Standing at the Crossroads with JRPGs

The other day I did an incredibly rare thing – I purchased a video game on a whim, without any forethought or questioning, without any rhyme or reason. In all my years of gaming, the act of purchasing a game has never been something I’ve taken lightly. I tend to play it close to the chest when buying games, preferring to stick with franchises I know and trust or games that I’ve thoroughly read up on and believe are worth my hard earned sixty dollars. But in the case of this very capricious choice, I went against my own rules and sensibilities.

No need to hold on to your butts here; the game I purchased wasn’t anything all that far-flung, just Final Fantasy XIII-2. Yep, that’s all, simply a Final Fantasy game. I turned on the Xbox, noticed its little sale ad on the homepage, and made the purchase. And I can’t explain why.

Maybe because of the epicness?
Maybe because of the epicness?

Though I’ve never watched FFXIII-2 in action, I’ve read plenty about it, and most everything made me want to stay far away from this most recent “Lightning” trilogy. Though I like the few FF games I’ve played well enough, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the series.  I like turn-based combat fine, but my understanding was that the FFXIII games deviated from that norm in ways not terribly pleasant. TL;DR Final Fantasy XIII-2 was never on my radar. And yet here I am now the proud(?) owner of it, and I’m not holding out hope that I’ll actually have time to really sink my teeth into it in the near future.

The thing is, it’s not necessarily that I want to play FFXIII-2 or even just a Final Fantasy game, it’s that I think I should want to. The series itself is so iconic that it has somehow been burned into my brain as a “must play before you die” sort of thing. So when I see a new FF game or read about the stories of past or current games, my mind and heart are tugged in the same “must play” direction. But seeing and doing are two separate actions. I’ve played exactly twenty minutes of FFXIII-2 and I’m already feeling intimidated. I don’t recall right now the moment where I left off and, other than Lightning, I don’t remember any of the other character’s names. Just playing through the game’s opening sequences made me feel as if I had never played a game before in my life.

Therein lies one of the biggest obstacles I have to overcome with FF games and JRPGs generally – accepting complexity. This mental block began developing with Final Fantasy VII. When I started playing the game years ago I had time. I had time to follow the story and its characters. Time to figure out the boss battles and find the secrets. Time to grind and time to build. But then I got stuck. Really stuck in a spot that I now suspect was not too far from the game’s ending. But it didn’t matter because when I got stuck I ran out of time. Life changed and priorities changed, and gaming took a backseat for awhile. For several weeks I attempted to return to Cloud and his crew to get unstuck, but I didn’t make any progress. And each time I went back to the game, I grew increasingly frustrated with my inability to remember my character’s moves. That FF sponge in my brain eventually dried up and I moved on.

You're asking me??
You’re asking me??

And so was laid the cornerstone of that mental block. Only in hindsight do I see how, for many years, I avoided JRPGs. Other FF games came out, but I didn’t get them because I hadn’t finished FFVII, or that was the excuse I used. Many interesting JRPGs crossed my path – Xenogears and Illusion of Gaia came highly recommended – but I was too busy with playing other games or not playing at all.

And then Final Fantasy X came out. I was instantly captured by the first cut scenes I saw and I had to have it. Any rules I had laid in place about finishing games were thrown out the window when I bought, on a whim, FFX. I knew damn well that I didn’t have the time I needed to play it, but what the hell, right? It was going to be soooo pretty. [insert googly heart-shaped eyes here] The first time I played it, I skated through the game on Auron’s mysterious glares, because he was about the only thing I liked about it. The rest of the game…? Hated it. Didn’t like Tidus and his stupid shorts; didn’t like the unholy game of blitzball; didn’t like the stupid sphere grid. After finishing the game, it was as if I’d never played it at all. I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about the story or the bosses or how the game ended because I simply didn’t remember. I didn’t want to admit that I found the game too complex to manage because, by the gods, I was a damn fine and dedicated gamer!

Winning smile or not, blitzball bites ass.
Winning smile or not, blitzball bites ass.

It took a second playthrough years later for me to come to terms with my idiocy and to accept FFX as a great game (and currently my favorite FF game).

Years passed before I picked up a new JRPG. Sticking with what I knew, I played Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy IV in succession on the Nintendo DS. Both had their high and low points, (I really liked the “jobs” system of FFIII but preferred the overall story of FFIV) but neither compelled me further into JRPG-dom. Besides, there were dragons to fight, aliens to fall in love with, and heroes that needed to be heroic! In other words, I was too busy with dialogue trees and ability wheels to care to get entwined in a multi-layered, multi-character game inside a multi-verse. However, then I caught a post on The RPG Square about a game called The Last Story. Now there looked to be a JRPG that was going at my speed! Interesting story, mechanics that differed from the traditional, and when I inquired about the game’s length…bonus! Less than thirty hours to complete the main story. SCORE! When I finally got around to the game, it didn’t disappoint. I l-o-v-e-d nearly everything about it, from the characters to the story. And I managed it all in just a couple weekends of play.

Deep thought not required.
C’mon guys, what with the deep thoughts and sour looks? It’s just a game!

But again, after completing what had become my new favorite JPRG, I didn’t suddenly rush out and snatch up all the JRPGs I could find. However, while riding The Last Story‘s high, (on a whim) I started playing Xenoblade Chronicles. Oh, I made a valiant effort but failed miserably. I got horribly stuck in a particular battle and then learned that the game was two to three times longer than The Last Story. Ugh. I had to shelve it for the sake of my sanity. After that, my subconscious mind said “thanks JRPGs, it’s been a fun ride, but no.” Which brings me back to my whimsical and groundless purchase of Final Fantasy XIII-2. Because “no” apparently means “maybe, especially if it’s on sale.”

Will I get past those first twenty minutes? I want to say check back with me later, maybe in a year or so. But I have a feeling I’ll still be standing at the crossroads, watching the rising sun go down.

————

Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play and United We Game.

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16 thoughts on “Standing at the Crossroads with JRPGs”

  1. I’m an avid jrpg fan, and I love this post because even for me I feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of many of the games I own. In fact I recently sold off a chunk of games in my backlog bc I just knew it would never happen. I find myself playing FFXIV most of the time now bc an MMO feels less stressful if you can believe it. Incidentally, FFX is also my fave FF game, I failed to finish Xeno , and I found TLS to be completely epic:)

    1. I’ve heard from others that FFXIV is actually a lot of fun. The MMO aspects keep me away, but maybe I should give it a shot someday!

      There’s nothing like playing a sweeping, epic games that’s hundreds of hours long, but sometimes too much is too much. Over the past couple years, I’ve been moving towards shorter games myself. I hate starting something, not being able to finish it within a decent time frame, and then returning to it months later without a clue.

  2. You’ve got a history with fighting games and clearly have enjoyed some JRPGs, so…Tales of Xillia. Do it. Love it. Love it forever. (Dunno if I can recommend its sequel yet, because we’re still going through it.)

  3. My husband loves JRPGs, and he’s trying to get me into them…but it’s not really working so far. I haven’t even finished FFVII. (He also loves blitzball. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.)

    1. Well, I didn’t mind blitzball as much the second time i played FFX. 🙂 JRPGs just work for some people, and they don’t for others. I might sound like a broken record for talking about The Last Story so much, but I really do recommend it. It’s a solid and short(ish) game with a compelling story..

  4. Nice post, I also got Final Fantasy XIII-2 more because I was hoping I would like it, rather than actually wanting it. Of course I didn’t get very far, but then ended up playing through the whole of FFX HD Remaster and loved every minute.
    The Last Story is a great game and like you, these days the length is more my style, another recommendation from me!

    1. I’ve had my eye on the FFX remaster. I’ll probably get it at some point, but I feel somewhat obliged now to FFXIII-2, even though I’ve yet to play anymore of it.

      It’d be kinda cool to see a sequel to The Last Story. I’d be all over that like white on rice!

      1. Go with FFX HD instead, I promise you it’s a more worthwhile experience even if you have played it before.
        A sequel to The Last Story would be great. I read a recent interview with Hironobu Sakaguchi and unfortunately he is working on some smaller iOS games at the moment, but hopefully he will return to make some awesome console RPGs in the future. We can hope right?

      2. Hope is better than nothing! I’m curious as to the games he’s working on now, small thou they may be…might have to go take a look… … and maybe I’ll see about finding FFX HD while I’m at it… 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Recently on Geek Force Network, I made a terrible admittance. I don’t like JRPGs as much as I think I should. I’ve tried and nominally succeeded and tried and mostly failed to work them into my gaming routine over the years, but I’ve tended to keep them at arms length due to what I perceive as overwhelming complexity. Many JRPGs require a certain level of devotion up front in order for the player to properly latch onto the story, the controls, and the gameplay in general. Anything less and the game becomes a hard-to-remember slog through intricate but forgotten plots filled with interesting but forgotten characters. Why do I think I NEED JRPGs in order to be a well-rounded gamer? I really don’t know, and I can’t say I answered that question in this post. But writing it made me feel more certain about one thing: I should quit over analyzing and just play! 🙂

    1. I feel similarly to you. I often try in vain to latch on to JRPG games, because I feel like if I don’t, I’m missing out on all the hype that surrounds them. I think I’ve learned to dial back my expectations and know that I just won’t be able to get into some games. The latest big example for me was Ni No Kuni, I REALLY WANTED to love that game because I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli, but I just couldn’t get myself to commit to it. I really enjoyed the charming artwork and music, but the battle system and dragged-out plot kept me from fully enjoying it. Anyway, I know how you feel and I enjoyed this article! Thanks!

      1. Thanks for the awesome comment! I was super intrigued bu Ni No Kuni when it first came out, but the more I read about it, the less fun it sounded. I’d like to at least try it someday, though I’ve no idea when that day will come.

        You hit the nail on the head in talking about the hype of JRPGs — that’s exactly it! That’s why I feel so drawn to them despite my better judgement. They’re usually surrounded by such spectacle (a a certain degree of reverence) that you can’t help but take notice and want to get in on some of the action.

  6. JRPGS are a big commitment, that’s for certain. For some, the extraordinary lengths of these games offer a certain “value”, but it’s rare to find a RPG that can sustain itself over such a long game length. That’s why I wish more RPGs would adopt a structure like Chrono Trigger, where the player can make their own choices about how much of the game they want to play before attempting the final boss. That way, those who enjoy the game, have the time and want more can milk it for all its worth in their first playthrough (which is what I did), while those who don’t want to invest 20-30 hours in a single game can see and experience the game’s finale any time after around the 5 hour mark, and get a unique ending to boot!

    1. I’m starting to think that I might have to detour into the past in order to get a handle on the present! I never played Chrono Trigger, but everything I read about it make me think that I really, really should.

      Up until I attempted to play Xenoblade Chronicles, I was one of those who believed that longer automatically equaled “better.” After that failed attempt, I realized that that’s not true in the slightest. Of course, everyone’s going to value games differently. For me, now, value lies in compact, immersive storytelling and simple gameplay. It was hard for me to admit to myself that me and the lengthy and complex Xenoblade just weren’t going to get along, and I still hold onto a twinge of regret. The day may come when the timing for that game is right, but no need to stress about it. There’s so much else to play!

      1. Aha, well you’re in for a massive treat then if you pick up Chrono Trigger. I nearly didn’t get my Masters degree because of it! The nice thing is it’s available a few different ways on newer consoles – it’s on the Wii’s Virtual Console and there was a very respectable DS re-release/remake so hopefully you’ll have access to at least one of those. It’s really I’d say the ideal JRPG for those who don’t usually enjoy them for the reasons you mentioned – everything is streamlined, but not to the detriment of the characters or world, which are both excellent.

        Xenoblade sounds really fantastic and I’ve never played it unfortunately, despite the hype. It’s a bit expensive for me at the moment, and likewise, there’s so much else to play! Those kinds of lengthy RPG experiences do appeal to me on occasion, but it’s like reading a long book – I only want to occasionally, and it has to be something worthwhile.

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