Experience Points: JRPGs Are A Genre, And Not Turn-based Combat
Yesterday I was speaking to a good friend of EGMR, Gaming Anarchist, via Twitter. He brought to my attention an error or misjudgement made on the part of Rev3Games in classifying South Park: The Stick of Truth as a game reminiscent of a JRPG, or playing like one. The game is a turn-based RPG, a genre of videogame which Western developers have been making since the basic inception of the videogame. Many early RPG PC games were turn-based and early text adventure games could have turn-based combat if the developer so chose to. Rev3Games tries to put across that the game could appeal to a small section of hardcore JRPG fans. However, seasoned JRPG fans are playing JRPGs to begin with, perhaps if they were fans of South Park their attention may be piqued.
The prevailing assumption by many gamers outside of the hardcore JRPG crowd is that nearly all JRPGs are turn-based clones of Final Fantasy VII, in some form or the other. The most common point for drawing a relative comparison is Final Fantasy VII because of its immense popularity and huge sales numbers. It is a game which popularised the JRPG genre in the West, and saw a surge in international interest of the genre. Of course gamers would see this is as the standard for JRPGs.
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Except a game being turn-based is a gameplay mechanic and not a genre. Furthermore, JRPGs have specific cultural underpinnings and structures within their game design that highlight their differences much more greatly than the defining role people put on combat discerning what a JRPG is. That and the characters tend to have outlandish spiky hair and the story always is more often than not melodramatic (I am joking here). Games series like the Tales series, many of the series from Atlus and the Dark Souls games deviate from the popular norm of a strict turn-based system. Many JRPGs combine various combat systems into the mix and game types.
At the moment, JRPGs are verging on becoming action-oriented RPGs, just take a look at Final Fantasy XV and you can see where the future may lie for the genre as a whole. It could be a very interesting future. Yes, many JRPG series are turn-based and this has much to do with the trend established by the Final Fantasy series, and especially Final Fantasy VII, driving the popularity of the turn-based combat system. Traditionally one could argue that turn-based systems are a characteristic of JRPGs as we know them today, but the genre itself is changing and turn-based systems are no longer the status-quo they once were. Or you could say this type of combat system is far more removed from what it once was in the past, taking on different forms in JRPGs across the board, with real-time combat systems becoming greatly popular within the genre.
A JRPG represents a genre of game slightly different from the normal RPG, Japanese developers have often had a contrasting approach to visual aesthetics where characters are strikingly different to anything in Western games, with a focus on scripted narrative in JRPG development and tight central character drama that drives the length of a sometimes 50 to 100 hour experience. The point being that the country of origin is what constitutes the JRPG, it’s in the acronym for the genre and helps gamers to highlights specifics of what they relate to being a JRPG. Turn-based combat is one of those undeniable specifics, but just because a game is turn-based doesn’t mean it ticks all the boxes.
Returning to the main point of this column, a game we recently reviewed here at EGMR, called The Banner Saga is turn-based. Does that make it a JRPG? No, the game is an RPG with turn-based combat. South Park: The Stick of Truth may appeal to RPG, JRPG and South Park fans. Yet in all likelihood, JRPG fans are eagerly awaiting Kingdom Hearts 3, the next Tales game and Persona 5. Making broad statements that a game can be likened to a JRPG because of turn-based combat shows a lack of understanding about what a JRPG is, and a basic knowledge of turn-based RPGs.
If you are a gaming journalist, you should know the difference between a gameplay mechanic and a genre as a whole. Just following through with a basic Google search can remedy such stupidity and Wikipedia is a great source for learning about topics like this, in a broader sense. Please let us stop making trivial and stupid mistakes. Because if not, we can claim that every single turn-based RPG is a JRPG, and be done with it.