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15 JRPGs With The Deepest Lore, Ranked

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  • Posted on 08th Apr, 2022 19:35 PM

Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) are notorious for having in-depth world-building, and these ten games take the cake when it comes to lore.

p>One of the most important aspects of a story-focused game like a Japanese RPG is giving players a fully realized and developed world to explore and feel like they are a part of. Just like a book, world-building and lore is a huge part of making everything look and feel believable. Not only is the game responsible for guiding the player through its world it needs to give the player lots of opportunities to gain knowledge through experiences via participation through the game’s storytelling or to actively seek it for themselves.

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Many games do a fantastic job of providing its players with snippets of information scattered throughout towns, universities, dungeons, items, and of course the various NPCs that can be found throughout their adventures. Let’s take a look at ten of the best JRPGs with the deepest lore and world-building.

Updated by Michael Llewellyn on January 31st, 2021: If there is one thing that separates Japanese RPGs from their Western counterparts, it's the stories and the character dramas which add as much to the lore as anything else. Such things are often missing from a Western-developed RPG because of the focus on dialogue choice and character classes.

JRPGs are usually more linear than Western RPGs, but this allows the developers to tell a focused story that builds on characters and world-building. A game’s lore depends on whether or not the world that the characters operate in feels believable. This way, the player gets emotionally invested in the game’s world and characters.

15 Final Fantasy VII – The Compilation

First released in 1997 for the PlayStation, Final Fantasy VII went on to become a worldwide phenomenon and arguably the most popular and mainstream Japanese RPG of all time. The game’s popularity leads to Square-Enix expanding the Final Fantasy VII universe with prequels, side-stories, a film, and a canonical reference in Final Fantasy X.

Even on its own, the original game was packed with excellent world-building and various sources to flesh out the world of FF7. Even the ensemble cast of characters do a great job of not only developing themselves but adding weight and history to the world around them. Characters like RED XIII and Aerith are great examples of this, due to their strong connections to the past helping shape the game's mythology. As a result, this allows players to gain a better understanding of the events unfolding around them.

14 The Dark Souls Trilogy

When Dark Souls released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011, it along with its predecessor Demon’s Souls introduced gamers to a more cerebral and elusive style of environmental storytelling. Players needed to uncover the game’s world and history for themselves as it is packed with so many details that can be pieced together.

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The strange NPCs that the player will encounter all have their own quirks and history that can be discovered if one looks hard enough. Even many of the game’s weapons and items have their own tragic story to tell.

13 Lost Odyssey

Released on the Xbox 360 in 2008, Lost Odyssey is a turn-based RPG developed by the creator of the Final Fantasy series Hironobu Sakaguchi at his own studio Mistwalker. It featured a combat system worked on by many of the same team that created the Shadow Hearts series and featured a soundtrack from the legendary Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu.

However, what makes Lost Odyssey stand out from the crowd of JRPGs is its incredibly rich and deep story. The game’s approach to world-building and providing depth to the lead character’s backstory is both unique and compelling in equal measure.

12 The Nier And Drakengard Series

When Nier: Automata released in 2017, it put the Nier franchise on the map, and after releasing one of the most unique JRPGs ever made, fans wanted more. Automata, however, was preceded by several titles that are based in the same universe.

The Drakengard trilogy released on the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation 3 predate the events of the Nier series. The original Nier released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Even though its story and soundtrack were well-received by fans, the game’s mechanics came under fire by critics. Thankfully, a remastered version of Nier is set to release in April 2021 which will feature improved visuals and mechanics. The series features multiple endings, all of which give the player a much deeper insight into the game’s world.

11 The Final Fantasy XIII – Fabula Nova Crystalis

Final Fantasy XIII may be one of the most controversial entries in the mainline series. It's definitely one of the most linear, with players forced to effectively run in a straight line initiating fights and cutscenes at least until they reach the area known as Gran Pulse.

Players that are willing to scratch beneath the surface, however, will find very complex and deep lore that spans millions of years across several games. In addition to the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, the mythos expands to Final Fantasy Type-0 and there are still significant allusions in Final Fantasy XV which began life as an FFXIII spin-off.

10 The Yakuza Series

The Yakuza series is an action - and now turn-based - RPG and crime thriller series that retains many of the same significant elements found in a JRPG but replaces traditional turn-based combat with almost Streets of Rage-like arcade beat-em-up mechanics. The next game in the series, Yakuza 7 will be fully implementing Dragon Quest-style turn-based combat.

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The storytelling in Yakuza's crime drama has enough depth to rival The Godfather films and world-building that makes it so special. The developers have gone to a great deal of effort to not only develop their characters but the distinctive cities – based on real-life locations – and the alleyways tell stories of their own. The mainline series spans eight episodes from Yakuza 0 to Yakuza: Like a Dragon and with Judgement also taking place on the same streets it has one of the best-developed worlds ever created.

9 Final Fantasy - Ivalice Alliance

The Ivalice Alliance series was co-created by famed Japanese videogame designers Yasumi Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito. The series includes Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy: Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XII, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and Crystal Defenders.

The most prominent in the series is the original Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and the Final Fantasy XII series. There’s an almost indescribable amount of lore and history to discover in the world Ivalice. Matsuno and Ito’s medieval-inspired universe borrows heavily from historical accounts of the War of the Roses for War of the Lions and even the Star Wars saga for FFXII. The connections between each game are more allusions and references but the sheer depth in each individual title is staggering.

8 Ar Tonelico – The EXA PICO Universe

Developed by Gust. The first Ar Tonelico was released in 2006 for the PlayStation and received two sequels and its universe called the EXA PICO Universe expanded into the Ar Nosurge series. The series’ history, mythology, and most importantly the coded language of the songs make up one of the deepest videogame universes ever created.

The series’ expansive world-building, character development, and multiverses are some of the most in-depth ever seen in any format. Even Ar Tonelico’s song magic - which essentially holds the universe together - has its own code for players to learn and get to grips with as the stories progress.

7 The Ys Series

The Ys series originally launched in 1987 and with several remakes, remasters, spin-offs, a prequel, and 9 games under its belt, it has established itself as one of the deepest JRPG series of all time. Each game has contributed to building and creating an amazing universe that keeps bringing JRPG fans back over and over again.

Despite the series’ longevity, each game in the Ys series is completely welcoming for newcomers. They are all designed to play like an individual game that focuses on different adventures that surround its iconic red-haired hero Adol and his friends. The most recent title Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is set to hit the PS4 in February 2021.

6 The Persona Series

The Persona series may have begun as a spin-off from the Shin Megami Tensei series but it’s arguably the most mainstream and popular entry in the SMT universe. This is in large part, thanks to its social mechanics and relationship building which integrates itself into the storylines and the combat system.

Each game in the series (which began in 1996 with Revelations: Persona) is a singular entity that has incredibly well-developed worlds. The series truly found its feet with the massively popular Persona 3 and the series has been on a roll ever since. The Persona games feature several recurring themes, locations, characters, and allusions to their predecessors building up to a larger universe.

5 Shin Megami Tensei

As big as the world of Persona has become with each entry being as popular as the last, it’s part of one larger universe called the Shin Megami Tensei series. The mainline series began with Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei on the NES and the PC.

The sequels that followed in the years to come continue to this day with Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne still highly regarded as one of the greatest JRPGs of all time. The series quickly birthed several spin-off series which are still connected to the SMT universe like Digital Devil Saga, Devil Survivor, Devil Summoner, and of course the Persona series.

4 The Xenosaga Trilogy

All three Xenosaga games were released on the PlayStation 2 in 2002, 2005, and 2006 respectively. The games were originally planned to be a six-part story but the developers at Monolith Soft were forced to make Xenosaga III a massive finale instead.

Despite the challenges, the Xenosaga trilogy is by far one of the deepest videogame series ever created. It incorporated the use of biblical mythology and combined that with the philosophical teachings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Carl Jung to create its universe. There’s just so much to absorb and learn to fully understand and grasp the Xenosaga series that fans have painstakingly translated the Japan-only Perfect Guide for newer players to get to grips with.

3 Xenogears

Released in 1998 for the PlayStation, Xenogears was the first game in the Xeno Metaseries developed by Monolith Soft. Other entries in the series include the Xenosaga trilogy and the Nintendo exclusive Xenoblade series. Xenogears, however, is arguably their most ambitious effort to date.

Even though Xenogears struggled with budget and time constraints, the story and the universe it is built upon is one of the deepest, complex and imaginative ever seen on a gaming medium. Xenogears is a game that demands multiple playthroughs because even though it seems convoluted at first but it is far from it. After at least the first playthrough it is absolutely worth seeking out the fan-translated Xenogears Perfect Works guide to gain a full understanding of how deep and layered the game’s universe is.

2 The Suikoden Series

The Suikoden series began in 1995 on the PlayStation it was loosely based on the 14th-century Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh. Its sequel Suikoden II is still highly regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time. There are five mainline entries and two spin-off games that helped expand the game’s inter-dimensional universe and lore.

The world of Suikoden takes place in several independent states that continued to expand and build upon what already felt like a massive gaming world. Suikoden’s geographical and political landscape is just as important as the characters that occupy it. The developers have clearly gone to a lot of trouble to create a world with distinct cultures, history, and ideals that bring its universe to life.

1 The Trails Series

Developed by Nihon Falcom, The Legend of Heroes: Trails series began with the Trails in the Sky trilogy which ran from 2011 to 2017 in the West ten years after the trilogy concluded in Japan in 2007. Western fans were later treated to the Trails of Cold Steel series which was based in the same world albeit on a different continent. Then, of course, there is the Crossbell Duology which at the time of writing remains unreleased outside of Japan but is playable thanks to the fan-translations.

The world-building, history, and character development in the Trails series are second to none in gaming. Trails of Cold Steel III on its own has more written words than all seven Harry Potter books combined. Additionally, there are so many things to read and collect or NPCs to converse within its world all of which give the player a better understanding of the history, lore, and surroundings.

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