Monday, 8 March 2010
The JRPG and me
As Tuesday the 9th approaches, fan anticipation (fanticipation?) for the latest instalment of the Final Fantasy franchise is reaching fever pitch. However, I am left rather nonplussed. You see, I never played Final Fantasy VII and I couldn’t pick Cloud from a line-up of generic JRPG characters if my life depended on it. I am hoping to play and review FFXIII from this perspective, but in the mean time, I thought it would be best to come clean and put my (lack of) JRPG credentials on the table.
For starters, why didn’t I play FFVII? It isn’t because I’m being a contrarian killjoy. Plenty of people I trust and respect love that game and I feel like maybe I missed out on something. I was an N64 gamer back in 1997, and without a PSX or high-spec PC to run it on, I was forced to go without. I was therefore never really exposed to Japanese Role-Playing Games like my peers. That was until 1998 gave my “Gameboy” (a huge brick-like “portable” gaming device with a green screen) an imported US copy of Pokemon Blue. I know “serious” Final Fantasy fans will be outraged that I honestly consider Pokemon to be an equivalent experience to their beloved series. But rest assured, I don’t think it’s Final Fantasy’s equal. No, for me Pokemon is the king of the JRPG.
I say that, of course, fully admitting that I don’t have the biggest frame of reference to draw from in that regard, but for me aged 13, Pokemon was the perfect combination of a childish love of collecting stuff with JRPG elements. Plus, I liked the cartoon and can still sing all the songs. But since those days, I have played every major instalment in the series and look forward to the next. Yet, I have never really played another JRPG. Why is that?
Well, that’s not completely true. I did quite enjoy Lost Odyssey (pictured above) on the 360 when that came out, until I went on holiday and never felt the urge to pick it up ever again upon returning. I was involved in the story and the atmosphere, which was all lost during my break from the game and was hard to re-capture. I also really wanted to play a little-known Dreamcast JRPG called Evolution, which I first saw on an Official Dreamcast Magazine demo disc which contained a video of the game way back in the launch issue (I’ve found it, albeit with an odd resolution, and posted it below!). I watched that video over and over again throughout 1999, in the hope of finally having a meaty JRPG of my own to dig into and make up for neglecting FFVII. But, as the date slipped back, and back some more, so my interest in the title waned. When it finally came into shops a year after the video that had excited me, I didn’t even bother to play it (in fairness it wasn't actually supposed to be any good anyway).
I think the main reason Pokemon has always worked for me whilst other JRPGs haven’t is due to the fact that I can’t really stand any game where you spend more time watching it than playing it (Metal Gear Solid 4 being the absolute worst game ever, in that regard). I am also not generally a fan of the super long boss battles or of grinding to “level-up”. Anyway, I promise to give the new Final Fantasy a fair crack of the whip, and as I'm reliably informed that no knowledge of previous Final Fantasy games is strictly necessary, either in terms of plot or gameplay, then I should be able to offer the non-fan's view on this "must-have new title" that will undoubtedly sweep the nation over the next week. Watch this space!
Final Fantasy XIII is out on Tuesday on PS3 and 360 (though I'm told the 360 version is "a bit rubbish"). Meanwhile, the classic Pokemon Silver and Gold games have been re-made for the DS and will be released in the UK on the 26th of March.