I love RPGs. I've played them for nearly as long as I've played video games. Even after all these years, I've never lost my enthusiasm for them. If my total hours playing games were translated to a pie chart, RPGs would represent the biggest slice of pie...and, oh, what a tasty slice it would be! :-)
In particular, I've always loved Japanese RPGs. I realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm, but the 16-bit era - the golden age of console RPGs, in my view - engendered a permanent soft spot in my heart for the style and structure, as well as the epic storytelling and quirky, indelible characters found in so many of those great games. Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV - all big bites of a scrumptious JRPG pie. No worries, I'm dropping the pie metaphor now.
Soft spots can sometimes produce blind spots, however, and I think in recent years I've allowed myself to go easy on games like Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII, ignoring their essential lack of innovation and celebrating how they function as superlative modern examples of games we've been playing for 20 years. I truly love these games, but I'm also aware of how reactionary the genre and its audience have proven themselves over the years. More than any other genre, even the smallest incremental change in gameplay mechanics or inventory management is generally hailed as either revolutionary by RPG defenders or an abomination by the traditionalists.
Nevertheless, I've made it one of my little missions in life to convince people who don't like JRPGs (especially young gamers) that they ought to try one. I attempt to dissuade them of their notions of clichéd save-the-world plots and stereotypical reluctant, conflicted, emo heroes. "Play Persona 3!" I tell them. Okay, so maybe the kids are a little emo, but here's an RPG with great production values that goes places you won't expect. "This game will change your mind," I tell them.
But no. Persona 3 is a PS2 game, and PS2 games are so 2006. These are Xbox 360 owners, and they want a true, updated next-gen experience. So when I urge them to play a JRPG, what do they do? They play Infinite Undiscovery. And, of course, they think I'm an idiot.
In case you're not familiar with it, Infinite Undiscovery is an action-RPG released earlier this month exclusively for the Xbox 360, developed by tri-Ace and published by Square Enix. I won't attempt a full review (or even a mini-review) of Infinite Undiscovery, but suffice it to say that the game is yet another standard-issue JRPG with a reluctant hero of unknown parentage who must realize his special status and save the world. While it's not impossible for such a familiar story arc to succeed, unfortunately Infinite Undiscovery steers directly into a headwind of clichés and never veers away.
Despite claims by tri-Ace that the game contains ten years of ideas that can only finally be realized on the Xbox 360 , the game's "true evolution" of situational battles and real-time combat are hardly genre-redefining. They do very little to dissuade a JRPG naysayer that this game does anything more than rearrange the JRPG furniture. And am I really still reading screen after screen of text dialogue on a modern, next-gen RPG that comes on two discs?
I need some help out here, folks. I need somebody to say amen...and mean it. I keep telling everybody JRPGs matter, but with every Infinite Undiscovery, Blue Dragon, and Lost Odyssey, my case gets thinner and thinner. Certainly, JRPGs are important (and Final Fantasy XIII will inevitably sell a gajillion copies), but I fear they have become beautiful, intricate museum pieces; highly desirable to collectors and enthusiasts, but largely irrelevant to an art form that insists on meaningful innovation. Outmoded and ever-so quaint. Tiffany Lamps.
I have a horrible nagging suspicion the party's over, but nobody has the heart to tell me.