People will always debate which genre is most popular among gamers. That’s simply because gamers, like every other hobbyist or animal, have varied tastes and different opinions. Up until this generation of hardware, there was one genre that stayed in the background while quietly deciding which platform won the console war of each previous generation. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was well known for introducing the world to Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior and Bard’s Tale. While there were certainly other contributing factors, including distribution channels, release date and more, the NES handily beat the competing Sega Master System (SMS). Obviously this was only the beginning of the JRPG trend.
The next generation of hardware brought with it 16-bit hardware and a closer competition between Sega and Nintendo. At the forefront of the console battle were platformers starring icons like Sonic and Mario, but behind the scenes loomed a battle of the classic-style JRPG. Sega brought Phantasy Star to the table along with an earlier launch that resulted in a lead through most of the 16-bit generation in terms of sales. The SNES had Square (now Square Enix) on their side. Once the 16-bit generation was over, it was the Super Nintendo with hits like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars that had won. Square’s support would again prove to be a deciding factor in the next generation as well.
The 32-bit era saw the rise of a new player in Sony and the Playstation brand. Sony knew exactly who to cater to and quickly had the Final Fantasy brand. Many will argue that the choice to continue using cartridges on the N64 and the Sega Saturn’s difficult programming kits were the cause for the new comer to win the 32-bit generation. Heck, The Amiga CD32 didn’t even make it stateside. Yet there’s no denying the impact that Final Fantasy 7 had on gaming and the CD platform generation of hardware. Many other classic JRPGs helped to cement the Playstation’s dominance like Suikoden, Thousand Arms, Chrono Cross and many more. The original Playstation might be the greatest platform in history for the JRPG. There is one other platform that represented the Japanese RPG and turn-based system very well – and it just happened to dominate the next generation.
The Playstation 2 had a lot of great games. Some might argue that Rockstar was the reason for the platform’s success because of Grand Theft Auto 3 and the bevy of spin-offs. There’s no denying that the PS2 dominated the Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube while the much-loved Sega Dreamcast met too early a fate. You can’t help but see after only a little research that the PS2 came out of the gate with the most RPGs within the first two years of hardware release when compared to the competition. Much like the previous generation, multiple big name publishers like Konami and Atlus pumped out turn-based JRPGs in addition to the RPG juggernaut Square Enix. This generation of hardware did see the return of Square Enix to Nintendo home console with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. The limited contribution didn’t really put Nintendo back in the JRPG driver’s seat like they were back in the 16-bit days though.
The current generation of hardware has seen a limited number of quality JRPG titles released in the Western gaming world. Most of the traditional JRPG releases have come from small localization firms like NIS and XSEED. In addition to the small amount of JRPG games, the genre itself is pretty equally spread across the three major platforms. Many games are multi-platform this time around which has resulted in the closest hardware race in generations. When you look closely though, the system with the most JRPG releases this generation happens to be the Nintendo Wii. Sure some of them are Virtual Console releases, but the fact still remains that since the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, which introduced the JRPG to home consoles, the genre decides the hardware winner.
The Western RPG has dominated the main role-playing genre in recent years. Major names like “The Elder Scrolls”, “Fallout”, “The Witcher”, “Mass Effect”, “Dragon Age” and more have dominated the RPG landscape with most seeing sequels already hitting consoles. Some feel that the turn-based style typically associated with the classic JRPG is just too dated to compete. Some respected members of the media have even called the JRPG archaic describing the genre as “The player takes the role of a nameable Hero. The Hero's name has an effect on his statistical growth over the course of the game. Battles are fought in a turn-based format with experience points and gold awarded after every battle, allowing the Hero to increase their ability scores and buy better weapons, armor, and items. The game consists of traveling over an overworld map and through dungeons while fighting monsters encountered via random battles along the way.” For many fans, that’s why the JRPG is so likeable. So instead of looking at the gameplay as archaic, many need to take notice to the fact that JRPGs decide winners. The platform that chooses to embrace the turn-based gameplay again will win the next generation of consoles – just like the last five generations.