Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) are weird man! There are giant robots, huge birds, tentacle demons, and all sorts of stuff. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The following list counts down the absolute strangest RPGs Japan has to offer.
Eternal Sonata is kind of a cheating entry on our list because it’s not really a franchise, it’s just a one-off game. Still, you don’t get much weirder than playing an entire JRPG inside the fever dreams of dying composer Frederick Chopin. It also had a battle system that routinely changed its core mechanics every time you defeated a boss, sometimes specifically just to screw with you!
The Baten Kaitos series told a story of a world in the sky filled with people with wings that all sort of talk like they were speaking through cardboard tubes. Aside from the sky whales, weird pseudo philosophical magic system, and absolutely beautiful settings, Baten Kaitos was known for its peculiar card based battle and inventory system. Everything you can do, from items to attacks to equipment, is shuffled into a deck in order to be used in combat (although cards themselves can change during combat as well). For example, milk, when not used, can spoil, and eggs, when not used, can become chickens. Just like in real life!
If you are the kind of person who likes complex item creation systems and magical girl stylings, then the Atelier series is the game for you. This is one of those titles that has more fun in its mechanics than in its story. You can easily spend 300 hours forging items out of junk you find around the map before you even take a step toward saving the world with your cute alchemist magical girl protagonist.
You probably haven’t heard of the Sting series because it isn’t really a series, so to speak. It’s a number of quirky games made by the same developer, Sting. The series includes games like, Knights in the Knightmare, a tactical RPG/bullet hell hybrid, Riviera, an angelic dating sim/rpg, and Gungnir, a grid based tactical RPG that forces every unit to move on the same turn!
Shadow Hearts is a series of RPGs that follow insane protagonists through alternate universe retellings of important world events like World War I. It has a battle system based on timing a ticking clock to stop the correct sectors of a battle ring, and several characters have been known to fight with weapons such as lamp posts and giant combs. This strange clock system was used for everything, even for items and shopping.
Most of the entries on our list could be considered somewhat obscure RPGs. Not Shin Megami Tensei though. This series has entered the hearts of JRPG lovers everywhere through its hit PlayStation 2 releases of Nocturne and Persona 3. But, if you think about it, Nocturne was about an inverted hellscape Japan being ruled by demons, and Persona 3 was about shooting yourself in the head to make your tormented high school mind cast magical spells. Weird…
Wild Arms is a JRPG that never really figured out what a Western was. Sure, there were rifles and train robberies and horse chases, and stuff like that, but then there were sand ships and demons and aliens and lots of other JRPG style trappings. For a while, it was one of the more popular JRPG series on the PlayStation, though the game fell out of public favor during the era of the PlayStation 2.
Disgaea is another kinda cheat entry considering that it’s actually more of a tactical game than a traditional JRPG. Still, it’s one of the weirdest games in existence, period. It has you diving into item worlds to increase item stats to find more items to dive into their worlds and so on and so on and so on. It also allows you to increase your characters to ludicrous levels, far higher than are actually needed to beat the game. It’s as if Nippon Ichi distilled the desire to grind down to its base components and made a game out of it.
The Mother series, also known as Earthbound in the U.S., is one of the most quirky and loved JRPGs on the market. Earthbound alone had you fight sentient puddles of barf, living evil tents, and what might be an amorphous alien fetus, and that’s just the second game in the series. Mothers 1 and 3 each had their own tear jerking moments that may or may not have included a cybernetic T-Rex, acid trips, and fuzzy pickles.
Finally, we have the mother of all weird JRPG series, Ar Tonelico. This series features female magic users that have to have special crystals inserted into their bodies in order to keep living. No, we are not making this up. Ar Tonelico 2 took place on a helicopter world that hovered over a world shaped like the messianic tree of life that was forged out of a girls heart. To save the girl, you have to have three way cuddles. No, we are not making this up. Many Ar Tonelico games featured magic advancement systems that required you to play through alternate universe fan fiction inside of your magic users’ minds in order to learn new spells. No, we are not making this up! We haven’t even gotten to the penguins or yoyo shields or the sound based battle system. These things, along with tons of other weird and wonky off the wall occurences, make Ar Tonelico the king of our 10 Weirdest JRPG Franchises list.
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