What Are the Quintessential Elements of a JRPG?

Some additional notes, then:

Almost everything in here is completely accurate, so expect ridiculous melodrama, incomprehensibly complicated plots, and hundreds of battles against random monsters along with all the other fun stuff. The older the JRPG the more grindy combat; generally, the newer, the more hilariously over the top melodrama.

None of which means they’re bad! It’s just a very particular genre with all sorts of tropes and history to it, and we lovingly mock the bad while reminiscing about the good.

Skies is a truly wonderful game, with really endearing characters, a fun and fast plot with airship pirates and evil empires and of course a good mysterious pale girl! The Dreamcast version has better quality music by far, while the later GameCube port has some minor quality of life improvements (the original is definitely at least partly in the grindy tradition, so expect lots of fights). both are great, though.

I hope you enjoy!

Skies of Arcadia is one of those very few games that didn’t display video through RGB on a 60hz Dreamcast (a very rare programming issue affecting only a few games). Which is why I never could play it :(

Thanks. I’ll need to do some research I think. I can’t remember how I had it hooked up. Or to which TV. I still have my CRT sets, so I’m thinking I can get it working somehow. About half of my Dreamcast games are still shrinkwrapped, but the ones I did open and play all worked fine (which means nothing if this was a rare case).

Anyway, sorry for the derail. I’ll look into it. Back to the goodness!

Yep, I totally get the spirit of the thread, which is why I’m loving it so much. And thanks for all of the info.

No love for Persona 4? I think it’s the best JRPG ever made yet. It manages to contain ALL cliches we are talking about here, sometimes to ridiculous extent, like the 4 hour long, non-gameplay intro, yet feels really fresh and unique (well, except compared to Persona 3).

The RPG in JRPG is a misnomer.
-Character customization and leveling-up is forced Auto AKA little to zero character customization.
-Itemization is largely shop-based.
-You have to kill whimsical enemies for XP randomly.
-The combat system is almost always abstract, and is essentially the game. All mechanics revolve around combat.
-Outside of combat, you have a linear story with no choice a la Adventure game sometimes with puzzles and mini-games
-A pre-teen protagonist who is voiceless with amnesia is common
-Anime aesthetic
-Lots of melodrama

One person we need to get in here, as he intersects both JRPGs and tabletop is @rhamorim.

Hey my Brazilian friend, any other fun suggestions?

People already talked about most of the things that would apply to a JRPG tabletop. The only things I thought about adding are about characters, but since it’s a tabletop RPG, I didn’t think it was all that relevant.

People here know their JRPGs (which makes me kind of proud, even). I didn’t feel like I had anything to add, really.

Well figured I’d give you a hail, especially since you are a newer convert to JRPG’s

And it’s all relevant, even if just for a laugh ;)

A few other great JRPGs that haven’t been mentioned yet:

  • Though the terrible mechanic in Phantasy Star 2 was described earlier, it should also be noted that Phantasy Star IV was excellent, both in its own right and as something that has a different feel than all of the SNES JRPGs

  • Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals is a pretty typical SNES-era RPG that adds an above-average story (for the genre) and some cool puzzle-solving elements

  • Excellent Classic JRPG, despite the terribly generic Qt3 thread nickname, is anything but terrible or generic: it’s got a great combat system and some of the best across-the-board NPC dialogue you’ll see

In that case, all non-playable characters must be easily tied to a character archetype (the tsundere, the naive happy girl/boy, the “dumb” one, the stoic, the brash, the sage, etc), at least at first. If possible, as the game progresses, make sure those characters show a different, “hidden” side to their personalities, and also work on why they are the way they are, and how events in their lives shaped them into those archetypes.

The secret personal quest, yes. This is a must Armando!

EDIT: oh, and the quest should unlock that charachter’s ultimate ability (distinct from the ultimate weapon). think Sabin in FF6.

Pretty much the majority of Japanese RPG scholars agree that Lord British is the one to be blamed on the origin of that matter.

Oh I think we can all agree JRPG cliches are just early cRPG cliches evolved in a different direction and in a different cultural framework. All of it ultimately comes from Ultima, Wizardry and the like…

This was so deliciously parodied in South Park: The Stick of Truth. The protagonist’s dad, half sarcastically, half in desperation, offers the protagonist a lot of money if he will say anything.

“He doesn’t say anything, Elf King, he thinks he’s hot shit or something.”

Honestly, I strongly thing that personality-archetype might be as important to the “class” system as “Jobs” are. Tsundere-Fighter is quite different from Squeaky Cute-Monster-Fighter, right?

Luckily, there are systems like Burning Wheel and other “story-games” that reward ticking off character backstory boxes explicitly. AFAIK, there are some systems where that’s the best means of advancement.

Alright, so here are my slightly reformatted thoughts from reddit yesterday:


  1. The Illusion of Scale - By the end of any proper JRPG, you’re hitting the damage cap and doing 9999 4x a turn. . . but the battles generally aren’t noticeably harder. All primary in-game numbers should grow very large very quickly (cosmic-scale by end-game), but keep the approximate difficulty fairly steady, with the exception of bosses, of course.
  2. Tactical Battles–with “Quick Outs” - I personally don’t think mechanics-light systems like Fate do JRPGs any favors. Part of the joy was the battles, and dealing with the tactics in them. Elemental resistances, flanking/pincer attacks, protective magics, buff spells, etc. However, basic battles should have “quick outs”–a mechanic or balance tool that ensure well-prepared parties can plow through mooks when “grinding” or dungeon-delving.
  3. Class and/or Job System - JRPGs thrive on thematic characters whose persona echoes through their mechanics. A strongly delineated class or job system–where White Mages heal, Fighters stab, Ninjas Steal, and all the rest–really helps push this through as compared to a Skill-based growth system. Fairly explicit ability unlocks are also common, but maybe a little more choice is desirable in a PnP RPG.
  4. Crafting/Collecting - A lot of great JRPGs feature crafting/collecting/improvement mechanics. STEAL items from enemies, collect Rare drops by doing extra damage, and then combine your loot into more powerful gear, or improve existing stuff (e.g., spend 30 Fire Gems to add +25% FIRE DMG to your weapon). Items should be a substitute for magic for classes (e.g., Thief) that want to strongly focus on them.
  5. "Gated" Exploration/Growth - The game should provide tools for both mechanical and plot advancement to be “gated” by the GM. Characters should experience steady, but marginal power growth, with occasional “big bumps,” similarly, the game world should be able to be constructed in such a way as to “guide” parties who haven’t acquired certain items yet (e.g., an airship).
  6. Summoning and Crazy Shit - By the third hour or so, you’re ready to start summoning ludicrous Lovecraftian horrors, embodied representations of gods, and thinly veiled reinterpretations of Japanese legends to do your bidding in combat or to get you past seemingly minor obstacles on the world map. Need to kill some Slimes, or bypass an awkwardly placed bolder? Time to summon Odinthorbjorn, whose Hammer of Destinies will shatter the souls of the wicked!
  7. Goofy Weapons/Armor It’s a small detail, but providing big tables of weird weapons/armor seems important. Sure, everyone has “SWORD / IRON SWORD / GOLD SWORD / CRYSTAL SWORD,” but what about the character who wields increasingly improbable Umbrellas to do damage, or the mage who wears hair combs as her primary defense booster?
  8. Mini-Games and Mechanically Differentiated Play - Since most of the “gameplay” in RPGs is in combat, with little mechanics behind in-town conversations or exploratory questing, they tend to “fill in” with mechanically diverse mini-games. Gambling, racing, monster-breeding, in-world card games, tower defense missions, etc. These ideally “feel” different than combat (e.g., real-time versus turn-based, skill-based rather than chance-based, etc.) and should be tied into progression hooks: e.g., the best Sword can only be purchased by the Airship Racing Champion.

##Plot, Setting, and Characters

  1. An Idyllic, Naive Start - Almost a must, even if there is Bad Shit Happening Everywhere. Doesn’t have to be a simple farmboy coming back to find his home destroyed, but a big part of the game is starting very humbly and getting sucked into events much bigger than you.
  2. Evil Technocratic Empire - Whether you live in it or are being invaded by it, there’s got to be some sort of evil technology-fueled empire on the verge of wrecking everything. Whether it’s an actual political entity, a corporation, or even just aliens from space, they’re bound to show up and ruin everyone’s day.
  3. Heroes and Villains of the Distant Past - All this has happened before, and it shall happen again. There were great heroes before you, and they probably died tragically or ascended to godhood secretly (or both). The worst evils only ever get sealed away and are of course on the verge of breaking out just as your story begins. The intervening decades/centuries/eons usually muddle who was truly good and evil way back when, too.
  4. Single-Defining-Trait Civilization - Every city/region/polity seems to have a single defining trait that everything else about it cascades from. “This is Jungle City,” say the inhabitants of a city in the jungle. It’s built on treetops and tigers live here. There’s also Fire Country, Frozen Base, Desert Ruins, Grimdark Steampunk Metropolis, and Crystal Moon Palace, of course.
  5. Elemental Everything - Related to the above. Elements are totally a thing, and they are also tied to everything. Magic’s commonplace, and everyone seems surprisingly hip to the importance of attacking fire monsters with ice spells. Of course, these elements are also tied to mysterious crystals, or spheres, or towers, or maybe all three. Which, of course, need to be powered, or tapped.
  6. Steam-Magi-Punk - Technology’s emergent (maybe for the second or third time–see no. 3 above), and great towering mechanical contraptions, fabulous gleaming cities, and world-shattering new inventions are all the rage. . . but of course, mages are still running around. Sometimes literally running from a bunch of gun-toting cyborgs built to kill them. It’s a world where the faeries of the river won’t stop complaining about sludge from the Mecha factory killing their magical daisies.
  7. Anime-esque Character Archetypes - There’s the inscrutably angry/insecure tsundere girl. The mysterious, more-or-less-mute-and-perfectly innocent pale girl. The big, loud, tough-looking bruiser with a heart of gold. The grim, grizzled mercenary or warrior (all of 22 years old of course) who’s seen it all. The brash, impulsive, childlike thief or rogue with no boundaries. The “wacky” and eternally troublesome “mascot,” who’s invariably just a cute, talking version of some monster or critter from the world.
  8. The Power of Friendship - While you’ll end the game slamming moons into world-trees encircled by god-dragons from another dimension, in truth, nothing is more important than the power of love and friendship. A tense show of trust, a heroic sacrifice, or a tearful farewell between lovers is far more powerful than the greatest spell.
  9. It’s Basically West Virginia, or Maybe Medieval England - Everyone is related, every dead family member is secretly alive, and betrayals, forbidden love, and re-betrayals are so commonplace as to be blasé. Expect to see your dead father as the living embodiment of the god of chaos by the time you hit 17, and don’t be surprised when your brother is actually your best friend’s long-lost sister who was stolen away by the party’s healer sometime way back god-knows-when.
  10. Everybody’s Got Secrets - For some reason, every single character in the universe has a horrible secret they’re hiding, and of course the PCs are no exception. Some life-changing event marked their very souls in their youth, and it must be overcome–over the course of dozens of short conversations and sidequests, of course–for them to ever feel properly whole. It will inevitably tie into number 9 above, of course.

And still you fail to name the game.

I thought these were cliches not origins. Anyway JRPGs were based off Ultima and Wizardy so go figure. These are all primitive games compared to later works but it does show when JRPGs and cRPGs were closer in form, although the first JRPG,The Black Onyx, came out when Ultima 4 was on its way.

Sometimes that’s the case, but not in the majority of games I played in the genre. It usually matters more in terms of character development or story than game mechanics, but I can think of a few games in which it makes a difference in terms of mechanics or stats. Nothing prevents you from making a distinction in your game, though. I think that would be quite interesting, in fact.

Armando, those revised 10 points are nearly perfect. IMO, they summarize very well the “spirit” of most JRPGs around. I just hope you figure out game mechanics that live up to those specifications. ;)