WHY i love… ja­panese rpgs

The golden age of JRPGs wasn’t the 1990s: it’s now. Here’s why we should all im­merse our­selves in their myr­iad joys

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Pub­lisher Var­i­ous / De­vel­oper Var­i­ous / for­mat Xbox One / re­lease date Var­i­ous Steve Boxer

Call me a masochist, but I’ve spent en­tire months of my gam­ing life con­trol­ling ridicu­lously dressed char­ac­ters, sport­ing the worst hair­cuts in the his­tory of videogames, through game­play which largely con­sists of bat­tling slimy space­hop­pers with the aid of an ar­chaic turn-based con­trol sys­tem which, if I’m hon­est, is so com­pli­cated that I only half-un­der­stand it. Sounds like mad­ness, sure – but I can’t help my­self. That’s be­cause I’m hope­lessly be­sot­ted by Ja­panese RPGs.

The JRPG has never been the most fash­ion­able of gen­res, nor will it ever be. For me, that’s one of its many at­trac­tions. It’s a genre that has been around since the 1980s, and was de­rided as an anachro­nism 20 years ago. It’s like the Keith Richards of games gen­res, so reg­u­larly has its demise been pre­dicted.

Yet the JRPG is thriv­ing. Last year was one of the best in its 30-year his­tory, thanks to the likes of Fi­nal

Fan­tasy XV, while this year, we’ve al­ready had Mon­ster Hunter: World (not a typ­i­cal JRPG but it is Ja­panese, and an RPG), NieR: Au­tom­ata and Okami

HD, which is sim­ply one of the finest games money can buy.

How­ever, there’s a mi­nor hitch. JRPGs some­times by­pass the Xbox, mainly be­cause they are, well, Ja­panese – so are pri­mar­ily aimed at a mar­ket which has never fully em­braced non-Ja­panese con­soles. On the Xbox though we’ve had the

Valkyria Chron­i­cles games and Ys Ori­gins; Xbox 360 ti­tles Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon are now both back­com­pat­i­ble on the Xbox One and well worth play­ing. The Dis­ney­fied King­dom Hearts

III and the long-awaited re­mas­ter of Tales Of

Ves­pe­ria are on the way too. So more JRPGs than ever are com­ing to the Xbox One now, but what de­fines a JRPG? First and fore­most there’s a vis­ual style which could only pos­si­bly em­anate from Japan – more of­ten than not anime, and heav­ily in­flu­enced by leg­endary anime movie-house Stu­dio Ghi­bli (the non-Xbox Ni no Kuni fea­tured graph­ics cre­ated by Ghi­bli). Stir in a com­plex bat­tle sys­tem, which lets you con­trol all the char­ac­ters in your party and in­cludes some means of gen­er­at­ing the mega-at­tacks re­quired to take down huge bosses. Nowa­days, most JRPGs have fi­nally em­braced real-time bat­tle sys­tems, al­though the odd one still em­ploys a turn-based sys­tem to sig­nify its retro-homage cre­den­tials. JRPG bat­tle sys­tems must be com­plex, em­ploy­ing bizarre ter­mi­nol­ogy and a wel­ter of po­tions, rings and amulets. Fi­nally, sprin­kle with a con­vo­luted sto­ry­line which has ab­so­lutely no re­gard for glar­ing plot-holes and a bunch of em­bar­rass­ingly coif­fured char­ac­ters (the Ja­panese have a weird re­la­tion­ship with hair), at least one of whom will be an in­suf­fer­ably an­noy­ing brat, and you have the ba­sis of a JRPG. One thing I love about JRPGs is that they never re­quire panther-like fast-twitch skills. They will test your strate­gic abil­i­ties to the limit, though: you’ll need to build up those su­per­at­tack me­ters against the tougher op­po­nents and time their de­ploy­ment to per­fec­tion, select your party mem­bers and in­ven­tory with care, plus pay at­ten­tion to el­e­men­tal at­tacks and the like. JRPGs re­quire brain­power, not fast fin­gers. They also cel­e­brate the power of the col­lec­tive against seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble odds and ven­er­ate the un­der­dog.

Then there’s the in­evitable vein of ut­ter weird­ness you will find in any JRPG worth its salt. There’s the ob­ses­sion with fish­ing. And you can bet that what­ever en­emy you’re bat­tling will look pre­pos­ter­ously out­landish. The Ja­panese may have a strait-laced im­age, but in re­al­ity, when it comes to gen­er­at­ing pure fan­tasy, they are world-class.

JRPGs ful­fil per­haps the great­est func­tion of any type of videogame: to pro­vide glo­ri­ously invit­ing fan­tasy worlds in which we can im­merse our­selves for up­wards of 30 hours (achiev­ing the myth­i­cal 100-hour play-time has be­come some­thing of an arms-race among JRPG de­vel­op­ers re­cently), es­cap­ing the tri­als of real life, pro­vid­ing a gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence which is suf­fi­ciently sooth­ing that you feel com­fort­able enough to sur­ren­der your­self to it for hours at a stretch.

Don’t be tempted to swal­low the hack­neyed line that JRPGs are niche games for anime-geeks only. Over the decades they have been col­lec­tively honed into one of the most sub­stan­tial, ac­com­plished and sat­is­fy­ing gen­res in the gam­ing world. If you clas­sify your­self as be­long­ing to the more cere­bral end of the gamer­spec­trum, you’d be a fool not to check them out.

“Don’t be tempted to swal­low the line that JRPGs are niche games for anime-geeks only”

main NieR:Au­tom­ata is an imag­i­na­tive, vis­ual treat.

above The gor­geous Okami was re­leased in HD in 2017.

MAIN Mon­ster Hunter: World is one of our favourite games of the last year, and it’s Ja­panese and an RPG!

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