JPRGs represent everything I love about gaming. The genre walks an ambitious tight rope weaved together by strong art design, catchy music, addictive combat, and captivating narrative so confidently, it almost doesn’t matter if these games live up to their full potential. Except for the fact that it does. As much as I love it, the genre is need of a shake up, especially when faced with the new generation of gamers. For the sake of both the genre and for gamers in general, the JRPG is going to have to evolve. But how can it do this without losing its original charm? The answer lies within the classics of yesteryear.
Suggestion No.1: Let’s Get Wacky Up In Here!
Looking back, many of the best games in the genre were the ones that broke the mold when it came to subject matter. While most RPGs are full of knights, dragons, and medieval fantasy, games like Earthbound, Shin Megami Tensei, and Persona proved how effective the genre can be when placed into completely foreign environments. Even if these games didn’t end up being classics, the very fact that they try something different is enough to make them noteworthy, which is more than you can say for most games in the genre. An ever-changing audience demands an ever-changing approach to storytelling and the JRPG is perhaps the best genre to deal with such a challenge. Instead of setting another game in someone’s Dungeons & Dragons campaign, why not set it in, say, a dentist’s office or a circus? The genre cannot be afraid of the weird and unexpected. Sometimes the best experiences have the oddest and most humble beginnings. Speaking of which…
Suggestion No. 2: Bigger Bucks Doesn’t Always Make Better Games
The entire genre needs to get itself in check and scale back their budget a bit. Not to bring back an old topic or anything, but remember how you could reliably count on Square to deliver three Final Fantasy games per generation? Those were good times. Those were also the times when Square didn’t have a bajillion dollars to indulge in fancy CG cinematics and theme songs sung by famous pop singers. This is a problem that is affecting the entire industry and not just the JRPG genre, but the JRPG is the one genre that has shown the world time and time again how much one can get from very little. Recent games like Xenoblade and The Last Story have demonstrated the genre’s ability to create grand and epic stories without breaking a developer’s bank or indulging in unnecessary window dressing. Crafting an 80- hour 1080p visual nirvana is costly, and not every developer can afford to compete with the Final Fantasy XIII’s of the world. The greatest JRPGs of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras thrived without such trappings and there is no reason why the genre can’t do the same today.
Suggestion No. 3: Who Needs Discs Anymore? We have the Internet, Darn It!
If keeping a smaller budget on things is an issue, there is an easy solution to such a problem: online distribution. Games are expensive enough as it is nowadays and not everyone has the time and money to invest in the new 100-hour epic hitting today’s consoles. The easy answer to both these problems can be solved by one simple tactic: divide the game up into separate parts and then sell them for a discounted price online. This is not that novel an idea when you think about how games used to be divided into discs during the Playstation era. If a company like Square were to take the next Final Fantasy game and divide it into 3 distinct acts (like they did with the 3 discs of Final Fantasy VII, for example,) then that would make the game far more accessible to a much larger audience. Anybody who loves the first act will be able to buy the next chapter immediately and anybody who hated it can walk away without feeling completely ripped off. It’s a win-win for everybody involved and it needs to be done soon, especially when something like the Playstation 4 promises streaming gaming to the masses in the near future.
The JRPG is by no means down and out, but there is no reason why it cannot reclaim the crown it was had when it reigned over the industry 15 years ago. The technology behind these types of games are growing more and more sophisticated, but the stories they tell remain dime a dozen. On top of that, it is becoming harder and harder for people to enjoy these games with the world’s current fast paced, digital lifestyle. The JRPG genre used to be what gamers looked towards to see the future of the industry. it’s high time it reclaimed that title.