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Editor’s note: Although I wouldn’t classify myself as a JRPG hater, I do find most of them stale and boring. So Brian’s buyer’s guide comes as a pleasant surprise: It’s filled with wildly diverse games that I now want to play. I think I’ll start with Super Mario RPG… -Brett
I don’t use the word “hater” lightly, but let’s face it: There are a lot of Japanese role-playing game haters out there. If you find yourself flaming message boards whenever a JRPG is mentioned, there’s a good chance that you’re a part of this camp.
You could also be diagnosed as a JRPG hater if any of the following is true: you cringe whenever you see an effeminate male character, you break your controller by the time you enter your second turn-based battle, or you scream obscenities immediately after discovering that your characters are out to save the world.
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Fortunately for you, I’m not going to attempt to cure your hatred for JRPGs. Instead, I’d like to get you to temporarily set aside your hatred by discussing a number of games that may appeal to gamers aren’t attracted to Cloud Strife’s spiky hair. The JRPG genre is actually quite robust if you look closely. During this four-part series, I’ll cover a range of Japanese role-playing games, action-RPGs, strategy-RPGs, and more. I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll like.
So if you’re ready to read about a trio of unconventional role-playing games, climb aboard my airship, and let’s go for a ride!
Super Mario RPG: Give Me Action, Give Me Humor, Give Me Maarrio!
JRPGs notoriously feature battles that are either monotonous, strategic, or a combination of both. Regardless of their orientation, they rarely have much action, which is one of the reasons the genre doesn’t appeal to impatient gamers. Fortunately, Square and Nintendo brutally butt-stomped those hoary JRPG conventions with Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo.
Super Mario RPG quickly became a beloved classic — even among those who weren’t RPG fans — thanks to battles that required timed button presses instead of bland menus. For example, say you attacked with Mario. You’d initiate a first strike simply by tapping ‘A’ in the menu — but then you could follow up with another roundhouse blow by pressing the A button right after his first attack connected. Each character had a variety of these timed attacks, all performed in unique ways, and this made Super Mario RPG a hit among RPG and action game fans alike.
Another way in which Super Mario RPG permanently altered the role-playing genre was through its use of humor. Up until its release, the plots of most RPGs weighed heavy with serious themes, but Super Mario RPG changed the game by making players laugh during nearly every scene. What caused players to LOL? Little details, like mute Mario’s hilarious animations during such awkward moments as kissing the king of the Koopas. Of course, the pitch-perfect dialogue helped, too — especially lines involving Toad leaving his bazooka at home, which caused me to regain respect for the Mario series’ infamous eunuch.
How to play it: Purchase it for $8 on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
Want more action and humor? Check out: Mario and Luigi series and Paper Mario series.
Mother 3: Tragedy, Quirky Humor, and Societal Transformation
Fans of the legendary Mother series still mourn the day Nintendo announced that Mother 3 would never escape the island nation of Japan. Everyone else of course didn’t care, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find a way to play the superb fan-translated version of Mother 3.
What makes this follow-up to Earthbound special is the fact that it retained the Mother series’ quirky humor while providing a thought-provoking take on capitalism and creating one of gaming’s most tragic moments at the same time. For every goofy booty-shaking dance and Pork Army soldier you’ll encounter during the game’s eight chapters, you’ll find an interesting societal transformation that may even cause staunch supporters of capitalism to question our economic system.
How to play it: Purchase the original on eBay and play the English version on an emulator.
Don’t mind turn-based battles and grinding? Then try: Earthbound (SNES) and Mother (NES).
Terranigma: Hate Predictable Story Lines? Try This Mysterious Title
Role-playing game haters often complain that JRPG stories are too predictable. Those people might want want to check out an RPG with a more opaque plot, such as Terranigma (a game I recently reviewed). Unfortunately, the only way to play this action-RPG is through an emulator (unless you have a grand to spend on a European SNES cartridge), but it’s worth experiencing if you like your games full of action and mystery.
Terranigma’s combat, puzzles, and tools will remind you of Zelda, but its story line of dualistic themes and world revival keep it from feeling like a Hyrulian clone. Not many games allow you to play God and determine the future of the world while discovering its past, so that alone makes Terranigma worth experiencing.
How to play it: Play the European English translation on an emulator.
Can’t pronounce the title? Then try these single-player action-RPGs: ActRaiser, Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Final Fantasy Adventure, and Secret of Evermore.
With plenty of action, diatribes on capitalism, and mysteries to solve, you have enough to keep you busy for awhile. But stay tuned for a trio of equally unique RPGs in part two!
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