Let's wax poetic for a few sentences and talk about the good ol' days. Growing up I was intoxicated by JRPG's like Final Fantasy 7
, Breath of Fire 4
, and Chrono Trigger
. I loved their focus on story and the depth of customization with items and equipment, at the time there was nothing like them. I used to describe RPG's as interactive novels to people because of the amount of text you got
to read. They also grabbed my heart with there musical scores. The lack of character voices meant that the games music had to be in control of building emotions and characterization. Never has a character or scene's composition been so important to communicating a message to the player as in these early text-driven RPG's.
It's almost as if there has been a wiretap in my head since I was a little boy and a glowering husk of a man has sat and noted every degree of warmth and satisfaction that these games have given me. He then sent this information to his secret society of joy-haters and slowly but steadily infiltrated the gaming industry to strip apart all of these elements from JRPG's. Or maybe some nonsense about new technology and widening audiences bare some blame, but how fun is that to imagine?
Several things in my mind are killing JRPG's right now to the point of making them unplayable, some are my fault, some are technologies fault, and some are developer's fault. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.
Let's start with me: That damn twig of a 23 year old who sits and writes blogs complaining about people who work real jobs for a living not having the decency to put their full
heart and soul into every drop of media they make that I consume from the cracked and itchy vinyl turn-chair I consider my throne. I, in all my importance, don't have the time I once did to level grind and wait patiently for the next plot point to saunter by. I require constant entertainment on several planes, I have become an FPS-man, after all. Life lasts an average of 8.3 seconds, blood is more abundant than water. If I manage to offer my talents to a game for the expressed purpose of grinding out experience points I expect a reward in the form of something I can use to beat someone over the head with. Notice I said "someone
." Now that MMO's and online multiplayer gives us the option to headshot our friends and nemeses rather than the cardboard cutouts that are computer controlled players, it's hard to choose the latter.
Next let's yell at technology, trust me, it's fun.
Voice acting. Yes, it has come a long way and isn't always the convulsive mess that was Final Fantasy 10
and when done well it can add a lot to a game and its narrative. Let's think specifically about its effect on JRPG's. First, it removed mountains of text. This may have been great news for people afraid of "book-learnin'" but it created a situation in which instead of using our own imaginations to identify a voice for the text on screen, we have one forced down our throat. This means if the voice acting is not done perfectly
it is done worse than if the game was text only. Anything less is a mistake we wouldn't have made in our heads. To make matters much worse it removed a large part of the function music served in these games. The more games started to use voice acting, the more music became a background service, like elevator music. Yes, in certain moments the score still has reason to rise to the occasion, but it is no longer given the duty to provide emotion for the dry text. This was a duty it filled amazingly well, so well I have to wonder if we really made storytelling "progress" in games since it has become more atmospheric and less catchy.
Finally the developers. Originally, a big selling point to JRPG's was the large immersive world's they offered full of side quests, minigames, and candy. Since then, sandbox games have come along and shat on them, offering the same benefits in a more interactive form. Western RPG's seem to have used the sandbox as the new setting for the genre. JRPG's have avoided it, going it seems more linear
then before. If you can't beat them, run like hell I suppose. To be more linear in favor of better storytelling would be the correct answer but story's are unbelievably shitty
. We're talking super generic and archetyped characters, meant to appeal to the masses, but actually connecting with no one. You sacrificed one positive in order to sacrifice another, it's like developer's wanted to pay someone to mug them. I'm probably lacking in specific examples on this one but just think of Final Fantasy 12
for a controlled amount, say 4 seconds, then I think we can finish up.
JRPG's used to be based around great storytelling. The recent lack of that I cannot attribute to anything other than an outbreak of disinterest and retardation in game writers (let's be honest it's the only way.) To make matters worse technology bullied the impressionable genre into using harder means to tell stories and to become more linear or fully sandboxed. Then I grew up, not into a more patient and composed individual, but into some sort of egotistical entertainment critic who can't wait six seconds for a microwaved hot dog without loudly "hmph-ing" and tapping his foot, who'd rather shoot his friend in the head while sitting alone at home than high-fiving him together at a Box Social or whatever it is you kids do these days.
Are JRPG's dead? Dying? Or is that putrid smell not a terminal cancer, but rather the fact that it simply hasn't had a decent wash in many a fortnight.
This blog is also appearing at Digital Hippos. Check it out if you're interested in indie games, music, and film. read