2022 was a wild year for JRPG sickos. Mostly because so many dang games came out it’s impossible to be caught up by now. Square Enix in particular seemed to have a blank check to just publish whatever it felt like, whenever it felt like. This list could’ve been all Square Enix and still had games left over. There were also excellent games from 2021 or earlier ported to other platforms such as Omori or Crystar, making them technically ineligible but totally worth checking out. Then there were surprises, such as the last-minute launch of surefire cult hit Chained Echoes. So much happened this year, and I somehow narrowed it all down to ten games you can’t miss. But there were so many more still worth taking a look at, because this list could’ve looked very different.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream
The Atelier series always stands out with its distinct, wispy style and emphasis on its title characters. Sophie’s first adventure was pretty lighthearted, and so is the sequel. While Atelier Ryza 2 and 3 are sandwiching this one with their clear Main Character energy, Sophie 2 deserves a look for some excellent laid back vibes and impressive visuals.
Pokemon Legends Arceus
Arceus is finally a big Pokemon game from Game Freak that tries entirely new ideas. Rather than outsourcing to other developers for genre experiments, Arceus feels like a “true” Pokemon adventure despite its massive differences. And people really responded to that! It helps that the open world loop of Pokedex research and harrowing encounters with superpowered wild animals was so compelling.
Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising
A simple taste of the much larger game coming in 2023, this sidescrolling action/JRPG romp from the creators of Suikoden was a surprise success. What seemed like a cute, little Kickstarter bonus at first landed with a splash thanks to its striking colors, unique combat and super well-written localization. It even got a physical release later on! Don’t miss out, especially if you’re looking forward to Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes.
Live A Live
One of the most fascinating JRPGs from 90s Squaresoft finally got an official localization, and it got the “HD-2D” treatment to boot. That’s quite a red carpet roll out for a game mostly whispered about in emulation circles. But while its odd ensemble cast makes some gamers hesitate, the genre-blending anthology-style storytelling is fun to navigate, and the way it all comes together in the end rules.
What if Digimon were real? Well, sort of real? I guess the more accurate question would be, what if you got sucked into the Digital World for real, and the Digimon were like wild animal/kaiju creatures instead of Pokemon? It’s hard to get the premise down in a way that separates Digimon from itself, but twisting the classic Digimon story into something a little darker, a little more grounded in reality, makes for an interesting story to say the least. This game really goes places, I’ll say that much.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3
I’m not gonna lie; I didn’t actually play this one. But the review scores and response from people I know said enough. Maybe I’ll get around to it one day, but for now looking at the series from a distance, Xenoblade has come a long way from a lowkey GameStop exclusive for the Wii. Now these games feel like events, and the third time seems to have nailed the balance between anime popcorn and JRPG sincerity.
Soul Hackers 2
I wasn’t sure if I was gonna put Soul Hackers 2 on this list, but there were ultimately so many moments and pieces I looked back on with fondness, so in the list it went. Soul Hackers 2 is a messy game with confusing intentions, but while it fails as a Megami Tensei entry point, it succeeds in taking established Devil Summoner lore to interesting places. There’s real world commentary happening in this game that’s subtle, but feels too close to comfort when you dig into it.
Star Ocean The Divine Force
Star Ocean needed a dub, and with The Divine Force it finally got one. After years of confusing lore and misfires from Tri-Ace, this time everyone nailed it. Frantic action combat mixes well with a new angle on the series’ “totally not inspired by Star Trek” storytelling that challenges the established ways of thinking. The dual protagonist gimmick works well here too, giving players two sides of the story from two very different perspectives.
This game came out of nowhere. I mean, not really, but the reception certainly did. A solo side project turned Kickstarter success, Chained Echoes came out pretty quietly. But the right people gave it a whirl, and the word has spread like a fire since then. While it’s certainly full of classic JRPG references, Chained Echoes does a great job introducing its own twists and ideas, ending up with a game that respects the appeal of this storied genre while making smart concessions for modern players. Also there’s a really good Turtle Race.
I really tried to not just make this the Square Enix show! But there’s no denying the games I included. Especially Triangle Strategy, which ended up not just being a quality follow-up to Octopath Traveler for the HD-2D series, but an excellent and thoughtful tactical JRPG as well. A well told story of individuals surviving larger, violet political machines, Triangle Strategy feels like it could be a distant relative to Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. I mean, it kind of literally is, but the vibes are there is what I’m saying. Check this one out, especially on PC or a Switch OLED.
There we are. I wish I had time to play and finish not only all these games, but all the other JRPGs I didn’t mention here. There’s simply too much videogames for one person nowadays. Can we slow down a little in 2023? Please?