High profile industry personalities lament Japan’s game development failings, and countless, often conflicting proposals addressing how to rescue the Final Fantasy franchise (as deftly covered by GamesBeat community writer Mike Rybicki) litter the blogosphere. At times like these, it’s easy to hop on the negativity bandwagon and assume the worst of every new release announcement that comes out of one of gaming’s most storied motherlands.
But you’re not going to get that from me. I’m an inherently positive person, and I’ve loved Japanese games since the day I played the first Final Fantasy. Though my brother’s file occupied the sole save slot on our cartridge, the game so charmed me that I still hurled myself at the first few hours of it regularly in Sisyphus-like futility.
Japanese RPGs still elicit that same level of passion from me, and succeed at that for a good reason. A number of releases in the genre have sported great game design that kept my mind fixed on their systems, and my eyes glued to a screen. Let’s celebrate some of the best things that JRPGs have offered lately.
The Prestige Encounter
This one has been around for quite a while, and recent releases still get great mileage out of it. A prestige encounter is an optional, challenging battle or dungeon that rests in an area of otherwise expected difficulty. Final Fantasy XIII-2’s monster hunts on the Archylte Steppe, and Persona 4 Golden’s extra tough shadows that take up the final room of a dungeon after you’ve completed it are great examples of this feature.
Why it works
Prestige encounters make our game worlds less game-like and more believable. In life, we’re rarely faced with perfectly paced, gradually escalating challenges. Every once in a while, something wildly unexpected pops up among our otherwise predictable activities. They’re the events that remind us that there’s so much more out there than our day-to-day grind. In JRPGs, some of these encounters offer an opportunity for the over-leveled party or tactically brilliant player to strut their stuff by being only a step or two above the norm. Other times, they’ll provide you incentive to come back to a cleared area much later by being way too strong. When you do come back, bearing cans of cosmic whoopass wrested from the cold, dead fingers of fickle gods, they give you a benchmark as to how far you’ve come since the simple days when your biggest concern was how to charm the flower girl in the slums.