Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Geek Rant Topic 06: JRPGs

When All Else Fails, you call Mousa the 14, that one ranting geek.

So uh, yeah, Guess I didn't get the memo. When did JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games, for the non-geek visitors.) become a laughingstock in North America? Too busy playing manly army games and 90's comic throwbacks to care about something that uses primary colors with characters that have personalities؟

That was the Irony mark by the way. And was I being mean? Indeed. I'm still seething from my overview of Faux Hardcore gamers.

Now, the list of Faux hardcore gamer requirements are basically why JRPGs are considered a joke, but once upon a time these were the types of video games were loved. In a time before I was born of course, but that's not the point. If I were to bring up a game like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and the Pre-Final Fantasy 7 Final Fantasy games, I would've thought they were talking about a completely different genre of games because a good majority of gamers seem to love those games for their compelling story lines, interesting characters, fun world to explore, gameplay, and whatnot.

Bring up anything post Final Fantasy 7 you're likely to get bombarded with a vitriol matched only by the Tea Party. But why is that? I seriously doubt JRPGs killed their dogs, and if they did we have bigger things to worry about, like finding out where the Allspark is or how to stop Skynet from killing us.

Well first of wall what do we have t compare them to? If there's a "J" in front of the RPG then J is obviously a qualifier to point out this is similar to but not likea set standard. Here's a poorly researched history lesson for you:

Video Game RPGs are mostly based around the Dungeons and Dragons. The DnD style of game was a complex story telling adventure that featured you and yoru friends exploring a new world as a different person as they fought monsters, explored towns, saved princesses all while upgrading their skills and weapons and maintaining an inventory as well as your health. Video Game RPGs are simplified versions of these because Video Games by definition are limited and therefore cannot provide much the depth, creativity, or numerous elements involved in your standard Dungeons and Dragons game or it's numerous counterparts.

Sacrifices had to be made and one can easily see what sort of Video Game RPG you're playing based on which sacrifices were made.

JRPGs are heavy on story and characters and because of that the decisions you make have little impact on how the story plays out except for a few changes in character development or a different ending when you beat the game. This meant a lot of gameplay was marginalized. You are basically watching an anime and a movie and your job is to move characters from A to B, make sure they don't die in non-plot related things, occasionally do some side quests that involve talking to certain people or delivering things, and fight on a usually non-necessary basis. A majority of JRPGs would make solid TV series or Movies rather than actual games where interactivity and decision making is key. In terms of actual figthing JRPGs basically are numbers game where you have to equio your characters with high ranking weapons and have them use high powered attacks, and maintain their health bar over 75%. All this in turn-based combat.

The numbers from the origin RPGs are there but the fun of actually being a person in the story is not. It's more like you're following some guy and his friends.

In Breif, and I quote someone else: "An angsty teenager with god awful hair struggling with groundless and poorly defined emotional problems through chapters of text boxes. "

Contrast with the common Western RPGs which take a more free-range open sandbox sort of style and has more emphasis on free range combat stuff a la Legend of Zelda or Assassin's Creed. but you tend to get a simpler story and you have a bigger opportunity to do far more sidequests. You can actually choose what class of character you want to be and what skills you can upgrade. Games with karma meters or dialogue selections allow for there to be slightly more effects on what you do, though usually not as much as people would like. The kicker is that usually the main story is nothing to look at and you find yourself eventually getting bored once the exploration becomes repetitive and you realize what you do doesn't have as much of an impact as you like.

In breif, and I quote someone else: "three hours of beating wolves to death in the rain in order to grab a handful of low-grade magical crap that you'll only sell a few minutes later. "

The false dichotomy here is basically choosing between more story and more choice. And more obviously the non-anime fan western audience want more choice.

However that's far deeper than what people actually complain about in terms of JRPG flaws.

Ignoring all the failings that involve appeal ling to the Faux Hardcore gamer, allow me to enumerate a lot of the commonly mentioned "problems" with JRPGs.

1) The Main protagonist is usually same broody emotional and emo or stereotypical energetic and excitable male anime protagonist.
1a) That is usually portrayed in an overly handsome/cutesy anime style
1b) And he wields a sword 99.99% of the time
1c) and has an annoying voice
2) The combat is turn based which is boring and lacks innovation.
3) Nothing you do actually matters
4) The art is 99.99% of the time going to be done in the typical Japanese animation style or as many call it, an anime style.
5) They lack replay value
6) The plots are usually cliche
7) No customization for anything.
9) Numbers are imperative in order to beat enemies rather than skills.
9a) Level grinding is imperative so you Can be stronger than the next boss
9b) No skill needed, just buy the next strongest weapons and armour
10) And It's not really roleplaying if you're going through someone else's story, limited to their personal skills with no variation, and it's their personality that drives the plot and not yours.

If there's more I remember, I'll add them but that's the basic outline ad they are frankly valid arguments. But it's hard to see why JRPGs were liked once upon a time.

Chrono Trigger still had the skill limitations and numbers crunching and you were playing as a set of established characters. But then The protagonist had a blank slate personality, what decisions you made in the game affected a great deal of the story, and the combat style was more of a faux-turn based one.

Earthbound has many of the similar failings Chrono Trigger had but it was open world, the writing was clever and the story was well done, and you had a lot of freedom in what you could do.

So JRPGs aren't necessarily a problem, it's that as games become bigger and more expensive to make it becomes more difficult to combine the best of both wolds to create something fun and interesting.

There is another factor I didn't mention that could be a cause of all this: Following the Leader. You see, Final Fantasy 7 introduced something new for it's time with a complex and fascinating protagonist with a deep and interesting plot even though it was wrought with all the things on the list many claim to hate about JRPGs. Well guess what, after the super success of FF7, many tired to follow in suit and thus nigh every JRPG we see these days is what one might call a rehash of Final Fantasy 7. Everything was starting too like trite and cliche after the original and now what we have left is a big ball of rage.

What can be done? Not sure, it seems like it's hard to break trends when you have budgets. We can only hope something new and creative comes our way like Okami, The World Ends With You, or the Tales of Symphonia/Phantasia battle system used for more RPGs.


-Good Bye, Good Luck, and Imagination Is Your Greatest Power.
Mousa the 14

1 comment:

  1. Most of it is the RPG cliches were reflective of consoles dominated by japanese imports.

    Then... I wanna say KOTOR but PC RPGs came to consoles and told us how immersive and customizable we could be.

    Moreover the emoteen thing. People cried for it. It was given. Now we're sick of it.

    Global warming. Or more accurately, once upon a time the only way to GET a story, customization and all that was in rpgs and you accepted the interface as a trade off. Now RPG elements are part of every genre and with more immersive controls. This wasn't brand new. Deus Ex, Fallout- the original, and System Shock are praised even if they are in the style of FPSes they do great roleplaying and aimed at an audience who share more similar culture and slightly older tastes.

    RPGs, in my mind, have gotten to complex to play as the numbers, printed and unprinted, and the system has become too complex.

    The plots are often dependent on ethereal fluff that draws out and externalizes things. Or as I put it. We play NGE, complete with rushed sloppy insane ending. Moreover as gamers median age has risen and everyone now has a perfect audiovisual experience of Narnia and Middle Earth... The Hero's Journey is looking a little worn.

    Meanwhile the big western RPGs build on scifi concepts have people with complex inter-relations, and use alot all at once and aren't as likely to stick you looking at you doing something in a cutscene you'll never do in game.