For the most part, I tend to play most of my games — including JRPGs — in a rather linear fashion. I’m inclined to focus on one at a time and play it to the completion of both the narrative and as much game content as I feel satisfied with, then move on to something else. I’ll always save that “clear data” just in case, but will almost inevitably not return to that game in the immediate future — or perhaps ever.
There have been a few exceptions in my lifetime, however. I played through Final Fantasy VII (above) an obscene number of times when it first came out, but that was largely because my friends and I had literally just discovered JRPGs and wanted to enjoy this new game we loved so much for as long as possible. It was exactly the same every time we played it — this was in the days before New Game+ was a widespread thing, though the term was actually coined in Square’s earlier title Chrono Trigger – but we still adored it every time.
Since then, I’ve done four playthroughs of Nier in order to see all its endings — though after the first time, you only have to complete the second half of the game each time around, and after you’ve seen the last ending it deletes your save so hard you can never play again with the same filename.
I’ve also played through all of Persona 3 twice now — one in its original format, once in its extended “FES” format (including the frustratingly-difficult epilogue The Answer, which made me want to throw it out of the window on numerous occasions) — and will probably do so again with Persona 3 Portable at some point in the future.
I’ve also played through Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale twice, largely in an attempt to experiment with the different characters and see how much they shake up the game’s action-RPG dungeon crawling — it’s quite a lot, if you were wondering — and to see how quickly you can pay off poor lil’ Recette’s loan if you start the game with some amazing, high-price items and customers who love you.
And most recently, I’ve just finished my third runthrough of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, and am fully intending to work my way to the four endings I haven’t seen yet — though this will probably involve a tactically-timed save rather than four more full playthroughs.
I’ve been trying to pin down exactly why Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 has resonated with me enough to make me want to play it through three (plus!) times. Perhaps it’s the fact it’s quite short — about 25-30 hours — in the first place. Perhaps it’s the fact that if you play it again with high-level characters, skipping event scenes that are still fresh in your memory and ignoring sidequests you don’t need to do, you can literally complete it in a single sitting. Or perhaps it’s the fact that my first runthrough (and my appreciation for its flawed predecessor) well and truly entranced me with its likeable characters, self-aware humor and willingness to poke fun at everything from the seventh-generation “console wars” to anime tropes.
Either way, I’ve found myself doing not one, but two New Game+ runs of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 and loving every minute. Not only that, I’ve levelled up all characters to level 99, have beaten the super-tough “secret boss” — as is JRPG tradition, it’s infinitely more difficult than the actual final boss, even for level 99 characters — and am well on my way to scoring my first ever Platinum trophy. I’m generally not a trophy/achievement whore — as evidenced by aforementioned lack of Platinum trophies — and yet I can feel myself pushing on to completing this game so hard I will probably never want to play it again afterwards.
Different people tackle RPGs in different ways, and there are a wide variety of different types of RPG to cater to all these tastes. Some people like exploring vast worlds, uncovering secrets and completing quests and thus gravitate towards open-world experiences like Skyrim or Xenoblade Chronicles. Others like story-heavy experiences and tend not to wander too far off the beaten track; for these people, more tightly-focused experiences like The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower are particularly apt, though even those two games have wildly different mechanics. Others still like focusing on the narrative and then having the opportunity to continue exploring and seeing everything the game has to offer even after whatever Great Evil was threatening the world has been vanquished. Final Fantasy XIII, for all its faults, catered particularly well to this type of player — you couldn’t even develop your characters fully until after you’d beaten the “final” boss!
I tend to err on the side of “narrative junkie” for the most part and thus tend to find myself seeking out experiences with strong characters and plotlines rather than vast open-world extravaganzas that it’s all but impossible to see every square inch of. It’s a big part of why I’m still such a huge fan of the JRPG genre, while I’ve largely gone off the less-directed, “freer” experiences of their Western equivalents, and I tire of MMOs even more quickly. But, as we’ve seen, there are exceptions.
For a game to get its hooks into me enough to want to continue playing after the last boss has been shattered into a million pieces, though, there’s got to be something more to just “play it all again with characters so high-level it becomes embarrassingly easy.” There’s got to be something to aim for — additional scenes, new content, new places to explore, a “true ending” — and I have to have liked the game enough in the first place for me to want to spend more time than absolutely “necessary” with it.
For me, Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 ticked all of those boxes. I fell in love with the characters on my first playthrough — enough to want to continue spending time with them — and discovered that on subsequent playthroughs there’s a bunch of new stuff. There are new, high-level quests that unlock additional costumes for various cast members. There are new, high-level one-off battles in the game’s “Coliseum” area, the most difficult of which is tied to a trophy. There are new dungeons to explore, new items to craft and a greater likelihood that you’ll have enough money on hand to be able to take advantage of some of the game’s more expensive equipment options. And, due to the fact that the game maintains your “Lily Rank” intra-party relationship levels between playthroughs, and that these are tied to which ending you get, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll find yourself seeing the finale that you really wanted to see.
I think the biggest thing for me, though, is that seeing everything the game had to offer felt like an attainable goal. It wouldn’t be easy to achieve, no, but it also wouldn’t involve hours of abject tedium — just a little more effort than normal. I felt like I was being constantly rewarded for my efforts, even after having beaten the game once, and I appreciated that. In fact, I’ve appreciated it so much that I now feel considerably more inclined to check out other games’ New Game+ modes to see if this function I had mostly dismissed in the past is actually a lot more fun than I originally thought.
I guess I should start setting aside twice as much time for each new JRPG I start as I used to, huh?
Swords and Zippers is our weekly JRPG column in which we explore the best, worst and most interesting of this diverse and long-standing genre that has fallen somewhat from grace in recent years. You can follow Pete, author of this article and GrE’s managing editor, on Twitter.