Final Fantasy wasn't always the bread and butter for Square Enix. And it wasn't always the greatest JRPG in the West, either. Back in the days of the PlayStation 1 Square Enix (then SquareSoft) had developed many JRPGs.
This list is comprised of notable titles from their catalog that stand out within the genre. And it will focus on games from different series that are not part of the Final Fantasy franchise. Now onward to the list.
Released back in 1998, this sci-fi JRPG follows the journey of Fei Fong Wong and his allies. Armed with Gears (robots), they face their pasts, the origin of civilization, and the dark plots of world leaders. The story has super robot action, martial arts, and drama among a large cast. What's impressive is that the narrative unfolds and makes more sense even as it proceeds to get more intricate.
Xenogears is a fast paced turn-based game with random encounters. Fights can also be encountered in your Gear. Fighting with big giant robots adds another layer of strategy.
Chrono Cross, released in 2000, is the spiritual successor of Chrono Trigger, and as such is partly inspired by it. The game tells the tale of protagonist Serge and his quest to discover the cross-dimensional mysteries surrounding himself. Throughout his adventure, the drama is wrought with themes and messages that continue to ask: "Are we free to control our own destines?"
Chrono Cross plays somewhat similarly to most turn based games. Unlike most games, spells and attacks must be equipped for use. Your party doesn't gain levels by experience, levels are obtained from defeating bosses. There's also an element weakness system you can exploit or lose to.
Front Mission 3, released in 2000, was the first game of the SRPG series to be released in the US. The game chronicles how test pilots Kazuki Takemura and Ryogo Kusama become embroiled in an international incident. The story branches off where you will either become an ally of the USN (fictional North & South America union) or an ally of the DHZ (fictional union of China & Taiwan).
It plays like most top-down SRPGs. The manner in which pilots acquire abilities is rather unique. Abilities are only learned in real time and triggered randomly. Hypothetically speaking, you could learn an attack or an evasion move that could save your pilot's life. It's very exciting and nerve-wracking!
Vagrant Story, released in 2000, is an account of Ashley Riot and his mission to stop a cult leader. Within the first 5 minutes of the game, you'll encounter said cult leader, magic, and a wyvern. Things become more mysterious for him as he reaches the city of Lea Monde. With each supernatural encounter within the city, he regains parts of his memory and grows stronger.
Vagrant Story is an unique mix gameplay features for a real time action RPG. The game has dungeon crawling, weapon crafting, is score based, and etc. The finer points of its mechanics aren't told, but need to be discovered.
Number 1 is the "cinematic RPG" released back in 1998, which serves as a sequel to the novel by the by the same name. The game marks the first Rated M game developed by Square. It was also the first major title developed mainly in the US. The game stars NYPD newbie Aya Brea as her world turns into a sci-fi horror show overnight. Throughout the course of the week, Aya tries to stop Eve as she learns there's more to herself than she realized.
Being a very story-focused RPG, Parasite Eve's gameplay mainly focuses upon battle, customization, and exploration only. Aya makes use of firearms in battle that can be fully customized to maximize damage. She also gains access to using spells and battle success requires using all these aspects in unison.
Parasite Eve is number 1 on the list because nothing is quite like it. It stars a female lead who is fully capable of fighting all the dangerous mutants in NYC alone. The game also possesses an eerie atmosphere that persists from start to finish.
Square released many games during this console cycle, but few games challenged the standard conventions of the genre. Parasite Eve, like the other listed games, pushed those boundaries with both gameplay and narrative.
Do you agree with this list? Is there a game missing? Let me know in the comments.