In the interest of seeing big-screen 3DS videos, I cruised the Wii’s Nintendo Channel for some new info. It was then that I started exploring my old Virtual Console library.

I don’t play a lot of my Wii games anymore due to the great memory purge of last year. It took all the fun of out playing these games for me. But I was in a Turbografx-16 mood, and loaded up Y’s Book 1 & 2.

I was familiar with Y’s as I payed the first adventure on my Sega Master System. Obviously, the CD version has stronger music, animated cutscenes, and voice (still novel for that time), and what turned into me casually fooling around with it for a few minutes turned into eating up most of my evening.

That in itself got me thinking about the RPG genre, where it was, and where it evolved. The Master System couldn’t beat the NES in content, but they did have a solid collection of RPG titles, mostly all published by Sega. It got me thinking of the early Dragon Warrior/Quest and Final Fantasy titles. and then I started thinking about all of those other titles from the 8 and 16-bit eras that I played: Phantasy Star before it went online, Sword of Vemillion, Super Hydlide, Miracle Warriors, Lunar: The Silver Star Story, Shining in the Darkness…. And then it hit me:

Where have all of the JRPGs gone?

While I adore Oblivion, and am waiting eagerly for Skyrim, and I’ve yet to play Dragon Age, they aren’t JRPGs… well, for a lot of reasons, most notably not being developed in Japan.

But old-school gamers know of what I talk about, or those who have mined the Virtual Console or a good Sega compilation. The JRPG has all of these elements in common: Anime style with wide-eyed, fresh faced protagonists, and antagonists with sinister laughs, squinted eyes, and elaborate headgear. Usually, these games had a requisite goal of finding and freeing some Goddess of the land, had a talking animal to accompany you, and a mixing of sci-fi and fantasy. Just because a player started in a woodland village didn’t mean that they weren’t going to end up in outer space or in an alternate dimension at some point. The tones were lighter, the stories were more linear. Some of these heroes wanted nothing more than to go on and have a grand adventure, and would end up in this fantastic world of discovery. It was the sort of thing on some level all gamers with a sense of imagination secretly hoped would happen to them one day.

But there are still remaining aspects: Some idiot who lost their silver comb or whatever in a cave filled with dungeons that no low HP adventurer could last 5 minutes in, much less escape, level grinding, some reward of rescuing/marrying a princess (but usually not the final quest). But it feels different. There may still be “The Lone Hero”, but it doesn’t seem as much of a legend/fairy tale like it used to. “Realism” takes precedence over the “colorful fantasy”, and yet in that type of cartoony style, when tragedies or bad things beset the party, it somehow made the loss have a greater impact and more and memorable. These days, you expect the “bad stuff” to happen. And happen often.

So what happened to the JRPG? Either the Japanese seem to be emulating Western games, or have made the environments too tech-centric like a weird world inside a computer, than in an idyllic land ripped apart by some hidden evil or tyrannical monarch in a sky pyramid. Where are the sidekicks and the talking animals? The mysticism and the deities? The laser sword and landrover as you brave the dark forest with semi-intelligent spiders? Nothing ever starts out “happy” or “innocent” anymore. You go up levels, but you rarely see your character grow and mature. And most of these protagonists end up having some huge chip on their shoulder that makes them as stand-offish to the player as they do to the characters in the world.

RPGs today are either too tech or medieval heavy without merging the two, revolve in nuclear wastelands, and very rarely have much to do with saving or killing a god. The “anime” feel is gone. It’s not even so much the turn-based mechanics or the random encounters that I miss. It’s the taking part of something larger than yourself.

Skyrim will whet some appetite, and I pray that Nintendo will release Last Story and Xenoblade in America, because those look promising.

So how about yourselves? Do you notice the absence of the “old style” JRPG? Are there any games of today that generate that old feel? What were some of your favorites from back in the day?

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Filed under: general gamingrpgs