Turn-based JRPG: why an “outdated” genre continues to be successfully revived

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Fantastic worlds dyed by bright colors led by predestined heroes, treacherous antagonists in castles that have fallen into ruin, enemies that are actually sometimes even funny ones; when it comes to this type of fairy tale it is almost inevitable to think about JRPG. This type of video game it definitely has marked a generation - not only of consoles but also of gamers - has managed to give a sense of concreteness to the evergreen phrase "daydreaming".

What sets JRPGs apart from other RPGs, at least in most cases, is undoubtedly its combat system strictly marked by turns. In fact, the terminology Japanese Role Playing Game (literally translated as Japanese role-playing video game) nowadays simply adapted "to the Japanese", it is no longer used only to define the country of origin of the development team, but also almost erroneously also the various game systems typical of the genre.

Frequently compared to Action RPGs, mostly favored by the western market, the JRPGs, in part initially conceived with static fights to accommodate an engine limitation, continue to be favored today in the design and planning stages to create titles with easy-to-learn systems. Modern giants like Persona 5 and Dragon Quest XI have indeed shown that while retaining the classic formula from Turn-Based RPG, these manage quietly to keep up with their busier counterparts, and who, despite differences of thought, have actually managed to really find their place not only in the Japanese market, but also in the West, without having to make any changes. From this we deduce that in reality comparing them as if they were each other's enemy, besides being limiting, is also wrong. The two genres, often referred to as eternal rivals, are indeed both shades of the same vein, which often in various titles even go so far as to hybridize in trying to create something creatively valid and innovative.

Two sides of the same coin

This fight, supported by the sympathetic factions of the two game systems, inevitably led to no longer being able to ignore "the elephant in the room". So we ended up with it needlessly discredit each other, when it is evident that they both stand out for totally different characteristics: where the Action RPG provides that sense of freedom, frenzy and immediacy, while still being criticized for the alleged lack of moments of reflection, the Turn-Based RPG is exalted for strategic components but mistreated for its slowness and now considered "old". At the end of the day, even if there are those who present themselves as champions of their own tastes, it is easy to imagine that this is nothing more than a simple matter of preference, as there are real reasons behind the choice, and therefore it is not necessarily a partisan take, made up of elitism or modernity, as one might think.

Whether in terms of development or as users, in fact, the reasons for preferring a Turn-Based RPG, sometimes also called Command-Based RPG, have always been many. It could be said that the JRPG, as a genre, was actually established during the life cycle of the PSX. This console, in fact, offered several top titles soon spread on everyone's lips, such as the omnipresent saga called Final Fantasy, but also other less famous ones that, however, are finally recognized for their own merit, such as The Legend of Dragoon and Suikoden.

Often, but not always, the developers selected this genre to overcome the technical difficulties deriving from trying to create an Action RPG with excessive demands, given the technology of the time; gamers, especially Japanese, simply instead they ended up passionate about it, as these games not only offered an immediate and easy to learn system, but also hundreds of hours of play, ending up being counted, even today, among the longest-lasting videogame products of all.

A constantly evolving tradition

JRPGs tend to offer an individual narrative, for an unique combat system it's one meticulous and slow character development, not to mention one rich history it's a vast cast of protagonists and non-protagonists, most of whom usable in battle at the same time. The combat system, in fact, prefers the preparation of the latter and the corresponding tactical development. To cadence the turns, the battle is marked by cinematic executions of selected skills and spells. Generally, the Action RPGs, almost in contrast, prefer a single protagonist and a narrative that is certainly faster and more immediate, which goes perfectly with the dynamic and frenetic rhythm of their combat system.

While diversifying from very specific specifications that have been handed down over the years, the JRPGs have embraced several changes aimed at improving the experience. The first video games used to present very tedious systems, such as the excessive need for grinding (i.e. having to earn many experience points and consequent levels before being able to defeat the boss on duty), a single level of difficulty sometimes too easy or too difficult, and probably the system that continues to give nightmares to many gamers who love the game. genre: the so-called "random battles", or random battles.

To overcome the first problem most modern JRPGs present different selectable difficulty levels at the start of a new game, in order to accommodate all types of players, allowing the customization of their videogame experience. As regards the random battle, these were totally eliminated and replaced with enemies on the screen. This last improvement has allowed the developers to give the player more control over the start of the battle, as they will have the ability to avoid or attack the opponent before the fight screen, allowing for ambushes that generally reward the player with a variety of bonuses.

Experimenting with the turn-based system, one of the most famous examples of combat not conforming to the classic turn-based system is certainly with ATB, Namely Active Time Battle: this system consists in the presence of time bars added to each character which determine the order in which your turn will fall for act by selecting the appropriate command.

In short, each JRPG presents the own individual shades, whether they are ATB, static shifts, or a mixture of the two mechanics: each single title offers its own original item which tends to offer a breath of fresh air without betraying its own formula or distorting the genre.

"Today the cat is saved, tomorrow God is defeated"

A necessary and equally important parenthesis is certainly the impact that JRPGs have had on the indie market. Although the triple A productions that prefer this genre are very few and can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the Turn-Based RPGs are almost the salvation of developers who try their hand in this field for the first time. Although part of this choice undoubtedly falls on the greater ease of programming a turn-based video game, the fact remains that there are many indie productions of a certain importance like the most recent Rise of the Third Power, which surprised gamers with its story, its music and an impressive and detailed Pixel Art.

Among milestones like The Legend of Heroes there are now titles that try to recreate the charm of this genre, joining the long list of successful experiments of recent years games like Ruined King: A League of Legends Story and Yakuza: Like a Dragon have blown away fans of the franchises, who expected everything except classic turn-based combat.

Having ascertained that the JRPGs have already evolved previously, however, we continue to look for ways to innovate them homogeneously, creating fresh titles that are in step with the times. The most recent size 2.5, which combines the depth of 3D with the drawings of 2D, officially introduced with Octopath Traveler, has begun what is considered a real trend for this genre of video game. The announced Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes by Rabbit & Bear Studios, as well as the spiritual sequel to Suikoden, which has sent the famous crowdfunding site Kickstarter into a tailspin, wants to draw on this legacy by trying to elevate this technology as much as possible.

Regarding the titles in triple A, between Dragon Quest XII, which the creator, Yūji Horii, specified that the announced changes will not scare the lovers of combat in turns, and Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake, which instead is developed in a size 2.5, it seems that the beloved parent series of the Turn-Based RPG, not only will carry on with its head held high the more classic features for which it is recognized, but if it is doing well enough to even be able to experiment.

But also if this new dimension seems to be the natural graphic evolution of the JRPG, video games like Sabotage Studio's Sea of ​​Stars, inspired by the memorable Chrono Trigger, are determined to show that even a faithfully retro style can be enough to reach great heights.

By adding One Piece: Odyssey and the rumored Persona 6, whether they are large or small projects, it is evident that, unlike what you think, the JRPGs with a lot of classic turn-based combat system are not outdated and that, indeed, they are destined not only to find one's own success just like in the past, but, probably, also to overcome it.

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