And so, the eternal “is it a JRPG or just an RPG” discussion might be coming to a sudden end, as Final Fantasy XVI Producer, Naoki Yoshida, doesn’t want to box its upcoming game in the popular JRPG (there I said it!) franchise within the “JRPG” stereotypes. Yoshida, in a recent interview with Skill-Up, as transcribed by Eurogamer, would go as far as to call the “JRPG” term a “discriminatory” one for Japanese developers.
Final Fantasy XVI is not a JRPG! Wait! WHAT…?
Yoshida feels that the term was discriminatory when it was popularized “15 years ago”, though I think the producer is a bit disconnected with the historical origin of the term, as the “JRPG” moniker has been around for at least 20 years. When asked about how JRPGs have evolved over the years, as opposed to action games, the producer took an unexpected stance on the matter:
“This is going to depend on who you ask but there was a time when this term first appeared 15 years ago, and for us as developers the first time we heard it, it was like a discriminatory term. As though we were being made fun of for creating these games, and so for some developers the term JRPG can be something that will maybe trigger bad feelings because of what it was in the past.
“It wasn’t a compliment to a lot of developers in Japan. We understand that recently, JRPG has better connotations and it’s being used as a positive but we still remember the time when it was used as a negative. I remember seeing something 15 years ago which was basically a definition of what a JRPG was vs a western RPG, and it’s kind of like Final Fantasy 7, and it has this type of graphics, this length of story, and compartmentalising what we were creating into a JRPG box, and taking offense to that because that’s not how we’re going into creating. We were going in to create an RPG, but to be compartmentalised, they felt was discriminatory.”
On Turn-Based Combat:
“Travelling around the world, speaking with fans and media about their image of the franchise, they would always give the same answer: that it’s turn based, that it’s anime like, these teenagers saving the world, ‘very JRPG’. This was the image for all Final Fantasy. This was turning off some players because they thought it could only be that and that was a reason to not get into it.”
Woah, that’s a lot to digest there. So, lets analyze his statements under the proper context.
The Real Reason Why Yoshida (and Perhaps Other JRPG Developers) are Offended by the Term
I recall the ‘JRPG’ term being used in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but according to Yoshida, the term was only seen as a discriminating (and perhaps derogatory) one only 15 years ago (2008). Well, at around the 2006-2008 time period is when JRPGs sort of fell off the map, as commercially successful mainstream games. I discussed this in more detail on my ‘Rise and Fall of JRPGs” article a few years ago.
The point is that it (likely) made sense for companies to want to shed the ‘JRPG’ label as Western RPGs took off commercially, while the Japanese ones not named Final Fantasy, or The Legend of Zelda (which a segment of Western JRPG fans don’t consider a JRPG) took a massive dive in sales; with many franchises like Grandia, Suikoden, and Wild Arms all together disappearing from the map.
By 2012, after Skyrim’s monumental success, one could see the general direction where the RPG genre as a whole was heading, and one could potentially understand why some RPG developers in Japan did not want the ‘Japanese Role-Playing Game’ term attached to their work, even if most RPGs out of Japan ( I am thinking Star Ocean, Tales, and even Final Fantasy) still followed the basic blueprint of 1990s traditional Japanese RPGs.
It is odd for Yoshida to complain about the perception of western gamers being that Japanese made RPGs were all about Anime looking characters, turn based party combat, and a story that followed a teenage crew of heroes, when most Japanese developed RPGs followed the very same general conventions. Given the rise in commercial success of Western developed RPGs (and games in general), it is understandable how the above statement could ‘offend’ some Japanese developers.
In layman’s words, being boxed within the ‘JRPG’ genre was probably seen by these developers as being stuck within a niche market that wouldn’t yield mainstream commercial success. It makes sense then that Final Fantasy XV would shift gears into Action-Combat, and an open world. Square Enix had been paying attention at how much ground western open world action-RPGs had gained on the market.
It is the reason why Yoshida stuck to action combat, and a more westernized look here with Final Fantasy XVI. Yoshida had shown admiration for Sucker Punch’s work on Ghost of Tsushima, and in his mind, he wants Final Fantasy XVI to compete with that game’s success, as opposed to say…Dragon Quest?
Fans have long questioned why Final Fantasy ditched the turn-based combat style, and Yoshida, in his now ‘controversial’ interview, might have finally officially answered the reasons for the series going in that direction.
Soulsborne Games Including Elden Ring, and The Legend of Zelda Have Been Critical and Commercial Darlings
It could be said, that AAA JRPGs didn’t entirely fall off the map, but instead evolved. Dark Souls is an RPG made in Japan by a Japanese team, it is a ‘JRPG’, but it doesn’t play by the turn based rules, or anime stylistic conventions set by the 1990s golden age of JRPGs. Perhaps, FromSoftware understood, before anyone else did, that this was the recipe and formula for success. Things have to evolve with time.
Before any one says that FromSoftware had laid the foundations of Dark Souls success with Kings Field, and other titles since the mid 1990s, I am here to tell you that yes, FromSoftware always seemed to be thinking outside of the box when it came to game design, but they also fell for the traditional “JRPG” craze with the abysmally bad, Enchanted Arms (yes, FromSoftware made that), in 2006.
Thankfully, the developer righted the ship with Demon’s Souls in 2009 for the PS3. Still, the point here is that Yoshida has further muddled the waters on the argument/debate of what should be a JRPG, as opposed to what not. Not only that, but now one has to question if calling say….Tales of Arise, a JRPG, is actually an offensive attack on its development team.
Clearly, game sales have been driven by Action-Adventure/RPG open world titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring, Horizon Zero Dawn, and even God of War, among others. It feels like Yoshida’s quotes come from an inner desire to push the Final Fantasy series (specifically FFXVI) into that stratosphere of success.
Should JRPG Fans take Offense at the Yoshida’s Comments?
My guess is that they (we) shouldn’t. I honestly, from all of the articles, and info that has been leaked out on FFXVI, feel that the game is trying to bring Final Fantasy, as a franchise, to the top of gaming’s perch by adhering to successfully proven gaming trends of modern times. Action-combat, a darker story with older looking characters, and an open world, have been ingredients in recipes for success in other franchises.
If Final Fantasy XVI can’t compete against Forbidden West in today’s market, then Yoshida and his team failed Square Enix, and perhaps even the FF fanbase that expects a return to the glory days. For many of us, the glory days were the Sakaguchi era of FF games. The thing is technology moves on, as does game design. The following statement is likely to anger half of our readers, however, it must be said: A pure turn based, linear adventure in the mold of Final Fantasy VI-X would not cut it in today’s gaming world.
If Final Fantasy XVI is to bring back this series into its once prominent perch, it needs to be better, and as ambitious as Forbidden West, and Ghost of Tsushima were. Heck, even the eternally successful The Legend of Zelda franchise, shed its more linear semi-open world design, in favor of a full fledged open world after Skyward Sword hit the proverbial design wall in 2011.
Don’t Box Final Fantasy XVI into the JRPG Niche!
At least, if you don’t want to offend Yoshida…and Japanese developers you shouldn’t. The man and his team just made an RPG, and that’s how they want their game to be perceived. There is a silver lining though, Yoshida did say that he understands that the ‘JRPG’ term is now seen as a more positive description for the Japanese made RPGs. Not all is lost!
In the end, what say you? Is Final Fantasy XVI a JRPG? Or, Just a RPG?
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