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The Year In JRPGs

It’s been a strange year for JRPG fans. On one hand, the genre seems to be doing just fine: we finally got our hands on games like Xenoblade and The Last Story, the 3DS and Vita are full of JRPGs, and companies like XSEED and Atlus are cranking out niche Japanese games on a regular basis.

On the other hand, it’s hard to escape that feeling of gloom as more and more Japanese RPGs are trapped in Japan, never to see American shores, while companies like Square Enix evolve from RPG powerhouses into phone-game factories.

So as we head into 2013, let’s take a look back at the year in JRPGs.

2012 started off with an odd sort of bang, as we saw a new console Final Fantasy game for the first time in a few years. Well, technically it was new. Final Fantasy XIII-2, a direct sequel to Final Fantasy XIII, felt less like a brand new experience and more like an apology for its predecessor. Gone were the straight-line dungeons and townless scenery; FFXIII-2 was packed with sidequests, NPCs, puzzles, and all the other RPG elements that Final Fantasy XIII lacked.

I didn’t care much for Final Fantasy XIII-2 — the combat was fun, but the characters were seriously grating — which is why I got a little depressed when I looked back through the year and saw that it was Square Enix’s only non-portable RPG release of 2012. Sad.

Early 2012 brought with it two Tales games, which are basically the fast food of JRPGs. They go down easy, and you always know exactly what you’re getting. Sometimes you just get a craving for the sugary, nutritionless goodness of a game like Tales of the Abyss or Tales of Graces F: the cartoony graphics, the button-spam combat, the shrill voice acting. If Abyss is McDonalds, Graces is In-N-Out: high quality fast food, but still fast food.

Sadly, 2012 also continued to teach us an unfortunate lesson: Japan hates America. New Suikoden game tops charts in the east? No plans for North America. Lovely Square Enix game that looks like the Final Fantasys of old? No plans for North America. Anime-ish JRPG made by all-star developers? No plans for North America.

It’s a sad state of affairs, although the continued success of localisation companies like Atlus, XSEED, and Level-5 has made me at least a little more optimistic about the future.

And at least we got Xenoblade and The Last Story, two RPG powerhouses that seemed like they’d never leave Japan just a year ago. It’s still hard to believe that this year’s biggest console RPGs were on the Wii, a console that most gamers probably haven’t touched much over the past couple of years, but hey.

I enjoyed playing both games, but I thought Xenoblade was dreadfully overrated and that The Last Story was one of the best console JRPGs we’ve seen in years.

Handheld JRPG gaming was also rather impressive in 2012: the PSP saw a ton of strategy-RPG releases like Ragnarok Tactics, Gungnir, and the excellent Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time. Of course there was Persona 4 Golden on the Vita, the game that Kirk and I can’t shut up about. Ragnarok Odyssey brought some monster hunting to Sony’s newest handheld, and Paper Mario: Sticker Star is an entertaining, if frustrating JRPG-style game for 3DS.

So what else came out this year? There were a few Ys games released on Steam, if you’re into hacking and slashing. Final Fantasy Dimensions is a fun, if overpriced adventure for iOS, and there were roughly seven thousand JRPG-style games thrown on Kickstarter, some more successful than others.

That’s 2012 in JRPGs, in a nutshell. It was a good year, I think. Here’s to the next one.

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.