Sometimes, a game makes such a splash that almost everyone knows about it, even if they haven’t played it themselves. Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls—series like these have firmly lodged themselves in gaming culture. But not every game can share in the limelight, and some slip past most gamers’ attention, whether due to a rocky release or simple obscurity.
By far one of the most common causes of this is sharing a release date with a far more hyped-up game. When your competition is a household name, it’s hard to stand out no matter how good. A lack of advertising can likewise make it hard for players to know a great game even exists
9 MAGATAMA Earrings
MAGATAMA Earrings isn’t some massive 40-hour epic. Rather, it focuses on trying its best to be a short and sweet love letter to classic JRPGs like Dragon Quest or the original Final Fantasy. It’s intentionally on the simple side and meant to be enjoyed over just an evening or two of relaxing play.
The story follows a young girl named Cello, as she journeys to stop the dark land of “Wa-hoo” from consuming the peaceful kingdom of Yo-Hoo, seeking powerful faeries to break the evil Himoko’s spell. With an adorable art style and a charming sense of humor, MAGATAMA Earrings packs a lot of nostalgia into a compact indie game-sized package.
8 Pokémon Scarlet & Violet
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are the most recent entries in the long-running franchise, and arguably some of the most controversial Pokémon games among fans. While inundated with negative reviews at launch, the titles have since gone on to become a hit, despite the bugginess that initially weighed them down.
It is true that the games had bugs-galore at launch, but Scarlet and Violet more than make up for it between their story and gameplay. With themes of loss and acceptance, the story hits on more somber beats than previous titles, while the gameplay has been kicked up a notch with many challenging fights throughout the player’s adventures in Paldea.
7 Two Worlds II
Platforms: PS3, Steam, Xbox 360
Two Worlds II shows that a sequel need not be weighed down by its precursors. The story follows an unnamed hero as he travels to save his sister from the evil Gandohar with the aid of the last remaining orcs, former enemies turned allies as they work together to stop a mad mage from world domination.
The magic system of Two Worlds is especially noteworthy, letting players mix and match spells with an impressive amount of freedom as they explore. In an unusual twist for a lesser-played game, Two Worlds II has received updates as recently as 2019, improving the engine, expanding the world, and adding plenty of new quests to undertake.
Arguably one of the oddest games ever, Chulip took the core concepts of a traditional JRPG and turned them on their head. Starring a young boy as he explores a new town, players level up by kissing everyone and everything around town, from shopkeepers to eggplants, all with the goal of “strengthening his heart” so he can confess his feelings to his crush.
What follows is a wildly unique adventure that’s well aware of how absurd it is. Items take on mundane forms, from gum and apples to comic books, and “heartbreak” serves the role of damage, whether from a dangerous playground, questionable tea, or a rejection. Character designs meanwhile favor the delightfully weird, from an ink-brush sensei to a human bell.
5 One Piece Odyssey
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Steam, Xbox Series X
Any fan of One Piece is likely to love One Piece Odyssey, which makes it a shame that it was overlooked at release by so many gamers. January 2023 was a packed month for games, with several nostalgic and hype-filled releases that drowned out a remarkably unique JRPG with a fresh take on a genre in need of new ideas.
Rather than traditional 2D mazes, dungeons in One Piece Odyssey are three-dimensional jungle gyms full of secrets to find and navigational puzzles to solve. Combat is likewise unique, with battles being divided into zones. Party members can only attack or be attacked within their own zone, which adds an extra layer of strategy that many turn-based JRPGs lack.
4 SaGa Frontier
Platforms: PS1, PS4, Steam, Nintendo Switch
SaGa Frontier is one of the lesser-known titles from Square Enix and had to contend with its more famous siblings from the get-go. Released shortly after Final Fantasy VII in 1997, Frontier was largely overshadowed by the massive pop culture splash as Cloud and Sephiroth took the gaming world by storm.
In SaGa Frontier the player can choose from one of several characters, each with separate but interconnecting stories, from a girl fated to become a princess to a robot seeking its lost memories. Frontier also offers a unique twist on leveling, with individual stats improving each battle, and most skills being learned mid-fight.
3 Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS3, PS4, Steam, Xbox 360, Xbox One
With a big budget and an experienced team working on it, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning seemed destined to be a hit, up until its studio closed only three months after its release. Selling over a million units in under a year is normally a recipe for success, but wasn’t enough to cover the cost of making it.
Nonetheless, Amalur is still a blast to play, especially following its 2020 “Re-Reckoning” remaster. With dozens of hand-made dungeons and a world filled with lore to explore, the energetic combat system is just another plus. Thanks to a more stylized aesthetic than many other games its age, Amalur also holds up surprisingly well visually.
2 Breath of Fire III
Platforms: PS1, PSP
Starting as Capcom’s answer to series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire quickly took on a life of its own. Breath of Fire III stands out in particular, having taken some daring risks as it brought the franchise into the age of 3D graphics and more advanced hardware.
Breath of Fire III stars a boy named Ryu who has forgotten much of his past—including why he can turn into a dragon. As he travels the world making friends and fighting foes, players will quickly experience one of the game’s most unusual mechanics: the ability for every party member to learn any move a monster uses against them, very similar to how a Blue Mage works in Final Fantasy.
1 Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim
Platforms: PS2, PSP, Steam
For a series that had been running for over thirty years, Ys is surprisingly unknown to many gamers, and Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim is no exception. The first game in the franchise to experiment with 3D graphics, Ys VI also expanded upon the Action-JRPG gameplay of previous titles.
Ys VI follows series-staple protagonist as he finds himself caught by pirates and subsequently shipwrecked on the mysterious Canaan islands. With catchy Rock-inspired music and fast-paced combat, Ys VI is a sure win for players seeking something more exciting than standard JRPG fare, and thanks to a well-made remaster, it’s more accessible than ever.
NEXT: 10 Best RPGs That Are Way Too Short