The Japanese role-playing genre has been a variety of gaming I have avoided throughout my time as a gamer. I always heard second-hand knowledge regarding the in-depth complexities many of these titles possess, the hundreds of gameplay hours each title offered, and a fair amount of negativity towards the genre in recent times. These statements continuously held me back from diving into JRPG’s to truly test the waters with my own two hands, which is a decision I regret to this day.
I have always found myself attracted to Western themed role-playing games, with titles such as the Mass Effect series and Fallout 3 being some of my favourite games of all time. Yet the overwhelming aspects and negative feedback towards the genre kept me from investing in the Japanese version of role-playing fantasies. I guess the constant stream of JRPG’s that showcased similar motifs with the use of swords, armour and magic powers to fight evil monsters never truly appealed to me; they all just seemed so similar.
However, I am now happy to say this JRPG newcomer has been converted to a JRPG lover, with three key experiences released in 2013, collectively turning the tide on my original mind-set. These titles not only impressed, delighted, and completely invested me within their experience, but they have now joined my list of favourite games of all time.
The first of these titles was Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, a title that opened up my whimsical imagination that had been locked away since I was a small child. Ni No Kuni offered a wondrous world to explore, where anything was possible. The underlining narrative in Ni No Kuni revolves around a child who has lost his parents, who must evolve throughout his experience, becoming stronger, and being able to mature into the world around him. It presented an adventure that was relatable in many ways, one that provided an emotional journey I will never forget.
Ni No Kuni also presented a combat system that was vastly different from the JPRG battle mechanics I have seen in the past, in that it didn’t possess the turn-based combat that I thought was found in all JRPG’s; which was quite a discovery for me. Being a newcomer to the genre none of my friends had explained the vast freedoms that could be presented within combat; many explained that the combat was fairly linear. However, even when I experienced the turn-based combat presented in my second JRPG title, it was presented in a fun, challenging, and tactical manner.
Persona 4: Golden proved that the turn-based combat style can be extremely accessible, yet insanely deep when done right. Not only that, but it presented a narrative with an abundance of interesting, memorable, and relatable characters. It allowed me to become completely lost in the Persona universe, surprisingly by participating in activities I would do in my normal life, such as visiting the movies, going to school, and hanging with friends. In premise, these activities shouldn’t be fun in a game setting, but Persona 4: Golden made these activities extremely addictive.
After relinquishing 80 hours of my life to Persona 4: Golden, I found myself actually missing these characters weeks after finishing the game. I haven’t felt this way about characters since the Mass Effect series, as both provided such well-rounded characters with such detailed personalities that they truly felt as if they were my friends in reality. I knew these characters, I knew what they enjoyed, I know what they hated, and I became closer to them in ways only a few games have been able to replicate. What made these characters so believable was their realistically grounded personalities. Even though these teenagers were entering TV’s to explore other worlds in an insane out-of-this world plot, these characters felt like they could exist in the real world.
The grounded realism of characters carried over to my third JRPG adventure, Tales of Xillia. I recently detailed the fantastic sense of realism within Tales of Xillia, presenting a narrative that although being completely fantastical, still found itself extremely relatable when it came to human emotions. It not only possessed the freedom in combat that Ni No Kuni provided, but it also presented character stories for every single minor character that allowed me to connect to them on a level similar to Persona 4: Golden. Every time I switched the console off, I wanted to hop right back in and continue my journey. Almost like one of those TV shows that grab your attention, making the wait between episodes a tough task.
So within three excellent titles, I have been converted to a lover of JRPG’s, with an array of many other titles to satisfy my JRPG itch. But it begs the question – why do so many people have this stigma towards the JRPG genre? As I said at the start of this editorial, I was held back from playing JRPG’s due to the overwhelming amount of negativity towards the genre; even many friends just disregard new announcements in this field of gaming on the genre alone, even though the there are obviously many quality titles out there. Is it the fact that, to the naked eye, these titles do seem fairly similar in style? Although they all present vastly different stories, with memorable characters scattered throughout each title, why is it that these titles don’t get the recognition they deserve?
Without growing up alongside the genre, it is hard to judge the quality games of now, compared to those of yesteryear. Yet I hear that many believe JRPG’s are on the slide and WRPG’s are the gold standard. Is that really the truth? If you ask many fans of gaming about Mass Effect or Fallout they will be praised, however if you ask about Tales of Xillia, Persona 4 or even Ni No Kuni, many seem to completely be oblivious to their existence. The quality is there, yet they cannot seem to gain the fanfare they deserve.
Has the JRPG genre become “uncool”? Has the genre been ignored due to overwhelming negative feedback? Both questions could factor into their decline in popularity, because these stigmas certainly do exist all around the gaming industry. It is sad, because many are missing out on some fantastic adventures in the gaming industry, soured by some mistakes the genre had made in the past.
2013 has so far delivered an exquisite bounty of memorable JRPG’s, which is great for the genre. If JRPG’s are able to win over new fans such as myself, maybe the genre has a chance to truly become one of the most loved varieties of gaming once more. Because quite frankly, no genre can juggle such whimsical tales while keeping their characters realistically grounded. And for this, JRPG’s have my attention.