The Future of JRPGs Will be Decided in 2015

It’s been a long time since the JRPG genre has witnessed a truly landmark event that shook not only its established loyalists, but the entire video game business. Games from this controversial and polarizing genre have become the subject of running jokes and tropes to the point where even the most diehard of fan will struggle to overlook how stagnant things are. It’s now a case of same old same old, where developers worried of failure step backwards from new ideas in an attempt to cash in on nostalgia. Few landmark releases come to mind that still hold universal value and acclaim, with Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantsy VII, Grandia and Dragon Quest VIII leading the pack. Progress has been made in huge strides with their western counterparts however, with the genre substantially evolving with the times. Compare something like Dragon Age: Inquisition (which won our 2014 Game of the Year) with the underwhelming Lightning Returns and you get the idea. Despite all this, however, the eastern variant is about to experience a resurgence of sorts this year. Given the lineup confirmed for 2015, this could be the year that makes or breaks the future of the JRPG.

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One only has to witness the unreal Xenoblade Chronicles X trailer that aired during Nintendo Direct to realize that the benchmark is about to be raised. When the original Xenoblade Chronicles first arrived on the Wii, it — despite its delayed and very limited North American print — left a favorable impression on any gamer that gave it a chance. In particular, JRPG skeptics fell in love with a game that essentially did everything it could to do away with the pesky and almost archaic design conventions of the genre. It provided and rich and engaging experience that no other JRPG had the ambition to achieve. The only thing that held back Xenoblade Chronicles to achieve more success were issues regarding its publishing, promotion and distribution, but otherwise it was just as much of an unanimous classic as Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VII. Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U is one of those games that makes you want to pinch yourself; it’s almost hard to believe that a JRPG like it will grace us soon, let alone on the Wii U. Immense in scope, with a seamless battle system and shockingly ambitious world design.

A series that perhaps embodies of the current ups and downs of JRPGs is Final Fantasy. In particular, the direction taken with Final Fantasy XIII and its follow ups left an unfavorable impression on anyone who wasn’t a morbid fan. When you think about how groundbreaking Final Fantasy XII was in terms of scope and design, the XIII series felt like a major step backwards. Unfortunately, XII came out towards the end of the PS2’s life, so it never enjoyed the same industry shaking success despite its overwhelmingly positive reception from the press. What once began as a mere Final Fantasy XIII spin-off, Final Fantasy XV is looking to pick up exactly where the ambitious Final Fantasy XII left off, by taking the welcome changes and bold direction to brand new heights courtesy of superior technology. With its vast non-linear world and breathtaking real time battle system, Final Fantasy XV has the potential to change the way the gaming public perceives the genre, and also put the franchise itself on the map once more as a serious contender for one of the best RPGs around. It’s been through a development hell, but this meticulous and careful development is perhaps what XV needs to fully realize all its ambitions. If the team could achieve so much with Final Fantasy XII on the aging PS2 hardware back in 2006, then only the sky is the limit for Final Fantasy XV. What’s different this time around is that technology is not just being used to create a shallow game that was only pretty on the surface, like was in the case of Final Fantasy XII. Instead, the horsepower on current consoles will be used to give Final Fantasy XV compelling gameplay substance.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV and Xenoblade Chronicles X are the two games to keep a keen eye on, and the only thing they need to do is to deliver on their lofty promises, if not surpass expectations of the gaming populace. Their success can reaffirm the mainstream relevance of JRPGs, enough to put the genre on the map the same way Final Fantasy VII did back in 1997. It’s a lot of pressure, but gameplay footage has been optimistic thus far.

Still, those two aren’t the only eggs in the basket. 2015 will also have the original Xenoblade Chronicles as the first true killer app New 3DS exclusive (it will happen this April too). If the handheld becomes a smashing success and the game gets a better print run the Wii version, then gamers are in store for the biggest and most engaging portable RPG to date. Also joining it on the 3DS is Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate which is arriving next month in time for the New 3DS launch. Its predecessor certainly performed well enough to ensure that this bigger and better sequel will give gamers a JRPG with serious challenge and a wealth of content. With the massive install base of the 3DS and not much else in the portable division being a serious threat, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Xenoblade Chronicles and Monster Hunter 4 played a big part in getting Western gamers excited for the genre again.

It doesn’t stop there either as the PlayStation 4, which is enjoying a lot commercial success in North America and all over, will give gamers Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5. Despite the relatively niche and quiet release of Persona 3 and Persona 4 on PS2, the popularity of the franchise has hit fever pitch in recent times. Persona 5 will give gamers a fun alternative from the norm. Also joining it as a fresh alternative is one of PS4’s most anticipated 2015 exclusives, Bloodborne, a Japanese made RPG sans the bug-eyed princesses that looks tough enough to make your beard grow a beard.

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2015 is going to be the year that, assuming that all the aforementioned games deliver, will reignite the popularity of JRPGs beyond its cult following. There is always going to be a place for tradition, but it’s exciting to see developers daring to reach new heights and venture into uncharted territories that can propel the genre into the future. Three of the games mentioned in this piece are among our ten most anticipated games of 2015 and hopefully they made your personal lists as well. A future where Final Fantasy can stand toe to toe with the likes of The Witcher will be good for everyone, and hopefully these promising 2015 JRPGs can help realize that.