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2017 JRPG Roundup

It’s been a little while since I’ve talked about JRPGs, so with the new year upon us, it seems fitting to take a glance at the JRPGs of 2017 that I played. For all that it was a less than pleasant year in other respects, it also proved to be a pretty stellar year in terms of new games.

persona 5 adieu

Let’s get the disappointment out of the way: contrary to most gamers out there, I was not blown away by Persona 5. Atlus’ newest entry in its franchise of modern Japanese teens saving the world and solving mysteries with Stardust Crusaders-style superpowers has gorgeous visuals, a funky soundtrack and some impressively polished dungeon crawling…but that’s only one half of the game.

The other half of these games, ever since Persona 3, is a visual novel, and it’s there that Persona 5 really drops the ball.

It’s an intriguing premise, to be sure: our heroes are Phantom Thieves out to reform Tokyo by fixing the fractured psyches of its most troubled denizens. Great! But between its inability to make any of the characters likable, and its lack of long-term narrative thrust, I found myself getting bored with it all. And that’s fatal in a game where you’re going to spend half the time listening to talking heads yap on and on while you pick dialogue options.

Aside from the quality of the writing, I hope the series ditches the visual novel aspect in future installments. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment was my first exposure to the series, and it felt novel and fresh compared to a lot of other RPGs at the time; Persona 3 was similarly unique; then Persona 4 added a layer of polish to what Persona 3 did; now Persona 5 adds another layer of polish to the formula, but by now it feels a tad too routine and, well, formulaic.

I heartily agree, however, with all the praise that NieR: Automata has garnered. This game, about androids in frilly outfits battling alien robots over the fate of post-post-post-post apocalyptic earth is the perfect storm of uniting an artsy, indie game sensibility with the production values of a Triple-A game. More than that, it’s the first game in a long time that surprised me, not in a “I didn’t see that plot development coming” way, but in a “I didn’t know games could do this” sort of way. Automata is a pretty wild ride that wants to challenge everything you thought you knew about video games. It’s mature content and downright harrowing story make it not for the faint of heart, but there’s a strange, dark beauty to this thing that I won’t forget any time soon.

ffxii zodi

The next one is an HD re-release, but executed with enough aplomb that I think it deserves its own mention. I’ve long felt that Final Fantasy XII was the best thing Square-Enix did during the Playstation 2 years. Its unprecedented blend of design philosophies (Japanese and western, MMO and offline), its epic scope and politically-driven story have long overshadowed the game’s flaws in my mind. While Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age likely won’t change any minds about the game, its various tweaks addressed nearly every quibble I had with the original, raising it up into being one of my all-time favourite games.

ys-viii-lacrimosa-of-dana-12-24-15-2

Last is Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, the latest entry in Falcom’s long-running series, and a game which seems to have slipped under nearly everyone’s radar. Which is unfortunate, given that it does a good job of living up to its box’s boast of being “The ULTIMATE ACTION RPG” (at least so far; I imagine I’m around the halfway point). The game begins with series hero Adol Christin and a boatful of other people getting shipwrecked on the monster-infested island of Seiren, and follows their attempt to survive and escape to civilization while figuring out what the deal with Seiren is.

The game is graphically unimpressive, its characters are a bunch of clichés and the localization is abysmal, but none of that matters much considering how much breezy fun it is. YS VIII achieves in a near perfect manner the careful balance that an Action RPG needs to have: fun combat that is neither too button mashy nor too twitchy, equipment, stats and loot that add a level of depth without overwhelming the combat, and a world that is both fun to explore and to bop enemies over the head in.

While there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before, I haven’t played an Action RPG that has brought all its constituent elements together in such an unpretentiously fun manner – it’s the game I wish Square’s Mana and Kingdom Hearts franchises were like. I haven’t played much of the Ys games, so perhaps this could be the start of something interesting.

So that’s been my 2017 JRPG-ing. Anything cool that I missed?

16 thoughts on “2017 JRPG Roundup”

  1. Perhaps I am too old-school. I miss the days of traditional RPGs. Action RPGs are fun, but they often feel as twitchy as first-person-shooters. Frankly, I dislike the trend. But with how FPS games dominate, it shouldn’t be a surprise that RPGs will follow the trend in their own ways. I miss the days of menu-based battles. Of course, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger define what I view as a good RPG. After all, it’s rare to fight through a piece of literature like Dante’s Divine Comedy while listening to a fugue as you do in Final Fantasy VI.

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    1. Hi!

      I do also love a lot of old-school JRPGs. There’s definitely a special feel to the best of them. On that note, Square recently re-released Romancing SaGa 2, which I plan on getting around to sooner or later; it looks very much up my alley.

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  2. “So that’s been my 2017 JRPG-ing. Anything cool that I missed?”

    ‘Trails in the Sky the 3rd’ and ‘Trails of Cold Steel’ came out on PC this year, and were far and away the best games I played all year. I won’t speak more about them, as doing so would entail spoilers. I believe Kaze mentioned the series on your blog last year.

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  3. I kinda have to agree with you with respect to Persona 5’s plot ( : / ), but honestly I don’t think that’s because of the visual novel aspect in and of itself. For me, the plot of the games and the social links are crucial components of why the Persona games work— partially because I dropped in at around Persona 3 P3P, and Persona 4 Golden is easily one of my favorite games on the Vita. The biggest problems in my opinion are the translation of the game (which was badly mishandled compared to the smooth, clever, stylish efforts on previous games) and the fact that the game pisses around too long with respect to its true intent. Persona 3 suffers from this too, but not as badly. Meanwhile Persona 4 has its real game plan down almost from the start of the game and never lets go, with the “dark Gnoticism and Japanese folklore” end of the plot placed almost as an Easter Egg for people crazy enough to see it through to the end.

    I kinda have to agree with you with respect to Persona 5’s plot ( : / ), but honestly I don’t think that’s because of the visual novel aspect in and of itself. For me, the plot of the games and the social links are crucial components of why the Persona games work— partially because I dropped in at around Persona 3 P3P, and Persona 4 Golden is easily one of my favorite games on the Vita. The biggest problems in my opinion are the translation of the game (which was badly mishandled compared to the smooth, clever, stylish efforts on previous games) and the fact that the game pisses around too long with respect to its true intent. Persona 3 suffers from this too, but not as badly. Meanwhile Persona 4 has its real game plan down almost from the start of the game and never lets go, with the “dark Gnoticism and Japanese folklore” end of the plot placed almost as an Easter Egg for people crazy enough to see it through to the end. Agreed on NiER: Automata. The game is brilliantly playable, even in the early segments, so it never suffers too acutely from the JRPG problem of “We haven’t reached the good end of the plot yet.” XD

    As for games you haven’t seen, I’d *definitely* advise you look into Trails of Cold Steel I and II, and Tales of Berseria.

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    1. The more I think about it, the more I feel it’s also a matter of changing taste for me: as I get older, I find I have less patience for games which are very cutscene/dialogue heavy, which makes P5’s story issues all the more frustrating.

      The Tales of series is perhaps my ultimate, “I’ll get around to it eventually” JRPG. I think I briefly played an hour of one of the older ones years ago, and ever since then, it’s always managed to fall on the backburner for me as it continues to churn out all those sequels

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      1. They are a great series, I personally enjoy them a lot because the dialogue isn’t too heavy. If you skip the little scenes they have when you enter a dungeon area or world map, then even less to read. So you have a CHOICE if you want to hear the characters silly ramblings or just get to the juicy stuff. It’s pretty fun, the fight system is engaging, and the characters develop. I have nothing but praise for the Tales series, most of them are amazing games.

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    2. I have been wanting to play Tales of Berseria….looks awesome! Compared to Zestria, which is better do you think? Or they are just different completely?

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  4. Good round-up you got here! I can’t think of any other RPG’s worth mentioning, as you went over the main ones that came out last year. The Ys game looks cool, I’ve never played the series but have heard of them for years!

    Persona 5 looks really good, but I can imagine I will have the same issue as you did with the dialogue. I am NOT a big visual novel fan, as the dialogue is just….blah blah blah blah blah. Most of it can be cut out, as I just want the good stuff. Get to the point!!!!!

    I played FF XII and I really enjoyed it, except for the characters…I felt Vaan was useless as a main character. Ashe should have been the main instead, even though they both kind of are…but Vaan could have never existed and the story continues the same…just my opinion 🙂

    Thanks for going over these, I will be picking up FF XII again and Persona 5. I have Nier but haven’t played it yet 😦

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    1. My take on FFXII is that there was a Good Team, a Bad Team, and a WTF Are You Guys Smoking Team writing it, and that the first team definitely thought Ashe and Basch were the main characters. 😛 The Bad Team added Vaan and Panelo as stand-ins for the idiot teenage audience, and the WTF Team added bad pacing and the entire forest segment. XD

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      1. I agree with everything except the smoking lol. But yeah you described what I am trying to write better than I did. I haven’t played it since it was released on PS3, so when I replay it I can give better judgement

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      2. I seem to be in the minority of actually liking Vaan and Penelo. Ashe is definitely the protagonist, but I find that FFXII does a good job of telling the story through the eyes of a minor character, even if that wasn’t the original intent. But then it’s a game I’m very biased towards, like all the FFs I love

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