The humble JRPG has seen a sad and steady decline this generation. From it's humble beginnings in the NES era of the 80s with Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, to what many consider to be its finest hour during the SNES/MD era of the early 90s, and its global popularism following the western debut of Final Fantasy VII in 1997. This gen, only a handful of Japanese Role Playing Games have become both critical or commercial successes (and even more rarely enjoying both at the same time).|
Much of the criticism of the JRPG in the west comes down to its ostensibly linear nature: In focussing on an immutable narrative, a JRPG is often far more linear than western counterparts such as The Elder Scrolls or Fallout, where the focus is much more on player choice and carving your own path through the world.
We've reached a stage where JRPG's are met with disdain. "Oh god, not another Final Fantasy", people moan. And that disdain is reflected in declining sales of the genre outside of Asia and, subsequently, lesser numbers of those games being localised for our shores.
But instead of bemoaning what JRPGs don't do compared to their Western counterparts, why don't we celebrate what they do differently? And the one thing that consistently sets JRPGs apart from WRPGs tend to be the inclusion of highly strategic battle systems - which often seem simple at first glance, but gradually reveal layers of depth and tactics that "press RT to swing sword" just can't even hope to replicate.
So what are your favourite JRPG battle systems and why?
My most recent favourite:
Yes it was incredibly linear for a huge amount of time, the story wasn't exactly the strongest in the series, and the characters weren't particularly memorable. But the battle system is fantastic.
The very definition of a battle system that seems simple at first glance but hides incredible depth, FFXIII's battle system manages to successfully merge the principles of the traditional FF ATB system with the semi-real-time ADB system of FFXII, whilst also putting a twist on the FF series' staple Job System.
In FFXIII, there are 6 classes - Commando (melee damage), Ravager (Magic/ranged damage), Sentinel (Tank), Medic (healer), Synergist (buffs party) and Saboteur (debuffs enemies). All characters initially start off as one of these classes before later being allowed to develop in all directions.
In combat, party members make their own decisions on what to do according to their combat roles and their knowledge of the enemy you are facing (against a new foe, a Ravager will automatically cast a variety of different spells until they identify a weakness, which they will then continue to exploit). You can also shift their class role mid-combat. The strategy is that by changing the role of one character, you change them all, and these setups need to be defined outside of combat in advance - so you need to think carefully about the different situations you might find yourself in and plan ahead. Need to turtle in? Sentinel-Sentinel-Medic will do the job. Need to buff your party, whilst debuffing the enemy, and deal some rapid damage? Saboteur - Synergist - Ravager is your friend. The system is incredibly versatile, and that's before you consider the Chain Gauge system.
In FFXIII, every enemy has a chain gauge. The more damage you do, the more the gauge fills. When it hits a certain threshold, the enemy "staggers" and attacks against them do more damage. The drawback is that the chain gauge is constantly depleting - so battles become a strategic game of shifting your party between defensive, buffing, healing and damage dealing paradigms whilst also trying to ensure that you are constantly building the chain gauge so you can maximise your damage output.
It's a brilliant system and widely regarded to be one of the best battle systems that the Final Fantasy series has ever used.
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