Posted by: Paul | May 24, 2010

The JRPG hook

I’ve been a gamer as long as I can remember. When I think back to primary school my memories are all of the last day of term when everyone was allowed to bring in their favourite toy, and inevitably for the boys it was an electronic game of some kind. I wish I could remember the exact name of any of mine, but they were the sort of Space Invader-type with the tiny metal joystick, and you played the game through a sort of porthole in this giant black and silver plastic construction, the characters on the display glowing a flourescent blue as you strained your eyes by getting too close.

How times have changed. If I could show my six-year-old self my gaming setup now, I think I’d probably have burst into tears with joy at how amazing the future looked. But it just keeps getting better and better.

However, no other kind of game has made me spend / waste as much time in the last decade as Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs). Don’t ask me how it started. I’m not even really sure. What many people would regard as the ‘Golden Age’ of the genre completely passed me by – where other kids had SNES and Megadrives, I had proper computers. Commodore Plus 4, Atari ST, and then onto PC. I never experienced console games except at friends houses and the experience was almost always a let-down – looking back they clearly weren’t playing the right games. So the first console I had was a Playstation, which I bought with pretty much my first paycheque once I started working, in response to the fact that several friends at Uni had them, and I could now afford one myself.

Something made me buy Final Fantasy VII. I’d heard that it was the most returned game in the history of the UK market. I had seen someone on a bus reading a strategy guide, and looking over his shoulder I loved the art style. I had to know what these spiky haired fellows with huge swords were up to. A friend had played it at Uni and I didn’t understand it at all. It had become an itch I needed to scratch.

So began my love affair with the games of Squaresoft (now Square Enix). They were (and are) essentially all about statistics – and I’m hooked on them. I burned through every title I could find, importing some. FFVII, VIII, IX, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Threads of Fate, Vagrant Story. Parasite Eve 1 & 2, and then onto the action titles like Ehrgeiz and Einhander. What was it about the output of this company that had me so hooked?

I’m still looking for the answer on the DS. I try to play more casual games now – they are total time-sinks and I just don’t have the time anymore – but every so often the itch comes back. I’m currently scratching it with Chrono Trigger, hailed as one of the all-time greats (above). It’s pretty good so far – I imagine I’m a little over half way through, but it’s hard to tell since it’s so packed with false endings, it’s like the end of Lord of the Rings. I think that ultimately it’s the mix of epic storytelling, collecting stuff, over-the-top magic spells and vast, unconquerable-looking enemies that keep me coming back for more. Or maybe it’s the number crunching. As after all, doesn’t everything just come down to numbers?

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