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Old JRPGs Tier List


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(Long post warning!)

 

Back in the olden days, when my peasant soul upgraded from a knockoff Atari console that had a keyboard and a brick game handheld to a full-fledged PC with a whopping 256 MB RAM as my gaming systems, I got really into RPGs. While I missed the फु-फु ing you had to do to make the game cartridges work, emulators were changing my world.

 

In those days, even dial-up was a rare sight, only seen in cybers. And there was a legendary half gig pendrive floating around that contained two folders titled 'VBA' and 'ZSNES'. Those two folders contained so many games, I think it would not be physically possible to play through all in a single lifetime.

 

Anyways, long story short I spent countless hours playing RPGs, JRPGs in particular. While nowadays I sometimes try out esportish games and some indie titles, these old games hold a special place in my heart. Which is why I'm going to do a hard thing and try to rank them in a tier list. There are some obvious ones, to the non-young gamers out there, and some under-the-radar titles that I personally love.

 

Note that this is totally a subjective taste, and I'm ranking otherwise excellent games low because I just didn't care much for them while playing. This list features games that mostly came before around 2003, as the Playstation 2 really cemented 3D RPGs as the evolving genre from then on and the PSP came out soon after. Also, I've only included the best game from a series (so no FFV or FFIV, although FFT I consider a slightly different series).

jrpg-tierlist.png

💗 S-tier

Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis - A brilliant turn-based RPG. I was a big Queen fan at that time, and the creator of this game was as well, so there are a lot of Queen references. But regardless, it is a wonderful game with immersive mechanics, a branching storyline where your choices feel real and pretty good visuals and sound design. The emblem system made training mode amazingly fun, and you actually felt in control of a small fragment of a fantasy army. By today's standard, it would probably be considered slow-paced, but I loved the hours I sunk into it.

Final Fantasy VI - The best FF game, hands-down. And not because I couldn't include FFVII here, too. Seven has better mini-games but that's it. Not going to say much because a lot has been said about this game already. Also an inspiration for a favorite Fantasy book series - The Gentleman Bastard sequence.

 

💣 A-tier

Chrono Trigger - This is arguably a tighter game than the previous two, kind of the perfect game, to be honest. The only reason it didn't rank higher is because the characters of the previous two had that much more impact for me. CT's characters are amazing as well, but what shines is the gameplay and the plot, and it is simply personal preference that does not lead me to declare it as the greatest jrpg ever.

Fire Emblem - Okay, okay, you figured it out - I love turn-based combat. Which is interesting since I find chess dreadfully boring. Fire Emblem has a lot going for it: permadeath mode, a simple rock-paper-scissors weapon system that gets quite intricate and I think compared to other turn-based games it is quite fast-paced. The characters are brilliant and so is the plot. A solid A.

Terranigma - This game closely beats out Illusion of Gaia of the same series, which I think you should try as well. It has great fast-paced action, difficult but not-impossible puzzles and a fantastic story arc.

Advance Wars 2 - Heh, another turn-based game. This one probably has probably the best gameplay out of the bunch, but it is also military-based, of which I'm not generally the biggest fan. The CO system is really fun, however, and AW2 really dazzles on the base built by AW1.

 

😸 B-tier

Earthbound - You've probably heard of Undertale, which draws a lot of inspiration from the Mother series. Earthbound is the most accessible and captivating of these. It's a really silly and weird game at first sight, but engaging nonetheless. In the early days when I played it, I missed a lot of what was being said under the surface. I revisited the game and it's really a work of art. High B, verging on A tier for this one, despite absurd game mechanics (which is kinda the point).

Final Fantasy Tactics - A lot of my friends preferred this over my top choice, which is understandable. FFT is a bit more mainstream, in a sense, but still has that tactical turn-based goodness. I can't fault the storyline either. It just feels a bit cartoony to me, even during the direst moments. Which is weird since I was much more invested in older pixellated FF games' stories. But, that might just be me. Still a great one to pick up.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - A clever title, very well-crafted mechanics, fun puzzles and tough bosses. I'm not going to complain about the characters or the storyline, they were designed to be that way. I just prefer grittier themes in my games, but playing any Zelda games is loads of fun.

 

👾 C-tier

Pokemon Crystal - C for Crystal! Second-gen pokemon games are my favorite. First gen still felt a bit experimental. Third-gen's okay, but has way too many tangents (why beauty contests tho). After that, they kinda ran out of ideas and started pulling pokemon out of every random idea. One brilliant moment was when you could revisit the Kanto region after beating Johto. That was quite a revelation if you played the earlier games, such an uppercut of nostalgia. Why isn't this higher? I prefer mechanics that allow you to play creatively and much of pokemon's old meta was very constrained and luck+IV dependent.

Harvest Moon - Ahh, the original Stardew Valley. I'm not normally a big fan of these games, but the first time I played Harvest Moon was the first time I really relaxed while gaming. It's just a really soothing, slow game.

Breath of Fire II - Similar to FF series, kind of a weird but intricate plot. It's a low C because I don't remember a lot of details. Oh, you can turn into dragons midway into the game, which is kind of cool.

 

💫 D-tier

Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon - Very similar to Fire Emblem, this is a classic that I have dared put on the D tier. It just felt slightly clunky, slightly too mechanical in its ways. It has a decent storyline, but the arc is a bit too linear throughout. Not a bad game, but you might have moments of boredom in between.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars - Actually was better than I'd expected. Still, the story and characters are from Mario, and I just can't take it super seriously, despite decent mechanics.

Megaman: Battle Network - Never really got into this game, although I had played Megaman previously. The mechanics do seem fresh and interesting, I just didn't buy into it being very in-depth that I could sink a lot of hours experimenting and perfecting.

Golden Sun - Another fantasy RPG which tries to do something new. Kudos for the djinn system, but I don't find the separate battle elements mix that well. Lots of people love this game, so you might, who knows?

Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku - A decent enough game, fun if you're a fan of DBZ, which a lot of people were at that time. The gameplay, graphic design and soundtrack were just so mediocre without the reference factor that I don't really recommend it on its own.

 

😶 E-tier

Riviera: The Promised Land - This game has a lot of hardcore fans, one of them was my friend who insisted I play it through. I just felt it focused way too much on flashy graphics and spent inordinate amounts of time on characters gearing up to attack. I like slow gameplay, but not unnecessarily slow ones. Also way too focused on character relationships for some mechanics, but I think Fire Emblem did it way better. The plot also sounds like bad fanfiction. The exploration system based on points and unnecessary skill tests make this game actually unfun.

Yggdra Union: We'll Never Fight Alone - This is technically cheating, since it's kind of a sequel to Riviera, but I really hate it so it's here. Touted the one of hardest tactics game, and I thought at first I'd love it. Nope. I've heard the PSP version is a bit reasonable, but I played the GBA one. Oh boy. Also, there's a waifu called Nietzsche. Make of that what you will. I'm not going to comment on character design or plot, both of which are below par. The main culprit is the mechanics. It is needlessly convoluted, very unintuitive and kind of sadist at times. This game is not difficult because of a hellish AI which knows the battlefield better than you, or because you need to play near-perfectly to win. No, it is ridiculous because the odds are stacked so against your favor that it's laughable. The worst part? You might have spent hours inside the game, really building up a few cards and hoarding items to discover a hidden mechanic that means your save file is doomed. Yep, a lot of times you just reach an unwinnable stage, and there's nothing you can do but start a new game. 0 stars.

 

Phew! I'm sure I have missed many excellent ones, whether I played them or not. Are you a fan of old JRPGs or other RPGs as well? Comment below. Make your own tierlist here, if you're so inclined (for some reason I also have Heroes of Might and Magic in there, which is not a JRPG).

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