10 Changes Needed in JRPGs
Why a list of 10 Changes Needed in JRPGs? Since the 1980's, the Japanese held the titles of best role-playing game developers in the world. But something has started to happen over the past decade, and that is the decline of the JRPG experience and the success of western RPGs. Japanese role-playing games have unfortunately become stagnant and have declined in their abilities to tell amazing stories. After seeing a multitude of mediocre JRPGs come and go with hardly a classic amongst them, we try to analyze what went wrong and how the Japanese can bounce back and return to being the best RPG developers in the world. Let's breakdown 10 Changes Needed in JRPGs.
Want to know why we remember Sephiroth? Because he killed Aerith with a ginormous sword, burned Nibelheim to the ground and slaughtered all the inhabitants who weren't being burned alive. Why do we remember Kefka? He had sand in his boots, killed an entire castle's populace by poisoning their water supply and destroyed most of the world. Aside from those two antagonists, it's really hard to recall any other major acts of evil perpetrated by previous JRPG villains. Actions define your character. And we forget most recent JRPG villains because, in truth, they did not do anything memorable besides act as an enabler of some type of worldly threat. Hence, having memorable villains kicks off our list of 10 Changes Needed in JRPGs.
Whether it was FF13's Orphan, Zeromus in FF4 or Necron in FF9, we hardly cared as to who these bosses were since they were introduced so late in their respective games. This is a recurring problem that has arisen in many JRPGs over the past 10 years. Without any proper buildup, fans will find themselves not caring who they are fighting in the end, and will simply fight out of habit (and not attachment).
Forcing cliché character archetypes into cliché romances only makes us roll our eyes even further. If Japanese storytellers should feel that a romance is necessary in an RPG, then please, make it feel genuine. Some relationships don't work, some do work, but the point is that all relationships require work and should not simply fall into place.
It has happened to all of us at one point or another: you watch a cutscene, and the game reverts back to the traditional gaming engine and the character says or does the same exact thing that happened in the cutscene! If you're playing an RPG, developers should be able to assume that you have an attention span that doesn't need to repeat the obvious. Cutscenes should help tell the story, not make it redundant.
It's 2013 and the next-gen is coming, there should be no need to blur and change screens just because your party encountered an enemy. What should happen is that your party members are all on screen, as enemies jump in and fight on the spot. Changing to fighting sceens with pre-rendered backgrounds are no longer a necessity when developers should be able to just have enemies attack, zoom the camera in and let the battle ensue. And while we're on the topic of battles, grinding should be eliminated as well (which probably would have been #11 on this list).
Unfortunately, laughable voice acting occurs way too frequently throughout the genre. When you have poorly translated dialogue on top of poorly written stories, the addition of an atrocious voice actor can really make the narrative experience of a JRPG plummet. There is a wide array of stellar voice actors and actresses throughout both Europe and North America that could be used. But it seems as if no one is directing or even passing judgment on the quality of JRPG audio translations except for the fans. The hiring of quality voice acting is a big priority in terms of the top 10 Chances Needed in JRPGs. Western RPGs, such as Fallout 3 and the Mass Effect trilogy, have set the bar so high, that the subpar performances in JRPGs seem even worse.
Instead of having 4-5 impractical belts on a character's outfit, how about giving him or her the ability to change their look? Looking at the same outfit for 50+ hours of gameplay gets rather bland after a while. While JRPGs tend to show weapon changes, it's time for the rest of their gear to reflect that change. When your characters have gone from level 1-99, gained the strongest equipment in the game and know every spell, they should NOT look exactly the same as they did when you first started.
The average JRPG requires gamers to dedicate dozens of hours of playtime in order to proceed from start to finish. If a game's story is horrible, the drive to see a long game through to the end is rather diminished. Not every JRPG has to be a rag-tag band of freedom fighters trying to take down an oppressive government that happens to find a way to destroy the world. There are so many different story-types that the RPG format could experiment with, that it is a shame such an overdone cookie-cutter formula has been applied to the genre for so long. Experimenting and expanding beyond the archetypes of RPG storytelling have brought success to many western developers.
Game characters should be able to carry the story and elicit some sort of emotional response or attachment from the player. Otherwise, why would you want to proceed in a "role-playing game" if the characters' roles were boring from the start? Make your party members diverse but don't force them into the same archetypes we have encountered so many times. Not every magic user has to be a frail girl with a weak personality or 10 year-old boy with a rambunctious attitude. And please, stop making socially-awkward protagonists.
Saying "Learn from the West" as the final tip in our 10 Changes Needed in JRPGs may sound like a very selfish thing to say. But the truth can be backed up with a simple observation: look at how many groundbreaking, successful JRPGs have come out in the past 10 years and compare that to the number of Western RPGs that were. Western game developers have learned to take what works, eliminate what doesn't, and experiment just enough to make stellar role-playing games. As the western RPGs have started to outgrow their influences, JRPGs have remained stagnant and relied on their tried-and-true methods of game design and storytelling in order to maintain themselves to the standards of other JRPGs. Western developers have already taken it upon themselves to address the previous nine items on our list of 10 Changes Needed in JRPGs, and if the Japanese want to take their throne back, they must learn to adapt and not be scared of change.