Needless Grinding, Staggered Releases, Bad Translations and Silly Names: The 4 Horsemen of the JRPG Apocalypse

The JRPG is a dying breed. The days of epic Final Fantasy adventures are over, and it's clear that something needs to change or the JRPG will soon become extinct.

I, for one, am not a fan of JRPGs.I have liked one JRPG in my entire gaming life, and that was Final Fantasy X (which, in my nearly infinite childhood stupidity, I called “Final Fantasy Ex.” It’s okay, you can laugh).   I remember spending HOURS playing that game… Something in the neighborhood of 26 hours in two days.Of course, I didn't beat it.Sin was crazy hard and I didn't feel like slaying ten billion level 2 Fire Anuses with my comically huge sword for another 72 hours to get to the end. In my experienced opinion, that is a significant problem.**There is no way you're one-handing that thing**Grinding SucksBarely anyone likes grinding (feel free to debate with me on this topic). It makes sense to have it within the context of a game I guess, but after a point it's not fun and it can ruin the flow of a solid turn based JRPG. I also understand that this style is a tradition within the realm of JRPGs; it was how RPGs began! We can't just eliminate the turn based play-style, and while I personally would rather be strapped to the back of a truck and dragged through a desert naked, grinding is something that is inseparable from the classic JRPG equation. But the traditional turn based style was implemented due to technical restrictions (limited animations and whatnot), which renders the classic play style not only obsolete, but also archaic. It’s equivalent to using a horse and buggy to get around as opposed to a bus, cab, or personal vehicle. But fear not, sad people: there is a solution! Make the combat better!**Just kill 7,000,000 more and we'll level up**In recent years JRPGs have been experimenting a little more. Games like Eternal Sonata, and Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, allow a sort of turn-based strategy with more in-battle freedom and depth. Unfortunately those games didn't really get the attention they deserve, in spite of solid reviews (80 and 85 on Metacritic respectively). For the record I've only played Eternal Sonata briefly (still not my jam, though its unique theme was a breath of fresh air) and I'm waiting for Ni no Kuni to get a bit more of a price reduction before I pick it up.To expand upon these novel gameplay ideas is the key to appealing to the Western market, which in today’s industry climate is the linchpin to commercial success. I honestly don’t think that Japanese developers are lazy or stuck in the past or anything (which certain industry professionals have recently declared). I think they're tremendously talented people that over-concentrate on unimportant things, like how real they can make human skin look. I'm not sure they realize that - while impressive - we don't really care. We just want good games. I really don’t need to see every pore of a digital person; at a certain point it just seems like they’re trying to throw a cosmetically impressive curtain over the deformed monster into which JRPGs have morphed. You can tell when someone has had excessive plastic surgery over, and over, and over: It’s the same concept: spending too much time on trying to make things look better without improving actual gameplay will only enrage gamers. And we are an unforgiving, and sometimes hypercritical, bunch.The overall aim of grinding is to make the player feel like they’re overcoming insurmountable odds in a gradual and organic fashion, but it gets to be too much. However, plenty of games balance grinding with compelling combat, great story and similarly vast scale. Having gamers spend $60 on a game only to say “now kill things for 200 hours so you can beat it,” then claiming to have a game that’s over 200 hours is really lame. It would be like buying a car for good gas mileage, only to find out you have to propel the damn thing Flintstones style everywhere you go, then having the dealer tell you, “look how many miles you can get without filling up!” At the end of the day, it’s misleading and kind of obnoxious.**Wait.. when did she say.... Wait, what?**You're Kidding Me... Right? RIGHT?!Another issue that has actually been vastly improved upon in this console generation is the JRPG's absolutely dim-witted dialogue. I realize that all of this is written in Japanese, and I appreciate the time and money it takes to translate that volume of text have it read well, but guys… it is seriously painful sometimes. I’m not exaggerating here, it puts me physical and emotional pain to the point where, were you in the U.S., I could hire a lawyer, sue you for emotional distress and win. You spend 5 years and $18 million on this game; I would literally come in TOMORROW for FREE and just say: “No that sounds like a 6-year-old wrote it, which would be adorable… but you’re not 6, so change that immediately.” The ham-fisted dialogue has to be cut out in order to have anyone take the game seriously. It makes the characters completely unrelatable, and could potentially ruin important plot moments within a story.**"Maybe if we look up all pensive-like they'll think we're cool?"**What's in a Name?Less important, but within the same vein: stop giving characters names like ‘Lightning’ and ‘Snow.’ The only people in the world with those names are Brooklyn hipsters and Gwyneth Paltrow’s children. I’m not saying that you should name them ‘Bill’ or ‘Travis’ either, but you can be edgy and unique without being silly. Or you could always pull a Kojima (I know he doesn’t make JRPGs, but he’s a Japanese developer) and give everyone ridiculous/awesome code names to compensate thematically for the silly name you want to give the character. Someone named ‘Amanda’ with a code name ‘Lightning’ is infinitely cooler than someone trying to convince us that someone’s parents willingly named her 'Lightning'. I’ll grant that this is nit-picky, but it takes me out of the game and makes me doubt the legitimacy of the world on which the developers are trying to sell me. **Couldn't have said it better myself**Stop With the Staggered ReleasesIn today's world with all the MyFaces and Twitter-machines staggered releases have become a sin comprable to hate crimes. JRPG fans want their games on the shelves of their stores, not imported. The reason for these staggered releases (which all too often turn into never releases) is that the developer is not sure if bringing a game to the U.S. and E.U. regions is worth their time and money. Japanese developers have been having a terrible time 'reaching' the Western gamer this past generation, and while it may be more cost effective, they end up alienating an entire region of the world. Then, if the games do manage to make it to the other regions the developers sit and scratch their heads when the sales are terrible.The biggest problem with staggered releases isn't the release itself, but the marketing post-Japanese release. The game looses momentum; the press forgets, the gamers forget and the hardcore fans feel left out. It's a real shame because you can have a great game like Valkyria Chronicles (definitely real screenshot pictured above) sitting on a shelf collecting dust for something that could have been avoided by just delaying the game for a couple of months. These things have gotten better with time, but it’s beginning to seem too little too late. All the industry needs is one really great, AAA, multiplatform JRPG to get the world back on the side of companies like Square Enix, which has been floundering for several years now. The president and CEO of Square Enix America, Mike Fischer, even left today, which could be indicative of the company’s troubles as a whole. Games like Final Fantasy used to be the pinnacle of the gaming universe; yet recently they have been degraded to a series of in-jokes and misplaced expectations.**More please...**JRPGs are not lacking in creativity. They often have very stylish and well designed characters, and worlds that are compelling and fun to explore. But as the industry continues to grow, so too must our games, and this is one thing the JRPG fails to do. No one would expect anyone to purchase and play a first person shooter that plays like Doom, not because it wasn't and isn't good, but because literally no one will pay full price for something we've played before (except for Call of Duty... they market really well).There are few genres with more passionate or dedicated fans than the JRPG, so what do you guys and gals think? Are you still waiting on bated breath for the next JRPG, or are you sick and tired of the same old stuff. Am I being too harsh, or are there truths in my words? Comment down below, I love a good debate! If you do maybe we can be best friends forever!

Featured Columnist

I am an aspiring video game journalist and a professional awesome person. My words make knowledge parents in your brain that give birth to baby-smiles on your face. You can listen to my podcast by going on iTunes and searching Video Game Podcast Show!

Published May. 23rd 2013
  • Callhimatrollthatwillshowhim
    Please don't ever review a game again. Please, just don't. If you honestly can't beat a simple boss like Sin without grinding, your not the intended market for turn based jrpg sales.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    I have just one question: How exactly can you write an entire piece dissecting the ins and outs of JRPGs when you've played ONE in your entire life?

    The majority of what you wrote here isn't even remotely accurate for many JRPGs that I've played. Doesn't that level of inaccuracy bother you? It would bother me.
  • Ryu Sheng
    Grinding is a staple of JRPG's, it' part of what makes a JRPG, hell it's part of what makes any RPG an RPG. Whether you're looking for loot, money or levels. The question is whether that grinding is done right, and therefore fun to do, or done badly, hence a pain. I've found that a lot of westerner gamers don't really like grinding because they want everything now, the idea of investing time into it just dosen't appeal to them. Western companies seem to feel that japanese is completely illegible for us westerners and we need everything translated.

    A lot of your other problems can be laid on the western team, and i actually sort of agree with you. When it comes to names of characters you should ALWAYS leave them as what they were in the original. For example if a kid is names Sakura you don't translate that name and call her Plum, something i see all to often.

    Your only partially right about the staggered releases as well. A lot of dev.'s worry about releasing in euro because the market here is so small, and due to certain countries restrictive regulations require more work to censor scenes. Most tend to feel it's just not worth the effort and to focus on their core market, the US.

    However, over the past decade this has changed a lot and is not really so much a problem anymore. The big problem however lies in two areas, firstly the misconception that people in the euro can't understand american english, so it has to be britishised. Never understood this myself, it's stupid to the max.

    The big problem however lies in certification, to release a game in the euro and have it carried in stores you need to be PEGI certified. The equivalent standard in the US is fairly painless and easy to do. However when i intereviewd a JRPG dev sometime ago about this he pointed out that getting a PEGI rating is not easy.

    Unlike it's US counterpart which has a single fee, and can be done electronically, PEGI requires everything to be done PHYSICALLY. So it's not just as simple as sending an email with your game attached, you have to physically send it to them. You then have to wait for them to write back, the problem here isit can take a while for this process to be done, especially if the PEGI board asks for revisions. Then you have the cost, not to mention the cost of couriers, you have the actual PEGI costs who charge per amendment. So everytime you have to change something you get a bill. This means before the game is even launch it can rack up a lot of costs, unlike the US side. I know of one game that has taken nearly 9months to go through the PEGI process while it took only 6weeks to go through the US version.

    Finally, we have another problem. If you release on Play Station, you have to deal with sony who like to set a time of your release themselves. So while you game may be ready to go, if you miss the date set by Sony you then have to wait for them to give you another window.

    All in all it's a lot of hard work to release in the euro, and understandably a lot of smaller dev.'s just don't want the costs or hassle.

    Going back to the stories, it's worth noting that the story we westerners get is very rarely the actual story that was written. In a lot of games, especially the older ones that people praise so much, have a completely new story written for them when they're ported to the west. They take the translations and rewrite the story around the key plot points.

    Final Fantasy used to be the genre's crowning glory, i actualy laughed a bit when you wrote that. The FF franchise embodied the majority of the flaws you cited, including that each game was essentially the previous with a new story and bells and whistles. However it wasn't untill after they deviated this and started to change it to a more action game (something westerns had apparently been wanting) that it went to hell. Yet you look at Bravely Default, a throwback to FFIV and you see that they can do a game with the olden style game play that is fresh and well received by western fans.

    And dang this was a long comment >.<
  • LTHB
    I see what you're saying, but you're probably better off with HACK AND SLASH RPG-ish Zelda where you're not required to level up but only gain heart containers to withstand longer tougher battles or be skillful enough to avoid hits. (Skyrim is a darker version of Zelda) Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts are one of my top RPG games and I love the feeling of collecting and killing a billion of the same creatures, because in real life I love collecting comics, and figurines as a hobby.
  • Anonymous_6965
    You claim JRPGs are dying, yet you only cite Square Enix's Final Fantasy games as an example. Then you cast a generalized statement about Japanese developers as a whole that would require ignoring the runaway success of other companies that have innovated in good ways such as Atlus with the Persona series and From Software with the Souls series or how the 'Tales of' series continues to try new things for it to be true.. This article should be titled as if it were a critique against SE and how it has disappointed its fans, because that's what it's really about. Overall this is a mess that reeks of inexperience. The only insight it imparts to the reader is that you've played a few big name games in the genre and think you understand all of the genre because of it.

    Really, you couldn't finish Final Fantasy X? It doesn't even require grinding to finish! Maybe that fact that you couldn't finish is more representative of you than it is the game or the genre itself. Consider that.

    Here's some advice you didn't ask for: you want to be a noteworthy games journalist? Distinguish yourself from the chaff by actually knowing a great deal on what you're writing about, far too many of you think that slamming big industry names with a comedic tone is a ticket to success. It's not. To accomplish this you'll have to actually /gasp!/ PLAY a lot of games. What you've done here is the equivalent of a literary critic blasting the fantasy speculative fiction genre after reading the Lord of the Rings and, having found it not to their liking because of the now dated plot elements, declared that the entire literary genre is dying out.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    Opinions are opinions, sir.

    Thanks for reading :).
  • MECH-phree
    Dark souls is a great jrpg and breaks from the traditonal mode of the aforrmented games you commented about. I think if developers go more toward that route it would definitely have a better chance at appeasing western audiences. Last final fantasy I remember playing is 9 on ps2. I also played to near the end but didnt beat it. Too much grind involved to fight the last boss. I just wanted to see it to the end...not spend another 20 hours of fighting random monsters to then be ''powerful' enough to beat the game...something about that just seems fake.

    The difference in say a game like dark souls is you could really almost beat any boss with enough skill. It wasnt about grinding arbitrailly to get more powerful. Although it lacked a encompassing story it made up for it with great gameplay.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    Good call on Dark Souls. It's so unlike other JRPGs that it barely entered my mind when writing this. I guess I was concentrating on traditional JRPGs? Dark Souls was the kind of game where you could run through the whole thing from the beginning if you were good enough with the combat system, which I always thought was awesome.

    I had the same exact problems with Final Fantasy, though I'm considering getting X again for the PS3 when it comes out for nostalgia's sake.
  • Destin_2993
    I have, and will continue, to love the genre, and support a lot of these "nega-"traits of it.

    I love grinding. Not just to mindlessly mash X to overcome otherwise trivial walls on the rails. I love it because it is meant to be done continuously. It is a series of micro-achievements for a type of gamer who enjoys them. To be introduced to a new region, with new species, with traits, personalities, and actions unique and sometimes more refined versions of earlier met creatures, too. You move forward. You do not run. You do not avoid the game. You are rewarded by being at, or above level, every single time you need to be. Gamer's who want to rush through mission/chapter 1-2-3-4-5-win, then playmultiplayer are not the target demographic. Sometimes I enjoy different experiences at different paces! *gasp* Does not make either bad.

    I enjoy a lot of the dialogue and names, because they have more personality. They are colorful, and unique to a unique fictional world. Sometimes I love the hammy or quirky or "unrealistic" dialogue, because often, the character is more memorable by being flawed, and real by being "serious" in a contrary way, or by being something other than the cultural prototype of the western tropes, which personally, I often find one-dimensional and played-out, often times.

    I enjoy JRPGs, but other genres as well. I won't deny their are pitfalls, but most of what you have listed are not such. They are standards. The "changes" to the genre lately, have been ways to appeal to the western market with profit as the only incentive, and games have seen a serious break in quality as such.
  • Max Jay
    Featured Columnist
    Thanks for the comment!

    I see your point, but obviously disagree. You say the gameplay is designed to be done continuously as a series of micro-achievements. However you barely achieve anything in proportion to the amount of time you invest. You can still have hours of rewarding gameplay and still feel rewarded, just look at Skyrim. I never run through a game to play multiplayer because the single player is way more valuable to me, but I can't sit through a JRPG campaign.

    The names are just something that bother me, personally, and don't translate well to wide audiences (which is important regardless of what anyone says). But I really dont understand what the developers are trying to communicate with the names. Unless they're trying to do nothing - in which case they're doing fine, I guess. Meanwhile the dialogue can still be cheesy and fun without having poor grammer.

    I really appreciate your point of view and your comment. I think changes to a genre are necessary. As sensibilities and the industry standards change, so must the gameplay that fuels it. No one can deny that many devs have been releasing similar games for too long. The genre has to continue, as it is important to the history f the industry, but it also needs to innovate.

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