I’m not sure when was the exact moment I finally realized that my love for JRPG’s was lost, it was some time after playing Infinite Undiscovery. But let’s take it from the beginning.
Growing up in Europe, meant that I missed out on a lot of the JRPG’s of the 8 and 16 bit era. Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI? Some of those and many others didn’t make it to Europe until digital distribution and many years after their original release. Importing was close to impossible for a kid from a poor family back in those days. And for better or for worse even as a child I avoided piracy despite living in an environment where it was thriving. I didn’t get to experience some of the genre's greatest until many years later.
“Europeans were not deemed worthy of this game”
Beyond that, and partially because of the language barrier, for a time, I wasn’t even sure what a JRPG was. I had heard the term ‘RPG’ and I considered games with top-down views to be RPG’s. Games like Zelda and Gargoyle’s Quest defined the genre for me. Though as time went by I became more aware, it wasn’t until 1997 that I finally, I finally fell in love.
Technically the first game I played that deserved the definition JRPG was Defenders of Oasis, a Game Gear exclusive, it was included with a bunch of games a friend loaned me along with his Game Gear, I played it maybe less than an hour, and then forgot about it.
"Defenders of Oasis. The first JRPG I (technically) ever played"
No, the first JRPG I really played was the original Suikoden for the PS1.
I remember it like it was yesterday. A chilly October afternoon, I walked into one of my then usual haunts, an independent games store, and there it was, sitting on a shelf. I didn’t know what to make of it at first. I was looking for something closer to what I was used to, a shooter, an action adventure, but for some reason, maybe due to the anime characters on the box art, maybe because of the funky name (I pronounced it Shi-koden back then) I decided to take a chance and took it home.
It was one of the best gaming nights of my life, I managed to completely lose myself in the world of the game and the Hero’s struggle to free the land from an oppressive Emperor.
At some point, I paused the game and got up for a pee break, as I walked out of my room, I noticed this sliver of light across the hallway wall emanating from the front door window. It was morning. I had played for the entire night.
That was my first all-nighter, I had stayed late to play games before, but that was the first time I stayed long enough to see the sun rise. That didn’t put me off from playing, nor did my stomach growling since I hadn't eaten anything since the noon before I bought the game, I went on to play until 11:00 am, until I was too exhausted to go on.
I finished the game sometime in early November, I even restarted halfway through so I could look for more Stars of Destiny. Despite the early euphoria in my relationship with the game, after I finished, I felt that it was all in the past, never to be repeated. Little did I know…
"The Cover Art for the PAL version of Suikoden"
In November 17 1997 Final Fantasy VII was released in Europe, a few days after that I was in a games store (a retail chain this time), looking for my next game. The woman in the store there suggested this hot new game to me, Final Fantasy VII. I was dismissive at first, I heard of Final Fantasy before, but I had no great gaming experience to associate it with. I opted to try it. I remember saying (like a tool) “Hmm, I just played an RPG, I shouldn’t play another RPG right after” as the words came out my mouth I realized that, yes I had just played an RPG and it was awesome. But I continued to be dismissive “Can I skip the intro?” “Sorry, you can’t skip the intro” So the intro wasn’t skipped. And thank god for that because the music was captivating and the graphics (for the time) were amazing. Fortunately I did the right thing and walked out of that shop, on that fateful November day with Final Fantasy VII in the bag.
Final Fantasy VII went on to become my absolute favorite game between 1997 and 2001 (only surpassed by Suikoden II), it is still my second favorite game to this day.
After that my love for JRPG’s was cemented, I went on to play many of them on the PS1 and beyond, even managed to play Xenogears a game that never made it’s way to Europe by having a friend loan me a US PS1 and a copy of the game, he himself had borrowed from someone else (many years later I bought that same copy from that person). I loved all of them, from 97’ to the mid 00’s I was satisfied by almost every JRPG I played, even Shadow Madness! Only Jade Cocoon and Lost Kingdoms disappointed me.
"I even liked this game!"
I think my affection started to wane at the tail end of the PS2 era. By that time I had played a lot of JRPG’s, and managed to make up for some of the classics I missed due to my location. I don’t remember when I started to notice the tropes, when the cliché actually became a cliché, when the storylines with insipid idealism and the power of friendship started to piss me off so much. I don't know if they were always there, or if only now I started to notice them.
I keep thinking that maybe it’s me, that JRPG’s haven’t changed, I’ve changed. I'm an adult now, while JRPG’s still try to cater to my 14 year old self. I can’t relate to the teen protagonists anymore, their spiky hair and their huge swords seem silly to me. I keep thinking that I have grown but they haven’t grown with me. Maybe that’s it? Maybe it isn't? But the love is just not there anymore, any JRPG I play these days disappoints me.
From Xenoblade Chronicles to Ni No Kuni, my problem is not the gameplay, ignoring certain random repetitive tasks required by some games, usually only encountered on the venture for that fabled 100% completion. No, the characters, world and storyline are my problem, the very reason I got so attached to the genre, the very reason I fell in love. Even my attempts to play older games end up in disappointment, I gain far more enjoyment from western RPG’s these days; like the Witcher or even Dragon Age than anything from Japan. Their more somber, serious storylines are more attractive to my current self, than convoluted melodrama.
"Must... Not... Break... Screen..."
Like an old married couple however, that has been together for so long it doesn’t know how to be apart, even if all the love is gone and they can barely hold a conversation. I still play JRPG’s, almost masochistically so, I keep looking for that game that will make me feel how I felt those 97’ honeymoon nights.
I don’t know if my love of JRPG’s will return, I don’t know if they will return as a my favorite genre, maybe I’ll spend the rest of my gaming years trying to find something that can’t be found. But I won’t stop trying, using my precious memories as my fuel.