In no particular order, here are five affordable retro JRPGs that you probably haven’t played before.
Golden Sun: Dark DawnNintendo DS
I’ve been wanting to shine some light on this forgotten relic for a while now. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is the third installment of the Golden Sun series. Odds are, if you played its predecessors, you’ll have a bit of an opinion on this follow-up. It got some flak at the time from fans of the series for feeling dated. But with retro gaming being more popular than ever before, I’d say that argument doesn’t age very well.
Coming out eight years after The Lost Age, it makes sense that developer Camelot would target newcomers to the series. If anything, the game suffered from having to live up to the awesomeness that is Golden Sun and Golden Sun: The Lost Age, which both can barely be found for under a 100USD (CIB), by the way. Add to the fact that Dark Dawn was released right before the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, and you’ve got a great RPG snowed under by a bunch of “maybe later”s. Okay, so YES, maybe it does have quite a bit of dialogue to get through and some points of no return, but Golden Sun: Dark dawn also has wonderful visuals, engaging turn-based combat (go Djinns!), and a range of puzzles to keep you busy.
Perhaps 2010 wasn’t a great year for Dark Dawn, but I reckon 2021 is a pretty good time to pick it up. A CIB copy of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn can be found for as cheap as 20 USD on eBay.
Dark Chronicle (aka Dark Cloud 2)Sony Playstation 2, Sony Playstation 4
Dark Chronicle was now-famous developer Level-5’s second game, and was released originally in 2002 for Playstation 2. An emulated PSN-store version came out for Playstation 4 in 2016.
This is probably one of the most original JRPG’s I’ve come across, mostly because of its incredibly elaborate crafting system (way before crafting games were cool, by the way). You can pretty much use any item in the game to upgrade your weapons. Not only that, it actually has an entire city builder inside the game. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely still a JRPG; you’ve got your cutscenes and boss battles, but it is packed with so much stuff that I’d reckon it appeals to a wider variety of gamers than is ordinary for a JRPG. Prices for Dark Chronicle are still pretty favorable. There are plenty of CIB copies floating around eBay, starting at around 15 USD.
GrandiaSega Saturn, Sony Playstation, Nintendo Switch, Windows
1997, the year of the behemoth that is Final Fantasy VII, was also the year of Grandia – a lesser known, but in my opinion, a no less lovable JRPG. It originally came out in Japan for the Sega Saturn, and was later ported over to Sony Playstation for the US and Europe.
Grandia’s mixture of 2D sprites with 3D environments creates a unique and charming visual identity. The music is gorgeous, the characters adorable, and the active time battle system is engaging to the degree that enemy encounters are enjoyable (+ no random encounters). If anything deserves some criticism, it’s the quality of the voice acting, which tends to waver here and there (putting it mildly). But honestly, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience of Grandia, which truly is a must-play for any JRPG-fan.
PS1 PAL versions of the CIB game typically go for about 40-50 USD, with the NTSC-versions unfortunately almost doubling that.
Wild Arms 3Sony Playstation 2
Wild Arms 3 is the first game of the Wild Arms series to be released on Playstation 2. The game had some mixed reviews when it initially came out. Some critics praised the story and cel-shaded graphics, while others considered this a filler to bridge between the other Wild Arms titles.
On its own merits, Wild Arms 3 has all the usual suspects for a JRPG: turn-based combat, a mad bunch of characters, and a great soundtrack – and now imagine all that in a wild west setting. It might not be high on the list for fans of the series, but I reckon newcomers will still thoroughly enjoy this title. With an average price of 20 USD for the NTSC version (CIB), it’s a steal.
Suikoden III – Sony Playstation 2Sony Playstation 2
Suikoden III is quite different from its predecessors, opting for 3D graphics and departing from a silent protagonist. It’s clear that this was the developer’s first 3D title, as the game doesn’t optimally use the Playstation 2’s hardware, despite being released several years after the console’s launch. The inexperience is also visible in its somewhat static character animations. But in all honesty, this gives the game a certain charm as well.
After the immense success of the previous Suikoden games, it starts to make sense why Suikoden III lives in our memories as one of the lesser titles in the series. But if we put aside our notions of what a 2002 JRPG is supposed to look like, we’re actually left with a pretty solid title. Like we’re used from the series, Suikoden III is a politically driven, heartfelt story. If you’ve played previous games in the series, then the combat, music and overall style will feel very familiar.
I’ve spotted NTSC versions of Suikoden III (CIB) for as little as 30 USD.