JRPGs have gone stale in this past generation, at least according to Mass Effect and Dragon Age developer BioWare. Certainly, many will agree to this. JRPGs have been recycling the same formulas over and over again and, while I believe BioWare's not doing any better (but that's another story), there has been very little in terms of innovation or ground-breaking advancement for the genre. When was the last time a JRPG really grabbed your interest for a reason that isn't "but it's from my favourite series?" When was the last time a JRPG on a home console did really well, both critically and commercially? It's high time JRPG devs stepped up to the plate and delivered an amazing JRPG experience. But who can do it? Why, I do believe at least one developer has the credentials to do so, no it's not Square Enix, but Platinum Games.
Take a look at the titles they've developed. If they weren't both critically and commercially well received by the market and critics alike, it was either one or the other. Titles like Bayonetta and Vanquish are astounding titles, refreshing each of their respective genres with some really over-the-top action and performances known to date. Honestly, what other action game or third person shooter is as crazy as these two? Now before you go on, yes, Platinum have indeed developed a JRPG before, and not just some shoddy title either. Expecting no less from Plat's production values, Infinite Space was a grand adventure for a humble console and was only really hindered by the hardware's controls. It's one hell of a game, with one hell of a science fiction story that RPGFan calls a "space opera for the ages," comparing it to the grandeur likes of Mass Effect and the classic hit, Xenosaga.
Infinite Space had players take control of their very own spaceship in a massive science fiction world. Platinum went pretty crazy with this, setting up a narrative that spanned across two galaxies and over more than a decade of events. Clearly, the hardware mattered little to Platinum, all they wanted to do was create an epic science fiction adventure, and that they did to critical success. Famitsu praised Infinite Space for its immense scale and well crafted story, giving it a rating of 34 points out of 40.
Some of you may argue that there have been JRPGs this generation that fit the bill, but think about it, The Last Remnant, Lost Odyssey and Infinite Undiscovery are arguably good attempts, but fail to even attract the majority of JRPG fans who would rather stick to their staple favourites like Tales of, Disgaea and Final Fantasy. Don't even bring up Final Fantasy XIII. That game was a mess. The gameplay was fun, but nothing all that different from past games in the franchise. In fact, it was a souped up version of Final Fantasy X-2's battle system. The story was confusing as heck and it was just too difficult to care for with its ensemble of wishy-washy characters. Not to mention, while Square Enix takes half a decade to shove out the next Final Fantasy, Platinum has been making great titles on a yearly basis.
It's not just Final Fantasy either, what has other JRPG staples like Tales of, Star Ocean, Dragon Quest, and whatnot done in terms of innovation? Their respective developers appear to be content with just recycling the same old mechanics with, perhaps, a bit more spit shine. Tales of has been using pretty much the exact same battle system, as has DQ and Star Ocean. The new Ar tonelico game, while incredibly addicting, has a battle system that's just like the aforementioned games, albeit with its own twist. Disgaea has used the exact same system as well for the last few - scratch that, all of their games. While this isn't really a bad thing, it doesn't help against the argument that JRPGs have become stale. Level-5 are the only other company that doesn't regurgitate, but then again their games are no way near as impressive as Platinum's.
Not to mention, what we JRPG fans need isn't so much a whole new story, the usual Save-the-World cliche will work just fine, just make it coherent and engaging. Coupled together with great gameplay mechanics and you'll have us hook, line and sinker. There's a reason why we prefer the classics and niche hits like Chrono Cross, Mana Khemia, Tales and even The Legend of Dragoon.
With the portfolio to back them up, Platinum Games are in the perfect position to give the genre a good kick in the romp, at least on home consoles where it has been relatively lacklustre. Handheld titles have been doing fairly well, but most people don't even know about them or simply ignore them because they don't game on handheld devices, like it has some kind of ridiculous stigma attached to it. Imagine the dramatic performances of Bayonetta, the over-the-top action of Vanquish and MadWorld, and the intricate plots of Infinite Space and, heck, let's throw in Okami for good measure, since we all know that game would've been nothing without Hideki Kamiya and Atsushi Inaba at its helm. Don't you think that would make for one crazy ride? Not to mention, as a JRPG, I'd be hooked onto it like a monkey ripping through a giant cupcake. Hundreds of hours would be well wasted on a JRPG that not only has a well crafted, coherent plot, but engaging gameplay mechanics as well.
As much as I would love to give other developers credit, they have yet to really do anything for the genre this generation, leaving many to criticize them for losing their drive and inspiration. Companies like Square Enix and Capcom, for the sake of this argument, seem more focused on Westernizing their titles, destroying the charm that drew JRPG fans to them in the first place. Platinum even has the balls to challenge the Japanese gaming industry, saying that "Japanese games that garner[ed] worldwide acclaim are slipping away." CEO Tatsuya Minami criticized his fellow contemporaries, saying that they've "lost their vigour" for creating games that lead the industry. Who can really argue that? It certainly isn't all that far from the truth. Japan led the industry in most of the generations prior to the HD revolution.
If they really want to show off their talents to their fellow Japanese developers, making a JRPG that ticks all the boxes will certainly grab their attention, it's their speciality after all and even Square Enix might start getting worried - and possibly fart out the next great Final Fantasy as a result. So come on Platinum, make us one hell of a JRPG we won't forget. One that'll go down in the annals of gaming history. One that'll give games like Mass Effect a run for their money. It's about time the genre got a revival and I'm putting my money on you.