Nosgoth Collection

Games like Legacy of Kain

Legacy of Kain is an (almost) unique dark fantasy drama that plays out across a series of exceptionally creative action-adventure games. Sadly, there hasn’t been a new game in the series since Legacy of Kain: Defiance, released in November 2023, almost exactly 20 years ago.

For many fans, it would be impossible to match Legacy of Kain’s lofty combination of gothic dystopia, tragic anti-heroes and a theatre-worthy script. However, there are some games that I think could sate our appetites, at least for a spell. 

To have a chance of filling this hole, a game would have to have a few things. We counted four:

First, Brooding anti-heroes who are not quite human

The protagonists of Legacy of Kain, Kain and Raziel, are not optimistic do-gooders. Kain is driven by a desire for power and revenge, and he often makes morally questionable decisions to achieve his goals. Raziel is not above snacking on the soul stuff of innocent human villagers. 

Given their past, it’s not too surprising. Both characters were wrenched from their mortal lives and returned to the material plane in different ways. Kain is a vampire and Raziel is a wraith, and they have abilities befitting their undead status. For example, Raziel can climb up sheer cliffs with his oversized claws and he can traverse a spectral realm where dead souls cry out unceasingly for peace. 

On their journey, they each add new inhuman abilities to their repertoires. For Kain, it is by finding artifacts and spells stashed in crypts and castles; for Raziel, consuming the souls of vanquished vampire lieutenants steals their dark gifts for him.

Raziel points in a Legacy of Kain Defiance screenshot
Legacy of Kain: Defiance

A traditional human do-gooder would be a poor substitute as a protagonist, so on this list we are looking for more unusual heroes with more unsavoury abilities. 

Second, a dark fantasy world with gothic inspiration (or similar)

Legacy of Kain takes place in Nosgoth, a world filled with vast, ominous landscapes, towering religious architecture, and an atmosphere of decay. 

Nosgoth is held in balance by the power of the nine pillars, which each represent a metaphysical concept, but in Soul Reaver the land has been thrown out of balance and carved up by six vampire clans. Each of their regions has a distinct flavour, from the drowned quarters of Rahab to the underground warrens of Melchiah. 

Therefore, the environment is both a reflection of the game’s deep lore, and a medium to convey an immersive, often eerie atmosphere. This is the quality of the world we want to see in the games on our list.

Raziel explores Vorador's mansion in a Legacy of Kain Defiance screenshot
Legacy of Kain: Defiance

Third, both bloody action and puzzly adventure

Much of this series could be described as a dark version of Zelda. When the protagonists aren’t impaling lesser vampires on spears, they are probably delving into ancient temples and solving complex puzzles to reveal long-forgotten secrets. 

The balance depends on which game we are looking at. The original Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen had more RPG elements, which were absent for the rest of the series, and more freedom. The last game, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, was much more linear than anything that came before it. 

In general, though, Legacy of Kain is known as a series where the player has a world to explore, puzzles to solve, enemies to slay, and powers to obtain, and we want to see all of these elements in any game chosen for this list.

Raziel fights in a Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 screenshot
Soul Reaver 2

Finally, skilful, imaginative writing filled with twists and turns

Plot and dialogue can sometimes be under-prioritised in videogames, as there are so many other aspects to making a good game. So when a writer like Dennis Dyak or Amy Henig has a lot of control in the development process, the results can be rare and amazing, 

That’s exactly what the story of Legacy of Kain is. The world and characters, introduced by Dennis Dyak in Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, have been constructed with care and dark imagination, and that lore is developed spectacularly by Amy Hennig throughout the sequel, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

The opening cinematic of that second game, that so brutally and convincingly sets up Raziel’s initial motivation against Kain, is seared into our memories. From there, we are treated to dramatic developments like the shattering of the Soul Reaver, and the revelation of the true origins of the vampire lieutenants.

No less attention has been paid to the dialogue, which is theatrical and complex. A game that competes for Legacy of Kain in our hearts should have similar devotion to storytelling.

Raziel prepares to stab Kain in a Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 screenshot
Soul Reaver 2

The best games like Legacy of Kain

In particular, there are four games or series that I believe match most or all the above requirements, and would likely do a fantastic job at igniting the same feelings of a Soul Reaver or a Blood Omen, or at least tide you over until a true successor is announced.

There are a few other games that might not tick every box, but are worth mentioning anyway, which I will include afterwards.

1. God of War series, particularly God of War 2018

On the surface, God of Wars may seem like a poor substitute for Legacy of Kain, for one good reason: the protagonist. While Kain is noble, calculating and eloquent, God of War’s Kratos is mostly just angry. Testosterone overload permeates many aspects of the series and seems at odds with the tone of Legacy of Kain.

However, you don’t have to dig far to find the depth in Kratos’s character, even in the first game, where the tragic events that turned him into a cursed demi-god are front and centre.

The original series of games (God of War to God of War Ascension) are mostly linear and are hurt by their hamfisted scripts and throwaway characters. But the 2018 revival, again called simply God of War, embraced much more of what made Legacy of Kain successful. It has a small but open world to explore freely, high-quality vocal performances for all of the main characters, and a more sombre Kratos who fights his way through a story that focuses more on characters and a range of emotions than ever before.

Furthermore, the 2018 game builds on the lore of the earlier games, building it into a multi-generational epic. In a narrative sense, it is to the earlier games what Soul Reaver is to Blood Omen. 

Kratos speaks to Atreus in a God of War 2018 screenshot
Kratos explores Midgard in a God of War 2018 screenshot

The world of God of War 2018 is the world of North myth, and while it might not be gothic it is certainly a dark fantasy. The Norse myths, in their strange and brutal tradition, inform the history of the world Kratos finds himself in. And like everything in God of War, it is a world with the potential to be violent and twisted at a moment’s notice. 

Speaking of violence, in Legacy of Kain, the cursed blade that both of the protagonists wield is an essential and beloved part of the lore. If that’s what you want, Kratos’s Leviathan Axe and iconic Blades of Chaos aren’t just fun for mowing down draugr, as they also have emotional histories to them.

God of War 2018 made me feel I might not need a new Legacy of Kain, as long as games like this keep being made. It isn’t the only game that has made me feel this way, as you will see from the rest of this list, but it was the best, in my opinion. I recommend it to any and every Legacy of Kain fan. 

Kratos finds draugr in a God of War 2018 screenshot
Kratos fights a dragon in a God of War 2018 screenshot

2. Darksiders series, particularly Darksiders 2

The vampires of Legacy of Kain sit on the edge of life and death, between good and evil. The same can be said of the Nephilim of Darksiders, who are one part angel, one part demon. Under the yoke of the charred council, and stuck in the middle of a war they didn’t ask for, but capable of devastation and violence when it is needed, these four horsemen are tragic anti-heroes.

They might have wider shoulders, bigger swords and more cell shading than the residents of Nosgoth, but the aesthetic isn’t too different. A kind of comic-book metal vibe permeates both franchises, from the clunking metal greaves and giant claws on Raziel’s feet, to the skull mask and unkempt hair on Death’s head. Roaming a ruined earth in Wrath of War (the first game) matches the ruined world of future Nosgoth in Soul Reaver, and you’ll find towering cathedrals and castles in both.

But it is in Darksiders 2, which takes you away from earth to the fantastical but moody Forge Lands, with more freedom to roam, that made me most nostalgic for Legacy of Kain. Perhaps it is because Death reminds me a lot of Raziel, even down to a scarf and a penchant for wall climbing. 

Death explores a castle in a Darksiders 2 screenshot
The crowfather talks in a Darksiders 2 screenshot

The Darksiders series are fantastic action adventure games with highly engaging combat and quality puzzles, the latter much better than God of War. The reason it doesn’t take the number one spot is related to the writing. The lore of Darksiders is amazing, and the plot isn’t bad either — if they weren’t, Darksiders wouldn’t make the list at all. However, the dialogue is forgettable at best, and for a Legacy of Kain fan that’s not an insignificant flaw. 

Regularly, I wish for a Darksiders with a better written plot and characters, because that game could match Legacy of Kain if not exceed it. Until then, Darksiders might only sate the hunger temporarily, but that’s still pretty impressive. Very highly recommended.

War and an angel in a Darksdiers screenshot
Death and a volcano in a Darksiders 2 screenshot

3. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series

The goal of this article was to find games comparable to a vampire epic fantasy, but neither of my first suggestions starred any vampires! This entry changes that. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, puts you in the boots of a vampire lord who is fighting against an even greater, almost godlike evil. It’s a very similar role that Kain takes in his game.

Gabriel on his throne in a Lords of Shadow 2 screenshot
Gabriel fights in a Lords of Shadow 2 screenshot

Likewise, the skills at your disposal will be familiar to Kain players: healing by drinking blood, transforming into animals, mist-form, all that good stuff.

The small problem here is that you don’t take control of a vampire protagonist in the first Lords of Shadow, which is well-recognised as the superior game. There are vampires to play as in Mirror of Fate, an optional part of the story in the form of a sidescroller, but most of the vampire action takes place in Lords of Shadow 2. Unfortunately, the forced stealth sections along with some other niggles, made this sequel unpalatable for some fans. 

Despite these differences to the Legacy of Kain formula, the Lords of Shadow series is still worth your time to explore. It tells a story that stretches across centuries. Characters are tortured and tragic. Dialogue has a lyrical quality. The protagonist has undergone a dark transformation, which is the fate of almost every major Legacy of Kain character.

It’s worth noting that Lords of Shadow takes place mainly on Earth, though it is a dark fantasy in all other ways. 

Gabriel and a castle in a Lords of Shadow 2 screenshot
Lore about Belmonts in a Lords of Shadow 2 screenshot

Also, it’s not the only Castlevania game that might fit your tastes. In particular, Symphony of the Night, starring Dracula’s son, and Aria of Sorrow, starring a reincarnation of Dracula, are excellent choices.

4. Souls series, particularly Dark Souls

I am certain fans will feel equally at home in the majestic ruination of Lordran, the setting of Dark Souls, as they were in Nosgoth. Both have a dark, gothic aesthetic with a strong focus on death/afterlife/undeath.

The similarity extends to the level design: The interconnected world design of Dark Souls is very similar to that of Soul Reaver. Both have loosely been described as 3D metroidvanias. 

Admittedly, there is one thing that makes the Souls games seem very different to Legacy of Kain. Once again it relates to the story. Legacy of Kain tells a story with cutscenes and dialogue, and these are the things fans most love about the series. However, the Dark Souls story mostly sits in the background. 

I don’t think this should be a deal breaker, though. Both have rich world building and lore, so both are “well written” in their own way. 

Nito cinematic Dark Souls screenshot
The chosen undead climbs a ladder in a Dark Souls screenshot

They both have memorable characters, too. In particular, the ancient Lords of Dark Souls (Gravelord Nito, Seath the Scales etc) take me back to fighting the varied forms of the aged, corrupted vampire lieutenants in Soul Reaver (Melchiah, Rahab etc). The deified Gwyn has a dash of Kain to him also.

Speaking of fighting, while the three other main games on this list are fluid “character action” games, Dark Souls has a different feel that might appeal to Legacy of Kain players even more. The characters of both franchises tend to feel weighty. Think of Raziel’s finishing blows and compare to The Chosen Undead’s parry counter.

One more similarity I noticed: in Dark Souls, you can be human, or when you die revert to being an undead “hollowed”. It’s not a two-worlds mechanics like the spectral/material realm in Soul Reaver, but it did remind me of the wraith-like Raziel who exists in two forms.

If the next Legacy of Kain game was like Dark Souls but with cutscenes, it would be pretty faithful to the other LoK games. Though known for being hard, Dark Souls will be an easy game for Legacy of Kain fans to fall in love with. 

More games like Legacy of Kain

The following games might not look like Legacy of Kain at first glance, or they might have some other fundamental difference that excludes them from the main list above, but they all have some important similarity that means they deserve to be in the conversation.

In other words, they might not be the full package, but they might have the specific Legacy of Kain elements you are interested in.

Zelda, particularly Majora’s Mask

What excludes Zelda from the main portion of this list is the light-hearted tone. Mechanically, however, Zelda fits perfectly: it is a series about exploring a fantasy land, fighting monsters, solving puzzling temples, and getting more powerful and finding new abilities/tools along the way. 

Majora’s Mask gets a special mention, because it’s apocalyptic sorry is a bit darker than average for the series, and you also get the chance to play as non-human characters by wearing masks. Twilight Princess is also worth a look for similar reasons.

Nier Automata

The main character that looks like a fanservice robot might immediately make you question this choice for the list, but I’m confident you will agree if we look at it a bit more. 

For one, Neir is all about writing. Tragic characters, coherent world building, exploring themes of life, death and violence — other than Legacy of Kain itself, Nier is the game in this article that most feels that a writer was in charge and given free reign.

Moreover, the world of Nier is post-apocalyptic, like Soul Reaver, and the androids vs machines conflict might resonate on some level with those who enjoyed the human vs vampire conflicts of Nosgoth.

Prince of Persia trilogy

As Raziel was a vampire prince, taking on the role in Prince of Persia should feel natural to Legacy of Kain fans! Both protagonists have a knack for climbing walls, too. 

However, as with Nier, it’s the storytelling quality that really puts these game series in the same category. Prince of Persia might not have any bloodsucking to speak of, but it doesn’t shy away from weaving a compelling tale in a thoughtful and original way. Plus, like Legacy of Kain, subsequent games in the series build on the story, 

Its time-travel elements are central to the story, with Kain and Raziel shifting through different eras, altering history, and facing the consequences of their choices. Prince of Persia also shares a fascination with time.

Tomb Raider series

Soul Reaver was developed by Crystal Dynamics, and it is not their only hit action-adventure series, as they are also the current developer of Tomb Raider.

Though this suggestion isn’t a fantasy game and has no brooding protagonist – and certainly no vampires – it does have a reasonably well-written story and a perfect balance of action and puzzles. A similar game design philosophy that went into the Soul Reaver series has persisted in this studio’s future work, and Tomb Raider is the evidence.

It’s also worth noting, Crystal Dynamics are still part of the company that owns the Legacy of Kain franchise. This company, the Embracer Group, has expressed interest in using the intellectual properties in their catalogue to make new games or reboots of old ones. We can only hope this means there is more Legacy of Kain in the future.  

Can you think of any others?

Disclaimer: I’ve not played every game. If you played a game that gave you the same buzz as Legacy of Kain and I haven’t included it here, I would love to know about it. No, seriously. I am a life-long Raziel fanboy who has waited a long time for a new game in this series. If you have something similar to recommend, I’ll probably play it. 

Comment below or send me a message at

JRPG Collection

What made 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.

Cecelia 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 Cecelia, 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 Cecelia 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 hookshot. 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 is was psyenergy 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?

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

The First JRPGs

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

What made Secret of Mana great

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. 

CRPG Collection

How to play Ultima VI in 2023

Ultima VI: The False Prophet, released in 1990, remains a timeless classic that continues to be enjoyed in 2023 (and beyond).

Though the last in a loose trilogy of Ultima games (4, 5 and 6), Ultima VI is easy to recommend as an entry point for players new to the series. Developed for the IBM PC and with the luxury of 256 colour VGA graphics, the visual jump from the earlier Apple II-developed games is drastic. Also, Ultima VI removes the first-person dungeons and two-scale maps and instead presents one coherent, consistent world, making it much more palatable to modern players.

However, as is to be expected of a game that is almost 35 years old, it can be inaccessible in some ways. This article aims to get you settled into the world of Brittania as painlessly as possible.

Screenshot of Ultima 6 title screen
Screenshot of exploring a castle in Ultima 6

Tips for getting started

Some things that might be useful to know to make your first sojourn into this world more pleasant:

1. Play on Nuvie. Ultima VI ran on MS-DOS, which doesn’t exist on modern PCs, so when you download it from GOG or somewhere similar it will play in an emulator called DOSBOS.

However, there is a better solution, and that is to play Ultima VI through Nuvie, an engine for playing Ultima VI on modern systems. If you’re playing this classic CRPG in 2023, Nuvie will make your experience a lot smoother, without changing the game.

After these tips I’ll explain how to set up Nuvie, so skip to here if you’re ready to get started.

2. If you want your companions to help you in a scrape, switch to battle mode. Otherwise, they’ll just scratch their heads while you all get pelted with throwing axes. The keyboard shortcut is B. Sometimes they are shy about attacking, but you can fix that by changing their behaviour in their stats screen. Change to “Control” to manually command that character on their turns.

I put this one here because when you start the game you’re dropped straight into a battle.

3. Answer the copy protection questions. When that battle is over, your first instinct will probably be to talk to the king you just saved. That’s Lord British. But he’s not very welcoming, insisting that you take a quiz before he will say anything useful to you. This is Ultima VI’s piracy protection. The answers were contained in the manual that came with legitimate copies of the game. If you bought your copy from GOG, you can download this “Compendium” digitally, which you should do anyway because it’s a beautiful booklet and delves into the lore of the game. However, for the sake of getting past Lord British’s questions, just find the answers on Ultima Codex, the main Ultima Wiki, here: 

4. Find out what to do next by talking. You get information out of people by typing in keywords while talking to them. A good place to start is with the NPCs “name” and their “job”: this will usually lead to other key subjects, which will be highlighted in a different colour of text. This game will not make things easy for you if you aren’t listening to what people say and seeking more information by interrogating other people on the same subjects. Take notes, because the game won’t do that for you either. It’s pretty hands-off, in this regard and others.

On this topic, a good place to start your enquiries would be to ask Lord British about the orb you found in the game’s introduction. You’ll want to figure out how to use it to cut down on travel time in the game, but you might want to leave that until you understand the geography of the world a bit better.

Talking to Lord British about the Orb of Moons in Ultima 6

5. Controlling other characters and their inventories. The number keys switch control to other characters, also giving you access to their inventories, so you can carry more loot and keep it better organised. The avatar’s backpack will be full before you leave the castle, so knowing this immediately will save you some frustration. Press 0 to switch back to the default “party mode”. 

6. Embrace the old-school interaction method. Ultima VI doesn’t have a context-sensitive button that allows you to do everything from pick up items, to talk to somebody, to open chests, to read a sign. In fact, these actions are all separate buttons (or keystrokes): get, talk, use, and look. When you choose your action, you then target something with it. It’s a bit of a habit change, but when you get used to it you see some advantages, like how you can talk to everyone in a bar without leaving your seat. 

7. Learn these keyboard shortcuts. You can play this game entirely with the mouse but it’s quite a bit slower this way. I feel my clicking finger could get tired. Learning the keyboard shortcuts will make your adventure smoother. F1, F2 etc switch to the inventory of party members, and F10 brings up the full party screen with the time of day indicator. Crtl-1, Crtl-2 etc bring up stats screens. 

Setting up Nuvie

Nuvie adds, among other many other things:

  • An in-game settings menu for audio, visual and gameplay tweaks
  • Enhanced and modernised controls like drag-and-drop for items
  • More comfortable default key bindings and the ability to customise key bindings
  • Overhaul of save/load system
  • Convenience features like automatically using keys on doors becoming 
  • An option for a UI overhaul similar to the style of Ultima VII

Step 1: Download Nuvie

Download Nuvie from this page: 

Choose the official release binary for your operating system.

Step 2: Install Nuvie on your computer

Nuvie Setup program

Install Nuvie anywhere you will find convenient. You can install it directly into your Ultima VI game folder, but the official documentation suggests you install Nuvie somewhere else and copy your Ultima VI game files into the Nuvie folder, which we will do next. 

Step 3: Move Ultima 5 game files to the Nuvie folder

3.1 By default, Nuvie looks inside the Nuvie folder for a folder called ultima6, where it expects to find your Ultima VI game files. That folder doesn’t exist yet, so make it. Your Nuvie Folder should now look like this:

Make new ultima6 folder in Nuvie folder

3.2 Find your Ultima VI game files, wherever you installed the game. If you have installed via GOG Galaxy, you can find the game files with this option in your game library:

Finding Ultima 6 game files via GOG Galaxy

3.3 Copy all the game files…

Copying the Ultima 6 game files

3.4 …and paste them into the Nuvie ultima6 folder.

Step 4: Tweak the config file (if you want)

Some settings are changed by updating the text in nuvie.cfg, which is a file in your Nuvie installation folder. Most of the settings you will be interested in for playing Ultima are found in the <video> section (for general Nuvie display options) and in the <ultima6> section. 

The Nuvie config file in Notepad

Even if you don’t make changes now, keep these settings in mind in case you want them later. 

For more guidance on the config file, check the Nuvie documentation.

Step 5: Start playing Ultima VI

Welcome to Britannia!

Ultima 6 introduction screenshot
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.


100+ studies show action games improve perception, attention and multitasking

Instead of simply accepting video games, is it time we encouraged them?

A metastudy has been newly published by the journal of Technology, Mind and Behaviour that gives a very strong indication that playing action games strengthens some mental functions.

It was found that:

AVGP [action video-game players] were observed to have superior cognitive skills, on average, compared with individuals who engage less in video game play. 

Effects of Action Video Game Play on Cognitive Skills: A Meta-Analysis

The data used to reach this conclusion came from 104 studies that have been published over the last 20 years.

The types of cognitive skills tests where action game players had the biggest advantage were:

  • Perceptual (spot something accurately and quickly)
  • Top-down attentional (stick with a goal to find a target)
  • Spatial (such as mentally rotating objects)
  • Multitasking (switch between goals with less performance sacrifice)

Though it may seem intuitive that a session of playing games might “warm up” a brain, and mean better results in a test taken immediately afterwards, this study avoided looking at only short-term effects:

In line with our focus on long-term training effects (as opposed to acute physiological arousal effects), the training had to be equivalent in both experimental and control groups in terms of duration (minimum 8 hr) and number of sessions (minimum 8 days) and posttest performance measures had to be performed at least 24 hr after training.

Effects of Action Video Game Play on Cognitive Skills: A Meta-Analysis

As this research looked at many studies, there were many different methods for measuring the traits. To give an example of one, a method for measuring “top-down attention” is an object tracking test, which looks like this (try and follow the dot that starts green):

The authors looked at studies that took different experimental approaches: some observed existing players and non-players (cross-sectional study), others gave subjects action games to play and compared the results to a control group (intervention study). The positive relation between playing action games and performance in the cognitive tests was observed in both types of study

My thoughts

I was impressed with the breadth of this research, and the conscientiousness of the authors, who take pains to keep the data reliable and to avoid publication biases and outlier statistics.

There is more I would like to see studied in this area. Do videogames build resilience to failure? What skills do strategy and puzzle games improve? How does game difficulty (perceived and objective) affect the outcomes?

Naturally, I am also curious about what undesirable traits are increased by playing videogames, and where an ideal balance might lie.

What next

Some will read this, pat themselves on the back for their wise choices in gaming material, mouth “I told you so” to the world, then play another round in Dustbowl. But I don’t highlight this research so that gamers can bask in the glow of group superiority. 

Rather, it makes me curious about what roles games might play in benefitting society in the future.

The typical perception today is that games, while an acceptable use of leisure time, are still basically unproductive. This research suggests to me that an hour of videogames is sometimes better than an hour without videogames. 

We recognise the importance of reading and physical education in human development, and parents and schools make time for these activities. Is there room for the right games, deployed in the right way, in schools?

If that is taking things too far, instead of treating games purely as unproductive leisure, can we say that, sometimes, videogames are a form of exercise too? 

My mind is open to these possibilities, though I think it will be a long time before they are considered seriously.

If you’re interested in the positive outcomes of playing games, here is a recent podcast on the subject:

The surprising effects of video games with Ash Brandin (TED)

Oddworld Collection

Games like Oddworld

The special traits we are looking for 

People fall in love with Oddworld for different reasons. The gorgeous, cinematic vistas and character animations. The non-human characters and the bizarre world they live in. The sense of humour. The messages about environmentalism and corporate greed. The mix of real-time puzzles and tense chase scenes. A unique range of abilities including possessing your enemies and leading other characters with speech commands.

Best picks!

All the 20+ games on this list have a one or more of the above traits and are good games besides. Our top picks have several of the above traits as well as being amazing games. So if you’re an Oddworld fan, any of the following five is likely to be a game you fall in love with.

1. Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori approaching Mt Horu in Ori and the Blind Forest

Abe’s Oddysee is packed with high-resolution natural environments and tense chase scenes. The Ori games nail these qualities too: the layers of detail in Nibel forest are unique among 2D games today, just as Abe’s Oddysee’s scenes were in 1997, and the escape sequences will have you gripping your controller as if there is a Scrab behind you.

The cat-monkey-spirit-thing Ori, like Abe, is a vulnerable character who scurries through woodlands and ancient temples to save his land. His game doesn’t have much dialogue but it does tell a good story. It can be light hearted and charming and it can be dark, errie and threatening, and that’s a combination that any Oddworld fan will appreciate.  

Here’s a one minue clip that shows off some of what Ori and the Blind Forest has to offer:

2. Psychonauts, Psychonauts 2

If a psychedelic colour scheme seems like a hundred miles away from the tones of Oddworld, don’t judge it yet. The strange worlds of Psychonauts exist in the minds of the strange characters, and that level of strangeness can’t fail to tickle the fancy of an Oddworld players.

Other than all that, it’s a creatively designed platformer, has a great sense of humour, and a story that will keep you gripped.

Mind-control is a key tool in Abe’s arsenal, and it is much more deeply explored here, with the main character Raz delving into the psyches of various characters where he is threatened by figments of their anxieties, ambitions and past traumas. 

Here’s an quick example from an early cutscene:

3. Another World

Here’s a game that inspired Oddworld! Both Another World and the first two Oddworld games feature challenging puzzles and tense platforming chases that require precision and timing. The games share atmospheric and otherworldly locations, like the eerie alien planet of Another World and the oppressive factory of RuptureFarms in Abe’s Oddysee.

What makes this predecessor to Oddworld even more impressive is that almost ever scene is unique. Challenges and obstacles are very rarely repeated, making the game feel timelessly cinematic. Oddworld takes you to another world, and so does Another World.

Even in this clip from very early in the game, you can see where the level designers of Oddworld were getting some of their ideas from:

4. Inside

What blows me away about Inside, something that few games have managed since Oddworld, is how it makes you feel like you’re in a fully 3D world despite having entirely 2D mechanics. In Oddworld, the camera would seamlessly disconnect from the screen and fly over Mosiac Lines or whichever location you were in, in an FMV sequence that showed off the breadth and detail of the world in which your adventure takes place. Inside also indicates depth, also by clever use of the camera, lighting and background elements. It all looks totally natural. 

The boy from inside hiding from a foe

The gameplay of Insider revolves around puzzle solving and platforming that require creative thinking and precision, similar to Abe’s Oddysee. Both games also have a dark and oppressive atmosphere, with unsettling locations and characters that keep players engaged. Neither game is afraid of a cynical ending, either. 

5. Trine series

There are two game franchises that do detailed 2.5 better than any other, and those are Oddworld and Trine. The latter game’s fantastical setting, with its castles, caves, and forests, creates a sense of wonder and immersion similar to Abe’s Oddysee and Exodus. The aesthetic of both games is utterly charming and that draws players in.

The Trine party cross a bridge passing a waterfall

Both games feature challenging puzzles and platforming sections that require creativity and problem-solving skills. Trine allows players to switch between three unique characters with different abilities. It’s not quite the same as leading Mudokons to safety in Oddworld, but the party-based puzzle solving has a similar ring to it.

Even more

There are 10+ games below that we think have a good flavour of Oddworld to them. For some, this was based on their mechanics, for other on their visual design, and others on their sense of humour. In all cases, we have linked to somewhere relevant (usually the Mobygames page) where you can get an impression of what that game is like.

Classic cinematic platformers

The first two Oddworld games were part of a genre called the cinematic platformer, which most people consider to have started with Prince of Persia in 1989. The first designers of Oddworld were inspired by these titles, and the ones we have selected here

Modern eerie cinematic sidescrollers

It’s not like cinematic platformers stopped being made. Here are newer examples that capture the feeling of creeping your way through an oppressive enviroments, leaving you at risk of Rupture Farms flashbacks:

Single-screen puzzle sidescrollers

Many of the early cinematic platformers were described as “single screen” meaning that the screen did not move with your character, but was static until the player reached the end of it, causing it to scroll. In other worlds, the world was make up of a sequence of “single screens”. Here are some more extremely well designed puzzling adventures in this style: 

Worlds full of strange characters

Point and click adventure games can rival Oddworld in well developed worlds, empathetic characters and comedic writing. Not all of them are as strange and fantastical as the following, though:

Wild cards!

These ones might seem to have only tenuous similarities to Oddworld. Nonetheless, they are great games and they might be the new experience that you are looking for. After all, Oddworld was nothing if not novel!

Played one of these that stood out to you as especially Oddworld-y? Another game you think deserves to be on this list? Let us know in the comments.