Twenty years ago, I was 17 years old, and had an extreme passion with playing JRPGs and reviewing them in written form. In reality, some of my oldest reviews were written way before 2003, and on an actual ‘word processor’ typewriter.
Reviews for games like Suikoden, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Final Fantasy VII, were written in the late 1990s. But it wouldn’t be until 2003 that the ‘Never Ending Realm’ came to fruition in the form of a small independent Tripod site.
I cannot quite remember the reviewer’s name, but Working Designs’ official site had a section of reviews that I great enjoyed and it served as an inspiration for my future work and writing style. I was truly devastated when Working Designs tanked and the site was shut down.
Why JRPGS, and not Other Genres?
To be fair, JRPGs in the 1990s were some of the most artistic and satisfying games that could be played on home consoles. In addition, I felt that my work had a better shot at being read, and at creating a small discussion community, if we (once Mont Cessna joined the ship) focused on a niche group to start off.
There was no way we could compete with media giants like IGN, or GameSpot. To us, this was a passion project. The Never Ending Realm was a space where we could write and share our thoughts on games that we loved, within a genre that I never thought would lose its “prime” so quickly in the mid 2000s.
JRPGs are the reason why I got into writing in the first place. I was mesmerized by Final Fantasy VII’s sci-fi story, and it opened a whole new world for me. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (yes, I consider it a JRPG of the action variety) took it further to another level with magical NPCs that were vital to Link’s quest, and were deep enough to write about in my early fan fiction works.
Video games, and the industry’s landscape has changed a lot since the 1990s, but at the time, given the technological constraints, I don’t think any other genre could have delivered the cinematic moments, and stirring musical scores that JRPGs did. I think this is the reason why so many of us cling to 1990s JRPGs as the shining beacons of what good role-playing games should be.
Yes, in my old age, I have grown to love the western RPG a bit more than I do the modern JRPGs. I am not sure if it was me who just evolved into liking something else, or JRPGs lost some of their luster since 2003. It is likely a combination of both.
Final Fantasy used to be a system seller in the days of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. That is no longer the case when official court documents show Sony and Microsoft battling each other for the ownership (Sony wants to block the sale) of Activision and its ‘Call of Duty’ franchise. Both companies feel that the CoD series is capable of shifting the balance of power in console hardware sales. Oh! How the times have changed!
Without Mont Cessna The Never Ending Realm Would Have Never Reached Mass Appeal
My good friend Mont was crucial in the growth of the site in the later part of the last decade. He invested financial resources, and his own marketing genius into growing the Never Ending Realm and its JRPG group from a meager 200 follower (and members) indy page to a 30,000+ audience that continues to grow to this day.
At that point, we had decided that JRPGs would be a crucial part of our site, and continued editorial work, but we also decided to move towards modern games, news, but without losing the overall 1990s nostalgic vibe.
I hope we are doing a good job at it (keep the 1990s alive). If not, you can let us know on the comments section below, or on Facebook, but we are 1990s kids, and we want that 1990s magic to live forever!
Did “The Drop” of JRPGs From the Mainstream Consciousness in Gaming During the 2000s Threatened the Site?
It (the lack of big budget mainstream JRPGs) did, at one point, affect the rate at which I reviewed games. Final Fantasy lost some of its appeal to me during its 13th entry. It has been hard for me to be as excited for a new entry since I played Lightning’s tale.
I try to compare my expectations and anticipation level for Final Fantasy XVI to what it was for Final Fantasy X more than two decades ago, and that level of emotion is no longer there for this series.
Again, it could be that I got older, but I still feel like a little child when a new Zelda entry is announced. So maybe, it was Sakaguchi’s departure, and Square Enix’s hit or miss approach to the FF series that tempered my excitement for it.
It is part of the reason why the site now does some “mainstream” news and reviews for titles in other genres (apart from JRPGs), as well. Though, given our core audience, JRPGs related content (especially PS1 era) remains some of our most successful editorial work in terms of traffic.
I do hope that 2023 brings Final Fantasy XVI to store shelves, and that the game turns out be better than I imagine it could be. The genre bloomed in the West a quarter century ago thanks to Final Fantasy VII’s brilliance. It can only be a good thing if the series regains its rightful place at the top of gaming’s ‘Mount Rushmore’.
Special Games During My Time Reviewing and Playing Games
I have reviewed plenty of duds in the site. Because we are independent, I have never been afraid to call Dragon Warrior VII (PS1) ‘crap’. So, none of my reviews have been influenced by outside marketing forces, or anyone else.
I feel, however, that I have reviewed more good than bad games during my time, and I have definitely played some amazing games that have made me feel proud of calling gaming my preferred form of entertainment.
The following is a listing of games that had an impact on me, and that I felt were impactful on the industry at the time that I played them. Some of these, I never got around to review, and I did miss many that I would have wished to list here, but couldn’t due to deadline constraints for this article.
Final Fantasy VII
I got into writing (and reading) because of Final Fantasy VII. I was mesmerized by its story, twists and turns, and deep character backgrounds (do we agree that Vincent is the coolest optional character ever?). It was a heartbreaking (Oh! My dear Aeris!) epic masterpiece.
Final Fantasy VII was a once in a lifetime experience that touched upon many Sci-Fi troupes, including interstellar travel, and genetic engineering. It was game that took inspiration from Frankenstein, and Godzilla; and made something new of it.
Without Final Fantasy VII, there wouldn’t be a Never Ending Realm.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
High School English class taught me to write ‘Dramatic Personae’ on plays that we studied in class. Bear with me here, as it was more than 20 years ago, but I remember writing a list of important characters from certain plays with descriptions.
Ocarina of Time was the first game that had me doing this for every NPC that I met. Yes, I am a nerd, I know! But such was the magical world that Nintendo gifted the world in 1998.
I have yet to experience a game as magical and as filled with wonder as Ocarina of Time was at the time of its release. I doubt a game will ever capture me in a similar way again, and I have made my peace with that.
Ocarina remains, in my opinion, the greatest game that I have ever played and reviewed.
Final Fantasy IX
Coming from my disappointment with Final Fantasy VIII, I was still excited about Final Fantasy IX’s arrival. The game surpassed all of the expectations that I had for it. I know that some gamers are on the fence about the game being one of the greatest FFs ever, but to me, Final Fantasy IX was the greatest farewell tribute that could have been made to my old trusty gray PlayStation.
Despite the fact that Final Fantasy X was developed under Hironobu Sakaguchi’s watch, it has always felt to me, that Final Fantasy IX was Sakaguchi’s own tribute and farewell ‘love letter’ to the Final Fantasy series.
This might have been the last JRPG that I reviewed (the first draft) on my old typewriter, as well.
Skies of Arcadia
Skies of Arcadia was every bit as magical as Final Fantasy IX, and its world comparably enticing to Ocarina of Time’s. The game was Sega’s JRPG masterpiece, and it has been criminally shunned by the company after its Nintendo Game Cube port.
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Majora’s Mask in 2000, wasn’t quite as good as Ocarina of Time was in 1998, but then again, nothing really has been as good. Majora’s was the perfect swan song for the Nintendo 64. A game so eerie, and clever in its approach to world building and storytelling, that I was inspired to write a tribute to Linkin Park’s ‘In The End’, as I simultaneously reviewed the 3DS Remake of the game.
Nintendo’s unique 3-day cycle, allowed for a breathing living world with NPCs that adhered to different schedules and habits, long before A.I. driven worlds became a mainstay in gaming. Nintendo’s scripted NPCs continue to dazzle to this day, and the game conveys the illusion of living NPCs better than pretty much any other game that I have played since.
Halo: Combat Evolved
This isn’t a JRPG, but it is a game that marked, in my opinion, a clear leap in technology over what I had previously played on the Nintendo 64, within the First Person Shooter genre.
This title, single handedly, drove home Microsoft’s factual claim that the Xbox was the most powerful console every conceived. Halo: Combat Evolved was cinematic, epic, and an incredible playing game that set a new standard for multiplayer, and single player first person shooters.
Shadow of the Colossus
The PlayStation 2 had quite a few impressive games such as, Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X, Gran Turismo, God of War 1&2, The Jak series, etc. But I have to say that no game on the system ever impressed me as much as Shadow of Colossus did. Clearly, the game’s gigantic world and bosses taxed the system to the limit. Frequent frame rate drops were common, but somehow, in those days, I rarely cared.
Shadow of the Colossus was the closest that the PlayStation 2 got to having a ‘Zelda’ like experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I loved Wind Waker, but it wasn’t the The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time sequel that I had expected. Twilight Princess brought back the mature, darker tone of the Nintendo 64 Zeldas into the next generation while providing the ultimate send off for the Nintendo Gamecube. Twilight Princess’s was a natural evolution of Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule, and the game’s plot perfectly bridged the gap between the Nintendo 64’s pair of Zeldas and itself.
I loved TP so much, that I had purchased The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion at around the same time, and it collected dust as it played second fiddle to Link’s final Gamecube adventure.
Gears of War
Gears of War earned its place in my heart by being the first title of the Xbox 360, and PS3 generation that showcased visuals that were leaps and bounds beyond what was possible on the original Xbox. The game made me proud of owning an Xbox 360, and I still hold the original trilogy as this series’ peak.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I played a lot of Oblivion, but it never quite captured me wholly. I cannot say the same for the Skyrim. Skyrim might be the game that I have most spent time with in my entire 35 years of playing video games. After hundreds of hours, I still find the Skyrim province to be a beautiful, and majestic place, full of surprises at every turn.
No game ever came as close to matching my Ocarina of Time experience as Skyrim did in 2011. It was also a game that took my mind away from the grief of my mother’s passing in that very same November (my mother died 5 days before the launch of Skyrim) in 2011. For that, I will always cherish my time with the game. Whenever I felt depressed, and needed an escaped from the real world, Skyrim embraced my suffering soul with open arms.
The Last of Us
The PlayStation 3 wasn’t my favorite console of that particular generation, despite the fact that I greatly enjoyed the Uncharted 2+3, and God of War 3. However, Skyrim aside, The Last of Us was the best game that I played in that generation in terms of how much I enjoyed the quest, and how impressed I was with the game’s visuals.
I truly feel that the game defined the PlayStation 3 era for me, and set a new standard in storytelling, voice acting, and overall presentation, not only for Naughty Dog, but for gaming in general.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I tend to buy Nintendo systems just to play the newest Zelda games. The Nintendo Switch was not the exception to this rule. Needless to say, Breath of the Wild did not disappoint. The game is a technical Switch (or Wii U) marvel. With long draw distances, and a massive open world that truly felt alive.
Playing through Breath of the Wild, I marveled at how Nintendo EAD could craft an unrivaled experience given the hardware limitations of the Wii U. Breath of the Wild ‘modernized’ the Zelda formula, and it remains my favorite Nintendo Switch game ever.
The list of games above is not complete, as there are other games like Xenogears, Chrono Cross, Fable 2, The Last of Us: Part II, God of War (2018), and Horizon Forbidden West, which easily belong in that list. Let’s just say that if I were to list every great game that I enjoyed over the last 20+ years, I would never finish this article in time for New Year’s Day.
We (Mont Cessna, and myself) want to thank all of you have supported the site, and our groups through the years. We also want to thank writing contributors to the site, and our admins on the groups. Hopefully, 20 years from now, we will all be alive and gaming. Perhaps, celebrating our 40th anniversary! The image of a 50-60 year old playing video games was inconceivable 2 decades ago, but to those of us who have grown up playing them, video games are, as accepted a form of entertainment media, and art, as music and films are. So yes, I think our generation, and those who come after us will be playing games until old age.
Those of us in our 30s, 40s and 50s, should take solace, and pride, in the fact that we were pioneers. We were alive and were able to experience the largest tech transition in gaming (thus far), when in the mid 1990s gaming reached the 3rd dimension. It was a magical time to be alive. Will the next 20 years finally get virtual reality right? We can only dream!
Happy New Years in health and blessings to all!
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