points for JRPG newbies. They also make great holiday gifts (and excuses to get away from your family).

Final Fantasy VI (Wii Virtual Console, PlayStation Network, Game Boy Advance)

If you're going to jump into JRPGs, where better to start than the most famous RPG series of all time? Final Fantasy VI is both my personal favorite and the most accessible of Square Enix's ubiquitous franchise, a game that holds up today despite its 16-bit aesthetics. It's a lot of fun and not too challenging, and the perfect entry point for anyone who wants to see what all that "Final Fantasy" fuss is all about.

Afterwards, try: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X

Dragon Quest IX (Nintendo DS)

Though Square Enix's slime-filled series has a reputation for being filled with mundane level-grinding, the ninth entry is surprisingly accessible. It's an exciting adventure filled with many hours worth of charming towns to see and pun-laden monsters to destroy. Best of all, it's portable; spending a solid 60 hours with a game is much easier when you can take it on the go.

Afterwards, try: Dragon Quest VIII, Dragon Quest III

Super Mario RPG (Wii Virtual Console)

Mario might not seem like the most obvious choice for an RPG hero, but it turns out he's pretty much awesome at just about everything he does, including teaming up with Princess Peach and Bowser to defeat a gang of marauding swords and axes. Stuffed with platforms, puzzles and hilarious writing, Super Mario RPG is non-stop charm -- and a really good starting point for genre newcomers.

Afterwards, try: Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Paper Mario

Tales of Vesperia (Xbox 360)

It can be grating if you're not a fan of anime styles, but the Tales series is a lot of fun thanks to its action-stuffed real-time combat system. Vesperia is one of the best in the series despite some annoying voice actors and an oft-incoherent story. The characters are entertaining, bantering constantly in breakaway cut-scenes as they adventure across the game's sizable world, and battling is more about timing and skill than grinding up your stats. It looks good, too.

Afterwards, try: Tales of Phantasia

Radiant Historia (Nintendo DS)

One of 2011's best JRPGs and a modern take on the genre, Radiant Historia has lots to offer newcomers. There's time travel, betrayal and a grid-based strategic combat system that takes some thinking to master. And there's one hell of a soundtrack.

Afterwards, try: Chrono Trigger

Jason Schreier is a freelance writer/editor based out of NYC. He's a contributing writer for and occasionally writes for a number of other sites and publications, including Edge Magazine, the Onion News Network and G4TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @jasonschreier.

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