My history with JRPGs

jrpghistory-banner2After writing of my past history with visual novels, I felt like it would only be appropriate to devote some time to the other major genre I adore — the Japanese RPG. I have a far longer history with the genre compared to VNs, as I practically grew up playing JRPGs, and it’s no exaggeration to say that they greatly shaped my general taste in games over the years. And hey, maybe if you’re semi-new to the genre or feel like playing some old classics you might have missed, the list of games I’m about to talk about might come in handy. I mean, some of you reading this may be from a younger generation, maybe you grew up playing the PS2, or even the PS3, and have never really been exposed to the stuff I’ll talk about below. In any case, in order to start this story from the very beginning, we’ll have to jump all the way back to the late 90s. To the Nostalgia Mobile!

Be warned: this is going to be a very long read — I’m basically going to start from the SNES era and go all the way until the PS2 days, taking note of all the major JRPGs that affected me one way or another during my childhood.

While I’m aware of potential nostalgia goggle syndrome rearing its ugly head as I talk about these games, many of them have actually aged very well and I think they do hold up even today. In fact, I actually say that because I did replay a few semi-recently (FF7-9 and Chrono Trigger, for example) and still enjoyed them greatly on their own merits. Honestly the one game I *don’t* think has aged quite well is Tales of Phantasia  mainly because subsequent installments of the franchise just kept perfecting and perfecting the battle system. Anyway, what I’m saying is that this isn’t necessarily going to be a proper review collection, so to speak, as some of the stuff mentioned below I haven’t played in like a decade.

I played my first JRPG roughly 15 years ago — I’m not *quite* old enough for the 8-bit era, but just old enough to have started my roleplaying career in the 16-bit era. In any case, the game in question was the SNES JRPG Tales of Phantasia: the first, the original, the father of all Tales games that started a massive, still ongoing franchise — a game that I could only play by courtesy of a group called DeJap Translations. Who are also quite famous for taking certain, uh, liberties with the Japanese script, giving birth to this gem in particular:

phantasia04

Tales of Phantasia was really quite special because, despite being on the SNES, it actually featured a vocal opening song and battle voices, which sort of blew me away at the time. Sure, voice acting is taken for granted nowadays, but back in the SNES days, it was a big deal, and Cless actually shouting kogahazan mid-battle was the coolest shit ever. The part in the video at 1:30 where you see the heroes fly on their birds with the song entering its coolest phase was all sorts of magical back in the 90s, and I pretty much became a total fanboy of all things tri-Ace then and there. The actual game was interesting to me primarily because it had a time travel twist, with the heroes being drifted a hundred years into the past at the beginning of the game.

The game has seen a myriad of remakes since then and there was even a short OVA series based on the game (only for fans, otherwise you won’t really be able to make sense of what’s happening), but I personally have only ever played the very first iteration on the SNES.

There are two more big titans to be mentioned on the SNES, the first of which is Star Ocean.

star-ocean snes

Strangely enough, I remember little of the game’s story, but I found it fascinating that it lacked a world map and required players to actually walk to places on roads and stuff. What I do remember is that this was the game that made me learn the entirety of katakana, just so I could read simple item names like ロングソード and such. My memories here are very vague but judging by this I’m assuming I must have played the game before any English translation was released. In any case, I was so diligent with my studies of katakana that I never forgot it, and the knowledge pretty much stayed with me permanently. I tried learning hiragana afterwards, but found it quite difficult and gave up (I was like 12-ish at the time, cut me some slack), being content with my knowledge of katakana which, I must add, already made me the coolest kid in elementary school among my nerd friends. I probably won’t be revisiting this version of the game any time soon, as I already have the PSP remake on my backlog.

The third member of my personal holy triumvirate of SNES JRPGs is, as you might have expected, none other than Chrono Trigger.

Now this… this game was probably the first time I was seriously immersed in a JRPG and honestly felt like I was embarking on one hell of an adventure. And really, that’s sort of exactly what you’re doing.

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There’s a reason Chrono Trigger is on so many “best of” lists. Much like with ToP, the concept of time travel really fascinated me, and CT took it to a whole new level, whisking you away both to the long-forgotten past of ancient civilizations, the dark, apocalyptic future, and pretty much everything in-between, even going as far as giving you the ability to alter the past and thus influence the present or future. Like that one time you leave your robot companion to cultivate a wasteland, then travel forth in time a hundred years and there’s a forest there. Generally speaking, I was fascinated by the idea of traveling through various time periods, meeting old heroes and altering the timeline Back to the Future-style to prevent tragedy. I’ll just leave this song here. ;__;

There is basically no dull moment in this game, and it really is one of the finest accomplishments of the 16-bit era. Hell, this game even had a scene during which [redacted due to spoilers], something that not too many JRPGs have the balls to do these days, or even back then. And I loved it for that.

slide-seiken8The honorary mention goes to the top-notch sequel to Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3 (pictured above and never released in English, so you kinda had to go for a fan translation), an action-RPG with ample amounts of replay value and a variety of different endings based on which characters you choose at the start. And not just the endings were different: the fact that each character had a fleshed-out, specific prologue/backstory of their own (depending on who you chose as the protagonist) was really quite amazing back then, and gave SD3 some considerable longevity and replay value. And I don’t just mean differing opening cutscenes, either: each character had his or her personalized prologue segment that you had to play through, that introduced the character and established how and why he or she set out on a journey in the first place — think of something like Dragon Age: Origins, except this was in 1995. The best thing about SD3 is probably its co-op feature — your party consists of three members, two of which can be controlled by you and your buddy. The game itself is roughly 30 hours long but I must’ve sank at least a hundred into it over several playthroughs back in the day, playing through it in co-op with my brother.

If you’ve only ever played Secret of Mana, give SD3 a shot as well, because it’s pretty much a better game in every aspect, IMO.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point. What about Final Fantasy?

What indeed. I actually played and finished both 4 and 5, and they’re fine games, but did not really leave that much of an impression on me. I started 6 as well, but only played it for a couple of hours then got distracted by something else. To this day, I still haven’t bothered to go back and finish FF6, which is probably borderline blasphemy to some (many?) of you.

But that’s enough talk of the SNES, let’s actually move on to the PS1-era.

so2 psx

It’s hard to say which was the first RPG I played for this console — for some reason my memories are a bit more vague compared to the SNES. Star Ocean 2 was probably among the first, which I obviously had to play due to already having fallen in love with the first game. I liked the game as much as the first one, really, but I remember being slightly bummed out by the fact that the second half of the game takes place in a futuristic environment which I didn’t enjoy as much. After all, I primarily came to play a good old fantasy JRPG. And the first X hours of the story that do take place on the classic medieval fantasy planet are pretty awesome indeed. There’s also a PSP remake of this which I’ve never played and don’t really feel like ever playing. Besides, they really screwed the pooch with some of the remake’s character designs, which, frankly, look pretty horrible. Take Rena for example. This is how she looks in the original PS1 game:

star ocean2 rena ps1

Nothing wrong with it. She looks her age.

And this is what they made her look like on the PSP.

rena psp

Just… awful. I’m sorry but that is *not* what a “free spirited 18-year-old” looks like, no matter how hard your in-game text is trying to convince me. Nope. Nope.

NOPE.

She looked older when she was seventeen, for God’s sake!

So anyway, SO2 on the PS1 was nice and all, but it’s not quite the main attraction. For me, at least. The first game that truly blew me the fuck away was Valkyrie Profile, released in 2000.

(I remember that I always found it really cool how the battle in the opening movie uses the combo- and cooperation-focused in-game logic of the combat system. You can see one character do a launcher, then another striking it mid-air, then the sorceress nukes it as it lands.)

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with VP, the game is pretty much based on Norse mythology — the main protagonist is the Valkyrie Lenneth, one of Odin’s Battle Maidens who roam the human realm of Midgard and collect the souls of fallen warriors and make them their Einherjar, carrying their spirits off to the plains of Valhalla. All the while, the “end of the world”, a final apocalyptic battle called the Ragnarok, is imminent, and Lenneth is tasked with recruiting the finest heroes of Midgard in order to prepare for the calamity. And if you think recruiting party members is going to be a simple affair, think again.

vp combat

Remember that you’re basically searching for warriors who are dying. As you can imagine, this leads to witnessing tragedy after tragedy as you journey across the world and see good people meeting their untimely end before you swoop in to “recruit” them. (The DS spinoff game, Covenant of the Plume, actually had an interesting twist based on this, with the protagonist despising valkyries as Godesses of Death, and vowing revenge against Lenneth in particular for taking the spirit of his deceased friend.) Basically, seeing the brief backstories of the various playable characters — leading up to their inevitable deaths — comprises a good chunk of VP’s story cutscenes. Hell, even the prologue that kicks off the entire game is depressing as all hell.

Combine all the above with a mature art style, an awesome combo-based battle system (with badass finishing moves!) and a fantastic soundtrack (that’s actually the battle theme and my God does it boost your morale), and you’ve got the recipe for one of the best JRPGs on the PS1. I poured countless hours into it, fully completed the bonus dungeon called Seraphic Gate and showed all the secret bosses who’s, well… boss. The best part about Seraphic Gate was that it allowed you to use characters like Lezard, Brahms or Freya as party members, who are otherwise not really available in the main story (in fact, they’re sorta the antagonists). So basically imagine if you could recruit Sephiroth into your party in FF7 to tackle a bonus dungeon together. Something like that. In any case, the game was one of my major addictions back then. I don’t think there’s a single fan of Valkyrie Profile out there who couldn’t quote Lenneth’s battle monologues by heart, such as everyone’s favorite “It shall be engraved upon your soul! Divine Assault — Nibelung Valesti!”, and so on.

The game has been met with some criticism due to its usage of a semi-time limit — Ragnarok is approaching, and the clock is ticking, so every time you entered a location or city on the world map, you would lose time units. I didn’t mind this too much, although some people seemed to hate it back then. There’s multiple endings to the game, all of which are quite different and you’re sort of required to view them all for the optimal experience, since even the premature bad end has some very interesting and relevant cutscenes, believe it or not.

vp lenneth freya

The whole “recruit warriors for Valhalla” thing was also not just a story thing, it actually translated to the gameplay as well — from time to time, you were required to send characters up to Valhalla to aid the war effort. When you did this — and this is the interesting part –, those party members were pretty much lost for the rest of the game, so you had to plan in advance. The stronger characters you sent up, the better results you got in the war, and so on.

Okay then! You know how I jumped on Star Ocean 2 because of the first game? Well holy shit was I excited when Chrono Cross came out (also in 2000), a sort-of sequel to one of my favorite SNES games. It happens to have one of the most beautiful opening songs I’ve ever heard in a JRPG, combining a melancholy beginning with a middle and end full of sheer passion — Time’s Scar. The first time I heard it, it was like an orgasm in my ears. There’s really nothing quite like it, even today. But hey, don’t take my word for it, listen to the song yourself.

Let me just address the most obvious thing and say that no, I’m not one of the Chrono Cross haters. “Haters?”, I can hear you ask from across the internets. Yes, haters — and the reason, I imagine, is because Cross is a very, very different game from its predecessor, and while it is indeed a sequel, it hides this fact very well. The old cast is gone, the old world is gone, everything is new and you’re controlling some dude called Serge who you’ve never heard of before. Also the storyline of Cross does a few, uh, questionable things to the timeline/plot of the original.

Oh, and there’s… there’s a pink dog in it.

cc leena

Furthermore, the game is sort of infamous for having like a hundred (not exaggerating) playable characters, many of which are filler. This also bothered me back in the day, but not as much as others. In any case, I still maintain that it’s a really fun ride, with colorful graphics and a variety of twists and turns in a truly rich fantasy world, accompanied by one of the best PS1 soundtracks ever (seriously, go and listen to the OST, right now). You sort of just have to ignore that it happens to bear the Chrono name and enjoy it for what it is.

Alright, we’re done with Chrono, done with Valkyrie. Now we come to the big one.

Yes, it’s time for *that* game.

FF7-

If you think the hype is massive for this game today, you should’ve seen what it was like around 1997, when it was released. I clearly remember that it was my brother who was gonna get it for me, I think a friend of his had the game, and he promised to lend it to us or something along those lines — however, one day he comes home from school with sort of a sad expression on his face, saying that he forgot about the game and that he didn’t have it. So naturally, I was all “aww…” at that point.

Then a second later my brother flashes the biggest smirk ever and takes out the jewel case of Final Fantasy VII from his bag, shouting “JUST KIDDING, IT’S FUCKING HERE FUCK YEAH FINALLY”. Needless to say, we pretty much said fuck you to homework that afternoon and went to try the game right away. I also remember reading a review of the game in a magazine beforehand, and it made mention of the “cutting edge 3D graphics” present in the game, which is sort of funny as hell these days. But back then it was true! Now, FF7… I’m completely biased about it, but I do love this game. I really do. I’m not gonna pretend it’s a Shakespearean masterpiece of a story or anything, but I replayed it a couple of years ago and could immerse myself into the world just the same.

ff7-1

Even if we ignore the story, what I enjoy so much about it is that it basically uses the classic JRPG formula of “the long journey around the world” which I still adore to this day. That’s a term I just came up with now, but it’s basically that shared narrative construction of so many JRPGs, especially ones from that era. You have a group of characters — they stick together, and journey far and wide across the entire continent, always chasing after something, pressing onward, but never returning to older areas. They just press on and on, and each new town or city they come across is a little self-contained story arc of its own.

Like when your desert buggy breaks down and you end up in the Cosmo Canyon arc, delving into Red XIII’s backstory a bit. Then you move on to Nibelheim to get a glimpse of Cloud’s past. Then it’s the town with the rocket, which revolves all around Cid. Hell, even that brief bit in Costa del Sol was a thing of its own, and gave you a quick breather. And so on. Every area is memorable, every locale has its own story, its own arc. It creates a good rhythm and makes the player want to play more and more to find out what would happen next. It’s what I sorely miss from certain JRPGs these days — the “Journey”, now with a capital letter for coolness. This is the sort of narrative pacing I enjoy seeing in JRPGs, and while other, earlier games do this as well, it was probably FF7 that first made me realize how much I loved the concept of the “Journey”.Quite possibly the most fascinating moment in the game is when you finally leave the city of Midgar for the first time. Up until that point, Midgar was your entire world. As far as you were concerned, Final Fantasy VII was a story set in Midgar, the futuristic city where the rebels of Avalanche fight a desperate battle against the evil Shinra Corp. There were countless sectors, an upper layer and a lower layer with the slums, entire communities and smaller towns scattered around inside this massive metropolis.

And then you leave.

As that initially ominous world map music kicks in for the very first time, you slowly realize that Midgar was just a speck of dust on one of the game’s many continents, and now, you have an entire planet to explore. I actually still remember the very first village that you come across after first leaving Midgar — it’s the village of Kalm (and soon after, the Chocobo Farm), a small and quiet community true to its name. And the place just feels so vastly different compared to everything you’ve experienced in the game up to that point. It’s a breath of fresh air, and the game’s way of letting you know that one big chapter has ended, and another one is just about to start. The journey begins.

squall gunblade

In any case, that’s quite enough of me blabbering about FF7 (or how Advent Children shat on Cloud’s character development), so let’s actually move onto the next episode, FF8. I first came into contact with this game via its demo. Hilariously enough, the demo managed to feature a fairly boring part of the game, namely the bit where Squall first dances with Rinoa, then fucks off into the training area to fight a T-Rex or something, and has a brief heart to heart with Quistis. Strangely enough I didn’t find it boring at the time, in fact the dancing CG was like cutting-edge graphics back then. I remember excitedly showing the scene to a friend and she was all “oh, ok, how much longer do we need to watch these two dance?” (she was right.)

Anyway, FF8 is, to me, the weakest of the PS1 trilogy, but I don’t really dislike it, either. It’s still far better than stuff like Type-0 (which might very well be one of my least favorite FF games now); at least I recall having more fun with FF8, that’s for sure. And I can say that without the whole nostalgia thing going on, as 8 was another game I replayed only recently, a couple of years ago. The plot is somewhat of a blur, though. Balamb Garden this, Ultimecia that, then you go to space, then time compression happens and… I dunno. The soundtrack is nice, though! And let’s be honest, Liberi Fatali fucking sold this game. That opening movie with Squall and Seifer fighting was the talk of town for the longest time, and everyone just had to play this game. And trust me, everyone wanted a gunblade. It was that badass. Anyway, I still love Liberi Fatali quite a bit, it’s just a cool song.

ff8 screenshot-

I do, however, remember the whole GF boosting mechanic being really annoying. Oh and can we not have unskippable summoning cutscenes that are half an hour long, thanks. The oft-mentioned Junction System is, however, really not as super duper complicated as people make it out to be. At least as far as I remember. I mean it’s not rocket science, you junction your magic to your stats to make them better.

That’s about all I remember of FF8 at the moment, so let’s move on to 9, which I love as much as 7… probably even more than 7, but it’s hard to tell. I mean, right off the bat it features the most chill world map theme ever. And I totally had a crush on Garnet. I’m sure we all did.

I don’t have much to say about FF9, actually (it’s just a solid game all the way through), but I remember it being quite a big deal when it came out, primarily because it completely dropped the whole sci-fi/futuristic look of 7 and 8 and decided to go back to the series’ roots by introducing a 100% fantasy world with classic white mages, black mages and everything in between — it was basically what Bravely Default is today, doing a 180 and breaking away from the Lightning-dominated FF landscape. It also had by far the best graphics out of the three FF games on the console, and was overall one of the best looking games on the console, period. And the CG cutscenes looked amazing: when the massive summon Alexander makes his entry to fight against fucking Bahamut (!), it just blew me away.

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What I still love the most about FF9 is the main pair. People might not have liked the whole Cloud x Aeris thing very much (I’ve always preferred Tifa myself, or as I like to call her, Miss Friendzone), and boy will you find *plenty* of people complaining about Squall and Rinoa. But Zidane and Garnet, I felt, were really nicely matched, as the game very much played on the “dashing rogue meets princess” fairy tale trope, which I personally really like, despite it being the height of cliché. And yes, I still love the game’s ending scene when you-know-who appears out of the blue, and the fact that it’s staged as a play (“I beseech thee, wondrous moonlight, grant me my only wish! Bring my beloved Dagger to me!“), and that this song plays as the syrupy sweet finale plays out. Eyes on Me, eat your heart out. It screams cliché fairy tale love story, but fairy tales are nice once in a while, no?

garnet oh shit-

Vagrant Story is an interesting case.

I did play it back then but sort, uh… hated it. Like so many others during that time. However, then I went back to it years later, now aware of the fact that I have to pay attention to what weapons I craft and what enemy weaknesses I have to exploit and so on. And it was pretty fun! The story itself is classic Matsuno as well, backed by Alexander O. Smith’s ye olde English writing style, who is pretty much a total role model for me as far as English translation is concerned. He alone is part of the reason why I love translating stuff that allows me to write in a semi-archaic, grandiose manner.

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Anyway, the game is pretty dark all the way through, ending on a crazy “holy shit that did not just happen” scene. The thing is, people usually dislike this game greatly because it can be fairly unforgiving to newbies. For instance, you have to craft different types of weapons for different enemy types, otherwise you’ll be doing pitiful chip damage most of the time. Vagrant Story is definitely a game I came to appreciate more when I sat down to play it again, older and wiser. The final game to be mentioned — very quickly — is Final Fantasy Tactics, a game that I remember absolutely *nothing* about aside from the fact that I loved it, and that it had an amazing ending with a pretty crazy twist.

And now we come to the PS2 era! Wow. What a console.

ffx tidus

One of the first games I played after buying a PS2 was, unsurprisingly, Final Fantasy X. This FF game is a pretty strange case, because while I was really into it back in the day (I suppose partly because I was excited to finally have a PS2), in retrospect it’s not really among my favorite FF games. I mean, it’s a solid game and everything, but it’s just that I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters (aside from Auron, because who doesn’t like Auron), and on the whole, I didn’t care too much for the world of Spira. I know it’s a massive magical world with fantastic locales and everything, but… the spell somehow didn’t have an effect on me this time. Like, at all. Probably the most vivid memory I have of this game is how my save files got corrupted like halfway through the story, so I was forced to start the entire thing from the beginning after getting a new memory card as well. And I did play through it again, miraculously enough. Determination, man. I had my spanking new PS2 and no one was gonna stop me from enjoying it!

grandia 2 art-2

Okay, Grandia 2. Now this is… an interesting case. Honestly, I remember little of the game, and I’m not sure how much I would like it today, but back then it was all sorts of magical.

But back in the day, I remember really enjoying the adventure, and was genuinely bummed out as I came closer and closer to the finale. My brother was also playing the game at the time, but he was a lot farther behind in the story compared to myself, and I clearly remember telling him how envious I was of him because he still had a lot of the game to experience, while I was nearly done with it. Silly, I know, but I was young, haha.

shadow hearts 2 karin art

So, the next game is one that holds a very special place in my heart: I’m talking about Shadow Hearts Covenant, the sequel to Shadow Hearts. Also referred to as Shadow Hearts 2, or simply SH2. It’s probably one of the lesser known JRPGs on the PS2, but one of the finest, and if you have the means to play it, DO SO. You can even skip the first game if you wish, as long as you read a brief plot summary of it, but you have to play the second one.

The first game, I felt, had a nice atmosphere going on but was fairly average — the second game, on the other hand, completely won me over. For one, it does indeed use the “Journey” formula. Like, this is a textbook example of it. A cast of diverse characters, going on an adventure in an alternate 1910s, journeying all around alternate JRPG Europe. It’s a pretty fascinating setting, to be honest, since it’s both familiar and magical at the same time. Also, in a very bold move, the game decided to declare the bad ending of the first game as canon, and used it to kickstart the storyline of the second game in a pretty brilliant way… and still managed to tie it up in a way that may or may not have just made the original game’s good ending canon at the same time (yes, I know, stay with me though) with a pretty interesting twist. Actually, the true ending of SH2 is so memorable, so ambiguous (and bittersweet) that I’m willing to bet you still have people discussing it to this day.

Nonetheless, Shadow Hearts 2 is an absolute gem of a JRPG that no PS2 owner should miss out on.

sh2-screenshotSo, uh what next? I’m sure you’re expecting me to say Star Ocean 3, but while I did start it, I never ended up finishing it. I should one day, though. Although it never quite clicked with me the same way SO1 or 2 did, and the battle system was a bit awkward.

My introduction to the Shin Megami Tensei series also occurred in the PS2 days, via a title called Digital Devil Saga. And while dungeon crawlers aren’t my favorite genre, I was surprisingly addicted to DDS. It had a very interesting premise, an exotic setting with a similarly unique soundtrack and a tragic tone, so the overall package was pretty damn appealing, even to me. And then came the sequel, which sort of threw all of that out the window… and while I still played and kinda enjoyed it for the most part, it just wasn’t the same. I consequently never finished it and stopped playing in the final dungeon, I believe. I totally get why the changes were necessary from a plot standpoint and I admit it’s a pretty cool twist, in retrospect. Honestly I somehow suspect I would enjoy DDS2 more had I played it today, but back then it wasn’t what I was looking for.

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So after DDS, I turned to Persona. The third game, the only one on PS2 at the time, as this was before the release of 4. At first I was really hooked, but by the end, I was sort of starting to grow tired of the thing, the characters didn’t grab me and some of the plot twists were kinda cliché and a bit predictable. I mean it was still a fine game — it’s really the release of Persona 4 that made 3 look a lot worse in my eyes by comparison. Persona 4 had everything I ever wanted from 3: a better setting, better music, better Social Links, far more lovable characters and a story revolving around a cool murder mystery as opposed to just “hey climb this Tartarus tower because lol”. Oh and controllable teammates. I rarely say this, but to me personally, it was a superior title in every single aspect, and even I was surprised by how much P4 seemed to be custom-tailored to my needs based on what I wanted after P3.

persona 3 wall-s

persona4 wallpaper-s

So, next up is Wild ARMs 5. It’s the first and only game in the series I personally played, but it’s definitely a game I really adore, for some reason. And it’s not even *that* excellent. But there’s just something really charming about it that I can’t quite put my finger on. A friend and myself used to talk about our shared love for this game, and I suppose a good way to describe it is “cliché, but well-made clihcé”. And that’s sort of the case, you have the kid protagonist with the tomboy childhood friend who clearly has a massive crush on him from Day 1 but he’s too dense to realize it, and the entire story starts off with the mother of all clichés, The Amnesiac Mystery Girl Appearance.

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However, the characters are fairly lovable, the music is excellent, and even the story gets pretty interesting towards the end. The ending in particular has a twist or two in store for the player: it’s actually really memorable and took me by complete surprise when it did happen. And things get pretty emotional. So yeah, not one of my top JRPGs by any means, but WA5 is a nice, solid game nonetheless.

So. Let’s backtrack a bit. We’re now in 2006. Quite possibly the most anticipated JRPG is about to be released, and it’s called, you guessed it, Final Fantasy XII.

Man, this game caused such a massive shitstorm. I mean, wow. Lots of fans of the classic PS1-era FF games, or even FFX, hated it with a passion, saying it has a boring story, it has no character development, it feels nothing like a Final Fantasy and what the fuck is Vaan even doing in this game being the protagonist. If you’re wondering, I wasn’t one of those people — in fact, XII is quite possibly one of my favorite FF games. Like, ever.

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I loved the world, the Gambits, the battle system, the mature atmosphere, the war, the intrigue, and the personal stories that aren’t necessarily in the forefront, which is probably why people pay no heed to them. I’m talking about Basch’s relationship with his brother, or Balthier’s with his father, or even what you had between Larsa and Vayne, who I consider to be a really cool, ambiguous / Machiavellian villain. Or dare I say, anti-hero. I mean if you consider Vayne’s motivations, in a different world he could have been the protagonist, in a way — the chosen one.

I believe my final playtime was around 120 hours, after having completed both the main story and, well, pretty much the majority of all the side content available: I remember doing every single Mark Hunt as well with the exception of the last one, Yiazmat (a reference to designer Yasumi Matsuno). I’m still bummed out by how the development of this game (apparently!) underwent some rough patches, and sometimes I get the feeling Matsuno’s full vision was never realized after he left Square during the development of XII. But who knows. I’m pretty sure Vaan and Penelo were added in later just to appease the younger crowd, because otherwise (if I’m not mistaken), Matsuno intended Basch to be the protagonist. Which would have been amazing. But really, when you look at the game and its narrative, it becomes painfully apparent that Vaan is just a blank slate, and that Final Fantasy XII is primarily the story of Ashe.

ff12 ashe2Holy shit this post has been going on for a while now. I apologize if it was a bit too long, but I’ve been meaning to write this for weeks. Although I did play Persona 4 after FFXII, I wanted to close the article off with the game I love the most.

If you’ve read everything up to this point, hats off to your endurance, and thanks. As you know, JRPGs are still very much a a beloved genre of mine, despite my recent shift to visual novels. One day I might even regret getting a 3DS over a Vita, as the latter seems like it will be a more suitable platform for the genre, but who knows. (but I love my Ace Attorney, so the 3DS was a no-brainer). But I digress. Now you know which titles I grew up with, and maybe it gave you some insight into my general taste in games — so here’s to another decade of enjoying JRPGs.

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14 thoughts on “My history with JRPGs

  1. Hey, another Shadow Hearts 2 fan! Brofist man, i love that game so much.
    Too bad that part 3 was an utter disappointment.

    As for ff6, you should definately try finishing it sometime, its really glorious and i would even rate it as high as Chrono trigger.

    Another great game from that era is Breath of Fire iv

    As for another great ps2 title, Dragon Quest 8 was quite enjoyable.

    • Haha yeah, I tried getting into Shadow Hearts 3 but just gave up. SH2 had its wacky moments as well but 3 was just too much… and they replaced a fantastic main character like Yuri with some random kid.

      • yeah, so true. I mean to be fair, Johnny wasnt THAT bad, nbut he was just totally underwhelming compared to Yuri’s greatness. And yes, while the series started full-on horror rpg with Koudelka, SH2 had found the perfect balance between darkness and humour- SH3 skewed way too much into laughable territories, it just couldnt be taken seriously most of the time.
        I, too, never finidhed it.

  2. Hey, nice post man! I see your tastes in gaming are similar to my own, haha! As for me, my favourite JRPG would be Kingdom Hearts 2, with Final Fantasy IX, Suikoden II, Wild ARMS and Secret of Mana following it.

    As for music, the Ar Tonelico games are okay, but it’s their hymns that are truly majestic. Search on YouTube:
    “EXEC_FLIP_ARPHAGE-“,
    “EXEC_METEMPSYCHOSIS-“,
    “Ec Tisia”,
    and my favourite one – “EXEC_METAFALICA-.”.

    By the way, be sure and grab a PlayStation TV when it comes out here. There are quite a few very good Vita titles that you’ll definitely enjoy. That is, if you don’t mind importing, which I’m sure you don’t, haha!

    • I keep hearing people praise Ar Tonelico’s hymns so I’ll definitely check those out on YT, thanks!

      Yeah I’m confident the Vita has some really nice titles I’d enjoy, but it’s a bit too soon for me, I only recently got my 3DS, after all. :p I have plenty of unplayed games right now so I’m in no hurry to buy a new console, haha.

  3. I… can’t believe you haven’t played Wild Arms 2… That makes me so sad 😦

    Post was a pretty interesting read otherwise though, keep up the good work!

  4. What? No love for Xenogears or Breath of Fire? But it’s never too late. Since these have aged quite well, how about give them a chance?
    I also love RPGs that have that “journey” theme, but it seems this is being forgotten in favor of the “main base” formula, which I really hate! It makes the story feels like of one of those North American TV shows that always end the episode with the family returning to their house, giving the impression that the plot didn’t move forward…

    • Actually I played Xenogears for the first time only recently, about 2-3 years ago maybe? That’s why it wasn’t mentioned. I honestly didn’t really like it… Sorry! :p Well, parts of it I sort of enjoyed, but other parts I felt were extremely boring.

      Yeah, I don’t like the “main base” concept in RPGs either. I’m not sure if it’s a new trend or they’re just trying to cut costs, but I’m not a fan of it. See: FF Type-0.

      • Well, to be fair, it’s not every “main base” themed game that I dislike. I love Legend of Heroes VII, and the story is always around the same city, but the locations are always changing and the plot is always moving forward, so I don’t see any bad on it.
        On the other hand, there are some RPGs with long journeys but that I still find them to be just awful.
        In the end, it’s all about how skilled the writer is.

  5. Never got what’s so cool about chrono trigger.
    The way they use time travel to create the plot is simplistic and you can see where the story will go without having to rack your brains. There’s only one good twist throughout the game. The battle system is your average turn based one, and most of the characters aren’t well depicted or deep. I suppose most of the praise it gets is because of nostalgia goggles.
    As for SH I wouldn’t suggest to skip the first one, it’s a good game after all. Didn’t care much about the third title though.

  6. Too bad you didn’t like Xenogears, was a good game 🙂

    But I’ll just warmly recommend Ar Tonelico anyways while throwing in some new names: Xenosaga (PS2) and the Atelier series.
    And just relax, Xenosaga is not a sequel to Xenogears the only thing they have in common is the writer I think? Not sure and to lazy to google.
    And the Atelier series are lighthearted games with story, nothing really dark there. I found them so-so,, nothing I would replay, but fair enough. Maybe you’ll like them better?

    Thanks for your reviews 🙂

  7. I don’t really had a strong root with JRPG, hell, I don’t have a strong root with just about any genres, since I play a little of everything, lol. A lot of games you mentioned here I admit are either games I had yet to try, or are waiting in turn in my backlog :p In particularly, I’m honestly really trying to get more into the Tales series, so far, the only ones I played include Tales of Destiny and Tales of Innocence, lol. And maybe Tales of Radiant, though I’m not sure how much would that account, since it’s like a Tales-version Dissidia.

    My first major gaming I did was on the PS, and my first RPG game I played on it, was actually not FF, but Xenogears. It’s too bad that you don’t really seem to like it. Although I admit at that time when I was playing as a kid, I can barely catch up with the story, since it’s like a Evangelion-esque video game, lol. Although reading it’s LP recently really makes me appreciate of it’s narrative that much more. Also, back then, I personally thought Xenogears had one of the best robot designs ever (although that statement probably wouldn’t hold waters now, especially with robot designs like Zone of Enders, also my current favorite :p) At least you like Xenoblade *brofists*

    As for the Wild Arms series, I personally haven’t play Wlld Arms 1 or 2, but as far as I can tell, Wild Arms has a wild west roots, and 4 in particular, was interesting in a way that it opted for a more futuristic look instead. I think you can check that out in particular if you’re interested in it. There’s also that very awesome, badass, swordswoman in WA4 too :p Also, I’m not sure if you noticed, but WA5 has a lot of cameo appearances of the WA protagonists from the older WA games too.

    Did you ever play Suikoden? I personally think recruiting 108 characters (you don’t necessarily need to recruit ALL of them, though) is a very interesting concept, as it is based on Chinese classic literature, and Suikoden 1 seems to be some fictional place based on China, or it could be because the main character wearing Chinese clothes. I don’t know, lol. Suikoden 1 is the only game in the series I didn’t play, but the rest 2 to 5, I finished them all.

    About Final Fantasy 7, the first thing that had me gawking at the screen was “That’s one huge ass sword!”. Me and my friends were always joking around that Cloud’s sword is pretty much a huge butcher knife. Then, come Sephiroth, and we were like “That’s one long ass sword!” Such odd designs (or perhaps sizes) can pretty much be counted as normal nowadays, but back then, it had quite a shocking factor, lol. It’s like FF7 was competing against everyone in having the biggest swords in history.

    • All its silly angst aside, Tales of the Abyss is a good title to start with if you only speak English. I actually forgot to mention it in my post.

      I probably missed every single reference and cameo in WA5 then, because like I said, it’s the only one I played. I never even looked at the others, like ever. :p

      And no, I actually never played Suikoden; I hear it’s a classic and that 2 is apparently really good… I have some friends that have been bugging me to play it for ages, but I never really got around to it.

      • You should really get around playing suikoden 2. Up to this day, it still stands (personally) as one of the best JRPG games. Heck I’ve finished it twice already on my android using an emulator.

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