I spent my Wednesday night sitting in Kotaku's office, gulping down coffee and furiously typing as I watched Sony announce their new PlayStation, a revolutionary device that will let you play games where you shoot people with guns.
And as they banged out one announcement after the other, my mind kept roaming to a single thought: This isn't for me.
I get no enjoyment out of Killzones and Driveclubs and other portmanteaus revolving around guns and cars. I don't play games based on how realistic they look or how many people they let you kill. And as developers gleefully took the stage Wednesday night to talk about polygons and teraflops — a word I'm still not convinced is real — all I could think was: why am I supposed to care about this?
Maybe you felt similarly. Maybe you were pleased to see game promises from the likes of Atlus and Falcom, but you couldn't get excited about much else. Or maybe you were psyched about The Witness, which looks like an excellent, Myst-like adventure, but still bummed to see that there were no role-playing games.
For JRPG fans, or RPG fans of any kind, the PS4 event was a whopping disappointment. Short of of a sizzling Capcom demo of a maybe-RPG that may never actually exist and Square Enix saying "yes, we've got a new Final Fantasy coming!" there was very little in Sony's conference for people who like the type of games that have lovely stories and sweeping adventures. There were no new RPGs.
(Square Enix's showing, by the way, was an absolute joke. Here they had an opportunity to impress the world or even just prove that Final Fantasy Versus XIII actually exists; instead they sheepishly showed off a demo that we all saw last June, then made promises for the future. The slow death of Final Fantasy is very hard to watch.)
This isn't unusual. Of last year's five major E3 press conferences, there was a single role-playing game showed: South Park: The Stick of Truth, presented by the show's creators at Microsoft's dull presentation. Outside of rare exceptions, like Dark Souls II making waves at the VGAs a few months ago, Japanese role-playing games almost never make appearances at these big industry shindigs.
The common response to this might be: well, most people just aren't interested in JRPGs. They're niche. The world is waiting to be impressed by Sony's Next Big Thing: how do you do that with games that can't even sell 100,000 copies?
You don't. I don't expect Sony to spend presser time showing off the new Etrian Odyssey or teasing the next Persona with the same fervor they throw at Destiny or Killzone.
But I also don't think JRPGs are quite as niche as everyone thinks they are. Last week, over 100,000 people were interested in reading about modern JRPGs that are worth playing. And look at Ni no Kuni, the delightful RPG by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. I thought it would bomb; instead, it's topping charts in the UK and breaking pre-orders here.
There's a question I see asked a lot: "Have I grown out of JRPGs?" It's usually prefaced by "Boy, things sure were great during the Golden Age," and maybe a list of the inquirer's personal favourite RPGs from the late 90s, when the gaming world was trying to emulate Final Fantasy VII instead of Call of Duty.
Today's ex-JRPG fans see mediocrities like Final Fantasy XIII and Infinite Undiscovery, games near-unplayable to anyone without a high tolerance for whining, and they assume that those games are representative of the genre as a whole. It's unfortunate. And the stigma has driven mainstream gaming away from JRPGs.
Maybe we can do something about that.
Let this be a call to action. I want you — you, reading this right now — to get your voice out there. I want you to talk more about the games you love. I want you to make more demands. I want you to swarm Konami's Facebook page for Suikoden news and join petitions begging Square to bring Bravely Default: Flying Fairy to the West. I want you on social networks and message boards and video game publisher e-mail hotlines telling them that yes, JRPG fans do exist, and we want to buy great games: we just need the opportunity.
I want you to make it clear to companies like Sony and Square Enix and Nintendo and everybody else out there that yes, there are JRPG fans out there. A significant number of JRPG fans. Some of us are happily playing games like Ni no Kuni and Fire Emblem: Awakening; others have lost faith in Japanese developers after being burned by recent failures.
I can't be the only one feeling disenfranchised with a gaming world that seems to have turned its back on the genre I enjoy most. Maybe it's time for us to speak up.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.