We live in a golden age for JRPG fans. More and more games are making their way across to the west than ever before, sometimes even around the same time as they are released in Japan. This comes with it the incredible burden of needing to play through all those games and, because of that, being exposed to some of the worst JRPG tropes of all time.
We talked not long ago about some of our favourite JRPG tropes. Here is a collection of the ones that threaten to make us put a game down in frustration the moment they rear their ugly head. These don’t necessarily make a game bad in their own right — but they definitely don’t help their cause.
Forcibly Splitting the Party
We all love games with a big cast of characters, but the downside of that is that we pick and choose the ones we want to play with. We build a party that works with our playstyle and our needs (or that contains the maximum number of waifus possible) and keep the rest on the backburner for story purposes.
Sometimes JRPGs insist that we use those other characters, bringing them out of the camp and using them when we are separated from the characters we usually use. One of the worst offenders of this is Final Fantasy X, which, despite being one of my favourite entries in the series for reasons (Goth tiddies! – Ed.), forces you to only use Wakka, Rikku and Tidus anytime the party goes underwater. This is one of the worst JRPG tropes because these other characters are almost always under-levelled and under-equipped for what they are tackling, making the dungeon a long, slow slog as we have to grind them into shape against tough enemies.
Boss Battles You Are Meant to Lose
We’ve all been there. Fighting a tough boss only for them to whip out a super attack that decimates your party and knocks them all out. But don’t worry, because that was just the start of a cutscene and suddenly someone comes in to save the party and whisk them off to safety. Turns out you were supposed to lose that fight to advance the story, but I really wish they would make that clear from the start.
What makes this one of the worst JRPG tropes? Most players will do whatever it takes to win a fight, and that includes using those valuable elixirs and potions to keep their party in fighting shape. This can be very frustrating when we could just let the boss steamroller us and keep our resources safe rather than lose them all. Chrono Trigger does this, with Lavos decimating the party when he is first summoned.
Most of the time he will kill the party in one round, but if you’ve levelled your party too much for that point it is possible to survive and dump a load of resources into a fight you can’t win. It is a tough balance to maintain from a game design point of view but when it is done badly it can be so frustrating. While I love to see the party fail the first time they encounter a boss, raising the stakes for the inevitable rematch, it needs to be done well or it becomes irritating.
I Need to Fight Them Alone
It is usually the under-levelled character who suddenly steps up and insists on fighting a battle solo. When your game is designed around party mechanics and synergy, sending me into a fight with only one character is going to end in tears. One character suddenly on their own, especially in a turn-based combat system, can become dull and boring at best and frustrating at worst.
It sounds like I’m picking on Final Fantasy X here, but that is only because it makes so many mistakes despite being such a great game. When the party is confronted with a pair of Ronso from Kimahri’s past, he insists on fighting them on his own. This terrible JRPG trope is made worse by the fact that it is typically combined with Splitting the Party above — since Kimahri is one of the worst characters in the game and therefore often under-levelled for such an encounter. Which means it is suddenly time to walk around with him in the party, triggering random encounters until he can beat the two rivals, only to promptly send him back to the void where he belongs.
Again, none of these make the games bad. In fact, these tropes can be done well at times, but most of the time they don’t contribute to the game the way that developers think.
What are your least favourite JRPG tropes? Let us know down in the comments, via the usual social channels — or with a nice letter to the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!
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