Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Shin Megami Tensei are all classic Japanese RPG (JRPG) series loved by many in the world. Since its first appearance in the 1980s, JRPGs have evolved tremendously, while still retaining the core essence of what makes a good JRPG.
Let’s explore what actually makes a JRPG a great game:
1. Strong Story
Story is the heart of every JRPG. Unlike Western RPGs, JRPGs typically have a more defined path for players to follow. This may make the JRPGs experience more linear compared to open worlds in Western RPG (e.g. Skyrim), but it helps to set a good pacing for players to follow through the story. Almost all JRPGs feature a protagonist (the player) with a strong goal, and a party of friends to support the protagonist to overcome every obstacle and attain the goal.
2. Unique Setting
Many successful JRPGs have a unique setting, whether they are set in a fantastical world (Final Fantasy), a parallel universe (Pokemon) or a twist to our real world (Persona). Long-form JRPG series have expanded their universe to include history and folklore to its unique setting. That’s what draws players in – to discover more about the world and feel like they are living in the world.
3. Memorable Characters
As almost all JRPGs are single-player games, they involve a group of fantastical characters in the player’s party. While some games feature generic character stereotypes, a few others also feature strong characters with unique character design, character development and back stories to each of the key characters.
4. Distinctive Art Style
Unlike Western RPG, JRPGs have lesser emphasis on realism when it comes to art style. It is okay for the graphics to look less detailed and real. Influenced by pop culture, many JRPGs (such as Valkyrie Chronicle & Star Ocean) follow the anime art style. This doesn’t mean that every JRPG has to look the same. By avoiding realism and adopting on a different style, some JRPG are able to retain a timeliness stylistic look for the game like The World Ends With You, with an art style that is inspired by both anime and street graffiti. Another is Okami, that features a modern representation of traditional Japanese art.
5. Fun Battle System
Throughout the years, JRPG has evolved beyond the turn-based system. Action RPG, that is closer to Western RPG gameplays, and Strategy RPG are two of the more popular ones now. No matter what kind of gameplay the JRPG uses, it’s important for a good JRPG to cater to different play style. There needs to be different attack types (melee, ranged, magic), weapon types and elements.
We all loved the mini games in Zelda, or the scenes in Persona series where friends hang out together. Many JRPGs tends to be really long, ranging from 25 hours to over 100 hours of gameplay. It’s these little unexpected moments that break up the monotony in JRPG, keeping players interested by giving them a breather out of the seriousness. On top of saving the world, players can have some fun time with their favourite characters in the game.
Many JRPG fans remember the games that they’ve played even ten years ago, and it’s because of the story, characters, setting and all these fun moments that make a JRPG unique. The best JRPG can be timeless, and it’d make players feel that they are truly living in the alternate world.
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