While unfortunately overshadowed in its lifetime by its big brother the PS2 and its direct competition, the DS, the little PSP was an RPG juggernaut in its own right. Before we get started, let me just say that I will be not be including ports or remakes in this list that we have previously seen in English, so say goodbye to many of the Ys games, the Final Fantasy series, and the Star Ocean games. Now, with all that out of the way, let’s dig right into the top 10 JRPGs of this underappreciated portable
10. Legend of Heroes: Song of the Ocean
This is the gripping conclusion of a trio of games released on the PSP known as the Gagharv trilogy. Here you will join Forte, Una, McBain and their trusty dog, Jan, as they travel around the world of Weltluna lifting people’s spirits through the power of music and collecting Resonance Stones to save the world! Yeah, the game has a spotty translation and copious amounts of backtracking, but I say that adds to its charm, besides, what 90s era game didn’t have these things? To it’s credit though it does have on screen encounters, which, by the midpoint of the game, become extremely easy to avoid and a fast forward feature for the battles. Also the Resonance Stones act as Materia, granting stat gains and spells as you equip them, and this allows for a surprising amount of strategy and customization in an otherwise simple game. If you like what you see, start up the trilogy with Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch and solve the mystery of the Gagharv!
9. Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time
Yes, this is a port, but we never got the original game in English, so I’m including it. The Growlanser series is a real time strategy RPG with fully realized towns, dungeons, and world map, customizable party members, branching paths and multiple endings. Each game is lovingly crafted and many Japanese fans regard this game as the best in the series, since they’ve gotten them all, who am I to say they’re wrong? The story is self contained and features on screen encounters which can be avoided, and a massively customizable ring system. In lieu of weapons each character equips a ring which has slots for gems which increase stats or grant new spells. The story follows Crevanille and a band of mercenaries who discover that angels are coming down from the heavens to oppress humanity, can Crevanille wage war against these angels and become the savior of humanity?
8. Wild Arms XF
Taking a stark departure from the rest of the series, Wild Arms XF is a strategy RPG, not a traditional turn based JRPG. But despite this drastic change in gameplay for the series, it really pulls it off. Like many strategy RPGs, Wild Arms XF implements a class system which is deep and engaging, also the storyline and characters are absolutely hysterical and the game features my favorite villain of all time, Enda. The story follows Clarissa as she tries desperately to restore the kingdom of Elesius. The missions are varied, many times you will not just have to defeat all the enemies, but pull a switch, rescue villagers or save prisoners without being caught. The only thing that really keeps it from getting a higher place on the list would be that many missions pretty much require you to use certain job classes, which can really put a damper on your strategy and creativity.
7. Ys Seven
Like Wild Arms XF, this game marks a departure for the Ys series, just not as drastic. It’s still a solid action RPG, but I guess Adol got tired of adventuring alone and wanted to shake things up a bit, because this time around, you actually get a party of 3 to control, all with different combos, skills and spells. You begin with just your trusted ally Dogi, but as you journey through the land of Altago, you will be joined by many others with their own stories and motivations. It’s a great shakeup in the over 30 year old formula, and one that the Ys series is keen on keeping if Ys 8 is any indication. The plot is the typical “find 5 dragons and save the world” mumbo jumbo, but it’s well done, NPCs are lively and the charaters loveable. But let’s be honest, you play an Ys game for the gameplay and it’s such a departure from the traditional Ys formula, that it reminds me of Secret of Mana, which is amazing, because I love the Secret of Mana.
6. Brave Story: New Traveler
Originally based on a novel, then subsequently turned into a manga and an anime, this series has quite the following in Japan, but like many of the games on my list, it flew under the radar in America. However, it’s a shame because this is a solid throwback to traditional JRPGs of a simpler time. The story follows Tatsuya who gets sucked into the world of Vision after his friend Miki falls ill. All he has to do is travel around the new world gathering gems and voila, his friend will be saved! Yeah, it’s a “gather the crystals” storyline, but it’s well done, the characters that you meet along the way are lovable and the world map is a joy to traverse. Also, the game employs a unique Craze system where monsters can be crazed and powered up by using certain skills, magics or items on them. When you defeat the super powerful crazed monster, you get extra experience, gold and items. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and it’s addictive and fun to craze them all.
5. Hexyz Force
When I picked this hidden gem up from Gamestop, I figured it would be just another JRPG to pass the time, but I quickly realized it was much more than that, it’s one of the best RPGs since the SNES era. Similar to Mana Khemia 2, you choose from one of two protagonists to start, who have completely different parties, motivations and storylines. You meet all throughout the game, but never really join forces, I love this mechanic, and I wish more games used it - it really feels like you’re playing two games in one. The story is encompassing, you inhabit the planet of Norvia whose orbit is locked to the sun, which means that one hemisphere is always light and the other, eternal night. The people on each side of the planet also worship different Goddesses, on the light side, the Goddess of Creation, the dark, Destruction. As you play through the game, every little thing you do will cause the balance of the world to shift towards creation or destruction. This unique mechanic then causes further changes in the game’s content culminating with multiple endings for each of the protagonists. This is a hidden gem that can not be missed.
4. Jeanne d’Arc
Does the name sound familiar? Well, it should if you paid attention in history class as the story loosely follows Joan of Arc and her struggle against the English during the 100 Years War. However, this being a fantasy video game, they take some liberties such as demonic possession and magical powers. Jeanne d’Arc is a grid based strategy RPG beautifully crafted and the story is presented in animated cutscenes complete with voice acting. The battle system is loosely based on Fire Emblem in that battles employ a rock/paper/scissors system, but thankfully, there’s no permadeath. If it did have permadeath I would burn it in the fire that I’ve reserved for all the older Fire Emblem games. Keeping with the classics, the gameplay pretty much follows the Final Fantasy Tactics formula, except there are no classes, instead each playable character pretty much has their own class and it’s up to you to see how best to use them. Can you save poor France from the unjust, ruthless English occupation? Find out in this gem from Level 5.
3. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
This is a prequel to the original game but instead of being turn based, it’s an action RPG starring Zack, Aeris’ boyfriend. The gameplay is tight and streamlined so you never wander around aimlessly wondering what to do, also, Zack can utilize Materia to change his stats and learn spells. If you ever need to level up or want to partake in side missions for bonus items, all you need to do is go to a save point and you will automatically be transported to where the mission takes place, and once you complete it, you will be teleported back. It’s a good system and allows for you to get a few missions in on the fly when you don’t have enough time to really invest in the game proper. When I first heard about this game I assumed that it was just a quick cash grab by Square Enix to capitalize on the success of Final Fantasy VII, but I was wrong, this is a wonderful game well worth your attention.
2. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC
There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of the first Trails in the Sky game and while I did play the Gagharv trilogy first, Trails in the Sky was what started my love affair with the series. Taking place immediately following the Earth shattering ending of the first game, Estelle is out for blood and I love her “take no prisoners” attitude. All the other characters from the first game come back as well and you can actually mix and match your party instead of just having 2 party members join your party per chapter like in the first game. The amount of lore that is set up in regards to Liberl, Erenbonia, Crossbell and Zemuria is astronomical and sets the stage for later games in the series as well. The gameplay, while turn based, is also strategically grid based and makes use of movements around the battlefield and attacks target areas as well as enemies, similar to Chrono Trigger and later games in the series such as Cold Steel. If the first game moved too slow for you and you found it lacking, do yourself a favor and checkout this installment anyway, it’s much more fast paced and is an all round excellent game.
I can hear it right now, “PoPolocrois? What’s that? I’ve never heard of this! how could you possibly put this above Trails in the Sky or Crisis Core? It looks too kiddy, this is a garbage game.” Well, I’m here to tell you, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is easily the best game that we got on the system, and I would go so far as to put this game toe-to-toe with classics such as Chrono Trigger or Earthbound. It’s really that good. The story follows Prince Pietro as he goes on a journey to save his mother’s soul. Along the way he meets colorful characters such as the forest witch Narcia and the soap opera villain, the Gami Gami Devil. Each chacacter is masterfully written and funny, the NPCs are fleshed out, the world really does feel alive. The world map is interconnected and naturally flows so it kind of feels like the maps of Earthbound, with secrets and treasures around every corner. The battle system is similar to that of Trails in the Sky, a turn based tactical system, where you’re fighting on a grid and attacks effect the squares on the grid rather than the enemy. The story and character interactions are adorable, the animated cutscenes are gorgeous and the game is timeless. No gamer should be without this in their collection.