We’re a big fan of the Community Game-Along at Geek to Geek, where JRPGJuly is in full swing right now. It’s the biggest event in the Game-Along calendar, and naturally one near and dear to us. Unfortunately, it also falls during a month when many of us are on the road, making it tricky to dig into a longer game.
Luckily, the portable gaming space has long been the home of some fantastic JRPGs – and it’s not just limited to Nintendo consoles! What’s more than that, so many of them have impeccable summertime vibes, from fishing to road-tripping and everything in between. Here are some of our favorite picks to take on your IRL adventures and keep the JRPGJuly spirit going!
Legend of the River King
The Vibe: A slow day at the river.
Availability: 3DS eShop
Let’s start off strong with the very game that got me to start this list! Fishing minigames are a staple of JRPGs, so it stands to reason that some JRPGs would revolve solely around fishing. Coming from developer Natsume in their late-90s heyday, Legend of the River King and its sequel enjoy a current home on the 3DS while retaining all their Gameboy Color charm.
I’m not even much of a fishing person – but to be fair, I’m also not much of a slime-slaying person in real life, either. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that JRPG packaging really hooked me. Between insect-collecting, fishing-based quests, exploring, and mastering The Way of the Rod, Legend of the River King is a full-suite JRPGJuly trip down the river. Catch it while the 3DS eShop lasts!
Ys VIII: The Lacrimosa of Dana
The Vibe: Survivor, overcome via collaboration rather than competition
Availability: Switch & PS Vita, among others
Just take it from our resident Ys series expert CapsuleJay:
Nothing says “summer” quite like a day at the beach. Unfortunately for Adol and his friends in Ys VIII, they end up getting stuck at the beach indefinitely after being shipwrecked on a desert island! In order to survive, Adol must explore the island to gather resources and rescue his fellow castaways. Throughout the game, they work together to build a settlement and eventually return home. Of course, since this is a JRPG, the island is also home to mysterious ruins full of magical artifacts and supernatural monsters!
In case you’re seeing the number VIII (8) in the title of this game and feeling a little overwhelmed, Ys VIII is actually a great entry point to the series. Its gentler difficulty curve and mostly standalone story make this accidental beach vacation an ideal maiden voyage into the Ys franchise.
PS: For extra summer vibes, the Switch version comes with alternate clothing options for your characters including swimsuits and pirate costumes!
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
The Vibe: Exploring the neighborhood from a child’s-eye view.
Availability: 3DS eshop
The championship title of “most summertime vibes in a video game” easily goes to the My Summertime Adventure games – tragically never released outside of Japan until just this year. Luckily, we did get their JRPG follow-up in the form of Attack of the Friday Monsters!
It’s a wild mash-up of genres and ideas, following an elementary-school boy as he “saves the neighborhood” from hokey 1970s-style Tokusatsu monsters by… playing a trading-game against friendly townsfolk. Are these monsters just an invention of little Sohta’s head? Or does the town really come under attack each Friday? Ultimately, that’s not what this game is about, though; it’s about getting intimately familiar with this little slice of rural Japan. A little local exploration is inseparable from summer vacation, and both are the heart of this game. It’s short and sweet, just like its protagonists, and that makes it hard not to love.
This is another one to cherish while you still can on the 3DS – with its download-only future uncertain, now’s the best time to pick it up!
The World Ends With You
The Vibe: Trolling the city streets with the gang.
Availability: Android, iOS, DS, & Switch
The World Ends With You doesn’t quite come across as summer-focused at first glance to everyone. But if you live in a big city, your actual summer just might not fit the “idyllic countryside sun” mold. There’s a certain atmosphere to wandering downtown in the full heat of the day, listlessly moseying down a street past a parade of pedestrians soaking up the same sun.
I can think of ever-more summer Saturdays spent out with friends at festivals and wandering uptown since I moved to a bigger city. With a partner permanently at your side, TWEWY is one extended hang-out session with your besties – listening to the game’s soundtrack, you can just feel the rhythm of the city as you play. And really, what else are open summer afternoons for if not kickin’ it with your buds?
If you can find it, the game’s original release on the DS features hands-down one of the most creative uses of the system’s hardware. If not, the overhaul for mobile devices and definitive edition for Switch are admirable in their own way. Either way, The World Ends With You will add a unique, modern flair to your JRPGJuly repertoire.
Pokémon: Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon
The Vibe: A hiking tour of tropical islands.
Availability: 3DS eShop
I would be going off-brand not to bring a Pokémon title into this list, and the series’ last hurrah on fully-portable consoles fits the bill perfectly. A laid-back adventure set in a family-friendly take on fantasy-Hawaii? It almost feels wrong to play this game outside of summer.
The Sun & Moon series may hold your hand quite a bit, but honestly, few of us go on vacation to endure hardships. We go to bask in the scenery, maybe take a few curated tours of the surrounding area and its wildlife, and find some local spots to take a breather. Even the NPCs in this game seem even cheerier than Pokémon’s usual oddly-friendly population, more at peace with the series’ ever-endearing wildlife than in any other entry. It’s a remarkably easygoing chapter in the ever-turning Pokémon machine, and handily the one best-suited to JRPGJuly.
BONUS ROUND: Magical Vacation
Recommended for: A picturesque road trip with friends.
Availability: Gameboy Advance
I’m cheating a bit on this last one, given that Magical Adventure never released outside of Japan. But I discovered this charming GBA darling around the start of the month, and I simply must draw everyone’s attention to it.
There’s a lot of love put into Magical Vacation – that much is apparent at first glance from the lavish attention to pixel-art detail. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the official Nintendo site for the game still lives on two decades later! Even without playing it, doing a mini-dive on this game makes for a blast of secondhand nostalgia. It feels like the platonic ideal of what we remember those 16-bit JRPGs to be, featuring the platonic ideal of a schoolyard friend group going to the platonic ideal of a beachfront summer camp – and then taking all those feelings on a romp through the wilderness.
It may be hard to get your hands on, but bearing a robust fan-translation and the pedigree of two Mana-series directors at the helm, Magical Vacation is a pocket pick to make your JRPGJuly really special.
What games are you playing for JRPGJuly? Be sure to let us know in the comments! Then share them on social media with the #JRPGJuly tag – you’ll be in good company!