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Japanese RPGs – I Don’t Get It

Eternal Sonata, Last Remnant, Final Fantasy XIII, Valkyria Chronicles and Demon’s Souls. These are games (with the exception of Last Remnant) that were received fairly well by both gamers and critics, yet my experiences with all of them have always been frustrating and disappointing. I have always thought that I was missing out on so many great games by ignoring Japanese RPGs, and eventually one day I thought I should take a risk and just try one. After more than a handful of risks, I was surprised to know that I wasn’t missing anything. The Japanese RPG genre is plagued by cheap deaths, terrible voice acting and writing, and exhausting amounts of gameplay where the “innovative” battle system is constantly thrown at you.

It’s a shame because I really made the effort of trying to like a genre that many people had fond memories attached to, though the only memories I had were constantly dying in Demon’s soulsby a pack of dogs, a fire breathing dragon, or a group of guards that clearly surpassed me in every attribute. Sure it’s rewarding to kill the guard that has been stabbing me to death every timewe meet, but then I look at the time and 50 minutes have been wasted by for a section that takes 10 minutes run through. Rage quit. That is what I did when 45 minutes into a Valkyria Chronicles battle where I reached the half way point with my tank. After ending my turn and feeling quite confident in my placement, an anti-tank Lancer emerges from the grass and shoots a rocket at my weak point, which in turn ended the whole match. So much for upgrading the defense on my weak point.

But Andrea, the stories are so good in Japanese games. Sure, there were some unique stories that were actually interesting, but how can you convey a serious story with emotional teens and stereotypical characters, all blended with terrible voice actors, and terribly written dialog. Every Japanese game has always managed to make me cringe when a character began to speak, making it impossible to put myself into the world that actually has considerable effort put into it. Out of the Japanese RPGs I have played, my favourite character is Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII. Is it because he is black? No. It’s because he acts like he actually has a brain. That not matter how stupid or intelligent his actions are, his personality backs up his choices. And his voice actor doesn’t suck.

Innovation is what everyone wants in games these days. Simply perfecting old mechanics or reusing gameplay elements is not enough to get a game from an 80 on MetaCritic to a 95. Most of the Japanese games listed have some type of innovation in their battle systems, and most of them I enjoyed to a certain extent. Final Fantasy XIII for example has a great battle system that blends real time elements with turn based elements perfectly, creating fast paced action that also has strategy involved. While the game itself has flaws, creating a 50 hour game that is held up only by its battle system is what all of these games did. Have you ever listened to a song and thought it was so great where you decided to put it on repeat? I’m sure it has happened at least once, but eventually the song isn’t so great anymore and you listen to something else. Come back to it later, and the song is amazing again. Why? It’s because variety keeps us guessing, and variety is what every Japanese RPG on modern consoles seems to lack.

There is a reason why everyone who owned a PS1 says Final Fantasy VII is the best RPG. There is a reason why games like Chrono Trigger, Golden Sun, and Dragon Quest have gotten the reputation of being great games. There is a reason why developers like Square Enix have more than a dozen games tied to a single franchise name. That reason, I can’t figure out at all. What I do know is that Japanese Role Playing Games is a genre of games I have given up on.