The JRPG Canon #0 - Introduction

JRPGs are Fun.

Look how much fun.

They have engaging, strategic combat, huge worlds to explore, dungeons to conquer, and countless NPCs to meet on your journey. And as fans of the series will no doubt agree, some of the best stories in all of media. Stories that can take up to 100 hours to fully experience.

If you look up lists of the best JRPGs, they almost all live and die on the value of their story. I've seen more than one person on Gamasutra say that JRPGs are about story first and foremost.

But you wouldn't do anything for 100 hours if it wasn't fun.

Welcome to The JRPG Canon. This series is first and foremost a Ko-fi reward for my podcast, RPG Bookclub, where we play a chunk of an RPG and talk about how it makes us feel. Like a bookclub, for RPGs. If you want to hear me talk about the stories of JRPGs, that's the place.

This series will primarily be an exploration of JRPG gameplay, and storytelling rather than story, as an opportunity to experience as many different types of JRPG as possible.

A Gargantuan Undertaking


More on this in JRPG Canon #1
The first JRPG, at least in its modern form, was Dragon Quest for the NES.

Dragon quest came out in 1986. It is currently 2019. That means that there are 33 years of releases of JRPGs of all shapes and sizes. 

If you wanted to play all of these games, it would take hundreds and hundreds of hours, and if you are like me with a busy schedule and a family, you would just have to concede to never playing most of them.

Except that last sentence is an absolute lie.

Yes, it would take all that time to "beat" these games, even more to "complete" them, but to play them? To have fun? This takes much less time. You can turn on a game, have fun immediately, and experience the game's main gameplay loop in just a few hours. 
Whattt? Not finishing an RPG??
And I can hear it now "But JRPGs are about the story. If you don't complete the story, you aren't really playing the game" and you may be correct. But that doesn't mean every JRPG fan should either spend thousands of hours on catching up to present day before buying the next final fantasy, dragon quest, tales, or whatever JRPG game that might be coming down the pike.

It's like this:

I'm a man of analogies, they're my teaching tool of choice, and there is a very good analogy for this predicament. TV shows. TV shows are great, they are long, epic stories spanning years and years and hours and hours of content, and have a similarly huge time commitment to catch up to present. 
900 years in time and space, only 10% done with DQ7
I am a big doctor who fan. My fellow fans of doctor who know that to get someone into the show, you don't start with An Unearthly Child, and often times, you don't start even with Rose. You (if you're wrong) start with Blink, or (if you're right) start with The Girl In the Fireplace. 
Related: If you haven't seen this episode, go watch it.
The Girl in the Fireplace is self contained, it's not a part of the series overrarching plot, or the umpteenth appearance of the Daleks or the Cybermen, but is a simple story about a man from space, who travels through time, is everyone's best friend, and who is always there to save the day. And who often times doesn't get to save everyone.
Not pictured: the sad parts. I'm not strong enough.
When you watch Girl in the Fireplace, you "Get" doctor who. You understand the basics of the show, and can get a feel for its quality, and decide if its something you want to dig into. Yes, your opinion may not be as well formed as someone who watched 11 seasons of the new series, but their opinion is not as well formed as someone who watched all 851 episodes, and theirs may not be as well formed as someone who read the books, listened to the audio plays, subscribed to the magazines, and watched the Peter Cushing Movies.
Zany, heartfelt, timey-wimey. Doctor who in a nutshell.
But you will have a frame of reference for what the show is, and how it may or may not play out over the full 851 episodes, and if someone is like "you gotta watch Legends of Tomorrow, it's like Doctor Who with Superheroes" you'll understand what they mean, and go from there.

This is True for JRPGs, too.

Even if we don't want to admit it. How many people do you know who say "Oh man, I love Final Fantasy 7, but I could never beat it" or "I played a bit of Legend of Dragoon, and remembered loving what I played"

And on the other end of the spectrum “I gave Earthbound a shot, but I couldn’t get into it.”
I consider myself a fan of JRPGs. My favorite games of all time skews heavily in the genre's favor. But I have never played a Breath of Fire game. Or a Mana game. Or a phantasy Star. Or final fantasy 4. Or a non-persona shin Megami tensei game. Or a Monster hunter, Or hell, any single rogue like game. The list goes on and on.

Felipe Pepe wrote an article on Gamasutra that inspired me to start this series. He posits that if you have 100 hours of gaming available, would you be better served playing a single run through of Daggerfall or Baldurs Gate 2? Or playing 4 hours of 25 different CRPGs, or even 1 hour of 100 different CRPGs? Which would give you a better idea of what it means to be a CRPG?

I started RPG Bookclub to try and play more of this genre that I love. But the podcast is focused on completion, and story. Not just experiencing. And so, this series will be a journey to have a working knowledge of as many JRPGs as possible. This will hopefully be an insight into the gameplay, experience, and storytelling of all of these games.

This is not what this channel is about.
I may not know who the Secret ending villain is, or understand all of the metaphors at play, or know the twist in disc 3 that changes everything. But I will hopefully “get” the game. I'll see what makes the game fun. I’ll have a working knowledge of the game, and so when someone pitches me their Phantasy Star Meets Persona game, I’ll know thereabouts what they even mean.

So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and check out more and more of the games in this awesome genre.
-Sam

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