Tuesday, 30 March 2010

My Quarrel with JRPG's

I look around the internet and I see articles and forum posts comparing JRPG’s to WRPG’S, (one in particular has pitted Final Fantasy 13 and Mass Effect 2 up against each other, even though they’re nothing alike.) The fact is, the two are completely different and have their own standards, to the point where I feel they should no longer be considered in the same genre.

As you might have guessed (being a Bioware fan) I have a strong preference for the WRPG. I’ve never really been that fussed on JRPG’s after my initial Final Fantasy experience. My sister and I, due to the popularity of the game, had been pretty keen to try one out to see what all the fuss was about. We got our hands on a demo of Final Fantasy 8, and needless to say, we were both left bitterly disappointed and never looked back to the series again for a long time.

Then I met John, self-confessed Final Fantasy fan-boy, who lent me Final Fantasy 7 and after waiting over a year for me to play it by myself, has given up and decided to come round and force me to play it instead. I still need a little convincing, but the whole experience has gotten a lot better since we got out of Midgar, a place I found too dark and boring to be encouraged to start it without that little persuasion (not a brilliant first impression of the game.)

I’m finding that Final Fantasy is one of those things that you either love or you hate. I’m not the only person out there who rolls their eyes when seeing the hype a new game hitting the shelves causes. There are many things I don’t like about the games and I’ll name a few; the battle system, the characters, themes and visual styles. I decided that maybe trying Lost Odyssey from the same creator of Final Fantasy (Hironobu Sakaguchi) would be a good way to warm myself up to it, for the game contains similar game-play but has a more western feel to it and characters that I actually like. Unfortunately I never managed to finish it. The story was interesting, but the battle system was still stopping me from feeling enthused, and those loooooong stories that keep popping up started winding me up (I’ve never seen so much text in a game before.) I know I could skip them, but something makes me feel guilty if I don’t try to read them, like I could be missing something integral to the story.

I later heard about the games Star Ocean and Infinite Undiscovery (both published by Square Enix but developed by Tri-Ace for Xbox 360 – amazingly I own more Japanese games for this console than I do on my other ones.) They piqued my interest because of the fact that they still had that Japanese touch to them, but have a completely different battle system. I haven’t played them for very long yet, but so far I’m enjoying them. The battle systems are pretty fun, although they still contain some of the annoyances I also found with Lost Odyssey and Final Fantasy. The main problem they have is the fact that the characters in each of the games I play all seem quite similar (I’ve lost count of how many girlish blonde haired dudes with big swords there are out there, and the women tend to be squeaky and hyperactive.) I just find I can’t relate to these characters like I can to the ones from Dragon Age, for example. I’ve also noticed that all of these games force you to play a character, rather than letting you create one like in most WRPG’s. The level-up systems don’t seem to let you place attributes or skills after level up either, which gives you more control over the development of a character and feels like your reward after grinding them. It doesn’t feel like I’m role-playing much when such systems aren’t in place.

Now, I’m not the sort of gamer to give up (For example, I originally had an absolute hatred for the MMORPG EVE Online, yet now I’ve racked up a fair few hours and I own a copy of the art book and novel) - gamers who are too fussy and won’t try something for long enough to get a feel for it tend to irritate me slightly. So I haven’t stopped yet in my search to find the perfect JRPG for me. I ended up going back to Final Fantasy again after seeing Final Fantasy 12 in a bargain bin for £4.99. I had been interested because John had told me that they had completely changed the battle system in this one, and despite being one of the least liked in the series I thought there could be some hope here.

Well once again I was left initially disappointed. The start of the game makes you go solo for quite a while, and despite having a strong interest in A.I. I just didn’t get the point in setting it for everybody, as then the battles involve no clicking at all. When I got further into it however, my opinion started to change. I realised there was actually some skill involved and having more party members makes it feel faster and more exciting – waiting for the gauge to fill so you could attack was pretty frustrating. I guess I also like it because of the feel of it; I happen to like Final Fantasy Tactics which is set in the same universe. Admittedly a majority of the characters are annoying, but I did discover Balthier who is witty and likeable. Unfortunately a big let-down in this game is the story, which is kind of boring and hard to follow.

So, have I been converted? Not quite. I’ve realised that I can persevere with them and even enjoy them to a certain extent, but they’ll still never compare to the Western equivalent. There are just so many similarities between each game, and so for that reason they tend to share the same flaws too. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but certain concepts in these games just feel a bit dated and old fashioned to me, while WRPG’s are pushing the boat out and being a bit more varied. (For example, Dungeon Siege and Mass Effect are completely different.) I don’t like seeing myself as a Western gamer, and I do like Japanese titles such as Metal Gear Solid, ICO and Okami, but there is just something about JRPG’s that I don’t quite get. (Maybe somebody could suggest some to me that I might enjoy.) I am actually quite looking forward to being able to afford White Knight Chronicles however, which has a similar battle system to 12 I hear, and lets you create your own characters at the start.

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