Greetings! Never Ending Realm readers! As we approach the year’s end, and consequently the year 2022, I have begun to feel a bit nostalgic about years that have come and gone. Video games have been a part of my most nostalgic moments, and lately, I have been thinking about 32-bit games that I truly enjoyed and wouldn’t mind playing again today.
This isn’t a numbered list. Obviously I have favorites, but this is not what this list is about. This list is all about games that have aged well over the past two decades and I would love to play again.
In my opinion, Xenogears has aged extremely well. If one can deal with its translation, which isn’t that bad for the era, its mind bending and convoluted storyline remains as good today as it was 23 years ago. Xenogears story alone makes it a worthy replay, as I don’t think JRPG stories have gotten any better since.
Visually, the combination of 3-D backgrounds with 2-D character sprites remains eye-pleasing. Xenogears was an attractive game back when it first came out (better looking than Grandia) and artwork still shines today.
Xenogears’ battle system remains extremely fun. It ranges from turn-based party combat with casts and mechs to a cool real-time action, fully 3-D system that involves mechs in some instances.
The game’s musical score remains one of Yasunori Mitsuda’s best works. Forgiving the final ‘rushed’ disc of the game, Xenogears remains the best Xeno title of all time. That last statement shouldn’t be taken lightly, as Xenoblade Chronicles 1&2 are excellent titles in their own right.
Final Fantasy IX (2000)
I can’t praise Final Fantasy IX‘s greatness enough. The game is the embodiment of the ‘Hironobu Sakaguchi Final Fantasy formula’ polished to perfection. Great visuals, terrific soundtrack, and a heart-warming story make Final Fantasy’s PlayStation finale one of the greatest Japanese Role-Playing Game experiences of all time.
In many ways, Final Fantasy IX simplified things gameplay wise, contrasting its overly complex predecessor Final Fantasy VIII. Final Fantasy IX is a story driven RPG, which is fairly linear and fairly simple in terms of character progression. Thus, I would not only recommend Final Fantasy IX as a great game to replay 21 years after the fact but as a great game for beginners to get hooked on traditional JRPGs.
Since Final Fantasy IX is available across multiple platforms, it should not be difficult (or costly) to play these days.
Azure Dreams (1997)
This game is terribly underrated. Though it will cost you a kidney to play today as the game is over $100 on Amazon, Azure Dreams is a worthy play, especially for fans of roguelike and dungeon crawling games. Dating sim components, town building, monster collecting, and a challenging monster tower with level resets and random layouts that will take dozens of hours to conquer, make Azure Dreams a hardcore JRPG fan’s dream game.
I usually don’t recommend a dark horse like this to younger players, but I feel confident in recommending this one. As long as you know that you are getting into a very tough but highly rewarding experience, I firmly stand by Azure Dreams greatness.
In terms of technical aspects, Azure Dreams has not aged badly. It shares its visual style (3-D backdrops, and 2-D sprites) with other games like Xenogears and Grandia. Azure Dreams is a 32-Bit JRPG made for hardcore gamers and should visually please those willing to give it a chance.
Star Ocean: The Second Story (1999)
If you have never played the first three Star Oceans, but have been disappointed by the latest entries, do not give up on this series just yet. The answer to playing a great Star Ocean game lies in your willingness to make a trip to the past.
By most accounts, Star Ocean: The Second Story remains the greatest Star Ocean game of all time. Two full sized planets with full 3-D and fully traversable over-worlds and a wonderful story with slight variations to the game’s ending depending on how you play, make it worth replaying today.
Gameplay wise, I still find that its party action-based combat system, similar to the Tales series’ combat, is enjoyable and highly challenging. In fact, some proficiency with the game’s item crafting system will be needed in order to have an easier time with its hellish last bosses. But then again, this is a game for hardcore JRPG gamers. We wouldn’t want Star Ocean: The Second Story to be any other way. Happy Grindings!
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
I know, I know! I am notorious for my “hate” of Final Fantasy VIII, as it was my least favorite Final Fantasy until Final Fantasy XIII infamously took its place. But age, time, and recent bad Final Fantasies have helped me to soften my stance on the game.
In my view, Final Fantasy VIII has a lot of issues. It has a non-sensical plot and less than likable cast. However, given how far the series has fallen from its perch over the last decade and half, Final Fantasy VIII remains one of the better Final Fantasies of the last 22 years.
I think Squaresoft had fallen in love with their ground breaking CG technology and in their “cinematic” direction for the series. Their vision at that time helps Final Fantasy VIII to feature some gorgeous and spectacular moments during cutscenes. At the same time, the game itself, save for the awesome Card Game, is not as enjoyable to play as Final Fantasy VII or IX.
That said, I have found that it is a fun game to replay today (I replayed it last year in remastered form), and would recommend it to gamers that have already played FFVII and FFIX as a good choice to satisfy their Final Fantasy cravings.
Thousand Arms (1999)
Thousand Arms is another underrated gem. It is customary for these types of games to be hard and expensive to find, but if you have the cash and the desire to play an awesome, if funny, 32-Bit JRPG, you can’t go wrong with Thousand Arms.
Thousand Arms is an often humorous turn-based world saving quest that is complemented by a soft dating sim which is entertaining in its own right. The results of the dating sim aspect can also aid our womanizing hero, Meis, on his world saving/chick dating quest.
Thousand Arms continues to look well utilizing the same visual style that was popular of games of its era, such as Grandia and Xenogears. Unlike Star Ocean: The Second Story, Thousand Arms is a fairly short (can be completed in under 30 hours) and easy game.
The game has hours of voice acting and remains one of the funnier games of its era. It should please Anime and JRPG fans alike (are they not one and the same) with its brand of artwork and humor.
We have praised Alundra on this site almost on a monthly basis. In my opinion, it is the best 2-D action-RPG that your money can buy. For its genre, Alundra’s brand of storytelling, challenging puzzles, and combat remain hard to beat to this day.
A dark story full of tragedy, fueled by Working Design’s unparalleled translation work, made Alundra a “grown-up” alternative to The Legend of Zelda in story telling and overall game difficulty. Most gamers will finish a game in The Legend of Zelda franchise even if they need a guide. Gamers with the abilities to finish Alundra with a guides help, are not as numerous.
Thus, if you are a Zelda fan looking for a tough challenge within the same style of play, Alundra is your game. I guarantee that you will not find yourself disappointed while playing it, as the game remains the greatest Zelda clone ever made. even 24 years after it first arrived on the original PlayStation.
Wild Arms (1997)
Many will remember this game, at least those of us in our 30s, as the best JRPG on the PlayStation before Final Fantasy VII arrived. Others will continue to swear by it, claiming that Wild Arms remained the best PlayStation JRPG post Final Fantasy VII.
Since game ranking is largely a subjective matter, both camps could be right. Wild Arms is certainly one of the best JRPGs that can be played on any system, even today.
Epic story, challenging puzzle oriented dungeons, and a gigantic world to explore make Wild Arms a great adventure. The game’s 2-D visuals might not have been impressive back in 1997, given the game was released during the start of the boom of the 3-D era; however, PlayStaton 2-D graphics have aged well. Wild Arms benefits from a timeless “2-D” look that makes for a decent visual experience today, even in the midst of the 4k 12Teraflop (Xbox Series X) era.
You can’t go wrong with giving Wild Arms a try, especially if you like Japanese Role-Playing Games.
Chrono Cross (2000)
A remaster of this game is coming, possibly in 2022, but that doesn’t mean that the original is useless. Chrono Cross remains one of the best JRPGs that you can play today, it is easily a top five PlayStation RPG as far as I am concerned.
Beautiful hand drawn backgrounds and some of the best music that your ears will ever hear accompanies you through this timeless quest of parallel dimensions and time travel. Don’t let the naysayers sway you into a different direction, Chrono Cross is not only a great stand alone game but a proper Chrono Trigger sequel, even if it is not what some die hard fans of the original wanted from a sequel.
Chrono Cross’ combat system is fun! I find it to be quite more enjoyable than PS1 Final Fantasies’ own brand of turn-based combat. There is a reason critics fell in love with Chrono Cross 21 years ago: The game is indisputably great.
Final Fantasy VII ( 1997)
Being that Final Fantasy VII is one of the best selling games of all time, not just within the JRPG genre, it is hard for me to fathom that you could be a JRPG fan without having played the game. But we are in 2021, a whooping 24 years removed from the game’s initial release. Even though it has been remastered and ported to almost every system known to man, there are younger gamers that have not played it.
Some of you might be saying, “I would rather play FFVII Remake instead.” That’s fine, but you would be playing a different and incomplete storyline, as the ‘Remake’ is truly a sequel.
Even if you have played the Remake, FFVIIR is far inferior to the original game regarding gameplay and its Sci/Fi storyline. If you can get past the blocky character polygon models and low resolution backgrounds, there is no game on this list, except perhaps FFIX, that I would recommend for JRPGs fans and newcomers to the genre more than I would FFVII.
Final Fantasy VII is the game that converted a large section of gamers into JRPG lifers more than two decades ago, I have no reason to think that it couldn’t do the same today.
Vagrant Story (2000)
This one is another dark horse. I have mentioned this before, but I will say it again: Vagrant Story is an under-appreciated classic. A part of what made Vagrant Story great, apart from its surprisingly good translation and awesome gameplay, were its impressive 3-D visuals on the PlayStation.
The PlayStation, at the time, was the inferior 3-D polygon crunching machine when stacked against the Nintendo 64 and the then new comer Sega Dreamcast. Still, Vagrant Story managed to impress. While those visuals that impressed gamers two decades ago may look outdated and pixelated today on original hardware, the game’s artwork is timeless. Furthermore, its brand of strategic combat and gameplay makes it a worthy play in any era.
Final Fantasy Tactics (1997)
Is Final Fantasy Tactics better than Final Fantasy VII? According to some gamers, it is. That said, both games couldn’t be more different. Tactics is set in the world of Ivalice (yes, the same world that FFXII took place in) and, as its name implies, is a tactical RPG.
A deep yet engrossing job system and a stunningly entertaining war/political tale aid Final Fantasy Tactics’ to stand out from many of the other strategy JRPGs from its era. Many consider the game to have set the genres gold standard.
Final Fantasy Tactics has a good claim for the greatest tactical JRPG crown, though Sega Saturn fans might disagree. This alone makes it a worthy recommendation for current gamers looking to invest dozens of hours into an engrossing tactical JRPG.
I chose to exclude Lunar games from the list as there are numerous titles and both Lunar’s were inherently on the Sega CD (they will be featured on a similar 16-bit era list, instead).
Apart from that, I didn’t mention Grandia or Breath of Fire III. Both are awesome games that I would also recommend to gamers looking to dive back into some PlayStation era goodness. If your favorite games from the PlayStation era did not make this list, please let us know in the comments down below or in our social media accounts how you feel about our selection and your own personal favorites.
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