JRPG Collection

Best JRPGs with romance systems

You’re a globetrotter and a skilled fighter, on a quest to save the world with a team of brilliant men and women who are fast becoming your best friends. What would make this adventure even better? How about… falling in love?

Some of the best romances in videogames are from JRPGs. Cloud and Arieth. Tidus and Yuna. Pairings that inspired joy and jealousy as you watched the characters falling in love. But these couples do not appear in this article. It’s one thing to watch a romance story unfold, and another to play an active part in it!

When romance becomes a gameplay system, we want what we want in any gameplay system: interesting decisions. Yes, that includes a choice of which character to romance, but we also want to choose what to say to them, and whether we fight alongside them in battle. Decisions should also have consequences. If you court one character, that’s probably going to put off another character, or perhaps them jealous.

But this list is not just about gameplay mechanisms. Feelings play a big part too! The most interesting systems won’t impress us if the datable characters don’t make our hearts flutter. Sometimes a lack of complexity is made up for with, well… je ne sais quoi. That’s the case with the first game in the list. 

Dragon Quest V (1992)

Bianca from Dragon Quest V

Here’s a story that demonstrates that lasting impact of the romance system in Dragon Quest V. Three full decades after the game was released in Japan, a shareholder of Square Enix asked the new president, Takashi Kiryu, a very important question at his first shareholders meeting:

I would like to know whether Director Kiryu chose Bianca or Nera.


Bianca and Nera are the original two “Heavenly Brides” that could be married in Dragon Quest V (a third, Debora, was added in the Nintendo DS remake). Kiryu himself explained the differences in personality between the two: “Bianca is vivacious, whereas Flora is quiet.” Kiryu choose Bianca, but we can be sure his answer will not settle this debate, which has lasted over 30 years now.

What makes the heavenly brides worthy of note is that your choice of partner is also a choice of party member. Nera is more magically attuned; Bianca is better at hitting things with sharp objects. If you choose one, you cannot choose the other. It’s a simple system, but it has all the elements we’re looking for: the player has an active role in choosing to build a relationship with the women they vibe with the most, and this choice is reflected in the gameplay and the story. That the two brides were great enough characters to stand the test of time is a very nice bonus.

NPC comments "Ah, what a beautiful wedding it was" in Dragon Quest V screenshot

Enhancing Dragon Quest V‘s romance is a narrative arc that spans multiple generations, which, in typical Yuji Horii style, is equally inventive and compelling. The protagonist embarks on a quest that sees them grow from a child to an adult, experiencing various trials and tribulations along the way. Central to this journey are the relationships forged with a diverse cast of characters, including those potential love interests.

To this day, Dragon Quest V stands as a shining example of how romance can be integrated into JRPGs to enrich the player experience. It’s a great place to start the discussion, but the complexities of the romance systems take off from here. 

Thousand Arms (1998)

Released during the late ’90s, this PlayStation cult classic is one part Breath of Fire, one part Tokimeki Memorial. The system it devised was the first of it’s kind, making Thousand Arms the prototypical JRPG/Dating-Sim hybrid, and still quite a good one. 

Intimacy level with Kyleen increases in Thousand Arms screenshot
Screenshot taken by Bobbin Threadbare and uploaded to Let’s Play Archive.

At the core of Thousand Arms lies a dating sim mechanic that intertwines seamlessly with the traditional JRPG format. Players step into the shoes of Meis Triumph, a cheeky blacksmith with a penchant for both forging legendary weapons and capturing the hearts of various love interests. The game breaks away from the one-size-fits-all approach often seen in romantic subplots by allowing players to actively pursue relationships with different characters. These aren’t just aesthetic choices; each romantic path unveils unique storylines, character developments, and even specialised abilities that tie back into the main quest.

Decision-making takes centre stage in this romantic ballet. Meis must navigate through dialogue choices, gifts, and actions to woo the chosen companion. However, this isn’t a mere flirtation simulator – the consequences of these choices ripple through the fabric of the wider game. A successful romance isn’t just about personal satisfaction; it often means unlocking additional gameplay perks, offering a tantalising blend of emotional investment and strategic advantage.

The cast of Thousand Arms

Yet, the million-polygon question remains: does Thousand Arms pull off this romantic rendezvous with flair? For the most part, yes. The variety in romantic pursuits and the tangible impact on the overarching narrative are commendable. The game succeeds in making romance not just a side quest but an integral part of the gaming experience. However, some might find the system a tad formulaic, with certain decisions leading to predictable outcomes. Despite this, the game’s ability to blend heartfelt connections with tangible gameplay benefits ensures that the romantic journey in Thousand Arms is a worthy detour from the main quest – a detour that adds both depth and dimension to the JRPG experience.

Star Ocean 2 (1999)

Rena from Star Ocean 2

Released in the late ’90s for the PlayStation, this space-faring epic not only took players on a cosmic journey but also allowed the player to navigate various romantic pairings. The Private Action (PA) system, which facilitates these romantic options in the Star Ocean series, is quite clever. It works like this: instead of entering a town as a party, you can always choose to enter the town alone, and your party members split off and do their own thing too, activating new dialogue options and events.

So “Private Actions” can be described like this: what do the protagonist and other party members get up to when the rest of the group aren’t looking? It’s no surprise that by the second game, Star Ocean: Second Story, Private Actions were used to explore romantic pairings between the characters. Claude can meet Celina at the shops and buy her a nice piece of jewellery, or meet Rena at the library and agree to become her tutor, and eventually the character you have the most affinity points for get a special moment with the protagonist in the game’s ending. 

Affinity and choice of partner doesn’t affect the gameplay too much, but the system is undeniably praiseworthy. It goes beyond the typical ‘choose your sweetheart’ mechanic and weaves the romantic subplot seamlessly into the larger tapestry of the game. In doing so, Star Ocean 2 manages to offer a satisfying blend of emotional storytelling and player engagement.

A historical note: the developers of Star Ocean worked previously on the Tales series, and Private Actions fill a similar role to the skits of Tales, though with the player taking a more active role. We could also say Private Actions were a precursor to Social Links, the system that the next games on the list are known for.

Persona 3 (2006) and 4 (2008)

Developed by Atlus, these JRPGs are masterpieces of videogame romance systems. They manages to do it all: make the romance relevant to the monster-raising-dungeon-crawling mechanics at the core of the series, while also giving us heart-warming connections to nurture across a range of lovable characters.

Whichever of the Persona games you choose, the romance system is Social Link mechanic. As the protagonist navigates the towns of Tatsumi Port Island (in Persona 3) or Inaba (in Persona 4), they forge bonds with various characters, each represented by a distinct arcana.

For example, players can pursue a romantic relationship with Rise Kujikawa, a former idol who temporarily moves to Inaba. Players can support Rise as she grapples with her identity outside of the limelight, leading to a deeper emotional connection, which also levels up the arcana associated with Rise. 

This makes you more powerful in battle. As you level up the Lovers arcana by romancing Rise, the monsters your fuse that are associated with the Lovers arcana get a flood of bonus experience. Brilliantly, social connections and romance become the pathway to unlock some of the most powerful monsters in the game. 

Persona even tries to simulate break-ups. If you leave a lover in the cold for too long, or offend them, their social link will reverse. This happened to me when I accidentally ignored Yuko the sports captain in Persona 3, despite intending to complete her social link, after many hours of learning about her and winning her affection. I was genuinely shocked and upset! Thankfully, these reversed social links can be recovered.

What sets the romance in the Persona apart is the emphasis on character development. Yes, the social links are a linear checklist, but they’re also about delving deep into the psyche of each character and uncovering their vulnerabilities. When you add that to the advantage you get in battle as a result, it makes for one of the most addictive JRPG romance systems of all time. It’s easy to get totally lost in it!

JRPG Collection Screenshots

Xenosaga Episode 1 Screenshots

This is a collection of 50 high-quality screenshots from the Playstation 2 JRPG Xenosaga Episode I.

They were taken in PCSX2, some at the native resolution and resized, and some at 2x the internal resolution.

It’s not a comprehensive tour of the game, but simply a variety of shots I found nice to look at, including many showing off the game’s attack effects and character design.

Feel free to use these screenshots on your own website or in your own project. If you do, we would greatly appreciate a link back to Great Adventures Review.

JRPG Collection

Why Xenosaga Episode 1 is still great


A crowd at the Kukai Foundation in Xenosaga

Part 1: Story and Characters

In the first few hours, Xenosaga Episode I drops an action cutscene that shows it isn’t playing around. Your dreadnought is attacked by the Gnosis, enemies impervious to their weapons because they exist out of phase with the material world. This fact doesn’t, unfortunately, limit the alien’s offensive capabilities, and the Gnosis tear through the human fleet unopposed, leaving starship debris and cold bodies in their wake. 

That is, until KOS-MOS is activated. The female cyborg who can fight the Gnosis has been at the centre of our attention since the start of the game, but this is the first time we see her awake, and the outcome is devastating. Spinning, flipping and shooting lasers in all directions, staring with red eyes of death, we are left in awe of KOS-MOS — and of Monolith Soft’s ability to construct an action scene.

KOS-MOS is an action figure, in more ways than one. She has movable parts. Take her arms off, replace them with weapons: a gun, a spear, a scythe. Went she enters battle mode, her visors clicks down over her face. 

She is the coolest toy, which is just one of the ways KOS-MOS is similar to Weltall, the coolest toy in Xenogears. As Weltall was to Fei, KOS-MOS is to Shion: an overpowered machine, allied to the main character, but with a mysterious and grand role to play in the cosmic story.

Whether we can also draw lines from KOS-MOS to Aegis in Persona 3 or 2B in Neir Automata, I can’t say: a full genealogy of hot female androids was beyond the scope of my research. But the developer’s sanitised explanation for KOS-MOS’s creation satisfies me. This is a mech-ridden universe, but even the most powerful giant robot cannot fight the Gnosis. The secret weapon had to exist on a different technological path, and the design — small, human, dexterous, feminine — reflects this. 

It has been awhile since I’ve fallen in love with a group of characters like these. Every time Ziggy asks a question with cyborg stoicism but human concern. Every time Jr., the physically smallest character, is the first to step forwards in the face of danger. Every time Shion is filled with sympathy for another character. I love them all. I had no complaints with the voice acting.

Xenosaga is part prequel to, part remake of Xenogears (which was rushed to completion, and the planned sequel never greenlit). Canonically, however, they are separate entities, Gears owned by Square and Saga by Namco. In other words, this universe has been made twice, and that is a testament to the faith of Tetsuya Takahashi and Soroya Saga (husband and wife co-writers) in their ideas. 

Sadly, Xenosaga, planned as a six game series, ended after three. The fate of a Takahashi-Saga universe is to fizzle out prematurely. This is a canon event.

I want to say “The candle that burns fast burns bright”, but it would been ironic considering the slow burn of the game itself. That’s where most critics leave their analysis of Xenosaga: the length of the cutscenes. They should be talking about the depth of the mystery, the richness of the universe, and the quirks of the characters. These are what makes Xenogears and the Xenosaga series, however truncated, exceptional.

From the sci-fi megabuildings like the Durandal (a spaceship which becomes the government building for a planet when it lands vertically) to the design details of the UMN (just a menu screen, but with the in-universe role of being a popular app), this world is big, original and immersive. It has the production values to back up that ambition: despite leaving Square, Xenosaga can almost compete with Final Fantasy in the department. 

Lots of JRPGs, especially in the Final Fantasy series, reference Star Wars, but Xenosaga draws on a deeper creativity, feeling like Star Wars while looking nothing like it; capturing the imagination and excitement of a sci-fi classic without referencing any. Xenosaga is, simply, great science fiction.

Part 2: Mechanics

Earlier I compared a character to an action figure. Well, that metaphor also extends to the levelling, where there is not just one system to play with, but several. EXP, TP, SP, and EP are gained after battle, and they can all be spent on different aspects of your character. EP is spent in a tech tree to acquire new magic. TP is spent making your technical attacks faster or more powerful. 

UX designers aim to delight their users; I find the various systems in Xenosaga delightful. They are like a sushi selection: simple, varied, and finely crafted. Levels are dotted with enticing red doors, the keys to which are found in other levels. Behind the doors you find unique accessories that impart skills. Spend enough SP teaching your characters skills, and you level up to a new skill tier. Every stage of this process is enjoyable in itself. Combined? This is the stuff addictive side activities are made of. 

It’s a shame the decoders, which open the doors, are so well hidden you might need a guide to find them. Occasional obtuseness in Xenosaga can be a small impediment to fun. It also made the end of the game challenging for me, as I didn’t understand what the appropriate way to spent TP was. Somewhat counterintuitively, you should spend a lot of them on stats, not techniques. I understand that obtuseness also affects Xenosaga Episode II, but I’ll be prepared for it when I get there.

In Xenogears, I was unimpressed by how characters had a random selection of ether skills, rather than ones that best fit their character. Xenosaga does better. First, because characters can transfer ether skills, there’s no requirement to make their natural spells balanced. Therefore, the spells a designed to fit the character. Second, each character has a unique spell intro animation that fits the nature of their power. 

Attack effects are a work of art. They hit hard, supported by a sharp and varied library of sound effects and screen shake or a camera swing when appropriate. They are visually complex, with unique particles, glows and overlapping layers. They suit the character that uses them. KOS-MOS attacks with quick slashes and lasers, while Shion, the scientist, uses a type of magic that requires the use of a multicoloured “ether circuit”.

Rule-bending is a thrill in any game, and the most thrilling mechanic in Xenosaga battles is the boost system, where at the press of a button you can force one of your characters to the front of the turn order. It works in tandem with the second most thrilling system in Xenosaga battles. Three battle bonuses rotate from one turn to the next: act on a particular turn and you can guarantee yourself a critical hit. Kill a foe on a particular turn and you multiply your end of battle rewards. Getting a 10x bonus is a euphoric experience.

Xenosaga is not more concerned with philosophy and world building than fun and mechanics. It is filled with systems that are delightful, good-natured, smart, and original. In my head, the Xenosaga lead designer has a curly white beard and smiles a lot.


This review is in two parts because that’s how Xenosaga Episode I is. One half epic sci-fi anime, one half addictive character levelling adventure. There were times I wanted a cutscene to end and give me control again, and I’m a pretty patient guy.

Some will argue that this is an inelegant way to tell an epic story in a videogame, but I disagree. It does what all JRPGs were doing at this time. It just goes hard as fuck on both parts of the experience: the anime, and the RPG.

Takahashi and Saga made a JRPG like no other, and I’m only one-third of the way through it.

JRPG Collection

The Cowboy JRPG: What Makes Wild Arms Great (Video)

Note: the video and the text are the same review.

Wild Arms seems like a standard SNES-style JRPG. Yes, it’s on the PS1, but it feels like a SNES JRPG with higher resolution 2D sprites and 3D battles — with questionable models, though I admit they did grow on me.

The point is it seemed pretty standard… until I realised Wild Arms is doing some unique things.

1. Character Skills and Upgrades

Probably my favourite thing is how the three characters boast distinct abilities and distinct ways of upgrading those abilities.

Cecilia has magic, Jack had sword skills, Rudy Roughknight (cool name by the way) has big guns — doesn’t sound like anything that interesting yet. But the way you upgrade each of these ability sets is also distinct. And each of the upgrade systems has a component of choice: like which spell do you pick from this wide selection, which attribute of you gun do you upgrade, which sword skill do you make cheaper to use. They’re not drastically different character builds, but you will end up with a Cecilia, Jack and Rudy that is good at different attacks than a friend playing Wild Arm’s might 

And each of the upgrade systems also has an element of exploration. For Jack’s skills you need to find statues that initiate combat challenges, fo Rudy you need to find special chests, for Cecilia you need Crest Graphs scattered across the world. 

It’s not complex, after all it’s only three characters and one unique menu of abilities for each, but it’s a very smooth and polished system that ties together the level design, battles and characters in an elegant way that a lot of JRPGs frankly struggle with.

And it takes the exploration or level design aspect even further, with the second thing I really like about Wild Arm’s, which is the tools. 

2. Tools and Puzzles

The convenient way to describe these is like the items in Zelda, acquired throughout the game and used to overcome obstacles in dungeons. There are even bombs and a hook shot. The bombs let you blow up walls with cracks, and sometimes you find hidden stashes of chests, that sort of thing. It adds so much to the variety of dungeons, add the fun of exploring them, break up the monotony of trudging through them. This sort of level design is something JRPGs have only got worse at over the years.

And this is the bit that really reminds me of Golden Sun. In that game, it was psynergy that was used outside of battle to solve puzzles. The balance between puzzles and battles feels very similar. And Golden Sun even has that combination of 2D levels and 3D battles.

Now I know there are a lot of Golden Sun fans really disappointed that Camelot haven’t continued the series, and I agree, but now I’ve got a series of four other Wild Arm’s games to explore instead, and Armed Fantasia after that maybe. It really feels like they fill the same niche of polished, puzzly, bright JRPGs with close knit parties.

What else makes this cowboy JRPG great?

I haven’t mentioned this, but all the Wild Arms characters and some of the side characters are extremely likeable. They’ve got motivations, they’ve got arcs; my favourite is Calamity Jane. And the backstory and the lore of the world of Filgaia is pretty fleshed out too. 

And that’s another way Wild Arms is like Golden Sun. Overall, they’re both series that look very traditional, but in their own way, are subtly quite ambitious. 

If you want more SNES-style RPG goodness, if you want more of puzzly JRPG like Golden Sun, if you want to see what Zelda might look like as a JRPG, Wild Arms ticks all of those boxes.

How does Wild Arm’s stack up against other PS1 JRPGs?  It’s an extremely competitive field, and Wild Arms was an early release. I can point to JRPGs with more brilliant stories or battle systems, but Wild Arms, with it’s original ideas and excellent pacing, delivered a very consistent level of fun that even some of the genre classics don’t always manage to achieve. For that reason, I think it’s top tier, or at least almost top tier, and I’m looking forward to playing the next one.

Read next: My review of Persona 3

JRPG Collection

Was Dragon Quest the first JRPG?

How RPGs reached Japan

Dragon Quest (1986) could rightly be described as the first JRPG due to a genre convention, but it wasn’t the first RPG made in Japan. Dragon and Princess (1982) was probably the oldest, though there were various other interesting attempts, including The Black Onyx (1984).

A battle in Dragon & Princess
A battle in Dragon & Princess (1982, PC88, Koei)
A battle in The Black Onyx
A battle in The Black Onyx (1984, PC88, Bullet-Proof Software)
A battle in Dragon Quest
A battle in Dragon Quest (1986, Famicom, Chunsoft)

Thank you to Moby Games and Hardcore Gaming 101 for the images.

Why we think of Dragon Quest as the first JRPG

An older term almost synonymous with JRPG (meaning Japanese Role-Playing Game) is “console RPG”. These were more streamlined, accessible and usually came from Japan, whereas “computer RPGs” were played on PCs and recreated more of the complexities of tabletop RPGs.

This helps us understand the place that Dragon Quest had in history. It wasn’t the first RPG from Japan, but it was the first Japanese RPG to work with the strengths and limitations of the NES, Nintendo’s first console, and therefore introduced a new design paradigm that we now think of as the JRPG genre. 

The great game itself, released for the console that created the “console RPG”. Image from Tokyo Game Story.

Before Dragon Quest

Much as western CRPGs had a history before Wizardry (almost a pre-history, as it is not always well-documented) in the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired games made for college mainframes, so did Japan have RPGs before Dragon Quest. 

Though this period was a short one, the variety found in these experimental early years might surprise you. You’ll also certainly recognise some of the companies involved, because they remain known for JRPGs even today!

How Japan played their early RPGs

The pre-history of JRPGs played out on Japanese personal computers. While the names of personal computers in the US were Apple, Commodore and Atari, things were different overseas.

The first personal computers to take over Japan were the PC-8000 series introduced by the NEC Corporation. They followed it with the upgraded NEC PC-8800 series, or simply “PC-88”, and the lower cost PC-6000 series. Competitors included the Fujitsu FM-7 and the Sharp X1

The PC-88, one of the most important personal computers ever manufactured. Image from Wikimedia.

Many games discussed below were ported across this range of computers, but the PC-88 deserves special recognition: it was as important to PC videogaming in Japan as the Apple II was in the US.

How and when RPGs reached Japan

The progenitor of all RPGs is Dungeons & Dragons, published in English in 1974. It was soon known in Japan, but it would be ten years before it was released officially there. 

American videogames had a head start, and D&D’s influence there led to Ultima and Wizardry in 1981, but again not in Japan, where it wouldn’t officially be released until 1985. 

A battle in Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
A battle in Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981, Apple II, Sir-Tech)

That gap is the period we are interested in. In this time, the idea of RPGs was making its way across the ocean unofficially: with exchange students, though import businesses, and after holidays abroad. 

As this period progressed, Japanese magazines feature more information about Wizardry, Ultima and D&Do, though access to the products themselves was limited:

When I created Hydlide, I had never played any Western games at all. Back then, Japanese people didn’t have a defined sense of the RPG genre. I suspect the creators took the appearance of the RPG as a reference, and constructed new types of games according to their own sensibilities.

Tokihiro Naito, (Japansoft: An Oral History)

The games that emerged in this primordial era sometimes seem conceptually incomplete, but they are fascinating relics. 

The company that pioneered JRPGs: Koei?

Best known today for Dynasty Warriors and Nobunaga’s Ambition, fledgling Koei were persistent in their efforts to make RPGs big in Japan.

Koei was formed in 1978 and made programs that automated business functions, but the co-founder, Yoichi Erikawa, was more passionate about games. He programmed a wargame, Battle of Kawanakajima, which became Koei’s first published title.

The board game and war game influence would continue in Koei’s Dragon and Princess, which is best described as a tactical RPG. It was the work of Y. Hayase and Locke, according to the title screen, though to this day we know nothing about these creators. 

Dragon and Princess: The first JRPG?

The stat sheet of your heroes in Dragon and Princess is extremely basic, consisting only of Pr and Sp — and nobody seems to know what Sp does. The weapon selection is sparse. Though matching the theme, Dragon and Princess doesn’t much resemble Dragon Quest. Exploration is in the form of a text adventure, and battles occur on a tactical grid. 

Despite the differences, the spirit of a JRPG seems to be here: it’s an adventure with a party of characters, upgrades for your characters, NPCs and a story about killing a dragon. What more does a JRPG need? 

It even has the random encounters that would become a staple of the JRPG genre. Whoever, Y. Hayase and Locke were, they seemed to understand the assignment immediately.

The cover art of Dragon and Princess
The cover art of Dragon and Princess. Image from Gaming Alexandria.

Read more: Dragon and Princess walkthrough from Hardcore Gaming 101

The rest of JRPG prehistory: 1982 to 1984

With Dragon and Princess, Koei had an early start on RPGs, and they didn’t stop there. Another early Koei release was Danchizuma no Yuuwaku (1983). 

A static screenshot of this game resembles a dungeon crawler, so you might not be able to tell it’s actually an erotic game starring a condom salesman and featuring censored sex scenes. The name translates to something like “Seduction of Apartment Wives”.

Khufu-Oh no Himitsu (lit “Secrets of King Khufu”) saw the player explore a pyramid avoiding traps and killing enemies. 

It amusingly had the tagline “A Roll-Playing Game”, which is indicative of the state of affairs at the time: many of the attempts to make an RPG in this period were merely flirtations, programmers circling around the concept RPG but not quite making a full leap into it.

Koei was by no means the only company in this market. Before Dragon Slayer, Legend of Heroes and Ys, Nihon Falcom published Panorama Toh. It had shops, an inn, an overworld, equipment and even wireframe dungeons, though no level-ups and no companions. It evokes Ultima, but might fall closer to the adventure or survival game category.

It was a similar story with Enix. Before Dragon Quest, they published Parallel World, described as ““A true role-playing game”. 

Back to Koei. Rumours have it Danchizuma (the condom salesman game) was such a success that it helped establish Koei as a videogame company. Perhaps that is the reason they were persistent in their effort to make an RPG.

At least, that is what I imagine led them first to Ken to Mahou, and then to Dungeon.

It has been reported that Yoichi Erikawa, the aforementioned founder of Koei and programmer of many of their hits, recognised that Dragon and Princess, Khufu and Danchizuma may not have been true RPGs, but that Ken to Mahou (“Sword and Sorcery”) would be different. It makes a good first impression on this front, offering nine character classes to choose from, including druid and black knight. The world map has a rather unique look to it.

Dungeon achieves even greater accuracy in what it borrows from its inspirations. The tiled world map and cities of Ultima, the wireframe dungeons of Wizardry, and some very traditional Dungeons and Dragons monsters. It is probably the most refined Koei proto-JRPG.

Koei weren’t the only ones who were figuring things out. In September 1983, I/O magazine printed the code for Seiken Densetsu (lit. Legend of Holy Sword), for readers to type into their own computers. When they did, they were treated to an adventure very similar to Ultima, which was later published by Compaq in boxed form.

Ramping up: major developments in 1984

The theme of this article is ideas being slowly, unofficially imported, so let’s continue with probably the two most important importers of RPG ideas into Japan.

At the time, I was in love with The Black Onyx and The Tower of Druaga. So Hydlide was roughly inspired by those. 

Tokihiro Naito

The Black Onyx was created by Henk Rogers, who spent half his time at The University of Hawaii playing D&D before moving to Japan. He found the RPGs on sale there were lacking compared to what he was used to, so he programmed his own. While Japan had struggled to get to grips with the idea for a few years now, The Black Onyx pretty much hit the nail on the head. It was simpler than Wizardry, but it included all of the essential parts, except classes (all characters in The Black Onyx must be warriors). 

The Tower of Druaga came from somewhere completely different. After creating Xevious (1982), Masanobu Enbo visited America where he played Wizardry. What he enjoyed there he put into his arcade game: the resulting fusion, The Tower of Druaga, was possibly the first action-JRPG. It probably influenced Zelda, and many other RPG creators besides.

While we might associate Druaga more with The Legend of Zelda than the traditional JRPG genre that would soon be spawned by Dragon Quest, we shouldn’t understate its influence.  The third game that Tokihiro Naito mentions in the quote above is Hydlide, released by T&E Soft. Along with Dragon Slayer (Nihon Falcom’s next RPG after Panorama Toh), these two games were the next steps in action-JRPG development.

One more important game released in 1984 was Mugen no Shinzou (“Heart of Fantasy”). It was the closest to a western RPG yet, though unlike The Black Onyx it came from a Japanese company, XtalSoft. At the time, this was a widely respected game. One of the developers, Kazunari Tomo, would go on to work on the Lunar series.

You can really tell how far the production of these RPGs in Japan can come by comparing the title screen and the monster sprites of Mugen to Ken to Mahou/Sword and Sorcery, which was only from one year prior. Doesn’t Dragon and Princess feel like a really long time ago!

There is at least some evidence that Mugen was an inspiration for the creators of Dragon Quest. On that topic, it’s about time to speak about that.

What happened next? The release of Wizardry, Ultima and Dragon Quest

Eventually, Dungeons and Dragons, Ultima and Wizardry all received official Japanese releases which attained mainstream success, immersing the Japanese gaming culture in a new gaming experience. Among those swept along were manga writer Yuji Hori and game developer Koichi Nakamura, who were creating games for the NES at the time for Enix as the company Chunsoft. 

The combination of Nintendo’s new console, and the love for RPGs shared by these creators, led them to create Dragon Quest. It won a raft of awards from Famitsu including game of the year, and it sold exceptionally well, lagging behind only some first-party Nintendo games and a few sports games for that year. 

Dragon Quest was so successful that it became the new blueprint for Japanese RPG developers. All attempts up to that point culminated here, and most later attempts can be traced back here. 

That’s what people mean when they say Dragon Quest was the first JRPG.

Further Reading

Want to know the first PS1 JRPG?

What about the last PS1 JRPG?

What is a JRPG anyway?

Image credits: 

Thanks again to Hardcore Gaming 101 and Moby Games for cataloguing screenshots of these important games. See more here:


Derboo’s introduction’s to these games originally posted at the Hardcore Gaming 101 blog were absolutely vital for this article. Find more from Derboo here:

The J-RPG Wiki had surprisingly detailed explanations of how some of these games are played. I think my research for this article pushed little known games into the trending pages for the site:

Several of these early titles were developed and/or published by Koei, and the Koei Tecmo Wiki was very helpful for cross-checking information.

Other articles and forum threads that helped in small and large ways:

JRPG Collection

Is Secret of Mana good?

Note: the video and the text are the same review. There are additional observations below the text review that are not in the video.

Secret of Mana is going thorough a re-evaluation. It has traditionally been considered one of the best JRPGs or action-adventures on the SNES, and sits near the top of many “Best of” lists. 

Today, similar to the classic Sonic the Hedgehog games, people are playing Secret of Mana and coming away with some quizzical looks. “Is this it?”, they are saying. “What’s all the fuss about.” 

I don’t think either Sonic or Secret of Mana are getting a fair assessment from these newer players, but as somebody who recently completed Secret of Mana, there were times I wanted to quit, too. 

Fighting in the Pure Land, Secret of Mana screenshot

The combat is particularly unpalatable to those of us acclimatised to modern game design. Unlike most action games, you can rarely dodge enemy attacks, and are forced to take them on the chin. You regularly have control taken away from you as you recover from long stun conditions. When you attack, sometimes you hit the enemy, and sometimes you don’t, but it seems to be random, making the player feeling like they aren’t in control. Enemies can be spongy, and if hitting them again and again doesn’t wear on your patience, the pathfinding of your AI companions certainly will. 

It seems like textbook “bad game design”, but I want to defend Secret of Mana. It comes back to something I said a moment ago, that Secret of Mana used to be considered a great action-adventure or JRPG. But which is it: an action-adventure or a JRPG? It certainly looks like Zelda and has action-game controls, but as you explore the mechanics you realise it has a lot of mechanical similarities to an ATB system like Final Fantasy IV. You have to wait between each attack for your attack gauge to fill up, and special attacks are chosen from a menu. Looks are deceiving here, but Secret of Mana isn’t really an action game.

In JRPGs combat isn’t enjoyed for the fast-paced skill involved. Rather you enjoy them for some slower paced decision making and, most importantly, the spectacle. In Secret of Mana, When multiple spells are popping off in real-time across the screen — attacks, buffs, heals all at once, from enemies and party members at the same time — you start to see the appeal that Secret of Mana would have had in 1993: of seeing the spectacle of a JRPG battle from a top-down, real-time perspective. 

Boss battle against dragon in Secret of Mana screenshot

Blowing up an enemy in one magic that hits a weakness never gets old, and though charge attacks take an age to reach full power when they hit, and the big numbers start flying, it’s totally worth it. 

It is also worth it because each enemy you kill helps raise your weapon level, and this is where Secret of Mana starts to get a bit addictive. 

It starts with weapon orbs, which are found in the world and they are extremely enticing because they allow you to transform your weapon at the blacksmith, which gives more damage, a new charge level, and usually some sort of secondary effect. But you don’t get the benefit of the new weapon until the character has used that weapon type enough. All characters can use all weapons, but they only gain proficiency with whichever ones you use for them, which encourages you to mix up which weapons you use while also creating a uniqueness to your party: in your game, the girl might be proficient with the axe and the bow, in another player’s game, the girl might be proficient with the fist and the whip. 

(Your companions don’t have default names in the Western translation. I called the girl Tangle and the spite Brave).  

It’s a similar story for magic spells. Spells are grouped by magical spirits as if they were spellbooks: the more you use that spirit’s spells, the more powerful that spirit and its spells become. 

Remember that the first mana game was The Final Fantasy Legend, and I find it interesting to consider that in a different timeline, this second mana game might have been “The Final Fantasy Legend 2”, and Udine might have been Shiva, Djinn might have been Ifrit, and so on. That’s just theoretical, but what isn’t theoretical is how these systems make it really rewarding to keep fighting enemies, even when the combat feels a little janky.

Now we’re talking about Final Fantasy, we have to point out that while action adventure games might get away without, JRPGs require a strong story, but Secret of Mana doesn’t have that. It has a handful of characters with a thimbleful of development each. It really lacks the complexity you expect from Square Enix.

But to me, it makes up for it with the world. Maybe not so much in level design — which is fine, nothing special. But in atmosphere and variety? Absolutely yes.

  • There is an eerie forest make of crystal.
  • There’s a desert town, which seems downtrodden until you return the water, then everyone wants to party like they’re in Dubai. 
  • There is the mana forest, which haunting, dangerous, and vibrant.
  • There’s even a cheery mushroom kingdom. Mario would be proud.

It’s a bit like Mario, actually: it might not have a story, but it has a vibe, and that’s enough to draw you into the worth. I’m fact, I don’t think any JRPG beats Secret of Mana for feeling sunny and adventureful. It comes out in the pixel art… and even more so in the music (composed masterfully by Hiroki Kikuta), which strikes an exceptional balance between chirpy and ethereal, truly appropriate for a light-hearted quest about nature and the threat of losing it. Indeed, that is the one theme that does shine through in Secret of Mana. Particularly at the end of the game, where the hero has a genuine dilemma to face, the one time that the storytelling matches — very, very briefly — the heights of the game’s audiovisual qualities.

This is a bit of an out-there comparison, but Secret of Mana reminds me of Diablo II. A real-time RPG, but not one known for its story or responsive combat mechanics. Rather, one that thrives on a finely tuned atmosphere and a satisfying sense of progression. That’s the lens Secret of Mana deserves to be seen though, and when you do, you realise it deserves to be known as a classic.

Victory post after beating a boss in Secret of Mana screenshot

Additional observations

Spirit order: Once you get Sylphid, you can learn if an enemy has a magic weakness without trying each type. Before Sylphid, you only have two elements to experiment with. So Sylphid being the third “spellbook” you get access to makes a lot of sense.

The Pure Land difficulty spike: Progression is generally good in this game, but there is one difficulty spike that is handled very poorly. The enemies in the Pure Land hit mega hard, which on one hand is expected: it’s a narratively important area so it feels appropriate that it is dangerous and special. However, the only way to stand up to enemies here is to buy armour that is sold by a single merchant who is easy to overlook. I didn’t even know this armour existed until I looked up a guide, because I assumed I was missing something. This transition was rushed or otherwise underthought.

The shrine pacing: the first few shrines take a long time to get to, but by the time you’ve got four you’re probably ready to get to the end of this quest, so the last four shrines come one after the other in much quicker succession. This might also be an indication that the game was supposed to be longer but the second half was truncated, but in this particular way it works out for the best: it’s fun that the quest speeds up rather than gets dragged out.

Flammie: Flammie is the best airship in a JRPG. He has a button that toggles between top down and from behind views as well as ascend and descend controls in both views. That makes Flammie the airship with the best controls and features in any SNES JRPG?! Also being able to call them from almost anywhere, not having to go to the world map and walk to find it again. He swoops out of the sky and picks you up wherever you are.

The Script Augmentation Project: The fan retranslation released as Secret of Mana: Reborn purportedly clarifies the story and adds events that were not included in the official Western release. As I already feel there is a hint of a great story in the Ted Woolsey script, I’m excited to explore this retranslation further to better understand the Secret of Mana lore, but I haven’t done so yet. Read more about this project on the thread.

Finally, let me leave this game for now by sharing this beautiful collection of Secret of Mana song covers organised by Rebecca Tripp and played by various musicians:

JRPG Collection

What made Persona 3 great

When I think back to the very beginning of the P3 project, I remember trying to accomplish two things: to create a worthy sequel to a great series, and to create the ideal hybrid of game elements to introduce a new RPG experience.

– Katsura Hashino, Persona 3 Producer & Director

Hybrid. I can’t think of a better word to describe Persona 3, a game of two halves in beautiful harmony, entangled but separate. There is a dungeon crawler and there is a social sim, and if you don’t like one of those genres it might be a deal breaker. However, if you can at least tolerate both, this game might become very special to you.

Persona spawned from the Shin Megami Tensei, a series of punishing dungeon crawlers about convincing demons to fight with you against other demons. Though Persona 3 reuses both the exceptional monster taming mechanics and the high difficulty, it pairs it with a captivating aesthetic, world and characters that the progenitor series lacked. That makes Persona 3 a double threat, sinking one hook into you with its style and another with its systems. 

All this took me totally by surprise. As a JRPG veteran who thought he had a great understanding of what the genre had to offer, I didn’t expect to play one this year that felt like no other game I had played before. 

This might have been because I didn’t have good enough points of comparison. There are other games that have done a similar genre mash-up, and I haven’t played them yet. The Sakura Wars series, for example, are half dating-focused visual novels and half tactical battles, and that sounds like a pretty close match to Persona.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that Persona 3 is something truly special.

Like the game itself, this review is split into two parts, plus a middle section about social links, the connecting mechanic that make this game work as a whole. Enjoy. 

Part 1: A Game About People

Your party are people

Persona 3 is partly a dungeon crawler. It has one dungeon, which is actually a tower, called Tartarus, that you return to again and again. You have a party, of course, who follow you through those dank halls. One common method that JRPGs use to might handle a party of followers is to hide them until a battle breaks out, though in other games your party follow you at all times. 

Persona 3 goes a welcome step further: each member of your party is a  mechanically separate entity. They can be told to split up and explore the dungeon independently, opening chests and bringing you the booty (I was rarely brave enough take advantage of this option). They can get lost, and even end up in fights without you, agitating you to race to their rescue. 

These characters are independent agents, and the game wastes no opportunity in conveying that fact to you. You can’t even access your party’s inventories from your own main menu: you have to talk to them. It’s one of the dialogue options. When you want one of them to heal the party, you talk to them. When you equip them with new items, they say thank you. 

We become endeared to characters in JRPGs because of how they look, how they sound, and how they act. Persona 3 ticks off all three, with exceptional voice acting and beautiful character portraits that I never stopped enjoying even after 100 hours: these are portraits that stand up to 1000 views.

But it isn’t the individual parts, but how they are consistently implemented across all levels of the game that makes Persona 3 special. When you are in a battle, characters do not lose their personality: it is only another opportunity for them to express it. When Iori says “Keep it up Yuka-tan!” when Yukari gets a good hit on the enemy, I think about what a great little team and social circle I am part of here.

The most fundament example of your characters acting like people is that you cannot control your party’s actions in battle — at least, not in the original release of the game. Rereleases offer the option of full party control, though I’m more fond of the original implementation. The developers were sticking to a theme, and I respect that. 

Your demons are your party

Another way in which Persona is a hybrid game is that is has both the appear of a traditional JRPG, starring a colourful cast of human party members, as well as the appeal of a monster-taming game with an army of demons to do the fighting for you.

Those demons are inherited from Shin Megami Tensei, Persona’s parent franchise, which is a bit like Pokemon for masochists. Persona 3 is by no means an easy game either: it demands that you create strong monsters and makes it a pleasure to do so. Fuse a new monster when you have a social link associated with the correct aracana, and the new monster will receive a waterfall of experience, levelling up multiple times in a row and obtaining higher-level abilities without a moment of grinding needed. 

That’s something you get in SMT games but not in Pokémon. You can use your new monster and they are effective immediately. There’s a trade-off, though: you don’t keep a monster long enough to form a strong bond with them, like you would with a Pokemon. You enjoy their company and their power, then you trade up. They are temporary friends only. 

Though these connections are brief, they can be meaningful. At the top of the second block of Tartarus me and my party met groups of nasty beetles that hit for big physical damage. They killed me a few times. Back in the purple room, where you fuse new monsters, I noticed one that had good lightening skills, which the beetles were weak too. Plus, I could fuse him with passive abilities that increased my defence, allowing me to tank the deadly horns of my foe. Plus, this new monster looked very cool. I brought him into battle against the beetles and he made short work of them. When I ordered him to attack, the main character even shouted his name: “Take-Minakata!” Why can’t Pokémon games do that?


I know I would replace him after a few floors, but for that moment I was extremely pleased with my strong new monster, and felt a bond with him. That’s what makes the heart of a great monster raising game. 

Demons drive the mechanics of the game, but they are fenced off there: they are rarely relevant in the story, except in a generalised way. Each character has a unique persona (the correct name for the monsters they fight with), but they have no individual personality or role. 

It’s almost if these monsters were only a Alice In Wonderland-like metaphor, and it makes me question if this is a game about monsters at all, or if they are just a obligatory carry-over from the parent series.

A pentagon spread (five-demon fusion) with Inugami, Take-Minakata, Orthrus, Vasuki, Ubelluris performed by Igor in the Velvet Room of Persona 3
A pentagon spread (five-demon fusion) with Inugami, Take-Minakata, Orthrus, Vasuki, Ubelluris performed by Igor in the Velvet Room of Persona 3

Would the game be meaningfully different if all demons were replaced with spells? I don’t think so. They add to the atmosphere and they support the mechanics, but that’s about it. They are superficial, and that’s fine: this game isn’t about demons. 

Sense of place

If not demons, what is Persona 3 about? While we try and figure that out, let’s take a walk through the town. Persona 3 takes place in Iwatodai City and Tatsumi Port Island. Your characters are high school students and must spend some of their time in their lessons at Gekkoukan High School. If you join the swimming team, you might visit the pool after school, which glistens as it reflects the overhead sun. As you leave the school, passing gossiping students at the water fountains, you pass are shelves at the entrance that overflow with student’s shoes. 

Each detail in the world feel true to life. That goes for the surrounding town, too. The ramen restaurant, the fast food restaurant, the book store, all these tiny locations have a unique atmosphere to them. I want to visit these places. I want to drink coffee in Chagall Café. I want to sit on the lawn by the persimmon tree. I want to walk the dog in the shrine and run into somebody I know on the way. 

Just like in real life, in is in these regular places that you find peace, and in these pointless moments that you find pleasure.

Time is your enemy

Days pass and winter turns to spring, at which time the characters no longer take their jackets to school with theim, and at the weekend they wear lighter casual clothes, too. Though you path you walk to school hasn’t changed, the music has, and the cherry blossoms are blooming. 

Persona 3 takes a lot of care in portraying the passage of time. That because the whole game is based around it. You play this game day-by-day, and when you have taken your last action for the day, you go to sleep, and the date changes – unless you enter “the dark hour”. 

The dark hour is when demons called shadows walk the streets freely, and most humans are frozen in place. If you end the day by entering the dark hour, a ticking clock counts down to midnight and then… shatters. 

Early on, during the dark hour, you are visited by a mysterious boy in striped clothing. He tells you this: in one week you will face your greatest challenge yet. 

One week is no simple narrative device in Persona 3. That is a week you have to live though, choosing what to do with each of your days. Which friends do you spend time with during the day? Which nights do you train and which do you rest? Do you continue to study, or leave that till after the challenge? 

In the days before the big challenge, the usual chirpy music at the school gates turns ominous. The friends you pass there confide their fears, doubts and determination. 

At the gates of Gekkoukan High School, Yukari talkes about Mitsuru, in Persona 3

Unlike a traditional JRPG, time can be “lost”: you have a number of opportunities each week to spend on stat-building activities, and if you waste them you cannot get those opportunities back. You cannot go back in time. Vacation and the school trips last a set number of days, and when they are over you cannot return to those locations. Similarly, you can’t speak to your classmates during the school holidays, so you spend time with them while you can. 

Much later, the game puts its skill at crafting atmosphere to make something chilling. The  world turns cold, crazy and depressing, and you walk through the mall where you used to go to sing karaoke, where it has a wallpaper of cult flyers, and human sufferers of apathy syndrome stand as static as furniture, and it is a sad sight. 

You always want it make the most of what time you have, both in terms of being efficient about building social links, social stats and levelling in the dungeon, but also making the most of your time in this world with the characters, before something dreadful happens.

The message of Persona 3 is trite if you spell it out, but the game doesn’t spell it out. It makes you experience it, it makes you live it though how you play the game and how you experience the story. 

Gekkoukan High School classroom 2-F, talking to Kenji, in Persona 3

People are your world

Take a stroll to the shrine in the evening, and you will run into Meiko. She is one of the many residents of Iwatodai City that you can build a “social link” with. Each time you spend a slice of your day with these characters, and you will live a small chapter of their story, learning about their challenges, flaws and futures. 

What sets Maiko apart from the other social links, who are all teenagers or adults is that she is nine-years old. For a long time, I was reluctant pursue the Meiko social link because of this. It felt too strange to be hanging out with an nine-year old school when character I was controlling is in high school. It occurred to me how ridiculous that would look to my classmates and who suspicious it would look to any adult passers-by. 

The fact that this even occurred to me is a clear sign that this game had deeply immersed me in its world.  

Talking to Maiko during a social link event in Naganaki Shrine, in Persona 3

Eventually, I started using my time to talk to Maiko. It wasn’t long before I sympathised with her story, which revolves around a precarious home situation. 

I started thinking way too seriously about how to respond to her so that I didn’t upset her or give her harmful advice. At one point, she starts crying, and the options are “Tell her to stop crying” or “Let her cry it out.” That’s a tough one.  

Social links usually just progress, but they can also be broken. I was left gaping the first time this happened. Yuko, the captain of the swim team, is one of the romanceable characters. As the social link progressed, our conversations became more intimate. However, I must have gone too long without speaking to her, because she broke up with me.

When I got back to the dorm, I wanted Junpei should give me a slam on the back and tell me better luck next time. I wanted Yukari to be sympathetic. I wanted Akihiko or Mitsuru to give me some practical advice. Of course, that’s expecting way too much from the game, which does not react to my loss. Nonetheless, the emotion I felt was quite real. 

Now I have reason to be concerned. Have I unintentionally activated a degenerate part of the brain gets overly attached to fictional characters? How long before start talking about waifus unironically? 

Fuuka's bedroom in Iwatodai Dormitory/the dorm, for Fuuka's social link in Persona 3
Fuuka > Yukari

Part 1.5 The genius of social links

The early steps you take into Persona 3’s “real world” (the half of the game in which you have school work and a social life) introduces you to some curious game terminology. After you progress a socia link, time stops. There is the sound of glass breaking. Unsettling music plays while a mysterious card appears on the screen, and you are told that you now “Create Personas of the Fool Arcana” up to a certain level. 

This dramatic version of a “level up” is part of what makes social links addictive to pursue, but at first it is confusing, because the game hasn’t told you what an arcana is or why it matters. 

Soon, you discover that arcana are how the two halves of Persona 3’s gameplay slot together, and it’s a brilliant mechanism. The reason you build up social links in Persona, (other than to hear a selection of stories about depression, disconnection and growing up), is to be get bonus experience when you fuse a monster. The higher the social link level, the more bonus EXP gained by demons matching that arcana. 

For example, spending time with Meiko means stronger demons of the Hanged Man arcana, and spending time with Yuko means stronger demons of the Strength arcana. 

It’s a JRPG, there is a lot of dialogue, and the relationships you build through dialogue in the “real world” translate to increased strength when you enter the dungeon. That character development is the story is also part of your training. It’s mechanically relevant.

Levelling up the strength arcana during Yuka's social link even in Persona 3

This is easily my favourite mechanic in Persona 3, and maybe my favourite mechanic in any JRPG ever. If Persona 3 was the first JRPG to do this, it’s quite incredible. It’s a genre in which story and battling are bread and butter, but Persona 3 seems to be the first one that buttered the bread!

Part 2: Mechanics


Let’s go back to the dark hour. At the stroke of midnight, you can choose to enter Tartarus, This is the game’s solitary dungeon, where shadow roam through twisted hallways and the floors go up seemingly forever.

The monsters you find here are surreal creatures, typically black blobs with a mask glued to a random object. There’s a stag beetle with the purple mask at the end of its horn. There is a tiger’s head grafted onto a spiked chariot wheel. There are floating snakes that coils around themselves in an unnerving fashion. 

Fighting Carnal Snakes in Tartarus, within the Adamah Block, in Persona 3. Battle Screen.

After a few fights with these abstract abominations, I had a revelation: Persona 3 has almost everything I want from a turn-based battle system. 

How often do you choose Attack in a JRPG because you can’t think of anything better to do? That’s not how it is here. For one, the reward for hitting an enemy’s weakness is just too juicy to ignore. Not only do you get an extra turn for knocking them to the floor, but if you can do that to all foes you can perform an “all-out attack”, usually ending the battle It is very like watching a row of monster-shaped dominos fall in slow motion.

This makes having a range of magic essential, and a range of physical attacks too, but it goes beyond that, because eventually you find enemies without weaknesses, or enemies that hit so hard that they will still kill you before you kill them. How do you deal with those? Buffs, defuffs, status ailments and elemental resistances become the counters that you can’t get with elemental attacks alone. 

Fighting the Fanatic Tower, the Hierophant miniboss, while Fuuka warns you, in Persona 3

Almost every move in your menu has a purpose, and almost every turn makes a difference. 

Persona 3 is a game of counters, hard counters even, and they’re not always obvious. Sometimes the solution you need is found in an item, such as the a magic mirror that reflects magic, versus the magic bomb dropping Sleeping Table mini-boss). Other times, the trick involves a sequence that you repeat throughout the battle. Bosses can be discouragingly brutal until you find the right approach, but when you do it’s like activating a cheat code. 

This results in battles where every correctly chosen attack feels powerful and every major success feels earned. I think back on how easy it is, in other JRPGs, to ignore the attributes of battle, and how flat and redundant those systems seem now. 

Oh, and because these battles involve a variety of hard counter, it really does incentive you – well, force you – to change your personas, weapons and party members according to the situation. And I love the variety that arises from that.

Persona 3 is long, maybe repetitive, but almost to the end I was still making mistakes and learning new ways to succeed. 

A critical hit in battle of Persona 3


The field is what connects your exploration experience to your battling experience. In Persona 3, it means the halls of Tartarus, in which you can enjoy a highly developed “field-game” that exceeds that of most other JRPGs. 

It is reminiscent of Earthbound, but better. Enemies, visible in the halls as a slimy blob, will chase you, but they can always be avoided. The size of the blob indicates the number of enemies, but not their strength. A large blog is likely a group of weak enemies. Counterintuitively, it is the small blobs you should watch out for, but not as much as the red blobs, which represent truly threatening battles.

There is an even greater threat than that to be found, too: if you stay on a floor too long, the grim reaper shows up! On the other hand, if you out level a group of enemies to the point that the encounter would be trivial, they will run away from you. 

Hit a foe before they hit you to get a better chance at a first turn advantage. Let them hit you first, and it’s probably going to hurt. Swinging your sword (or spear, axe or fist) in the dungeon screens feels surprisingly nice. It never got old to surprise an enemy by dropping the end of my sword down their back. 

The hero of Persona 3 about to hit a foe in Taratus to get Player Advantage in battle

Here’s an example of those systems in action. This happened while I was climbing from floor 90 or so. I was ready to retreat at around floor 93 but I couldn’t for the life of me find a teleporter. So I kept climbing, avoiding battles where possible, but also hitting enemies first if I otherwise risked the enemy hitting me. If they got the initiative I was confident they would could wipe me out, so I removed enemies from the field where I thought it was prudent. The red enemies scared me of most of all. On floor 97, Fuka told me the teleporter was on the next floor. Then, a red enemy appeared just a few steps from the room with the stairs! I snuck around him, and punched the air as I reached safety.

This is a lot more positivity than you might expect of a discussion around Tartarus. While the systems here are excellent, the level design is generic: randomly generated floors of a single dungeon, with a different tile set every 30 or 50 floors, but functionally almost identical from the first floor to the last. 

It’s hard not to think about Jade Cocoon at this point (What is Jade Cocoon?). The first game had forests that were everything I wanted from JRPG levels, with something visually interesting on every screen and with many-non combat interactions with NPCs and the environment. In Jade Cocoon 2, released on the PS2 but pre-dating Persona 3 by about 5 years, the forests had become repetitive, endless identical paths resembling Tartarus’s endless identical corridors. But in Jade Cocoon 2, there were still, rarely, NPCs to speak to.  

Persona 3’s dungeon is fantastic for facilitating combat encounters, but it fails at integrating into the narrative or into the world in a moment-to-moment, floor-to-floor manner (the dungeon does have a broader purpose in the story, of course).

But because you can run from enemies, and because it’s not too rare to get lucky and find the stairs leading upwards right next to where you arrived, and because you can choose when to enter the dungeon (ignoring it for many days in a row in favour of the social sim mechanics), the game doesn’t force you into engaging with its tedious level design too often. It is easy for me to overlook this flaw. 

Fuuka talks to the party in the Harabah Block of Tartarus in Persona 3

Moreover, little pleasures like figuring out the weaknesses of new monsters you encounter, or seeing higher numbers on the minor arcana cards you pick as a reward at the end of some battles, helped keep the climb engaging. 


As a gun should feel good to shoot in a FPS, so too should a level-up feel good to achieve in a JRPG. But not all level-ups are created equal. When reflecting on RPGs, I often ask myself, did I care about getting those next levels? 

In Persona 3, the answer is “Extremely yes!” New main character levels do something much more significant than small stats boost: they let you fuse personas up to your new level. Every time, it excited me to get back to the velvet room to explore what powerful monsters I might be able to add to my arsenal next.

Seeing the silhouettes of monsters that are beyond your current level in the fusion screens gives you a tantalising hint at what will be possible in a few levels time, or sometimes much later.

Also, the music that kicks in on the victory screen when you level up pumps me up.

The interesting decisions you make as you get stronger are just dramatically higher than any other JRPG I have played: 

  1. Resistances and weaknesses matter massively, so you probably look at those first when fusing a new monster. 
  2. You still need to out-stat the opponent, so you check which option improves your attack and defence the most. 
  3. Then, does the new monster have abilities that are going to make you more deadly, or can they inherit good abilities from your current monsters? 
  4. And at all times you team needs to be fairly balanced, dealing damage and defending damage against as many of the types as possible. 

This is nothing like Pokemon, where you can get comfortable with a team that you like and just keep them levelled up. No, you are always having to reinvent your team in Persona, and you better do it the right way because these battles won’t let you get away with much less.

Samael levels up and learns a new skill, Dekunda, in Persona 3

There is equipment for your characters, but compared to the monster fusion this is a uninteresting element of getting stronger. In most games, finding or buying some a new weapon or amor piece is a big part of the fun. In Persona 3, everything else is so fun I almost wanted to ignore the equipment.

Getting stronger together

We’ve explored the entire process of getting stronger in Persona 3, and what stands out to me most of all is how social links marry the story and the levelling together so beautifully. 

You spend half of this game with people that don’t know that demons exist. Your daytime life does not resemble the time your spend in Tartarus at all. Superficially, they are two separate games. 

And yet, the the contribution of these people to your strength and your success in battle is palpable at all levels of the game. 

When you spend time with them, you level up their arcana. When you fuse a monster, you are grateful to that character for the additional experience you receive. Then you take that monster into battle.

I imagine the anime protagonist who receives the thoughts and prayers of their friends they made throughout the show to level up their attack to beat a boss. That’s what Persona does, but not just as a narrative trope, but as a mechanic. 

It is that this, of all the great accomplishments of Persona 3, from the visual flair to the soundtrack to the battle system, that is most impressive to me. 

The party of Persona 3 stand in front of Tartarus where Aigis and Ikutsuki stand


A lot of people think of Persona 3 as the lesser sibling of Persona 4 or 5, which is horrendously unfair. Not only because Persona 3 has its unique qualities, but also because it was the first. 

Today, we recognise that Persona 5 as a masterpiece that has drawn new fans in to the franchise and into JRPGs as a whole. Yet it builts firmly on the foundations of Persona 3. You can’t say the same thing about Persona 3 and Persona 2, at least not to the same degree. A tremendous creative leap was made by this franchise in 2006, and it was a leap not only for Persona, but for all JRPGs.

Persona 3 popularised the combination of social sim and a dungeon crawler. Post-persona, we see more games making a mechanical connection between character relationships and battle effectiveness: Fire Emblem already had a support system and character conversations at the base, but post-Persona they were combined into a system that effectively mirrored social links. 

We can see influences, subtle and otherwise, across the genre. I don’t think Trails of Cold Steel or Final Fantasy Type-0 exist without Persona 3. Frankly, with the way Persona 3 reinvigorated Atlus, there might not even have been a Shin Megami Tensei 4.

Both Atlus and fans of Atlus games owe Persona 3 some gratitude. It might secretly be one of the most influential JRPGs ever. It deserves to be in the same conversations as Final Fantasy VII. It will remain a blueprint for any designer wanting to combine two genres and them both to tell one story with one strong theme. 

Videogames JRPG Collection

How to get back into FFXIV after a break

Sounds like it would be tricky, right? Final Fantasy XIV is a big, complex, multiplayer game. Since you last played, they might have added an expansion with 100+ hours of new content. They might have added two or three expansions! Where do you even start. 

Actually, playing FFXIV after a break is easy. There are so many options to help you to get back into the flow of things. 

  • Training dummies
  • Low-level duties
  • Continuing the story
  • Asking for help

Let’s explain these in a bit more detail, with images.

Smack around a striking dummy

There is a reason these things are dotted around cities. Everyone needs to brush up on their rotations every now and again. Just be aware that the more advanced areas have higher-level training dummies, and you might end up missing attacks against those. There’s no other risk from them, but if in doubt return to La Noscea, Thanalan, or The Shroud to find an unintimidating, Lvl 1 wooden sparring partner.

A player about to hit a striking dummy in a free company house, Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Play some familiar, easier duties

You could even start with the easiest dungeons (Sastasha, The Tam-Tara Deepcroft) and trials (Ifrit in The Bowl of Embers, Titan in The Navel) and work your way up. Your level will be scaled down to something appropriate to the duty, but if you’ve played before these activities will still be a breeze, even if you don’t remember all the mechanics. After you’ve done a few, you’ll definitely be in the flow again.

Party completing the Tam-Tara Deepcroft duty in Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Just a quick reminder, you find duties with the duty finder:

The duty finder window in Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Join a group or ask a stranger

FFXIV is notoriously friendly as MMOs go. There are lots of methods of connecting with other players. Shouting for help in public is one way to go (use the command /shout in the chat box and nearby players will hear you) but don’t be too discouraged if you don’t get a response. Instead, try joining a friendly linkshell or a free company. Use the official Final Fantasy XIV community finder and find some new gaming friends to give you a confidence boost.

A group of friends sitting around a bench in Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

Continue with the story

However long you have been absent from the Eorzea, you will always be greeted by a big main quest indicator at the top left of your screen (unless you’ve changed your UI) to tell you what you need to do to continue the story. Do a few of these quests to get your hotkey fingers warmed up.

A cutscene with Garduda flying above players, Final Fantasy XIV
Image from Steam Community (link to user)

This is what you’re looking for:

The Current Main Scenario Quest indicator in Final Fantasy XIV

Get on with it!

It’s all about building up momentum. Once you’ve done a bit of exploring, practiced with your keyboard, and crossed paths with a few other adventures, you’ll feel like you never left. 

All you need is the confidence to hit Play!

Online resources

Official guides:

Wikis (player created):

Patch notes:

How to get into other Final Fantasy games

If you’re already in love with XIV, maybe the other games in the series will also delight you. But if getting into XIV, which is only one game, is hard, where do you even start when it comes to the entire series?! We’ve written a guide to help with that exact question: how to start the Final Fantasy series.

JRPG Collection

How to play Final Fantasy

Everything you need to know to choose what game to start with

So, Final Fantasy has caught your interest. Who can blame you: with Final Fantasy 14, the MMORPG, outperforming World of Warcraft, and the hype for the single-player action-RPG Final Fantasy 16 at a high, it’s natural you are curious about this storied franchise.

But Final Fantasy is a weird franchise. It’s big and complex and has been around forever. In that time it has developed its own set of conventions that fans understand but aren’t always intuitive to new players. 

In this article, we’re going to get you up to speed as painlessly as we can. We’re going to show you all the quirks that make this series special, then demystify them so you can pick your first Final Fantasy game and maybe fall in love with these games like we have. 

If you want to skip the background info and know which game you should play first and why, click here.

Why play Final Fantasy

For over 35 years, the Final Fantasy series has been leading videogames in fully realised fantasy worlds, beautiful music and cutting-edge visuals. It has memorable characters that have become icons, and stories that deliver twists and emotions in equal amounts. And because it recreates itself with almost every instalment, it is a series that is almost impossible to get bored of.

Who plays Final Fantasy?

It is impossible to know how many fans the series has worldwide, but it is probably tens of millions. Here are a few numbers for illustration: 

  • According to, Final Fantasy 14 has over 40 million players. 
  • Probably the best-selling game in the franchise is Final Fantasy 7, the original PS1 and PC versions selling over 10 million copies. 
  • For a more recent bestselling  game, Final Fantasy 15 also sold over 10 million copies
  • The r/FinalFantasy subreddit has 400k subscribers
  • The Square Enix YouTube channel has 300k followers.

Reasons for Final Fantasy’s popularity

Games in the Final Fantasy series have regularly been trailblazers for more complex stories and more advanced graphical fidelity in video games. It found worldwide appeal because it helped introduce Western console players to Japanese RPGs. 

The series is also known for its music and characters, which linger in people’s minds long after they have finished the game.

Moreover, as a long-running series that has released games consistently since 1987, this series has had a long time to build up a following. 

What you need to know

A series of standalone games

The first thing to understand about the Final Fantasy series is that all of the major numbered [jump link] games exist in their own universe, with different characters and unconnected stories.

There are direct sequels in the franchise, such as Final Fantasy 10-2 (a sequel to Final Fantasy 10), but other than these rare cases you can play any major games in the series without having played any others.  [optimse as answer tag]

Common elements of Final Fantasy

Or, How to spot Final Fantasy in the wild.

Though the games do not share stories or even worlds, there are themes, ideas, visuals and more that recur across the series and make a Final Fantasy feel like a Final Fantasy game. 

Chocobo from Final Fantasy 6 sprite

Chocobos: Bird-like mounts, most commonly yellow. Introduced in Final Fantasy 2. 

Moogle from Final Fantasy 9 artwork

Moogles: A race of cute magical creatures with pom-poms on their head that say “Kupo!” They fill various roles across the series. Introduced in Final Fantasy 3. 

Crystal from Final Fantasy 3 render

Crystals: Large magical crystals that play a role in the story, sometimes named after the four elements.

Bomb monster from Final Fantasy 5 sprite

Monsters: Bombs, tonberries, cactuars, malboros and behemoths are some of the more iconic recurring foes, though there are many more. 

Summons: Powerful creatures that can be called into battle, several of which appear in almost every game, including Shiva the ice queen, Ifrit the fire demon, and Bahamut the dragon. Introduced in Final Fantasy 3. 

Jobs/Classes: Combat roles like black mage, white mage, red mage, dragoon and thief have associated design elements across the series. Introduced in Final Fantasy.

Spells: Mages across the series have pulled from a common pool of spells with shared naming conventions, where suffixes like “-ara” and “-aga” indicate more powerful versions of spells (eg. Blizzard, Blizzara, Blizzaga in order of power)

Equipment: Weapons like Masamune and Ultima Weapon are found in multiple games.

Music tracks: Though the games do not generally share music, there are a few exceptions that appear in many games, such as the chocobo theme. In particular, Prelude (or Crystal Theme) and Final Fantasy (or Main Theme) are in many games in the series. 

The Roman numerals

Not everyone learns Roman numerals in school, and being a Star Wars fan will only take you up to IX = 9.  This method of numbering can make distinguishing the major Final Fantasy games a bit of a challenge for new fans. For clarity, in this article we’ve named the games with Arabic numbers, but here are all the titles in both formats:

Title (Roman Numerals)Title (Arabic Numerals)
Final FantasyFinal Fantasy 1
Final Fantasy IIFinal Fantasy 2
Final Fantasy IIIFinal Fantasy 3
Final Fantasy IVFinal Fantasy 4
Final Fantasy VFinal Fantasy 5
Final Fantasy VIFinal Fantasy 6
Final Fantasy VIIFinal Fantasy 7
Final Fantasy VIIIFinal Fantasy 8
Final Fantasy IXFinal Fantasy 9
Final Fantasy XFinal Fantasy 10
Final Fantasy XIFinal Fantasy 11
Final Fantasy XIIFinal Fantasy 12
Final Fantasy XIIIFinal Fantasy 13
Final Fantasy XIVFinal Fantasy 14
Final Fantasy XVFinal Fantasy 15
Final Fantasy XVIFinal Fantasy 16

Start with these games

We’re going to get into the weeds on this in a minute, and when you’ve read the next few sections you should feel more confident picking a first game for yourself, if you want. 

However, to give you the quick answers:

  • We think, for the average person, the best starting point is Final Fantasy 10. It is an extremely popular and accessible starting point, a gripping story, and hits the perfect balance of experimenting with the formula while being true to the series’ identity. 
  • In some ways, Final Fantasy 4 is where the series “became itself”, and features all of the hallmarks seen in the rest of the series. A great place to start if you want a historical perspective but don’t want to go all the way back to Final Fantasy 1 (which you might consider archaic). 
  • Final Fantasy 7 is the first 3D game, so a good place to start if you don’t want to play something 2D, and absolutely a historical landmark mark not only for the series, but for Japanese gaming in the West, JRPGs, and gaming as a whole. Don’t miss it. 
  • Final Fantasy 14 is an MMO, so is not the “standard” Final Fantasy experience, but it is extremely good. Plus, being an absolutely dominant force in the MMO market, it is probably the most popular introduction to the series these days. It also looks a lot more modern than the other starting points mentioned here.

A brief history of the series

The first eleven mainline games were all developed and published by Square.

Final Fantasy 1 to Final Fantasy 6 are 2D games released first on Nintendo hardware. 1-3 were originally released on the Famicom (NES), and 4-6 originally released on the Super Famicom (SNES).

Only Final Fantasy 1, 4 and 6 were released in the US, and 4 and 6 were renumbered as 2 and 3. So if you ever hear somebody refer to Final Fantasy 6 as Final Fantasy 3, this is the reason. It also means that Final Fantasy 2, 3, and 5 were not originally released in the West and so fewer older fans have the same connection with those games that they do for the others. 

After this, Square moved the franchise from Nintendo systems to Sony systems, partly as a result of the Playstation using disks over cartridges. 

Final Fantasy 7 to Final Fantasy 10 use 3D graphics and were released first on Playstation consoles. 7-9 were released originally on the PS1, and 10 on the PS2. 

Though many of the games in this era are beloved bestsellers, the most successful one up to this point was undoubtedly Final Fantasy 7, which was often held up as one of the best videogames, or one of the best videogame stories, ever made. 

Final Fantasy Tactics for the PS1 was the most significant spin-off released during this period. 

All of the mainline games up to this point were traditional, turn-based JRPGs. After Final Fantasy 10, each game mixed up the formula more than ever before.

Final Fantasy 11 was the first MMORPG of the series and was followed by many expansions. 

The first movie in the franchise, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, was released in 2001. Its inability to recoup its costs became a pivotal moment not only for the franchise but for Square as a company. 

Financial difficulties was one reason Square merged with Enix to create Square Enix.  Exix were the publisher of the Dragon Quest games, Final Fantasy’s main competitor in the JRPG market. 

In the years following the merger, some changes in the series can be identified. 

Starting with Final Fantasy 10-2, sequels and prequels to the stories of mainline games became a regular part of the franchise. Sub-series were made to expand the worlds of mainline games, including Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 (new games in the world of Final Fantasy 7) and Ivalice Alliance (new games in the world of Final Fantasy Tactics). New mainline games, starting with 13, were introduced as multi-game or multimedia projects, subseries in their own right. 

After 10, each mainline game would reinvent the formula, resulting in games that are more diverse than ever before, being separate not only in their story but also in their mechanics. Final Fantasy 12 removed battle screens and took inspiration from MMOs, whereas 13 brought back battle screens but entirely overhauled ATB and class systems from older games to make something unique. 

Final Fantasy 14 was a second MMO that was a critical and commercial failure but was relaunched as Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn and became a massive success. 

Final Fantasy 15 was the first mainline game to feature action combat. This direction continued with Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Final Fantasy 16.

And that pretty much gets us up to date! 

But that only covers the mainline series. By our count, there are about 100 original Final Fantasy games. 

How many games?!

Yep, there are about 100 original Final Fantasy games! It depends on how you count them though. To get this number, we didn’t include ports, compilations or remasters, but did include spin-offs, remakes, and smaller games that are not full-scale JRPGs. [optimse as answer tag]

A few games are in a grey area, such as the Pixel Remasters, that look and play differently than the original games. However, we still choose not to include it in our count. We did include the remakes of Final Fantasy 1 and 2 for the Playstation compilation, as we considered them to have passed a threshold to be counted as new games, and full remakes such as Final Fantasy 3 for the DS and Final Fantasy 7: Remake are also considered by us to be new games. 

However you choose to count them, there are rather a lot of games in this series. Let’s try and make a little more sense of these. 

Mainline series

There are 15 mainline Final Fantasy games. When fans talk about the mainline series, they mean the games that count up in ascending order from the original game: Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 2, Final Fantasy 3, and so on. The latest was Final Fantasy 15, which gives us 15 games. 

This excludes games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, which are considered spin-offs. More about them in a minute.

What makes mainline games special is that they introduce new worlds and characters, and tend to have the largest budgets (and sales) of any other Final Fantasy project of its time. They tend to be the games that push the series forward the most.

Eventually, direct sequels to the mainline games were produced, leading to games with titles such as “Final Fantasy 10-2”. These are also sometimes considered part of the mainline series, but not always. Take Dirge of Cerberus, a third-person shooter that continues the story of the mainline game, Final Fantasy 7. It has very different gameplay from the original game, so people are comfortable calling it a spin-off. We will list the sequels separately.

As you can see, it is down to some interpretation. But here’s a fairly typical list of which games are considered the “mainline Final Fantasy games”:

TitleRelease Date
Final Fantasy I1987 Dec
Final Fantasy II1988 Dec
Final Fantasy III1990 Apr
Final Fantasy IV1991 Nov
Final Fantasy V1992 Dec
Final Fantasy VI1994 Apr
Final Fantasy VII1997 Jan
Final Fantasy VIII1999 Feb
Final Fantasy IX2000 Jul
Final Fantasy X2001 Jul
Final Fantasy XI2002 May
Final Fantasy XII2006 Mar
Final Fantasy XIII2009 Dec
Final Fantasy XIV2010 Sep
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn2013 Aug
Final Fantasy XV2016 Nov
Final Fantasy VII2020 Apr
Final Fantasy XIV2021 Dec
Final Fantasy XVI2023 Aug

Sequels and prequels

The Final Fantasy franchise resisted sequels for a long time, choosing to create new worlds with new characters with each new game. This changed with Final Fantasy 10-2, which reused the assets of Final Fantasy 10 to tell a sequel to that story. 

Since then, stories that spin off from mainlines titles have become a common element of the franchise, and some games have even been announced as multiple-game series from the start. We have also included expansions to the MMO games.

TitleTypeRelease Date
Final Fantasy X-2Sequel2003 Mar
Final Fantasy XI: Rise of the ZilartExpansion2003 Apr
Final Fantasy XI: Chains of PromathiaExpansion2004 Sep
Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VIIPrequel2004 Sep
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VIIPrequel2006 Jan
Final Fantasy XI: Treasures of Aht UrhganExpansion2006 Apr
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant WingsSequel2007 Apr
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VIIPrequel2007 Sep
Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the GoddessExpansion2007 Nov
Final Fantasy IV The After YearsSequel2008 Feb
Final Fantasy XIII-2Sequel2011 Dec
Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of AdoulinExpansion2013 Mar
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIIISequel2013 Nov
Final Fantasy XIV: HeavenswardExpansion2015 Jun
Final Fantasy XIV: StormbloodExpansion2017 Jun
Final Fantasy XIV: ShadowbringersExpansion2019 Jul
Final Fantasy VII: The First SoldierPrequel2021 Nov
Final Fantasy XIV: EndwalkerExpansion2021 Dec


Final Fantasy games are regularly ported and remastered for new systems, but sometimes the franchise goes a step further with full remakes that substaintially change the visuals and mechanics.

TitlePlatformRelease Date
Final Fantasy IWonderSwan Color2000 Dec
Final Fantasy IIWonderSwan Color2001 May
Final Fantasy IIINintendo DS2006 Aug
Final Fantasy IVNintendo DS2007 Dec
Final Fantasy VII RemakePlayStation 42020 Apr
Final Fantasy VII: RebirthPlaystation 52023 Dec


There are a few groups of games that were given unique branding to distinguish them as their own sub-series. This extended beyond videogames, as these subseries also included films and short stories, such as the second movie in the franchise, Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children. 

  • Compilation of Final Fantasy 7
  • Ivalice Alliance
  • Fabula Nova Crystallis


All games with Final Fantasy in the title that are not considered mainline titles (subject to interpretation) are spin-offs. 

Some spin-offs become Final Fantasy sub-series, or even entirely new series without the Final Fantasy name.

The first spin-off was The Final Fantasy Adventure, which is also a great example of a spin-off that became a new series. It was known as Seiken Densetsu: Final Fantasy Gaiden in Japan, but for the next game dropped the Final Fantasy moniker and became the Seiken Densetsu series, which in the West was called the Mana series. The first game using the Mana title was Seiken Densetsu 2, or Secret of Mana.

Another notable early spin-off was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, which is best remembered as an attempt to make an RPG that was accessible to new players, but ended up disappointing Final Fantasy fans for being easy and shallow.  

Like Mystic Quest, most spin-offs keep the Final Fantasy branding, even if they become their own series. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, for example, was conceived as a Final Fantasy game with a co-op focus. It spawned sequels, each with its own subtitle, leading to games with long names like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates.

The following tables is dedicated to spin-offs that feature original characters. For the spin-offs that focus on the heroes introduced in mainline games, look at the crossovers section below.

Here are the major Final Fantasy spin-offs:

NameRelease Date
Final Fantasy Adventure (Final Fantasy Gaiden)1991 Jun
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest1992 Oct
Final Fantasy Tactics1997 Jun
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance2003 Feb
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles2003 Aug
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift2007 Jun
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates2007 Aug
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King2008 Mar
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time2009 Jan
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord2009 Jun
Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light2009 Oct
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers2009 Nov
Final Fantasy Dimensions2010 Sep
Final Fantasy Type-02011 Oct
Final Fantasy Tactics S2013 May
Final Fantasy Explorers2014 Dec
Mobius Final Fantasy2015 Jun
Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius2015 Oct
World of Final Fantasy2016 Oct
Final Fantasy Awakening2016 Dec
Final Fantasy Dimensions II2017 Nov
War of the Visions: Final Fantasy Brave Exvius2019 Nov
Final Fantasy VII: The First Soldier2021 Nov
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin2022 Mar

Crossover Spinoffs

Perhaps inspired by the success of crossover games like Super Smash Bros, Square Enix created the fighting game Dissidia. It was the first time existing characters from mainline games had come together to share a story.

Since then, Final Fantasy crossover games have been released regularly. This category includes Theatrhythm, a series of rhythm games that use Final Fantasy music, as well as a number of gatcha games where players summon characters from across the franchise.

NameRelease Date
Dissidia Final Fantasy2008 Dec
Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy2011 Mar
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy2012 Feb
Final Fantasy Artniks2012 Nov
Final Fantasy: All the Bravest2013 Jan
Pictlogica Final Fantasy2013 Oct
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call2014 Apr
Final Fantasy Record Keeper2014 Sep
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT2015 Nov
Dissidia Final Fantasy Omnia2018 Jan
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: All-Star Carnival2016 Sep
Theatrhythm Final Bar Line2023 Feb

Spinoff Series

As you can see, some spin-offs have sequels and become their own subseries. Here are the major spin-off series along with the number of titles that have been released in those

SeriesNumbers of Games
Crystal Chronicles6
Brave Exvius2

Which are the best Final Fantasy games?

That’s an excellent question, and a really tricky one. Every game is somebody’s favourite. Plus, different games rise and fall in popularity over time. But we’re here to give answers. If there were only 10 gold stars to give out to games in this franchise, we might suggest a list that looks like this:

  • Final Fantasy 4
  • Final Fantasy 5
  • Final Fantasy 6
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
  • Final Fantasy 7
  • Final Fantasy 8
  • Final Fantasy 9
  • Final Fantasy 10
  • Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7
  • Final Fantasy 14

With this list, we are trying to distil the impossible-to-measure “common feeling” about the game among fans, based on informal conversions in fan communities as well as public surveys. You might say we are trying to emulate a popularity contest.

“The classics” have a lot of weight in this sort of list. Though Final Fantasy 4 and 5 are both important and beloved, a new player might find them less compelling than more modern games in the series.

Nonetheless, this list gives a great selection of games to play if you want to understand what the franchise is about and what makes it great. It tells you what the best the franchise has had to offer over time. 

This does not mean that the games not on this list can’t be excellent, nor that playing a game on the list is a guarantee of a good time.

And the best-selling ones?

It’s impossible to give exact sales numbers, but here are the current estimates as calculated by VGChartz:

GameSales (VGChartz)
Final Fantasy 1020.8 M
Final Fantasy 714.1 M
Final Fantasy 1510 M
Final Fantasy 89.6 M
Final Fantasy 137.71 M
Final Fantasy 127.71 M
Final Fantasy 95.83 M
Final Fantasy 7 Remake5 M
Final Fantasy 33.86 M
Final Fantasy 63.81 M

Notes: Final Fantasy 10 includes the sales of the Final Fantasy 10|10-2 collection.

In addition to these sales numbers, some estimates put the number of active Final Fantasy 14 players at 40 million+, which would almost certainly put it at the top of this list. Square Enix has confirmed that 14 is the most profitable game in the series.

Final Fantasy genres

Final Fantasy games have featured a range of combat mechanics and game structures, starting as semi-linear adventures with strict turn-based combat. Soon, a real-time element was introduced into the battles. As the series got more experimental, the game structure varied from highly linear to open-world, and the battles were more strategic in some games, and full-on action in others.

The mainline series changed slowly, whereas spinoffs turned Final Fantasy into everything from an RTS to a multiplayer fighting game.

Here are the mainline games and a selection of the spinoffs along with their battle mechanics, which are explained in more detail below:

TitleBattle System
Final Fantasy ITurn-based
Final Fantasy IITurn-based
Final Fantasy IIITurn-based
Final Fantasy IVActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy VActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy VIActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy VIIActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy TacticsTurn-based strategy
Final Fantasy VIIIActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy IXActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy XTurn-based
Final Fantasy XICooldown-based
Final Fantasy X-2Active menu-driven
Final Fantasy Crystal ChroniclesAction
Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VIIThird-person shooter
Final Fantasy XIIActive menu-driven (in-field)
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant WingsReal-time strategy
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of FatesAction
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VIIAction/menu-driven hybrid
Final Fantasy IV: The After YearsActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a KingCity-building
Dissidia: Final FantasyFighting game
Final Fantasy XIIIActive menu-driven
Final Fantasy XIVCooldown-based
Final Fantasy Type-0Action
Final Fantasy XIII-2Active menu-driven
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIIIAction/menu-driven hybrid
Final Fantasy XVAction

The Turn-Based Final Fantasy Games

In the early Final Fantasy, combat took place in turns. You choose your actions (physical attacks, spells and item usage) from a menu, your character performed that action, then the your opponent, usually a monster, would have their opportunity to fight back while your characters stood still.    

Turn-based is closely related to the “ATB” games.

The Action-Time Battle (ATB) Final Fantasy Games

One way to describe ATB is a menu-based battle system with cooldowns for each character and enemy after they act. “Real-time turn-based” also gives the right idea. 

In practice, it looks and feels very similar to turn-based, but enemies will still get their turns and attack while you are choosing your commands. It was introduced in Final Fantasy 4 and was used in all mainline Final Fantasy games until Final Fantasy 10. Many spin-off games also used this system. 

The Action Final Fantasy Games

The series added real-time elements early on but has only made the jump to full-on action gameplay on occasion. It is becoming more common, though, and now multiple games in the mainline series have thrown away the menu-based battles and have combat in the style of an action game. This has caused consternation for long-term series fans.

The MMO Final Fantasy Games

The two Final Fantasy MMOs are mainline, numbered Final Fantasy games: Final Fantasy 11 and Final Fantasy 14. As well as fitting into the “mainline” bucket, they also deserve to be discussed in their own category. 

What makes these games different is that you explore a world that is filled with thousands of other players across the world, and you can join up with those players in multiplayer parties to take on the game’s challenges. Both of these MMOs require their own subscription. They each have multiple expansions, which add up to huge amounts of content that will take much longer to play through than any other single game in the series. 

We already mentioned the sub-series and the Final Fantasy Adventure/Mana games which turned into their own series. Here are more games that are not part of Final Fantasy but do have connections.

  • Kingdom Hearts has Final Fantasy characters as NPCs and even bosses. 
  • Chrono Trigger is not part of the Final Fantasy series but was made by Square. It is common to hear people joke that Chrono Trigger is their favourite Final Fantasy game. 


Phew! If you’ve read this far, you’ve seen that the Final Fantasy series is big and multifaceted, but you’ve also learned that there is a core of mainline games that push the series forward as well as the vast number of spin-offs that take the series in other directions. 

You have a better understanding of each of the games in context, and you won’t be completely in the dark when people are talking about XIV this and VII that, because you have the context. 

The context isn’t everything though, and the way to learn more is to start playing. Good luck and have fun!

JRPG Collection Screenshots

Final Fantasy VII Screenshots

This is a collection of 20 high-quality screenshots from the Playstation JRPG Final Fantasy VII.

They were taken in RetroArch and the Beetle PSX core, with no shaders.

These are simply shots from my last playthrough that I found interesting. It’s not a comprehensive look at the game, and most pictures are either from early on or very late in the game.

Feel free to use these screenshots on your own website or in your own project. If you do, we would greatly appreciate a link back to Great Adventures Review.