Krytical Eye
The Long-Lasting Appeal of JRPGs

By Tim Krynicki - January 17th, 2012

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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.

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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.

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    5 responses so far:
  2. By RodOracheski
    Posted on Jan 18, 2012

    For me it’s not so much the combat system, it’s the character development. The old Final Fantasy games were so much more appealing than the latest ones in that regard. The story was as bad then as it is now, but the characters were more likable because they were ‘mine’ not just some cutscene fop.

  3. By Rituro
    Posted on Jan 18, 2012

    I agree with Tim on story pacing. No matter how clichéd the JRPG plotline is, it has be done right or you ruin the whole effect. Even the reveal of the big bad has to be done just right to have that “oh, poop” moment every memorable JRPG needs (see: Ghalleon from “Lunar”, Lavos from “Chrono Trigger”, etc.).

  4. Posted on Jan 19, 2012

    VII is still on my backlog. Glad I bought it on PSN though.. it’s just sitting there.

    Still I generally don’t see RPGs as JRPG v WRPG. In my mind the “JRPG” is just RPG that’s what I know. That and I don’t think I’ve ever played any of the western RPGs to completion. I never finished Fallout and i just bought Oblivion a few months ago (deep in backlog), Bioshock 1 and 2 are still sealed. I think of Action RPGs, Strategy RPGs but the rest (FFIV, FFVI, Dragon Quest IV, Magical Starsign, Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos etc) those are just RPGs. They’re my default, I just like them.

    The fun for me is as you said the story pacing, and the combat. Personally the art and char design are MY frosting.

  5. Posted on Jan 20, 2012

    If I were to run down a list of the last few enjoyable JRPGs from recent memory they would be as follows.

    Tales of Vesperia, Xenoblade Chronicles, Persona 3 and 4, Blue Dragon, (to some extent,) Lost Odyssey, and Radiant Historia.

    Sure they might be niche games but thinking back to their characters and stories – damn were they worth the hours I put into them.

  6. Posted on Jan 21, 2012

    One game I definitely recommend checking out is The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. The game came out last year on the PSP and reminded me of my most sentimental memories playing JRPGs as a kid. I hope that the niche genre will still thrive, even though it has its moments.

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