Okay; it’s confession time. Time to hold my hands up and admit a massive failing in my experience as a games journalist. Until last year I had never played a JRPG.
I can offer an excuse of sorts: when you grow up in a Third World country with limited access to consoles and your platform of choice is a PC, JRPGs are hard to come by. Naturally, this excuse only holds water until the end of the 1990s, but then I didn’t become a video games journalist until about five years ago.
I know I have some homework to catch up on. There are are a couple of holes in my canon – you know, the classics anyone who takes video games seriously is supposed to have played. I haven’t played, as a couple of examples, Shadow Of The Colossus or the first Deus Ex, but they’re on my to-do list. The latter is on my Steam account and I’ll probably get round to SOC when Sony finally release it ahead of the Last Guardian, in HD. But these are just a couple of games that need a good going over. What do you do when you lack first-hand knowledge of an entire genre of games? A genre like JRPGs is even more problematic than say, FPS’s or platformers, because it’s not like you’re guaranteed to glean what is appealing about these games simply by watching someone else play one or reading a ton of reviews.
Here’s another problem; when you’re playing and reviewing games for a living, you don’t have gargantuan amounts of spare time. This makes exploring JRPGs as a genre rather difficult, when you consider the number of hours they require from players – a compilation of cut-scenes alone from say, Final Fantasy XIII, would take up roughly half your day. (Final Fantasy XIII, by the way, was the first – and is to date the only – FF title I have ever played and while I loved it like I would love a wrong-headed child, I’ve been told by loads of people it’s absolute rubbish when compared to the rest of the FF canon).
So, how does someone like me gain a working knowledge of games involving incomprehensible story-lines, shocking dialogue, ropy control systems and effeminate gentlemen with spiky hair-dos? Simple; they get their begging bowl out and ask people who know what they’re talking about – like you.
I’d like to know where the best place to start with this genre is. And for the purposes of sanity, could you limit your answers to titles on this generation of consoles? Answers below, please!