The State of Things: The JRPG

 

The JRPG will always hold a special place in my heart and is probably my favourite genre of video game.  If I were to conduct a Top 10 video games of all time list I’m pretty sure that it will consist of mostly JRPGs.  Which is why it pains me to see the state of the JRPG in this day and age.  This is a genre that features such games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire, Suikoden, Pokémon, The Tales Series, Mana Series, Fire Emblem, I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to carry on, the list is virtually endless.  However, there is one thing you’ll notice about them games is that most of them are either M.I.A or in a bit of a stale patch.  So, let’s go on a journey and see what went wrong and how we can fix it, this is a genre that features arguably  the original PlayStation’s most important release, the game that put it on the map in the first place; Final Fantasy VII… That’s not to say FF VII is the best, but mostly the one people played first or the one that ‘GOT THEM’ into JRPGs.

I realise Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls are technically JRPGs as well but that’s not the style of gameplay I mean, but I still count them… As a technicality.

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The Cast of Chrono Trigger. (From left to right; Frog, Ayla, Lucca, Robo, Marle and Crono)

 

Golden Age of the JRPG 

There is a bit of a debate as to when the Golden Age of the JRPG actually was some believe it to be the SNES era of video games and other tend to choose the PlayStation era, personally I would have to vote for the SNES era but the PlayStation era is when I started to take video gaming as a serious hobby and started to realise this was a form of entertainment which I loved very much.

There were some JRPGs on the NES but it wasn’t until the SNES when the genre started to shine with with stellar hits like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.  All them games developed by Square who back then were at the top of their game.

These games were brilliant and like nothing we’d ever seen before, they featured characters who in the first time in video games you could relate to.  The music featured in these games were orchestrated beautifully, especially considering the times and the composers were restricted with the cartridges it’s even more impressive, I’m not saying video game music was rubbish before these kinds of games but in my opinion these games delivered music in a way your traditional games at the time weren’t capable of doing.  The song The Decisive Battle from Final Fantasy VI should wet your whistle (Link below).

 

 

Final_Fantasy_1_NES_Battle
Battle Scene from the original Final Fantasy on the NES.

The way we played these games was so different and out there, again, there was nothing wrong with the 2D side scrollers at the time, I simply don’t trust anybody’s opinion who says they don’t like Super Mario Bros. but that’s not important at the minute.  The tun based battle system used in the majority of JRPGs for years, even after the Golden Age is very popular amongst die hard fans, there was a certain element of tactics the player had to use and you had to think of the enemies weaknesses and strengths, you had to outsmart them in ways hat weren’t possible in other genres, even if it was using a potion on an ‘undead’ enemy.

The JRPG was the first genre of game to explore character development throughout the games, not to say that other genres did but that was more in the first 5 minutes and last 5 minutes of a game or it was explore in the manual (Captain Falcon in F-Zero springs to mind).  Characters like Kefka from Final Fantasy VI and Lucca from Chrono Trigger are prime examples of a character (for better or for worse) developing on screen before our very eyes and in their respected games, kick off events or the main story arch.

When Sony released the PlayStation in the mid 90’s the first game to get people interested in the system was Final Fantasy VII, this is the game that arguably made the PlayStation

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Battle from Suikoden II.

what it is today and for good reason as well, it’s a fantastic game.  However this game did cause a bit of controversy because it was the first Final Fantasy game to not be released on a Nintendo platform, but this what about the time Nintendo started making weird decisions (I’ll talk about that another time) and believe me there is NO WAY that game was running on the Nintendo 64 console.  There is a remake due on PS4 soon which has DISASTER written all over it, but we’ll get to that later.  There was a trilogy of Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII and IX) on the original PlayStation which did really well, Konami got in on the act of JRPGs by releasing the first of the Suikoden series on the system.  Wild Arms, Grandia, Xenogears and Legend of Dragoon were also released on this system and they all added something unique in the way we played JRPGs whether it be a spin on the battle system, story telling or character development.  It really was a great to be alive if you loved this genre as much as I did, not to mention a little game called Pokémon was released on the Gameboy which was the first biggest craze I have ever seen in my life, although some believe the franchise is getting a bit stale now, the core gameplay has barely changed and that is one of it’s selling points to new and old fans alike.

 

The Rise of The Western RPG & The Fall of The JRPG

Tales_of_Symphonia_battle
A Battle in Tales of Symphonia for the Nintendo Gamecube.

After the PlayStation’s dominance for the JRPG and towards the end of the console life cycle, Sony released the PlayStation 2, which you don’t need me to tell you dominated the market, the console was rivalled by Nintendo’s Gamecube and Microsoft’s XBOX.  This generation of consoles had some amazing JRPGs on it but, being spoilt by the ‘Golden Age’ of JRPGs in my opinion the vast majority fell flat, I’ve spoken most about the PlayStation since it’s release but the Nintendo Gamecube had hits like Tales of Symphonia and Baten Kaitos and the PS2 had Final Fantasy X (which was the first Final Fantasy to get a direct sequel with X-2), a few Shin Megami Tensei games, some more Suikoden’s but nothing really stood out on the PS2 in my opinion.

 

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on PC.

The problem for the JRPG as we knew it was that western companies like BioWare started
to really get into form by making games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate which were really popular, I could make lists of all the western RPGs all day but I’ll just stick to really popular ones.  I don’t really know why the JRPG is in a mess but I bet it has something to do with the rise in popularity of the western RPG, I believe that Japanese game developers started to get a bit self conscious as their market share shrunk and they were genuinely concerned about what was going to happen, they probably had meetings and decided to make their games more ‘western’ and what they didn’t realise at the time that was a huge mistake.  The developers started making weird decisions like make Final Fantasy XI and ONLINE only game, which just sounds preposterous when you think about it, why would any fan of that serious want that? They did the same with Dragon Quest X back in 2012, for no reason.  The genre managed to get a bit more arcadey as well, with the release of Kingdom Hearts and Dark Cloud, both games play similarly to Zelda.

It was when games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and the Mass Effect trilogy started to come out on the next iteration of consoles (PS3, Xbox 360) that the JRPG was in trouble, even a JRPG from the creators of Chrono Trigger on Xbox 360 called Blue Dragon was not enough, that game failed to live up to expectation.  There were even less quality JRPGs on the XBOX 360 and PS3, the only ones that are even worth mentioning are Ni No Kuni, the Persona series and Tales of Xillia.  Yes, there was Final Fantasy XIII which spawned a trilogy and I honestly have no idea why, that game was the antithesis of what I expect out of a JRPG, dull characters, linear gameplay (but don’t worry, the game opens up after 30 hours), a battle system that was somewhere between confusing and utter chaos, I did not like this one and I am in shock that it got two sequels.

Current JRPGs

Where are we currently with the JRPG? Well, Final Fantasy XV, which was announced 10 years ago as Final Fantasy Versus XIII is just around the corner, at the time of writing a release date should be announced within a few weeks, Kingdom Hearts III.  Pokémon is still going with countless spin offs and we should be ready for the seventh gen soon, surely? The Tales series is still here with the most recent one Tales of Zestiria in my to play list alongside the Persona series which between the two of them seem to be the most relevant JRPGs in Japan today because I feel this two game series give the fans what they want, oh yea, and there is a Final Fantasy VII: REMAKE coming to PS4… I don’t know when, but knowing Square, it’ll be sometime in the next 10 years.

 

“We’ve seen everyone’s comments and reactions to the news that FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE will be a multi-part series and many have speculated correctly as to the reason why we have made this decision. If we were to try to fit everything from the original into one remake instalment, we would have to cut various parts and create a condensed version of FINAL FANTASY VII. We knew none of you would have wanted that.”

Yoshinoro Kitase, Final Fantasy VII: REMAKE Producer.

 

There are many reasons why the FF VII remake doesn’t sit right with me, first of all there’s that time Tetsuya Nomura found out he was directing the game when he first watched the reveal trailer at e3 when his name was under ‘Directed By’, also judging by the trailer we saw at PSX in December 2015, they have completely overhauled the battle system, for no reason, I know they can’t keep it exactly the same, because nowadays everybody seems to have the attention span of a newt, they could of tried to just make it more ‘flashy’ and I believe that would of been fine, the battle system was part of what made Final Fantasy VII what it was .  It’s being released episodically, yep, you read that right, Kitase, the game’s director said that if they were to put everything in from the original into one instalment they would have to ‘cut various parts and create a condensed version of the game’…..

NONSENSE.

So what Mr. Kitase is saying, is that Final Fantasy VII is so MASSIVE that there is no possible way that it could fit into one instalment.  Final Fantasy VII is a big game but it’s not that big, they are basically telling everybody that this game which is nearly 20 years old is bigger than a game they have been working on for 10 years (Final Fantasy XV).  I don’t buy this for a second, this goes back to before the PS4 came out and the developers had little to no faith in console gaming so they decided to create buckets of DLC, make more games episodic, Square are doing this with the new Hitman game as well but that is again, a conversation for another time, but this plan is back firing because console gaming is as popular as it’s ever been with the PS4 hitting 30 million units sold worldwide within 2 years.  We’ll just have to wait and see if the jury will be out on the Final Fantasy VII REMAKE, I’m not holding my breath, they seem to be outsourcing this game to the Kingdom Hearts III team and Cyberconnect2 (Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, Asura’s Wrath), not that there’s anything wrong with that it’s just fans around the world have been asking for a Final Fantasy VII remake for a long time and now one’s finally coming they are outsourcing it instead of keeping it inside.  That’s suicide if you ask me… But whatever, we’ll all buy it.

 

The best system right now for the JRPG is arguably the 3DS, with games like Fire Emblem and Bravely Default both selling more than one million copies each along with Pokémon still going strong, remakes of Dragon Quest VII and VIII coming to the 3DS it just seems like the place to be at the minute.

 

“On the other hand, there are games like the JRPG we made for the Japanese audience with the proper elements, Bravely Default, which ended up selling well all around the world.”
-Yosuke Matsuda, Square Enix CEO.

 

Speaking of Bravely Default, this game came out in 2013 with universal praise, with Square finally listening to its fans, the quote above just shows a complete lack of knowledge of their fandom, it’s not as if fans have been asking for a traditional class based, turn based JRPG for years and when one comes out they’re surprised it sells well…. I think this is part of the problem, no confidence in themselves.  Bravely Default has been better than any other JRPG Square has released for YEARS.

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A look at the Job System in Bravely Default for the Nintendo 3DS.

The Future of The JRPG

Fuck knows…

I mean, if companies can go back to the roots of the JRPG and get away from all this garbage they’re making, we might be all right.  It’s just I really believe the western RPG has ruined the JRPG and Japan has lost sight in what it’s doing and what it wants their games to be, it’s a case of monkey see, monkey do and I think it’s best if Japan stops trying to copy the west and make games their own way, and we’ll make games our own way.

But we’ll see, depends if Japan have the balls (I’m talking as a unit here, I realise that some do stick to the old JRPG formula).

WheelJack xoxo

 

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