Recently I was hanging out with a friend. We had both just been to the local game retailer and were enjoying the fruits of our outing. The topics of conversation were, naturally, games and gaming and JRPG’s in particular. As we discussed various things, this friend of mine happened to be playing Golden Sun: Dark Dawn on the Nintendo 3DS. I thought, “A-ha! Surely this is a chance to introduce another gamer to the glorious world of Fire Emblem: Awakening!
I could not have been more shocked. As I explained the various game mechanics, my friend (who is heavily involved in live-action-role-playing [LARP] and other JRPG’s, as we’ve seen) made an expression somewhat akin to horrified confusion. I was taken somewhat aback.
It put me in an introspective mood as I contemplated what separated my interests from my friend’s, and indeed how even other folks whose gaming preferences were fairly similar to my own yet differing on many points. Realizing this, I thought more and more until my brain hurt, and the result would be the thoughts to follow.
One of the specific aspects of Fire Emblem: Awakening that struck my friend as truly bizarre was the mechanic by which characters, should they fall in love and the heroine be one of the many who are capable of this, give birth to children and through a narrative-based plot mechanic become recruitable characters to fight in you army. To a veteran of the Fire Emblem franchise, this seems a natural extension of the support system that the series has featured for years which Awakening merely took to its next evolutionary step.
But no, my friend would have none of it. Yet she thoroughly enjoyed games from the Golden Sun series, Pokemon titles, and others. Yet the common vein throughout all of them was a lesser focus on story and a greater focus on “collection.” While Golden Sun games do have a great story to tell over the course of many games, they also feature a great deal of Pokemon/Persona-style “collect ‘em all” mechanics where the summons and Djinn are concerned. This friend also expressed much less enthusiasm for games from the Final Fantasy series.
Another of my fellow gaming compatriots and someone who is like a brother to me shares an incredible amount of preferences with my own, including pretty much every Playstation RPG ever released that featured a story worth sparing a word or two about. Lunar, anyone? Even with them I find our play styles and ultimate preferences vary just enough to make us perfectly unique in our gaming. The best example I can give was mentioned in a previous article. This brother of mine may not actually be halfway through the game though they’ve had it for a few months now.
They love collection and exploration and 100% completion almost as much as they love story. Taking the example of the under-appreciated and unnoticed PS2 title Nocturne of Shin Megami Tensei fame, we see a title that, like the other SMT and Persona games, features not only an epic apocalyptic tale with multiple endings but also a battle system that supports the recruitment of your enemies to form your parties and an extensive character modification system.
But neither of them would enjoy Fragile Dreams, I’d wager; I know for a fact my “brother” doesn’t like Odin Sphere, though trying it was a very humorous experience (for me >:D). Ultimately there is great diversity to be found even amongst fans of a very specific set of games. JRPG’s will be no exception, though I’ll still wager that gamers prefer them to other games because of their distinct focus on a character-driven plot and sheer prolific density in the market, even if only the localized titles are included.
While I’m sure the same can be true of any genre, the JRPG is unique in that within itself are a multitude of idioms that can safely call themselves JRPG’s while being wholly separate from each other. I doubt many would share my enjoyment of the Record of Agarest War series (which will hopefully be covered exclusively in a future article), but I have since my childhood ceased to be entertained by the Pokemon series nor do I fancy a romp through the world of Hyperdimension Neptunia.
But for these ideas we should be grateful. If diversity within a genre is the course opposite the greys and browns of other static cash cows, bring on the dynamic palettes of the JRPG. And while my friends and I may disagree, we’ll always gather together behind the joy of our games no matter what they might be. Good is good, so keep on playin’.