During the first years of the original Playstation, one genre stood up, the JRPG. It was a Golden Age for the fans of the genre, since basically all japanese companies had their franchise at the time, some more then one. Breath of Fire, Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy, Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile
and many others, many of them lauded as greatest of their time. And everyone loved a good JRPG. But something changed now, and many claims the genre to be dying or lost its magic. What happened?
Above: It is direct related with this.
The Anime Boom ended. Too many people jumped on the anime wagon in the mid 90s because it was the trendier and cooler thing at TV in these days. And the JRPG was the closest thing of anime games that existed in those days. When the Boom ended, anime became unpopular again and their fans become uncool too. Since the relationship of anime and JRPG cliches were very close, the genre started loosing its mainstream appeal. But this is not the only cause to the situation JRPG lives today.
Above: The truth is, few people can relate with him.
The japanese companies behind the JRPGs didn't understand what the Western market saw in the genre in the first place. Final Fantasy VII
was not a success on its visuals alone, but also because all the cast became classic, beloved characters. Cloud, the main character, was a elite SOLDIER with a troubled past, carrying a badass big sword and trying to save the world. It was easy to want to be him. Also, the supporting cast was composed of different, most of them likeable, characters. Even the villains had their qualities. But many companies had the weir idea that it was all about the visuals. Final Fantasy 8
tried to be bigger and prettier, but it turned in one of the most often forgot FF I know. Today, is very hard for a Western to like the main, girly protagonist in the series. For me, it was a relieve when I heard that the main character in FF XIII was a girl. It would be way more easy to root for her then for the crybabies of the previous games.
Above: She is a great, well developed character, that I can root for and even relate with.
But it is not just the characters that became less likeable. The story also became harder to appreciate, with a tendency to overwriting and general confusion of what is happening plaguing many JRPGs today. FFVIII, for example, suffered from this very problem. Today, I am not sure what the hell was happening in that game, and I was already 18 when I played it. If you are not sure why the hell you and the characters are going throu all this trouble, why you should care?
Above: Traditional, but great.
I don't believe, in other hand, that the trouble is within the gameplay mechanics. Sure, it is repetitive, but also are FPS, Fighting Games and others. Take Persona 3
for example. Is one of the most well rated game on the PS2 and is also very traditional in his gameplay, with turn-based combat and random generated dungeon crawling. Nor is the Japanese culture inherent to the games the problem. Again, Persona 3
is liked along many things for its portrayal of a japanese highschool life.
Above: Something western and japanese might think as cool.
The greatest problem is that many japanese companies do not understand that their games aren't just a success in Japan or some niche people in the West anymore. Millions of players bought FFXIII, so they could not just forget to take in account these peoples opinions about their games. So, the japanese market demand a girly boy protagonist, but the west hate them? Compromise a little, like making the character young, but dressing him in a more manly fashion and giving him a voice actor who does not sound as your little sister. Maybe giving the players some possibilities of customizing them, so both markets can make them more relatable. Also, try to create stories that the players from both sides can correlate. It is not impossible, as there is many games who are successful and/or critical acclaimed in both markets, like Bayonetta or Okami
I am not suggesting that JRPG must be westernized, since Persona 3 and 4
already showed that a great game does not need a macho, musclebound protagonist in USA, behaving like Sylvester Stallone, to people like it. But if you are going to make a game to be a world wide success, you need to think in a world wide manner. If the japanese companies keep with their home market as the only market they care, it is not a surprise that less and less people in the West cares about their games.