Editor's Note: J + RPG

J + RPG

In this week's Editor's Note, John Funk explores the foundations of his relationship with the JRPG, and the state of that relationship in today's less-Final Fantasy-friendly industry.

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FFVII was also the game that hooked me in JRPGs (it was in fact the first one that I owned). I saw them before and was interested in them (I think it was FFVIII that I saw) but never really grabbed my attention. It wasn't till i started playing FFVII and got hooked in the story that I became really interested. Even though I am not a die hard JRPG player I still played a few of them (mainly FF series games). Even though the gameplay seemed cartoonish, the thing that got me really hooked in the game was the story, it was so dramatic towards the end and took so many unexpected turns that when you think of how you started the game its hard to imagine all that happened, the cinematic were also pretty awesome also. Sadly I also have stopped playing JRPGs (or don't play them as much), it might be because many of the games take the same turns and follow similar story lines, but a reason that I found was that there wasn't enough time to do it all mainly because of all the things that you could do. I haven't beaten FF VII (sadly to say) because I was worried that I missed some content earlier in the game (like a character, summon, gear or part of the plot that can be missed) and even thought of restarting a few times, and I dont even want to get started with the Star Ocean game (if you played it even a little you have an idea of what im talking about). I think I talked enough for now, but to end it, yea I agree that it seems JRPGs seem to be slowly fading out for whatever reason. Good topic.

As a whole, the JRPG genre hasn't been that great. Unless you look at Atlus. Or Nippon Ichi. Or the defunct companies of Square and Enix. Really, it seems to be a collectively shared perception that the JRPG went downhill after FFX, and there's a really obvious reason for that. It feels like the SE merger ruined the entire genre, more than passed time or technology.

..you forgot Resonance of Fate. I've never been a die hard jrpg fan, but I've played FF7 and 8, Xenogears, and Chrono Trigger.. because those games had.. have.. serious story-telling, while other games made here at the same time had a "1-b" label somewhere and was considered meaningful. Or the head of a rabbit on a spike was said to be deep. I mean, seriously, have you taken a look at how bad the writing is in Doom and Quake?

Anyway. But Resonance of Fate takes the pacing from a JRPG game, but made the mechanics of it more edible and free-flowing. Anyone who has any sort of relationship to jrpgs should play that game, imo.

I must also mention that in America, Final Fantasy continues to be ever so popular while Dragon Quest series has hardly any attention at all. While I like Final Fantasy I, IV and VI, Dragon Quest is a different from Final Fantasy and actually stick to their old roots of turn based combat. Final Fantasy continues to make changes like Active Time Battle (ATB) in FFIV, Sphere Grid in X, and the dreaded crystarium system as well as paradiam shift in XIII.

Has it gone downhill? Quite a bit. Unlikeable characters, bad storyline, unusual character and most JRPGs take itself very seriously designed almost make it a stereotype for JRPGs.

Unfortunately, Square Enix has a massive stranglehold of JRPG market and seeing why people hate JRPGs as a typical stereotype.

I have to say that it seems like the overall quality of the games has gone down hill. I started off with FF3/6 and fell for the genre quickly, heck I still play the old ones every so often, and am currently playing Chrono Trigger again. The new games though, including FF13, just feel lazy. They try and beat you over the head with the cinematics and the average creature encounters are now the length of an old boss fight. Remember how you used to beat your average encounter in under 30 seconds halfway through the game instead of 10 minutes, or how you used to get into the actual gameplay in about 5-10 minutes instead of watching the opening and tutorials for the first three hours like Star Ocean.

Okay, I'm going to stop ranting and go somewhere else now...

I think "Aerith Dies" is now pretty much on the level of "Luke's Father is Vader" or "Soylent Green is People". At least within the gaming community, outside or gamers I don't think anyone cares. But what I mean is that it's now essentially gaming lore and no longer spoilerific.

I'm not so sure the problem is with the genre. I think it's a great genre for telling a story, but I think it needs to evolve and Squeenix just doesn't have the kind of talented people that it used to have that can take it in the right direction. I love FFVII, but JRPG designers need to bring the model forward from that game. It was a masterpiece, but you're not going to make the lightning strike twice, or indeed six more times...Nintendo gets away with this constantly, cranking out the same game because Mario and Zelda fans don't want anything more out of their games then rehashes of SM64 and OoT. JRPG fans are obviously more finicky then that.

Doom and Gloom not necessary, just a need for some fresh ideas.

Persona 4, eh? Nifty. I'mna check that out.

For me, JRPG purchase has gone down through lack of awareness. The last JRPG I bought was 'Infinite Undiscovery' after laughing my head off at Unskippable's take of it. Other than that, I never see any advertisements or hear any buzz (excluding FF of course).

I was surprised to find it's.. actually really good! (To me, at least) There's a lot about it I love, from characters to game mechanics to the world as a whole. I keep putting off playing it more because I want to savour it over the Summer break.

nipsen:

Anyway. But Resonance of Fate takes the pacing from a JRPG game, but made the mechanics of it more edible and free-flowing. Anyone who has any sort of relationship to jrpgs should play that game, imo.

Oh, thanks for reminding me! I'd forgotten about that baby!

I'm old, so I started playing (J)RPGs with 2 games for the Sega Master System (the NES-rival that no one in the US knows): Ys The Vanished Omens, and Phantasy Star. Ys had very wonky gameplay but it was incredibly atmospheric.

Phantasy Star, though, was very very good. It was better than Final Fantasy 1, which came out at about the same time in Japan (both about 1 year after the first Dragon Quest, I think), and better than Dragon Quest itself. It is a lost masterpiece of the genre.

By the way, years before Final Fantasy VII, Phantasy Star II (on the Sega Genesis) already did the "kill a protagonist" stuff. Not to mention the absolutely epic ending of the same game.

Personally i think a core problem with JRPG is it's definition. It's really come to mean a very specific type of game and one which i can only think of a handful of games (actually mainly made by atlus) which have been even bareable in the last 10 years.

I blame you, the JRPG community/ fans. Many have moved away from the genre almost entirely (like me) becuase they feel it simply fails to keep up with how games have developed and a lot of that has been fostered by a very dissconnected, closed off and sometimes delusional community.

Scrumpmonkey:
Personally i think a core problem with JRPG is it's definition. It's really come to mean a very specific type of game and one which i can only think of a handful of games (actually mainly made by atlus) which have been even bareable in the last 10 years.

I blame you, the JRPG community/ fans. Many have moved away from the genre almost entirely (like me) becuase they feel it simply fails to keep up with how games have developed and a lot of that has been fostered by a very dissconnected, closed off and sometimes delusional community.

Wow, how ignorant. I've not seen anything to support such claims. If anything I think the majority of JRPG fans would love to see something new and interesting out of the genre. Of course one has to keep in mind that there's a quite ignorant and balligerant view of JRPGs that permeates this community, and it doesn't take a great deal of thought to figure out where it came from.

*cough*Yahtzee*cough*

My first RPG was FF4 (as ff2 on the SNES) and I've played the shit out of that game. Through the SNES era I loved RPG's such as Chrono Trigger and secret of mana. even as Nintendo moved on I was still enjoying those games, I finally got Final Fantasy 6, and my one of my first uses of an emulator was to play translated versions of Final Fantasy 5 and Tails of Phantasia which were not available in the US at that point. But I was a Nintendo kid and while I loved square I also loved Mario and Link and when Square cut ties with Nintendo and moved on to Sony I felt betrayed. My friend also had the PC versions of FF7 and FF8 so I played through chunks of them with him, and he latter got a playstation and got FF9 and Xenogears but other than trying to play through his copy of FF9 on a broken second hand PlayStation that I had acquired I had little direct experience with that era of games, although I wish I had more because some of those games were great.

But now most new JRPGs don't interest me much and I think it is largely because of that "J" in the name. When I was growing up their was no concept of a JRPG. I didn't really think about where games came from. Their was nothing that felt particularly Japanese about Mario, or Mega Man, or in this case Final Fantasy. To me a game like final fantasy was what an RPG was, and their was no-need for it to be put into a sub-category. And, I think square felt the same way, they were making the games that they were making. But, more recently I feel Japanese makers of RPG's have been infusing them with an oppressive amount of "Animeness;" filling the games with common tropes from Pop anime, and to me it just feels weird and artificial. I even like anime, I've watched large amounts of Cowboy Bebop, Eva, Black Lagoon, Ghost in the Shell, and others. But what I don't like are when character types that would make sense in a drama about a bunch of highschool students are put into a medieval fantasy epic.

I don't know, to be honest, outside of Atlus and Nintendo, there hasn't been many JRPG, and really, Japanese developers in general that manage to grab my interest. And maybe that's what the problem is. Maybe the JRPG community is growing tired of the same old song and dance and want something new. And since the community outside of that fanbase was never interested to begin with, maybe that's why the JRPG is falling out of favour. That's not to say there are no JRPGs that try anything new, one of my favourite games for the PS2 was from Atlus, Steambot Chronicles, though whether or not it would be considered a JRPG I don't know.

This note is exactly me. I worshipped at the feet of ffvii. I actually took the time to figure out both the story and the weapon system in Vagrant Story. I got maybe halfway through ffxii. I haven't beaten the tutorial section of ffxiii.

There have been some fair jrpgish games lately - Lost Odyssey, Infinite Undiscovery etc. But nothing epic and grand and great...

I find JRPGs made in the last 10 years to be lacking in any sense of brevity.

I can pick up and beat FF6, 7 or (help me God for admitting this) 9 without having to grind once (as long as you know what you're doing of course). The games let you set your own pace and that helps re-playability considerably.

Squeenix pours mountains of empty text into its games, while just about all of them force a form of grind onto you (ironically, the ones that reduced the overt exp grind were the first to die. Fare thee well Suikoden and your direct-level system).

I feel like the JRPG genre is too closely associated with Final Fantasy. Most of the people I've talked to in real life who say they don't like JRPGs have not played any non-Square games in the genre other than Pokemon. I also went through that cycle of playing and loving every Square game. I loved the SNES and PS1 titles, but from FFX onward I fell out of love with Final Fantasy. For a short while, I started to think I disliked JRPGs and delved into WoW for a long time. After quitting WoW, I had all this time to play other games without knowing what to do with it. A friend recommended Tales of the Abyss, and I gave it a try. I was kind of unsure for the first part of the game, then found myself hooked on it. I realized there was a whole world of good JRPGs outside Square Enix that I'd been missing, and started delving into more franchises I hadn't been very aware of: Mario RPGs, Fire Emblem, Mother, Suikoden, Shin Megami Tensei, and others. There's a boatload of games out there that aren't overloaded with cliches and have great systems. Nowadays, I don't feel like the genre has stagnated at all, though I wouldn't argue with anyone who says that Square Enix has.

Am I an outcast if I say Final Fantasy VIII was my first JPRG? My brother and I watched that opening cutscene over and over when we were younger. It's still my favorite. I think a problem with, well Final Fantasy, is that it's lost its focus. It needs to go back to being, like another article this week said, about the characters. Focus on making interesting characters that we care about, then build the game around them. That was why I liked VII, VIII, X, X-2 (Yes, I listed X-2), and to a smaller extent, IX.
XII was boring. No character development. No wonder you loaned it to a friend and never gave it back. :-)

John Funk:
snipped

I don't think we grew out of them, we just grew used to the same story and characters being rehashed over and over again.

008Zulu:
I don't think we grew out of them, we just grew used to the same story and characters being rehashed over and over again.

So how come we don't feel the same way about the FPS? Especially WW2 FPS? I mean, have the Nazis ever won? It's not like the story and characters ever change in that regard (though Saboteur at least tried, bless its little misguided Scottish accent's heart).

I love Bioshock. LOVE it. (Never played System Shock 2, so don't bring it up!) Tried Bioshock 2 and went, 'Meh, same old same old'.

Now, I bought Demon's Souls and Uncharted 2 the same day. Played a couple hours of Uncharted 2, got bored. Played Demon's Souls and only stopped when my husband reminded me of what day it was.

Story and characters are important as an enhancing factor, but rarely have I played a game solely due to the story. Been attracted by, yes. Been driven away by, yes. But only because of the story? No.

It was the gameplay, I think, that got repetitive, not the story and characters. However, I also like Lost Odyssey and Magna Carta, and of course, YMMV.

tklivory:

008Zulu:
I don't think we grew out of them, we just grew used to the same story and characters being rehashed over and over again.

So how come we don't feel the same way about the FPS? Especially WW2 FPS? I mean, have the Nazis ever won? It's not like the story and characters ever change in that regard (though Saboteur at least tried, bless its little misguided Scottish accent's heart).

I love Bioshock. LOVE it. (Never played System Shock 2, so don't bring it up!) Tried Bioshock 2 and went, 'Meh, same old same old'.

Now, I bought Demon's Souls and Uncharted 2 the same day. Played a couple hours of Uncharted 2, got bored. Played Demon's Souls and only stopped when my husband reminded me of what day it was.

Story and characters are important as an enhancing factor, but rarely have I played a game solely due to the story. Been attracted by, yes. Been driven away by, yes. But only because of the story? No.

It was the gameplay, I think, that got repetitive, not the story and characters. However, I also like Lost Odyssey and Magna Carta, and of course, YMMV.

I happen to feel exactly the same way about WW2 shooters as I do JRPGS. To be clear I don't hate them, I'm just used to them being pretty much all the same. I still think they are fun to play. I prefer JRPGS to most of the western ones, the storys are usually deeper and more compelling plus the art direction is more pleasing. Compare the story and Art Direction of say Lost Odyssey to Dragon Age (bright and colourful as to dark and brown).

Y...Y...You...You bastards...

You just had to put that up there didn't you?

Didn't you!?

Oh Alice... Oh Yuri... Oh god I want to play the game again now.

Good article John. I think you've summed up most of my feelings towards the (J)RPG. I experienced FFVII later in my gaming years, having ploughed through many NES/SNES RPGs that I could muster here in Australia, but ever since hmm maybe FFX and Persona 3/4, my interest in RPGs has waned. When Sony announced the PS3, I was looking forward to the next generation of PS2 RPGs (Suikoden, Dark Cloud, FF, Disgaea, Star Ocean etc.) that any of these now do not interest me in their next release (ok except for Suikoden). But since they have either become non-existent or imo, boring, I don't care for the PS3.

I still like turn based RPGs. I still like that level of strategy with the different roles and abilities. I don't like cliched stories and cliched characters. I don't want teenagers anymore, I want adults. I want characters like Shepard from Mass Effect, or Auron from FFX.

I once was an RPG collector. But that changed about 5 years ago when I lost interest in what was released back then. Today hasn't changed.

My first JRPG was Legend of the Seven Stars on the SNES and the first one I sought out after that was FFX. I don't know what the hell happened to everyone else in the intervening years, or what the hell would make you think FF VII was such an excellent game in the first place considering how poorly translated and art designed it was, but I still love JRPGs and fit a ton of modern and classic ones into my gaming today along with the WRPGs, FPSes, and Platformers.

I've never understood this "outgrowing JRPGs" thing I keep hearing... I am 22 right now and JRPGs have been by far my favourite genre since I was 12. The games were amazing then and the games are amazing now.

And I also dont understand why people make such a huge deal about just the storyline, even if I were to accept that all these "cliches" were true (and I havnt really noticed any of them) then they would still bare no-to-little impact on how good the "games" are... These are GAMES not just stories

Velocity Eleven:
And I also dont understand why people make such a huge deal about just the storyline, even if I were to accept that all these "cliches" were true (and I havnt really noticed any of them) then they would still bare no-to-little impact on how good the "games" are... These are GAMES not just stories

Take note; if item A is exactly the same as item B, then there's no real reason to go out and buy item B.

JRPGs are driven mainly by story. A pre-planned story, where you're just along for the ride. If these stories can be summed up each time by "it's like game X", then well, you've really got nothing going for the game.

Mind, I have nothing against JRPGs. I have nothing against RPGs in general. My RPG resume can be summed as thus;
FFX - drifted off before finishing
Dragon Age
Chrono Trigger - drifted off somewhere near hour 3.

What I'm not overly impressed about are the people complaining about the linearity of JRPG games. They've not played a great variety of JRPGs have they?

And it's not as if WRPGs are any better. Sure, there's the exception that comes out of Bioware, but even then. Outside of Mass Effect, the endings of Dragon Age sums itself up to... what? 4-5 different endings which have the exact same outcome, each except one forcing a heroic tragedy with the rest just being different clothes worn by your character? Mind you, it's at least a step up from way way long ago in Fable 1, where all your actions throughout the game were all entirely meaningless to the bulk of the story and where your split ending was decided entirely on a singular choice at the very end which then depicts your character as the saintliest of saints, or the most demonic of demons.

Plus, some of the modern day 'evolutions, revolutions and brand new gameplay and storytelling mechanics'... Were present in the past if you dare look long enough at the lenghty history of WRPGs.

If people are stating that JRPGs are starting to stagnate. I would argue that WRPGs are also starting to stagnate, it's just that with all the focus on the exception, everyone seems to forget the rest of the many games within the genre.

(Seriously. There's how many take on the idea of Dungeon and Dragon-esque fantasy WRPG where you alone or with a small band of heroes go to save the world now?)

Dooly95:

Velocity Eleven:
And I also dont understand why people make such a huge deal about just the storyline, even if I were to accept that all these "cliches" were true (and I havnt really noticed any of them) then they would still bare no-to-little impact on how good the "games" are... These are GAMES not just stories

Take note; if item A is exactly the same as item B, then there's no real reason to go out and buy item B.

JRPGs are driven mainly by story. A pre-planned story, where you're just along for the ride. If these stories can be summed up each time by "it's like game X", then well, you've really got nothing going for the game.

well "driven by story" is something that I've never witnessed, despite me playing many JRPGs, and as for "game A is like game B", cant say I've played 2 JRPGs that are all that similar. That's one thing I love about JRPGs, they all have the epicness that comes with the leveling-up and battle mechanics yet they are all very unique in the way they execute it

I would point out that the SNES was the golden age of JRPGs. A huge list of JRPGs were actually entertaining like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV and VI, Super Mario RPG, Earthbound and also Breath of Fire were my favorites on the SNES.

At the PlayStation era, JRPGs focused more to be cinematic. It was a big deal back then. It really was. See why Final Fantasy VII is beyond popular, spawning more spinoffs than any other Final Fantasy game made.

Testsubject909:
Outside of Mass Effect, the endings of Dragon Age sums itself up to... what? 4-5 different endings which have the exact same outcome, each except one forcing a heroic tragedy with the rest just being different clothes worn by your character?

I take it you never played Dragon Age: Origins? Or you are confusing it with a different game?

Almost every decision you make in the game have consequences; side with the wrong king and you doom the dwarven kingdom to slowly collapse. Support the wrong character and they will be doing even worse. As far as your own destiny... you can become king, you can become queen, you can sacrifice yourself or you can just ride off into the sunset, or stay as an advisor.

Besides, you can import your saved game and have your decisions impact DA 2.

Anyway... I have never enjoyed the few JRPGs I have played because they have two flaws. One, they are too japanese, meaning the look and cultural outlook, and I get allergic attacks from the japanese art style among other things. The other reason is that the story is too locked in, so it is not worth playing more than once; and no game you only play once is worth $60+. $6 yes, but not $60.

I'd disagree about the Kingdom Hearts II comment. I really loved the ending of it. I thought it was really appropriate and if you'd played the "in-between" games, you'd understand it better. Unfortunately, all the "in-between" games came after the actual second installment. I suppose that is the problem. There were too many narrative problems in the story for when it came out. Too many unanswered questions.

That aside, the actual gameplay was really quite brilliant and I really enjoyed it. It was a solid, playable game that I could really enjoy. I was at my local EB Games at nine in the morning the day it came out and I spent all day playing it. I saved the final boss fight for the following day, because I really enjoyed it.

As a genre, I think JRPGs are great. They appeal to me and they are the style of game that I prefer to play. Not necessarily for character archetypes, but because the ones that I've played usually keep me interested with their game mechanics and level design.

 

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