This week, while listening to many a pod cast, and surfing through endless amounts of forum discussions, something hit me like a speeding eighteen-wheeler. The idea that the J-RPG is a genre on it’s last breath is overwhelmingly strong. Years ago, while a freshman undergrad at an unnamed university in New Jersey, I honestly and naively thought I was the only person to have such thoughts. Regardless of my harbored personality flaws of yesteryear, the sentiment that J-RPG’s are in serious need of a revival is echoed by critics and consumers alike.
Of course, the biggest J-RPG release of the year by far, has been none other than Final Fantasy XIII. Interestingly, XIII has been polarizing, and usually draws immense ire and adoration. However, Square should not go down as merely the creator of the steaming pile of excrement that is Final Fantasy XIII. They did, at one time, create games of outstanding quality. On the other hand, Square did release the one J-RPG which may have ruined them all; Final Fantasy X.
In 2001, when Final Fantasy X was released, it seemed Square could do no wrong and were developing and publishing commercial and critical successes such as, Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX and Vagrant Story left and right. But for some reason, Square decided to strip Final Fantasy of the many things contributing to the series strength.
Instead of lovable losers, or mysterious characters, annoying pretty boys played the protagonists. The confident, sly thief and loveable black mage transformed into fan-service targeting 13-year-old boys. Strong, likable, and ultimately relatable female leads such as Terra, Celes and even Aerith were replaced by completely boring, ignorable characters like Yuna. Cheesy, over the top dialogue in hand created an uninteresting, highly forgettable plot. Somehow, someone had turned Final Fantasy into a nauseatingly terrible anime, even worse, other J-RPG‘s were following suite. I was starting to feel like that guy who followed his childhood sweetheart to college; cheated.
During the heartbreak known as, Final Fantasy X, it had become common knowledge that Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, started his own company named Mistwalker and while slowly retracting his omnipresent hand from the series all together. Eventually, he also resigned his vice president position at Square and left for good, leading to Square and Enix merging. More importantly, by 2004 Sakaguchi had Mistwalker up and running and ready to create his next opus. Unfortunately, it has been six years and Mistwalker has not released a “Triple A” title, J-RPG’s are still, for the most part, little more than Anime fan service and good J-RPG’s are almost completely ignored. Despite my rampant cynicism and urge to spew verbal diarrhea all over Squeenix, ultimately, a bright side exists.
In Spring, Mistwalker’s, The Last Story, was unveiled surprising everyone and drawing a considerable amount of attention. Even more surprising, it is being developed for the Wii and undoubtedly serves as a swan song for J-RPG’s and Mistwalker alike. Admittedly, Sakaguchi stated “I’m betting a lot on this project.” Strangely, the circumstance, title name and logo art all seem somewhat similar to Final Fantasy.
Ironically, the Wii needs more high selling third-party titles to show they can support developers. Similarly, Mistwalker, needs an outstanding title, as the developer does not have one and is running on Sakaguchi’s legend alone. The Last Story could kill two birds with one stone, but a few things need to be accomplished.
First and foremost, The Last Story needs to be the brilliantly amazing game Sakaguchi and Mistwalker are definitely capable of creating. Secondly, the game needs to be marketed. Slated to be released this year, I’m not quite sure how this game will be advertised as the year is not far from over. Finally, people need to actually buy this game. In the past, great J-RPG’s such as Valkyria Chronicles have been beyond overlooked. Overall, if The Last Story does end up being great, and no one buys it, we will have no one to damn but ourselves for toiling in J-RPG mediocrity forever.
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