Monday, April 16, 2012

Where is my happy ending? Where have all the JRPG's gone? Part 1

My first real RPG experience.

Stop the presses! The best video games during the NES era came from Japan. Sorry for doing that to you, but I couldn't continue without getting everyone on the same page. I remember playing Dragon Warrior on the NES, and falling in love right then and there. It was clear that this was the genre of games that really appealed to me. It had a story (primitive as it was), it had gameplay, it had a large over-world that needed to be explored, and it had slimes!

Awwwwwwww.... Look at him!!!
As I grew up, I have always played high quality Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs). On the Super Nintendo I had Chrono Trigger. On the Playstation I had Wild ARMs (You thought I was going to say Final Fantasy VII). On Playstation 2 I had Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. Let's just say I have had a high quality run of JRPGs to rummage through. 

The current generation of consoles have created a change in the JRPG market, and what has been available for the past few years has been few and far between. Western game developers have created a new breed of RPGs that have stuck with the fans during this cycle. In part one of this opinion piece the fall of JRPGs will take center stage over the past generation. During part two we will look in to the future of Japanese games here in America, discuss what is taking their place, and discover that they are not dead, just miniaturized. I personally feel that this market is still a viable option for publishers, but their expectations will need to be tempered as the new breed of gamers continue to fill the market. 

Consoling the Console JRPG

This is what your mom sees herself looking like on Wii Fit.
With the market trending in the way of the shooter over the past six years the JRPG has had a fall from grace. They once held a prominent space on the shelf as some of the biggest releases of the year. Walking in to a game store today you would see few if any of the genre being displayed face out. Maybe there is a Final Fantasy XIII or XIII-2 sighting, and possibly even Tales of Graces f, since it is a very recent release.  The spaces are reserved, and rightfully so, for games that carry the potential for more sales. All of the Call of Duty games will be prominently displayed, even if they are four years old. Other spots are held by eight workout games between Jillian Michaels and Mel B. for the Kinect in an effort to attract the bored parents of children who roam the store. Can you blame them for trying to find the next Wii Fit that sold around twenty million units?

With no shelf space, and few advertisements, it is easy to see what the biggest problem for new JRPGs would be, cost. CNBC reported that game costs are reaching staggering amounts with God of War III hitting 44 million. In 2010, reported, and other sites corroborated on these budgets, that Final Fantasy XII cost nearly 48 million, and FFXII was on the PS2! At the time of this writing I could not find any source that would verify the cost of FFXIII. The closest I could come was an estimation of 65-70 million dollars, but that was a very rough estimate. Unfortunately, a high production JRPG would reach staggering heights when trying to compete with today's gaming heavyweights. This extreme spending would make any developer's, and publisher's, accountant hide in the corner, and wish the bleeding would stop. What scares them about an undertaking so large is the possibility that the game won't return on the investment.

If only he would have listened...
The biggest problem that traditional JRPG's face involves more than just space on a shelf and rising cost. Consumers today are not buying the genre in heavy numbers compared to the major sellers of the year. I hate to keep referring to Final Fantasy XIII, but with it being the biggest showpiece of the JRPG circle it is difficult to not use it as comparison fodder. The most popular Japanese role playing series managed a respectable 6.65 Million units worldwide on both platforms within five months in the U.S. Compare that number, however, to a middling first person shooter like Medal of Honor (2010) and the number is not so impressive. Medal of Honor has sold 4.87 million units combined worldwide according to It is true that Final Fantasy XIII sold more than Medal of Honor, but we are comparing the most popular JRPG with a poorly reviewed first person shooter. Juxtaposing it to any Call of Duty would be a complete joke.

Finally, the biggest fall of the JRPG during the 360 and PS3 era is the declining review scores. There are a lot of decent to good JRPGs this generation, but there are very few GREAT ones. Using Metacritic to research many of the previous scores I have seen an interesting trend.

Final Fantasy XIII - 83%                                Final Fantasy XIII-2 - 79%
Tales of Graces f - 79%                                  Star Ocean: The Last Hope - 79%
Infinite Undiscovery - 68%                            Blue Dragon - 79% 
Lost Odyssey - 78%                                       Tales of Vesperia - 79%
Xenoblade - 92%

Wait. What?
Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii just might be the savior of JRPGs in the future. Will it sell well in the U.S.? That remains to be seen, but I am not holding my breath. What it did do is prove that the boat hasn't sailed on this ailing style of gaming. Xenoblade Chronicles is the example other developers must follow. They must change their mindset if they want to keep up with the Western RPGs that have dominated this generation. 

Check back soon for part 2 as we complete this look at what has happened to the JRPG. Next time we will explore the competition in the West and what other ways the Japanese developers can still make their mark in the U.S. Leave a comment below, like us on Facebook, and share us with your friends.

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