Many a year ago, when I was first introduced to the wonderful world of anime and Japanese pop culture, there was a certain style of role-playing game that I ended up overlooking. Sure, I may have played Final Fantasy II, A Link to the Past, and Secret of Mana before I made this revelation but I was a young’un and could not have possibly known any better. Then came a time when a student in the ESL program (this was grade school, mind you) introduced me to Final Fantasy VII; an eye-opener very similar to opening the Ark of the Covenant – minus the face melting.
He shared with me impressive character art that he drew himself and a disc-by-disc plot summary that included major spoilers. While this played out as one possible game experience in my mind’s eye (having played Final Fantasy III previously), experiencing the real deal was way more than I had expected. While many may share grievances in regards the direction that the series has traveled recently, I bet you anything that you can still recall the first time you played Final Fantasy VII. You might not have been able to express why it hooked you, but you must admit there was a certain something that kept pulling you back for more.
While I already had the gist of the story spoiled for me, it was so much more satisfying experiencing it first hand: having certain characters grow on you; falling in love with the music; the locales; mini-games; and a magic system that always left you wondering what the best combination of colourful crystals was to wipe the floor with your enemies. During my time with that game, I reached a sort of epiphany: “so this is how they make role-playing games in Japan. Then that means…” – the lightning hit and suddenly everything made sense. I had been bitten by the JRPG bug and part of me still gets a kick out of playing these wonderful games, even to this day.
What makes a “good” JRPG in my books is as follows: compelling art and character likability, a thoughtful setting, a stellar soundtrack, and a story (predictable as it may be) paced in such a way that you can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next to your mix and matched cast of heroes. Fun mini-games, side-quests, and an addictive combat system add even more icing to the cake. Bottom line: it can be a 30-plus hour book you’ll be investing your time in, so it had better be enjoyable or bust.
While the recent Final Fantasy XIII sequel is up for debate I have decided that it would be better to keep my expectations low; perhaps almost non-existent. That way, even the smallest turn in the right direction can be a good sign. If not, then I eagerly await Tales of Graces and Europe’s release of The Last Story as two potential titles that can bolster my faith in this style of storytelling.