Chrono Trigger (If They Don't Mind Going Retro): My girlfriend has played exactly one JRPG to completion in her lifetime, and that is Chrono Trigger. Bear in mind that this is the same woman who found watching both Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII deathly boring. It was Chrono Trigger's great music and relative accessibility that got her hooked.
Thinking on it though, I think Chrono Trigger's secret strength is the fact that it's a turn-based game that never truly transitions to a battle screen. Instead, when an enemy approaches, the menu pops up and the battle simply begins. It's a method that makes Chrono Trigger feel oddly less threatening, mainly because the seamless transition makes more sense to the naked eye than the more abrupt shift found in other RPGs. Somehow, it makes the battles feel more real.
It's little details like that, as well as the fact that it's now easy to find on the Nintendo DS and iOS, that makes Chrono Trigger easy to recommend.
The Last Story (If They Want Something with a Little More Action)
: I'm loathe to recommend a true action RPG like Kingdom Hearts to someone who wants to get into JRPGs. Yes, I recognize that pure action RPGs are increasingly becoming the norm. I'm just bitter
A reasonable compromise, I feel, is The Last Story
. It's not really a menu-based RPG like Final Fantasy VII
, nor is it really a Kingdom Hearts-style experience. It falls somewhere between the two in the way that it treats each enemy encounter to be solved with a mixture of the party's special abilities. It also moves at a good pace, tells a nice story and is available on a platform that practically everyone has owned at some point.
Anyone with a Wii U should pick up The Last Story
regardless. Might as well put that patched-in backwards compatibility to good use, right?The World Ends With You (If They Like Japan Even a Little Bit)
: I think I've purchased maybe 10 copies of The World Ends With You
by now. It's cheap, it's one of the best games on the Nintendo DS, and it makes for a great gift. If the person in question is even a little bit interested in Japan, then The World Ends With You
is the answer.
Why The World Ends With You
and not... say... Persona 4
? Well, I'm always happy to recommend Persona, but the sheer depth combined with the occasionally plodding pace gives me pause. It's an arresting game, don't get me wrong, but maybe not one I would recommend to someone who has mainly subsisted on a steady diet of action games. I think Persona 3
or Persona 4
would be the second JRPG I would recommend.The World Ends With You
, however, is just about perfect for first-timers. If nothing else, it has the benefit of being unique. And if you're worried about them being overwhelmed by the top-screen, then simply point them to the newly-released iPad version, which does away with the dual-screen contrivance entirely. Like the other two games I listed, it has just enough action to grab one's attention, plus enough depth to whet one's appetite for more.
I wish I could recommend whatever the modern equivalent of Final Fantasy VII
might be – a true showstopper that is both really good and really easy to pick up. Valkyria Chronicles
might be a good choice in that regard, especially if the person in question is looking for a good strategy game. Other than that though, it's tough. Tales of Vesperia
isn't a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but it's really slow to start, and its voice acting isn't the best. We'll be getting Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
next year, but the jury's still out on that one.
If nothing else, the old standbys are still somewhat viable. Dragon Quest IV
and Dragon Quest V
are both fabulous 16-bit RPGs that got very good remakes on the Nintendo DS, and Final Fantasy VII
has gotten a new lease on life on the PlayStation Store. If your friend has a PSP or a Vita, I feel like the latter is practically a given at this point. It still shows its age, but it doesn't feel as glaring on the small screen.
As always, the right recommendation is up to the individual tastes of the people in question. Think hard on it. More often than not, the right game is all it takes to bring a new fan into the fold.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.