Sometimes when you are writing something you have this gut feeling that people are going to disagree with you in a pretty hardcore way or they are going to agree with you. It is hard to settle on which one it will be, but you keep moving forward anyway. I feel like this topic is going to be one of those topics and that I’ll get a lot of hell for this from some people while others will sympathize with me. The thing is, I grew up playing Japanese RPGs and without question they hold a special place in my heart. How could they not? For the longest time the idea of playing a well-made Japanese RPG was what gaming was all about.
It is really a great thing that we’ve seen Western game developers really rise to prominence over the last few console generations, but the sad reality is that while we’ve seen great developers in the West do better and bigger games, the games coming out of Japan have really felt lackluster and not worth the time or the money. In a way, it feels like the developers have focused so much on the minutiae involved with the genre and some of the details we always hear fans talk about that they’ve completely lost their charm.
Sure, there is the whole coveted “40 hours of gameplay” and the Japanese archetype characters that we see in every game as well as nods to both Japanese history and modern Japanese fads as well. There is always this overriding sense of style over gameplay which was never the way in the past and has really helped to drag one of the greatest, inspired genres and turn it into a sad emulation of what it used to be.
When I was coming up for the concept of this article I was watching a video review of Ni No Kuni and felt myself actually excited to go out and purchase a Japanese RPG again, actually excited by the genre, which is something that I haven’t felt in years. I tried to think back to the last time where I really found myself excited about a Japanese RPG and I had to stretch all the way back to the Dreamcast where both Grandia II and Skies of Arcadia were amazing, awesome experiences that I have yet to see Japanese RPGs live up to, which is wholly disappointing.
Sure — I’ll get this out of the way — there are still some Japanese RPGs coming out and they aren’t bad games (for the most part), but as a whole the energy seems to have faded a long time ago. Square, once the masters of the Japanese RPG, have fallen into a weird hole that I’m not sure they understand how to get out of. I remember throwing down my controller halfway through Final Fantasy X and never turning the game on again out of sheer frustration of investing so much time into a game that didn’t feel invested in itself.
A part of me is hoping that Ni No Kuni can be that game that I’ve been missing for all of these years and that we might see more accessible quality being pumped out of Japan. You have to feel that egos were bruised when Skyrim, a Western-developed RPG scored a perfect 40 out of 40 in Famitsu, right? Maybe it is time for some serious change and maybe we’ll see it on a major console very soon. I sure hope so.