What’s Happened to JRPGs?

With the impending release of Final Fantasy XV, I think it worth looking at what exactly JRPGs can offer now. I mean, they have long since passed their PlayStation 2 heydey, but does that mean they have nothing left to offer? Recent releases – even Final Fantasy games – have felt lacking that extra jazz of previous generations. Is it that the stories aren’t as engaging? Has the combat been forced to evolve to a point where it’s no longer as enjoyable?

Recently, I finished Tales of Zesteria. Another game in the long Tales series, but this one felt off from the start. I never engaged with the characters, the story felt uninteresting and far too drawn out and the combat – while flashy – wasn’t satisfying. I enjoyed the first 10 hours and the last 10 hours for the most part, but I loathed the middle 25. It often felt like Tales of Zesteria was purposefully trying to elongate itself at the expense of its players. And I hated it for that.

That isn’t a new or revolutionary idea in a JRPG. I’ve played plenty that I thought could easily have ended hours ago, but then I’ve also played tonnes that I enjoyed ever second of – Shadow Hearts Covenant and Dark Chronicle to name two. It could be that as an adult I have less time on my hands, so I enjoy quicker games now. And that is sort of true, but I have been thoroughly enjoying Digimon: Cyber Sleuth which is a game by all accounts only interesting because I get to try to make a WarGreymon. However, I no point in my already 26-hour playthrough have a resented any of my time with it. We can blame nostalgia for that one, but constantly having Digimon to create, Digivolve and constantly get stronger has a really nice ‘numbers go up’ appeal. The combat is basic turn based, but I enjoy it.

Final Fantasy XV is going to need to pull off something incredible – and I expect it might – to draw me back into JRPGs. It needs to have an engaging story and while melodrama is alright I think our standards for storytelling in games has steadily increased over the years. There was a time when go fight the evil sorcerer was enough, but that won’t cut it anymore. I enjoyed the Final Fantasy XV demo, but I’m still sceptical or maybe just trying to be realistic as I can’t think of a single JRPG I have played in the past 8 years that really got me excited. Some of the previous Tales games have gotten close and so did Ni No Kuni, but they fell short. The only ones to have really hooked me were Lost Odyssey and The World Ends With You. Both nailed the setting, story and battle system.

In any game wanting it to be over is a bad thing, but this is such a big issue in JRPGs since they have an incredible length when compared to many other games. An interesting battle system can carry a game passed an average plot, but with them moving in recent years into real-time I have concerns that they will be more style over substance in the future. I mean sure the attacks look flashy, but where has the strategy gone? Where is the planning ahead in a fight like you are battling a grand-master in a game of chess? I miss those moments of squeezing the very most out of each of your characters and pulling through the victor. With a move towards more real-time games, I think we’ll less strategy and more rushing forwards to perform flashy moves that while effective are something you might not have done if given some time to consider. Along side that it feels like they have become easier – and please disagree with me if you feel otherwise. Bosses aren’t as threatening because if the player doesn’t have time to come up with the perfect strategy then they can’t be too mean, can they?

I suppose what I’m saying in all this is that I’ve lost faith. JRPGs are no longer my must buy genre of games. They are my poke with a stick and see if it takes 2 days to explode genre. I miss them and I know they never be the same as the PlayStation 2 days, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be as good. Good luck Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5, you have a long legacy to live up to.

This article was originally published on GamerTimeUK but unfortunately, that site no longer exists, so I’ve republished it here.

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