10. Persona 3 Portable / Person 4: The Golden
Now this is a bit of a cop-out perhaps, but the localised, rebooted versions of Persona 3 and 4 on Sony's portable handhelds were so damn fantastic that they earn their place here by reminding us just how phenomenally great a series Shin Megami Tensei can be. Seriously, though, give us Persona 5 already!
It's a JRPG, Jim; but not as we know it. It came from Japan. It counts! Dragon's Dogma makes the list thanks to rewriting the rulebook on what an RPG from a Japanese dev had to be. Capcom smashed their capacity for splendid combat systems together with Monster Hunter-esque RPG considerations and a vast open world filled with loot and monsters, polished off with the gloriously innovative Pawn mechanic.
8. Eternal Sonata
One of the earliest JRPGs of this generation, Eternal Sonata presented us with a wonderfully unique story, a cracking battle system, and (obviously with a name like that) an utterly stupendous soundtrack. It also ade us cry. A lot. That won't be the last time we say that in this list.
7. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
My jaw dropped when I saw Crisis Core running on the PSP. Square Enix managed to squeeze every last drop of power from the little machine, and gave FFVII's adoring fans some absolutely cracking closure in the process. Parts of the story were completely incomprehensible as per usual, but the action-heavy combat system, and the emotional notes between Zach, Aerith, and Coud kept us coming back.
6. Tales of Vesperia
The Tales series produces many fine games, but Vesperia is probably the best, well...behind Symphonia. Compelling characters, beautiful to look at, with the best battle system that the series (and therefore probably most JRPGs) has to offer, Vesperia was a game that embraced it's genre past emphatically, whilst also managing to subvert and deconstruct a number of its largest conventions. More central protagonists like Yuri please. Simply brilliant.
Another surprise entry, perhaps, but Dark Souls was Japan's answer to the Elder Scrolls - a lore-rich, breathtakingly beautiful fantasy world for players to explore, though fleshed out with a truly challenging combat system. From Software's masterpiece was begging to be explored, but you needed the stones for the job, and the skill to succeed.
4. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Some of the best Mario games have neither involved platforming nor karts, but rather RPG romps through paper worlds or, in this case, Bowser's digestive system. The premise is brilliant: Mario and Luigi get magically shruk, Bowser inhales them, and woring from within the giant dragon turtle, the Mario Bros. have to help their nemesis save the Mushroom Kingdom. Amazing gameplay and side-splitting comedy ensue. Frankly it's still one of the best games overall of the past decade.
3. Lost Odyssey
Mistwalker were bound to make it onto the list somewhere, and though some might give their slot over to The Last Story, we're handing it to Lost Odyssey. Redefining the word 'epic' across four discs, Sakaguchi's phenomenal tale of amnesiac immortals was desperately engrossing, utterly heartbreaking, and spectacularly thrilling at times. Add a fantastic Uematsu soundtrack to that, some innovative twists on traditional battle systems, and Mistwalker were on to a winner.
I'm just going to replicate the short version from our recent review here. Read it, pre-order it, play it, love it:
One of the best JRPGs of the last decade, Ni No Kuni is in many ways a love letter to a genre slowly fading away into obscurity. Brimming with imaginative aesthetics, and packing a hefty emotional punch or two in spite of its rather clichéd story, Level-5 and Studio Ghibli have worked wonders to whisk us away to another world. An utter triumph in roleplaying escapism in a game that manages to stand on the shoulders of the genre's best to deliver a modern classic.
Another JRPG that toyed with convention, all for the better, Xenoblade Chronicles arrived to give the Wii a new lease of life. One of the finest RPGs of all time, let alone this generation, MonolithSoft's opus revitalised the genre, making it feel utterly fresh, and fundamentally modern. From the innovative Affinity mechanic, to the sweeping storylines that permeated even the most basic of side quests, to the phenomenally free-flowing combat system. No fixed saves, no random battles, no unskippable cutscenes, no compromise. If a mechanic seemed archaic, it was tossed to favour an experience that captivated us utterly and refused to let go.
And it looked fantastic, even on the Wii.
Honourable Mentions: Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Final Fantasy XIII-2, The Last Story, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Disgaea 4, Valkyria Chronicles, The World Ends With You