The Internet's Top 5 JRPG Gripes

Last night I indulged in many of our eighth wonder's wares, reading articles pertaining mainly to the downfall of JRPGs. Many writers and forum contributors have hypothesised over why and how they need to be fixed and how pretty much every other genre in gaming, particularly WRPGs, have left the JRPG floundering in their wake for a last gasp phoenix down, in an attempt to prevent them from being totally wiped out by the BioBethehemoth.

There are stats and commentary to back these claims up. PSM3 posted an article on Gamesradar back in March which told us that the Japanese software market has slumped a staggering 40% from 537 billion yen (£4 billion) to 326 billion yen (£2.5 billion) between 1997 and 2009. Whether this slump is solely down to one genre of Japanese games or the growth of the gaming market in other areas of the world is debatable. I lean towards the latter personally.

At one point the Japanese gaming market represented 50% of the global gaming market and enjoyed what many observers describe as a 'Golden Age' during the PS1 era. The thing is, Japanese developers, particularly JRPG developers, have for the most part, only ever made games they thought Japanese people would enjoy, a notion backed up by Hirokazu Hamamura, president of Enterbrain, the publisher of Famitsu, in a recent interview with Mark Cieslak of the BBC.

"The Japanese don't like shooting and war games very much. They prefer playing in fantasy worlds and battling with swords. I think there is very little interest in fighting with guns and this sort of combat game."

Catering to the Western market has only recently become a major concern for Japanese publishers as gamers and critics alike round on the JRPG genre with accusations of 'Galapagosization', and undoubtedly, some of them haven't gone about making their Western move in the best way. Square Enix being a case in point. Acquiring Eidos was hypothetically, a masterstroke as they inherited two of the most recognisable brands in the Western gaming market in Tomb Raider and Hitman. Combining Square Enix's expertise in the cinematic and emotionally attached gaming experience with Eidos' successful IPs , on paper, was a fantastic match which would allow the Japanese publisher to gain a foothold in the Western gaming market. Mixing JRPGs and Western developers together though is a tricky balancing act.

Sufficed to say, it doens't make any sense to me as a fan of Japanese games, to have a Western studio develop titles which fall into that category of IP and it doens't ring true for the fans either, this is gripe #1. Look at the backlash Ninja Theory received when it came to light they would be developing the new Devil May Cry game. Great studio, one of the few that could probably pull this off but the fans remain extremely sceptical. This is one of the internet's few JRPG gripes I can get on board with, I wouldn't want Square Enix developing Mass Effect 3 and I wouldn't want BioWare developing FFXV. Fans of JRPGs and WRPGs appreciate the differences and enjoy each for their respective strengths. There's absolutely no need to mix them up.

Another thing that seems to piss gamers off about JRPGs are their 'cliched' storylines, gripe #2. The reluctant hero is apparently all of a sudden an alien concept to some people who presumably have grown up watching Terminator 2 on repeat to be deluded into thinking that all heroes love what they do. In many JRPG cases, you're a reluctant hero, thrown into the fray by circumstances outside of your control. A giantbomb.com blog post bemoaned this at length earlier this year. I think the thing people forget, all too often, is that this isn't a narrative device limited only to JRPGs. A reluctant hero is part and parcel of the monomyth and common to all kinds of narrative from various cultures all over the world since, well, forever.

Amnesia has become a dirty word in the JRPG despite the fact that Fallout: New Vegas uses it as a plot device as does Shadowrun from Australian developers, Beam Software for the SNES way back in 1993.

The hero's family being killed at an early age or the hero being the last of his kind for some reason in some JRPGs never happens in WRPGs because they're so cutting edge and fresh. *cough* Baldur's Gate *cough* Divinity 2.

Waking up one morning to discover you've come of age all of a sudden and were special for some reason with a duty to save the world never happened in Neverwinter Nights, or Dragon Age, or Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or countless other WRPGs of the same ilk did it? Actually it did so I get frustrated when I hear that JRPG storylines are cliched. Most game storylines are cliched to some extent, so sorry internet, but you're going to have to come up with a better reason for hating JRPG storylines. Here's a tip: they're too melodramatic. I'll give you that one.

So what else, ah yes, gripe #3: 'uh, how cum i can juz wlk in2 sum1s house and steal dere stuff an no1 says nuffin dats juz dumb. jprgs suck lolz lolz lolz lolz. wrpgs ftw.' I'm not going to dwell on the looting point too much because it's so ludicrous but FALLOUT! ELDER SCROLLS! NEVERWINTER! BALDUR'S GATE! ETC ETC ETC ETC to INFINITY! Not only will you nick people's stuff but you will become encumbered with some of the most pointless loot EVER seen in videogames! I loved all the above games, loved them, but would frequently have to clear my inventory of cups, plates, goblets and other pointless things that I had found in chests or people's houses.

Gripe #4 is a pretty obvious one and probably the only one I'm going to categorically agree with. Random battles. They're tired, they're annoying and dozens of JRPGs have shown us a better way of doing things by having the enemies on the map for you to engage and avoid at your leisure. Some would argue that without random battles, players won't be ready to engage some challenges further down the line as they won't be levelled up enough but I think games like Demon's Souls have shown us that gamers learn through dying. It's fairly obvious that if something wipes you easily, you'll need to go and level up before trying again.

Silly haircuts. This is gripe #5. Ignoring the fact that Commander Shepherd wears pyjamas with shoulder pads in them or that everyone in Dragon Age has exactly the same pants on, I guess I can see why the Japanese aesthetic catering towards Japanese people is something that needs to be fixed in Japanese games...

This goes back to what I was saying earlier regarding Japanese developers making games for Japanese people. We are dealing with two essentially, very different cultures with a different idea of everyday entertainment.

Ryoei Mikage, president of breakaway Tales development studio, Imageepoch, sums this up nicely in a recent interview with Famitsu summarised on 1up.com regarding his new ventures and his plans to bring the JRPG up to date without losing or fixing the things that make JRPGs, JRPGs:

"Lately you see a lot of overseas gamers write on the net about the 'weird aspects' of JRPGs, but would 'fixing' those aspects make Japanese users happy? Not necessarily, no. I think you only see real quality in JRPGs when they're created by Japanese people, for Japanese people. People overseas talk about the 'Galapagosization' of the Japanese game industry, but they've been saying that for the past decade about every aspect of entertainment. Instead of getting into a panic about that, we want to lay the groundwork for what we need to grow in the future."

"We want to be in a perfect position to make JRPGs for Japan, and once we achieve that, then we can look for ways to get foreigners interested in JRPGs as well. Level-5's Professor Layton series is well-regarded worldwide for being an innovative new adventure. By several years from now, I want to see a JRPG from us that similarly breaks the mold and shows both Japan and the world that JRPGs don't have to all be fantasy RPGs."

Essentially, I think what Mikage is saying, is that JRPGs need to go back to basics before being welcomed back into the consoles of a wider Western audience and that is what he wants to do. Go back to making JRPGs without being overly concerned by catering to Western audiences. This notion is perhaps backed up by the critical and commercial success of DQIX, a JRPG that at no point pretends it's anything other than just that.

I'm inclined to agree with him. As a long time fan of the genre I, and many others like me, will continue to consume JRPGs with the same fervour I would consume any WRPG, and in fact the more traditional (read cliched to critics) they are, the better. Providing a RPG has a well told story, interesting characters and a good combat system then it will be enjoyed regardless of the cliches and inconsistencies which run riot in both genres. I think it's just strange at the moment to see how people are rounding on JRPGs. I often see gamers say that all JRPGs are either medieval fantasy or steampunk based. I'll take that and raise you this: all FPSs are set during a 20th century war or in space. All WRPGs are set in a medieval fantasy world except Mass Effect. None of these statements are true (actually, I'm wracking my brains here...the last one might be!?).

For me, games within a specific genre, as with films will always conform to at least some of the genre coventions that make them a part of that stable in the first place. Only very rarely will a genre-busting game launch which changes the way titles in that genre are thought about, maybe Demon's Souls could be that piece of software for Japanese RPG developers or maybe, like Mikage and Imageepoch, it will be about going back to basics? Who knows, but for the time being I'll continue to enjoy any high calibre RPG, Japanese or Western, as they come.

No comments:

Post a Comment