Wednesday 6 February 2013

But I Digress | Niall no Kuni

It's hard to say whether or not the Japanese RPG has any place in the gaming industry today. 

In the nineties they were the in thing, and in the naughties they got bigger, better-looking, and somewhat more modern—albeit alongside every other genre that joined the HD generation. Yet despite massive investment and a fever pitch of interest, the JRPG simply couldn't keep up with the major new players in gaming, to the point that within weeks of its release, the last Final Fantasy vanished with nary a trace it had ever even existed. And let face it: there is no bigger name in the game than Final Fantasy.

Never one to learn its lesson, however, Square Enix is set to unleash a second sequel to Final Fantasy XIII this year. And who knows? Maybe the third time's the charm. But I doubt it. And speaking personally, I could care less. Not once but twice I got around 20 hours into Lightning's life, only to lose interest lest I lost the will to live entirely.

Granted, my interest in the genre had been flagging beforehand. And it's continued to do so since: the only JRPG I played in 2012 was Tales of Graces f, and again, I got about 20 hours in, looked at a FAQ to see how much more game I still had to play... and admitted defeat. I watched the end of the affair on YouTube. And I don't feel like I lost out on anything.

Be that as it may, I'm not quite ready to give up the ghost on the entire genre. I have at least one more attempt in me before I sign off once and for all: namely Ni no Kuni.

I've been holding out hope for this rare collaboration between Level 5 and Studio Ghibli (of Spirited Away fame—the very same!) since it was announced in 2008, and the copy I pre-ordered way back when finally arrived on Saturday. Despite having a hundred other things to do, I fed it to my PS3 immediately.

I'm 10 hours in already, and over the moon that I can say the time has flown by so far. So maybe Ni no Kuni is the game which makes the genre meaningful to me again. Or perhaps 10 hours from now I'll hit a wall that leaves me with no other option than to grind my life away, or give up on the JRPG after all. 

I so hope it doesn't come to that. I feel like I'd be killing a large part of the kid I once was, and I believe it's important to stay in touch—to a certain extent—with the things we loved when we were young.

I'll report back on my progress through Ni no Kuni even if I don't make much more. Why, if I finish the thing, and there's interest, I might even review it!

But for the moment, the floor is yours, folks. Do you think the JRPG has a place in the gaming landscape of today, or it is as long in the tooth as I suggested earlier? Does the prospect of Lightning's return in Final Fantasy XII-3 excite anyone at all?

And if any of you have been playing Ni no Kuni, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Do tell, too, if for whatever reason you've opted not to.


  1. I'm a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series through Playstation. (So VII-XII.) I wouldn't even classify FFXIII as a JRPG; and that's where I think the problem lies.
    JRPGs have been "Americanized" in the HD generation. What has always attracted me to JRPGs, although mostly FF - I'm not a huge gamer, is the more relaxed pace of them. Especially when it comes to battles, it has always been the strategy that has been important not the button bashing. Even in FFXII, it was the setting of the Gambits that was what decided most battles. The action battle system of FFXIII turned it from a JRPG into an Action RPG.

    This isn't something that goes for just JRPGs by the way. Action games seems to have taken over HD gaming. Gone are the intricate tactics that were added to earlier games to make them more playable. Now it's all a matter of HD graphics, and Hollywood style battles.

    I do think there's a market for JRPGs, but it is a smaller market than the graphics driven FPS games.
    The recent news that Resident Evil is going away from action and back to its Survival Horror roots, even though they are aware that it will give them a smaller market share, is a step in the right direction. And it is the route I think JRPGs need to take; get back to its roots, and stop trying to compete with the action games.
    If JRPGs can do that, I think they'll find that there is still a market from them out there.

  2. I haven't even touched one of the current generation consoles, so I don't really have a place in gaming at the moment. My experience with JRPGs started on the SNES and went on from there up to the PS2 and I can honestly say that I have never played one that I enjoyed. That doesn't mean that there aren't any good ones out there or that the ones I played weren't any good or that there isn't a market for them because the opposite is almost certainly the truth for each of those.

    I am engaged to a woman who is a die-hard fan of JRPGs, anime, and JPop. Having gotten engaged to her, I also managed to inherit several friends who are the exact same way. Each year, I am dragged off to an anime convention, where I stand up straight and boldly pretend to share an interest in these things so that the crowds do not turn on me with predatory glints in their eyes and tear me to pieces. There is a fandom in place and though it may only be a small market--it seems to me, as a spectator and not a player, that the greater shares of gaming popularity are channeled into the latest iteration military shooter (even Halo 4 seemed to have less hype and excitement surrounding it and that series has always been good for that sort of thing)--it is committed market. And if these people aren't playing the games, then it is probably time to start looking into why and Weirdmage has a handle on that.

  3. Like Weirdmage, I do believe there is a place for JRPGs in today’s market, but many developers and publishers need to revisit what made the genre successful in the first place.

    My biggest criticism of the current Final Fantasy franchise is that it’s all style and no substance. FF13 and FF13-2 look fantastic, but they peddle a convoluted story and feature characters that aren’t very likeable or interesting.

    In my opinion, Square Enix has regressed tremendously as a JRPG developer in the past 5-10, and other studios are taking the lead. Ni No Kuni (developed by Level 5 and Studio Ghibli) looks fantastic, and some of the better JRPGs of this current generation, Xenoblade Chronicles (developed by Monolith Soft) and Lost Odyssey (developed by Mistwalker), didn’t even appear on the PS3, the console that should feature the best the genre has to offer (my opinion).

    Recently, fans have been clamouring for the release of HD versions of Final Fantasy classics. Atlus was successful with the release of Persona 4 Golden for the PS Vita last year, and I think Square Enix could benefit from this tactic in order to re-examine what made its previous games successful.

    I have been playing JRPGs for nearly 25 years. I love the genre, but too much emphasis is placed on spectacle these days, and not on story. Smaller developers and studios seem to understand this, and I believe they will carry the torch for the foreseeable future. Square Enix has work to do in order to be a leader once again.

  4. Honestly I think it's not so much that the JRPG genre has died, as that it's moved on to handheld systems. Some of the best JRPGs of the past few years (The World Ends with You, Bowser's Inside Story, the Etrian Odyssey games, Radiant Historia and the Tactics Ogre remake) were all either for DS or PSP! I'd also say that just because Final Fantasy has declined, doesn't mean that the other franchises have fallen as well. The ninth installment of Dragon Quest (for the DS, developed by the same people who did Ni no Kuni) was one of the best and most forward-thinking RPGs ever made, while Shin Megami Tensei continues to get a lot of mileage out of the Persona series among others. Just looking at the 3DS's upcoming lineup reveals a list of pretty fantastic RPGs, ranging from Fire Emblem Awakening to Monster Hunter to Soul Hackers. Not to mention the Pokemon games, which still sell like hotcakes.

    Now this doesn't mean that the Japanese game industry doesn't have a lot of soul-searching to do regarding the evolution of the genre. The staff of Xenoblade, one of the best JRPGs of recent years, have made it pretty clear from recent interviews they're now drawing from games like Skyrim for future inspiration. Even The Last Story, directed by the former creators of the Final Fantasy games over at Mistwalker, tried to shake up the genre by implementing a cover system among other things. But I don't think that the current creative bankruptcy of many JRPGs on consoles (note: the reason why there are so many Final Fantasy XIII sequels are that they developed so many art assets for the first game they're struggling to use as many as they can) implies that the genre as a whole is doomed. The world of video games is quite a bit larger than Square-Enix, after all.

  5. I'm not a huge RPG or Action gamer, I play through about 2 games a year. I loved FF back in the 90s on Nintendo and GameBoy, when i was a kid, so I don't mind the strategy oriented battles vs action battles. In fact, I probably like them better, what bothers me about all Japanese games (despite living just a few blocks from Akihabara, the mecca of Japanese gaming) is the overly cartoonish, childish graphics. The quality is stunning, no doubt, but a grizzled war vet should look like one, not some pretty teenage cosplay idol. Give me something like Diablo & Dragon Age. I don't necessarily need gore, but I'm not a child and don't want to pretend to be one.

  6. I think the JRPG has as much a place in the gaming landscape of today if not more so than anything else. Or what significant, broad progress has been made? JRPGs are still alive, they are just not any good anymore (like most else?). Imagine a Metal Gear Solid coming out these games. What an innovative genre mix, what intriguing style and atmosphere. No way. It's either a generic military game or a showy spin-off, at best a post-modern self-aware version.