If you've ever owned a console, you know what a JRPG is: More than a Japanese Role- Playing Game, they were known for their colorful cast of characters, long play time, a plot involving a simple boy with an extraordinary destiny and spiky hair. I'll admit I never played Chrono Trigger nor any SNES era JRPG, my fix instead coming from Pokemon handheld games. The first JRPG I played was Final Fantasy VII on the PSOne, a game me and my cousin spent long nights grinding to the end. We never did fight all the Weapons in the game because of the sorry state the disc ended up in, but to say I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it is an understatement.
Laugh all you want, but these graphics in a Final Fantasy game? Twas the shit.
For me though, the golden age of JRPGs was the PS2 era. Games like Kingdom Hearts, Rogue Galaxy, Dragon Quest VIII, Final Fantasy XII (Which admittedly I didn't play until it came to PS4) all serving as shining examples of the genre. The one problem for these games? Or two problems? One, western made RPGs started gaining more steam, the likes of Dragon Age, Mass Effect, X-Men Legends/Marvel: Ultimate Alliance by then dominating the land aka my playtime. You'd still get a Shin Megami Tensei game or a Grandia but nothing really mind blowing. Two, (and this is more my personal view with no real data to back this up) the JRPG market was always considered niche. Never gaining the following of Madden or some game with a guy holding a BFG, you'd seldom see a niche game be the top selling game of the month much less a week.
Starting with the seventh generation, I didn't much bother with JRPGs, the one major one I played being Corridor Fantasy 13 or Final Fantasy 13 for those outside my social circle. I played it, met Snow, stopped playing for a few days, started it again, met Daj and then promptly returned the game unfinished. From there I went a solid four years before getting another JRPG. Sure there was Ni No Kuni but my interest in it just didn't exist, my RPG fix coming courtesy of Bioware whose games I sunk obscene amounts of hours into. It wasn't until 2014 I tried my hand at Dragon's Dogma; in a previous blog I mentioned how it took up my entire summer and for good reason, it was just brilliant. It was also significant in that it was the last game I purchased for my PS3, the early part of the following year being spent enjoying the wonders of the PS4. Even with a shiny new piece of hardware, a full year would end up passing before buying my first major JRPG: Final Fantasy 15, a game that could have been better but it didn't have Snow. Well it did have snow but it didn't have the guy named Snow...you get the idea, point is I still loved it. It was during this time more and more JRPGs started coming out and began dominating my gaming life. Below is a list of all the Japanese role-playing games I've played the last two years.
Final Fantasy XV (PS4, Xbox One, PC) Played on PS4, PC
The aforementioned Final Fantasy XV was the first in the line of current gen JRPGs I played. Originally planned for the PS3 under the name of Final Fantasy Versus 13, it was a game that spent 10 years in development and played and felt like a game that underwent numerous changes during it's development cycle. There's still no denying it was a great game even if the Royal Edition contained content I felt should have been in the base game. Even so the devs are still supporting the title with three more DLC episodes slated into next year.
What made 15 so likable was the relationship of Noctis and the gang. This wasn't about a spoiled prince and his loyal by duty subjects, this was about a boy faced with a big time destiny accompanied by his best friends; not because of a sense of duty (Though that was part of it), but out of a sense of friendship. Gladiolus, his bodyguard is more like Noctis's big brother who isn't afraid to get on his ass when he feels the former is slacking. His strategist and right hand man Ignis (Best FFXV boy don't "at" me) acts as the group's caretaker (Or mother) and chef...and driver. Button missing from the good prince's shirt? Ignis WILL NOT let that stand. Prompto is Noctis's best friend and the resident photographer. He's the main source of comic relief but the others will chip in with a quip or joke once in a while. Whereas the characters of Final Fantasy 13 were unbearable (Snow and Daj being the biggest culprits), the characters of 15 were more than bearable, they weren't this marauding band of world beaters, they were buddies on a road trip dealing with extraordinary circumstances forced on them because every game needs a compelling story. Keep road trippin' FFXV.
Tales of Berseria (PS4, PC) Played on PC
I'm gonna be honest, I've only ever played two games in the Tales of series: Tales of Zestiria which I never finished because it was lame and Tales of Berseria which was brilliant. Taking place in Zestiria's very distant past, you're put in the shoes of the vengeful Velvet Crowe on a quest to kill Artorious. The game's central theme focuses on emotion vs. logic, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons even if it means betraying the ones you care about. It's a gripping story from start to finish, each companion you come across having their own personal story to resolve. Clear your schedule if you want to complete this game as soon as possible because you'll spend a good 60+ hours with Madam Edgy and her merry band of friends.
Nier: Automata (PS4, Xbox One, PC) Played on PS4
No, I didn't include this because of a certain character's hind quarters. I included it because it was dangerously close to being my game of the year (an honor that went to Persona 5, which I'll talk about in a bit). Who knew playing as a ass kicking gothic dressed female android would be so fun? Not me, but kudos to Yoko Taro for making it work. The real magic of the game comes from the story, reach the true ending and you'll be questioning your very existence. Get to the credits and you'll officialy dub Taro a mad genius, whereas before he was just mad.
This game wasn't high on my priority list, though that changed after a quick romp through the demo. Tear jerking moments aplenty, plot twists galore, forget what you heard. Play this game and be blown away. And look at 2B's butt, she'll actually react to the camera being so close to her backside! In Yoko Taro we trust.
Persona 5 (PS4, PS3) Played on PS4
Where do I even start? This game inspired my username, this game introduced me to 3 new waifus, this game taught me that high school could be fun, this game even made more attractive to the ladies. I'll admit I had no real expectations for this game. I never played a single Persona game much less a Shin Megami Tensei game and as such didn't have any idea what I was getting into. The beginning of the game was a bit of a slow burn full of tutorials and an annoying talking cat who wasn't actually a cat (But was in fact...a cat). A few hours and bat swings later I was hooked. I was infiltrating palaces with such style and flair that even the act of just putting on my jacket turned into a multi-camera angled, slow motioned dramatic music in the background affair. I FELT cooler after each play session, there was a swagger in every step I took, suaveness oozed into my speech patterns, my small group of friends took notice of my new found confidence. The menus themselves dripped with personality, time was spent just flipping through them to see all the effects and designs. The menus were cooler than most entire games. I felt a connection with the game I rarely feel with games, the protagonist's friends were MY friends, his new home and school MY new home and school. His struggle? MY struggle, his triumphs MY triumphs. I was reminded of how it was to be that age, of how it felt to be socially awkward (A problem I admittedly still deal with as I slowly approach 30), of how exams turned my hair gray, how it felt to have a crush. Again, I was the protagonist and these were my problems.
I didn't even mention the other characters did I? Ryuji Sakamoto, Ann Takamaki, Yusuke Kitagawa and Makoto Niijima were just a few of the awesome characters in the game. This game excelled at subverting what I thought I knew about character archetypes. Ann wasn't just a pretty face. Though she struggled being comfortable in her own skin, she had goals, ambitions, a drive to better herself and not coast on good looks alone. Ryuji wasn't always the delinquent people made him out to be. Though he wasn't a genius, he could RUN, that is until some scumbag of a teacher screwed him over. These characters felt real, I wanted to be with them, I wanted them to exist in real life, I wanted them to succeed. I grew so attached to them that when the word "Fin" flashed across my screen, I actually missed them. It was a journey I didn't mind continuing, such that I didn't press a single button in the hopes an extra scene would lead to more gameplay (It didn't, much to my dismay) It was't just my game of the year, it became my game of forever, it became not just the best JRPG I ever played but the best GAME I ever played. Kudos to Atlus for really hitting it out of the park with this one. (Note: I will be doing a review for this in a future blog)
Ni No Kuni ll: Revenant Kingdom (PS4, PC) Played on PC
Remember how I said I didn't have any interest in the first Ni No Kuni? This game actually sparked my interest for Wrath of the White Witch. Ni No Kuni 2 improved on the original game in a myriad of ways. Gone was navigating through 95873409 menus to just get to the attack button, gone was the 9 hour prologue. The game went along at a more quicker pace, the combat streamlined, the scope of the plot expanded. This time around, you play as boy prince Evan Pettiwhisker Tildrum whose kingdom is usurped by a power hungry rat tired of the oppression his people face. Normally one would attempt to take back their kingdom but Evan isn't that kind of prince, he's the kind that establishes a brand new kingdom with the aim of making sure his subjects live happily ever after. If fairy tales and JRPGs had a baby, Ni No Kuni ll would be the child. It's heartwarming and a teensy bit cheesy, but charming all the same.
Dragon Quest 11: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PS4, PC) Played on PC
I'm gonna come out and say it: I've never beaten a Dragon Quest game. I played DQ8 on a PS2 emulator on my PC that I haven't beaten, I played DQ9 for a bit and lost interest. I have DQ: Heroes 2 on my PC that I'm hoping to get back to at some point. Which is why my enthusiam for the game was lukewarm at best. What I didn't expect was for this game to steal my life away from me. My official playtime according to Steam says it took me 107 hours tobeat the game but in actuality it felt like a much longer journey. And that isn't to say the game dragged on needlessly, I became engrossed in the game's world, my waking moments were spent thinking about a major story beat I just experienced. Turning off the game felt like a heart wrenching goodbye, things like eating, sleeping, working became nuisances. I wanted to get lost in this game, I wanted to feel it's warm loving embrace forever more. This masterpiece is easily 100+ hours long and not once did the game become a drag. No story element was there just for the sake of prolonging the game, there was a purpose to the story beats, each one contributing to the overall plot. The game became so long (In a good way of course) that it felt like I was playing a different season in the game, each time I reached a certain point I'd think it to be the end only for the game to surprise me and then not end, the ending itself not being the true end of the game. Any JRPG fan owes it to themself to play this. You don't need to be a Dragon Quest fan to enjoy this, get this game and let it tear your life away, you won't regret it. This is easily a game of the year contender for me (Again, don't "at" me)
Special mention goes out to Gravity Rush 2, a game I've yet to beat but still playing through.
All in all, this generation has been really kind to JRPGs, what are some of your favorite JRPGs? Any you would recommend? Feel free to share them in the comments.