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Monthly Musing E for Effort: Westside 4 Life

So for this monthís topic from what I understand I am suppose to talk about a game or a genre that I hate but at the same time respect. This is not very hard for me as I have had many discussions with my friends about the topic I am about to speak on. The genre that comes to mind for me on this topic is the JRPG, which from what I have heard from speaking to other gamers is that you either love or hate this genre, and I will give you one guess which side you think I am on. I hate them if you did not guess already, this genre has presented many frustrations in my gaming life and I have yet to find a JRPG that I find fun or even interesting. I have similar feeling towards a lot of Japanese games in general, which I admit is very strange as my favourite franchise of all time is the metal gear solid franchise so I guess thatís an exception, but yes my taste in games remains very western the older I get.

What is my issue with this genre? You might be thinking, well everything apart from the turn based combat. We have all played as a spiky haired teenager with a ridiculously large sword at some point, and this is a repeated theme throughout this genre, along with a soft spoken girl who can cast magic healing spells and who your main character will most likely fall in love with by the end of the game. I find these characters to be some of the most repeated characters in this industry, as within playing one hour of any JRPG I know that my main character is either some cheerful, clumsy and spiky haired teen who is some how the chosen one, or some quiet, depressed, orphan, emo kid who is again the chosen one. This is not however my main issue with this genre or the Japanese style in general, my main issue is the game play.

JRPGs seem to present me with the same game nearly every time and the Japanese way of doing things in game development puts me in the same position every time which is wanting to kill myself. I find the that a lot of Japanese games and JRPGs in particular to almost be stubborn in the ways that they have progressed over the years, I have played at least 3 JRPGs on 4 different consoles in the last 12 years and I see little to no progression in this genre other than graphical if I am being brutally honest. The first JRPG I ever played was final fantasy 9. Now when I played this game I found some problems such as with a game being based around strategic turn based combat I found that strategy a lot of time meant nothing as the best way to beat the game was to grind and grind and grind and then grind some more until you could just about stand up to a boss. Grinding is what ruins this genre for me, especially when I feel itís forced upon the player which is the feeling I get from a lot of JRPGs. This problem was reoccurring throughout a whole bunch of JRPGs I had the pleasure of experiencing from the from the PS1 days to the PS3 and Xbox 360 days. This is why I feel there is little progression in this genre, I see little difference between final fantasy 7, 10 an 13 other then graphical.

Letís take a look at the western RPGs of recent years, the reason I am able to get along with these games at all is because they are built to suit so many different types of players. Many people would call this watering a game down or making it too easy for players who just are not good enough, but I say its smart game design. If you want a challenge and want to grind for 40 hours thatís fine but the fact is there are a lot of other people out there who donít want that stuff, and I fail to see the JRPG genre catering to those players needs, the players who want to play games like these but are too scared off by the thought that this genre is seriously difficult. I can understand back in the SNES or even the PS1 days it may not have been possible to create a game as complex as mass effect or fallout that changes its difficulty according to how the player is progressing but its easy on todayís consoles, this genre still stays in the same unforgiving shell its been in since its creation.

I have come to accept that this is the way of the JRPG, but why is making a game more accessible referred to as dumbing it down from what I hear from a lot of gamers. By no means are fallout, mass effect, borderlands or oblivion a kids game or an easy game, but its accessible and with all of these games I have grinded through by choice and not by force, simply because I found the world around me to be interesting enough to explore and the game play fun enough that I want to build my character, not that my character was not strong enough to progress, because in a western RPG I could just about progress anyway on my own skill and tactics. As far visuals go JRPGs have really pushed todayís consoles to their limits, but in my opinion there is a lack of innovation in the game play, almost as if the developers are either lazy or scared to change the formula because of the fear of losing some of their fan base. Other Japanese developers change the formula all the time, take a look at Mario, Metroid, Zelda and Metal Gear and if anything these innovations have caused these games to be called the greatest of their generation and creating a spark in the industry. The titles that have made this industry what it is today are all from Japan and JRPGs are one of the key foundations of this industry and has sparked hundreds of clones trying to emulate its success. The western RPG in my opinion has stolen the spotlight, as they incorporate all of the JRPGs best features with the accessibility to allow anyone to pick up and play with the choice of a challenge if they consider themselves "hardcore".

However I do have to give JRPGs some respect, one of the main reasons for this is that in this day an age of gaming when nearly everyone is willing to change their entire business plan in order to capture the grandma and baby market, JRPGs have stuck too their guns and carried on making the unforgiving, grind filled games for their fans and no one else. This is one genre that I feel has not really progressed or had any major innovations but has had enough small advances to make them relevant. Another reason I must tip my hat to this genre is its difficulty, although I may hate the difficulty of most of them, back in the day almost all games were difficult and itís hard to find many games in other genres that really prove a challenge without being cheap. A lot of people today talk about how many games today are also getting shorter in length I have to agree with this as I do see a lot of 6-8 hour single player stories these days, so it is nice to see games lasting up to 40 hours. So many games are only just about worth their value in length and could easily be completed in a weekend, no real effort involved or serious amount of time required to finish it, just progressing from A to B and game over. I also have a big interest in Japanese culture in general so I can appreciate some aspects of the way the Japanese developers do things, especially the art design and the soundtracks of a lot of these games. This industry use to be majority Japanese with a hint of western developers, now days it seems the other way around so its nice to have a bit of difference and change of pace in gaming, no matter how much it frustrates me I still find myself now and again trying the occasional JRPG and saying to myself "maybe this time its different". So that my two cents on the genre, I donít see myself changing in opinion anytime soon but I still respect and understand the people who are starting online petitions for a Final Fantasy 7 remake, so to conclude I will most probably remain Westside 4 Life.
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About Super Saiyan 18one of us since 5:10 AM on 06.15.2009

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