Ever since I hijacked this segment from Joey earlier this year, I’ve been using it as an excuse to wax nostalgic about my favorite JRPGs with the occasional shift from the genre admittedly done out of both guilt and fatigue. However, it’s these old JRPGs that seem to be more popular with our readerbase and garner the most traffic and enthusiasm. I’m wondering if “Guess the JRPG” would be a better name if we’re being honest about the content and my intentions with this.
At any rate, in today’s Guess the Game, we are diving into one of these older, classic JRPGs. Today’s game comes to us from the ultimate middling series. One that doesn’t define the genre like Final Fantasy, Suikoden, or Dragon Quest and yet one in which each entry is an incredibly solid game without stooping to the bottom of the JRPG barrel. It’s about as solid of a B-tier franchise one can possibly get, and coming from a developer like Capcom, who has little experience in the genre otherwise, that’s all it really needs to be to secure a rabid fanbase.
The series contains five titles, and if you were to poll the fans on their favorite, you’re likely to get an even spread among fans. This isn’t Suikoden, where one game clearly towers above the rest. Remember, each game in this franchise merely “solid,” and that leaves a wide range of opinions. Fans of really early JRPGs like the first one. Fans of the later and more complex 16-bit RPGs adore the second. Fans of perfect pixel-animation and darker worlds prefer the fourth one. And well, those who like the fifth game just prefer weird video games in general, I think.
Me? I’m a fan of the third game, today’s Guess the Game, which is both the most underachieving and all around best all in the franchise. I can’t think of anything particularly special that sets this one apart from the rest. It has a good story, good graphics, good characters, good leveling up system, good everything.
Just good. Not fantastic. Not game changing. Not revolutionary. Just… good.
Admittedly, I’m probably a fan too because it was the only one I played as a kid. I didn’t get into the other ones until they made their way onto the PlayStation Network or Game Boy Advance for re-release. That nostalgia blended together with a game that has barely aged a day since it first came out picks at my psychology like an addictive poison.
So, what is it about this game that makes it “good?” Our Guess the Game today, much like the other entries in the series, revolves around a silent protagonist by the name of Ryu. In every game, Ryu is the last dragon on Earth, and he always takes human form in he shape of a blue haired boy. Think along the lines of The Legend of Zelda in that there is a reincarnation of a dragon God named Ryu and an angelic princess named Nina, and together, they tour their anthropomorphic universe, recruiting characters of all races and saving the world from demi-Gods beyond our mortal plain.
Indeed, in this very game, our heroes set off on a quest to confront God himself. There’s not other way to put it. They want to fight God. The series has always been a reactionary one, as proven by its middle-of-the-road ideas that other series have already done, and I have a strong feeling that this was created for the post-Neon Genesis Evangelion world, where everything is required to be deeper, be darker, and genuinely deconstruct the genre from which it comes.
Our Guess the Game’s plot takes a bit of time to arrive at that point in the story. Capcom’s writers behind this game take the scenic route to get to there. Ryu is born from a dragon egg and takes shelter with a few trouble-makers in the forest. He quickly becomes the target of a crime syndicate and is chased by two of the meanest villains in JRPG history. He then rescues a princess, fights in tournaments and battles mutants, befriends onions, cooks wonderful fish dishes, and even constructs a fairy village. All of this happens before crossing entire oceans and deserts to reach his heavenly final destination.
Ryu’s journey meanders through its long-winded plot with the best of them, but in a way, it helps this game progress in ways lesser JRPGs don’t. Not a whole lot of time is dedicated to the central cast, and usually, such a practice is met with criticism. Capcom’s writers instead focus on the world itself, and the star of this and every other game in the franchise is the anthropomorphic setting where armadillo-people and fish-people all survive on a day to day basis.
Plus, there is no thwarting of a plot to destroy the world, no super-being threatening existence itself. This game’s story is one of redemption, finding the truth of a history distorted by the victors of a destructive war. Focusing on the characters wouldn’t suit such a story as each individual cast member has very little stakes in the world except wanting to further understand the truth themselves.
That doesn’t mean our cast isn’t enjoyable though! Ryu continues to embody the ultimate “silent protagonist” stereotype, right up there with Link and Crono as the best of all time. His expressive, blue-haired sprite takes him through several stages of life, and that doesn’t even include the multitude of dragon transformations that await him on his journey. As far as JRPG protagonist go, he is probably one of the most unbalanced in the genre’s history, vastly outshining his companions and busting the game’s difficulty curve wide open. His dragon transformations grant him unheralded powers, and the choice to mold him into a physical fighter or a mage reap equally abusive builds.
He is joined by Nina, a tough girl angel princess with Mommy issues, Momo, an absent-minded half-rabbit/half-human hybrid with a love of machines and bazookas, Peco, a mutated onion who sleeps through the most dangerous of times, and Rei, a trouble-making bandit who takes in Ryu as a young child. The only character who directly affects the overall plot is Garr, a large lizard man who slowly reveals himself as a much more evocative figure throughout the quest.
Too bad he’s also the worst and least interesting to use in battle.
With these six, players can carve out a destructive and unbalanced team through the game’s “master system,” and dominate anything that lays in their path. Pro-tip: Rei and Momo are the best… outside of Ryu, of course. I’m also a fan of Peco, who is a one-onion wrecking ball if trained under the proper master.
The game was originally released in North America in 1998, and Capcom ported the game onto the PSP in Europe back in 2005. Eleven years later, it finally pulled through with a victory for fans in getting it re-released on the PlayStation Store, allowing Vita and PS TV owners to finally enjoy it without a disc. Now, what game is it?
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