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Friday, July 4, 2014

The Friday 10; Ten must-play "otaku" JRPGs

List by Matt S.

Everyone likes a top-10 list. They're a bit of fun, and always good for discussion. And so every so often we pull together a "top 10" list. These are here for fun and laughs - we're not pretending that we're the authority of good games taste in the world and this is purely the author's preferences. Agree with him/ her or not, it's all good.

Within the JRPG genre, there are many different kinds of games. There is the big-budget stuff, tactics JRPGs, action JRPGs, and then there are games made for the "otaku."

We're talking games with cute moe characters, limited budgets, and a warped sense of humour. Thanks to developers like NISA, Compile Heart, Atlus and GUST, we've had a lot of these games in recent years, especially on Sony's various platforms.

So let's have a look at ten of the finest examples of the genre. There are plenty more of course, so be sure to let us know your favourites in the comments!

Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel: GUST is going to appear a couple of times on this list, and it's for a very simple reason; this developer is one of the most mature of all JRPG developers whose primary audience is the Akihabara crowd. Ar tonelico Qoga features plenty of fanservice elements; not least the fact that the girls in the game strip down to near nude, and the less they wear the more powerful they get, but at the same time the game features some truly intelligent character design and very clever, mature writing.

Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2: Hyperdimension Neptunia is a fairly large franchise these days, and all the games in it share a common theme; they're satires of the games industry itself. Mk2 is, the finest example of the series in my opinion. Not for any specific reason, mind you, it's just that the game felt like it nailed the jokes and humour that tiny degree better than its sequel, Victory, while evolving the combat system well over the often irritating original game. This is a game that is guaranteed to make you laugh. Assuming you have a sense of humour.

Time & Eternity: Time & Eternity isn't the most memorable game out there for many reasons. The combat is somewhat experimental but often misses the mark, and the plot itself suffers from some quite amateur writing and painful tropes. So why is the game on the list? Because that art style is unique and beautiful. Squint and Time & Eternity is almost like playing an anime, and for anime fans it's genuinely worth weathering the less attractive parts of the game to experience that.

Trinity Universe: One of the lesser well-known games on the list, many "otaku" even missed Trinity Universe. Which is a pity, because in many ways it actually is one of the better playing JRPGs on the list. With a stylish turn-based combat system and plenty of complexity involved in the statistics, Trinity Universe is hard to track down now, but well worth the hunt.

Mugen Souls Z: JRPGs built for the otaku audience are often over the top, but Mugen Souls takes "over the top" to a whole new level. This is a game where attack damage is counted in the millions and attacks literally break the world. The story, characters and level design also suits this insanity. It's so excessive that it can sometimes become tiring, but Mugen Souls Z is certainly unique and creative, in its own special way.

Disgaea 4: Disgaea 4 is the high point of this tactics RPG so far. Famous for being almost impossibly deep and complex, the Disgaea games are the kinds of titles that you can play for hundreds of hours if you let them get their claws into you. This is of course accompanied by a weird but wonderful narrative and a fun art style which makes the hundreds of hours easy on the eyes.

Atelier Meruru: I promised more GUST games, didn't I? Of the Arland trilogy (Rorona and Totori being the other two), Meruru is my favourite for a couple of reasons; 1) Meruru herself is the best lead for an Atelier game yet, 2) there's a nice, light, city building simulation in there that other games in the series don't have, which is a nice touch, and 3) the gameplay is perfectly balanced. While I recommend you play them all, if you are only going to play one Arland game, make it this one.

Atelier Escha & Logy: The final GUST game for our little list, Escha & Logy is a very different game to Meruru and the other Arland games. Now part of the Koei Tecmo group, Escha & Logy has a more subtle tone to it, representing a maturing of the Atelier franchise to the point where it's barely recognisable as an "otaku" game at all. Sitting right on the border between the niche and the mainstream, Escha & Logy is a truly brilliant game that everyone needs to play at some point.

The Guided Fate Paradox: Roguelikes can be very hit and miss. They're deceptively simple games which need to be incredibly difficult to appease genre fans, but if the difficulty curve is even slightly unbalanced the game becomes either an obnoxious grind, or incredibly boring. The Guided Fate Paradox nails the difficulty curve perfectly, and has a brilliant story and presentation to boot. One of the finest games NISA has ever published.

Legasista: From a turn-based roguelike to an action roguelike, Legasista is one of the hidden gems on the PlayStation. Released for download on the PSN and forgotten soon after, Legasista benefits from an incredibly deep levelling system and some truly challenging gameplay that will test the most experienced of hack-and-slash fans.

And that's our list! What are your favourite "otaku" JRPGs? Let us know in the comments below!

- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
The Friday 10; Ten must-play "otaku" JRPGs
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