A reader reveals how he grew to love Japanese role-playing games, including classics like Final Fantasy VI and Xenogears.
Try as you might, you wont find a genre whose demise is more maligned than Japanese role-playing games.
Yes JRPGs. That fabled, mythical genre. The embattled warrior of the late 90s/early 2000s whose world domination was so nearly complete. If you werent satisfied by stories told in movies and books, and you wanted something a bit more active to play through, then thems the games you played. Yes, they still make them but – as the old saying goes – not like they used to.
Except for Persona. Obviously.
I should confess now that I never played many JRPGs as a kid. They were often too expensive and I honestly preferred action-packed games or sports titles. The little I did play of them, I found myself confused. I remember borrowing Final Fantasy VIII and IX from friends, but their strange battles systems and esoteric menus proved too complex for my tiny, inferior brain. While I didnt hate them, I quickly gave up on them. Its only in adulthood that Ive come to appreciate them.
I started a year ago, on the recommendation of a friend, with Final Fantasy VI. I was enthralled from the very beginning and saw instantly how itd gathered such a rabid fan-base. The opening image of three mecha units ploughing through the snow to the sound of Nobuo Uematsus classic soundtrack is iconic, and thankfully the game is just all-round a hoot to play. It reminded me a lot of the fun and daring style of the original Star Wars films. Different settings of course, but a strong focus on an ensemble cast with a maniacal villain who steals the show in much the same way as Darth Vader.
I then moved onto Earthbound, which Id heard a lot about, and not just because of Ness presence in the Super Smash Bros. games. I must admit that I didnt like it as much as much I did Final Fantasy VI but it provided a lot of enjoyment through the dark February nights. Or should I say swagger because I think swagger is a better term to sum up Earthbound. Or maybe jazzy. Jazzy works.
From here, I moved onto its sequel, Mother 3, which Ill make no bones about saying is one of the best games Ive played in a long, long time. Games often get a bad rap for not being able to handle delicate themes like love, death, and monkeys but Mother 3s story splendidly offers all three of them. It doesnt seem to get as much love as its predecessor Earthbound but I think its a much more refined game overall. [The fact that its never been released outside of Japan is the obvious reason for that. We assume you played a fan translation – GC]
The enemy names are also hilarious. My personal picks being the Batangutan – a bat crossed with an orangutan – and the Unwelcome Gust – an inhospitable gust of wind with eyes.
At the risk of turning this into an exhaustive list that nobody wants to read, Im just going to quickly namedrop some of the other games Ive spent the past year playing…
Chrono Trigger: A very charming game, much like a classic Saturday morning anime. Its a lot like Final Fantasy VI in that it finds a way to use every single character with purpose.
Chrono Cross: Not as bombastic as its prequel but certainly more calming. The soundtrack is amazing and while the battle system is a little simplistic, it makes up for it with a brilliant atmosphere.
Xenogears: Very impressive, if a little alienating. The story is bold and ambitious, tying in complex themes including psychology and religion. Its easy to understand why they struggled to complete it.
What does the future hold? Well, Ill probably end up going through Final Fantasy VII to X because I feel like Im only a decade and half behind everyone else on those. Maybe even XII, which Ive heard is flawed but interesting. Im certainly intrigued by some of the more comparatively modern titles Ive heard about like The World Ends With You and The Legend of Heroes: Trails In The Sky.
Im also excited about PlayStation classics like Valkyrie Profile, Legend Of Dragoon, and Vagrant Story. Im not expecting Sony to bring any of them out for the upcoming release of their PlayStation Classic console but, you know, itd be really, really nice if they did. Pretty please Mr John Kodera.
Let me finish by asking, what are your favourite JRPGs?
By reader Mitch Thomas
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