Last week, I made a case for The Legend of Zelda being an Action-RPG. To me, this classification makes Zelda a JRPG, as it is an action-RPG made in Japan by Japanese developers. However, from these debates (on social media) I have seen another Japanese role-playing franchise come under fire by the “This is not a JRPG” crowd.
Dark Souls… not a JRPG? What?
Defending Dark Souls as a JRPG is actually a tad easier than it was arguing for The Legend of Zelda. The skeptics’ biggest gripe with Nintendo’s epic series is that it lacks (except for Zelda II) typical “numerical” character progression, meaning that “you can’t level up in Zelda.”
Apart from that small detail, which led to Zelda’s more ‘unique’ way of character progression (there is progression and character customization in its games), Nintendo’s legend is a JRPG in every meaningful way. Fortunately for Dark Souls, and the “Dark Souls is a JRPG” camp (myself included), FromSoftware’s masterpiece has no such ‘level up’ issues.
See, proving that The Legend of Zelda is an action-RPG was 70 percent of the battle. Once its RPG roots were established it was hard to deny that it was made in Japan, and therefore, that it should have classified as such (a JRPG).
Dark Souls is different, because no one can deny that it is an action-RPG. The real battle is proving that it is a “JRPG.”
Common Sense Cannot Be Denied
If a role-playing game is made in Japan, then by conventional wisdom it is a Japanese Role-Playing Game, or ‘JRPG’ for short. As far as Dark Souls is concerned, that should be the end of the discussion. But, for some strange reason, it is not.
There are many JRPG fans that do not consider the Souls series a JRPG franchise, and there arguments that range from its artwork not being ‘anime inspired’ to its gameplay taking after The Legend of Zelda (which the same group doesn’t classify as a JRPG), and other action-RPGs rather than Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy (which ironically took a lot from Ultima and Wizardry themselves).
Should Anime-Styled Art Work be the Defining Factor for Classifying a RPG as a JRPG?
If that’s the case, then the The Legend of Zelda should indisputably hold the JRPG banner without much controversy, but according to its detractors, it is does not. Yet, Dark Souls’ western inspired artwork is held against it when it comes to classifying it as a JRPG.
But what if I mention Squaresoft’s Vagrant Story? I am sure that most gamers will say the following about Squaresoft’s PS1 title: “Vagrant Story is one of the greatest and most underrated JRPGs ever”. No one (including myself) would dispute Vagrant Story’s greatness and its ‘JRPG ‘ classification.
But what makes Vagrant Story a JRPG as opposed to Dark Souls? After all, both are action-RPGs with large western influence in their art design. Granted, Vagrant Story has a more fleshed out conventional storyline whereas Dark Souls has a lot of implied ‘plot’ from the hidden lore through its world. But, that (and level design/progression/combat differences) is where both titles differ.
The same could be said about other games within the JRPG genre. Many play differently, and choose to tell their stories in different ways.
Western influence shouldn’t be held against any Japanese Role-Playing Game from being classified as a JRPG because Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were both hugely influenced by western computer RPGs.
Dark Souls places emphasis on skill and combat, but its world design is very Japanese. The first game has a wonderful interconnected world that is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda (another Japanese product) in its brilliance.
The Souls/Borne Series might be the Greatest JRPG Franchise of the Last Decade
So, being that there is no debating that Dark Souls is a Role Playing Game (RPG), or that it was made in Japan by Japanese developers, why is there resistance to call it a JRPG?
The amazing critical reception, and influence that the Souls games have had on the industry over the last decade might tickle some JRPG fans the wrong way. After all, Dark Souls is better than any Final Fantasy entry since the 10th one by most critical accounts, and that might be a hard truth to face.
Also, the fact that you can’t just grind your way to success (though you can if you are very VERY patient) in Dark Souls might alienate turn-based only fans, as Dark Souls games require a large level of skill (much of it which is acquired through repeated plays) to beat.
Either way, I feel that Dark Souls is a JRPG, and unlike Zelda, there is not a good ‘against’ argument to cling to. The JRPG term shouldn’t be exclusive to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy like Anime inspired romps, as Final Fantasy itself has had different art styles and sources of inspiration throughout its run.
I have never seen where the controversy lies here (in Dark Souls being called a JRPG). A role-playing game made in Japan, is a JRPG, regardless of its play style and art direction.
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