We Love jRPGs! The Collection
If there’s one genre I’ve been enamoured with since getting into gaming, it’s the jRPG. Melodramatic stories and outrageous quests set in mysterious and wondrous worlds. Whether it be buying a new sword and checking the stats, just getting to that next save point before dinner/work/school, or even wondering what kind of gel keeps my party leader’s hair in place, jRPGs have been some of the most addictive and important parts of my gaming history.
And before the current gen took hold, the good ol’ jRPG had a more regular release line. You’ll notice the majority of the titles celebrated below are from prior 2006. The golden age of the jRPG may very much be over but nothing can stop us from remembering the good times.
Check out some jRPG memories from me and my friends below and feel free to add yours in the comments below.
- Star Ocean Second Story
- Final Fantasy XII
- Persona 3
- Parasite Eve
- Shadow Hearts: Covenant
- Final Fantasy VIII
- Skies of Arcadia
- Wild Arms
- Pokèmon Red/Blue
- Final Fantasy X
- Final Fantasy VI
Star Ocean: Second Story caught my eye in Blockbuster’s game rental section when my parents would do the monthly trip to get a movie to rent. This was at a time when you’d still rent VHS tapes because DVDs had only just been introduced and format specific players were extremely expensive. I had just brought back my copy of Legend of Legaia and was begging my mum to let me rent another.
As they checked out the film selection, I giddily browsed the PlayStation 1 rental section on the hunt for my next epic adventure. Initially I skipped over Star Ocean because I thought it would just be another shooty space game (yeah we had that problem back then too) but as I picked it up to check behind it I noticed the anime styled characters don the back of the box and I was instantly intrigued. This had to be rented.
It had one of my favourite things right at the start of the game: a choice. You could play as either Rena or Claude. Of course, I’d always choose Rena but I remember having that choice being really important to me. That kind of choice has cropped up again in a few games like Resident Evil 2 or more recently Tales of Xillia. More games should offer it.
What followed was one of the most magical games I’ve ever played. The fantasy medieval setting featured all the classic staples such as audiences with a king, an arena battle that goes wrong, discovering magic spells and a whole new world. I loved the skills system for crafting items, the private actions, and the combat. What most blew me away was when I thought the game was coming to a natural close things completely changed, and it was like a whole new game had started.
While the PSP re-release, dubbed Second Evolution, changed a few of the originals more charming – if not very dated – aspects, such as voices and more specifically character art, it remained one of my favourite jRPGs to date.
Final Fantasy XII was released the day I came out of hospital. I had just undergone some fairly painful surgery and was about to spend the next two months laid up, feeling sorry for myself and dreading visits from the overly attentive district nurse. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t go out and the medication I was on meant that I couldn’t drink. I was Jimmy Stuart in Rear Window without the well-paced murder mystery unfolding in the opposite building.
I started playing Final Fantasy XII every day from when I woke up to when I went to sleep. When the walls began to close in around me, I took to the vast plains of Ivalice and started to breath a little easier. When I got lonely, I went on some daft monster hunt with Balthier and Fran and didn’t feel as isolated any more. The game became my routine.
Due mainly to my incapacitated state, and the lack of anything better being released over that time, I sunk an inordinate amount of time into Final Fantasy XII. It was a while ago now so I can’t remember a great deal about the plot (something to do with crystals no doubt), but I do know that it made my recovery period pass much quicker.
More than anything it made me realise that a game doesn’t have to be perfect to be considered a personal favourite; heck, it doesn’t even need to be considered good – I mean, gambits? What the hell were they thinking? I’ve played much better RPGs since Final Fantasy XII, but nothing has come close to the companionship and solace I felt while exploring its locations and interacting with its characters.
For keeping me sane during a lonely, painful and sober time in my life I was, and still am, eternally grateful.
One piece of the story line that really got me was that of Junpei and Chidori. One of your party members, Junpei is something of a joker, just a real buffoonish guy. By chance he makes acquaintance with a red haired gothic lolita, Chidori, who coincidentally is affiliated with the villains of the game. When their arc resolved, I felt devastated emotionally by the conclusion of it.
Most of the time in a game you beat the baddies, but you don’t have a loveable character like Junpei fall in love with them, visit them in the hospital every day. It’s heartbreaking, but it means more than that to me personally.
Chidori was revealed to be one of those gothic cutter girls – which is the worst terminology I’ve ever come upon – but like Junpei, I’ve had relationships with girls who do that . And I often go for a joke in the worst possible moments. Even after my soul has had miles put on it by experiences, I still try to maintain a joker attitude. I was so happy to see Junpei mature emotionally. By happy, I mean envious. I wish I could experience that sort of personal growth.
That’s the greatest thing about Persona 3, my experience with it is different based on the choices I made. Everyone got to see Junpei and Chidori, but I chose to befriend Junpei and had my character hang out with him and max out our social link together. When I saw what he was going through, I felt like I was watching a friend stepping into a relationship minefield, screaming at the TV “No Junpei!” At the same time, I was so invested in this relationship between polar opposites. The entire game of Persona 3 was an emotional journey that years later, I’m still not over. I still think about that game every day and what it meant to me, especially the scenes involving Chidori and Junpei.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Parasite Eve: Flipping through a GamePro at Walgreens, I saw a picture of what I thought was a female Cloud Strife, on a new jRPG that appeared to combine Final Fantasy with a horror game. I could barely play Resident Evil, the tension of those slow-opening door sequences combined with jump scares and zombies was too much for 9 year old me, but the prospect of a “horror game” was so damn intriguing to me – especially when it was combined with my favourite genre the jRPG. I knew instantly that as soon as it came stateside, I would do everything in my power to trick my mom into letting me rent it. And I succeeded.
The opening sequence is still burned into my memory. Parasite Eve takes place in New York City in the late 90’s. The enigmatic woman/creature Eve with seemingly unstoppable powers is killing people and speaking of mitochondria . She does this via a mass immolation of opera-goers who were screaming and dying all around the game’s protagonist, NYPD detective, Aya Brea; who is inexplicably immune to Eve’s abilities. Immediately after the game’s riveting opening sequence, I knew that it would go down as one of my favourite games of all time. The combat was like the Active Time Battle from Final Fantasy VII, but you could MOVE AROUND and DODGE! It was a revelation, and every time I side-stepped an enemy’s special attack, no matter how graceless the animation, I felt like a gaming God.
The game was also unique in that you played the entire game with a party of one; The only playable character was Aya Brea, Super cop, and you wouldn’t want it any other way. Aya was a badass; Even though she had a case of JRPG-induced amnesia(or perhaps because of it), she was chasing a monster that could literally turn city blocks of people into pure goo. It’s one of the few JRPG’s that I’ve bothered to play multiple times, due to a combination of a rather short playtime and it being a kick ass game. If you haven’t played it and can deal with PS1 era graphics, you owe it to yourself to play this under-appreciated gem.
I’ve forgotten the broader plot elements of Shadow Hearts: Covenant. They aren’t very important. It’s World War I and Grigori Rasputin is evil. You’re the only one who can stop him from Doing The Thing.
It’s just little moments that still stand out. When people talk about Shadow Hearts being a very weird game they usually only talk about the player finding trading cards of Buff Sexy Hunks and cashing them in with a pair of tailors so that they can make you a new dress for your battle-puppet.
And yeah, that’s in there, but that isn’t half of it.
There’s a part where you help a ghost find peace by offering it a tissue so that he can finally wipe his butt.
You hang out with a 300 year old Francis Bacon who has made you an airship which runs on water.
One of your party members is a pro-wrestler who turns into a bat every few fights. Your main character is constantly becoming all sorts of demons. Each character differs and fights with a unique style, except for one who just has boring swords and attacks things with them (which actually makes her the most ridiculous one).
There are extended sections where you play as a wolf and have fights with other wolves to raise your wolf level. His type of equipment to boost his attack is different kinds of whetstone to sharpen his teeth with, which is weird, because presumably at the end of the game he’d just have tiny stubs left from being ground down.
SH:C seems like a parody of the genre, not exactly mocking it, but dispensing all of the necessity that in-world justification exist. JRPG stories have been nonsensical for as long as I can remember and it was refreshing to experience something without any sense that the team were taking seriously.
It got away with taking the piss because the gameplay was the only thing that wasn’t dispensed with. It managed to surpass a lot of other games because the fights were so interesting and the narrative approach was to just throw nonsense at you.
I never finished Final Fantasy VIII.
That’s quite a way to start a post about it, I know. But I just never did. Too many other things got in the way. My then-girlfriend stealing my PlayStation when she went off to uni (and subsequently her housemate’s rabbit chewing through the power cable). Wasting days trying to beat that bloody Jumbo Cactuar. Wasting yet more days trying to kill enough Malboros to get enough tentacles I needed for the Doomtrain summon. Realising I couldn’t get Doomtrain because the dang Lunatic Pandora was hovering over the site I needed to visit to get it.
And yet, it is my favourite RPG of all time. You FFVII people are entitled to your Empire Strikes Back levels of reverence – heck, I adore it too – but in much the same way as everyone has a different Doctor as ‘their’ Doctor, VIII is ‘my’ Final Fantasy.
To answer ‘why?’ it’s probably easier to just think about all the things I’ve still never done with it, 14 years later. As stated, I never finished the game – my old memory cards still have the last, tantalising save point right before the team fly the Ragnarok into the Lunatic Pandora to begin the lengthy final act. I never learned how to play Triple Triad (or collected even half the cards). I never fought Omega Weapon in the bowels of Ultimecia Castle. I never levelled up my characters fully. I also never finished writing the epic Quistis-based fanfic* I started back in 2001.
I still have so much work to do with FFVIII, and it’s a journey I want to start over and do properly, with an additional 14 years of gaming experience behind me. I want everything. Every secret. Every sidequest. Every spell. Every card. Every pointless NPC conversation.
And ultimately, that’s why it’s my favourite RPG – because I don’t think I will ever stop wanting to play it. It’s not the kind of story you get through once and then never want to return to. It’s your favourite, dog-eared, chewed, crispy-in-that-one-bit-where-you-spilt-juice-on-it-then-left-it-on-the-radiator-to-dry book – a story you will always want to experience again, from the top, no skipping chapters. A story where you can rename the cast every time you play through it, depending on which epic romance you want to tell at the time.
One day, I’ll finish Final Fantasy VIII. I just don’t care when.
*Editor’s Note: Please finish this. I hope it’s filth.
Air pirates. They were the only two words I needed to initially peak my interest in Dreamcast classic Skies of Arcadia.
Flying around in your very own air ship, raiding the rich, defeating the enemy and getting stronger all the time was just your average every day occurrence here. But it’s ironic that despite my enjoyable hundred hour or so journey in the world of Arcadia, there’s one very innocuous landmark that remains in the forefront of my mind.
The landmark in question resides quite early on in the game on Pirate’s Isle. It’s stature is formidable enough that it dominates the small village’s landscape as a shining example of Arcadian craftsmanship. The object in question, is a ladder.
But it wasn’t just any old ladder, up until that point I had never witnessed a ladder in any video game quite this big or quite so dominant in the grand scale of things. Skies of Arcadia was possibly my first true RPG that I put more time into than I thought was possible. I lived and breathed the world of Vyse and the crew but yet years later I always think back to the ladder on Pirate Isle, questioning if there was actually an end to where it led when I first braved it’s lofty heights.
I’m pretty sure at the top there was a small piece of land and possibly a place to store items and equipment. But what was at the end was never really the point, the journey is – as they say – more important than the end or the start.
Thirteen years on from it’s initial Dreamcast release I’m still waiting for a HD remake. Revisiting my first monstrous ladder from my childhood might make it difficult to hold back the tears.
My favourite RPG is a title called Wild Arms, released in 1996 on the PSOne. It was my first JRPG and it is one I can return to again and again, explore its wonderful varied world, listen to its gorgeous soundtrack and become immersed in its story despite having played it numerous times before.
It’s hard to really pin down why it has such a special place in my heart. I love the design of the world which manages to blend fantasy and magic, with science fiction and Wild West overtones. I love the three main characters, each coming from different backgrounds, having different reasons for doing what they do and each coming together to fight the threat to their world. The music, such is the case for many RPGs of the time, infects your brain and you’ll find yourself humming the themes in your head. There is an inherent quirkiness to the battle system as well, even back when I first played it I could laugh at how awkward the original 3D animation looked but it still managed to be incredibly charming.
You also feel like your exploits are having an impact on various sections of the world and you get rewarded for it. You see the main town of Adlehyde destroyed and through your efforts and donations, rebuilt. It gives you a warm feeling of accomplishment. Moments like that, and the gradual unlocking of various Guardians to use in combat which represent the hope being returned to the world really help in providing a story which feels like you’re making an impact.
Wild Arms for me has all the factors which make up a great JRPG, as mentioned we have the music, the world, characters and enemies. All these combine into what is an unforgettable experience and one of the, in my eyes, lost gems of the PSOne era.
Pokémon. That one word pretty much sums it up really. A game/franchise/phenomenon which has wrapped its hands around world since 1996 and simply refuses to let go. Surely we can all remember which game we lost our Pokéginity to. Pokémon Blue popped my Pokecherry and even to this day, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Once me and “Blues” (not the most original name for my Squirtle) joined forces, the world of Kanto didn’t know what hit it. I spent hours of my life moulding Blues into what was no doubt the greatest team to ever destroy Team Rocket and The Elite Four (after a few attempts of course).
This game changed my life; it taught me how to build strategies, develop and nurture balanced teams and of course how to grind through an army of AA batteries in less than a week. But what Pokémon Blue really taught me was that human interaction simply wasn’t “essential” in life. Unless you had a copy of Pokémon Red and a transfer cable, you were pretty much invisible to me. There was even a time where I didn’t go out during play breaks at school and just sat inside the class room with my few real life amigos developing new ways to become the school Poke Master.
I somewhat foolishly was also the kid who tasked themselves with getting all 150 of those Pocket Monsters. Who needs sleep right? Levelling up that Pokémon in order to get that next evolution was never an easy task. And sacrificing sleep (and school work) seemed completely worth it. Of course it was easy for Rare Candy exploit users…you know who you are!
Even in my adulthood I still await each new Pokémon adventure with bated breath and excitement. Every release taking me back to a childhood that was shaped and moulded by the magicians at Nintendo and GameFreak.
Now if only Blues was here to join me on those new adventures
The first game I ever purchased for my PS2 was Final Fantasy X, based on the fact EVERYONE was raving about it. Little did I know how much that game would affect me.
It wasn’t just the beautiful scenery and breathtaking cutscenes, it was all about the journey for me. That connection to the characters, how engaging they were and drawing me into the story still makes it one of my favourite games. Yes that even includes Tidus, the whiny bugger. His constant whining made it more endearing to watch his relationship with Yuna blossom. Remember that laughing scene with Yuna and Tidus, the one that is considered ridiculous, stupid or both? I loved it, because it showed me that even when everything is going wrong and something bad is going to happen/is happening that it’s okay to laugh and be happy even for a little while. I cried when they kissed, from happiness and sadness as I knew what was coming…
That first glimpse of Zanarkand made my stomach clench, because as far I knew the journey was coming to an end and I really wasn’t ready for it to stop. Knowing what lay ahead, what Yuna had to go through to stop Sin almost made me switch off the game, but I carried on to see it through. I invested hundreds of hours into the game, grinding so I could get certain spells and moves and hunted down every Al Bhed primer. I have replayed it countless times and I am looking forward to the HD version coming out as it’s been a while since I last played the original and all those emotions will come rushing back. Laughing, crying and even getting angry at FFX, means it is a special game to make me invest so much emotion in playing and I can’t wait to make that journey again!
Suikoden’s Gregminster wasn’t my first RPG town, but it’s the one that has stayed with me the longest. As the capital city of the Toran Republic, Gregminster prospered greatly from commercialism and is well-known for its elegant art and architecture, its striking red doors. The Golden Goddess fountain statue, modeled after the Emperor’s late wife, stands in the center of the city, a reminder to its people of how far they’ve come. Certainly not a promise, given that the Empire’s corruption is quickly unearthed after starting Konami’s adventure, which is loosely based on a 14th-century Chinese novel about building an army to take on rebel forces.
Perhaps what I remember the most about Gregminster though is the birds. I don’t know if they are pigeons or doves—hey, I’m no ornithologist, and these are PlayStation 1 graphics we’re analyzing here—but they were most definitely white-feathered, and they constantly hung around that statue by Teo McDohl’s house. When you walked near them, they swiftly broke into flight, flying off and away. Y’know, like birds are wont to do, unless you’re on a tourist-riddled beach and they want your chips. Anyways, I don’t think I’d ever seen anything like it before in a videogame at the time, this dynamic cause-and-effect moment that you could repeat on end, because the birds would just return to the statue after you left the screen. I ran through them, I ran past them, and I tried to walk quietly up to them, but it did not matter; birds are birds, even videogame birds, and off they flew, wanting nothing to do with Teo McDohl’s son and his quest to take on the Empire.
It’s a really small detail in a game series littered with small details—cooking mini-game and 108 Stars of Destiny to collect, anyone?—and one I have found consistently charming over the years. In fact, I think about it every time I head to the shops in Animal Crossing: New Leaf and end up chasing a few birds away in the process.
Growing up I watched games rather than played them. But when I moved for school and finally had money, things changed. I picked up my first Playstation and excitement hit me like a truck, I could play anything I wanted, I’d seen so many great games I could play any of them now. My friend appeared moments after setting it up and produced a case for a game I’d never seen, Final Fantasy 6. I had no interest in it as I wanted to play Driver and Crash Bandicoot. But he put it in and told me to shut my face hole.
At first, I hated the game, I didn’t connect with any characters and I didn’t understand why he wanted me to play this game. But as I played, it slowly became clear to me why. I wasn’t playing just another fantasy RPG. Final Fantasy 6 was set in a steampunk world the likes of which I’d never experienced. At first it seemed foreign, but slowly, it grew on me, a world filled with colour, life and so much more.
And then, I met him. Kefka Palazzo. Kefka was at that moment to a young Dave, the best villain I’d ever seen, and to an older much more experienced Dave, Kefka remains one of my top villains out of respect. He looks like a court jester, he’s loud, filled with dark humour and he’s probably a little insane. But the thing that makes Kefka stick out in my mind anytime someone asks for a villain, is the climax of the game. Kefka achieves something that to me was unheard of. Without going in to too much detail for the sake of spoilers (even though it’s an old game) He won. Kefka achieves his goal. I wasn’t expecting such a thing, I’d only ever seen good guys thwarting bad guys before it’s too late. But here was a game that saw fit to change that.
Oh yeah, and you can suplex a train.
Entire dissertations have been written about Nintendo’s masterpiece EarthBound, but one part of the game that I’ve always liked and never hear much about is the section in which Paula is kidnapped in Fourside and hidden away at the top of the local department store.
Ness and Jeff have to storm the darkened store and fight their way to rescue her. The trick here is that at this point in the game, Paula is the character with the most useful and powerful PSI powers. Ness still has some levelling up to do and Jeff’s weapons aren’t up to the task of fighting a small alien army. By removing Paula from the group, Ness and Jeff are left vulnerable in a way that I had not anticipated during my first play of the game all those years ago. I spent a few hours spread out over several days trying to complete this area, and even stocking up on the best items and buying a decoy teddy bear wasn’t quite enough at first. This section is the first real challenge in the game from my perspective, as it turns my usual battle strategies against me by teaching me not to over-rely on any one character in the group.
The game later pulls a similar trick by sending Poo away on his own mission, but by that point Ness and the others are powerful enough to stand alone for a while without much difficulty. EarthBound teaches teamwork, but also stresses the individual parts that make up the team. That’s admirable in an era where the star protagonist is generally unstoppable and the other members of the party are just window dressing.
If you liked this then why not check out my last collaboration post about survival horror games. Make sure to leave your memories in the comments section below!