It’s time for another list of the best of the best, friends. Previous SwitchArcade Special Editions have brought you our favorite fighting games and our favorite 3D platformers on the Switch. We’re moving along to another popular genre this time, and one very near and dear to this writer’s heart: JRPGs, or Japanese Role-Playing Games. Before we get into it, a little clarification: by ‘JRPG’ we’re referring to the game design and mechanics that collectively inform the sub-genre rather than simply RPGs from Japan. The Nintendo Switch has a great selection of games in this genre, so picking just ten certainly wasn’t easy. In no particular order, here are our picks for the best of the bunch.
Dragon Quest XI S: Definitive Edition ($59.99)
The latest in the series that basically codified the JRPG genre, Dragon Quest XI marries gorgeous production values with classic gameplay to create an unforgettable adventure. With lots of side-quests, extra content, and a huge world to explore, you’ll be busy with this game for quite a while. At the core of it all is a rather well-told tale of heroism and human nature that will keep you mowing down slimes to see what happens next. In the gameplay sense this is pure comfort food, perhaps playing it safer than any other game on this list. But when the formula works as well as this one does, you don’t really need to mess around with it that much.
SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions ($29.99)
SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions is proof that if you keep whacking the same tree long enough, you’ll eventually bring it down. This is a series that has become infamous for its odd systems and opaque nature, vehemently turning off more people than it tends to excite. Yet the stars finally aligned in this game to create something that can be safely recommended in a general sense. Yes, it’s strange. It’s not the kind of JRPG you can just bash your way through head-first without a plan. But it does make sense, and once you fit the pieces together you may well find its battle system to be among the best you’ve ever seen. Its approach to exploration and events is equally unique, but even with a scaled-back approach it still feels like surprises are waiting around every corner.
Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition ($59.99)
There are a lot of heated battles in the JRPG fandom, and one of the latest comes down to which Xenoblade Chronicles game you prefer. The Switch has two of the games plus one expansion, and they’re all quite enjoyable. For our money, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition gets the narrow victory. It has a more memorable story, slightly less confusing mechanics, and runs a lot better on the Switch than its predecessor. While some of the areas you’ll explore show their age in some ways, there’s still a lot of joy in poking around every nook and cranny to check another thing off your sub-quest list. Plus, this is the only game on this list with Reyn in it. Is this the power of the Monado?
Octopath Traveler ($59.99)
Square Enix, friends. The company will probably make up one-third to one-half of any “Best JRPGs" list for most platforms, and a big part of that is because it manages to put together treats like this in between its bigger releases. From many of the same people that brought us Bravely Default, Octopath Traveler has a striking visual style that is backed by a rather unusual multi-character narrative. The stories of eight characters intertwine in this game, and it’s largely up to you how you go about following them. While this approach makes the overall story feel a bit disjointed at times, it’s always interesting to see new approaches in a genre as well-established as this.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III ($59.99)
The latest localized chapter in what is rapidly becoming the biggest, broadest narrative in video gaming, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is in the rather awkward position of having to present a story in progress to an audience on a whole new platform. It includes all you need to get caught up on the important bits, allowing you to slide into its own tale of friendship, war, tragedy, and triumph. The strength of this series has always been in how rich its world feels, with plenty of interesting NPC dialogue and a believable sense of place. It can feel a little long-winded at times, so feel free to digest it at whatever pace you deem appropriate. I guarantee that once you reach the end, you’ll be twitching to have the upcoming fourth installment in your hands.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore ($59.99)
It’s looking less and less likely that the Switch will ever play host to a true Persona game from Atlus, but Tokyo Mirage Sessions isn’t a bad alternative. Indeed, it has a lot in common with the more recent Persona games. While planned as a crossover between Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei, it uses bits of both while carving its own identity that comes across quite differently from either of those series. You can look forward to a lot of the usual things that come with an Atlus RPG: lots of great music, a battle system that rewards clever thinking and proper character set-ups, nasty boss fights, and plenty of navel-gazing ruminations about the nature of humankind. Just the way we like it, right?
Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk ($49.99)
With the noticeable absence of Etrian Odyssey on the Switch, players have had to turn to a variety of other games to get their dungeon-crawling JRPG fix. The best of the bunch, in our estimation, is NIS America’s Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk. Behind the usual cheeky sass found in this developer’s games, we find the usual fantastic character work and satisfying story. While the gameplay avoids going to the same wild places as its stablemate Disgaea, it’s no slouch on that end of things either. Lots of great strategy in party-building, solid exploration, and a meaningful plot make this one of the biggest sleepers in this genre on the platform.
Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout ($59.99)
There are a lot of Atelier games on the Switch, and they’re all great in their own ways. But I think the easiest one to recommend is also the latest one, Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout. While it simplifies some of the mechanics from earlier games, I think that makes it more approachable for those looking to get into the series. The charming characters and interesting story keep things moving along well, while the crafting aspects add an extra layer to help the game stand apart from many of the other games on this list. And if you have a good time here, there are several other Atelier games just waiting for you to dig into them.
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster ($49.99)
Well, we can’t very well have a list of JRPGs without at least one Final Fantasy game on it, can we? The Switch plays host to many Final Fantasy games, all of which are worth playing for various reasons. I think the easiest of the bunch to recommend is Final Fantasy X, however. Its visuals and soundtrack still hold up very well even today, and its story is one of the better ones in the series. The strategic twist in the battle system was just enough of a change to make things feel fresh without completely ditching the classic style we knew and loved. This package also includes the game’s sequel, which people tend to be split on. If nothing else, it has a really cool implementation of the job system? As a bundle, this set offers dozens of hours of melodrama and adventure.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Spring ($24.99)
This game is why I had to have that disclaimer at the beginning about the games not necessarily being from Japan. Bug Fables is from a Panama-based studio named Moonsprout Games, and it is one of the most endearing love letters to the Paper Mario RPGs I’ve ever seen. The team really nailed the feel of the first two games in the Paper Mario series, particularly the odd and charming qualities of the second title, The Thousand-Year Door. I don’t know whether or not we’ll be seeing any traditional Mario RPGs at all on the Switch, but Bug Fables does a great job of delivering a similarly enjoyable experience.
And there you have it! I know this list begs the question of what the best RPGs of other types are on the Switch, and that’s a question we hope to answer for you sometime. What do you think? Do you have any JRPGs you’d like to add to this list? Feel free to comment below with your favorite JRPGs on the Switch and let us know.