J-RPGs – The Long Grind Ahead

While I didn’t really take an interest in consoles until the release of the original PlayStation, I was drawn to RPGs way back in the 8-bit era on the Commodore 64 through the likes of the original Bard’s Tale. One thing that’s been a constant throughout the years – from the 8-bit, 16-bit and the PS Vita and beyond – has been character development and progression in these games. Whether it’s been a game created in the West or the JRPGs I’ve been drawn to more over the last few decades, they’ve all had one thing in common…

It’s All About The Grind

That common factor is an inherent need for grinding. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part I’m one of those players that doesn actually mind grinding in RPGs. If a combat system is relatively enjoyable and isn’t a real-time system that is more reliant on button-mashing than anything else, then I’m all for it. I’ve always enjoyed the random nature of combat in the Final Fantasy series and the same for Rainbow Moon and Rainbow Skies and not only enjoyed these aspects of games, but been happy to load any of them up and just spend an entire gaming session grinding without worrying about progressing the main storyline!

It’s a good job really, as I’ve found that too many traditional RPGs out there – especially those that fall into the “retro” category which I have a passion for – are reliant on the player spending a large amount of their time doing just that. Now I mentioned the original PlayStation at the start… I bought this on the day it was released in the UK (and I’ve still got the original purchase receipt!) and having read all the previews and reviews, rushed out to get Final Fantasy VII on its release. It was the first JRPG I’d really experienced, and got me hooked on the entire genre but also made me realise that this was a style of game that wasn’t without its flaws.

Tough Times Lie In Wait

While I loved the storytelling, characters, visuals, music – everything about it really – where it fell apart was at the game’s conclusion. What I didn’t realise at the time was how critical grinding was to completing the game. I’d been in some random battles, but wasn’t spending as much time as I should have fighting all of the creatures I encountered. My characters just weren’t any where near strong enough to survive more than a couple of rounds of combat facing off against the final boss. With no way of retracing my steps, the game was shelved, and I didn’t return to it for over a decade when I got the digital download for the PS Vita.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this wasn’t the only time Final Fantasy had been this unforgiving to players. On playing the remake of the original Final Fantasy recently (both on the PSP and the Pixel Remaster over on the PS4) I’d spent a reasonable amount of time grinding having learned my mistake from before, but even that didn’t work. With all of my party set to do battle with the end boss, health up to maximum I still didn’t manage to complete the game. When sorting my characters at the beginning I made the simple mistake of choosing the wrong character types, meaning I couldn’t learn the spells needed to protect my party in the final battle. So what should have been a straightforward fight turned out to be a massacre.

A Futile Pursuit?

All of this made the grinding experience feel like a wasted exercise. You go into battle in the belief that your characters are strong enough to survive almost anything. Only to find out that you’re missing a vital spell, a weapon or item you needed to collect on what was an optional side-quest rather than an essential part of the story. While this may seem like nit-picking, all of these elements take away from games that could potentially be all-time classics to ones that leave you feeling frustrated at best, and at worst angry for time wasted on something you had no chance of completing just for making a wrong decision at the very beginning.

Ultimately, I don’t mind being sent on an endless treasure hunt all over the game world to find that elusive item to help me at the end of the game. Hours of grinding to max my characters up ready for battle? That’s cool. But just by making a choice at the start of the game that makes it almost impossible to complete isn’t fair on any player. If the character classes are critical, then either they should be fixed from the start or any key skills or abilities should be available to all and anything else unique to the available classes should be seen as a bonus.

A Fussy Adventurer?

Maybe I’m too picky when it comes to RPGs on the Vita and PSP? Certainly I prefer the more sedate turn-based rather than real-time combat that more modern RPGs have been offering to players (although some may put that down to my age and slowing reactions more than anything else!). But when it comes to games, I enjoy the journey just as much as the conclusion, but when the end is so unforgiving on the player not only does it make the journey feel wasted, but puts you off playing more in the series or by the same developer.

It’s been a while since I played any of the older Final Fantasy games (I started Final Fantasy II but got distracted!), but after my experience here I am wary about returning to it and re-starting it. Maybe I’ll give it another go with the default characters and this time things might work out for the better, but if not it might just put me off the older titles completely.

Facebook Comments

About Simon Plumbe 1062 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe