For pixel-art JRPG fanatics without an actual retro system, there are only so many times one can replay Chrono Trigger or Breath Of Fire on ZSNES or some other emulator. When we've finished our 200th playthrough of Lufia, it may be time to see what else is available on modern platforms like Steam.
Thankfully, plenty of developers have kept and are keeping the classic JRPG spirit alive through re-releases of Japanese titles that didn't make it to the West back in the day. Supplementing that, others have developed original games in the old-school JRPG style. And, of course, we have the wonder that is RPG Maker.
That latter option takes some getting used to with all its quirks — pressing "F12" dumps you to the main menu instead of taking a Steam screenshot — but the lineup of RPG Maker content on Steam is well worth the effort.
If you go indie, you'll find some interesting and unique takes on combat, level design, and story that you won't see from big-name developers.
Before we dive into the 12 best Steam JRPGs, we have one final quick note: there is an ever-increasing number of hentai RPGs on Steam, and some of them are actually pretty high quality. We'll make a specific list of those, which we'll link back here.
Echoes of Aetheria
We'll start off with a personal favorite: Echoes of Aetheria. It features a strong FF6 vibe, and it's set in a fantasy world with a bit of tech thrown in for good measure. While much more a standard JRPG than a full-blown tactical RPG, Echoes Of Atheria brings big changes to combat by adding a grid.
Area attacks hit specific squares, and there's a good deal of strategy to play with when moving characters around. Another twist sees each character swapping out a range of skills, and you have full freedom to level or de-level skills as needed.
With a robust crafting system included, there's plenty to explore in the realm mechanics, all completely independent of the story.
Adding character, Echoes of Aetheria makes sure to sprinkle in the silly and cheesy dialog that's a staple of the classic JRPG genre. But there's a seriously dark edge to many of the interactions between party members as the story progresses.
The game's characters set it apart, too, as Echoes Of Aetheria really doesn't have damsels in distress. Although it opens with the princess getting kidnapped at her wedding, things take a turn pretty quickly and said princess becomes one of the most dangerous party members in the game.
As icing on the cake, EoA is one of the few RPGs where shifting alliances and regional backstories make some level of sense, and the characters often ask questions that people in the real world would ask about why governments are doing awful things.
Both might utilize a pixel style and turn-based combat, but Ara Fell is a totally different experience than Echoes of Aetheria. On almost every level, Ara Fell showcases how varied the genre can be when indie developers work on passion projects.
Coming from Stegosoft Games, Ara Fell is a classic SNES/Genesis-style RPG from beginning to end. In some ways, it's arguably better than many of the original 16-bit titles that inspired it.
From its phenomenal soundtrack to its lush colors and intriguing story, Ara Fell hits all the right notes in a symphony of nostalgia. The setting itself is a huge draw as well, featuring people living on floating islands amidst elven ruins, with vampiric creatures lurking down in the Abyss of the surface world.
If you fondly remember getting drawn into classics like Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean, you will absolutely want to play Ara Fell. Not sure if you're willing to drop the $10 on a retro RPG? Ara Fell has a free demo on Steam that lets you play through the prologue and part of the opening chapter.
Stegosoft Games is currently working on a follow-up titled Rise Of The Third Power, and you better believe it's a modern JRPG that should be on your wishlist.
For something well off the beaten path, Grimm's Hollow is almost like a fantasy RPG version of Dead Like Me. Here, you wake to discover you are the latest grim reaper, and you're tasked with helping ghosts move on in the afterlife.
Although Grimm's Hollow is very short, and I badly wish I could turn off the walking steps sound effect that constantly clacks everywhere you go, it is an otherwise fabulous JRPG experience.
It's a quirky, fun, and very different take on the traditional fantasy turn-based RPG. And while the subject matter diverges, it's a good bet you'll dig Grimm's Hollow if you liked Earthbound or anything that pushed the original boundaries of 16-bit RPGs.
Did I mention that it's totally free? Even though it's only a 2- to 3-hour experience, the devs really should set a price commiserate with Grimm's quality and concept.
Celestian Tales: Old North
Instead of the obvious "save the world" storyline, Celestian Tales gives you six different characters to choose from, all of whom are nobles learning about their responsibilities to the world just as war is breaking out.
Despite the diverse cast, Tales' replay value is lower than you might expect since you learn most of the story's twists in one playthrough. That being said, there are some solid changes to the formula — such as picking between different primary and secondary skills — on display that make Celestian Tales worth playing.
The real draw here is in the interactions between the large cast of nobles working their way into the military, as each has a radically different viewpoint and reason for joining the ranks. There's a religious fanatic getting out into the wider world for the first time, a timid but rational atheist who tries to overcome problems through reason, a happy-go-lucky elf who has never experienced the savagery of war before, and more.
As you might imagine, those characters clash strongly as they are forced to work together. The end result is something quite a bit different than your average JRPG.
Astoria: The Holders Of Power Saga
Featuring Dragon-Quest-style combat Final-Fantasy-esque dialog and exploration, Astoria: The Holders of Power Saga expertly straddles the line between classic JRPG tropes and modern mechanics extremely well.
Astoria knows exactly what it's doing and exactly who its playerbase is, so expect some major throwbacks to the hallowed favorites of the genre. The sound effects, in particular, might bring a tear to your eye if you grew up on early Dragon Quest titles.
However, this is more than just a retro look back at bygone times. From a wealth of entertaining side quests to top-notch music and character models, Astoria is easy to fall in love with you long for a 16-bit RPG.
Not nearly as long as those epic 60-hour games of the past, Pale Echoes is short, sweet, and very different than you might expect.
While this Echoes features all the trappings of traditional turn-based JRPG combat — melee attacks, spells, etc. — there's a major twist in its systems. There are no random battles that whittle down your resources as you try to level up before accessing the next area.
Instead, every battle is purposeful and has a limited number of turns to complete. To win a fight against shades of the past, you must materialize memories in the correct order to ensure each party member hits a shade that is weak against a specific attack type.
Not everyone will love such a change, but it does offer something unique instead of the same old experience — and it is well worth trying out. The setting is also worth noting, as even though this is essentially a fantasy RPG, it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world with occasional looks back at what the universe looked like before its utter destruction.
Breath Of Death 7: The Beginning
Simultaneously a parody of and tribute to the Dragon Quest games, Breath Of Death 7 (the first game in the Breath of Death series) goes heavy on both the comedy and strong gameplay.
From party members who are certain that poor villagers are hiding a Bazooka of Ultimate Destruction in their house chests to merchants who are very candid about their pricing strategies, everything in the RPG genre gets lampooned here.
Zeboyd Games improves on this formula and makes quite a few gameplay additions in both follow-up entries, Cthulhu Saves The World and Cosmicstar Heroine. They are both well worth your time as well if you get a kick out of Breath Of Death 7: The Beginning.
West Of Loathing
I want you to take a long, hard look at that image above. Is your first impression to laugh and then smack me for putting a joke of a game in this list?
If you skipped West Of Loathing because it uses stick figures probably drawn in Microsoft Paint, you've made a major mistake. West of Loathing is easily one of the best games of 2017 — in any genre.
Yes, it's silly. Yes, it's ludicrous. And yes, it's incredibly awesome. Classic JRPG mechanics in a Wild West setting filled with demon cattle, ghostly pickles, and horses that have seen way too much works so much better than you'd expect.
Romancing Saga 3
I'll be honest: I don't think Square Enix is the company it once was, at least in terms of RPGs. I don't expect it will ever return to those heady days of Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy Tactics, but thankfully, many of those old favorites are seeing re-releases and/or remasters.
Granted, some of those amazing games have received appallingly lazy ports over the years, but on the flip side, we're now seeing fantastic RPGs from the SNES-era that never made it to the U.S. Thanks to the digital revolution, entries like Romancing Saga 3 are officially available in English for the first time.
The level of freeform options available in Saga 3 is sort of staggering. You can approach any quest from any angle in pretty much any order. Of course, as a Saga game, you've got to realize there are some very obtuse, very archaic systems implemented here that will be a challenge for modern audiences. That being said, try it anyway! It's one of the best JRPGs on Steam right now.
Update: Stoneshard is now out in Early Access on Steam and awaiting the Trollslayer update. Check out our full look at this indie gem over here.
A little different from the rest of the JRPGs on our list, Stoneshard: Prologue isn't exactly a JRPG. Instead, it's more like a turn-based version of Diablo with a hint of Darkest Dungeon thrown in for good measure.
NES, SNES, and Genesis fanatics will still want to make a point of checking out the Stoneshard demo anyway. The game's turn-based combat, classic pixel-art style, dungeon exploration, and dark take on magic and religion will strongly appeal to JRPG fans.
Right now, the short Prologue version is up for grabs for free, while Stoneshard itself launches in Early Access this coming February. I suspect it will turn some serious heads when it's finally finished.
Remember picking your party's class options at the start of the original Final Fantasy on the NES? You get that same experience here with Last Dream — except your choices impact the game in more than just the combat lineup. Each class has a different town and overland map abilities.
Choice is a big element in Last Dream. On top of choosing your class options, you can choose from six different difficulty levels, as well as three different combat encounter rates.
With a huge world and lots to do, Last Dream is something you could easily sink 50 to 100 hours into if you love the old-school style but prefer it reimagined with some modern tweaks.
Oh man, it's been a long time since Square Enix gave us a game like Octopath Traveler. After those lucky Switch players got first dibs on this modern classic in 2018, Octopath is finally on Steam.
While there's an absurd amount of grind to work through here, it's just nice to see a big name developer finally returning to the original JRPG style and realizing gamers still want classic art and storylines.
For more on why you should play this Square Enix JRPG, be sure to check out our review of Octopath Traveler.
With literally hundreds of RPG Maker games on Steam right now — and many more than that available to download for free through other sites — it's a good bet we missed dozens of titles that are well worth playing.
What did you think of our list, and should any other games have been included in our look at the best old school JRPGs on Steam? Let us know in the comments!
Outside of Steam, console players may have another big JRPG resurgence in the near future. There's tantalizing possibility on the horizon of fans getting to replay classic PS1 RPGs on an upcoming console.
While we're still waiting some more concrete news, rumors have been swirling about PS5 being backwards compatibile with every earlier iteration of the console — and the possibility of an expanded digital catalog of PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 JRPGs, though we learned nothing new of that prospect at CES 2020.
As someone whose copies of Chrono Cross and Vandal Hearts no longer work because the decades-old discs freeze up regularly, all I can do is plead with Sony to make it happen.