Changes… They be a Coming!

I don’t know why, but over the last few weeks  I have wanted to dedicate myself to becoming more focused on what I am doing. This isn’t too mean I have lost my ADD that so richly enhances my life. No No No! I still slide between projects like no tomorrow! But I for one want to start finishing projects I start more often, and even more so, on content producing projects I want to be more focused on what exactly I am doing.

This can be seen in my recent posts about JRPGs where I am talking about how I want to focus my game playing time more on this genre, and by effect, focus my YouTubing to JRPGs as well. And this also means that I want to re-focus this blog to be more game centered than it has gotten over the last few years.

This blog did originally focus on games. The name of my blog was originally The Life & Times of Kazar, as my online name used to be Kazar. And focused on my journeys through Asheron’s Call while I was still playing that game. This was something like 15 years ago at this point, probably more! Then I stopped playing that and as I started playing MMOs that were more and more generic in quests, I found a more and more difficult time figuring out what to talk about in their regards. And then I gave up on the MMO genre almost entirely. As all that happened, I started going back to school.  I started getting a job. And so forth and so this blog has headed in two directions. 1) More random/life related entries. 2) Less entries in general. These are both related as, while i do want to share the goings on in my life and various thoughts on random topics, I do limit exactly WHAT I am willing to share online.

So yeah, this site is going to get refocused. I am hoping to have more frequent discussions of what I am doing in gaming, be it my JRPG Quest, my Minecraft play stories, News on Games (E3 is coming!) opinions, and so forth. I will likely also still have a random life event and youtube talks coming into the topics from time to time, but that is no longer going to be a focus. With that… just as a warning. When it comes to my tales of gameplay EXPECT SPOILERS!

With these changes, I decided I also want to change the general layout of the blog as well. I really like the layout I have currently. But I want to add more gamey related functions and navigation features. For instance, I recently found the website backloggery.com which I intend to use for tracking my collection and progress on games, and want to incorporate some of it into this site as well somehow. Changes will certainly not be overnight, but if you notice some changes coming up here and there, you will understand why!

Thanks to all for continuing to watch and support  this site and my YouTube channel. I appreciate all the support. =)

What JRPGs to play?

In my last post, I talked about what makes a JRPG different than a WRPG due to a personal conquest of mine to take on all JRPGs ever made. But this leads me to the next query of what JRPGs I actually will be playing for this quest. Obviously i cannot actually play them all for a number of different reasons so I figured I’d spell out what those reasons are and where I will be going with the project.

The first issue at hand is availability. JRPGs get made on every console and while emulation is great, I would like to play a real version if I can. Part of the reason for this is that I am a game collector and I think the practice will help me enlarge my collection. But also because there is something nice about sitting down, controller in hand, and playing a game that you just don’t get as much sitting at your computer. Keep in mind, while there are many JRPGs on PC (MANY), the genre largely was popularized on the console so most of the games were made with the console in mind.

Being a collector, I do have a good number of consoles. As of this writing the consoles i own are as follows:

  • Atari 2600
  • NES
  • Genesis
  • SNES
  • Playstation
  • N64
  • Dreamcast
  • Playstation 2
  • Gamecube
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox One
  • Wii
  • Wii U
  • Retron 5
  • Game Boy
  • Game Boy Color
  • Game Gear
  • Game Boy Advance
  • DS
  • PSP
  • Playstation Vita
  • 3DS
  • New 3DS
  • And of course… the PC.

As you can tell, I have A  LOT of systems to choose from. But I have some obvious gaps in coverage and many of these gaps are strong in the JRPG genre. My collection of consoles is going to grow as time goes on but to begin with, my selection of games will be limited by what I can play. For fun’s sake, the consoles that are currently highest priority for me to purchase going forward are as follows in no particular order:

  • Playstation 3
  • Playstation 4
  • Sega Saturn
  • Neo Geo AVS
  • Virtual Boy

Availability of what systems I have isn’t the only issue. Many JRPGs were made in Japan and were never brought over to the United States. And while I have limited knowledge of Japanese, it is that of probably a 5 year old if that lol. I do have a Rertron 5 so this keeps the door open for me to be able to import Japanese games and play them, and not only that patch them with an English translation. It is quite wonderful. But I am sure there will be more than one game where there is no English translation and/or the game is just too rare to be able to find.

EDIT 4/4/17 – Since this article, I have attained a Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch. I do believe that these will be the last major system purchase for quite awhile. I’m pretty happy with what I have overall.

The next issue we have revolves around which version do we play? Meaning, many JRPGs in particular tend to find themselves with re-releases and remakes. Final Fantasy is a good series to point to to see this happening. But you see it with Pokemon as well and many other games. I am obviously not going to play the same game 5 times just because it gets re-released.  For this, it’s going to largely be a judgement call. I will need to look at each version and see what it offers. My general feeling is to stick with the original version for Square games whenever possible because they like to change game mechanics in a bad way. For instance in FF1 newer versions take out the strategy of guessing how much health a monster has so that you don’t double up on one foe, and they also add in true random creature generation. Both of these features that they “fix” I feel make the game worse, Square is known for this sort of thing. Pokemon however gets updated well. For instance they add in breeding into FireRed since it wasn’t available in original Red, this coupled with graphics update and new dungeons enhances the experience instead of detracting from it.

Speaking of Pokemon, we may also have games like it where there are several of the same game with minor differences. For instance, Pokemon Red, Green, Blue and Yellow are all essentially the same game. For these types of games I will choose just one per generation unless the differences in the games provide a completely new experience. (For instance, what we see from the different versions of the latest Fire Emblem.) For Pokemon, I would likely pick the “3rd version” as Nintendo usually adds additional features for it and that version is generally considered the best. However, again, it depends on what is available.

There are a few unknowns to me right now on whether I will play it or not…. Strategy/Tactic JRPGs… such as Fire Emblem. Do I count it a JRPG or a tactic RPG?  Essentially do I play these games or not? I don’t know right now. They definitely hold strong themes along with RPGs and usually are games I enjoy playing, but I don’t know if I want to go for the tried and true RPG or include tactic games. Decision to come later.

Similarly, RPG Maker games. These are a toughy because there are virtually unlimited amounts of games made by amateur designers. Many of them are crap, a few are good and worth playing. I can’t discard all of them just flat out, but I will say I think the majority of them I will leave out of this project. This will be a case by case decision, I think, for the most part, with the intent of leaving them out almost entirely. If I include one, it will be the exception. Truthfully, there’s so many of these, you could probably make an entire project out of RPG maker and have it take years.

Defining the JRPG Genre

Over the last few days I have been considering undergoing a personal project. To play every JRPG that has ever come out. There are a number of reasons for this… I have always wanted to have a specific niche on my youtube channel… largely Minecraft, RPGs and Strategy, and I have strayed from that. Moreover, I haven’t been playing many RPGs over the last few years and RPG really is my favorite genre. And while I do enjoy a number of older WRPGs (Older Bioware games,  Gold Box, Might & Magic, Ultima, etc), JRPG has a very special place in my heart and I do love the genre slightly more than WRPGs.

This train of thought has got me considering what exactly is a JRPG? If I am going to play all of them, I feel like this needs to be defined straight up. I have looked up a lot of info on what makes a JRPG and there actually is a fair amount of confusion on the genre. Many think it simply means that it is just an RPG made in Japan and that is the only requirement, but this definition just doesn’t seem quite right. JRPGs and WRPGs FEEL different. Sit down and play Final Fantasy 6 and then play Skyrim and tell me how the two are similar outside of there being magic and levels. Same with FF6 and Dark Souls… yet you can actually sit down and compare Dark Souls and Skyrim and these two games hold within them many similarities. Dark Souls, though it was made in Japan, has more in common with Western RPGs than JRPGs.

There are certainly a number of similarities between JRPGs that I don’t entirely feel define the genre, but are certainly common features.

  • Turn-Based – The average JRPG is turn-based, but this isn’t always true. Like many genres, once games started coming into the world of 3D, action JRPGs started becoming more of a thing. Though to this day, many JRPGs remain Turn-based, this isn’t a requirement for the genre.
  • Cute Art – Since the inception of JRPG, art has been on the cute/overemphasized eyes. The art direction generally has a lot in common with the art style of anime and manga in Japanese culture. I don’t know if this is a requirement or not for JRPGs to be honest. I can’t think of any examples of a non-cute nature, but I feel like there is no reason that a JRPG could not have a realistic art style instead.
  • Random Encounters – This I consider a more newish feature. As old games all had random encounter regardless of if it was WRPG or JRPG.  At some point, WRPGs went away from the random encounter (and subsequent grinding) whereas the JRPG has largely embraced it. I actually feel like at this point in time I could consider this a rule to be a JRPG, however I think moving forward many JRPGs are going to try to experiment with non-random encounters a little more often and I don’t see why they can’t so I don’t want to make this a rule.

So with those non-requirements but regular features out of the way,  I wanted to go into some things that I think make a JRPG. For this, I wanted to look at really what is different almost universally between the JRPG and the WRPG.

  1. Focus on Linear Plotlines – All RPGs have a plot, and to some extent, all RPGs have a linear plot. After all, there is a general beginning and ending to the story which the designer wants to tell whether it is a WRPG or a JRPG. A JRPG differs in that their story is usually much more linear, oftentimes being almost completely on rails. You go from point a, to point b to point c, etc. Until you reach the end. WRPGs generally will give you a starting point, and then let you go on your merry way, choosing how you want to get to the end. The focus on a WRPG is much more exploration based. A JRPG may have a few forks in the road, but the path is pretty well ordained, the designer has a story to tell and they want you to see it.
  2. You Control a Character – This seems odd to say, after all this is common amongst all RPGs really. But what I mean is that you are controlling a character that the designers created in a JRPG. They created the name, personality, background, class, skills and stats. You play that character in order to tell their story, you are experiencing someone else. In WRPG, they leave everything open to a blank slate and essentially let you create who you want, be it yourself or some character concept you enjoy.
  3. Group Oriented – JRPGs tend to be group based, not solo efforts (this isn’t always true but I feel it is true enough to warrant a rule for it). There may not always be a group in an RPG, but there are almost always more than one character.
    3.1 – Exception – Dungeon Crawlers are WRPGs and almost always contain a group. Outside of this subgenre, WRPGs tend to focus more on the solo protagonist.
  4. Focus on Relationships – In addition to being group based, JRPGs focus on relationships between protagonists, between protagonists and NPCs, and between protagonists and antagonists. WRPGs have relationships but that isn’t the focus. The focus is more on your interactions with the world, the setting and your equipment and stats.
  5. Stat-Hidden, Luck-Based – WRPGs are very much stat-based games. You create your character, give it stats, put weapons and armor on that have many stats each, enemies have stats, what you can do is often based off skill stats, how much damage is based off stats… etc… JRPGs however rely more on the die roll. There may be stats that enhance the die roll, but by and large stats are minimal and/or hidden from the player. They are considered more to detract from the immersion of the player into the world and so are largely ignroed by the player.
  6. Elements of an RPG – This is true for both but obviously needs to be there to be considered a JRPG, otherwise you end up with Super Mario 64 being a JRPG or something. So as an RPG, a JRPG does in fact need to have levels, items used for something other than quests, quests, foes, experience, NPCs, Stores,  a campaign setting, etc that one would come to expect with an RPG.
  7. Linear Leveling – **Added 4/4/17** Leveling occurs within a class by killing monsters and/or completing quests. You don’t raise skills. It’s rare for crafting to exist.

I think that using the above 6 elements, whilst keeping the “not necessary but likely” elements in mind, we can get a good idea of what constitutes a JRPG when making a list of what games to play.

As an example, I was actually considering Final Fantasy 1 while writing up these requirements and came to the realization that Final Fantasy 1 may actually be a western RPG which seems really odd. There is a potential that games before 1995 had different requirements than games after 1995, but I kind of want to have a single ruleset for all. So Let’s look at it…

In Final Fantasy 1, I kind of want to say the story is linear, but it really isn’t for the time. You start outside the village and you can move on to the first boss without going and seeing the king first. It is  a fairly open world game and late in the game once you unlock all the ocean parts, you really can take whatever dungeons you want to take and don’t really even have to go to all. If you want to go straight to Chaos, you certainly could. You did have a group of adventurers but they were generic,  you could give them whatever names and classes you wanted,, much like an WRPG, and they didn’t interact with each other, or really anyone that much. I will say that the game was more luck based than stat based, but 2.5 out of 6 is not gonna cut it for the JRPG genre.

That realization seems odd to me, because you would think that Final Fantasy would in fact be a JRPG. At the time I would say that it probably did have more to do with region to be a JRPG… Final Fantasy 1 did a lot of things that we might see now as stepping stones to the genre. It used the WRPG as an influence and then the JRPG evolved from there, but because of its earliness, it really wasn’t what we come to think of as a JRPG now.