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The RPG Files: Growing Out of JRPGs

By Christopher Coke on July 31, 2015 | Columns | Comments

Growing Out of JRPGs

As a kid growing up in the 90s, JRPGs were something special to me. Like most young’uns, I couldn’t buy many games. In fact, with my meager allowance, it would have taken me months to buy a single one, what with my crushing Pokemon card habit. Instead, I did what most kids do: I begged my parents. Eventually, on those rare one or two times a year, the fates would smile on me and my dad would take me to Ames to buy my new favorite game.

Back then, playtime mattered. I had three options: renting, borrowing, or making due with my scant couple games a year. Usually, I just made due. That meant how long a game lasted was one of its most important qualities. I loved Final Fantasy for that. I still remember looking at my time played (easily upwards of 40 hours) and thinking “this is how games should be.”

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Final Fantasy 8 was the first JRPG I really fell in love with. I recall that summer fondly. My parents were separated, and I would go to my mom’s during the off-months from school. I always felt out of place, separated from my friends like that, but that summer my step-brother left his original PlayStation hooked up in the basement. In the pile of jewel cases was my Final Fantasy. I didn’t know anything about the game, just that the graphics looked spectacular on the back of the case.

If you were gaming during the PSOne years, Final Fantasy was really something special. It was the benchmark series for graphical fidelity, and I had no idea what I was in for. The first cutscene, the camera sweeping across the world, Squall fighting his rival with a weird blade/gun hybrid that I later learned was a gunblade. Then the weird, evocative Final Fantasy stuff: the blade bursting into feathers, a girl in a draped room with a sorceress in a beak helmet, fire, magic, and… lovers leaping into each other’s arms. I had never seen anything like it, and the awe continued on and on, with each amazing summon and cutscene. Coming from the Nintendo 64, it was redefined what I thought games could be.

As I played that summer, I slipped away to another place. The world was big and I loved exploring it, in that “man on a model” overworld used. I talked to every character, fell in love with my party. Their adventure was my adventure, across four discs and dozens of hours. I slipped away into a nameless world of flying Gardens.

For years, JRPGs were my thing. I adored Pokemon, but not in the cutesy, look at the wittle Squirtle, way. I ground up my team. I dominated. I bested the elite four and poured months of my life into beating sequels. Final Fantasy 10 was the first time I felt truly moved by a game, a teenager discovering his inner self, as Tidus discovered he was just a dream.

But, as life moved on and I went away to college, my gaming time melted away like so much snow. JRPGs no longer fit my life. I started playing in-and-out shooters, MUDs that I could connect to anywhere, and MMOs I could run on a laptop.

I’ve tried over and over and over again to rekindle my love for JRPGs. I pre-ordered Final Fantasy 13 only to find myself completely turned off the unlikeable cast. I picked up Ni No Kuni, enamored with its whimsy and Studio Ghibli art style. I have bought three separate Pokemon titles, and still refuse to trade-in my last one, in the hopes that I will someday see what I so clearly saw then. I’ve wrung my hands over Bravely Default in the aisles of Target more times than I care to admit. Persona 4 Golden sits in my Vita unbeat.

In each of these, its the insistence on grinding that drives me away. Random battles that force themselves into your playtime, forcing you to stop the story, stop the adventure, just to knock down the 500th XP pinata of an unfun enemy. There’s something about the random, unavoidableness of these fights that grates on me. I obviously don’t mind repetitive fights. I am an MMO writer after all, when I’m not here on the RPG Files.

I’ve had trouble admitting that I’ve just grown out of JRPGs. I’m 28 years old with a wife, toddler, and full-time job. When I sit down to a game, that time is precious. The randomness doesn’t work for me anymore. It feels artificial, like the barest form of content the developers could muster. I don’t have the time to waste, grinding levels without even a guild to keep me company, not when I could play something with more purpose and real content. Those ground out levels aren’t; they’re filler.

In the end, it’s about priorities and what works best for the point of life we’re at. When I play a game today, I like to see progress. I want to move the story or my character somewhere new. And yeah, I want a little more freedom than teenage me was accustomed to. If you’re in love with JRPGs, I’m happy for you.

The funny thing? I’ll keep trying. Like so many gamers with fond memories of games that came about at just the right time in their lives, that’s how it is with me. In my mind, I know it will probably never work again. But there’s always that “maybe” to keep me coming home again.

Quick Hits

The free DLC for The Witcher 3 is coming to an end. The final piece of DLC will be a New Game Plus mode, which will allow players to restart the game at minimum level 30, keeping your gear, recipes, and money, possibly as soon as next week. Next up, game-length expansion packs!

The incredibly two-man developed, viking-themed RPG, Kyn released this week. Our reviewer, Bill Murphy, praised the game’s use of Zelda-like puzzles and strategic combat, but found the replay value lacking. Check out his review here.

Four stories come to us from the world of Fallout this week. First, Fallout: New Vegas is getting an impressive free mod titled Fallout: Frontier, which adds an all-new map, dynamic weather, hunting, trapping, and aerial dogfights to the already impressive game. Check out the trailer here.

IGN has confirmed that 12 companion characters will be featured in Fallout 4. But let’s get down to what you really care about: which of these characters can you romance into a torrid wasteland love affair? As long as they’re human, any of them.

Next up, Fallout 4 hopefuls will have a while to wait for proper modding tools. Bethesda is targeting work on the toolset for 2016 saying, “nobody cares about mods if the game sucks.” Well said, Mr. Hines.

What they won’t be waiting for, however, is the mobile hit, Fallout Shelter. Having previously been locked to Apple devices, Android owners will be able to download the game for free on August 13th.

Sending us out this week, let us ask: Are you a fan of Dying Light? Do you maybe want more Dying Light, perhaps in a proper expansion instead of plain old DLC? Then we’ve got good news for you. Techland has promised to show off more of the game’s first expansion, The Following, next week at Gamescom, and we’ll have your coverage. Techland says the new map is as big as those in the original game combined and that dune buggies will finally be entering the game. Enjoy a new trailer

Have a good week, folks!

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.