GAMES HAVE GENRES and one of them is the JRPG. For all of the uninitiated reading this (filler tactic–why would an uninitiated person read an article with a genre of game in the title?), a JRPG is a Japanese Role-Playing Game–games that, as far as I can tell from the first hours of the few I’ve played, involve putting together a strong party that travel with you and fight other people. These games include the ever-popular Final Fantasy brand of games, the Pokémon series of games, so forth. They are usually sold on their strong stories and excellent characterization. However, for the longest time now, despite being recommended a lot of JRPGs by Chad and Dave (including Final Fantasy IX, VII and Parasite Eve [I count it]), I have never gotten into the whole JRPG phenomenon. If you’ve read my previous articles on gaming, you might be able to guess why. However, this article is less about revealing my reason to not like them and more about a case by case investigation of my experiences with them.
Like every kid, I had a copy of Pokémon Red (my brother got Blue) that I played at school. There was one kid at school named Ian who was the expert at video games. You didn’t step to him on any of this. When he was a toddler, he’d make his dad play Super Mario Bros. 2 just to see how it was done. Counting this, he’d been gaming about as long as he’d been talking. This gets important later. I got my copy of Red and chose Charmander as my starter. I then set out with the highest of hopes. And at Pewter City, I pretty much put it down. Like, I got this entire lecture from the Professor to start the game on what pokémon were. Then, as soon as I woke up in my room, I went downstairs and my mom told me I was about to go out and be a pokémon trainer and explore the world, cos I was 11 and it was like a bar mitzvah. I talked to a bunch of people in the city trying to find the lab. Then, got another lecture from Prof Oak on what pokémon were and why they were necessary. There was a crapload of talking in this game, and I was wondering when it got fun.
Then, I got out on the road and I’m expected to fight these things that just appear in tall grass. So I did, and stuff. Had to go to the next city to deliver a package just to come back to get the Pokédex. And finally, at the edge of that second city, I was taught how to catch a pokémon. It had taken two cities to get to the game’s central mechanic. Skipping ahead in my life, I was playing my copy of Pokémon Gold and I had to do the same damn thing. Go all the way to a neighbouring city to come back to the first and start the game. Why did–why. Let’s compare some games I was having experiences with at the time. Super Mario Bros.: WHAT ARE YOU DOING STANDING STILL–YOU GONNA DIE–YOU GOTTA RUN–HOLD B, HOLD B!–GET THE MUSHROOM, GET IT GET IT GET IT–and Pokémon: here, I’ve told you this once, so I’m just gonna make sure you hear it again and again and maybe you’ll remember it. Nonono, you’re not ready to go out on your own yet, so go out on your own and do stuff. I don’t know what you do–fight gym leaders or something. Crap, how do you not know this, like, seriously.
It was just a depressingly slow and uninteresting experience, being left to my own devices in Kanto region with no instruction. But hey, let’s go on to another series of popular JRPGs, Final Fantasy! FFIX, to be specific. Four compact discs. Four compact discs for your PlayStation. Bring a book. Bring two books, cos honestly, it takes a while. I start off the game kidnapping a princess, which is pretty boss, then there are some quick time events, which is pretty mook. And the big guy is a knight in armour, and that’s cool, but why do I have to walk through this gigantic city just to get to the first event? What is the point of that? It’s not aiding my immersion, it’s just delaying my entry into your game. I honestly largely forget the plot of this mess. All I know is, I was at this really dickishly hard boss in a watery dungeon that was a water dragon. I’d saved, I’d revived, I’d done all this crap to make sure I could restart if I lost. And then the boss beat me every time cos I hadn’t leveled up enough and couldn’t revive in battle cos I didn’t have any items.
At which point, I grabbed my testicles and tried to run back to the last city. And got lost. Cos the gates to the city looked like everything else. And that is the exact moment I gave the crap up on those games. Not all of them–Dave has convinced me to try FFVII at a later date–but on that one specifically? You bet. If I get lost in your game overworld, I don’t care about your epic narrative. I care that I have to have grown up with your games to play them.
Speaking of which, I have a Pokémon Blue in the closet. It has a level 72 Blastoise and has beat the Final Four. I gave that cartridge to Ian when my brother stopped playing it cos it wasn’t cool anymore. And he beat the game in a week and gave it back to me. I think he traded out any pokémon he’d wanted between versions by then. I wondered, how did he manage to beat a game I’d found to be an entirely unscalable mountain? How did he look at this game entirely without direction and make sense of it? To this day, I have no idea.
I have no idea why people play JRPGs. I don’t know what kind of enjoyment they honestly get from them. I tried Earthbound a while back. Speaking harshly to a legion of fanboys, that game blows. Yeahyeahyeah, it’s your childhood, but try playing it now from your mum’s point of view. Or from, simply, a non-gamer’s point of view. I made it to the third city without a single other party member. I got shroomed trying to get to the next town. Tried to get back, but couldn’t navigate for my status impairment. And I gave up.
Now, I’ve beat a thousand words already, but I haven’t got to the operative part of this article. I’m still open to the idea of JRPGs. I just need a few simple conditions to be met. Fast leveling. I want to get to a higher level within five battles. I want the random encounters to follow my progress and level with me, instead of plateauing high, high above me a checkpoint before I reach them. I don’t want to be at level 10 and have every enemy be at either 2 or 20. Which happens all too often. I should be able to get through the game with a minimum of fighting, because I’m here to experience your story, not mash buttons to make pixels change colour. And speaking of that story–I want it to start immediately after I boot up the game. No waiting around, no world-building. Press start and you’re in the middle of a gunfight. A turn-based gunfight, but still.
Today, I bought a copy of Pokémon White. Forty-five minutes in, I’ve already battled three trainers, advanced three levels on my starter, met the big bad team of the game. I haven’t even seen a gym yet. You’re showing promise, Pokémon White, but you’ll have to prove me wrong to convince me you’re good.