It may sound strange to some that the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) genre is so strongly defined by its country of origin, Japan. When we talk about JRPGs, we normally refer to the styles or trends that are commonly used in Japan for their games, be it their graphical style, aesthetic, game design, or music.
Out of these different elements, JRPG music is an interesting subject because JRPG music is rarely traditionally Japanese. Classic Japanese musical styles aren’t necessarily lost, but most developers go for broader styles and genres, plucking a little bit of something from different cultures across the world.
Despite the openness in embracing new styles, there remains one important thread that keeps a JRPG distinct from, say, a western RPG. Whereas western games prefer atmospheric music that blend into the background, JRPG music is typically differentiated by having identifiable melodies. If you aren’t noticing what the music sounds like, then something’s wrong.
This list explores a vast pantheon of relaxing JRPG music and picking some of the best and memorable ones from the lat. Think of the melodies you hear whenever you enter a new town, or whenever a crucial event occurs.
These are the tunes that you’ll have listened for hours, and then can’t help but hum to while going about with your daily life.
#30. Final Fantasy XV – Crystalline Chill
Final Fantasy XV‘s “Crystalline Chill” is, as you might expect, a chill take on the series’ classic Prelude theme. All the familiar beats you love are here, complemented by a slow and steady percussion that soothes you as you browse the in-game menus.
Final Fantasy’s decades-long history has spawned many iterations of Prelude, and these often share an epic scale due to the series’ fantastical nature. Yet FFXV’s version stands out, boasting a relaxed and unworried mood that contests with series tradition yet also remains perfectly in its element.
#29. NieR – Song of the Ancients
Whether you played NieR: RepliCant or NieR: Gestalt, the “Song of the Ancients“ is a sombre piece that expands on the game’s surreal world. Sung in an incomprehensible, ancient language, you’ll sometimes hear the characters Devola and Popola belt to its tune in the village where the titular Nier lives.
There are many ways to read into the meaning of such a vague song, but what’s important is how the song beautifully sets the tone for a game like NieR, which is equal parts dark as it is hopeful.
Perhaps the most relaxing version of this song appears as part of a unique quest, which ends with Devola and Popola singing a jazz-like version of the song in a tavern.
#28. Persona 5 – The Days When My Mother Was There
Persona 5 is undoubtedly, in many eyes, stylish and versatile. Its innovative and modern take on a game’s soundtrack has made the title a standout in not just JRPGs, but also games in general.
“The Days When My Mother Was There” exemplifies that ethos further. The tune plays in an Egyptian-inspired dungeon with mellow acid jazz-like elements. The repeating synths grab the listener while a soulful guitar lead hammers in the emotional context that the dungeon and its story represents.
#27. Bravely Default – Land of Immortality
A civilization that’s frozen in time at the edge of nowhere can be a romantic idea to think about. Such the town of Eternia in Bravely Default, a place that is also home to one of the game’s protagonists, Edea Lee.
Its snow-covered lands and perpetual whiteness lend to the ideas of loneliness and melancholy that you hear in the music track, “Land of the Immortality”. However, notice that the music escalates in intensity as the flute becomes heard, as though also acknowledging the town’s ability to thrive in spite of its harshly cold environment.
#26. Dragon Quest VIII – “Strange World ~ Marching Through the Fields”
Dragon Quest VIII’s “Strange World ~ Marching Through the Fields” begins with a sequence that may sound like something straight out of Julie Andrews’ “Sound of Music”. Yet this shouldn’t be surprising when you consider the age of its composer, Koichi Sugiyama.
The classical symphony begins lazily, yet steadily climbs from naive wonder into that of a grand adventure. It’s a fantastic piece and well-suited reflective journey for the players exploring this game’s vast world map as the chosen Hero.
#25. Shadow Hearts: Covenant – “Town of Twilight”
“Town of Twilight” showcases Yasunori Mitsuda’s own take on music with a European sound. The guitar strings on display aren’t overly complex, nor are they loud and intrusive. The mellow bass and acoustics linger and then lead into the uplifting sequence of an accordion.
When combined together, the music doesn’t sound at all off from the buskers you’d hear along the streets of Paris or somesuch. This is indeed an atmospheric track that is very appropriate for a game like Shadow Hearts: Covenant, which takes place in an alternate world version of Europe.
#24. Final Fantasy VI – “Aria di Mezzo Carattere”
“Aria di Mezzo Carattere“ plays during Celes’ solo in the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI. It’s an iconic segment in the game for its surprisingly dramatic depiction of an opera performance, portrayed through the SNES’s limited 16-bit graphics and MIDI sound.
If you ever wondered how an unreal voice might bring players to tears, here’s what it sounds like. Just make sure to have the lyrics on hand for the full effect.
#23. Fire Emblem Awakening – “Conquest (Calm)”
One of the biggest innovations in Fire Emblem’s music design involved map-to-battle music transitions, which were first introduced in Fire Emblem Awakening. From the modest list of songs that do this, Conquest (Calm) remains a memorable one for its soothingÂ amidst the battlefield. Led by a flute humming softly to the Fire Emblem theme, it’s a comforting tune to listen to as you plan out your army’s movements, which can then switch seamlessly to a more amped up version once the armies start clashing.
#22. NieR: Automata – “City Ruins”
Many games contain soundtracks that serve to draw out the atmosphere in their environments. NieR: Automata does no different with City Ruins, a haunting piece that plays as you roam the remains of an unnamed human city that has now been reclaimed by nature. Yet, this is not the only version of City Ruins that exists. Play close attention and you may notice that the song changes, but only occasionally as you progress in the story. Whether it’s ambient or upbeat, or with or without vocals, returning to this location presents as a constantly unique experience in an unconventional but otherwise remarkable way.
#21. Chrono Trigger – Wind Scene ~ Yearnings of the Wind
Every now and then, you’ll stumble upon a track that’s so striking that it immediately grabs you. Chrono Trigger’s overworld theme, Wind Scene ~ Yearnings of the Wind, adds bits of weight throughout its arrangement, but begins with gentle hooks that instantly rise into long and distinct melodies. The Middle Ages of 600AD may seem like an unconventional time, but at least its music is a great way to unwind.
#20. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Tarrey Town
One of the coolest options you can do in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild involves the construction of an entire town, but it also happens to be one of the longest quests in the game. Through slowly harvesting resources and recruiting townsfolk all over Hyrule for the From the Ground Up questline, you’ll build this town up from basically nothing. The theme of Tarrey Town is an uplifting piece that drives home this sense of accomplishment that few other games do.
#19. Kingdom Hearts III – Dearly Beloved
Much like how Final Fantasy has a tradition of including its Prelude theme in every mainline title, the Kingdom Hearts franchise is an empty husk without Dearly Beloved. Each new title has seen a different take on Yoko Shimomura’s iconic piece, but its Kingdom Hearts III rendition might be the one that tugs at heartstrings the most. Signifying the long-awaited continuation of a story that’s over a decade long, many grown adults found themselves treated to an orchestral flourish to celebrate the return of a dearly beloved childhood friend.
#18. Final Fantasy XIV – Twilight Over Thanalan
Some Final Fantasy fans may recall the very first version of Final Fantasy XIV ever released, which was so badly received that Square Enix had to rebuild the game from the ground up and relaunch it as FFXIV: A Realm Reborn. With the downfall of the original FFXIV, so too did a lot of its music by the legendary Nobuo Uematsu disappear into the void. Among the music that was lost is Twilight Over Thanalan, a dreamy night time piece with a symphonic majesty quite fit for the wealthy desert city of Ul’dah. Beyond its presence in a brief opening cutscene in A Realm Reborn, its an incredible track that is sadly not present anywhere else.Â
#17. Xenogears – Shevat ~ The Wind is Calling
Few ancient lost civilizations exist up in the clouds, but the city of Shevat in Xenogears is a unique one that bucks the trend. Our heroes arrive at this floating nation after climbing a grueling area known as the Tower of Babel.
The calm and tranquil nature of this music up on a floating island up in the skies certainly makes for a fulfilling reward, even if the place has long been deserted.
#16. Etrian Odyssey IV – Cerulean Woodlands
Roguelike adventures aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you might find a soft spot for them after listening to Cerulean Woodlands from Etrian Odyssey IV.
The game itself may involve dungeon crawling, but the music here conveys something closer to a casual evening stroll. It’s a fantastic way to ease players into their first dungeon, and probably even an even better way to relax, despite all the deadly monsters.
#15. Parasite Eve – Arise Within You
The battle theme of Parasite Eve, Arise Within You, has little emphasis on melody. Rather, composer Yoko Shimomura opted for a piano-led electronica that joins up with a steady bass riff.
The result is an entertaining track that also remains somewhat ambient. It’s a strange theme to have when you consider the game’s premise as a horror RPG set in New York City. However, it’s a fusion that works well, the game so memorable in the first place.
#14. Dark Souls – Firelink Shrine
Dark Souls is one of the most influential games of its generation. Besides its intricate level designs and an engrossing take on dark fantasy, the title’s focus on hardcore gameplay elements became an endearing feature to many fans.
Within this desolate world of the undead, the “Firelink Shrine“ acts as a safe haven for players to escape the harrowing enemies that roam the lands. Yet this is just a brief moment of respite, and the music drives this feeling home.
You can breathe easy, but who knows what horrors await when you pick up your sword once more?
#13. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – Factory City of Zeiss
Towering high above the city streets is a massive orbal factory where everything from lighting fixtures to airships is mass-produced. Out of many of Trails in the Sky‘s town themes, “Factory City of Zeiss” stands out for its catchy and relaxing tunes.
Sure, you’re walking into an industrial-era city with lots of mechanical bits and bobs, but technological innovation has improved plenty of lives. Seeing as the residents of this town are also happy, perhaps progress isn’t so dangerous after all.
#12. Radiant Historia – Mechanical Kingdom
The hero Stocke first begins his journey in Radiant Historia as an officer of Alistel. Unlike most towns you start out in, this place boasts a distinct steampunk aura. Many of the city walls are built from steel and through technology, which can seem in direct contrast to the game’s eventual introduction of magical time travel.
Nevertheless, “Mechanical Kingdom” sets the right atmosphere for an epic journey through time and space. The subdued musical notes of the harp in particular hint at the presence of the divine, which Stocke’s adventure pivots around.
#11. Tales of Berseria – True Will
Tales of Berseria uses its protagonist Velvet’s theme as a prominent musical motif through various pieces in the game’s soundtrack. Her story is motivated by tragedy and a burning passion for revenge, but is also guided by her longing for family.
“True Will” plays at a pivotal moment in the story, in which the piano beats of her theme are instead replaced with soft chimes. While initially calm and innocent, the music grows in intensity, lead by distinct violins, eventually landing on a satisfying and emotional crescendo before falling back to its faint chimes.
#10. Xenosaga Episode III – Hepatica (KOS-MOS)
Being the final game in a trilogy, Xenosaga Episode III concludes much of it’s open plot threads, including a rivalry between the android KOS-MOS and her other half, T-elos. The final standoff between them is accompanied by Hepatica (KOS-MOS), a moving track that’s sung emotionally not unlike a religious hymn. This variation of KOS-MOS’s theme references the themes of Christianity present throughout the series. More precisely, the melody seems to refer to Mary Magdalene, who resides within KOS-MOS’s heart.
#9. The Last Story – Toberu mono
The theme of Calista, the protagonist and deuteragonist in The Last Story. A wistful melancholy by Nobuo Uematsu with lyrics written by the founder of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi himself.
The swelling vocals of “Toberu mono” gives off a sense of isolation, which perhaps fits, as Calista yearns to travel the world and see its sights despite her sheltered noble life. It is perhaps one of Uematsu’s strongest works, despite being relatively unheard of compared to his Final Fantasy compositions.
#8. Chrono Cross – Radical Dreamers ~Unstolen Jewel~
Not too many people know of the sequel to Chrono Trigger called Radical Dreamers, which was a small text-based adventure that only released in Japan. Its premise became an inspiration for the eventual Chrono Cross, which would then cleverly be referred to in the ending theme, called “Radical Dreamers ~Unstolen Jewel~”.
A serene melody that finds strength in simplicity. The song carries itself using nothing more than the tune of a classical guitar as the singer wishes a prayer to a distant loved one across the abyss of time.
#7. Suikoden 2 – Moonlit Night
The ambience of “Moonlit Night” in Suikoden 2 seems to say that it’s okay to leave your worries behind and begin life anew. It’s a carefree track that’s carried by its substantial use of harmonicas to convey the sense of freedom.
Ironically, the track is actually played during one scene in a prison cell. Here, your character Riou has a heart-to-heart with his childhood friend Jowy, who fondly reminisce about their adventures together.
#6. Wild Arms 5 – A Vast Plain Under the Sky
Despite being a game series from Japan, the Wild Arms games have crafted an identity for scores that are inspired by western sound. The overworld theme to Wild Arms 5 is certainly no different.
“A Vast Plain Under The Sky” makes use of a cheerful trumpet melody, helped by a calming harmonica sound, as well as banjos as accompaniment. Exploring the world to the tune of something out of an American western might not be what you’d expect in a JRPG, but it’s most definitely a good time.
#5. Blue Reflection – Sayonara ~Kami Musubi~
A long-time composer to Gust’s Atelier games, Hayato Asano’s debut solo track for Blue Reflection is both ethereal as it is ambient. One track in particular, called “Sayonara -Kami Musubi-“, plays during the final boss of the game.
As one might guess from its intense piano-focused opening, it’s a boss track that’s also charged with emotion, signifying the protagonist Hinako’s preparation for a tearful farewell. Though our focus is on the first instance that the track plays, the song does, in fact, have three unique phases (it is for the final boss, after all).
#4. Grandia – “The Sandy Beach of Gumbo”
As the party embarks on a voyage across the ocean, two people sit together under a moonlit sky. Entranced by the sea’s beautiful expanse, the heroine Feena reveals her romantic feelings for the hero, Justin.
“The Sandy Beach of Gumbo” uses a combination of slow piano and drawn out violins to encapsulate this moment in time. A memorable track to an all too heartwarming scene that remains a classic for Grandia fans.
#3. Ar Tonelico: Melody of Elemia – “Song for Counting the Memories”
Though heavily synthesized, the beats in Ar Tonelico’s “Song for Counting the Memories“ prove to be charmingly nonchalant. Relaxation is the name of the game with this song, as the protagonist Lyner partakes in light-hearted conversations with the heroine Aurica, discussing things that share little consequence or gravitas to the story.
It’s also quite an encouraging song, as interacting with the in-game heroines also directly improves their abilities and equipment for the battles ahead.
#2. Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country – “Gormott”
Those that played through Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would remember “Gormott“ for the energetic kick it provides to the game’s first couple hours of exploration. As great as that track may be, the game’s expansion, Torna ~ the Golden Country, provides a pleasant surprise in the form of a remix of the original theme.
The newly jazz-infused “Gormott“ theme is certainly intriguing, what with its slightly faster tempo and relatively mild intensity. Gone is the orchestral scale of the original piece, instead replaced by an impressive saxophone solo.
And really, who doesn’t love saxophones?
#1. Drakengard 3 – “This Silence is Mine”
Properly ending this segment is a track that also, quite fittingly, comes from an ending. Drakengard 3’s This Silence is Mine borrows the voice of Chihiro Onitsuka, who has long possessed a raspy tone due to a throat surgery she had years prior. This coarseness in her voice actually lends well to the song, which is elegantly arranged yet also deeply haunting.
There’s a sheer rawness in her vocals as she delivers the anguish, frustration, and conviction present in the song’s lyrics against its arrangement of lofty instruments. Somehow, this blend of perfection and imperfection sits right at home with a game that, while mediocre on the surface, has earned itself a dedicated cult following.