Am I Finally Outgrowing JRPGs?

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I’m having a bit of a JRPG mid-life crisis and I need some help figuring this out.

My question is simple really: has the quality of JRPG development taken a dive or am I just outgrowing the genre?

The reason I ask is because I’ve been having a serious problem enduring modern JRPGs. This is odd because I grew up with JRPGs as my favorite genre, from the early NES and SNES Final Fantasy games to the Phantasy Star games on the Genesis to PS1 classics like Suikoden, The Legend of Dragoon, Final Fantasy VII and IX (didn’t care for VIII too much), Wild ARMs, Persona and countless others. My JRPG love affair continued through the PS2 era as well, with games like Final Fantasy X and XII, Shadow Hearts, Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy, the many chapters of the Shin Megami Tensei series (Digital Devil Saga, Nocturne, Persona 3 & 4, etc), and so on.

Lately, though, I’ve been met by one disappointing JRPG after another, specifically on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Current-gen JRPGs haven’t been all bad – Lost Odyssey, Eternal Sonata and Tales of Vesperia are definite stand-outs – but even the best of the current crop pales in comparison to the greats of the past. Whether it’s been Star Ocean: The Last Hope, Resonance of Fate, Infinite Undiscovery, Sakura Wars, White Knight Chronicles, MagnaCarta 2 or even Final Fantasy XIII, I have yet to discover a JRPG this generation that I would hold up as a personal all-time favorite alongside any of the older titles mentioned above.

In fact, of the aforementioned games, Final Fantasy XIII and Infinite Undiscovery are the only two that held my interest long enough for me to complete them in full (though admittedly I’ve been too busy with other things to play White Knight Chronicles enough to pass any serious judgment). I got about 20-25 hours into Star Ocean: The Last Hope before the awful voice acting became too unbearable, and once the PS3 version came out with the Japanese voice track I couldn’t muster the willpower to start all over from scratch. None of the others held my attention for even that long.

Perhaps my long history with the genre has ingrained an idea of what a JRPG should be into my brain, and as new games come along and try to change the formula I’m too stuck in my ways to adapt to something new. Or maybe it is the anime silliness that too often creeps into JRPGs and undermines my ability to take their plots seriously.

The storylines and characters, I’ve discovered, have a lot to do with my waning interest, because in every game I’ve cited I did enjoy the combat systems and other gameplay elements, but for whatever reason couldn’t engage with the narratives enough to stick through the 20, 30, 40 or more hours needed to see them through to the end. But I can’t figure out if the writing in JRPGs really is as lousy as I think it is, or if I’m simply outgrowing that particular style and, with age, gravitating more and more towards Western-developed RPGs which have deeper stories and are more serious in tone.

Part of me believes that I am indeed outgrowing the genre – the writing and acting in games like Resonance of Fate and Star Ocean often makes me cringe now, but years ago I doubt it would have. But another part of me – the part that still enjoys replaying old PS1 and PS2 favorites every now and then, and still gets a thrill out of the more classically developed JRPGs found in abundance on the DS and PSP – believes that Japanese RPG developers are finally, after decades of memorable games, stuck in a rut of bad clichés and insipid writing, and they can’t quite grasp how to push the genre forward in this big-budget HD era.

What do you think about the evolution of the JRPG genre? Do you also find modern JRPGs lacking the same spark that made games of previous generations so memorable, or is it just me?

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!