Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs) have been a staple in the video game industry, and it’s no surprise. They offer some of the best content in terms of both story and gameplay for RPG fans all over the world. If you’re looking for the best JRPGs to play in 2021, then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our list of 15 of the best JRPGs, both already released and upcoming titles, in 2021.
15 Best JRPGs in 2021
1. Astral Chain
Topping our list is Astral Chain. While it isn’t exactly a new release in 2021, it’s indisputably one of the best JRPGs you can play today. Coming packed with intuitive controls and a rewarding two-character system, this game also delivers some of the most satisfying combat you might see in a JRPG. In this game, you’re plunged into a world threatened by a catastrophic disaster caused by alien invaders. It is your duty as part of a special task force to protect the remaining survivors from alien invaders.
Arm yourself with different Legions at your side as you combat against the enemy and defend what’s left of humanity. Of course, the game also introduces something deeper than simple combat and defense through warfare. Within the game, you’re also tasked with investigating and solving various crimes that plague your world. With that, you need to defend humanity, solve puzzles and crimes, and do whatever it takes to save the world.
2. Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy
One of the best JRPGs to hit the States was the Atelier series back in 2005. Even the franchise’s most recent release in 2019, Atelie Ryza: Ever Darkness & The Secret Hideout, was a resounding success. Now, in 2021, the series is making a comeback with Ryza, once again, as the protagonist.
In Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & The Secret Fairy, you play the direct sequel to the most recent game. Set a few years after the previous game, this game features Ryza as the main protagonist once again. You meet familiar faces and embark on a new journey while exploring the ruins near the capital.
Atelier Ryza 2 might be the sequel, but you can still play it as a stand-alone game without knowing anything about the previous installment. Moreover, this game is certainly more polished with a better, more real-time combat system. The game has also added new mechanics, allowing players to send multiple attacks while building their AP gauge. These qualities make Atelier Ryza one of the best JRPGs you can play in 2021.
3. Chrono Cross
Chrono Cross is the sequel to Chrono Trigger that is a timeless classic in its own right. However, it wasn’t always regarded as such because it was initially somewhat disappointing for some of their fans. It didn’t explore the well-known characters of the previous installment and instead went on a completely different trajectory.
Nonetheless, Chrono Cross can hold its own as a JRPG overall. In fact, many consider it to be one of the best PlayStation games available. Everything from the visuals, original soundtrack, to the game’s antagonist, Lynx, is simply perfect.
The story itself zooms in on Serge, a teenager caught in parallel worlds. He comes face to face with a reality where he dies as a child. Now, he must find out the link between these two worlds and why they seem to have diverged.
4. Digimon Survive
Digimon has been in slumber for many years, but this all changed with the release of Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth. This game is a tactical survival RPG with a more mature tone compared to rival games. It doesn’t hesitate to explore multiple endings—including ones with character deaths. As a result, you must weigh your options carefully before making major decisions.
The story revolves around Takuma Momotsuka, who is caught in a parallel universe with his Digimon. Fans of the franchise will certainly gobble this up, especially because of its more mature take on the series’ usually light-hearted nature. However, even non-fans might find something to enjoy in Digimon Survive’s world and gameplay.
5. Disgaea 6
Disgaea fans, this one’s for you: the latest installment to the series—Disgaea 6—is headed your way in 2021. And isn’t just any new addition to the franchise too—it’s the first-ever 3D title in the series.
Set for release on the Switch, PS4, and PS5, Disgaea 6 is a tactical RPG with a grid-based battlefield. The franchise’s signature features are also weaved into this title, such as complex gameplay, a unique brand of comedy, and an extravagant cast of characters.
In this installment, you play Zed, a zombie hell-bent on murdering a god of destruction. You’ll have to use all the tools available at your disposal to achieve your mission. Explore and have fun adventuring in the Netherworld as you battle and make your way towards your goal.
6. Final Fantasy VII Remake
Square Enix released Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2020, and it’s one of the best JRPGs available so far. It’s one of the many anticipated titles that fans were truly hoping to play, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The game did raise a few eyebrows at first because of some questionable design choices the developers made. For example, the real-time combat system and limited story progression were somewhat concerning to many long-time fans who loved the original. However, the game’s execution more than made up for these initial shortcomings, with the stellar visuals and storytelling captivating both old and new fans alike.
7. NieR Replicant v1.22
NieR Replicant v1.22 is another strong contender on this list, having received fantastic feedback from both fans and newcomers alike. The remake of the original prequel to NieR:Automata, NieR Replicant follows the titular Nier’s quest to find a cure for his sister Yonah’s disease.
This remake is a definite step-up from the original, coming complete with re-recorded voice acting, a remastered soundtrack, and new music, along with more weapon stories. Best of all? NieR Replicant does away with the clunky combat of the original entirely and uses the intuitive combat system of NieR:Automata instead.
8. Persona 5 Royal
One of the best JRPGs is undoubtedly Persona 5. Originally released in 2017, it sees a group of high school social outcasts rise up against their fate to defy the oppressive forces of society. Known as the Phantom Thieves, this group is granted the supernatural ability to manipulate Personas or demonic manifestations of their hearts. Their mission is simple: enter an alternate dimension that is shaped by the cognitions of people to change the hearts of the corrupt elite.
Like a good JRPG, Persona 5’s story gets deeper over time. The plot thickens with each arc, even as you grow and develop their parties and their stories. True to the Shin Megami Tensei Persona tradition, this game allows you to work on strengthening your bonds with both playable and NPC characters alike. Improving these social links will grant you access to extra combat bonuses and even unlock new demons.
Persona 5 Royal is the upgrade to Persona 5, coming with not just the base content, but also an expanded story and new characters. This upgrade also comes packed with new mini-games, a Thieves Den, and other features.
9. Radiant Historia
Radiant Historia is a classic JRPG released on the Nintendo DS and 3DS. Throughout the game, you play as Stocke, the warrior protagonist who can travel various timelines with the aid of a tome known as the White Chronicle.
As you travel through time, you will encounter multiple intertwined stories and navigate the complexities of time travel. However, that isn’t to say that the game is overly complicated, like most other time travel-based stories. In fact, it masterfully untangles the complexities of time travel and keeps gameplay both manageable and interesting.
10. Rune Factory 5
Not all JRPGs have turn-based tactical combat systems. In fact, some of the best JRPGs feature simulation-based gameplay. That’s exactly what you get with Rune Factory 5. Within it, you can do various things like fishing, farming, taming beasts, and even forming relationships with friends and lovers.
Rune Factory 5 is a spin-off title from the Story of Seasons franchise. While it retains the core farming simulation mechanics of Story of Seasons, it also added JRPG elements like combat into the mix. As a result, you get both the excitement of combat and tranquility of farming games all in one.
Rune Factory 5 will be released in 2022, so stay tuned for its release!
11. Scarlet Nexus
It seems most pop culture portrays the future of humanity as some cyberpunk world. Either that, or something more dystopian with aliens, zombies, or monsters roaming about.
The same is true for Scarlet Nexus’ portrayal of the near future. In this world, the world has been plunged into chaos as various otherworldly monsters descend upon earth to wreak havoc. Hope now lies in the hands of the Other Suppression Force (OSF) as they attempt to save humanity from destruction.
Naturally, you, the player, are the protagonist who lives in this world. You were saved as a child from a monster attack and end up aspiring to become an OSF recruit. Of course, you get in and are equipped with the same weapons and powers as your peers. That is a superpower only unlocked by the day’s best scientists to aid recruits fending off the dreaded monsters. Through your abilities, melee weapons, and the help of fellow recruits, you do your best to protect the earth.
12. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Remastered
You’ve probably already heard of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and may have already played it before. This game has now been remastered this year for the Switch and PS4 and is still very much worth mentioning.
That’s because, despite following the same story, it still introduces new elements to the game. This includes updated graphics and more content from DLC releases. Other than that, the core of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne remains the same.
The game follows the same story and setting, zooming in on the life of a Japanese high school student who encounters an evil cult and is transformed into a half-demon. This same cult is also responsible for bringing about the apocalypse that you have to navigate throughout the game.
Like the original game, the remastered version plunges you into a fantasy world full of deities, monsters, and religious themes. Its combat system also focuses on battling demons and monsters that roam free within the world.
13. Shin Megami Tensei V
Shin Megami Tensei fans have many things to be happy about this 2021. That’s because, in addition to the remastered Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, we’re also getting Shin Megami Tensei V.
Like the remastered Nocturne, Shin Megami Tensei V is highly anticipated. Exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, its story remains a mystery as of the time of this writing. So far, the developers haven’t revealed much other than the game’s trailer and several demon introduction videos. From what has been revealed thus far, Shin Megami Tensei V appears to follow the same formula as the other games in the franchise.
Like the previous games, Shin Megami Tensei V is set in post-apocalyptic Tokyo, Japan. It’s set to release late this year in November 2021.
14. Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise is a solid new JRPG that will be released this year. The latest installment in Bandai Namco’s Tales of series, Tales of Arise will have you enter a world stricken with conflict due to a civil war. Two enemy countries are up against each other thanks to various technological advances.
Like most historical wars, the more technologically advanced country has the upper hand. In this case, that’s the country of Rena which clasps the medieval Dahna country in its grasp. As a result, the citizens of Rena enslave the citizens of Dahna. In addition, the more technologically advanced victor also depletes their resources.
You, the player, follow two characters: a man from and a woman from Rena. These unlikely characters travel together throughout this war-stricken world. That’s pretty much the premise that Tales of Arise has revealed so far, but you can expect a thrilling story befit of the Tales of name.
The game will launch later this year so much of it is still a mystery. Nonetheless, fans are already excited by the game’s promising setting and gameplay. If you have a PS4, Xbox One, or appropriate PC, we highly recommend you check it out upon release.
15. Valkyrie Profile
Despite its age, one of the best JRPGs you can play is undoubtedly Valkyrie Profile. As its name suggests, it’s based on Norse mythology and draws its setting and plot from these myths. However, don’t expect it to follow Norse mythology exactly as it deviates from the source material a lot.
Valkyrie Profile is one of those games that took the world by storm and received love from fans worldwide. It’s unsurprising, then, that Valkyrie Profile went on to rack up sequels within the franchise. Throughout the years, sequels released on various platforms succeeded the game.
Japanese RPGs have been a mainstay in the RPG world. They’re innovative, fun, and compelling enough to keep any RPG fan engaged. Moreover, they’re also unique and vary widely in terms of gameplay and experience. You’re sure to enjoy them whether they’re timeless classics or upcoming releases this 2021.