Weeaboo Wednesday: The Japanese RPG; Disk 1: The ‘Frying Pan’ Method of Storytelling

July 8, 2009


Today, we’re going to embark on a long journey through the world of Japanese Role-playing Games. The JRPG is one of the most misunderstood genres in all of gamedom. Its games are often dismissed as trite, poorly written/translated messes with unbearable characters and equally outdated and uninspired gameplay. I say that these games are misunderstood because in spite of the fact that these criticisms are almost universally true of the genre, they still possess a rabid and almost cult-like fanbase (myself inexplicably included). But perhaps I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I should begin by explaining exactly what a JRPG is. A JRPG is really any role-playing game produced in Japan. That’s it. What’s astounding is that in spite of this broad definition, the characteristics that these games all seem to share an astounding amount of thematic, literary, and gameplay similarities. This allows the term JRPG to be indicative of much more than a game’s geographical origin. Ultimately, when we cut through the bullshit, we see that a JRPG is a very distinct type of game; one that, over the next few weeks, we’ll be examining in detail worthy of a mind-meltingly boring cutscene.

I enjoyed these games...

I enjoyed these games...

We’ll begin this installment with a look at ‘storytelling’ in a JRPG.

A JRPG’s story is built on a foundation of nonsense words or words who’s definitions only tangentially relate to what they are being used for in the game itself (Galbadia, magicite, eidolons, Valua, chams, aeons, Rabinastre, materia, and on and on and on). Normally, this is just one of the pitfalls that comes with creating a new world. However, the rapidity with which these concepts are often introduced is laughable (watch 2:33-3:00-ish). Which brings me to the point about Japanese role-playing games’ narratives I intend to hammer home in the next few hundred words: they do not care about player interest. In fact, the games takes an active disinterest in entertaining you. I’ve coined this phenomenon ‘The Frying Pan Method of Storytelling.’

I’ll use my experience with Final Fantasy X as an example. I started the game with high hopes, since it had been recommended to me many times, and it was the only game in the series I hadn’t yet played. As I popped the game in, I was immediately met with a idyllic scene of the characters standing totally still as an opening credits roll began. Wanting to immerse myself totally into the experience, I allowed about five minutes to pass before I realized that the camera may very well keep panning around these characters indefinitely. I pressed start to escape the scene—it would be the last time I was shown such mercy.

Look at this fucking yahoo

Look at this fucking yahoo

The next half hour of my time with Final Fantasy X are a bit hazy, as the only way to endure them was to enter a shock-like trance. I remember being allowed to move my character for brief stints, followed by cutscenes that were at least three times as long as the time I spent playing. When I was at at last permitted to fight something, I  was given little explaination as to why other than that it was the only way to survive. Then I endured a five minute oedipal monologue from my effeminate main character—on the middle of a collapsing bridge. After which, I was inexplicably thrown into a portal to another world. Once there, I swam for another half hour.

Not pictured: the twenty fucking minutes you lose watching this shit.

Not pictured: the twenty fucking minutes you lose watching this shit.

Somewhere around hour 15, I think I awoke from my trance. I had just walked through another long dungeon and was being ‘treated’ to a cutscene.  In this particular scene, my main character defied all expectations and confessed his love or something to the main female (surprise) character. Afterward, I was allowed to move my character 3 steps. Not 4—3 steps. Afterwhich I was shown another scene. At this point I knew. The game was playing me.

The delivery is what sets a JRPG’s plot apart from others. The gameplay takes a backseat to the story. In the end, playing the game is simply a distraction from the plot advancing movies that bookend each stretch of gameplay. That profound realization—that I needed to get on board or the game would keep leaving me behind—didn’t help me enjoy the game any more than I was before, but it helped teach me about what storytelling in a JRPG is all about: beating you over the head with it until you either give up or get with it.

My apologies for the leangthy diatribe. Next time, on disk 2, I’ll look at characterization in JRPGs. I promise, it will be much more amusing than the fucking essay, you’ve just endured



  1. […] Soul Reapers. Also, dudes with feather eyebrows. The plot from there on out follows a very strict JRPG dungeon format, with Ichigo fighting one boss after another after another. The entire second arc […]

  2. […] the third and final part of Weeaboo Wednesday’s examination of the JRPG. You can find parts one and two […]

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