With the release of Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) this past November, we’ve come to see another evolutionary step within the JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game) genre. Japanese role playing games are often very stylized, thus easy to pick out from a crowd; usually having a spiky haired and emotional protagonist with a big sword on an epic quest with a bunch of companions. These tropes of JRPGS are often associated with the core concept of turn-based RPGs. This style of game usually revolves around the player and the game each taking turns attacking, defending, summoning or healing themselves or their teammates. Final Fantasy used to be the king of turn-based RPGs in the gaming industry’s teenage years, but even the adventure fantasy giant has changed the way they want to play.
Now that we’ve been thoroughly engrossed in three-dimensional gaming, the turn-based style of RPGs have faded in obscurity, to say the least. It wasn’t always this way. The turn-based RPG used to be one of the most popular and celebrated genres in gaming back in the late 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, when graphics and console horsepower could only handle semi-still animated character sprites and models. Now that gaming has nearly matched a level of pseudo-realism in terms of graphics and appearance, the genre is no longer the force it once was, with RPGs favouring to opt into an action/strategy RPG hybrid. To be fair, I’m not trying to bash on contemporary RPGs for their style and direction. I just want to be able to have my cake, and eat it too!
The platforming genre went through a mild renaissance these past few years with a ton of amazing side-scrolling platformers hitting Wii U and Steam, while also seeing the generation give birth to great 3D platformers across all mediums. Some could say that the platforming genre is right there with the RPGs and arcade-puzzle games that really started the video game resurgence in 1987. My point here is that I recognize that genres and styles evolve and change with gamer interests and new technology, but why can’t there be both? It’s clearly been done before!
Nowadays, I find it difficult to name more than just a few franchises that have and are continuing to invest in the turn-based RPG genre. Some examples include the Persona series, the South Park next-gen games, and the obvious Pokémon series. There are various off-shoots of the original formula, like Fire Emblem, and X-COM where the strategic element is a core principle to the game’s style of play, and Ubisoft’s Child of Light, where over-world action elements are critical.
It seems so long ago that turn-based RPGs used to rule the industry. Games like Chrono Trigger, Xenogear, , Dragon Quest, Paper Mario, Secret of Mana, Golden Sun, Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, were all at one point considered to be masterpieces of their craft and templates for games to come. (Keep in mind I didn’t mention a single Pokémon or Final Fantasy game in that list…)
We have some games now expanding on that genre and adding new things to it, since we have had so many great games to look back at with inspiration, but I was always told that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. So at what point did we look at the genre and label it ‘broken’? Ultimately, I wanted to ask where all the turn-based RPGs went, but it might not be quite that simple.
Aside from technical advancements, which are certainly a contributing factor in the change of artistic direction with the genre, I believe that at its height, the turn-based RPG’s popularity is what ultimately soiled its future, and not some mortal flaw in particular. During its hay-day, the genre was so over saturated that there was very little chance for every game to be unique or truly great; gamers saw that there was so many titles on the shelves of their local video store that they couldn’t decipher which games were good and which games were bad. This is just a theory, but wouldn’t that hurt sales for those games in general? I realize that it’s never a good idea to paint with broad strokes in discussions like this, but if you look at any of the games I listed above, you can find a quick turn-around of sequels that followed in the wake of their original success. It wasn’t just knock-offs or market capitalizers that soiled gamers on the genre, but the recognizable staples that we all know today. I truly believe that it isn’t much of a stretch to wonder if the genre got too close to the sun, and had its candle wax wings slowly melt away from the exposure.
As I said earlier, I love the RPG genre as a whole, I really do. If I didn’t I wouldn’t make a post this long detailing a seemingly non-issue. We have so many great games to play and celebrate today, with different ideas and innovations being introduced each time. Today, I can pick from a variety of different games within different sub-genres of the RPG classification. I should be elated! Yet, the greedy gamer in me wants to see a return to form to what made the genre so great in the first place.
Please feel free to let me know in the comments what some of your favourite turn-based RPGs are, or just RPGs in general. I’d love to hear some classic discourse from fellow lovers of the medium! So if you wanna pause your journey with Noctis in FFXV, and dust off your nostalgic buster sword, feel free to join in on the conversation!
Until next time, it’s been a slice!
– Chris Pie