Before Nintendo DS and PSP were a thing, players used to rely on the good old GBA for their portable entertainment, most will remember the GBA for the Pokemon or Final Fantasy titles as that was what the console did best (in my opinion). Golden Sun is a lesser-known title for the GBA, developed by Camelot it was released in 2001 subsequent titles saw the generation change in consoles moving from the GBA to the DS for the third title.
Games like Golden Sun aren’t everyone’s appeal, newer gamers will be less prone to give the classic JRPGs a try. The lack of checkpoint markers, a 3-D world and real-time action will deter most of our generation to play this game and appreciate it for what it is – a product of its time.
There are plenty of things I appreciated about Golden Sun, its use of Psynergy (fancy word for magic) and how it could be used off the combat mode, for solving puzzles using something like whirlwind to reading minds (to solve more puzzles).
I also appreciated the length of the dungeons in-game as it seems like, unlike other GBA games Golden Sun knows it’s a handheld and as such should cater more to short pick up put down sessions rather than one hour-long session. It even featured the option to save anywhere mid-game, something very rare at the time.
So without further ado, allow me to present my list of 15 games like Golden Sun.
1. Final Fantasy
Does this game even need an introduction? Japanese sure have a way of making successful franchises stay around for a while be they puzzle games like Puyo Puyo to classic JRPGs like Final Fantasy. It is not easy to talk about Final Fantasy without specifying which generation we’re talking about.
Final fantasy(s) have been releasing since 1987 to the present time, however, for the purposes of the comparison, I’d say you can pretty much pick up any title you wish as they are all RPG but newer titles have moved to 3-D real-time action style, and while this may make seasoned players shake their heads. This can also be a good way to introduce JRPGs to the newer generation.
Another title that needs no introduction, just like Final Fantasy Pokemon is a long-standing franchise featuring JRPG titles over the course of many console generations, however, unlike FF, Pokemon has branched out to non-JRPG games like Pokemon Go.
Their titles on consoles are still JRPG and a better way to collect Pokemon than running around IRL and swiping up on your phone.
3. Echoes of Aetheria
Echoes of Aetheria was a bit of a surprise to me, developed by Dancing Dragon Games and released in 2016, EoA is a breath of fresh air coming from older JRPGs. It has a better more cohesive world to walk around in featuring smaller sized missions in varying places on the world map, EoA allows the player to finish one portion of the map at a time saving time in the redundant zig-zagging for the next mission in older JRPGs.
EoA is also something that might appeal to newer JRPG players, along with the mentioned well thought out map, the game also features a combat system that is less tedious than its older counterparts, for example, all battles are started with having the heroes at 100% HP and all hero attacks charge a shared “special” bar which can be used for any hero of your choosing.
Echoes of Aetheria is available on Steam, it’s worth giving a try if you’re new to the JRPG genre or if you’re a seasoned player looking for a newer and more polished experience.
4. Grimm’s Hollow
A free to play RPG that’s actually good? Sign me up. Grimm’s Hollow features a really nice GBA-esque gothic art style and cute characters that really give the game personality and have it stand out among its other free to play competitors.
The game is for the most part a JRPG but features tiny minigames mid-combat instead of a dice roll that many JRPGs choose to use.
Selecting dodge on the menu is not enough as a bar appears on the screen with the centre marked “dodge” and a tiny pixel runs up and down the bar, the player must stop the pixel where it says dodge. This minigame style might not be very innovative, introducing it to a JRPG is very creative and thoughtful, as it manages to change the JRPG turn-based combat style from mundane to exciting.
Grimm’s Hollow is also shorter than most games on the list which works in the favours of its mechanics as they don’t feel like they’ve overstayed their welcome.
It’s a free and good game; those two qualities seldom come together.
5. Illusion of Gaia
Released in 1994 for the SNES, Illusion Of Gaia is an old school RPG featuring dynamic puzzles that go hand in hand with its at the time unique mechanic of allowing the protagonist to transform in size and abilities as you go back and forth from being a boy to a knight in shining armour.
While not being a JRPG technically it still features the art style and some mechanics reminiscent of a JRPG, the combat however is real-time and plays more like a sidescroller.
Featuring a bizarre story, it’s a product of its time but still a fun little title to get into.
6. Phantasy Star IV
Phantasy Star IV is a Sega Genesis title from 1995, a JRPG with a sci-fi setting of interstellar space travel. While it’s a great game to get into with characters that have a lot of personality and a bizarre storyline that will keep you intrigued, Phantasy Star IV is a very hard game to get into.
The dungeons don’t have a map and are pretty much a maze for you to go through, level-ups for characters are few and far between forcing a very grindy gameplay if you want your party to be decent enough to get through the game without much struggle.
There is something unique about Phantasy Star though, the sci-fi setting and space travel instantly make the game feel new. Kind of like CoD : MW did, it’s the tried and tested gameplay loop within a newer environment making the game instantly fresh. Otherwise, Phantasy Star is pretty much like any other title in the list.
7. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
Trails in the Sky is one of the newer JRPGs, and as such features 3-D graphics. How it differentiates itself from the other games in the same genre is by having a grid-based combat system, allowing the players to be more creative with their abilities.
Trails in the Sky allows the player to move their party members in the combat sequence allowing some level of improvisation, for example, if an enemy does an AOE healing buff you could move your party members to the area, literally getting healed by your enemies. This mechanic also allows strategic positioning of your party or forcing all enemies into an AOE damage spell.
For such a long and boring name, the game is an absolute blast to play and it’s world fun to explore.
8. Chrono Trigger
In a Nintendo DS title, much like Golden Sun’s last game. A lot of JRPG fans call it the best game ever made, and for good reason.
Chrono Trigger walks the very fine line between being light-hearted and dead-serious, and it does it in such a way that the drama never takes you out of the game or the seriousness doesn’t make you overly sombre. This is something I feel like Final Fantasy could take notes from (personal opinion).
Another thing Chrono Trigger does better than FF is getting rid of random encounters altogether and no loading screens before a battle. In fact, there is no separate mode for combat and exploration, it’s all almost real-time except the actual combat is in true JRPG fan turn-based.
Chrono Trigger is one of the better JRPGs and certainly worth a try if you’re looking to get into the genre.
Earthbound is perhaps the “weirder” title in the list, and by weirder, I don’t mean bad. It’s like Batman V Superman some people enjoyed it others raised their eyebrows and questioned its existence.
Unfortunately, I fall in the latter category, for the life of me I cannot understand what this game is going for but that doesn’t deter from the fact that more seasoned players have claimed love for the title.
Honestly, its another product of its time that just flew over my head but it was worth mentioning this title because of the high regard the community holds it to.
10. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
A more modern spin on the JRPG, Three Houses is a Nintendo switch title with turn-based strategic combat featuring anime art style (If that’s your thing you should check out my list of games like Nier: Automata).
Fire Emblem puts you in the shoes of a teacher/professor as you teach/train your students at getting better at using their abilities, it’s basically a mentor simulator.
In the beginning, you can choose which house you’d like to teach/train/mentor but that doesn’t stop you from recruiting students of a different house. This allows the game to have extensive replayability.
I won’t talk much about the combat because well, it’s a JRPG, I can’t say anything much other than what I’ve already said.
FE: Three Houses is a really good-looking fun to play JRPG with interesting party dynamics that sees you recruiting new characters and training them, not every student is equal and as such you as the player will have to seek their interests or guide them to the right path. If you have a Switch, and you’re into the genre, this game is a no-brainer.
11. Super Mario RPG
It’s Mario, but it’s JRPG. It has a comedic atmosphere like any Mario and it wears it like a badge of honour. It’s a fun strategic game set in the Mario universe where the objective is to, yeah, save the princess.
Super Mario RPG features a strategic gameplay loop and hilarious dialogues and characters that are sure to keep fans of JRPG games busy for a long time.
12. Kingdom Hearts II
Kingdom Hearts II was released in 2005. It’s a 3-D, Third-person JRPG that follows our protagonist along with a slew of characters from Disney’s IPs. It’s a game I did not have much fun with as a child and nothing has changed, fans might hate for me to say this but I am just not into the kind of story KH presents nor am I a fan of shoe-horned Disney characters, if Lion King could stay in the Lion King universe, yeah that’d be great.
13. Breath of Fire
Breath of Fire is a JRPG that frankly is pretty outdated by today’s standards. The exact opposite of what made Chrono Trigger so memorable to me, Breath of Fire features more random encounters than any JRPG I’ve ever played (Yes, including Final Fantasy).
Thankfully, there’s an auto-battle mechanic that makes the encounters a little less tedious, but the backtracking ensures that there are more battles than you asked for, there’s also an issue of items being very non-descriptive in the game. This encourages a more trial and error gameplay but again makes the game just that much more tedious to get into.
There is a story in JRPG fashion about saving the world from evil and yada yada.
I’d only recommend this game if you’re a true experienced JRPG fan looking for a challenging experience.
14. The Legend of Zelda
While newer titles are more ARPG, The Legend of Zelda features everything from JRPG games except for the combat-loop which is no turn-based and more akin to Mario than Golden Sun, in the sense that avoiding enemies and getting to the end of a dungeon (read: maze) is the goal of the game.
The game features open-world with about 100 different areas which is a testament to the skill of the developers considering it was probably less than 1MB in size.
Stoneshard is the amalgamation of JRPG, survival and roguelike genres. Featuring a world that moves as you do (turn-based), a procedurally generated world and survival mechanics, it’s a punishing affair at first, like any rogue-like.
But don’t let that deter you, in fact, if you’re looking to get into JRPGs this is perhaps the best title as it features mechanics that are deeper and intertwined with the core gameplay loops and familiar to the newer generation of gamers.
Or course, being a roguelike means it offers replayability to the max so you can never go wrong with this one if JRPG is a genre you’ve only seen from afar and would get to know better.
Although, JRPGs have established themselves as a popular and successful genre since home consoles have been around, newer generations of gamers have become less and less familiar with the sense of accomplishment beating one of these games provides.
As we gravitate more towards photorealism and constant action in our games, the comfort of thinking about your next attack for minutes and calculating your route to victory in every battle has been replaced by flicking onto people’s heads and driving high speed vehicles.
JRPGs maybe considered a relic of their time, but anyone can enjoy their laid-back attitude and strategic gameplay if they’re willing to look beyond their graphics.