After 2004’s Tales of Symphonia, I washed my hands of RPGs. It wasn’t due to any overt dislike of the genre as much as it was fatigue. In my mind, RPGs simply weren’t keeping up with modern game design, and I thought there were better ways to spend my gaming time. I veered towards arcade-style action games for my quick fixes, and action-adventures games like the Zelda series for when I wanted something more involving. But I kept a fairly safe distance from “pure” RPGs.
And yet, I still maintained a peripheral interest in them. I enjoyed reading about them and hearing other people talk about them. Perhaps I was simply looking for some evidence that the genre was moving forward. I also occasionally dabbled in sub-genres, especially action-RPGs. I became a fan of the Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles series, and I took sporadic interest in strategy RPGs, such as Fire Emblem. Clearly, I had not entirely turned my back on RPGs if I was looking for excuses to stay interested.
I kept an eye out for games that attempted to break out of the rut that JRPGs had entrenched themselves in, whether that be by revolutionizing the genre’s standards, or by going back to the basics of an RPG and reinventing them from the ground up. One problem, however, was that my disillusionment still lingered on my mind, and I was reluctant to commit myself to any RPG, lest I end up being bored by it.
The other problem was that the few JRPGs that did begin to catch my serious attention never made it to North America. JRPGs were receding back into a niche, and Japanese companies were becoming more conservative with localization. So, while I waited with baited breath for games like the DS remakes of SaGa 2 and 3, they ended up staying in Japan.
Other games that similarly caught my attention seemed to be doomed to the same fate. Xenoblade Chronicles had been initially announced for North America at E3 2010, although publisher Nintendo later changed its mind. The Last Story from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi seemed like a shoe-in, but it too was withheld from the North American market. Both games seemed like progressive RPGs that consciously tried to move the genre forward, by brute force if necessary, which was just what I had been hoping for. However, they stayed disappointingly out of reach.
That is, until both games were localized and released in Europe and Australia, leading to critical acclaim and apparently good sales. That, coupled with the fan campaign known as Operation Rainfall, finally led to planned North American releases for both games. With access granted, I find myself finally ready to dive headfirst back into JRPGs.
I’m looking forward to playing both games, and I intend to enjoy each as much as possible. And yet, I’m still just a bit apprehensive about getting back into pure JRPGs. Will they be the evolutions I had been waiting for? Or will I once again find myself lukewarm to the experience?
I will soon find out….