What Are the Quintessential Elements of a JRPG?

I’ll tell you what kind of weirded me out about JRPGs back when I first discovered them with the Final Fantasies on the SNES - you started the games with hit points in the hundreds and by the end were up in the thousands, even tens of thousands. For a kid who was used to D&D rules, it blew my mind.

The characters all have to sit next to each other on one side of the table for the true jrpg feeling.

Cute hats!

The type of music that gets played.


There is always some way to travel around quickly.

Cool weapons, lots of potions etc.

The thing I think of the most besides the combat is there are a lot of character classes to choose or develop into.

Oh wow. Interesting question.

I think the mechanical part is the most interesting to me, so I will start there.

Attacks aren’t just attacks. They take different forms (like feats in D&D, perhaps). Characters have a variety of offensive and defensive moves at their disposal (especially after they have grown in power a bit).

Status effects play a big role, including buffs and debuffs. These may affect damage, armor, initiative, as well as stun them, put them to sleep, etc. Players have ready access to spells/abilities/items that induce/protect them from these states.

Characters tend to recover quickly from combat.

Characters have EX/special attacks that require building up a combo meter or energy of some kind.

Speaking of combos, characters are stronger when they team up against enemies.

Most combat doesn’t represent a major threat (assuming player competence). Bosses, otoh, requires very different tactics from the average fight. Success against bosses heavily dependent on buffs/debuffs, combos, and in many cases exploiting some weakness of the enemy.

Lots of teen drama, even if the party is composed of adults.

The main villain is either a tortured soul that reluctantly must destroy the universe for some convoluted emotional reason, or he’s over-the-top evil and must destroy the universe for some incomprehensible philosophical reason.

The party must be saddled with a pet/child/alien/senior citizen that constantly gets into trouble, acts like an annoying idiot, but also holds the secret to eventually defeating the villain.


Between this and your post about that “Caligula” game, I am getting a much clearer picture about how you spend your free time than I really wanted, Telefrog ;)

Good responses so far, and particularly, @MIsguided, I agree that mechanics/tactics play a strong role here. While systems like Fate and Burning Wheel present all sorts of good tools to muck around with teen melodrama and all the emotional heft that killing god-who-is-also-an-angsty-teenager might bring, they tend to care a lot less about tactical precision, for instance.

But I agree that stuff like combo hits, buff/debuff battles, etc., are a big part of the process.

I’ll post my own thoughts a little later, but I kinda wanted to let people riff away free for awhile :)

Anything more than 5 levels below you should basically be no threat.

Anything 5 levels above you should whack you for half your health.

Status effects have 100% success rate on player characters.
But 1% success rate on anything but foes you can 1 hit KO.

Death in battle should be meaningless. In fact a character can die multiple times in a single combat against a boss!

You should have to fight a battle every few steps, but battles take less than a minute.

Battles against foes of an appropriate level should represent almost no threat, and only become so in aggregate. They are little more than a resource drain on healing items, making extended trips through the field require proper item hoarding.

Normal foes are no big deal, but special foes common. Some types that can only be targeted by certain weapons types, spells, etc. i.e. flying foes that can’t be hit with a sword, but can with a pole arm or gun.

The terrifying ones are ones with special effects. Like Marlboros which induce a bunch of crazy status effects. Poison which persists after battle. Bombs that do AOE damage when killed. Insta kill spells with arcane rules (for example your level is a multiple of 5).

Confusion status effects which make you roll a die to determine target, including self. That’s a thing you need.

You have access to all spells at all times, but use a mana pool.

Which a major usage of is some kind of summons. Uber powerful spells that you ‘collect’ from boss battles.

The scary boss enemy who joins your party. On their own they can wipe you out, but once they join you are curiously under leveled.

The power curve should be steep. Weapons should increase power by at least 50% per step, at least for the first few, but never less than 15% per step.

At the start you should be squeaking by rats, the end eclipsing the lunar deities.

No one is tall.

Always at least two or three princes/princesses in the group. Always. (If a prince dies another pops up as you are walking to another location)

The name Gee Whiz would actually be common.

Experience is exponentially earned.

Every player must have a sign with ellipses they can hold up at any time to express a vast range of emotions.

All property is held in common; if it is in a box, no matter what residence the box is in, help yourself.

You will probably need to relight four lamps, or four globes, or four orbs, or four Star Maps, or four light bulbs, or something. Bonus if they follow an elemental theme.

The first six or eight sessions are an extended tutorial for some of the complicated rules systems and how they interact.

Sometimes resurrection magic doesn’t work if it makes the plot more poignant.


Be sure not to power down the game system while saving.

This is a fun thread and full of giggles! @Syzygy @Djscman

Make everyone talk with little signs they hold up! Oh, wait that is texting, never mind.

The only quintessential element of a JRPG is that everytime you press a button on your gamepad, it should make a “pop”, a “click” or a “whizz” sound.

Of course, without ever letting the player turn those off. She’d miss them.

Well, mechanics are why I enjoy JRPGs way more than western RPGs, so I’d like to expand on what others have said on that.

Combat actions should be simple and distinct. There are a LOT of different actions, but each character has access to just handful and that’s it. The complexity is how these very simple actions (attack, fire spell, heal spell…) interact with each other. Combat feels more like playing cards in turn (and sometimes rolling the dice) than about interacting and reacting to the opponent’s actions (except for big scary foes or for very special attacks). Everything feels very boardgamey, with pools on HP and SP that get spent and replenished frequently, even in the middle of combat. As others have said, deaths and resurrections are common.

But once you level up a lot, all attacks are special attacks.

Status effects are equally simple, and go from not being able to act (until hit again or cured) to choosing a random action or a random target.

There are not a lot of skills in a traditional RPG way (foraging, arcane knowledge… etc) with characters having some special rules/skills they can use (and that mostly provide actions or resistances in combat), which are mostly unique to that character, and very few times you get more than a handful of those.

There’s NOT a lot of mechanical driven gameplay out of combat. Few non-combat or conversational skills, and most of those that are there are all or nothing. No dice rolling or skills check out of combat. At most some characters can cross some obstacle or remove it. Out of combat it’s all exploration (and managing how far to go into the dungeon without heading back to heal) and story/melodrama.

Telefrog’s comment about the cute pet is spot on. It’s not a JRPG without the possibility of a cute/weird character in the party.

Oh, and you CAN’T roll your characters, you are stuck with whatever cliche the game throws at you.

This thread is awesome.

I’d emphasize the tutorial process. The game always starts so simple it’s boring and slowly becomes so complicated it’s unwieldy, but at way too slow a pace.

Also, every mechanic has a horribly stupid lore reason for why it’s in the game.

The four elements are the underpinning of everything in the universe.

You know the Great Man theory of history? This is the basis of every JRPG plot and everyone in the universe accepts it as fact.

Arbitrary party size is a core mechanic but with no real explanation of why.

In addition to the items listed above to qualify as a JRPG, the game is also required to be compared (normally unfavorably, despite any evidence to the contrary) to Final Fantasy VII.

Unskippable dialogue , which is long, oh so very very long.

Can’t believe it wasn’t mentionned in the first 15 messages, Rod!

On the same front: first enemy needs to be a slime, and first boss a giant boar.

Oh! At least one party member MUST have amnesia.

Another party member may never speak a line of dialogue, they are effectively mute, but no one ever comments on this. all their choices must be in the form of a text menu.

Ugh! One thing that drives me nuts about JRPG’s (or RPG’s in general) – very looong dialogue sequences that really tell you nothing about the story.

And doesn’t the final boss have to be God or something? I’m no expert on these things since I’ve only really played Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games really and those don’t have God fights, I just thought that was a thing.

If it’s Shin Megami Tensei, the final boss has to be The Actual Judeo-Christian God!

There should be an incredibly intricate monster-breeding system that at least one player will get really hardcore with, starting a eugenics program that no one else will comment on, even as ecosystems are destroyed as violently as the bosses the breeding program’s resulting god monsters will fight.

There should also be a set of horribly convoluted, long-term quests that eventually reward party members with their ultimate weapons…but none of the quests are remotely related, mechanically or thematically. Enjoy playing some sportsball to unlock the bruiser’s best weapon!

Finally, outside of combat, you need a jump button that makes the jumping character say stuff, like this: