Why I Hate JRPGs, Part 1

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jbrown08

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Edited By jbrown08

Let me be clear before I start this post: I love JRPGs. I have been a fan ever since I was 7 and was completely baffled by Final Fantasy 1 at my grandparent's house. I was too young to really understand what was going on, but something about the roles each character played, the world exploration, and the fantastical monsters really grabbed my imagination. Also, the grindy aspects of a JRPG feed my complete and total video game addiction.

That being said, I also hate JRPGs with a passion that burns hotter than Valeria Golino's stomach in Hot Shots Part Deux (Obscure reference, I know, but I watched that movie last week). Quite a few of the things I dislike about them can be chalked up to cultural differences, in that being an american I am obviously stupid, fat, and not cosmopolitan enough to understand Japanese cultural tropes. Many of them, though, are complete and utter failings in the basic mechanics of JRPGs that have been around for a decade or more and refuse to go away.

1. The Dialogue - This has been a long running debate among many JRPG fans. Many people enjoy the awkward English, strange sentence structure, and poor word choice. Others, like me, truly hate the fact that localization teams haven't figure out, after almost 30 years, how to effectively translate Japanese stories into English without tons of inaccuracies, idiosyncrasies, and ridiculousness. It completely ruins my immersion when I hear or read a sentence that would NEVER exist in standard English conversations. Yes, there are Japanophiles that wouldn't have it any other way, but when I buy a game in English, I expect it to be in English. Periodically poor translations will result in absolute gems, like the ubiquitous "All your base," but I would give all those up to avoid the far more common quotes that just make me turn the game off in a rage, like this one:

To be fair, I think this exact sentence every time I see Jersey Shore. Is it plural or singular? I can't tell!

2. The Storytelling - Western RPGs are generally character driven stories about defeating a particular evil or saving someone dear to the main character. A great example of this is the original Dragon Age. You go from your origin story to becoming a Grey Warden who's goal is to unite the people of Ferelden, stop the Blight, kill the Archdemon, and dethrone the usurper Loghain. All easy to understand motivations, and the dialogue, story, and decisions your character makes all are generally logical within the universe of Dragon Age. The path your characters follow is focused, sensible, and always moves your forward. Even on side quests that have nothing to do with the main story, your motivations for completing that quest are clear. In contrast, Final Fantasy XIII's story is so muddled, with so many logical fallacies, stupid decisions, strange dialogue choices, and co

nclusions that are reached without and factual backing, that I constantly am forced to pause the game and walk away to give myself some time to get over the ridiculousness. For example, in an early part of the game, Sazh, Lightning, Hope, and Vanille are stranded in the Vile Peaks after their plane was shot down. Lightning decides to push on without her party members even though the logical course of action would be to stick together. The frightened, frequently tongue-tied Hope makes the decision to follow Lightning, even though Vanille has been his emotional rock and he has stuck by her side thus far. Until this point in the story, Hope has been frozen by fear and indecision, only able to push forward with the urging of Vanille. It's a small decision by the character, but when he goes against all precedents set for his character thus far, without any particular catalyst, it broke my immersion in the story. As they are leaving, Hope asks Lightning what they should do about Sazh and Vanille, to which she replies "They'll catch up eventually." They'll catch up? Really? A child and an old man will somehow find the stamina to move more quickly through the wasteland than an experienced, in shape soldier and a boy who's too scared to let himself fall behind? Again, it's small and mostly inconsequential, but it makes no sense and bugged me. Almost every JRPG story is laced with these types of logical fallacies and leaps of faith, which says to me that the writers are simply lazy and force their characters into the story they want to tell, instead of writing a story in which motivations and decisions make sense.

JRPG stories are often high concept, philosophical tales that beat you over the head with morality, questions about theology, and often examine governmental and corporate corruption. In examining all these high concepts, the game developers often forget to infuse their characters with personality and give them believable motivations. Mostly the story starts with someone being kidnapped/disappearing, and then in the process of saving that person the main character ends up saving the world for some reason, without a whole lot of plot connecting the two.

3. The Characters - Before I get into this, let me say that there are so many memorable, awesome characters from JRPGs that I kind of feel bad writing this section. Robo from Chrono Trigger, Cloud from FF7, Geno from Super Mario RPG, Yuri from Tales of Symphonia, are just a few of my favorites. That being said, characters in JRPGs are generally terrible, annoying, and mostly forgettable. I hate to pick on Final Fantasy XIII, but it is the JRPG I played most recently, so I will. Hope drove me nuts. He was the most unlikable, obnoxious character in recent memory. He harbored an unreasonable rage for Snow for killing his mother, even though he was there for every event that lead to his mother's death. He watched his mom volunteer. I repeat, VOLUNTEER, to help fight off PSICOM soldiers. He watched Snow try to save her, watched Snow fight to save her while hanging from a precipice, watched him yell in anguish as she fell to her death, and then watched Snow fall himself, even after she forced Snow to let her go. Hope watched Snow's utterly selfless attempt to save his mom, and yet blamed him for his death. It was an illogical, unbelievable motivation. Even someone as young as Hope could figure out that Snow made every attempt to save her, and would realize at some point that she volunteered instead of being coerced into service.

The mention of Hope's age leads me to another point about JRPG characters: why do they all have to be children? From Secret of Mana to Legend of Heroes to every Final Fantasy EVER, your main character is generally a fifteen to nineteen year old guy. Having recently been a fifteen to nineteen year old, and by all accounts a guy, I can say that people that age are not physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared for any of the burdens they endure in these games. What is the Japanese fascination with the child hero? Every time I play a fifteen year old that has no qualms murdering hundreds of beasts, making decisions that will affect the entire world, and having a pretty serious romance with another fifteen year old, I'm completely taken out of the game. I just sit there and ponder how this high school sophomore has enough worldly experience to decide the fate of the world, and everyone around him doesn't stop and say "Wait a second, why are we letting children do this for us?." On top of almost always being too young to be believable, these characters are most often androgynous guys with feathered, multicolored hair and excessive belts and buckles. I really don't understand the obsession with buckles. I don't agree with the hyper manliness of, say, Marcus Fenix from Gears of War either, but at least give me a strong, decisive, masculine character. This is a perfect example of a character I can believe would be part of a campaign to save the world:

as opposed to this:

By far the worst development in JRPGs is the recent advent of voice acted characters. For some reason JRPGs have a propensity to make their characters overly emotive. They voice every sigh, moan, groan, and noise of wonderment. The thousandth time Vanille made a "oh? oh. ohhhhhhhhhh." noise at something that happened in the game, I threw my controller through the window and smashed my PS3 with a sledgehammer. Not really, but I definitely had daydreams about doing that. The melodramatic emoting just destroys any tension in the scene and all investment in the characters. Characters in a JRPG emote like characters in a daytime soap, as opposed to good entertainment like Breaking Bad, in which the characters react and emote to the current situation in surprising and realistic ways. Instead of letting the player get invested in the characters and think about their emotions and motives, the JRPG writer basically takes every scene and turns it into a reddit "explain this to me like I am a 5 year old" post.

The last point I will make about characters in JRPGs is less about characters and more about differences in storytelling between east and west. In a JRPG, the idea of comic relief is most often embodied by ridiculous characters or enemies like karaoke robots in Chrono Trigger or cactrots in Final Fantasy games. JRPGs depend on their characters breaking out into stupid dances, saying something out of character, or breaking the fourth wall for a little bit of comedy. Again, this immediately breaks immersion for me. Comic relief in a game was perfectly done in Portal 2. Wheatley was the funniest, most interesting character in any game I've played ever, and even GLaDOS had her moments. It should be built into the story, and not shoe-horned in with some ridiculous moment that breaks immersion in the story.

There's so much more I could cover about the characters, their personalities, and character designs, but this post is already tl;dr so I will just end it by saying this: Japanese character design seems to be like someone wildly throwing darts at a board as hard as they can. That person hopes that they hit a bullseye, and every once in a while buries that dart so far in the center of the board that he will have a story to tell for years, but most often it ends with the dart hitting the wall, bouncing off, and hitting an innocent bystander in the eye.

This is my first entry in a series of posts about why I hate JRPGs. I will be covering many other reasons that I hate these games in the future.

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jbrown08

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#1  Edited By jbrown08

Let me be clear before I start this post: I love JRPGs. I have been a fan ever since I was 7 and was completely baffled by Final Fantasy 1 at my grandparent's house. I was too young to really understand what was going on, but something about the roles each character played, the world exploration, and the fantastical monsters really grabbed my imagination. Also, the grindy aspects of a JRPG feed my complete and total video game addiction.

That being said, I also hate JRPGs with a passion that burns hotter than Valeria Golino's stomach in Hot Shots Part Deux (Obscure reference, I know, but I watched that movie last week). Quite a few of the things I dislike about them can be chalked up to cultural differences, in that being an american I am obviously stupid, fat, and not cosmopolitan enough to understand Japanese cultural tropes. Many of them, though, are complete and utter failings in the basic mechanics of JRPGs that have been around for a decade or more and refuse to go away.

1. The Dialogue - This has been a long running debate among many JRPG fans. Many people enjoy the awkward English, strange sentence structure, and poor word choice. Others, like me, truly hate the fact that localization teams haven't figure out, after almost 30 years, how to effectively translate Japanese stories into English without tons of inaccuracies, idiosyncrasies, and ridiculousness. It completely ruins my immersion when I hear or read a sentence that would NEVER exist in standard English conversations. Yes, there are Japanophiles that wouldn't have it any other way, but when I buy a game in English, I expect it to be in English. Periodically poor translations will result in absolute gems, like the ubiquitous "All your base," but I would give all those up to avoid the far more common quotes that just make me turn the game off in a rage, like this one:

To be fair, I think this exact sentence every time I see Jersey Shore. Is it plural or singular? I can't tell!

2. The Storytelling - Western RPGs are generally character driven stories about defeating a particular evil or saving someone dear to the main character. A great example of this is the original Dragon Age. You go from your origin story to becoming a Grey Warden who's goal is to unite the people of Ferelden, stop the Blight, kill the Archdemon, and dethrone the usurper Loghain. All easy to understand motivations, and the dialogue, story, and decisions your character makes all are generally logical within the universe of Dragon Age. The path your characters follow is focused, sensible, and always moves your forward. Even on side quests that have nothing to do with the main story, your motivations for completing that quest are clear. In contrast, Final Fantasy XIII's story is so muddled, with so many logical fallacies, stupid decisions, strange dialogue choices, and co

nclusions that are reached without and factual backing, that I constantly am forced to pause the game and walk away to give myself some time to get over the ridiculousness. For example, in an early part of the game, Sazh, Lightning, Hope, and Vanille are stranded in the Vile Peaks after their plane was shot down. Lightning decides to push on without her party members even though the logical course of action would be to stick together. The frightened, frequently tongue-tied Hope makes the decision to follow Lightning, even though Vanille has been his emotional rock and he has stuck by her side thus far. Until this point in the story, Hope has been frozen by fear and indecision, only able to push forward with the urging of Vanille. It's a small decision by the character, but when he goes against all precedents set for his character thus far, without any particular catalyst, it broke my immersion in the story. As they are leaving, Hope asks Lightning what they should do about Sazh and Vanille, to which she replies "They'll catch up eventually." They'll catch up? Really? A child and an old man will somehow find the stamina to move more quickly through the wasteland than an experienced, in shape soldier and a boy who's too scared to let himself fall behind? Again, it's small and mostly inconsequential, but it makes no sense and bugged me. Almost every JRPG story is laced with these types of logical fallacies and leaps of faith, which says to me that the writers are simply lazy and force their characters into the story they want to tell, instead of writing a story in which motivations and decisions make sense.

JRPG stories are often high concept, philosophical tales that beat you over the head with morality, questions about theology, and often examine governmental and corporate corruption. In examining all these high concepts, the game developers often forget to infuse their characters with personality and give them believable motivations. Mostly the story starts with someone being kidnapped/disappearing, and then in the process of saving that person the main character ends up saving the world for some reason, without a whole lot of plot connecting the two.

3. The Characters - Before I get into this, let me say that there are so many memorable, awesome characters from JRPGs that I kind of feel bad writing this section. Robo from Chrono Trigger, Cloud from FF7, Geno from Super Mario RPG, Yuri from Tales of Symphonia, are just a few of my favorites. That being said, characters in JRPGs are generally terrible, annoying, and mostly forgettable. I hate to pick on Final Fantasy XIII, but it is the JRPG I played most recently, so I will. Hope drove me nuts. He was the most unlikable, obnoxious character in recent memory. He harbored an unreasonable rage for Snow for killing his mother, even though he was there for every event that lead to his mother's death. He watched his mom volunteer. I repeat, VOLUNTEER, to help fight off PSICOM soldiers. He watched Snow try to save her, watched Snow fight to save her while hanging from a precipice, watched him yell in anguish as she fell to her death, and then watched Snow fall himself, even after she forced Snow to let her go. Hope watched Snow's utterly selfless attempt to save his mom, and yet blamed him for his death. It was an illogical, unbelievable motivation. Even someone as young as Hope could figure out that Snow made every attempt to save her, and would realize at some point that she volunteered instead of being coerced into service.

The mention of Hope's age leads me to another point about JRPG characters: why do they all have to be children? From Secret of Mana to Legend of Heroes to every Final Fantasy EVER, your main character is generally a fifteen to nineteen year old guy. Having recently been a fifteen to nineteen year old, and by all accounts a guy, I can say that people that age are not physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared for any of the burdens they endure in these games. What is the Japanese fascination with the child hero? Every time I play a fifteen year old that has no qualms murdering hundreds of beasts, making decisions that will affect the entire world, and having a pretty serious romance with another fifteen year old, I'm completely taken out of the game. I just sit there and ponder how this high school sophomore has enough worldly experience to decide the fate of the world, and everyone around him doesn't stop and say "Wait a second, why are we letting children do this for us?." On top of almost always being too young to be believable, these characters are most often androgynous guys with feathered, multicolored hair and excessive belts and buckles. I really don't understand the obsession with buckles. I don't agree with the hyper manliness of, say, Marcus Fenix from Gears of War either, but at least give me a strong, decisive, masculine character. This is a perfect example of a character I can believe would be part of a campaign to save the world:

as opposed to this:

By far the worst development in JRPGs is the recent advent of voice acted characters. For some reason JRPGs have a propensity to make their characters overly emotive. They voice every sigh, moan, groan, and noise of wonderment. The thousandth time Vanille made a "oh? oh. ohhhhhhhhhh." noise at something that happened in the game, I threw my controller through the window and smashed my PS3 with a sledgehammer. Not really, but I definitely had daydreams about doing that. The melodramatic emoting just destroys any tension in the scene and all investment in the characters. Characters in a JRPG emote like characters in a daytime soap, as opposed to good entertainment like Breaking Bad, in which the characters react and emote to the current situation in surprising and realistic ways. Instead of letting the player get invested in the characters and think about their emotions and motives, the JRPG writer basically takes every scene and turns it into a reddit "explain this to me like I am a 5 year old" post.

The last point I will make about characters in JRPGs is less about characters and more about differences in storytelling between east and west. In a JRPG, the idea of comic relief is most often embodied by ridiculous characters or enemies like karaoke robots in Chrono Trigger or cactrots in Final Fantasy games. JRPGs depend on their characters breaking out into stupid dances, saying something out of character, or breaking the fourth wall for a little bit of comedy. Again, this immediately breaks immersion for me. Comic relief in a game was perfectly done in Portal 2. Wheatley was the funniest, most interesting character in any game I've played ever, and even GLaDOS had her moments. It should be built into the story, and not shoe-horned in with some ridiculous moment that breaks immersion in the story.

There's so much more I could cover about the characters, their personalities, and character designs, but this post is already tl;dr so I will just end it by saying this: Japanese character design seems to be like someone wildly throwing darts at a board as hard as they can. That person hopes that they hit a bullseye, and every once in a while buries that dart so far in the center of the board that he will have a story to tell for years, but most often it ends with the dart hitting the wall, bouncing off, and hitting an innocent bystander in the eye.

This is my first entry in a series of posts about why I hate JRPGs. I will be covering many other reasons that I hate these games in the future.

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jbrown08

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#2  Edited By jbrown08

This is my first ever blog post, and really my first ever piece of writing that has nothing to do with a school assignment. I would like to eventually break into the world of game coverage, whether it be in writing or other forms. I welcome any and all criticism. Please tell me why I'm wrong, stupid, boring, an idiot, and whatever else you think of my writing. I'm just trying to refine my writing style here to the point where I am at least interesting. Rip me to shreds, I can take it.

Also, tell me why I'm awesome. It makes me feel gooey inside :-)

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Rattle618

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#3  Edited By Rattle618

I agree with all your points, but then again I really do hate JRPGs and only put up with them every once in a while when I feel I shouldn´t miss out on a game that is exceptional but suffers from being developed in Japan.

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Chop

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#4  Edited By Chop

@jbrown08: Followed.

All your points are as old as the sun and have been written down a hundred times before you, but your writing is solid and and you come off as able to defend your position. I'm interested in what else you have to say.

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hughesman

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#5  Edited By hughesman

You dont carry a bag with a delicious pizza in it?

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Kandycane2029

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#6  Edited By Kandycane2029

Followed. I completely agree with your points. I don't know if the story faults are due to horrible translation or lazy writing, but as someone who was once a hardcore JRPG fanatic and casual anime fan, I've grown tired of cliches and lazy writing. So much as I've been shying away from the genre more and more.

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turbomonkey138

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#7  Edited By turbomonkey138

Anyone else get a smugdarkloser flashback ? i think it is his avatar :0

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CaLe

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#8  Edited By CaLe

I used to like JRPGs, but I grew up (I'm 25) and now most of them just seem so pre-teen cyber/cutesy fantasy that I'm disturbed anyone above the age of 15 can tolerate them. I honestly hope the current direction they are headed in fails miserably, even if it means big companies go down, because they need to change in order to appeal to people other than キモイオタク. 
 
      

 Stop targeting this audience, please!
 Stop targeting this audience, please!
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Fallen189

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#9  Edited By Fallen189

The only problem is that you sound horrifically bias towards Western games, to the point where it makes your essay unreadable

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Kandycane2029

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#10  Edited By Kandycane2029

@Fallen189 said:

The only problem is that you sound horrifically bias towards Western games, to the point where it makes your essay unreadable

Do explain.

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FancySoapsMan

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#11  Edited By FancySoapsMan

I disagree with all your points.

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AlexW00d

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#12  Edited By AlexW00d

@Fallen189 said:

The only problem is that you sound horrifically bias towards Western games, to the point where it makes your essay unreadable

No he doesn't. And even if you do think he is biased, he has provided well written arguments for all his points, so it's not like he's pulling it out of his ass.

@jbrown08: I agree with you on all of your points, and whilst there are a lot more things I find wrong with the genre, this is one of the most well written blogs I have ever seen on the subject. Now I warn you, there are a lot of idiots who will defend anything Japanese to the death on these forums, and they will probably show up here, so just ignore them, and keep writing more stuff.

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BeachThunder

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#13  Edited By BeachThunder

Why I hate Generalisations.

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TwoLines

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#14  Edited By TwoLines

I gotta say, you picked a flawed game to criticise the whole genre. There are good JRPGs and then there are the bad ones, same goes for WRPGs. It seems to me like a whole bunch of Western games are just power fantasies. Hyper muscular angry men who kill everything with chainsaws, and so on. So I guess the character critique can go both ways. And you did mention that, so I don't get why you decided to leave that critique in.

You could make an argument that this happens in JRPGs more often than in western games. However, you could also make an argument, that the Japanese protagonists evolve and develop, while someone like Shepard doesn't, because he has no character. He's the player. And we could go deeper (insert inception joke), why do the Japanese focus on children? Is it because for them, the emotionaly unstable teenagers are more interesting, and can develop more than grizzled old men (who in their culture are often portraied as wise and all knowing)? Is it because they lack experience they are the focus of the story?

Next, the translation. Translation is a funny thing. It's really hard to do, and requires a lot of spell checking and multiple revisions. Even recent games had some hiccups in that field, like The Witcher. And, again, you provide examples from 1996, when the process of translating games was regarded as barely worth the translator's time. It still kind of is that way, but times are changing, and I never saw any problems with FF XIII. Hell, even Deadly Premonition was okay, sans a few typos.

As for the story telling, again, you picked a bad game. Chrono Trigger's story is better written than XIII's, and it pre-dates it by a decade and a half. Hell, previous Final Fantasy stories were better that that. VII had a convoluted story, but it was neat. Same goes for IX and VI. You picked a game that made me laugh at the very end. It didn't make a lick of sense. Not one bit.

You could compare Western to Eastern game design and storytelling concepts, its narrative and how they try to merge it with gameplay. I think we need to go deeper if we want to understand what happened with JRPGs, why they haven't evolved, why they're stuck in a rut. That would be a far more interesting study.

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DeF

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#15  Edited By DeF

A few suggestions:

If you want to use imagery to drive your point home, don't use go for the all-out-crazy exaggerations (smashing PS3, etc) because it becomes hard to take your seriously.

Also, appropriate examples would be good when you say localizations are still bad after 30 years, don't include a screenshot from the most famously bad translations from the mid 90s. I personally haven't seen or can't remember any modern localizations fails (ports of old games without new translations excluded).

Extra credit for not using "Why I hate XYZ" headlines but instead coming up with something similarly poignant that happens to be a bit more elegant.

Something you didn't mention and I found extremely off-putting is that FFXIII's male characters seem to all have names that sound way more female (Snow, Hope).

On a side note, I'm currently playing Xenoblade Chronicles and I can happily say that none of the criticisms apply to that game so far! (25hours in)

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TwoLines

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#16  Edited By TwoLines

@DeF said:

On a side note, I'm currently playing Xenoblade Chronicles and I can happily say that none of the criticisms apply to that game so far! (25hours in)

Oh, fuck you man! I want to play that game so bad, but I don't have a Wii... Are you enjoying it so far?

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Humanity

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#17  Edited By Humanity

Most annoying of all to me were the obsessive monologues about fate and destiny that seem obligatory in all these games. I recently beat FFXIII because I wanted to play XIII-2. I enjoyed the game for the most part although I can kinda see where SOME of the insane criticism it gets is coming from. Hope was certainly the most annoying character early on, seconded by Snow yelling out Serahs name left and right. I was happy to see that the characters all evolved over time and Hope got over his little fit while Snow stopped lamenting his crystal girlfriend every second. What didn't change was talking about your destiny, constantly. The game jumped around between "we need to fulfill our destiny!" to "we aren't destined to a predetermined path we can make out own choices!" and back again. I really think that Japanese people have some weird hangups with fate in their society because aside from child heroes this is by far the other most overused JRPG trope.

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DeF

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#18  Edited By DeF

@TwoLines said:

@DeF said:

On a side note, I'm currently playing Xenoblade Chronicles and I can happily say that none of the criticisms apply to that game so far! (25hours in)

Oh, fuck you man! I want to play that game so bad, but I don't have a Wii... Are you enjoying it so far?

It's pretty fantastic. It takes a lot of cues from western games in some regards (quest system) and also looks pretty fantastic (aside from the character models). The fact that you can collect quest items before you get the quest and they count (!) or that you don't have to return to the quest giver to complete your simple fetch quest even is something all RPGs should feel free to copy. The world and story are quite interesting as well. This game and (from what I've read about it) The Last Story should justify the purchase of a Wii all on their own (even if you only scoop up a cheap used one on eBay).

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zeforgotten

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#19  Edited By zeforgotten
@AlexW00d said:

@Fallen189 said:

The only problem is that you sound horrifically bias towards Western games, to the point where it makes your essay unreadable

No he doesn't. And even if you do think he is biased, he has provided well written arguments for all his points, so it's not like he's pulling it out of his ass.

@jbrown08: I agree with you on all of your points, and whilst there are a lot more things I find wrong with the genre, this is one of the most well written blogs I have ever seen on the subject. Now I warn you, there are a lot of idiots who will defend anything Japanese to the death on these forums, and they will probably show up here, so just ignore them, and keep writing more stuff.

Equally, there are idiots on the other side who will defend anything that has a hint of Western RPG in them. Funny how that works :D
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FateOfNever

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#20  Edited By FateOfNever

I just want to say that the child hero is one of the things that I absolutely love about Earthbound. Beyond the fact that the story in Earthbound is actually pretty good and the child thing still somehow works (getting money wired to you from your dad, getting home sick and having to call your mom, things like that) there is one very specific reason that I love that the main character is a child.

I get this imagine in my head of what's actually going on in the beginning of the game. There's this kid, right, and he's got this baseball bat, and he's wander around town "taming" all of these wild animals by beating them with his baseball bat. Over and over and over again. And I start to realize "Oh fuck! This kid isn't saving the world, he's a fucking sociopath!" He then proceeds to go on to beat the shit out of the local police force and beat up a local gang leader. It all just reaffirms that this kid is actually just sick in the head!

Ok, so, that's reading into the story way too much, but, I love thinking of it that way because it makes the story even funnier to me.

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Marokai

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#21  Edited By Marokai

Though I spend plenty of time on these boards bashing certain JRPGs, these criticisms are largely unfair. The translation examples you give are ancient, and even if it were still a big deal, it would be unfair to hold that against an entire genre. It's not as if the occasional confusing line or two from a translation flub is really going to impact the overall quality of a game's experience in 99% of all cases.
 
Your point about characters though.. At first I agreed that western RPGs are very well developed stories based mainly around interaction with other characters and a comparatively simpler goal with much less pomp and circumstance, but WRPGs kind of just cheat in that regard by basically having main characters with zero personality whatsoever. Say what you want about main characters of JRPGs, at least I have a greater chance of being interested in my main character because he or she is actually a character. Who is Shepard, exactly? He's a total whitebread space marine with a cliche gravelly voice. And the main characters of KoTOR, or Fallout 3 and New Vegas? Total blank slates. Hell; Skyrim brings that level of unrealistic character development (or total lack thereof) to a whole new level.
 
An earlier poster had it right. WRPGs are essentially dull power fantasies. What's the difference at some point in how people bash on the anime-loving crowd of the JRPGs against the macho dudebro tendencies of parts of the Western crowd that loves Mass Effect? That specific trope extends to basically ever major western franchise ever. Lots of guns, lots of machismo. Who are any of us to declare the "teen power" tendencies of the JRPG crowd that fantasize about being, or knowing, anime characters, as inferior? There is no functional difference. At the end of the day, video games are all about escaping to another world, the same way books and movies are. 
 
Where one could easily bash japanese game development for being unnecessarily complex and pretentious, someone could just as easily call western games insultingly simple and macho explosion porn.

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#22  Edited By prestonhedges

I like how the character argument comes down to a Calvin Klein model versus a Disney Parks attraction

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#23  Edited By endaround

"Western RPGs are generally character driven stories about defeating a particular evil or saving someone dear to the main character"

No they really aren't. Games from the Bioware/Black Isle/Obsidian tree are often that way (but not always, there are the Icewind Dale series, Neverwinter Nights (the first one), Arcanium, Temple of Elemental Evil) but many have almost no real story at all. They fall back to the Wizardry framework of there is a big evil, go kill it. The greatest example of this are The Elder Scrolls games where characters are almost non-existent. It is basically Wizardy except the dungeon is the entire world.

Of course Wizardry is now a JRPG....

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#24  Edited By CosmoKramer

Most of what I wanted to say has been said by TwoLines already. I find it tiring how everybody seems to enjoy bashing on JRPGs endlessly with the same arguments. I'm not even that much of a JRPG fan, but guys, we get it.

I'd like to point out that while JRPGs might have goofy translation and over-the-top character design, I usually find their setting to be way more unique than the setting that can be found in most WRPGs, which is usually heavily inspired from Tolkien books, Star Wars, Star Trek or tropes from William Gibson books - there are exceptions like Vampires Masquerade, but really, most of them fall in one of these categories. The worlds depicted in FFVII, FFVIII, FFX and FFXIII might be very similar, but this weird blend of sci-fi, fantasy and steampunk is like no other. The same can be said for the Shin Megami Tensei games, which attempt to make a coherent world out of all the mythologies and religions, all the while mixing it with some sci-fi elements and throwing in a moral system allowing you to side with different factions (Law or Chaos usually) for different outcomes storywise - SMT : Nocturne has 6 endings.

In that regard, I think that JRPGs are bolder than WRPGs.

As for the convoluted story part, it's mostly a matter of taste in my opinion. People like FFVII's story for the same reason people like MGS' story : the love of complexity, the thrill of discovering the intricacies of a conspiracy/prophecy/whatever spreading through centuries. It may not be realistic, it may not be for everybody, but it's for me, a bunch of other people too and it sure is fun. Comparing JRPGs and WRPGs stories is interesting, but most of the time, it's not revelant if your goal is to determine what genre is the better one. They're not usually trying to accomplish the same thing. When I want my pseudo-philosophical knotty over-the-top plot, I play a JRPG. When I want a character-driven down-to-earth story, I pop in a WRPG. Why the need to toss one away?

However, I think there is an area in which most JRPGs could improve greatly : gameplay. That's actually the one thing FFXIII did right, they built a fair and solid battle system that gave room for strategy and challenge, and that's really all a battle system has to do. SMT is usually great in that regard too, grinding is rarely what should be done when facing a challenge, and while the series relies mostly on buffs/debuffs and ailments, the situations vary greatly, and it's always up to your brains to get you out of them. But yeah, the Tales series is stuck in the same faux-action gameplay that, if it was well done, would potentially allow you to rely entirely on your skills and reflexes to beat the entire game at the level one. Instead, what you have is an illusion of action, while all you do is dodging a few attacks here and there, mashing some buttons and healing your team when they took a hit you couldn't possibly avoid. Also, you have to grind to get through the game, so it relies mostly on avatar progression and little on actual progression - when it should be the other way around. That can be said for most action JRPGs, and most turn-based JRPGs. And that may be the biggest issue of the genre currently, along with...

Non-interactive storytelling ! Almost all JRPGs give you only one end, and one path to get to it. Sidequests are neat, but those are unrelated to the main subject of interest, and they can only be done one way too. Chrono Trigger and the Shin Megami Tensei series are part of the few JRPGs that even attempted at giving the player some free will and even then, it's not much compared to the possibilities of Morrowind, Baldur's Gate or Skyrim. That's the part where JRPGs are slacking off the most and failing the most at (see XIII-2), I'd honestly take any Nomura silly design or goofy translation for an actually involving JRPG narrative.

I sure talked a lot. I'd be surprised if anybody actually read this.

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S0ndor

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#25  Edited By S0ndor

Not to mention the recolouring of enemies. No matter how ambitious a JRPG is, the writing and the design of enemies is almost always lazy in my opinion.

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#26  Edited By Marokai
@S0ndor said:

Not to mention the recolouring of enemies. No matter how ambitious a JRPG is, the writing and the design of enemies is almost always lazy in my opinion.

I'll take palette swaps over "Bandits!" or "Pirates!"
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#27  Edited By mutha3
@AlexW00d said:

@jbrown08: I agree with you on all of your points, and whilst there are a lot more things I find wrong with the genre, this is one of the most well written blogs I have ever seen on the subject. Now I warn you, there are a lot of idiots who will defend anything Japanese to the death on these forums, and they will probably show up here, so just ignore them, and keep writing more stuff.

"Just ignore criticism and different perspectives and keep doing the same shit"  Great advice. 
 
 Anyway, OP, I disagree with most of your points, but this in particular...
@jbrown08 said:

1. The Dialogue - This has been a long running debate among many JRPG fans. Many people enjoy the awkward English, strange sentence structure, and poor word choice. Others, like me, truly hate the fact that localization teams haven't figure out, after almost 30 years, how to effectively translate Japanese stories into English without tons of inaccuracies, idiosyncrasies, and ridiculousness. It completely ruins my immersion when I hear or read a sentence that would NEVER exist in standard English conversations. Yes, there are Japanophiles that wouldn't have it any other way, but when I buy a game in English, I expect it to be in English. Periodically poor translations will result in absolute gems, like the ubiquitous "All your base," but I would give all those up to avoid the far more common quotes that just make me turn the game off in a rage, like this one:

To be fair, I think this exact sentence every time I see Jersey Shore. Is it plural or singular? I can't tell!


...Makes me question how well you've been keeping up with the genre. Name me a JRPG in recent memory with a translation as bad as FF7. Hell, a lot of times, especially with Greenhouse, Atlus USA. and 8-4, I'd argue they completely blow the developers(western developers, as well) out of the water with delivering good writing.
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#28  Edited By WrinklyDinosaur

@jbrown08: Hope drove me nuts. He was the most unlikable, obnoxious character in recent memory. He harbored an unreasonable rage for Snow for killing his mother, even though he was there for every event that lead to his mother's death. He watched his mom volunteer. I repeat, VOLUNTEER, to help fight off PSICOM soldiers. He watched Snow try to save her, watched Snow fight to save her while hanging from a precipice, watched him yell in anguish as she fell to her death, and then watched Snow fall himself, even after she forced Snow to let her go. Hope watched Snow's utterly selfless attempt to save his mom, and yet blamed him for his death. It was an illogical, unbelievable motivation. Even someone as young as Hope could figure out that Snow made every attempt to save her, and would realize at some point that she volunteered instead of being coerced into service.

DUUUUUDDDEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

I finally started playing FFXIII a few days ago. I love it dearly, but man... every time Hope comes up in a cutscene, I fly into an uncontrollable rage. I just... MAN!!! I really can't remember a video game character that I have cared for less in my video game career (?) - all fifteen years of it...

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#29  Edited By niamahai

Fuck WRPG and JRPG We all know that the upcoming SouthPark RPG will be the template for all future RPG designs.

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#30  Edited By AlexW00d

@mutha3 said:

@AlexW00d said:

@jbrown08: I agree with you on all of your points, and whilst there are a lot more things I find wrong with the genre, this is one of the most well written blogs I have ever seen on the subject. Now I warn you, there are a lot of idiots who will defend anything Japanese to the death on these forums, and they will probably show up here, so just ignore them, and keep writing more stuff.

"Just ignore criticism and different perspectives and keep doing the same shit" Great advice.

There is a huge difference between the kind of person I pointed out and people who will offer justified criticism, and you darn well know it. Don't be such an arse.

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#31  Edited By Karl_Boss

bait-and-switch is a dumb tactic.

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#32  Edited By Cloudenvy

Holy jebus that was a lot of generalizations.

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#33  Edited By DeF

@FateOfNever said:

I just want to say that the child hero is one of the things that I absolutely love about Earthbound. Beyond the fact that the story in Earthbound is actually pretty good and the child thing still somehow works (getting money wired to you from your dad, getting home sick and having to call your mom, things like that) there is one very specific reason that I love that the main character is a child.

Earthbound was a parody on the genre tropes as well as American culture, though. It doing this in a weird way was part of the core concept so of course the criticism here is not really applicable. Ironically, however, EB's solution to random battles (if you're high level enough and come across a low lvl enemy you just win the fight automatically without even entering a battle screen) is something that sadly nobody really copied...

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#34  Edited By SefaRed

I agree with every point. I dispise JRPG's for all the reasons you mentioned. Watching the FFXII-2 Quick Look almost made me angry. Also, why do the female characters usually have such awful voices? It's almost like Japanese game developer's only exposure to Western women is Barbie, so they think all women sound like that. Plus I really hate Japanese cuteness, that Moogle thing, ugh......or maybe I'm just racist, I dunno.

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Bocam

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#35  Edited By Bocam

Two things:

  1. Yuri wasn't from Tales of Symphonia
  2. that was a lot of generalizations.
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#36  Edited By Pepsiman

Regarding English writing specifically in localized RPGs (and really localized games in general), the quality always isn't necessarily an inherent fault of the translation team per se. As someone who plays a fair chunk of games in various genres natively in Japanese, I can say pretty confidently that the source material isn't always necessarily all that good to begin with. Naturally, you're not going to see bad grammar or inappropriate word choices very often when you play Japanese games in the original language, but there are a lot of times, even today, where the writing is just pretty stilted and lifeless. For every Shigesato Itoi who's a professional writer that does brilliant video game work in Japanese, there's probably a hundred other guys working in video game writing with no real training outside of what they got through compulsory education. Japanese games, in that regard, often suffer from the same sorts of problems that Western ones do in terms of writing in that not every studio necessarily takes it seriously, especially when, as you point out in the blog, they try to make a game's main appeal lie in, say, moe characters or a similar trend.

Because of stuff like that and perhaps because I do a lot of work as an amateur translator myself, I find that the claims that a localization lacks the supposed nuance and depth of the original writing almost always come from people that don't know a single word of the actual language, often basing it off the fact that the official translation is different than a popular unofficial one that's also circulating online. There are certainly plenty of laughably bad or just mediocre localizations that have been produced over years, but I guess the point I'm just trying to make is that sometimes the translations that are otherwise grammatically sound and whatnot that still garner complaints are the result of good writers simply trying to do their best with bad material. There's a very, very ambiguous line that a translator has to toe in such situations, since it's very difficult to both improve a game's writing in its localization without turning it into something it actually never was in the original version. It's probably always been a serious concern ever since localization became a part of the industry, but now it's probably more worrisome than ever before simply because development teams often take part in the localization process directly these days, too, at least in terms of influencing the style and tone.

Long story short, I agree with you completely that localized games should come in natural English. That's just a fair expectation when you bring a game out to that market. It's just that sometimes the quality is less than ideal because the translators aren't even working with good material in the first place. There's only so much they can do to make a game's writing palatable in those sorts of situations, especially with a limited time and budget. If you don't believe me, check out some of my game-related manga translations I've posted on this site over here. If you think that stuff that I wrote is bad, it's that way because I wanted English readers to know it was originally bad and stilted in the original Japanese, too.

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#37  Edited By endaround

@Marokai said:

@S0ndor said:

Not to mention the recolouring of enemies. No matter how ambitious a JRPG is, the writing and the design of enemies is almost always lazy in my opinion.

I'll take palette swaps over "Bandits!" or "Pirates!"

Why even palette swap when you can use the same exact model and instead just call them Bandit Thugs, Bandit Maruders or Bandit Chiefs?

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zeforgotten

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#38  Edited By zeforgotten
@endaround said:

@Marokai said:

@S0ndor said:

Not to mention the recolouring of enemies. No matter how ambitious a JRPG is, the writing and the design of enemies is almost always lazy in my opinion.

I'll take palette swaps over "Bandits!" or "Pirates!"

Why even palette swap when you can use the same exact model and instead just call them Bandit Thugs, Bandit Maruders or Bandit Chiefs?

I think that was the point Marokai was trying to make. He would rather have palette swaps instead of the same skin with different names (like en Skyrim)
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#39  Edited By DeF

@SefaRed said:

I agree with every point. I dispise JRPG's for all the reasons you mentioned. Watching the FFXII-2 Quick Look almost made me angry. Also, why do the female characters usually have such awful voices? It's almost like Japanese game developer's only exposure to Western women is Barbie, so they think all women sound like that. Plus I really hate Japanese cuteness, that Moogle thing, ugh......or maybe I'm just racist, I dunno.

The problem here is that most assume FF is still (if it ever was) the gold standard for JRPGs and thus represents the whole genre. Which is not the case.

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#40  Edited By miva2

I like how you just post what you're thinking, using examples from recent personal experiences. Your post kept me interested until the end so that's a good thing. I'dl iek to read part 2 but i'll probably forget about it because i have too much to read.

The excessive use of children annoys me too. I should go play Nier.

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#41  Edited By Addfwyn

As a large fan (and frequent defender) of JRPGs, I understand some of your points here, but I disagree with some as well. It's well-written though, so I'll do as I can to provide a decent response. Some points could be entirely opinion, and it's why that for some people, the genre may just not be for them. Also, we don't think all Americans are fat and non-cosmopolitan :D (though many people here do think all Americans carry guns...).

1. Dialogue: Honestly, I can't comment on this one a whole lot. I play my games in Japanese when I can, because it's simply a lot easier for me than playing them in English. In Japanese, generally the dialogue comes across relatively natural, or at least how someone would expect for that particular setting. Sometimes the writing is bad, sometimes it's good, but that's just how it is anywhere. At the same time, I have played some older JRPGs in English, and the translation the localization teams do IS often very bad. In some cases, this is almost an intentional effort by the translator who feels that a more direct translation wouldn't work, resulting in some infamous Woolseyism. In others, it was simple mistakes from overworked localization teams missing things, such as your example in FFVII. Or it could just be the need to change things for a cultural context to make something either more understandable or [in some cases] less offensive to a target audience.

However, I feel that translation and localization errors aren't so common anymore. I could be wrong, as I don't claim a perfect English mastery, but most recent JRPGs that I have taken a second spin through in English seemed relatively smooth and natural. Even your example was from a game that is now I believe, fifteen years old?

2. Storytelling: I think comparing WRPGs and JRPGs in any aspect, is often one of the worst things you can do when discussing either genre. This is because they really are two totally different genres at this point, that focus on different things and do different things really well. It's unfortunate, as it results in two people being able to say 'I LOVE RPGs!' without actually meaning the same genre at all. WRPGs are usually about an open-ended experience, customization, often an open or highly-explorable world, the stories can't be as complex but they offer greater player choice. JRPGs are usually more about telling a set narrative, like a play a movie, the story is already written out and you're playing the role of a character in that story, there is less player choice but you can make deeper and more complex stories.

It's true, that because of these more complex and dense stories, that they often are higher concept philosophical tales. The stories are often very dense, and can require a substantial amount of thought As to your point in number 1, getting the localization right for something so deep and complex is pretty important. Sometimes, you end up with a masterpiece of a story like Xenogears, perhaps the best crafted video game story every in my opinion. Other times, you end up with something extremely deep when analyzed, such as Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross/Radical Dreamers (I could write essays on these, and have). At other points, you are right, and reaching for the stars sometimes results in crashing and burning. FFXII for example, I never understood WHY my characters were doing anything they were doing. Sure, Van wanted to save Panelo at first, I can get that. Why was he around after that, what was the motivation for anyone besides Basch or Ashe to really be there? In this case, the criticisms you are levying against the genre as a whole fit perfectly.

I'm not so sure I can say that these qualities are necessarily a weakness of the genre however, I think that's a weakness of certain games in the genre that fail to execute well. When the quality succeeds, it produces absolutely phenomenal stories.

3. Characters: This, much like the story, is another area where I feel that you addressing an area that is simply hit/miss in any game. There are, as you pointed out, some truly great characters in JRPGs and some that are truly detestable (for me, Zidane from FFIX takes the cake). Characters in many video games (certainly not JRPGs) will probably never behave 100% realistically, because the situations they are in are simply not realistic, so it's hard to write for it. If the creators can make the way the characters think and act seem like a full character, I feel they've done a fairly good job.

As an aside, I'd like to take a moment to defend poor Hope, since he seems to be hated quite often and I always found him one of the easiest characters to understand. At the time of FFXIII, he's a 14 year old boy used to a sheltered life that finds himself in the middle of a raging conflict. Things are going by pretty fast, his life is being torn to shreds, he witnessed his mother die before his eyes after saving the life of this stranger. Pretty traumatic series of events for a fourteen year boy, it's a small wonder the kid had enough in him to stand and move at all, nevermind sit down and rationally think events through in his head. Hearing Snow walking around calling himself a hero after this, when the one person the kid would have wanted saved is dead just piles on the resentment. I think the less realistic reaction would have been expecting Hope to be rational, that would have made a lot less sense to me. He's not going to recall every moment that happened in a traumatic experience like that, especially with it happening so quickly, it just doesn't happen. He'd even likely invent details, like making Snow an easy target for his blame, that'd help him cope with the loss more. He gets the 'whiny teenager' label a lot, but wow, I think the kids has earned the right to whine a bit. Totally a tangential argument to your point, but I always feel bad for poor Hope.

I think in regards to JRPG characters ages, while the point you raised isn't ALWAYS the case (Resonance of Fate jumps to mind), it's probably just closely related to forms of media like shonen (boys) manga. These are some of the most popular manga here in Japan, and the most popular ones are often battle manga with a protagonist about in that age range. Think of things like Bleach or One Piece. These manga typically feature teenage boy leads, since the main target audience of these manga are teenage boys. Of course, these manga enjoy a much rider readership than that age range, so it's likely the same reason that a JRPG follows a similar formula. In some ways, a lot of design elements follow similarities between the two. That's by no means the law on the case, that would just be my guess. As far as buckles, that's just the Nomura school of design. He likes zippers and belt buckles, I have no idea why. It's just what he does, and it filters out I guess. Especially zippers, man does he like zippers.

Voice acting is a constant complaint I've heard, and having played some recent JRPGs in English, I get where you're coming from totally.. It could be a quality of how the dialogue is written, most of the time everything sounds perfectly natural to me in Japanese, and I never wince or cringe at any lines. The same lines, even if they are translated relatively well, just don't deliver the same way in English. I don't know if it's a quality of the voice actors (it is a much bigger industry here after all) that plays a role, or if that kind of dialogue just isn't well written for the English language. A future trend of making just subtitling the original language tracks? Honestly, that'd be an option I am not opposed to, just as I prefer listening to any artform in whatever was closest to the original language. Usually something, even just in tone, gets lost in the translation.

I think everything you listed are inherent qualities of JRPGs that can actually be a huge success for them. In JRPGs that are bad, they are reasons to hate the game, but in a JRPG that's good, they are a reason to love it. You put it as throwing darts at a board, and may be it could be seen that way. You are going to have more mediocre or failed attempts than you are all-time greats. Still, for some of the same reasons you listed as love-hating, I do still quite adore the genre. Some entries in the genre can be a bit disappointing, or even just 'okay'. But at least for me, no game in any other genre has the potential to have as much impact as some JRPGs have had.

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#42  Edited By eroticfishcake

There's some valid points there but you're also being very, very selective in your examples. You could almost say write a blog on why you hate WRPGs and have the same attitude towards them. I'm a fan on both genres but neither are perfect. As for teenage protagonists in JRPGs, I think it's a cultural/demographic thing. Japan love their youth and it's a sort of coming of age story. I'm not so sure why WRPGs have 30-something shaved men for protagonists though. I can understand where you're coming from but for the most part I think the quirks are for the best.

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#43  Edited By TorMasturba

The only thing I will disagree on is your idea that a person is incapable of dealing with the stresses that you typed about. My answer: I joined the forces when I was 17 and was in for 3 years. I came out of the army fine, so I only disagree with that point.

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#44  Edited By bananaz

There are exceptions to all of this stuff. A cliche is basically something that worked really well being cloned endlessly until it stops working. The problem, I think, is laziness and expediency in regard to localization. But that's changing, just not fast. Atlus is pretty good about this, Square is pretty bad. Also, I don't really mind the character designs. It annoys me that people are so judgmental about that in a way that seems inconsistent to me. Nobody complains about Kratos or Mortal Kombat or, well, Halo. Why? Because that's the ridiculous crap that we like.

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#45  Edited By MikkaQ

This was a solid read. I'd really like to see a character driven JRPG, that'd be taking the right steps into getting me to play them again. But the gameplay needs fixing too, I think.

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#46  Edited By Hailinel

@FancySoapsMan said:

I disagree with all your points.

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Justin258

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#47  Edited By Justin258
and the fantastical monsters really grabbed my imagination
Others, like me, truly hate the fact that localization teams haven't figure out, after almost 30 years, how to effectively translate Japanese stories into English without tons of inaccuracies, idiosyncrasies, and ridiculousness.

Does anyone else see the two mistakes here? Normally I wouldn't care but his first point is about the translation mistakes in JRPG's.

As for the child hero thing, that does seem to be pretty dominant. However, at least two FF protagonists are over the age of 20 (Cloud and Lightning), and in FF12 Vaan wasn't even planned to be the main character. You can thank corporate meddling for that one.

Really, your whole post seems to be generalizations. It's like saying that all shooters are just like Call of Duty.

Note that I'm kind of playing the devil's advocate here. I do think the genre has stagnated too much, and I never really liked it in the first place.

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StarvingGamer

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#48  Edited By StarvingGamer

@Addfwyn said:

snip

What he said. Especially about Hope.

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DeF

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#49  Edited By DeF

@miva2 said:

The excessive use of children annoys me too. I should go play Nier.

I have had Nier sitting here for almost a year now and wanna finally play it soon (since it's being dealt as an overlooked gem ..and it's an 8-4 joint ^^), does it have older characters?

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miva2

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#50  Edited By miva2

@DeF said:

@miva2 said:

The excessive use of children annoys me too. I should go play Nier.

I have had Nier sitting here for almost a year now and wanna finally play it soon (since it's being dealt as an overlooked gem ..and it's an 8-4 joint ^^), does it have older characters?

The main character is some old guy. Looking for his daughter or something. There are some differences between the ps3 and xbox version though.(or was that only in japan?) I don't remember the details. might want to check out it's page.

beating the crap out of enemies as an old guy sounds much awesomer.