Posted by ericmikols
In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.
How long has it been since I played a JRPG? If I can stretch the genre definition, it might have been Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and that would be 2007. If not that, I guess it would be the first Kingdom Hearts game? I’ve played the first ten Final Fantasy games, Xenosaga, Dark Cloud 2 and few others, but I haven’t picked up the genre in a long time. It used to be one of my favorites, one that was a defining feature of my gaming and that I found very cozy.
The point is that I haven’t played a legitimate JRPG in over ten years. Obviously, I had to get back into the genre with one of the most critically acclaimed titles. The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a full-blown Japanese Role Playing Game. Long play time, tons of world building and novel-length levels of text. It was a deep dive back into the genre.
I prefer these recaps to be more experience related than technical reviews, which is why I’m going to start with a negative comment, because it effects my full enjoyment of the game. When it comes to JRPGs, I prefer the “epic” quality that comes with a Final Fantasy game. I like fighting against the end of the world, against empires and gods. I like intense back stories that make the X-Men jealous.
Trails of the Sky is much more…pleasant. The gist of the story is that the two main characters are traveling to see the world and get promoted to full time protectors of the nation. The world isn’t ending, many problems are local and deal with mayors and sewer adventures. Near the last few hours of the game, Trails in the Sky becomes something more akin to what I like in the genre. The stakes feel bigger, the dungeon is grander and there’s an epic atmosphere about the whole thing.
Now, a pleasant game isn’t bad at all. Pokemon Sun and Stardew Valley are pleasant games. But there’s so much reading involved with Trails in the Sky that it felt exhausting to move forward, especially since the story wasn’t really tugging at my interest. Since I was streaming the game, I was reading all the dialogue out loud and that got tiring as well. There’s a lot of repetitive dialogue, a lot of stating the obvious that becomes clear when your actually saying it. There were times where I was craving action, even the ability to just move around. Compared to Final Fantasy VIII or Xenosaga, where I was compelled to follow the story, Trails in the Sky could feel like a chore.
I also learned that if you’re going to give a gravely voice to a character, make sure they’re not going to be in the game for thirty hours. I think my voice is finally recovered from that mistake.
For the most part, the game was fun. I liked the battle system, the retro graphics and plenty of the characters. The music was hit or miss but when it hit, it packed a punch. I hated the monster designs but loved the avatar expressions. It also stuck the ending. Even with the issues I had while playing, I still want to get to the sequel someday, if only on the strength of the first game’s climax. However, I won’t be starting it anytime soon. I need more action at the moment, whether that’s a platformer or shooter. October is on it’s way, so I’ll have some Halloween games planned as well. The next JRPG I play will probably be Valkyria Chronicles, and Final Fantasy XV is on it’s way to the PC…
I think what Trails in the Sky did for me was get me back into and interested in JRPGs. It’s a classical take on the genre and reminded me of what I like about those type of games. If it’s the launching pad for my renewed interest, then that’s a pretty great legacy.
Posted by ericmikols
I’ve been streaming The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and a friend of mine and I have been chatting about Japanese role-playing games and our history with them. One thing that came up is that JRPGs have put us to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep playing them, my friend has fallen asleep playing them and we’ve both fallen asleep watching the other one play them.
Does this mean I find JRPGs to be boring? Not at all! The Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites, with Final Fantasy VI being one my favorite stories of all time. That’s to say nothing of Xenosaga, which had cut-scenes that could last almost an hour long and still held my attention. If Persona 5 was on the PC, I’d be playing it NOW. I love that genre of video games.
But, how many other games could I say put me to sleep. It doesn’t happen when I’m in a computer chair, but that’s because I only play JRPG’s on a couch. They’re long commitments and I need to be comfortable. With a pillow. Low lighting. Oh, I get it now.
I think JRPGs tend to feel like books. This is especially true with older games that don’t have voice acting and require a huge amount of reading. But, because of the pacing of the conversations, they don’t feel like thrillers or action-packed books. Instead, I might say, they’re more like a dense fantasy book with lots of world building. A book that, if read too long, will start to make my eyes close, even though I’m invested in everything on the page (or screen).
They’re comfortable. Cozy, even. Something like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a pleasant game, that’s fun and exciting at times, but for the most part, feels like the video game equivalent of a quilt. It’s the town music of these games, these gentle tunes that make you feel at home, sleeping under a sunbeam. It’s the ridiculously superfluous mini-games like playing cards or fishing.
It’s the turn based fighting. You can be in the middle of a fight with a gross looking monster, but it doesn’t move forward until you issue a command. And while most battle music tries to be exciting or intense, there’s always that one track that’s a bit more relaxing than the rest. No, I’m not going to fall asleep during a boss battle or fight for my life, but a few mutated rats that just need one fireball? Yeah, I might be dozing off for a minute.
None of this is a complaint. I actually think it’s a great example of why so many people like JRPGs. They can be exciting but still are slowed down. No matter how busy the world is, or your work day, Final Fantasy IX is going to move at a relaxing pace. These aren’t action games that require every mental facet to be focused and alert. They’re photo albums or puzzles that you’re putting together as your head gets heavy.
Of course, this isn’t true for every game. As I said, voice acting changes the dynamic from book to movie (or anime) and some games are “louder” than others, such as Persona 5. But, they still have peaceful moments, long sessions of silence. I like it. In the book world, you might hear the term “cozy mysteries” and I think JRPGs are the “cozy” genre of gaming. It makes me excited to get back into those types of games, because I wouldn’t mind things moving a bit slower in my life.
You can watch me play cozy and slightly less-cozy games live at my Twitch channel!
Tags: comfort gaming, cozy, cozy mysteries, final fantasy, final fantasy ix, final fantasy vi, Japanese role playing game, jrpg, legend of heroes, persona, role playing, roleplaying, rpg, sleeping, slowing down, streamer, streaming, trails in the sky, twitch, Video game, video game music, xenosaga