The PlayStation 3 era was a weird time to be a fan of JRPGs.
The PlayStation 1 era was a creative boom for JRPGs as a genre, and the PlayStation 2 era was a period wherein many previous JRPG innovations were honed and perfected. But by the PlayStation 3 era, JRPGs had largely fallen out of favor in the wider world of gaming, with many critics regarding their classic turn-based mechanics as stale and boring.
The action RPG style of gameplay popularized by Kingdom Hearts, which combines active combat with menu navigation, became the most prominent mechanic in newer JRPGs. Some of these newer titles worked incredibly well, while others faltered and dug the genre further into the trenches. Ultimately, the PS3 era offered far fewer JRPGs than previous generations, but even so, there were a few gems that are still absolutely worth playing. These are the best JRPGs of the PS3 era.
Also, as a side note, I'm not including Persona 5, as it came out on both PS3 and PS4 simultaneously, and I consider it to primarily be a PS4-gen title.
Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Unlike all the mainline Final Fantasy titles before it, Final Fantasy XIII isn't universally lauded. In fact, it's quite possibly the most controversial Final Fantasy game ever, with the possible exception of Final Fantasy XV (which came later on PlayStation 4). Despite featuring one of the coolest protagonists in the franchise (Lightning) and battle mechanics that felt fresh and exciting (getting rid of random encounters was an inspired move), Final Fantasy XIII caught a lot of flack for its linearity in a genre where exploration was typically incentivized. Of course, some people preferred the streamlined nature of the game, too. Regardless, Final Fantasy XIII is a great JRPG that's well-worth your time, and if you do like it, there are two direct sequels to keep the adventure going.
You probably wouldn't expect to see Dark Souls on a list of JRPGs, but if Kingdom Hearts qualifies, then Dark Souls does too. Undoubtedly the most influential action RPG of the PS3 era, Dark Souls stretched the genre to its limits by making battles really, really, really hard. The game leans heavily on its action elements, revolving around massive, sometimes impossible-seeming boss battles that require players to reach a far higher technical skill threshold than any other RPG before it. Still, like all good JRPGs, there's no challenge so great that it can't be overcome by grinding for hours and massively over-leveling. Or, you know, you can just git gud.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Featuring animation and visual designs by Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is easily the most standout classic-style JRPG of its era. The story and world-building is rich and, like most of Studio Ghibli's movies, accessible to people of all ages. The gameplay combines turn-based combat with Pokemon-esque familiars that fight alongside you. It's a great experience for old school JRPG fans, but also serves as a perfect entry point for newcomers to the genre. It recently got ported to the PS4 and Switch, too, so you can play it now on pretty much any modern system.
An especially moody action RPG spin-off of another action RPG series called Drakengard, Nier follows the adventures of a middle-aged man named Nier Gestalt who is seeking a cure for the magical illness afflicting his daughter. This, of course, leads him to fight various mysterious monsters. The game, while primary an action RPG, incorporates multiple gameplay scenarios ranging from top-down shooter sections to 2D side-scrolling levels. While Nier received mixed reviews upon release, it developed a notable cult following and tends be looked back on positively as a game that was before its time. It went on to spawn a wildly popular sequel, Nier: Automata.
One of the best tactical RPGs ever made, Valkyria Chronicles removed the grid-based gameplay typical of its sub-genre, instead replacing it with a real time "Action Mode" that gives you much more freedom in moving your units around the battlefield. The game takes a similarly innovative approach to its combat tactics, allowing for tactical maneuvers like directly positioning a unit's aim instead of just navigating a menu to initiate a fight. The story is especially good, too, centering around massive military conflicts with a side portion of anime and magic. If you like tactical RPGs, you're not going to find a better franchise anytime soon.
Tales of Xillia
The Tales franchise has been a JRPG mainstay since the mid-'90s, but the majority of its best titles had previously been exclusive to non-Sony systems (namely Tales of Symphonia for Nintendo Gamecube and Tales of Vesperia for Xbox 360). The series is best known for its "Linear Motion Battle System," wherein battles play out more like action-fighting games than traditional JRPGs. Still, Tales' stories and leveling systems have always been firmly rooted in their JRPG heritage, making them unique titles within the context of their genre. Tales of Xillia is one of the better entries in the series, featuring a solid story and fun, memorable characters. It doesn't quite reach the height of Tales of Symphonia, but it's a great game nonetheless.
Eternal Sonata's gameplay might be wholly similar to any number of classic JRPGs that came before it, but its story concept is so batsh!t insane that it's worth prioritizing for any fan of the genre. You play as famous Polish pianist and composer, Frédéric Chopin, as he lies on his deathbed. There, he dreams about himself as an anime boy who goes on magical adventures inspired by his real life. The game incorporates Chopin's musical composition throughout, and the story eventually devolves into political espionage. Eternal Sonata is absolutely wild.
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