By makari 2 Comments
Recently, there has been a sort of huge resurgence of what people consider oldschool genres in video games. Stuff that was way popular back in the early days that at some point dropped off the map and almost faded into obscurity. Adventure games, fighting games, 2D adventures, even the rise of 'casual' puzzle game timewasters, kids today are reliving the memories of an older gamer like myself, albeit less pixelated and with less granulated and robotic voice acting (well, sometimes...).
But some genres don't have the luxury of fading away to be reborn. Ones that cling to the very thread of being modern mainstream to this day and yet have not changed all that much over the years. I am, of course, speaking of the humble JRPG.
I recently played through most of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, the two Mistwalker exclusives for the xbox360, enough to feel the need to write a blog about them anyway. By definition, these games are, heart and soul, oldschool JRPG's. Most of what bothers me about them, and their public reception, was the manner in which they came about. They were both 'dream team' games used to push the 360 into the Japanese market. As such, a huge expectation was thrown on them in the western world that they would be somehow ascendant above all other JRPG's and would find the magical missing piece that would shatter the world of JRPG's forever.
Of course, it wasn't to be. What Mistwalker made were two perfectly competant oldschool JRPG's, in a traditional sense. Because of this, (and some technical difficulties in Blue Dragon particularly) the two games weren't exactly seen in a favourable light in the western world, yet garnered pretty amazing review scores in Japan (say what you will about Famitsu's integrity).
The games themselves, by reading reviews and playing them myself, aren't terrible games at all. Blue Dragon, is about as close to playing a Saturday morning anime that you can get. The feel of Akira Toriyama's character design interlaced with a non-complex yet well-told story akin to a fairytale or kids show makes it interesting without resorting to overtly complex ridiculousness that finds it's way into alot of JRPG's. The characters in Lost Odyssey are believable and tragic, and the dream sequences can really make you feel and relate to them.
The graphics in both games are, stylisticly, absolutely stunning. Blue Dragon in particular suffers terribly from framerate issues, and Kluke's face just looks fucking weird, but otherwise they are visual tour-de-forces. The cutscenes are very well done in both games, and as I said earlier, Blue Dragon is like watching a genuine anime from start to finish in that regard.
So what makes the games suffer bad review scores then?
Sadly, it is the simple notion that they are oldschool JRPGs. The mechanics, although suffering from traditional pitfalls like level scaling problems, are sound and not overly complex, and the differences, like all JRPGs, are incremental, leading to a sort of 'stuck in the past' feel that they were designed to invoke in the first place. But this isn't a blog about how badly done-by JRPGs in review scores. It's about games made in a traditional oldschool way being accepted and not accepted due to trends. The differences between the Telltale adventure games and classic ones are incremental, and Shadow Complex isn't exactly reimagining the 2D exploration genre. I'm not saying those examples are bad games by any stretch of the imagination, it's just neither example really go above and beyond the existing mechanics and are still great examples in their respective genres.
Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey are the same. They are games in a specific genre catered for a specific audience in a deliberately oldschool fashion, and while they have their problems and aren't for everyone, they are still good examples of the genre and are worth checking out for fans of the style. JRPG's are gonna stay JRPGs, they aren't going to magical reform into some super-genre with some massive sweeping messiah-brought change. JRPGs can't 'come back,' because they never left in the first place. So why is it that people expect them to?