Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Square Enix office in Tokyo to be among the first in the world to have hands-on playtime with Final Fantasy XVI, the epic new mainline series entry being helmed by Final Fantasy XIV’s Creative Business Unit III and its fearless leader, Naoki Yoshida.
You can read all about my experience with more than two hours of the game here, but following that session I also had the chance to speak to Yoshida-san along with the game’s Director, Hiroshi Takia, the Combat Director, Ryota Suzuki as well as Localisation Director, Koji Fox – joined by my fellow Aussie, SkillUp, whose line of questioning brought us to an interesting juncture (you can watch SkillUp’s excellent Final Fantasy XVI coverage here).
It was about halfway into our discussion, one that was otherwise largely focused on the development of Final Fantasy XVI and the contents of the lengthy preview we’d just played, that a turn was taken.
Responding to a question about the state of modern action games versus JRPGs, Yoshida-san had to take a pause to clarify something.
“The thing that he wants to get across,” Localisation Director and one of the translators in the room, Koji Fox explains after some back and forth, “Is that when we are creating games, at least with our team, we don’t go into them thinking that we’re going to be creating JRPGs we just go into them thinking we’re going to create RPGs.”
It was clear at that point that Yoshi-P had bristled a touch at the use of the “JRPG” descriptor, one that’s obviously quite ubiquitous in the industry. And as he would go on to describe, it was less the idea of categorising these games by the region they were produced in and more painting them all with the same, narrow strokes.
“This is going to depend on who you ask but there was a time when this term first appeared 15 [sic] years ago, and for us as developers the first time we heard it, it was like a discriminatory term. As though we were being made fun of for creating these games, and so for some developers the term JRPG can be something that will maybe trigger bad feelings because of what it was in the past,” Yoshida suggests.
“It wasn’t a compliment to a lot of developers in Japan.”
Yoshida recalls seeing something many years ago, an article or piece of media, that offered a definition of what a JRPG was versus a western RPG, describing a specific length of story, graphical style, similarities to other games like Final Fantasy VII. He felt as though this piece was compartmentalising what they were creating into a specific JRPG “box” and took offence to that, because that’s not how he felt they were going into the creation.
It seems easy to say we don’t use the term JRPG in bad faith, much like we wouldn’t describe a musical genre as “K-pop” in bad faith, but digging deeper into what most would consider constitutes a JRPG does reveal that it’s quite a narrow definition of a subset of a much more broad genre. With that in mind it’s easy to understand why Japanese developers might be less than enthused at the label, especially when the goal is simply to make the game they want to make.
You can read more about our time with Final Fantasy XVI and some of its key development team right here.