Before he quit his post at Capcom, Keiji Inafune bemoaned the fact that Japanese game development isn't the creative powerhouse that it used to be. And to be honest, he's probably not wrong. In particular, there's a case to be made that we're falling out of love with the whole concept of JRPGs as Western studios continue to deliver hit after roleplaying hit, while the Land Of The Rising Sun continues to become less relevant with each passing month.
But there are still some great JRPGs out there - on a wildly differing array of platforms - and plenty for us lovers of story and spectacle to dive into head first. Here's what we'd consider to be the finest examples of this current generation.
10: Enchanted Arms [PS3, Xbox 360]
Enchanted Arms failed to cause much of a splash when it launched early in the Xbox 360's life span and subsequently made its way to Sony's console, but it's actually a rather neat little game. An innovative chess-style battle system and the ability to independently train dozens of impeccably designed automatons make it a unique and exciting experience that's well worth a second look if you can find it at a decent price.
It's also an achievement hunter's paradise, if you're interested in that sort of thing.
9: Lost Odyssey [Xbox 360]
Mistwalker's JRPG is an epic in any sense of the phrase. Epic value, epic storyline and a ridiculous amount of lore rewards anyone brave enough to plunge into its universe, but the clichéd mechanics, progression and drab art style turned many players off. And hey, it's nice to control a protagonist who's a grizzled (if admittedly still pretty) veteran rather than an awkward androgynous pin-up every once in a while.
8: Final Fantasy XIII [PS3, Xbox 360]
Style over substance? You betcha. Final Fantasy XIII certainly looks the business, but its grind-heavy front end and uninspired design caused a major backlash against what should have been one of this generation's most triumphant JRPG properties.
It's not a bad game by any means, and we're not sure that it deserves a lot of the hate that it receives. But there's no doubt that Square Enix dropped the ball on this one.
7: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels Of The Starry Skies [DS]
This was the feel good hit of last summer. The long, languid dry release period just flew by thanks to the insane amount of exploration, character development, party building and combat mechanics that we could enjoy on the Nintendo DS - perfect for commutes or enormous grind sessions in front of the telly. Dragon Quest IX packs a staggering wealth of content onto its tiny cartridge, and an incredible adventure to boot. You can check out our 9/10 review for more details.
6: Eternal Sonata [PS3, Xbox 360]
Eternal Sonata instantly deterred a number of potential players by appearing to be "just another" JRPG that follows the same old tropes.
I've got sour news for you, Jack: it ain't. The juxtaposition of real life trauma and an escapist fantasy is food for the soul as well as an interesting premise - and that's not even taking the excellent visuals into account. Try to get the PS3 version if possible, though, as it contains plenty of extra content.
5: Tales Of Vesperia [Xbox 360]
It was difficult to decide whether Eternal Sonata or Tales Of Vesperia deserve to be highest on the list, but this Xbox 360 exclusive wins out on the strength of its art direction and genuine personality. It's gorgeous to behold - in fact, it looks like a top-tier anime feature - and the combat is slick, intuitive and packed with subtle nuance. Tales Of Vesperia delivers everything that series fans wanted with enough innovation to satisfy a new generation.
4: Valkyria Chronicles [PS3, PSP]
I'm lumping both the original Valkyria Chronicles and its capable handheld sequel into the same category, because they're both absolutely astounding games. A refreshing World War setting, mature characters and deep tactical combat conspire to create an exceptional experience that stands tall as thoroughly unique and occasionally thought-provoking.
Plus, it has tanks. And tanks are awesome.
3: Chrono Trigger [DS]
Is it fair that an ancient, archetypal RPG makes an appearance on this list? Not really... and absolutely yes. The DS port is much more than a portable conversion, featuring the entire seminal time-travelling adventure, unforgettable characters and a host of new features and dungeons that take advantage of the era-hopping mechanics.
Chrono Trigger also boasts what I'd consider to be the best story ever told by a videogame. Discuss.
2: The World Ends With You [DS]
This astoundingly imaginative RPG has already reached the status of 'cult classic'... with good reason. The World Ends With You is a completely fresh, exciting and entirely brilliant proposition, blending an impeccable funky modern presentation with a wild and wonderful control system. There's literally nothing else like it, on any platform, anywhere.
It's probably the most "unique" game on this list. And certainly one of the best.
1: Xenoblade Chronicles [Wii]
Monolith Soft took a long look at the JRPG genre and decided to fix everything that's wrong with it.
And so they did. Xenoblade Chronicles is an enormous open world that never loses focus. It contains more exploration, excitement, subquests and content than practically any game that isn't developed by Bethesda. Your characters - perfectly localised by British voice talent - can swim and jump through the environments, with a perfect battle system that delivers a perfect amount of depth and accessibility. Random battles are replaced by perfectly seamless combat. Perfectly-realised art direction makes for one of the prettiest and most visually appealing games on the Wii.
Perfect, perfect, perfect. I've used this word so often that we couldn't give Xenoblade Chronicles anything less than 10/10 in our recent full review. It's not just the best JRPG of this generation... it's one of the best JRPGs ever made. Monolith Soft has made the genre relevant again, and it's better than ever.
Right, it's time for you to get involved. What are your favourite RPGs of this generation? Want to quibble about the order? Have we missed anything? Have your say in the comments!
Addendum: The Zelda franchise and Demon's Souls have been omitted from this list as we don't technically consider them to be JRPGs - at least in the traditional sense. Zelda games are puzzle-action-adventure hybrids, whereas Demon's Souls is very much a split-second action game that prioritises combat over storytelling and character development. You can take the issue up with me in the comments below.