How The Last Generation Changed JRPGs For The Better

How The Last Generation Changed JRPGs For The Better

One of this generation's most controversial JRPG trends might also turn out to be its best. When Team Kotaku first started planning out our Last-Gen Heroes feature, I started thinking about how JRPGs have evolved over the past generation — a generation that some would argue has been disastrous for the genre. Between a polarising 13th Final Fantasy, a number of forgettable slogs like Infinite Undiscovery and some alarming ventures in the world of free-to-play, the Wii-Xbox360-PS3 era seemed more than a little scary for JRPG fans.


This generation brought one trend I'd love to see stick around: portability. Gaming on the go. Thanks to Japan's quick adaptation to mobile and portable gaming, JRPG developers both big and small have found success making games for handheld systems: the DS, the PSP, smartphones, tablets, and so forth. Even as Japanese studios throw up their hands, looking at Puzzle & Dragons with envy for those delicious free-to-play profits, many are enjoying the fruits of Japan's love for portable gaming, topping the charts with RPGs for PSP and 3DS.

It works here in North America, too. A little anecdote: usually, while commuting to work, I'll pick up one or two new StreetPasses per subway ride. Often it'll be the same faces every day, playing the latest Mario or Layton. But over the past month, almost every single subway ride has maxed out my StreetPass count with Pokémon-feverish commuters who can't put down their 3DSes. Granted, Pokémon is a phenomenon for many reasons, but would it be nearly as successful if it weren't so easy to pick up and play on the go?

Some people have mourned the loss of big-screen JRPGing, and yes, there's always something special about playing a big-budget spectacle, but you can count me in camp Way OK With JRPGs Going Portable. When I'm dungeon-crawling in a Dragon Quest game, I like doing it in short bursts on the subway or while watching football on TV. I want to be able to tap a button or close a screen, then pick up right where I left off later. For multi-taskers, or those of us who don't have all that much time to play games anymore, portable gaming is a godsend.

Development and localisation costs are cheaper for portable games, too — voice acting is less common, the assets aren't as expensive to create, and small publishers like Atlus and Aksys can afford to gamble on bringing them outside of Japan, knowing that they won't have to recoup as much as they might with a game that cost $US50 million to make.

In other words, the benefits of portable gaming outweigh the coolness of playing games on a big screen. And as we look toward the future of JRPGs — something I'll be doing extensively here at Random Encounters in the coming weeks and months — one big question will be this: is the portable JRPG trend here to stay? Will we see more of these sprawling adventures, like Radiant Historia and The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, pick handheld systems over consoles? Here's hoping.

Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku's look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we'll be celebrating the Heroes — and the Zeroes — of the last eight years of console video gaming.

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


    A 'polarizing' 13th Final Fantasy? I think you mean just plain 'bad'.

      FFXIII was great though.

      As far as the portability of JRPGs goes, it's all fine with me as long as they actually start localising them. I'm too lazy to learn new languages.

      Last edited 10/11/13 10:47 am

        The combat was bad unless you had a pro guide to defeat all the enemies and it needed more songs, the only reason to play it was the Square enix approved cutscenes which are always phenomenal. The game was always going to be polarising with the almost unexplained relationship between fang and vanille.

      I know people are entitled to their own opinion, but I can't help but feel that anyone who defends 13 shouldn't be.

        Indeed, the game was so awful it tarnished the entire company and a previously top tier series.

        FFXIII was no classic, but it wasn't as bad as many people make it out to be.

        The linearity is present in most of the FF games (in most JRPGs, to some extent) as a service to the story. You can't jump forward to endgame areas from the start, and early game areas are not typically useful later on because the MOBs have become trivial. Most have you going down a virtual corridor; the fact that the corridor is shaped like a continent is largely irrelevant to the fact that it's an area of territory you have to traverse, with certain events required.

        This is much less common in Western-style RPGs.

        The combat system is also fairly interesting in that it becomes a shorthand for party tactics. Most JRPGs you explicitly enter the commands to have one character seek aggro and tank, other DPS and another heal. FFXIII just makes the roles explicit. You also do have the option of entering commands explicitly if you so desire, while the other characters in your party follow fairly sensible tactics based on their defined role.

        It definitely has its weaknesses; it is pretty linear, even after you reach the "nonlinear" area on Gran Pulse, and this is more explicit than in most games, which is in itself a bad thing. The early game doesn't lend you as much flexibility in defining roles as I would like. (Snow will never make a good mage, for example.) There are fewer opportunities to tune gear than I would like, and use of save points is VERY annoying in spots.

        But it's not terrible. Not even poor, if you give it time. Just OK. It had the misfortune of coming from a lineage which included several classics, which makes it look worse than it is.

      Actually I quite liked it.

        Please tell me that username is an eddings novel inspiration. Cause I just got a sweet wave of nostalgia.
        XIII is still horrific though :p

          It is.

          Sorry for stirring up the horror for you :)

      I like it, so that's polarizing right there between you and me, buddy ^_^

        Pah. There are people out there who like getting peed on during sex. Just because a handful of folks have some damaged wiring up in their brain doesn't make it polarizing, it just means there are some weirdos out there. ;) There are always weirdos out there who will like anything. And I DO mean anything.

    HOGWASH 100% unequivocally hogwash, I completely disagree with your entire premise that hand held is good enough and doubly so that it is even adequate in its own right for the last 1+ year.

    The genre has taken this biggest hit in its lifetime and has even SUFFERED on the handheld department and if you even dare to say any rpg on a touch device is worth playing that just loses you all credibility, at least to me.

    The handheld area is where theses games have always been (Though now just like home consoles they are dying off too), the original pokemon was on hand held, games like golden sun, dragon quest, persona, FF tactics, advance wars, fire emblem and many more, some even started all the way back on the original gameboys, hell even FF went handheld eons ago (a number of which made their first English appearances on hand held if i remember correctly).

    To be honest the golden era for handhelds was the ds and psp early years, im not sure if that is what your referring too but ever since then it has been entirely down hill. While The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is an amazing game it's also 9 years old, the fact it only just got localised 2+ years ago is irrelevant, the game is old and even the 2nd one isn't out yet and it will be 7 y/o by the time it comes out in English. While you can argue semantics games like it haven't been released in a long time outside of these SELECT FEW localisations and aren't even being made by English speaking countries.

    I can look at the entire Vita Library out now, we have:
    - P4 golden, remake though still good
    - Atelier games - they are terrible
    - Dungeon hunter - abysmal
    - Ragnarok - poor mans Phantasy star, exceedingly average
    - Dragons crown - side scrolling beat em up, not a jrpg or much of an rpg
    - Soul sacrifice - a worthy game but not to my liking
    - Vknights - grindathon
    - Muramasa rebirth - very unique game, while good not a tradtional JRPG
    - Disagea games - more remakes of game i've already played
    - Dragon fantasy - a very average JRPG

    So we have a single JRPG that is considered top quality and it is a remake of an old one. The 3DS is just as bad with Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan and a host of more remakes of persona and tales of abyss, my god even paper mario was an utter failure.

    I just fail to see how on any level you can say that the JRPG genre is even in remotely good shape on any device. You, with the power to voice this disgrace of an entire genre can make some noise and instead you harp on with constant about how great everything is in rpg land.

    The only thing i can seem to think is you have much lower standards than I do, but even if that's the case, it still means the stuff being peddled today isn't as good as the old stuff, which is the definition of decline and that is what I believe the entire genre has been doing for the last 7 years.

    I still remember when the ps3 and 360 launched, how excited i was for the future of my favourite genre after Lost Odyssey, but the generation plateaued and promptly collapsed on itself and died the day of its release, I was let down by every single release until Ni No Kuni. Though the western type rpg front is still surviving with Fallout's and Skyrim's, K of Amalur, two worlds type games.

    Last edited 10/11/13 11:07 am

      You forgot
      Pokemon X&Y 3DS
      Devil Survivor Overclocked 3DS
      Fire Emblem 3DS
      Soul Hackers 3DS
      Tales of The Abyss 3DS

      Also, the Vita seems to have access to a big chunk, like Chaos Rings through the mobile store, that is such a good game and it was first on iPhone, soooo...

      So far, things are looking pretty good to me, there's actually more games available than I have time to play.

      Last edited 10/11/13 11:32 am

        Devil survivor is a port from the ds and soulhackers is the 3rd remake of the same game (though first English), I mentioned tales and neither Pokemon nor Fire Emblem are jrpgs (Though my fault for bringing them up).

        So we have 2 jrpgs that are again, average, there is nothing great about them. Which was my point, games to play ≠ the genre is doing fantastic. ( Pokemon X is the best pokemon in many years, though an rpg, its in no way a jrpg)

        Where are the new Trails in the sky, or lost odyssey's and Ni No Kuni's, where is golden sun, Chrono trigger and dragon quest. Why isn't there a new Final fantasy like 1 2 3 4 5 or 6, it would be cheap to make in HD, could release it on XBL/PSN/Nintendo Eshop for $30+ (worldwide) all you need is a good story and all the stuff that made the originals great. Not every game has to be a FF13, sacrificing everything that made the genre what it was for graphics.

        My point is in the last 2 years there have been almost no fantastic handheld JRPG's if you look at consoles that figure jumps to a whopping 2-4 games in 8 years (depending on taste), which is a real joke. Because as I said I have high standards, which in the ps1 era was great because there was fantastic games everywhere.The ps2 had a lot as well but sadly i missed those due to $$ reasons.

        When we move to current gen we see almost none, we have a number that tried hard like blue dragon which while a solid effort was about as average a jrpg as they come with meh story typical combat and stereotypical "kids", playable and fun to an extent but nothing remotely reaching dizzying heights of the yesteryear.

        So i personally take great offence when a THE rpg guy at kotaku is constantly having these posts about how great the genre is doing and the the doom and gloomer's like myself have it wrong. Exponentially so when they try and state the having no home console Jrpg games worth playing is a good thing because we have a bunch of sub par games on handheld, its insulting to the readers and the genre.

        For reference:
        JRPG ≠ rpg made in japan. Everyone knows this, while the term originally meant this quite literally (because every rpg from japan was a jrpg). Its proper meaning references the style and content of the RPG more specifically than the developers geographical location, the fact that they often intertwine isn't the point. It's a similar notion to all thumbs are fingers but not all fingers are thumbs.
        For Example: Fable is a western RPG, Fire emblem is a tactical or "stategy rpg" and Final fantasy 7, 8, 9 are JRPG's. So while a game like Pokemon has turn based fighting and is made in japan its not a JRPG, nor would Fallout be if the developers moved to Japan. Though I'm sure some people would argue otherwise until blue in the face.

          Disagree, I choose the glass half full approach and feel things are looking pretty good.
          I would like them to localise Dragon Quest VII 3D and Dragon Quest Monsters Terry's Wonderland 3D of course (among a large list of others we probably will never see).

          I dunno how Pokemon isn't a JRPG, I get where you say that any RPG from Japan isn't automatically a JRPG. I enjoy Dragon's Dogma but that is very Western influenced.

          Pokemon though is full of the classic JRPG stuff, turn-based battles and all that plus a very, very anime style art.

          Anyway, let's just agree to disagree. I can understand your feelings. There's always articles up here that make little sense but this time I actually agreed.

          EDIT: And I count ports, there's plenty of people out there who didn't play the original or are happy to play/pay again.

          Last edited 11/11/13 8:47 am

          You complain that a lot of JRPG's are remakes, but then go on to say that you want remakes of games like Chrono Trigger or the first 6 FF games. Make up your mind.

            That is not what i said at all, I said why haven't they made MORE games LIKE those FF and Chrono games, they would be cheap to make even in HD, would be quick and as i said you could release at $30 and people would be all over them.

            Not once did i stay "make more remakes" I'm pretty sure i voiced concern of the opposite, that there is far too many remakes of games that don't need them and the amount of NEW CONTENT is drastically reducing.

      The problem I think is that on handheld, the money isn't in your traditional JRPGs any more. Japan wants Monster Hunter and its clones (God Eater, Phantasy Star etc.)

      There were a lot of great late-era PSP games we missed out on as well - Valkyria Chronicles, Suikoden, FF Type-0 and a few others.

      There's also Ys: Memories of Celceta on Vita this month. It's an original game (while it replaces the previous Ys IV in that series' canon, it is a massively expanded ground-up remake). There's also Bravely Default on 3DS next month. Both look pretty good, though probably no one will buy Ys as usual :(

      I think it's still pretty early days for the Vita, if the PSP is anything to go by. Most of the best JRPGs on the PSP came toward the middle and end of its lifespan, and the Vita's just getting going.

      Side note: I don't care that Trails in the Sky SC is super old now, I'm just glad it's being localized. My Japanese isn't remotely near good enough yet to play those games raw. It'll probably be the best JRPG release in 2014 at the current rate. And it's a PSP game :(

    I prefer handheld now thanks to my lifestyle etc, so more JRPGs (my fave genre probably) on handhelds is great :D

    How is shifting all the quality titles to handhelds while neglecting consoles change for the better? This generation has been terrible for the genre. Sure there are a few gems on handheld, but where is this generations big ticket success story? There is none.
    Lets not sugarcoat the situation because some of us get to play a game on the train.

      Finally someone who agrees with me, Jrpgs on consoles have been all but dead the past 8 years

      I think Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii was oustanding...not just the best JRPG I played this generation but right up there with games like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger as one of the best JRPG's ever made. It's such a shame more people didn't get the chance to play it.

      You're right though that in general, there hasn't been a lot of quality JRPG's out there recently. The last one I truly enjoyed before Xenoblade was Tales of Symphonia on the Gamecube.

    Ctrl+F "xeno"

    No results??

    What a useless article.


      Exactly what I did, also- Ctrl+F "mon hunte"
      No results, useless.

      Schreir thinks it's dreadfully overrated.

      He's the worst.

    I thought there were still great JRPG's this gen. Ni No Kuni, Lost Odyssey, The Last Story, Eternal Sonata, Tales of Vesperia... There were many that were on the big screen, as well as on the go - like Radiant Historia and of course Fire Emblem, Mario and Luigi series etc - but it's not like we've been devoid of decent JRPGs. Just decent Final Fantasy ones.

      So 1 good JRPG on xbox 360 and 1 on PS3 (Lost O and Ni No Kuni) in 8 years is good?

      The tales games are VERY hit and miss, I myself hated ALL of them till Tales of Graces F, thought i'd love xilia till i tried it. Some had good stories some didn't, some liked the combat on x and not y. One in particular was let down by horrible cutscense that took far to long for simple sentences, Xillia had huge areas filled with nothing, too many monsters and semi forced treasure stops.

      Those wii games while decent where just average as well, Xenoblade was an interesting story and nice combat let down by glitchy nonsense horrid blurry visuals broken side quests and an abusive level of padding. The last story was worse though, its story was good enough to motivate me, but the combat was very limited, you could and I did use 1 move the entirety of my play through and you can't have bad battles when they take up the most of your game so it too was average. Much like Blue dragon was the epitome of averageness, story was super thin but barely enough, combat perfectly fine and had the stereotypical kids. Nothing bad but certainly nothing great.

      So none of these titles are even in the same league as Lost O and NI no kuni, or anywhere near a FF 7 8 9 (haven't played the ps2 ones, waiting on the HD remake in a few months). Which was and is the point, the console ones have sucked, even if you did like 1 or 2 of the tales enough that's one great jrpg every 2-3 years which is woeful.

      All those great Jrpg's on handheld are old too, trails in the sky 10 year, the sequal is not even out here, Radiant Historia is going on 4, the last good paper Mario was gamecube era. I can't even think of other great jrpgs on current hand helds atm.

      And Fire emblem (though this latest one was the worst in series imo) mario and luigi aren't Jrpg's (really liked the current and last one). So we are left we very few options.

      Last edited 11/11/13 8:12 am

    Your distaste of Infinite Undiscovery saddens me. A slog it was not.

    Article about the greatness of Last Gen JRPGs on portable consoles with a picture of Final Fantasy XV at the top...........Wait what?

    Last edited 10/11/13 2:51 pm

    Sometimes I really wonder about Jason's JRPG creds. This generation was and still is fantastic for JRPGs. I have not been found wanting for an interesting JRPG this entire generation across PS3, XBox 360, 3DS and Vita with equal time spent playing on both big and small screens. Sure, a lot of these games are more oriented towards the "core" (for lack of a better word) JRPG player and don't have the widespread familiarity of titles like the Tales series and Final Fantasy but if you're talking about JRPGs, this should be all the more reason to acknowledge them.

    Development and localisation costs aren't really that much cheaper for handhelds either. You still have text to translate, voice acting is becoming more and more popular in handheld games (especially on Vita), resolutions are increasing, polygon counts are increasing, methods of user input are increasing and localisation still needs to be done for the different regions. Even moreso with the number of PS3/PS2 JRPGs that are being ported across to handhelds.

    Mini-rant aside: Handheld gaming is here to stay. Especially with the conveniences of cross-play, cross-buy, cross-saves and the ease of porting between platforms. Though that's more from a Vita slant, the 3DS sales figures show that people still want a handheld gaming experience.

    Last edited 10/11/13 8:23 pm

      You have as low standards as the man who's cred you question, I'm not sure if you read my comments or even care too.

      But the fact remains we have had a handful of worthy Jrpgs on all home consoles in 8 years, compare that to ps2 or ps1 where we had handfuls each year and you can see why the genre is in massive decline (god knows why they still sell amazing well, just look at how much the people wanted ni no kuni in west).

      Which might be fine for some people who don't have much game time but for the hardcore fans we are left with nothing great to play for years on end.

    And for those of us not into portables, and who don't think of Pokemon type games when we think JRPG, this generation has been a disaster (I'm still trying to work out how Atlus has not shipped a new Persona game in this entire console generation, though - do they just not like money or something?)

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now