There was a time when JRPG’s were as numerous as platformers. It was a time when people said “Only Japan make those RPG games” and so the world believed RPG’s were made only in Japan. Many gamers were introduced to JRPG through the remarkable Final Fantasy VII, arguably the greatest JRPG of all time. Final Fantasy VII told the remarkable tale of Cloud and his struggle to save the planet from Sephiroth. This game helped usher in an era of Japanese supremacy in the RPG market, and set the formula for many RPG’s to follow.
JRPG’s usually had a simple main character, turn based combat and a deep, complex yet fascinating storyline. They had a lot of side information that didn’t make sense until far later on in the game. The way these storylines were revealed also became a JRPG trademark. The main characters usually came from a rather normal background and had to overcome feelings of inadequacy in order to face the final boss; usually someone quite close to them. There is no doubt that some of the most beautiful stories told in gaming were JRPG’s. They prided themselves on their storylines and it certainly showed.
Turn based combat was an element that most western gamers were not use to in the beginning. A lot of people would just want to rush in and kill the enemies, which you can’t do in JRPG’s. Combat takes decision making and at times a little strategy. Another aspect of turn based combat that deterred a lot of the western audience was the random battles; not knowing where your enemies were. In the space of 10 steps you could fight 3 lots of enemies. This was perhaps JRPG’s Achilles heel for a lot of gamers. 40+ hours gameplay is appealing, a beautiful storyline help too, but waiting a lifetime to kill enemies didn’t. Progression in JRPG’s is slow, as is the combat. The turn based element is not everyone’s cup of tea; however those that persevered with it reaped the benefits by overcoming this arduous task. They were rewarded with many hours of gameplay and experiences unlike any other offered by other gaming genres.
A lot of this formula came about possibly due to the lack of hardware capabilities. Or maybe it was just the Japanese way of gaming. One thing we do know though is that JRPG’s all played very similar; it didn’t take too much to get into another. And some of the variations in combat were very well thought out. Legend Of Legaia offered, in my opinion, the most refreshing and fun combat I have ever experienced in a JRPG. If you are a JRPG buff and haven’t played Legend Of Legaia then you must play it. Even games like Grandia offered interesting takes on the combat aspect of JRPG’s.
Perhaps the one aspect of JRPG’s that was most appealing was the fact that you didn’t have to have brilliant graphics to enjoy them. Grandia is one of the most beautiful stories ever told, Suikoden is one of them most fun games ever made, Wild Arms was absolutely astounding, and neither of these games had brilliant graphics. They are true to the saying “gameplay over graphics.” Whether this was due to the hardware limitations, lazy devs or even just the Japanese style no one really knows, it is a matter of opinion. One thing we do know is JRPG’s had some of the most beautiful stories ever told.
Last era we had some fantastic JRPG’s come out, but none were as dominant or as memorable like the PS1 era. There was obviously Final Fantasy X and XII, the amazing Kingdom Hearts, Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time, even Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle were amazing games at the time of their release. A lot of them sold very well, but nowhere near as successful as the PS1 era. They introduced fantastic ideas that should of elevated the formula on to the next generation.
It has been about 10 years since the dominant JRPG era. Playstation is now on its 3rd round; Nintendo has a motion controller and Microsoft now have their 2nd console out. This generation has been 4 years long and one thing has been made abundantly clear: JRPG‘s are lacking. There has been a few come out, but none of them have sold well outside of Japan with the exception of Lost Odyssey. All of the games presented thus far have offered lack lustre gaming experiences and forgettable story lines. Of course there is a few games that are the exception to the rule, but as a general rule this is perhaps the weakest JRPG era so far. Square Enix are nowhere near the dominant company they once were. The titles released so far have been very weak when compared to past generations. What’s even worse is that the titles released so far have not sold well outside of Japan. So why is it so?
One reason is the fact that western devs have made amazing games like KOTOR, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect. All offer fairly good story lines and amazing value for money. The gameplay is very appealing, especially to western gamers who like to blow things up and shoot things. All these games have sold exceptionally well in the west and have been critically acclaimed. Western devs have captured western imaginations and cut into the JRPG market. Interest in JRPG’s is at a low, and it might get even worse with Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3 DLC, KOTOR MMO and a rumoured new IP from Bioware.
So with all these fantastic games coming out is it all doom and gloom for JRPG’s? Do they really have what it takes to capture gamers hearts like the old days? It is all a matter of opinion, but I believe they can. As fantastic as Mass Effect and Fallout were none offered a main character like Cloud or an antagonist like Sephiroth. None offered a story as beautiful and as in depth as Final Fantasy VII. The only ones that can offer something that has potential to rival Final Fantasy in terms of character development and story are their creators; Square Enix.
One only needs to watch Final Fantasy Vs XIII to see a lead that is intriguing, captivating and yet still human, according to his creators. Precious few video game characters capture an audience quite like Noctis Lucis Caelum has in this short clip. While it is CG it captures the creator’s vision and gives gamers a glimpse of what they could be in for.
This one clip has restored my faith in JRPG’s even more so than Final Fantasy XIII. Both look amazing and will be awesome titles, but I’m finding myself wanting Vs more. I hope these titles deliver, because if it is to be the new formula for future JRPG titles then it is absolutely critical that they succeed not only on the sales front, but also from a review standpoint too. The vision is there, let’s hope that they deliver. JRPG have given us some of the most amazing gaming experiences ever, why should they stop now?