Lying to myself – my strange and enduring non-relationship with JRPGs

I have finished three JRPGs in my life.  The first, Final Fantasy VIII way back in the late nineties, blew me away.  It was cinematic, it was touching, it was a hell of a lot of fun.  Its 2000 sequel was the second, which raised the bar by presenting what I still to this day is one of the best ensemble casts to grace a video game screen, while hooking me in with simple yet engrossing battle system.  The third, more recently over the summer of 2008, was the fantastic Persona 3.

As recent as that seems, that’s coming up on seven years ago now, seven years that have gone by without seeing those ever elusive credits scroll, without ever seeing the always long-winded and often poorly translated story to its undoubtedly fitting conclusion.  Sure, I’ve dabbled, even enjoyed the odd JRPG over the years.  But no game since that crazy tale of teenage life in Japan has held my attention long enough to grind past the first misstep.  I lost my whole party in Dark Spire in one fell swoop way back in 2009 and shelved it indefinitely.  Which by the way I’m still incredibly bitter about. While perhaps more akin to the more western style of roleplaying game I played and loved in my youth – Eye of the Beholder and Bards Tale – it is a pretty good indication of what the genre is up against in vying for my attention.

But I’d still make excuses as to why I wasn’t playing them.  “I just don’t have the time, what with my job and my social life, and my responsibilities.  God forbid I have kids, am I right?!” I’d say.  “I just don’t start them because, bloody hell, that’s one hell of a time commitment I just can’t afford”.  I’d use any excuse to justify why I wasn’t playing them, but it was the severe reduction in free time that came with moving out of home and into full time work that best corroborated my story.  “Just give me something quick and dirty”.

Of course, I’d then go and spend 30 hours with the latest Far Cry game.  I was lying to myself.

And for a long time I stuck to that story, that idealised version of myself, almost to the point where anyone that came to know me probably thought that up until 2005, I was a sucker for the old Japanese role playing game.  They may have even thought me to be a bit of an expert in the area, not of my doing of course, but it was probably an easy assumption to make.  It’s irrational I know, almost as if I’m clinging to some version of me that I desperately wanted to be, the version of the video game fan I saw on the internet in the mid-2000s, where anyone worth their salt was playing the latest opus from the East.  If you hadn’t played Chrono Trigger, you were the gaming equivalent of a Luddite  And I kept up appearances with that persona (ahem) for a long time, buying seemingly every worthwhile title that hit that market, even searching high and low for the more obscure ones to add to my collection.  Games that still sit there on my shelf, largely untouched, definitely unfinished.  Resonance of Fate sitting alongside the seemingly thousands of entries in Namco’s Tales series, gathering dust, while I pillage and plunder the games from around them.

Which brings us to now, seven years and one console generation later, and still no more JRPG notches on my belt.  And that’s sad on some levels because I simply love the idea of JRPGs.  They’re usually thematically beautiful games that, more often than not, take me on a grand and sweeping journey to fantastical worlds to meet even more fantastical people while fighting my way through fantastical bestiaries.  They offer an amazing cerebral challenge, taxing the brain in a way that no other genre tends to, and in the best cases, offers the same sort of satisfaction I can imagine Napoleon got upon decimating the armies of his foes.  But there is almost nothing about the act of playing them that gets me excited.  Which is weird, because when it comes to accumulating them, I’m quick to the draw.  It’s like I’m almost hedging my bets in the hopes that one day, just one of these days, I’ll decide that JRPGs are the best thing since Vegemite and pour hours upon hours into traipsing through dungeons while assuming the role of an unlikely hero.

Problem is I’m not sure I’ll ever be that bloke.  But I think I’m finally actually okay with that.

Persona3

I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with how people create and often curate their video gaming identities. Want to know more?  Try:

The Great Videogame retcon: how the internet has Americanised our gaming history

Beware the retrogaming illuminati (and don’t let videogames define you)

2006: A Spacial Odyssey – how objectivity is ruining the Nintendo Wii’s Legacy

14 Comments

  1. I haven’t finished many JRPGs. I am just not a big fan of the genre. I have played most major titles on the SNES, but I could never beat Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger. I have tried a few times, but I could never bring myself to finish them.

    It is not that they are long. It is just I find little enjoyement on that kind of gameplay.

    I did beat Xenoblade on the Wii and loved every minute of it, but given it has very heavy MMO inspirations that are mixed with the JRPG elements, I am not sure it qualifies as a JRPG.

    1. I think it’s a time and place thing – if you weren’t playing them in the early days it might be hard to find a place for them. I grew up playing more western-style role playing games -stuff like Bards Tale, Bloodwych and Eye of the Beholder – so naturally I’ve gravitated to that style over the years. That said, I do have a bit of a thing for Strategy RPGs, and find games like Disgaea resonate with me on much the same level games like BattleMech and Kings Bounty did in the 90’s.

  2. I remember back in the early 2000s I ended up buying most of the Final Fantasy PlayStation 1 games. I’d heard so many good things about Final Fantasy, and I thought it would be right up my street, particularly as I’d really enjoyed quite a few other JRPGs. So I snapped up secondhand copies of Final Fantasy IV, VI, VII, VIII and IX.

    But I just could not get into them. I started with Final Fantasy VII, and after a couple of hours I was ready to give up. Only IV actually held my interest for a bit longer, but I gave up on that too eventually.

    Still, I AM immensely fond of a tonne of other JRPGs – Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online and The Last Story spring immediately to mind. I’ve also finally taken he plunge and started playing Xenoblade Chronicles, and it’s surprisingly brilliant. I’d been put off by its lengthy running time, but now I’ve started, I’m hooked!

    1. I did exactly the same, and that continued onto the DS, which too has a surprising number of Final Fantasy games. I am also a bit of a compulsive hoarder of Dragon Quest games, although I find those a bit more entertaining than the Final Fantasy games, if i’m honest.

  3. Funny how everyone seems to be recommending Xenoblade Chronicles… 😛

    I’m impressed you beat Persona 3 – I got 50 hours in and gave up, I couldn’t face that randomly generated tower anymore with no end in sight. I did enjoy the plot and gameplay for the most part though, and I really wanted to know how it all ended… but oh well. I beat Persona 4 though, which I’d say is an overall improvement on 3 except in the story department.

    1. I loved Persona 3, and between the awesome ‘journey’ it took me on through Japanese culture and the sheer brilliance of the exceedingly well connected systems in the game, I was absolutely captured by it. I loved it so much played it AGAIN on the Playstation Portable years later – although I didn’t make it through on that occassion. I have Persona 4 sitting there for the Vita, but I’m waiting for the right time to dig into that one.

      I bought Xenoblade Chronicles at launch, but haven’t quite found the right time to sit down with it, despite the world practically begging me to play it.

      1. My favourite parts of Persona 3 were the boss areas that you go to every full moon. Not being randomly generated made them a lot more interesting than the main tower. The nice thing about Persona 4 is that you go through different dungeons, and while there are randomised elements to them in terms of the layout, there are unique graphics, music and design aspects to each one – it’s much more varied and deliberate than P3.

  4. I’ve always felt the same; try as I might I have never managed to really get into a JRPG. The closest I’ve got over the years was FF IV on the PSP, and that was only this year! I’m about 20 hours in and still don’t feel like I’ve got anywhere with it though. I’ve just finally come to the conclusion that I’m not a fan of the core mechanic – grinding – or of the visual, anime styling. Give me Bards Tale or Eye of the Beholder any day.

    1. It’s funny because I’ve got that same version – i loved the packaging and the art style. But i haven’t quite found my way around to chucking it in my PSP and giving it a whirl. I did play the DS version though, and found it endearing and enjoyable, but still not quite enough to keep me away from whatever the latest Castlevania game was on the system at the time. I desperately want to play and love these games like a do similar games – the turn based strategy genre comes to mind – but it’s like there’s a barrier somewhere between the 0-5 hour mark that keeps me from really getting into these games.

  5. If it counts for anything, Persona 4 is less of an endless grind than 3. It’s really the same length, but it feels shorter because of the better pacing, I think.
    I always felt JRPGs were a genre for neurotic people with severe social problems – like me! Well, I used to be a lot worse, and I also used to play a lot more JRPGs. Maybe there’s a connection there. I think the issue with the JRPG is that it’s one of the last video game genres out there that isn’t really “socially acceptable” to play or be a fan of. Everyone plays CoD and GTA and Madden, and even older sim games like Simcity and Civilization have become very mainstream. I don’t think JRPGs have ever been in that category. Of course, I don’t give a shit about any of that, but I think it’s interesting.

    1. That’s an interesting idea, that jrpgs perhaps aren’t socially acceptable. I think that has some merit when you think about the typical internet persona of people that love them – almost cultish in their conviction – and the way they lean so heavily on the fact they play these games to define their personalities. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      And i will play Persona 4, i just want to have that same captivated experience I had while playing its predecessor, so I’m waiting for that right time to whack it in.

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