Sunday, January 9, 2011

What is the JRPG genre? A basic guide for the uninformed.

Ok this is more of a soap box rant driven by Hyperdimension Neptunia not given an Australian release date but it also sparked an inspiration, write an informative guide on the JRPG genre so those who only reference it to Square-Enix and Final Fantasy or don't know about it can finally learn what the genre really is and all the different styles of gameplay in each.

First I'll start with the basic info that most should know and then I'll go in depth a little later. A JRPG is a video game genre made in Japan where you take the role of a predetermine character or characters in a heavily story driven experience. The JRPG genre is also known for it's similarity to the tabletop board game "Dungeons and Dragons" in terms of it's RPG influence through character development(leveling up), basic structure of narrative flow and occasionally combat.

Now to get into the in depth part. Like I said a lot of people think Final Fantasy and Square-Enix when they hear JRPG and stereo type it on that alone. This isn't true though. There have been various things done to the JRPG combat system over they years and the classic Dungeons and Dragons style was used when the genre started due to data limitations on the Famicom/NES cartridges. Sure there are a fair few JRPGs that use the classic turn based combat but that is due to what is easier to develop and appeasing fans but there are a lot of examples of JRPGs that have various tweaks to the system or are different.

I'll start with examples of the turn based combat being tweek and then go into the ones that are different. Some examples of variations/tweaks to the norm are Fire Emblem where the combat is strategic turn based where the teams take turns to fight and Valkyria Chronicles takes that up a notch by having stuff happen while moving your characters and using the environment to you advantage a lot better then other games in this sub genre. Shadow Hearts also tweaks the turn based combat system by using a thing called the judgement ring which has you performing a quick time event essentially to perform attacks and skills. The Judgement ring has multiple segments that you have to hit in order to perform the command and it has to sections in each segment, a orange section which will make the command work and a red section with is small and will improve the effectiveness of the command. You need to hit all the segments to get the command to work. Baten Kaitos tweaks the system with cards for your commands with varying values to shake up combat. Resonance Of Fate which made some serious changes to the system like using a special gauge to perform a running attack that you can attack as many times as you like until the time gauge runs out and giving you 2 different types of attacks depending on the weapon used and a variety of weapon types to use. Eternal Sonata is a hybrid turn based combat game that incorporates action combat during the turn of each character. There are tons more but these are just some great examples of variations of the turn based combat system.

Now on to the different type of combat system, the action combat system. There are a whole bunch of these that have come out in years and most of you can probably name more of these then turn based combat JRPGs. Kingdom Hearts is one a lot of people will know straight away but there are others. Star Ocean and the 'Tales of' series are 2 other examples of action JRPGs that have a cult following. The combat in these games is relatively the same but the thing is that some of the people who worked on Star Ocean worked on Tales of Phantasia. The combat systems of 'Tales of' games are arena based and you uses skills by pressing the skills button and a direction and Star Oceans combat system started the same but changed to using 2 different attack button and the skills with 1 button but a different one depending on distance with Star Ocean: Til The End Of Time and in Star Ocean: The Last Hope the skills with 2 different buttons. Secret of Mana had an action combat system that was similar to the Legend Of Zelda series. Blue Dragon: Awakened Shadows uses a touch screen interface for using spells in a action combat setting and works well on the DS. Key of Heaven aka Kingdom of Paradise had an action combat system that was heavily customisable.

Now the final part the stories. Some of you have it in your head that all JRPGs follow the same cliche story of angsty teens saving the world from evil but that's not true of all JRPGs. None of the 'Tales Of' series is like that and none of the Atelier series is either. I could name a boat load of them that don't have angsty teen saving the world but I've already got 2 walls of text and don't really want another. Believe it or not it's easier to name the ones that do contain the angsty teens saving the world. Also in JRPGs there is this thing called character development where the characters overcome their flaws for the greater good but this isn't always emo angst like in Final Fantasy VII and XIII.

Some people will argue that JRPGs aren't RPGs at all and they are half right. The role playing experience of true role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Fallout isn't their but it's mechanics of leveling up, magic and large worlds are there. You can also argue that all video games are RPGs because your always taking on the role of a character but that's a whole other thing altogether.

Well this is as much as I'll give you since I could spend forever and a day talking about it but I have to stop at some point. Don't label the genre on Final Fantasy alone and give some JRPGs a go. I recommend Resonance Of Fate, Tales Of Vesperia, Lost Odyssey, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Eternal Sonata, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, Chrono Trigger, Kingdom Hearts, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn and Persona 4 as must play JRPGs that you should be able to buy still but there are tons of classics if your willing to hunt them down. The JRPG genre isn't as bad as you think, I hate FPS and shooters period but there are some that have stood out that I'm glad I tried. If I'm willing to play some games in the genre I hate, then you should at least give half these recommended games a go.

Also JRPGs are more about the story so if you like a strong story then JRPGs are great for that.

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