JRPGs can be difficult to get into, with lore that’s often dense and seemingly unapproachable, and completion times requiring a hefty investment of your own valuable time. But for those who are willing and able to invest the effort and energy, the genre features some of the most epic stories with fully realized character arcs, fleshed-out worlds, and in-depth combat.
The Nintendo Switch in particular is home to some exceptional examples of the genre — with a wide variety of art styles, battle systems, stories, settings, and character designs — suited to nearly any preference. The examples below are some excellent entry points, with even more choice JRPGs waiting to be played for those who find themselves fast fans after exploring these picks.
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy
The underrated Atelier series’ focus on alchemy has always made for charming mechanics with quite a bit of depth. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends and the Secret Fairy, and its predecessor Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout, expands upon and polishes its alchemy system to a fine sheen. That isn’t to mention that the graphics and lighting are absolutely gorgeous, enhanced by a bright and colorful palette. And the action-RPG combat, normally the weakest aspect of the franchise, has been made far more tactical and engaging here.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
While Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition is a mouthful of a title, the game is practically perfect in every other way. Turn-based combat might not be everyone, but developer Square Enix nails it with this latest entry in their mega-franchise. The story is delightful, the characters are exceptionally charming (especially Sylvando), and the game has the best JRPG towns of all time. They’re huge, plentiful, and beautifully detailed. Really, Dragon Quest XI is generous in so many ways. It’s not always the most challenging, but if you’re looking for a cozy game that is always engrossing, you cannot go wrong here.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
There are so many remasters of Final Fantasy games available on the Nintendo Switch that they could have dominated this entire list. You can’t go wrong with any of the Final Fantasy titles available on the portable, but Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is arguably the entry most suited to the Nintendo Switch — and arguably the best overall. Not everyone loves the combat system here, but we do, and this remaster of the PlayStation 2 classic includes enough overhauls and quality of life improvements to really make it a masterpiece.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
The Fire Emblem series might have its roots in the strategy genre, but Three Houses blends that nail-biting tactical game-play with a robust relationship-simulator that surprised everyone with how great it was upon its release. You could say this is the War and Peace of video games, if you will, as you alternate between battles and castle life, balancing relationships, politics, religion, war, and much more. The game tempers its comedy with the weight of the story exceptionally well and if you’re looking for a huge game on the Nintendo Switch, this is it. You need to play it at least four times to really see everything it has to offer.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
The sequel to Nintendo’s Monster Hunter Stories for 3DS, this title improves on every facet of its predecessor. The rock-paper-scissors style mechanic of its battle system has been fine-tuned and balanced to near perfection. Graphics are a huge upgrade, with full-body character models and far more detail in the towns, monster and human designs, and overworld. Coupled with the trademark features of the franchise such as robust armor and weapon customization, a wide variety of monster designs and behaviors, and a story that’s easily accessible to any player, and you have a recipe for a fun JRPG chock-full of content.
The concept of following the exploits of several heroes before their stories intertwined near the climax isn’t wholly unique — Final Fantasy VI and SaGa Frontier come to mind as other examples — but it’s definitely rarely tread ground. Octopath Traveler invokes that same style, giving each of the eight characters their own fully realized narrative before connecting them in surprisingly clever ways. The combat is a shining example of how turn-based battle systems can be fast-paced with incredible strategic depth, while the graphics are a stunning combination of 2D sprite art with 3D camera work and backgrounds.
Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster
This remaster is currently the best way to experience a classic JRPG from the PlayStation 2 era, with retouched graphics now in full HD, improved localization, excellent voice work, gameplay balances, and extra content. Nocturne itself is an intensely atmospheric game that explores the complexity inherent to moral and philosophical struggles between humans. The Press Turn battle system requires careful planning and strategy, with an emphasis on exploiting enemy weaknesses. SMTIII is a great JRPG for those looking for a completely different experience.
There are newer Valkyria Chronicles games, but the original remains the best. It’s an odd one, blending tactical RPG staples with shooting mechanics, but it somehow works — and works exceptionally well when playing on the go. The game is more than 10 years old, but the beautiful water-color style holds up exceptionally well.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
It might not have risen above cult-hit status when it first released for the Nintendo Wii, but Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition is now in the big leagues with the successful Switch remaster. This remaster fixes some issues with the original, and it gives the game a nice anime aesthetic that encapsulates the original 2D character designs. The story and the combat are rather dense, but players who stick with it are rewarded with an exceptional and satisfying narrative.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
The Ys series is an underrated gem, with fast-paced combat that prioritizes strategy over the superficial flashiness that normally plagues action RPGs. The ninth game in the main continuity, titled Monstrum Nox, follows franchise protagonist Adol Christin as he’s embroiled in the events surrounding both Prison City and the monstrum. Not only are the graphics and gameplay of this title by far the most polished in the Ys to date, but the story is a full-on epic as Adol’s morals and will are challenged like no other. In a series full of great installments, this is easily the best that Ys has ever been and a great starting point for new fans.