The JRPG – A Story of Love, Loss and the Rekindling
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As part of Player2’s participation in JRPG July 2017, we asked our writers to reflect on the genre and discuss how it affected them in some way. We hope you enjoy these personal pieces and check out these titles that are near and dear to us.
When the concept of JRPG July was first discussed ideas, thoughts and memories came rushing to mind. Why? Because the JRPG is the genre of game that’s been there with me through every step of my life to date. In this, the first piece to go live through JRPG July 2017, I’m going to sit back and recount my history with the genre, discussing pivotal moments, both good and bad whilst also ponder the future of a genre that I hold so dear.
My obsession with JRPGs began at a very young age. Most children of 5-6 years old hadn’t picked up a controller for the first time yet, meanwhile I was beginning to explore Super Nintendo classics like Earthbound, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. Yes, it was era of the Super Nintendo where my gaming journey began, so how could I not fall in love with the JRPG? The genre had its strongest period during those days, and I was powerless to evade its grasp. I was born into a gaming lifestyle, mum bought us a Super Nintendo very early on, my Grandma also had one, and whilst there were some very child friendly titles such as Super Mario All-Stars, Donkey Kong Country and even Bubsy *cringes*, I also found myself surrounded by some far more mature games, games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Zelda was a revelatory moment for me, it introduced mechanics that I’d not even considered before, suddenly I had games that were less about twitch responses and more about method and strategy. Though much of the language sailed well over the four year old head of mine, I came to understand many of the inner workings of Zelda and games like it via trial and error methodology, by five years old I’d completed one of the great games of all time with little understanding of what I was doing.
At the spritely young age of 5, I found myself with Secret of Mana and Earthbound in my possession. This was quite a fortunate position I’d found myself in because Earthbound never released outside of the US and Japan while Secret of Mana was as rare as they come, and while I had no appreciation of this fact, I dove head long into them and so the love affair with the JRPG began. I’ll be forever thankful for Tunz-A-Games, the little Albury games store that imported many of the JRPGs that underpinned my childhood.
I took much of what I learned from Zelda and applied it in Secret of Mana, the game had added depth courtesy of the RPG elements and the Ring Command system, Earthbound was a whole other story however. Turn based mechanics were another revelation of mine, the ability to essentially pause and reassess the state of battle every few moments was something that I loved, especially as I continued to grapple with some complicated language that both games presented me with. My competence with JRPGs continued to develop, and soon Final Fantasy VI (then called III) and Chrono Trigger arrived on my doorstep.
At this point I had a very solid understanding of the inner-most workings of JRPGs, the turn based combat and statistical progression all begun to click, and I was hungry for more. Soon the likes of Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Evermore, Breath of Fire and Lufia were all on the pile of completed games and I was hungry for more. In the console space I was on the verge of a quiet spell though with the Nintendo 64 arriving in our house and Playstation not being a consideration for a few years yet. The appetite was satiated for a while with a little franchise called Pokémon arriving for my Gameboy, with the competitive aspect serving as a cool addition that extended my time with the game.
Hunger was beginning to set in though, Pokémon had been great and continued to deliver for many more years, but Nintendo 64 didn’t have many appealing titles in the JRPG genre, with many defecting to Playstation. One afternoon though everything changed when I walked into the living room after school to find a brand new PS1 on the table with a copy of Final Fantasy VII alongside it. The Playstation proved to be the platform that continued my early years love affair with the JRPG. Final Fantasy VII had he hooked for months, Final Fantasy IX epitomised everything I love about JRPGs and proved to be my favourite ever game, while the console was supported by countless dozens of other JRPGs including Suikoden, Alundra, Legend of the Dragoon and many more.
With games having moved into the 3D space it also meant that classic JRPG troupes took on a different look and were re-imagined. Some stayed true to their roots while others picked out the best aspects of what game before and merged it with then-current trends. As time progressed though the well of high quality JRPGs began to dry up unfortunately as technological advancements and a stubborn unwillingness to adapt from genre heavy-hitters meant that audiences began to drift away.
Some of my fondest memories stem from the Snes/PS1 eras, that unfortunately didn’t flow through the following two generations despite there being some bright spots along the way. Final Fantasy X and XII were excellent while the XIII trilogy was a disaster, Dragon Quest VIII and IX were an excellent introduction to the series for me but the wait for a true sequel has been long (a wait which still hasn’t ended yet), while a very select few games like Ni No Kuni filled the enormous gaps between drinks. My interests had begun to wander as I happened upon other genres and fell for other franchises but the urge to play a top quality JRPG kept nagging away at me.
Thankfully in recent years developers, both AAA and Indie have begun to return to the party. We’re seeing love letters to the genre in the form of games like I Am Setsuna; Child of Light was a beautiful western take on the JRPG while Final Fantasy XV reclaimed the JRPG throne once more, and Persona 5 staked its own claim to snatch that throne away. The rage looks set to continue with the impending releases of Ni No Kuni II, Dragon Quest XI, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Battlechasers, Knights and Bikes and more.
The future of the JRPG is beginning to look quite bright after a period where it was being held together by the occasional release of a Persona or Tales game. Finally, it appears developers are beginning to adapt to the modern age, and whilst still recognising and respecting the past, are also looking forward to the future and are attempting to forge a new path. Some will succeed, some will fail, but no longer will studios play it safe and let the genre stagnate; the prospect of a bold, courage fuelled approach to development leaves me buoyed for the future.
It’s quite likely that the golden age of the JRPG is behind us. The odds of seeing another era like it are extraordinarily slim, but as the gaming landscape becomes increasingly diverse, the resurgence of the JRPG comes at a great time. There once was a time where the JRPG could do no wrong, but as time progressed, I grew jaded, as tradition became more important that progression, but as the tides begin to change, I am bullish about the fact that I may once again get to enjoy classics similar to those I enjoyed over twenty years ago.
For more from us, be sure to visit the Player2 JRPG July Hub