View Full Version : My confused feelings on JRPGs

Edmond Dantes
01-17-2020, 12:19 AM
So, guys, I'm having a thing right now.

Like, now that I'm back into modern gaming thanks to the Switch, I kind of want to see what the JRPG genre is doing.

Here's the problem tho... I kinda got sick of this genre during the PS1 era (an era everyone else remembers as a golden age for some reason... I just remember it as a time where things got crap and I started preferring games like Mega Man X4 and Resident Evil, in fact I recall being one of the few people who thought King's Field was good when everyone else ignored it).

And it's kinda hard to put a finger on everything. However, one issue was RPGs became a little TOO involved. Like, there's a lot where I feel like they absolutely need you to have a strategy guide, if not to beat the game, at least to forewarn you of B.S. you won't be forewarned about. Jumping ahead a bit I remember not liking this aspect of Star Ocean on PSP because there were these skills everyone could learn and I had no idea what the various benefits were or even if this was a thing worth pursuing. Although to be fair, a bigger problem with First Departure was just that the story begins and then just kinda stops going anywhere for awhile.

Getting back now, well...

I gotta say this: when I say "JRPG," I just mean the style associated with that term--the game doesn't have to actually be Japanese. I've kinda started disliking Japanese media as sometimes it feels hopelessly stuck in its ways and Japan is prone to something I call "Toxic Capitalism" where basically it really does feel like they care about profit above all else and their artists think more like business executives (I tend to immediately hate any anime or manga whose box art is just "here are three buxom schoolgirls on a generic background, if any background at all, and you'll buy it because men are controlled entirely by their hormones amirite? Nevermind that all these anime schoolgirls look exactly the same, we have no faith in your intelligence").

Part of this is JRPGs kinda started feeling like anime TV series in game form. Which at one time I would've seen as a compliment, but well... these days I'm more demanding. In terms of storylines, I want something interesting. To be fair I have heard of one game on the Switch that sounds like it has an interesting premise--Lost Sphear--but the video which mentioned that game also immediately said the game introduces its premise but then just meanders immediately. Which admittedly is a longstanding bugbear--I recall Star Ocean First Departure on the PSP having the same problem and it was one of the reasons I lost interest, and back on the SNES the Lufia games start strong but then devolve into an episodic "heroes go to town X, local situation happens, then they go to town Y and a different local thing happens..." type of stuff. Video games really need to be a little more cohesive than that.

Another thing with gaming in general lately is... well, there seems to be a trend of games going aggressively for a stand-out aesthetic. It's not just limited to RPGs either, but just in general: Guacamelee, Deltarune, Yoshi's Crafted World... I dunno, its like, if I like these games at all then its in spite of their art styles, not because of them. One game I played was called Cat Quest, and while it was sort of cute there was a lot about it that just didn't sell me--the aggressive amount of cat puns, the predictable aspects like the king being a lion, and the art style which had this sort of "trying to look like a children's storybook" thing going for it.

I dunno, I'd rather a video game look like... well.... a freaking video game, though I'm not sure what that "means" anymore. I'm kind of a basic guy when it comes to art styles. I do kind of like, in concept, games that try to look like playable anime, or games that replicate a pixel art style, but I'd rather the art altogether be something that's just there, not something that draws attention.

(Kinda makes me wonder why I liked Earthbound so much back in the day then).

On that note, one thing I'm absolutely not interested in is JRPGs that are trying to be humorous. I'm kind of in a serious mood, and I want something that'll make me think. Also, to be honest, I find most JRPG humor to utterly fail (in fact most comedy these days utterly fails). I also won't even bother with the South Park games--not a huge fan of the franchise (though there are select episodes I enjoy).

That though is likely to be the dealbreaker. My friend Geo once accused me of having a condition where any story I hear has to be the best story ever or I will hate it, and... he's sort of right. Being thirty, I would like something that appeals to me as an adult, not a teenage hormone fantasy where all the girls want to bang the clueless male lead (though I can find this stuff fun in a wistful/nostalgic "man I remember when I would like this kind of crap" way, it really only works if I'm watching Tenchi Muyo or something--seeing it in something new would just be depressing).

Okay, a big thing with me lately is I like stuff that questions our view of the universe itself. Like I just watched a video that mentioned the concept of Quantum Immortality (that's a theory that you can never actually experience your own death, because any time you die your consciousness will just jump to an alternate timeline where you didn't die), and I'm into lucid dreaming because I've gotten this idea that it might be the way to bring real magic (as opposed to stage magic) into an as-far-as-we-know magicless world... I'm also writing my own webcomic retelling the Bible with, among other things, a new concept of what God looks like... and I'm into H.P. Lovecraft because of his stories like From Beyond and Beyond the Wall of Sleep which deal with these sorts of reality-breaking questions.

I once had an idea of my own for an RPG which would've involved your standard adventure, but with the catch that there was a kaiju on this planet that was just completely a chaos factor--neither your heroes nor the evil faction you were fighting could control it, and it could wind up screwing up everyone's day (this was brought about because I realized how weird it is that evil villain plans are never screwed up by mere happenstance or just having a bad day... or when it is, its in a comedy RPG that is playing it for laughs).

And see, that's the kind of crap I'm into right now.

JRPGs (and anime) however seem to always be stuck on the most teenager-ish, prosaic of ideas. Clueless boys dealing with romance, the Church as an evil organization all about control and social engineering and if there are any gods, they're evil and have to be killed because "men should control their own destiny" (because that's worked out SO well for us in real life! *cough*AtomicBomb*cough*), evil corporations, the villain who thinks the only way to fix everything is to do a cosmic reboot (I mean at least my own evil plan involves trying to improve the world that's already here), characters who wear absolutely stupid and impractical costumes...

This is where I'm not sure I should even ask for recommendations, because the type of things the masses like tend to be the opposite of what I'm interested in. I mean Final Fantasy VII was the most popular RPG ever and I hated it, even back when it was new. It's story was nothing special--I mean it was about an evil dude who wanted to slam a meteor into the planet like a silver age superhero villain, except with stuff about gaia energy and evil corporations... so Silver Age comics with a dash of Captain Planet and a generous helping of Hippie ideology. Greatest RPG ever, ladies and gentlemen. (I do recall liking Parasite Eve and Xenogears, but admittedly I haven't been able to beat the latter a second time because I just keep getting bored despite being obstensibly interested in its narrative. That might be a gameplay issue though).

Then there's how I often feel like gamers get euphoric over the most mundane stuff. Like Undertale was apparently enlightening because it preached that violence is bad. I'm like, "Wow, you needed a video game to tell you that?" Tune in for my own upcoming work, where the all-important humanist theme is the sun is hot!

And not to be typical, but... well, I actually do like cute girls, but me and Japan seem to disagree on what "cute" entails. Just having big eyes, ponytails and a smile is not enough. I recall seeing this clip of an anime girl who gets a cut on her wrist and starts licking it like a cat, and it not only grossed me out but it also struck me as trying too hard to be cutesy and having entirely the wrong idea. I think the last anime girl who really struck me as adorable was Konata from Lucky Star. One of these days I'm gonna have to do a dissertation on how to do cute cartoon girls because its something everyone tries to do and most of them either miss the mark just slightly or shoot too wide of a mark.

But cute girls aren't even really necessary--after all, several of my friends have real kids now and once you've had the experience of real kids jumping on you while you're trying to take a nap, its hard to appreciate the Hatsune Mikus of the world who you can't even poke the noses of.

On that note, love triangles can just die. I don't really care if two people do or don't fall in love. I'm sitting here thinking about things like quantum immortality, what the hell is a love story to me?

I probably wouldn't mind a standard "defeat the big demon" plot though as long as the game isn't a million hours long. To give you an idea, two video game storylines I liked (though these aren't RPGs) were Ib and The Crooked Man... the former was a straightforward almost Goosebumps-level horror game that succeeded because the characters were just so unique and likable (plus the game can be beaten in just like two or three hours), and the Crooked Man is something that deals with adult issues I could actually kinda appreciate (its sequel, the Sandman, however, was kind of lame and felt more child-oriented to me).

Also, I can't stand Pokemon or any game where you have collectable monsters that fight for you. Well, sometimes I can but I have to specifically be in the mood for it, or the game has to have such an interesting concept that I don't even care its that type of game (Shin Megami Tensei ALMOST succeeded here, but unfortunately it falls afoul of the "you have no effing clue unless you buy a strategy guide" rule). Pokemon also tends to have pretty lame stories. Kid who wants to win a cockfighting competition (using animals that could never have naturally evolved in the wild--seriously what is with the monkeys with Mega Man X-like armor?) and also winds up fighting generic evil-for-the-sake-of-evil criminal organizations that don't really make a lot of sense. I've also really never gotten behind the whole "literally everything in this world revolves around the Pokemon culture to the point where the carriages on a ferris wheel are designed after Pokeballs" thing--anime and video games really need to stop doing that.

As for setting... I'm not picky. I do actually really like classical fantasy medieval settings, though I prefer them to be colorful and not full of faux Celtic bull, and "realism" is usually something I at best tolerate and at worst run away from really fast. But I'm open to sci-fi, modern, futuristic, wild west, set entirely aboard a submarine, or whatever... again as long as its not a joke game entirely played for laughs. Like, if you have a game where every player character is some sort of sentient octopus and you're playing it entirely serious, I would actually be okay with that. In fact, that would probably sell me, right there.

In terms of gameplay, I want an RPG where I can figure out the basic mechanics with a minimum of fuss. Like I'm even fine with just a standard menu interface like we saw on the SNES all the time. It's okay if the game allows movement or a modicum of strategic positioning, like in Lunar or Grandia, or has something like a Timed Hits system. Skills are okay as long as they're clearly explained. As for weapons and armor, again I'm basic--the most complexity I'm comfortable with is something like "this breastplate is less defense than that other one, but it raises your speed by ten points" or "this fire sword does increased damage against ice-based monsters." I might become more lenient on this as I ease back into the genre.

So yeah... that's my feelings on the RPG Genre right now. I kind of want to play one on the Switch, I want to see where the genre is, but I have this feeling anything I try out will be full of the trappings I hate... especially since any time I hear of an RPG its because it does something "unique" or that "stands out," usually either the artstyle or some gameplay gimmick, and I want to get invested in the genre again before I go playing something with a gimmick. Although it can also depend on the gimmick--a friend of mine says Octopath Traveller is good and its only gimmick is interconnected stories from different viewpoints, which sounds safe enough to me.

Anyway, now that I've rambled.... can you guys think of anything available on the Switch that might scratch my itch, or am I best off looking at freeware RPG Maker titles?

(Also I would prefer something new... not necessarily Switch exclusive, but something that didn't exist on the PS2 or before. I mean, I know what old stuff I will like. This should be about finding a new squeeze)

01-17-2020, 09:43 AM
You sound like me with sports games! I found them way too complicated by N64/PS1 and stopped playing them, ha ha.

01-17-2020, 02:45 PM
Maybe try out some western RPGs you haven't played yet? I can't remember if there is a switch version coming, but the Outer Worlds was a fun game. It wasn't super long and complicated, and the humor actually kind of works in it. I don't know if there are any true gimmiks to the game, just shooting, talking to NPCs, getting quests, leveling up.

01-17-2020, 03:35 PM
Quantum immortality? I've recently had thoughts like that due to having lots of "deja vu" in my life. Or dreams of some event usually, something benign, then having it happen days/months/years later. I'll have to look that up later.

Anyways....I'm not sure what might tickle your fancy. My kids try to talk me into Pokemon as they have the types and matchings memorized better than multiplication tables. I refuse-doesn't do anything for me. Last JRPG style game I touched was Pier Solar, but that didn't do anything for me. I've been trying to delve into Western style for years like The Elder Scrolls games, but they just feel like sandbox FedEx games. "Take this widget here". "Now go and seek out this creature there". In those games I tend to steal whatever isn't nailed down, even if my character isn't a thief.

01-17-2020, 09:30 PM
The appeal of Japanese RPGs to me is the sum of their parts. It's about a good balance of story and character development/interaction, music and graphics that serve the story and atmosphere, and battling, exploration, and other gameplay elements. Each element should be engaging enough to come together into a fun experience. If you expect any individual element to be as exceptional as that element could possibly be, or every one of them, you're probably gonna be disappointed. If you expect them to be exceptional but also not be "unique" or "stand out", I'm not sure if you'll find even a single example of what you want, since that seems contradictory to me. There are some RPGs that focus more on gameplay than story, which I'd say is the case with the Star Ocean series, but if you don't want gameplay that's involved, then I guess games like that are out. There are other RPGs that mostly focus on the story, while having so-so gameplay, but their plots will never be creative as games where the sole focus is the story, like with visual novels, because the story has to be built around the gameplay, hence why so many involve traveling from town to town, addressing a local problem at each.

It sounds to me like you're maybe assuming some RPGs are more complicated than they really are. Like with the skill systems in Star Ocean games, they're pretty basic and simple, with the exception of the skill system in the Japanese-only Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, where investing in skills cancels out your ability to invest in other skills. In the rest of the games (unless SO5 does something different, as I've yet to play it), all skills offer some kind of benefit, and you'll get more than enough skill points to max out every skill before you hit the max level. So there's no way to screw up how you invest points or miss anything, and you may as well use up all the skill points you get after each level-up. Sometimes there's a skill that lowers the skill point cost of other skills, which helps you max everything out quicker, but you could just as well save it for last it, as makes no real difference. So long story short, the skill system is something that really takes no thought or effort.

01-18-2020, 12:50 AM
Anyway, now that I've rambled.... can you guys think of anything available on the Switch that might scratch my itch, or am I best off looking at freeware RPG Maker titles?

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden


01-18-2020, 09:30 AM
Yeahhhhhh, if someone doesn't want comedy/parody/humorous RPGs, that's about the last RPG someone should play. I don't get the mentality behind intentionally giving someone a bad recommendation. It's just trolling at that point.

01-18-2020, 08:47 PM
Yeahhhhhh, if someone doesn't want comedy/parody/humorous RPGs, that's about the last RPG someone should play. I don't get the mentality behind intentionally giving someone a bad recommendation. It's just trolling at that point.

I was legit recommending it. I didn't read his entire post in detail as it's too long but I skimmed over it. I focused on him not wanting a generic Japanese plot style of game, particularly with cute girls wanting to screw the main male protagonist, not an anime like game, one that visually looks like a video game and not a weird art style, no South Park style humour, etc. Like I said I skimmed through the post.

Finding a serious RPG/JRPG that focuses on serious philosophical ideas or advanced scientific research or theories, while being a well made and balanced video game, just good luck with that. Very few developers would even understand any of those advanced concepts nevermind deciding to put them in a commercially sold game meant to appeal to a large demographic.

The game I recommended actually plays very well for an RPG, far better than it deserves to play. It's balanced properly and the people who made it actually cared about the finished product, it may be humorous but I found it well made overall.

Edmond Dantes
01-20-2020, 03:08 AM
Honestly Berkeley is a game I keep hearing about and thinking okay this sounds out-there enough to be good, but I keep forgetting it exists.

Usually when I go looking thru the RPG Maker games, the first thing I notice is the title. Something like "A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky" (yes there is a game called that) immediately catches my attention, and I click hoping it isn't some stupid metaphor (in this case, the game's plot does indeed involve a very long rope that seems to lead to the sky, so already that's a good sign).

These days I don't trust professional game creators to do a whole lot. Japan has kinda retreated into just banking on already-proven stuff... kinda like Hollywood. So I tend to look at the budget or freeware crowds because those are where interesting stuff lies.

So, I happened to find out Kemco has become a budget RPG company (all their Switch releases are $15 and that's without a sale). Went and bought one called Bonds of the Skies. It's nothing special, in fact its almost like a SNES game that didn't get released in its own time, and the story is just about defeating a big evil god. But it'll keep me entertained until I find (or learn to use RPG Maker and create) something better.

.... Someone here asked if I checked out Western RPGs. I sometimes do, but its a mood thing... I don't know how to explain it except like, ever had one of those times where you have a hunger, but its not just a general "any food will do" hunger but you specifically crave a cheeseburger made a certain way? That's where I am right now.

Honestly I feel like some Western RPGs have the "too complicated" problem as well, not to mention a lot of mental hang-ups they have to get over (the rampant cynicism being a major one. So many characters and settings make me say "We get it, you're an asshole and you think everyone else is too and you might even be right, GET OVER IT." If they actually *are* correct in that assessment tho then it makes me wonder why I'm even here. Its one reason I never got into Game of Thrones. Oh, assholes killing each other for the sake of being king, which is something they only want because of primordial ape-man biological drives to be the alpha members of their society. BORING. At least have there be a spiritual dimension to it, for goodness' sakes!)

I do often enjoy a lot of MS-DOS era RPGs tho. Only problem is I usually get bored before beating them (still need to finish Pool of Radiance).

01-21-2020, 12:50 AM
My own tastes in plots tend to gravitate more towards humour based ones. Basically because I find most "serious" plots are actually stupid or clearly BS so I find games with overly serious tones to be insulting as though they're saying I'm stupid enough to believe anything. I do still like more serious plots too, thinking more like The Dig, but I would tend to prefer Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle style games overall. With humorous games they usually know what they are and don't act like they're better than they are, they're more honest about what they are. At least that's my usual feelings with games. I guess murder mysteries or horror games are meant to be more serious and those are usually ok, but philosophical type games meant to be deep tend to fall short.

David Cage games are the best examples of overly serious games, they mostly come across as too pretentious and several plot twists made to be interesting undermine the intended messages that the game tried to present. I could spoil the end of Detroit: Become Human to give an example of this if you wanted.

As for RPGs, I haven't really played a lot as I don't usually like the gameplay that much or they're pretty long to devote time to. I liked Phantasy Star IV from what I played as I like more linear games that give me a clear goal of what to do. Being told to wander around aimlessly until I happen to talk to the right NPC that tells me what to do or where to go is kind of boring to me. Again, it's more personal taste.

Edmond Dantes
01-21-2020, 04:25 AM
I tend to prefer something between the two extremes, serious but not up-its-own-ass. Like Mega Man X. As SomeCallMeJohnny said, "Well I can't say its completely dark and serious because you fight a giant mechanical dragon for chrissakes!"

It kinda sounds like your problem is more with pretentiousness than with seriousness. To me the difference is that a pretentious game wants to act like its got some deep insight but actually says nothing, instead either relying on emotional appeal (remember how there used to be a trend of YA Novels killing the protag's dog at the end so they could claim emotional depth and win newbury awards?), being confusing in order to rely on saying "you just didn't get it," or--worst of all IMO--their "deep insight" is something patently safe and obvious. War is Bad. Losing Loved Ones Is Traumatic. The Kool-Aid Man is Red.

I've never played a David Cage game but I've heard about him (most especially I've seen Jim Sterling's episode making fun of his obsession with "emoshuns" and how he seems to associate emotions with high polygon counts). He does indeed sound like the kind of guy who would fall into the realm of thinking he's some deep intellect but is really just high on his own body odor. To quote Confused Matthew: "Nothing says 'Audience Manipulation' like having a dead child!"

I remember really liking the Dig when I was younger, as to someone in his early teens its story and obvious allegories to drug addiction seemed deep. Nowadays though, I like the visuals of the alien planet and such but the drug addiction parallels seem no better to me than any other anti-drug PSA. And now that I'm older and have been through some things, I've come to believe anti-drug rhetoric is outright harmful--some medicines that are restricted really should not be and we would genuinely have a happier, smarter society if restrictions were laxed. But nobody will put that in a game because it would require going against a very popular grain and admitting that maybe those cartoons we watched as kids were B.S. (Even when people play lip-service to losing innocence or seeing through happy lies, its always in regard to very basic things like "sometimes the world is unfair and jerkwads get rewarded" and never something like admitting that the evil drug of choice may actually be improving people's lives. I know there was one Batman comic Linkara reviewed that vaguely brought this up but even then its treated like a joke suggestion nobody would take seriously).

And yeah I also usually prefer the sense of direction that comes from JRPGs... well, sometimes. My thoughts on Dragon Warrior contradict that since I liked that the game made me feel a bit like a detective who was finding clues as part of beating the evil bad person, but when I play western RPGs I usually fall in love more with exploring open worlds (like in Might and Magic) or sometimes enjoy a kitsch nature of chaos (Ultima I The First Age of Darkness, aka the game where you can buy a hovercar with mounted lasers and fly around the world in it... and where you can go behind the desks and keep stealing equipment until you get a phaser).

My biggest disappointment with western RPGs tends to be... well, similar to my issues with Minecraft actually, which I wrote a document about ->here (https://docs.google.com/document/d/17z6T9nPHu0WB_apVai-lYcwcFZ_iPkFuvZAYPoh6N38/edit)<- (I surround links with arrows because I sometimes feel they're easy to miss on forums). To wit: they claim to allow everything, and they succeed by making the game so shallow and pointless that there's really no point (so pointless that there's no point.. I am good at the words!) Other times they can feel too complicated and micromanagement-y. Add that I don't usually like western fantasy aesthetics and the afformentioned problems with western mentalities when it comes to characters and worlds.

My biggest disappointment lately is how limited a lot of worlds seem, not just in the afformentioned minecraft point, but... well, I was talking to a Gamestop employee earlier (in my area Gamestop has gotten a lot cooler), and one thing I brought up was that RPGs on any side of the continent seem to only ever have large underground lairs you explore. Why do you basically never climb a mountain or explore an intricate cliffside cave system? I love high places and its sad that you almost never see them in games, at least never in a way that comes with an actual sense of height (games like Celeste don't really count). Spider-Man on PS4 seems like it might be the one exception, as might Breath of the Wild, but I'm skeptical, and then a lot of the optional places you can find are still underground areas.... and yeah I had to look outside of the RPG genre to find high places, and even in Spider-Man's case its not like New York's skyscrapers are intricate places, they might as well be the tops of tall pillars gameplay-wise.

Just saying, it seems there's some untapped potential there for something like, say, a sky castle or a Tower of Babel like structure.