How the west won the RPG war

What happened to Japanese RPGs? Long gone are the glorious days when many ruled the PS1 and PS2! Youngsters these days don’t even know terms like turn-based battles, active time battles, guys with spikey hairs and big swords …

Rabidgames looks back at the first two Playstation generations and beholds true JRPG gems like Breath of Fire, Grandia, Dark Chronicle, Final Fantasy VII, Star Ocean Till the end of time, Suikoden 2 … Of course, there were some brilliant western RPGs like Summoner but if you wanted to play quality RPGs you basically needed a PC to play Baldur’s Gate, Fallout or Knights of the old Republic.

Nowadays, western themed RPGs rule the genre on consoles, too – be it the fantasy setting of Dragon Age or Fable, the post apocalyptic Fallout or the futuristic Mass Effect – they set standards and define RPGs.

So what happened? Rabidgames does not have a definite answer but some theories might spring to mind:

Case study: Too Human or Copy, Past & Fail
Too Human was just too bad, bland and boring; heck, even writing about it is a waste of time. Then why the fuck is it listed here? Because it shows that Japan not only repeats itself but also tries to copy western products. Sad thing is: There are games even worse than that one, namely Mindjack (the weird name is the only memorable thing here) or Quantum Theory (Gears of War as it would have been 10 years ago) … Instead of coming up with their own ideas, Japanese studios now look to the West and start copying …

Case study: Final Fantasy XIII or The Triumph of Linearity
Remember FF XII and the almost open world MMO feeling? All gone! FF XIII delivered a tutorial of 25 hours, narrow never-ending corridors, no towns, no real conversations almost no going back to places you’ve been before and spamming the A or X button over and over and over and over again. FF XIII was rather an interactive movie than a RPG. Yes, it was somehow successful (rather because of the hype), but critical voices have been louder than ever before.

Case study: Spikey Hairs and Clichés en Masse or Any Advancements Halted

There seem to be unwritten golden rules in JRPGs: The hero is an angsty teen with (usually blond) spikey hair who will overcome his fears and the end of the world. Combine said hero with scantily clad girls who look 12 and behave like 6, androgynous villains who were/are/want to become gods and ridiculously oversized weapons (usually swords). Even technically, evolution has spared the JRPG genre: There are basic dialogue systems at best, basically no branching multiple choice story archs and 3 battle systems: turn-based, turn-based with a bar which pretends to be real-time, and quasi real-time (think of Star Ocean or Valkyrie Profile).

Case Study: Dragon Quest for Nintendo or Why bother for Next Gen?

Dragon Quest IX is a DS game, DQ X to be released for wii, the really promising Xenoblade Chronicles wii only … there are other JRPGs for Nintendo consoles – yes, they might still sell in Japan but leave these few islands and sales are hardly there! See, Xenoblade Chronicles has only sold 230.000 units so far which is  meagre in a starving genre. Lost Odyssey, on the other hand, sold a solid 810.000 units – despite being considered worse. Why? Because it was released for consoles where gamers care! Do you want more examples? Blue Dragon sold around 800.000 units as well, Tales of Vesperia even 900.000 units. Surely, DQ IX is a 5 mio exception – but that’s about it.

Case Study: WTF? or Gameplay Malfunction

Here’s the thing – many next gen JRPGs have had their conspicuous shortcomings: Last Odyssey used the ancient system of chance encounters, a stupid level-balancing and made very light use of save points. Last Hope had abysmal characters and a shallow story, FF XIII was devoid of any exploration – admittedly, games like Fallout (and its bugs) or Fable (too easy) are not perfect – but neither have they core gameplay malfunctions nor do they seem to rely on a formula which has not changed in 20 years.

Rabidgames says: Those reasons show there are many things wrong on many levels in Japan these days – and if you love Japanese RPGs, well, your best option is to stop your PS2 from collecting dust and to start playing one of the old revered games of this genre’s golden past. The present is dim, the future … wait, what future?

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