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9:33 PM on 03.08.2009 // Ballistic
RPGs are good damnit! Rebuttal to Reverend Anthony

For anyone who missed it, Reverend Anthony took time out of his day of stomping on kittens and raping all that is good and happy with the world to personally spit on what many gamers here on destructoid find close to their hearts, JRPGS in this blog. His opening volley was a nice little Indy “game” called Linear RPG which I actually found to be worth playing, and found hilarious in it’s lampooning of JRPG storyline. But the thing is, Anthony took that harmless little game and used it to base his entire argument against the JRPG without considering what people really enjoy about the subgenre. Hopefully I can explain what I think are the reasons we love RPGS/JRPGS and provide direct responses to Anthonys’ own attacks against them in a way that you can relate to and understand.

JRPGS are built on ritual. You’ve heard the story a million times before, in the same way, with practically the same character archetypes, and yet you still find yourself attracted to the next shiny new game, which promises to be essentially the same thing, and yet you find that to be a good thing. WHY? It’s because we crave that sameness. We want to grow accustomed to that battle theme that we’ll hear literally thousands of times, we want to be able to navigate the menu screen without even looking at the television because of how often we’ve specifically used hyper potion, we want to be comforted in the knowledge that every single enemy of the same type can be killed with the same exact formula every friggin time.

I know some of you reading this who love JRPGS will be disagreeing with me on some of those examples, but to some degree my point is true: JRPGS are built to be stable, predictable, and ritualistic. It’s what makes the old ones so endearing to us, because they have become ingrained so strongly in our memories. Every facet of the experience of playing them gets stuck in our heads because we experience it a million times before it’s over. What would normally be an annoying and frustrating experience to a non fan becomes familiar and soothing to the fan of JRPGS. Just answer me this: would we feel as connected to characters in RPGs so much if we only went through a dozen battles with them, versus the countless number of battles that we have with them? Stories in RPGS are usually meant to have taken place over a considerable period of time, and because of that, the characters in the game feel closer to each other. This feeling usually is even shared with the player because of the extensive real life hours the player has put into the game through this padding of lather rinse repeat gameplay.

JRPGS are founded upon character interaction. I noticed Linear RPG was missing a critical part of the JRPG experience, the party. Oh sure there was the love interest, or Tseret Nievol as she was cleverly called, but a JRPG isn’t the same without a full party. The epic nature of the story of an RPG is meant to show that no one person is capable of tackling such a huge problem like the apocalypse alone. It is only through the power of friendship and all that Captain Planet Ma’Ti business that the main character ever makes it to the final boss. Lovers of JRPGS also desire to see a variety in what kind of people join the protagonist in his quest, and want to also feel like they’re a part of such an incredible group.

Some of the best characters in RPGs haven’t even been the main characters or even the ones most relevant to the plot. It’s been the minor party members that are simply there to provide a distraction from the main battle that have been the most endearing to fans. Cait Sith, Koromaru, Mog, and many other minor party members have been that special element that changes the party’s dynamic and made the group feel unique to that RPG, and not simply another Mage/Warrior/Thief combo. Without a rounded out party, there is no respite from the problems of the main characters, and no other people for the main character to talk their problems out with. It isn't even possible for the protagonist to handle all the different types of enemies out there without the specialized help of a well rounded cast.

JRPGS have choice, not in battle, or story, but in the methods used to prepare the party. Here’s where the Linear RPG comparison to real RPGs completely breaks down. Nowhere in Linear RPG did you have to stop and check to see if your materia was lined up right so that you wouldn’t just be casting Fire on one guy, but the whole group. Nowhere in Linear RPG did you have to re-equip your weapons so that they weren’t just the strongest, but the most effective against the particular enemy you were facing. Nowhere did you need to realize that the enemies weren’t regular baddies, but Zombified, and you do best to throw some Phoenix Downs on them to insta-kill them. Equipment and Party management in RPGs are a small thing, but are really the one thing that is left mostly up to the player to figure out how to use the way they want to.

The variety of ways that JRPGS uniquely handle leveling up and party management is where the real strategy and player‘s style shines through. If I were to take a look at one person‘s version of Khimari in Final Fantasy 10, he might not play anything like another person‘s through the nature of the sphere grid. The materia system of FF7 also makes it possible for player customization to create whatever kind of effects you would like for your characters to have in battle. Believe it or not, when I see my friends play RPGS, it’s hard not to notice all the little differences that their choices have made in their playstyle.

Good JRPGS have strategy in battle if you do not grind all the damn time. But I will easily concede that if it‘s strategy that game designers want us to use, then they must design a better method of limiting or ending grinding. Many longtime JRPG players seem to fall into either 1 of 2 camps. They either love the grind and come back to the game after it’s beaten to try and outgrind themselves, or they challenge themselves to beat the game with as little effort put into grinding as possible. I guess I’m of the second type.

Something I noticed myself doing in Persona 3 relates to this. I found myself getting into a pattern of racing to get to the tops of each segment of the tower that was unlocked without running into too many encounters, which I had learned to avoid extremely well if I wanted, and lock down the teleport that was available at the top. Then after exiting and saving, I’d play the boss. Sometimes I’d get my ass beat, and other times, I would hang in there. I’d look for the patterns in the bosses’ attack, seeing what weaknesses my party members would have to him, and work out a plan of attack. With my characters underleveled, each move was a matter of life and death. I’d restore dead party members, only to have my party wiped out, try again, and the same thing would happen. Eventually I’d give up and go back to leveling, but with a sweet spot in mind to level up to. You see, there’s a moment in those underpowered battles where you’ve been able to weather the worst of the enemies attacks, your party has been brought back to acceptable health levels, and there’s this great sense that the battle is under control and you can see it out to the end if you don’t screw anything else up. It’s kind of thrilling when it happens, but it’s never there if you always have the advantage of higher levels.

I want to end this by saying that even though I only agree with about 3% of what Reverend Anthony believes, I almost always strongly respect his opinions because he backs them up well, and with great reasons. I feel like this was one of the most inflammatory things I’ve read about games, while also being the most well reasoned, and it made me want to respond back with my own well reasoned and explained love of JRPGS. I hope that this in turn garners some well reasoned and explained comments, but that’s up to you.

P.S. I personally love one person’s comment on how to EXPLOIT the leveling system of Linear RPG, that was side splitting.
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