How I Fell In Love With JRPGS

Almost as far back as I can remember, I've been a gamer. At the age of four, my family got an original Nintendo with the Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and the World Class Track Meet combo game — light gun and power pad included. Until I was in high school, that Nintendo (and the ageing Atari 2600 that lived forgotten in my closet) was all I personally owned in the way of gaming.

As often as possible I'd rent games for it — but even more often, I'd go to my neighbours' house and play whatever they had. Because of this I played a wide range of games, from fighters and racers, to adventure games and sports titles.

But somehow, for all those years, I never once played (or watched) a single RPG.

That all changed when I was in the sixth grade. It was then that I got my first job (as a paper boy). It only netted me about $US120 a month, but as a kid, that might as well have been a fortune. And so with my second paycheck in hand (the first was spent on my own TV), I went down to the local used game store to buy a Super Nintendo.

It should be noted that, at this point, the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 were all already on the market. To me, this meant I could get a used SNES and several games for a fraction of the price it would cost me for one of those new systems — and given the enormous SNES library, there were heaps of games I hadn't yet played. So many, in fact, that I had no idea where to start.

So, using my mum's (now ancient) flip phone, I called a friend who had a Super Nintendo to ask him what games I should buy with my remaining $50. His answer was direct and simple: Final Fantasy III (which is now more commonly known by the Japanese numbering as Final Fantasy VI). It was a game I had never even heard of. I searched through the glass case filled with SNES games looking for it. For each shelf in the case, the games got more and more expensive, with $5 games jammed together on the very bottom, $10 games on the shelf above that, and so on. After about a minute, I found Final Fantasy III on the top-most shelf with a price tag of $35.

I was stunned. I had planned to walk out of the store with a handful of games — at least five or more. But if I bought this game, I would have two games — maybe three at max. The game store owner was no help. He hadn't played it, though he had heard it was good — hence the price.

I must have spent 30 minutes wandering around the store, asking about this game and that one, looking at all the different ways I could spend my $50. But when it came down to it, my friend had recommended one game and one game only. He called it the best game he had ever played and said that it was the one game I had to buy. Still, I was hesitant to give in to the peer pressure. Finally though, I made my choice and made my way out of the store, with my used Super Nintendo and two games: Illusion of Gaia… and Final Fantasy III.

When I got home, I eagerly hooked up the SNES to my little TV and began to play …Illusion of Gaia. I played it for several hours and enjoyed it — it was good enough for what it was. But eventually I got stuck near the end and gave up. After lunch I put in Final Fantasy III, not with any kind of excitement but because it was the only other game I had.

I played for an hour, then another, and then another. Little by little, I was struck by a realisation that I had never even considered before: Video games could tell a complex story.

A little context. As a young kid, I was very much into science fiction and fantasy — especially Star Trek and Star Wars. I watched as much as I could on TV and rented whatever I could from video stores. But for me, the most constant frustration of that time was walking through the library and seeing all the Star Trek and Star Wars books on the shelves that I didn't have the ability to read yet. It was torture knowing that there were more adventures out there that I was unable to experience. I did a lot of audiobooks, but at the time they were all abridged — which was more than a bit disappointing when I found out what that meant.

My father helped as best he could. I remember him reading me Star Wars: The Last Command and Jurassic Park as bedtime stories. But even that way, it would take months to get through a book. So you could say I was driven to read, and by the time I hit fourth grade I was making my way through the Lord of the Rings.

So for me, Final Fantasy III combined two things I loved: games and stories. But RPGs were far more than just reading a novel with animated sprites as visual aids. Instead of passively experiencing the adventure like I would in a book, I was now at the centre of it all. While I didn't shape the detailed, complex story, it was through my efforts that the characters won or lost. I was part of the adventure. This was the one thing that books, films and TV shows could never hope to do.

So when I look back now, I see that without buying Final Fantasy III that day, I might have never discovered JRPGs. Without JRPGs, my interest in Japan and Japanese games may have never blossomed into a passion. And without that passion, there's a good chance I wouldn't be in Japan right now writing this.

So in a very real sense, the single most pivotal decision of my entire life was made as a twelve-year-old kid, debating whether to buy a Super Nintendo game or not.

That is a terrifying thought.


Comments

    I had that "whoa" moment with Bioshock

    before then I didnt really take games seriously, or think they could hook me like a movie or book..god damn did that change,,,

    Final Fantasy VII and VIII for me. Before I stumbled upon them, I was caught up in the Sonics, Street Fighters and Road Rages. These two completely changed the way I saw video games.

    I remember clearly that the first JRPG that roped me in was Lunar SSS. Damn that game was beautiful... And the anime clips, soundtrack etc were so good it felt like I was part of a grand anime adventure. Definitely can relate to your feelings, Richard!

    I remember when I was 12 i went out and bought Kingdom Heart, the reasons being I really like disney and i really liked disney. When i booted it up and saw that CGI scene i understood this would be the best game I would play. From that game I went onto other kingdom hearts game, Final Fantasy X, VII,IX and VI

    Does anyone else find themselves bored with jrpg's recently? I played, and remember loving Lost Odyssey, FFX, Blue Dragon, and games like it. I've tried to play turn based combat recently and it's just.. slow and boring. I can't handle it. I get anxious and go back to other games. I can still play games like Dragon Age, and I'm enjoying Rainbow Moon - it seems a lot quicker than most jrpg's.. just my 2 cents. I'm going out of my way to seek out real time combat jrpg's.. tales and the like. I bought mugen souls because it said real time on the back.. what a lie!

      Play Resonance of Fate, such a fun and action-packed JRPG. The story is a bit hard to follow though.

        I bought that, played for maybe... an hour an a half? I enjoyed the setting, but the battle system was not fun for me?

          Oh what, really? It's difficult when first starting off, but once you start getting more bezels and customising your guns, doing hero runs and filling enemies with lead is very satisfying. I bought the game around 2010 and I just finished it last week, I've just been stopping and starting every few months because of the difficulty haha

      I'm not sure which copy of Mugen Souls you have but the closest I can see on mine to real-time combat is "free-roaming" battle system, which is exactly what it is.

      Your ennui may just be that you have changed tastes. I still find JRPGs interesting although , like all genres (FPS especially), there are some dull titles out there, but there are still a lot of them that I find capture my enthusiasm.

        Yeah, I guess I just saw 'free' and kinda went from there. The cover art drew me in as well. Rainbow moon is so goooooooood though!

      I still prefer turn based. I find real time combat always makes me feel tired (like the Tales games, which I've vowed to never play again). I prefer turn based, it gives me breathing room during combat.

      Yea I know how you feel. I used to be obsessed with th genre but most of them lack strategy and tend to be button mashing sessions.

      yes and no. Now Im older I dont have the same free time to invest in them when I replay old clasics. If im playing to just enjoy the story I sometimes use MAXed out save games. The advantage to still having my old ps1 and Action replay, was that I can mod a new save and then transfer it to my PS3 to kick off clasic PS1 games without the need to grind.
      I never got round to playing the KH series. I read the voice acting list and moved on to other games. Although I have been told, repeatedly, that I really should play them.
      Id rather here Bruce Willis do voice acting than justin timberlake,
      Yippe kay eee vs Im binging sexy back. yuck

      Maybe your tastes have changed. Have you tried any of the Tales games? They use a real-time combat system. Xenoblade is incredibly good as well, though it does have the downside that it's a Wii game.

      The other issue is that JRPGs recently have been in a massive slump, There's only a handful of high-quality ones this generation, plus a whole mess of very low-budget games targeting the anime niche. Fine if you like them, but if you're looking for the sort of thing you'd have gotten in the PS1/PS2 era then things have dried up significantly.

    I fell in love with them at the time because if you wanted a long, somewhat compelling story, they were the only game in town. It would be several years before other games would place such an importance on the narrative (in general, there were exceptions.)
    These days its a different landscape. They have way more competition now. Plus voice acting changed everything. I love Final Fantasy 8 for example, but can you imagine it having voice acting? Ugghhh.... Thats the problem with modern JRPG's. They have the voices now, but much of the writing hasnt changed to compensate.

    When I was 12 the SNES had just come out! I'm feeling a bit old here!

    Secret of Mana (Seiken Densetsu 2 for all you weeaboos) was the 2nd JRPG I played (A Link to the Past was my first, and was the game I completed just before I bought SoM) and is one of my all-time favourite games.

    Unfortunately being Australian I never played Chrono Trigger, until 2008 when I finally gave it a go on an emulator and trust me, nostalgia is not the reason why the game is still loved to this day! Another disadvantage as an Aussie was the fact that most games, even when "cheap", were at least $100+ brand new and still $60+ for 5 year old games. The game rental industry in Australia was very healthy indeed, I never owned Super Metroid but I finished it about 10 times ($6 a pop from the video store, too!)

    I could never get into the FF series, until FFXIII. Yeah I know, but I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around (probably because I could make some sense of the plot!) and I actually didn't enjoy the sequel as much.

      Lol - at first I read that Chrono Trigger comment without the "not", and was about to get indignant.

      Judging by a lot of the comments, and the OP, I feel rather old.

      In any event, during my teenage years I had the good fortune of a local video game shop that stocked imports, so had played Mana, FF3(VI), Earthbound, Mario RPG and a host of other games very soon after they made waves in the States. Hugs and kisses Eaglehawk Videoland.

      The SNES was where it was at for JRPGs - if anyone is feeling like a bit of old school RPG (albeit ARPG) that they haven't played they could do far worse than Terranigma. Very underappreciated gem.

        High-Five for Terranigma!
        Love that game for how it made you feel as though you had an impact on the world, grinding in it however sucked ballz

      Totally agree, I only tried Chrono Trigger a couple if years back as well due to all the hype and wow what a brilliant game.

    When I first got into gaming (on the Apple IIc), I was a huge fan of what you could probably call the predecessors to adventure games. You know, the sort you got from the Scholastic Microzine and games like Robot Odyssey, etc. Fast forward through many years of playing on and owning different consoles and PC versions and my affinity for adventure games and story heavy games had grown exponentially. Then I saw Final Fantasy 7 and it was love at first sight. Here was something that took what I loved about adventure games and crammed in a whole bunch of "game" things as well. From then on, JRPGs became the meat and potatoes of my gaming diet.

    Last edited 27/02/13 8:19 pm

    Illusion of time, lufia 2 and terranigma were my faves. I borrowed Zelda lttp 3 weeks in a row from the video shop just to finish it. Wonderful games but I would have loved Ff 3 and crono trigger to be released in Europe. Once I discovered roms in my teens I fell in love again!

    When I got home, I eagerly hooked up the SNES to my little TV and began to play …Illusion of Gaia. I played it for several hours and enjoyed it — it was good enough for what it was. But eventually I got stuck near the end and gave up.

    That makes it sound like you played it for several hours and almost finished it. I'm sure that wasn't the intention but it comes across as strangely worded. Illusion of Gaia/Time is MUCH longer than "several hours".

    I guess it's not technically an RPG either, though it's often put into the RPG category due to it possessing many RPG-like traits. IMO it falls into a separate category along with games like Zelda - games often classified as RPG's that actually aren't.

    On topic, for my JRPG experience I started with a game that's often criticised, and that's Mystic Quest: Legend...as it was called in PAL. The game was actually titled Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest in the US but it was unrelated to any of the other FF games. The game was very simplistic, but I guess that's why it was a perfect introduction to RPG's for me. From there, I went on to play and love games like Terranigma, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore and Chrono Trigger. Then there was a large gap before I played Final Fantasy VII (I didn't play any of the SNES FF games), then another large gap before I played another JRPG with Tales of Symphonia on the Gamecube (although it was around this time I discovered roms and went back to play older games, notably an English translation of Seiken Densetsu 3/Secret of Mana 2 - the original Secret of Mana was actually Seiken Densetsu 2). Yet another large gap before I played Xenoblade Chronicles.

    Who knows when I'll next play a JRPG. I do have a soft spot for them, and I dislike western RPG's...but good ones just seem so rare these days.

    I have an almost identical story to the OP (minus the moving to japan bit).
    Earliest console experiences were back in about 1993 at my babysitters house playing duck hunt and bubble bobble and watching a group of grown ups (to my 8 year old self) playing late stage super mario bros on their NES. Less than a year later my mother bought a SNES for my birthday and hired 2 games, Super Mario World and some strange puzzle game involving a liquid blob or gas balloon that you controlled through some side view environments (can't remember the name). I saved up pocket money, did chores and so on until I could afford to purchase my first legitimate game. I had a choice between GODS and Mystic Quest. I took one look at the box art on the back of Mystic Quest and thought to myself (no joke) "those enemies are far too big, I can't possibly be good enough to beat them, I should get the other game". And so I did, brought GODS home and while it was a passable game, I was pretty awful at it to begin with. I saved up some more then bought Mystic Quest displaying uncharacteristic bravery in lieu of my previous assumption about the game. The game was glorious and bright and with a fantastic sound track and it cemented my love for "games that are like that" (genre just isn't a word in a 9 year old's vocabulary).

    Also, @ Mystic Quest - Feck you Falls Basin, my 9yo self was not prepared for your deceptively simple solution and you almost almost ruined the game for me...but not quite

    Eventually my mother hocked the system because we were financially not so well off and in high school I became acquainted with the emulator and that is probably where I started seeing myself as a gamer.

      Great memories of my 2 cousins staying over for the weekend and we rented a snes multitap and played 3 player secret of mana from start to completion in 24 hours.
      FFIII was also the pinacle of jrpgs for me too. Before I ever played Everquest, I found myself camping a tiny forest for days just to get an economiser drop.

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