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JRPGs on the Xbox 360
Over the lifespan of the Xbox 360 Microsoft has left fans of certain genres yearning for more. Amongst this group one of the most vocal has to be the JRPG fans. There are very few choices available for the 360 when it comes to JRPGs. With the approaching release of the Xbox One I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at this forgotten genre of the last generation. While the pickings may be slim there have been some really stand out examples released on the 360. Most of these games where not and never will be huge sellers or triple A titles, but they do serve to scratch that itch that only a Japanese Role Playing Game can. I have not included the Final Fantasy series or Dark Souls because chances are if you are here then you already own one or both of them.
Released in September 2008 Infinite Undiscovery was not a bad game, just not a great one. Developed by Tri-ace and published by Square Enix expectations where high, but unfortunately not met. The story revolves around a musician by the name of Capell who is one of the few people in the world that cannot use magic. Because of this he is considered unblessed and was abandoned as a child. Capell is rescued at the beginning of the game by Aya, another major cast member. Capell has the power to break the chains that entrap the moon and him and his crew set off on a quest to do just that. During the course of the game Capell gains 18 more allies to journey with which is a lot for any RPG outside of the Suikoden series. Only three of the 18 are allowed to battle directly with Capell at any given time. There are times throughout the game where you create subparties that are controlled by the AI, this system means you must keep all 19 characters geared and leveled, no leaving those useless ones in the background here. Combat is all real-time and while the system was really simply it was a nice change of pace from the traditional turn-based systems used by most JRPGs. Your partie members are controlled by the AI. The unique connect feature allows you to preform special actions with other party members, both in and out of combat. There is also a single button heal command that you can give to the AI, which actually works really well. The adventures of Capell and friends is rather short for a JRPG, around 20-30 hours. I did pick this up when it released and I can't say it was bad, it served to cover a gap in the genre and helped those cravings for the days of final fantasy and chrono trigger I was having. At this point and time if you have not played Infinite Undiscovery, you can pick it up for least to ten dollars and it's worth the money.
With Hironobu Sakaguchi of final fantasy fame producing and writing as well as artwork from Akira Toriyama (Dragonball Z), you knew Blue Dragon was going to be a big deal when it released August of 2007. I snagged this one right away and I did enjoy it but it was another game with big names behind it that did not quite live up to the hype. Blue Dragon focuses on Shu, Kluke, and Jiro three friends from the village of Talta. During the game the three friends obtain shadows that are attached to them, these shadows allow them to cast special magic as well as use different skills. These shadows can change into what amounts to three different classes, each class offers different options as far as combat to the character that it is attached to. Shadows will gain their own levels and will develop their skills differently based on what class they currently are. While the combat is traditional turn-based there are some time management features that give an extra layer of strategy.Being able to wait turns to increase the power of your magic is one example of this. Many modern JRPGs have forgone the random encounter in favor of having the monsters appear on the map with the players. Blue Dragon is no different and benefits can be gained based on the direction you touch the monster to engage combat. While Blue Dragon was not the break out hit like the Final Fantasy games are it did fairly well and spawned a couple of sequels as well as an Anime. As with Infinite Undiscovery you can pick Blue Dragon up these days for around ten dollars and it is worth every penny.
Here we have another Hironobu Sakaguchi game from his Mistwalker studio. Unlike Blue Dragon was more of a traditional JRPG. The story revolves around an immortal by the name of Kaim. Kaim has lived over a thousand years but does not remember his past. The story of Kaims past is told through graphic novel style scenes called dreams. These sequences where penned by famous Japanese author Kiyoshi Shigematsu. The world of Lost Odyssey is under going what the writers call a "Magical-industrial revolution". What this means is the entire game has a sort of steam punk feel but with magic instead of steam controlling the robots and airships. During the course of the game you control both mortal and immortal characters. Mortals are able to gain skills and levels the same way you would in any other RPG. The immortals are a little different in that they have to link to a mortal character or use an item to acquire skills. Immortals are limited to how many skills they can use that they have learned. This system can allow for some creative character builds similar to that seen in MMORPGs. There is a ring aim system for combat, which is pretty much a quick time event that adds special effects to the attack. While there are slight changes to the standard JRPG formula what really makes Lost Odyssey stand out is the story. The dream sequences are some of my favorite writing from a current generation RPG. Lost Odyssey released in 2008 in the US and is worth picking up if you can. This one will run you a little more than some of the games on this list but fifteen dollars still is not a lot to ask. Lost Odyssey
Filled with classical music references and a fantasy story focused on one of my favorite composers is one of my favorite games period for the 360. The story of Eternal Sonata is based around the last hours of real life composer Frédéric Chopin. Chopin died of tuberculosis at the age of 39. In Eternal Sonata Tri-Crescendo imagines a world filled with fantasy where the people are sick with an incurable sickness, but this illness also allows them to use magic. This world is where Chopin spent the last three hours of his life while in a dreamlike state in reality. The over arching story line is pretty standard oppression of a large government and rebels rising up to confront it. The way the story is told however, with its cutscenes grounded in history as well as the constant musical influence over the entire world is amazing. Combat is a cross between turn based and real-time. As you progress through the game your party level will increase which unlocks different bonuses for you but also imposes time restrictions. There is also a light and dark system where your skills and powers will change when in the shadows. This system also affects monsters and some of them can get very strong when in their preferred element. If I sound bias compared to the other reviews and overviews of the games on this list, it's because I am I love Eternal Sonata and for less then twenty dollars everyone with a 360 owes it to themselves to try it. Eternal Sonata
Resonance of Fate
With one of the most unique combat systems released in a JRPG Resonance of the Fate definitely innovated in the genre, for better or worse. Resonance of Fates story takes place on an alternative history sci-fi/steampunk earth. The game takes place in a tower around a device called the Basel. This device allows humans to live on despite a plague that ravaged the world and killed off most of the population. The story revolves around Vashyron and his band of Hunters. Hunters are groups of mercenaries that take on gun for hire contracts. The banter between the group is amusing and while it takes awhile to build up there is a bigger overarching story here. I personally found the story to be decent but really really slow to build up. Combat in Resonance of Fate is stand out and works on a combination of turn-based and real time actions. In some ways it does remind me of Eternal Sonata, but with a lot more depth. I am not going to go into every nuance in the combat system because that would require a hub all to itself. What I will say about the combat is once you figure it all out it is a lot of fun and the hero action attacks remind me a lot of a John Woo film. Anyone looking to play this game should make there way right to the arena as soon as the intro is over and go through every tutorial there. This will take you a good 45 minutes to an hour to go through but will increase your enjoyment of the game ten fold. The uniqueness does not end with combat, the over world and the way you navigate it is more akin to a puzzle game then a standard RPG. If you are looking for something different within the realm of JPRGs I would recommend Resonance of Fate. Everything about this game is different from its brethren, from the setting, to the combat system, and the world exploration. For around twenty dollars you can get something completely different but at the same time very familiar for your role playing dollar.
The Last Remnant
The Last Remnant came out in 2009 and was a Square Enix release. The main character is named Rush Sykes and the story involves him running around with a group of followers attempting to find lost artifact remnants to beat the Conquer. The story line on a whole is rather typical save the world fashion, but taken on a scene by scene basis it is engaging enough. While most reviewers blasted the combat system I found it to be rather entertaining. Combat is turn based but has you giving commands to groups of units the game calls unions. The ability to create and tweak these unions give the Last Remnant a slight wargame feel. Even with the command style combat and union creation system it still feels a lot like other turn based RPGs out there. While it may seem that I am complaining make no mistake I did enjoy The Last Remnant a lot when it came out. It your looking for something familiar then the Last Remnant would be the way to go. Since it will only set you back ten dollars now if you missed it the first time around you don't have much to lose. I will add that if you plan to pick up The Last Remnant I would advise installing it to your hard drive otherwise it can have some rather horrid frame rate issues.
Star Ocean: the last hope
Star Ocean melds both fantasy and science fiction together in a way most other RPGs can't do. Star Ocean: the last hope released in Feburary of 2009 by Tri-ace and Square Enix. The last hope continues the action combat of the other games in the Star Ocean series, but gives the player more control over the AI then before with the BEAT system. What the Beat system does is allow the player to choose how the AI characters will react, each character has their own BEAT system and the fighting style that they are using will level up as it is used allowing the use of new special powers. I have always been a fan of the Star Ocean games and the last hope delivered as I hoped it would. While it feels a lot like the other games in the series there are enough changes to make it feel fresh. Among these changes my favorite is the ability to pilot your own spaceship. You can fly around and visit other planets once you get the ship. Although this can lead to a lot of disc swapping as not all the planets are on the same disc. The last hope definitely leans more on the science fiction than fantasy setting, which is nice with all the fantasy games out there. If there is something to complain about it would be the distance between the saves points can be a bit long. Also the combat can be brutal at times if the player is not prepared. The game is big, it spans 3 discs on the 360 and there is a lot to see and do to keep players busy for dozens of hours. If you are looking for a deep involved game then the last hope would be the way to go.
Magna Carta 2
Magna Carta was released in 2009 by Banpresto and is technically a Korean Role Playing Game. The game play is a lot like that of an MMORPG, combat is real time with the ability to pause for actions and all the monsters are present on the screen. You are able to control three active characters in your party. You can also have 3 inactive characters that can be switched out during combat. While you only directly control one character you can customize the AI settings for the remaining party members. Magna Carta 2 story focuses around an amnisic protaganist named Juto who gets caught up in a war. The story leaves a lot to be desired but the game play itself is entertaining. As you defeat monsters you obtain Kamonds which can be used to enhance both your items as well as the characters in the game. There is a crafting system but it is rather simple and requires you to take recipes and the required items to a shop and they create the item for you. Magna Carta 2 is the sequal to Magna Carta: Tears of Blood for the PS2, they are very different games and you can enjoy Magna Carta 2 without having played the first. The game has become rather rare now and will set you back thirty dollars for a used copy.
Billed as Magic: The Gathering meets Monopoly Culdcept Saga is rather unique among the games on this list. The story involves a young man sold into slavery who has to fight for his freedom and eventually to free the country but the story takes a back seat to the game play. Like monopoly players progress around a game board and acquire "property". Monsters played from your book, which is akin to a card deck in a collectible card game are placed on these "properties". The game even requires to roll dice in order to move around the game board. When an opposing player lands on a space you own they can either pay the "rent" or choose to challenge the monster that is on the square. Combat again plays like a Collectible Card Game where both attacker and defender play cards that can hinder opposing monsters or help their own. There are other concepts involving elemental effects of the board tiles and the ability to use cards and monsters to change these elements to benefit yourself. Collecting different cards and building the best book is much of the strategy behind the game and feels like you are building a Magic:the Gathering deck. Culcept Saga has offline multiplayer and that is where I spent most of my time with the game. Like most games that are designed around board games Culcept Saga can get rather boring when played alone. With a paper thin story and AI that is to hard one minute and to easy the next this game was designed to play with others. If you want to get the feel of a JRPG but with some friends and have a spare twenty lying around Culcept Saga is worth picking up, just don't go alone.
Tales of Vesperia
Tales of Vesperia
Tales of Vesperia is the tenth game in the Tales series. I have always been a fan of the Tales series and Vesperia takes everything that I love about the games and makes it better. The story revolves around items called Blastia. These items are used by the people of the world Terca Lumireis to do things like create water or keep a life giving tree alive. You play a character by the name of Yuri who finds himself wondering the world trying to find the people who are stealing the Blastia from the world. The story has some nice twists and a sense of humor. I found the story to be engaging if a little typical of the genre. Combat works similar to previous Tales games with combat taking place in real time. Monsters can be seen on the world map and Vesperia introduces the encounter link system. With this system if more than one monster group is near the player when they enter combat they will have to fight all monster groups simultaneously. Vesperia also has a redone skill system that involves finding new skills via items and assigning learning points to them in order to use them. Most fans of JRPGs are familiar with the Tales series and probably have played Vesperia at this point but if you have not and are willing to cough up the thirty dollars for it then I recommend you give it a try.
Record of Argarest War
Argarest War has some interesting ideas behind it such as breeding and having your offspring continue the next section of the story. This "Soul Breeding" as it is called is basically a Dating Sim within a strategy RPG. Your main character is always male and will be surrounded with female party members. As you continue through the game you will have conversations with these females and at the end of each chapter of the story you will marry one of them. The son of your character and the female you ended up with will become the character you play for the next chapter. This system of fighting, wooing, dating, breeding, start over is continued through five generations in game. Your offspring will inherit all your previous levels and stats. The gameplay itself involves you moving around to predetermined points on a map and either entering towns, fighting, or dialog. Combat is very much in the vein of final fantasy tactics where you move around a board attacking enemies. Unlike most strategy RPGs however there is no terrain of any sort in Aragest War. Every board is flat and the background of where you are fighting has no bearing on the outcome of combat. There are link abilities that allow you to use more than one character to release a special attack as long as characters involved are standing the proper formation. I must admit Record of the Argarest War and it's sequel are my least favorite JRPGs for the Xbox 360. I found the dating sim system to be filled with sexual innuendo and poor attempts at humor. The combat could have been fun but the lack of any tactics beyond standing in the right spot to do special attacks causes it to become boring rather quickly. I snagged this when it released because SRPGs like final fantasy tactics and front mission are some of my favorite games, I was rather disappointed. If you are interested Aragrest War can be had for around twenty dollars used.
Spectral Force 3
Spectral Force 3 was published in north america in 2008 by Atlus, two years after its Japanese release. Spectral Force is a tactical RPG much like final fantasy tactics or fire emblem. One of the more interesting features of Spectral Force is the friendship that is built with the warring factions. As the game goes on and the player fights battles the war continues around them and territory is conquered and lost. This over arching war that runs through the game does give you the sense that you are part of something bigger. Combat plays out on a grid based map like most tactical RPGs with the player being able to bring in six characters on each map. One thing the game has going for it is the amount of characters the player can use. With over forty characters to use, each with their own skills and abilities there are a lot of personalities in Spectral Force. While the game is rather standard strategy RPG fair there is certainly a lot to do in the game. With nine different factions that the player can take missions from to help steer the direction of the war. With the ability to shape the war by choosing which faction to fight for there is definitely incentive to play through more than once. This is one of the cheapest games on the list coming in at around seven dollars. There are even less choices when it comes to tactical RPGs on the Xbox 360 so while it may be mediocre if that's what you are looking for then Spectral Force 3 will serve you well.
Record of Agarest War Zero
This is the one game on the list that I have not personally played. If you read my bit about Record of Agarest War then you will know why. I did some searching around and found that Zero is prequel to the first game and not much has changed. The dating sim aspect as well as the repetitive tactical combat is still here. From what I have seen and read the overtly sexual comments and encounters have been toned down. My problem with the first game was never the sexual content however, it was with the boring game play. If you played and liked the first one, or the idea of a dating sim tactical RPG intrigues you then you can pick the second game up for under twenty dollars.
amnesia, check. turn based combat, check. random encounters, check. Hidden power to destroy or save the world, check. Enchanted Arms was the first JRPG released for the Xbox 360, and it shows. Enchanted Arms is about as paint by numbers as it comes from the plot to the combat, everything has a been there done that feel. While it may play the same as dozens of JRPGs released on the PS2 there are somethings that make this game worth playing. The story is riddled in cliches but is written very well. The voice acting is pretty awful but the story itself is engaging enough. Combat does have a strategic appeal because characters are arranged on a grid and the player is able to move them. Moving is in fact a large part of the combat because every skill and attack has a certain range and positioning becomes very important in the latter battles. Because of it's more tactical approach to standard turn based combat some of the battles can last quite awhile and start to feel that they are dragging on. The overall story has you fighting golems, and once defeated you will receive their core. Golem cores are items that can be used to recruit golems to your party. With over 100 golems in the game there is definitely a certain "Gotta Catch 'Em All" appeal to the game. I picked this up when it released way back in 2006 and I did have fun with it. Granted at the time RPG options on the Xbox 360 did not exists and I have not played it recently. Maybe it is a case of Nostalgia but for five bucks I would said it would be worth another go.
I know the choices are few but hopefully this list has given you some insight to some JRPGs you may never had heard of. I don't think I missed anything but if I did please feel free to comment below and let me know. You can also check out my ode to the random encounter and a list of "real" games my wife plays.