Maybe JRPGs Aren't Dying After All

By Kevin Tavore, 2 months ago
Two years ago, I wrote of the long, silent death of the JRPG. I received a hearty and unsurprising amount of disagreement for that particular thought, but I felt my opinion was well-defended. In the article I discussed the history of RPGs and how the west had taken the great ideas developed in JRPGs and used them to create new games that JRPGs were now trying to emulate, citing the action combat of Final Fantasy XV as evidence of this fact. But you know what? I was wrong. I got it badly wrong. I’m here today to make it right.

1

My article was written in the lead-up to FFXV’s release and I made some broad assumptions and proclamations:
But what about Final Fantasy XV? It’s an epic JRPG 10 years in the making. Except that it’s not. It’s a western RPG made by Japanese developers. The combat, what we know of the story, the world itself…it’s all western. That’s certainly no condemnation of the game. I’m excited to play it and I know many of you are too. It’s a big deal and it’ll make a splash. But I bet the splash isn’t nearly as big as some expect it to be because at the end of the day, it’s a game that doesn’t really have a place anywhere. That’s the sad truth.
If you’ve just let out a laugh, a sigh or a frantic gasp preceding a strong urge to let me know how ridiculous this paragraph is, fear not. I am sickened by how completely I missed the mark. FFXV may have had some strong western influence, but the game was assuredly and uniquely Japanese in a way that almost no western game ever is. And it did really well, selling 8.1 million units in less than two years. Even on this site, it has 65,000 players and sits as one of the most popular titles that hasn’t been given away for free at some point. It was a good game, many would call it great, and it was extremely successful by any measure on a console that’s not really favorable to Japanese games. Oops.

I also had some choice words to say about World of Final Fantasy:
A few months ago, Square Enix developed a game meant to be a celebration of the Final Fantasy series. It was called World of Final Fantasy and featured all of the fan-favorite characters in a new, classical-style JRPG complete with turn-based strategy and every JRPG story trope you can imagine. As a traditional JRPG, it’s really quite good. And you know what? I bet most of you don’t even realize it exists. A major Final Fantasy game released in 2016 to essentially no fanfare at all. That’s really all you need to know to see that it’s over.
For the last few days, I’ve had the chance to play this game “most of you don’t even realize exists.” It’s fantastic as a love letter to JRPGs and many people have been very excited about it. That game was a spin-off and wasn’t meant to have mass market appeal. It was instead meant as a treat to fans who enjoy this type of game and it must have been successful enough, as it just released on Nintendo Switch, a platform that's been churning out JRPGs at record pace, and even the Xbox. Square Enix has been notoriously frugal with its Xbox ports, releasing only sure-fire hits in recent years. World of Final Fantasy’s presence indicates they believe there’s a market for a cult-classic JRPG, which flies in the face of the idea that the game heralded the death of JRPGs.

KH3

As if having my argument eviscerated hasn’t been enough, recent news revealed large number of JRPGs ports coming to the system from Square Enix. On top of World of Final Fantasy, we’ll be getting Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD Remaster and Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age all next year, as well as Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition this year from Namco. Oh, and of course the undoubted mega-hit KINGDOM HEARTS III. That release slate may be a little high on remakes and ports, but we’re playing on Xbox and all things relative, it’s an impressive list I’d have bet $500 against two years ago.

So I was wrong. JRPGs are flourishing thanks to the genre’s fans and the Nintendo Switch. Since my article was published, we’ve seen tons of JRPGs obtain critical success as well as a healthy dose of success with general audiences. I’m talking about games like Dragon Quest XI, Octopath Traveler, Tales of Berseria, Ys VIII and Persona 5. To be fair, western RPGs have been really popular in the past two years as well but that does nothing to change the fact that JRPGs are clearly not dying.

I apologize. My few hours with World of Final Fantasy so far have made it strikingly clear that we’re in a great place with JRPGs. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into more of them over the next year. The long, silent death of JRPGs may have been overblown, but what about the bright, exciting resurgence of JRPGs? It seems they're doing just fine after all.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.