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Sakaguchi: JRPGs promote story over player freedom

Sunday, 18th March 2012 23:47 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Final Fantasy creator and Mistwalker boss Hironobu Sakaguchi sees value in both Japanese and western RPGs, and thinks deciding between them is a matter of taste.

“A lot of western RPGs focus on creating a world and award the player a great deal of freedom in it, instead of focusing on a story. I think the interest in Japanese RPGs is divided based on how people feel about that difference in style,” Sakaguchi told Nintendo Gamer, via CVG.

Despite Sakaguchi’s belief in Japanese-style, story-based games, Mistwalker’s latest, The Last Story, throws out a couple of JRPG tropes by skipping grinding and allowing the player to fast forward cut scenes. That doesn’t mean the director thinks the traditional JRPG is over.

“I think you can make a fun game using just traditional RPG elements,” he said.

“We have both period dramas and modern day dramas, and in the same way I think there are lots of different ways a game can be fun.”

Indeed, while The Last Story innovates the classic JRPG formula, Sakaguchi isn’t ready to embrace every aspect of successful western RPGs.

“Exploring huge worlds is often a big feature of RPGs, but we decided to cut down the time spent wandering around like that and try making something with a bit of a faster pace. We tried to make it feel like being on a rollercoaster,” he said.

Sakaguchi did give a nod to western development’s technological advances, though.

“In particular in terms of graphics, western games have seen startling advances. I feel that Japanese games were ahead back when 3D was first used in RPGs such as in FF7, but now perhaps you could say that Japanese RPGs aren’t being praised so much for their graphics,” he added.

Asked where he sees the future of games, Sakaguchi said he expects social and portable gaming to take over.

“I think these games will also gradually get more and more sophisticated and on a larger scale. I guess it’s the same kind of thing as what we saw when arcade games were superseded by home consoles that weren’t necessarily as powerful,” he predicted.

“We saw gaming move from the arcades to the living room and now we’re starting to see them shift from the living room, becoming portable with an emphasis on online gaming. The place where you play games is becoming wherever you happen to be, and so we’re seeing less and less of people sitting down to relax for a long gaming session. I think as these become complemented with other, new ideas – such as allowing other people online to help you in the game, even if you don’t do anything – we may see these games on a larger scale and with more sophistication.”

The Last Story is out now in PAL territories and arrives in the US in June.

Thanks, Siliconera.

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18 Comments

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  1. mickey2002

    Well my “taste” wants LO2!

    #1 2 years ago
  2. shogoz

    The reason why many aren’t brought out here is probably because of the money it costs for licensing in another country and lazy people can’t be screwed reading too much. I wish more Japanese games would make it here, visual novel or not.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Zana

    If you skip the cutscenes of Last Story, you end up with a boring dungeon crawler with no “world” whatsoever to discover. Just when I thought this game was all about story and characters…

    #3 2 years ago
  4. YoungZer0

    So what if the story sucks? You know, like most stories in JRPG’s, about some boy gathering a party of cliché characters, to save the world, while still having self-esteem issues?

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Zana

    The only cliché here is your simplification of JRPG stories. You could do that about Western RPGs as well. You know, such as “your usual Tolkien-like fantasy setting”?

    #5 2 years ago
  6. YoungZer0

    @5: You could and you’d be right. The only JRPGs that stands out from the rest of the boring crowd is the Shin Megami Tensei Series, especially the Persona Games. Everything else is just same old, same old.

    What troubles me about Western RPGs is just what you mentioned. It seems most developers can’t get rid of the same old Elves, Orcs and trolls bullshit. This is exactly the reason why games like Kingdom of Alamur won’t win any awards for originality.

    How hard is it to create new races, or at least give other creatures the chance to be a new race? Why not Werewolves, instead of Elves?

    But at least Western RPGs try to evolve in terms of freedom and exploration, while completely failing in terms of Story Skyrim and Kingdom of Alamur are perfect examples here.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Blista

    I think that Sakaguch just puts too much emphasis on the story rather than balancing both aspects, story and player freedom, for his games. Sure, it won’t hurt if there is a good story in the game but when it’s too linear with a bucnch of cutscenes and little interaction, it’s more like an interactive movie than what it should have been. Some games, JRPGs in this case, fare pretty well with a good story and a bit of player freedom. Dragon Quest V and some earlier Final Fantasies springs to mind. Both games reward exploration while having a good story

    #7 2 years ago
  8. OlderGamer

    The words video game and story just don’t go together. A game is something your play. A story is something you read/watch/stand by while it unfolds. In video games story should be just those elements that give the gameplay reason. The where you are, the what you are, and the hwy your doing what your doing. Thats as deep as story needs to go. Less story and more setting. Those worse thing in a game is to sit there and watch your char dosomething you can’t change/interact with. It takes not only freedom but choice and control away from the gamer.

    And I know folks will single out KoA as a poorly done story. True, its Tolkin chliche as ever there was. But I can count on one hand the number of Jrpgs with a story worth remembering.

    Thats ok, because most gamers don’t want story in their faces to begin with. Ttake a look at the biggest western rpg ever made, Blizzards wow. Moost people don’t even take the time to read the quests. They just clicky right through and use the qst helper to follow the arrow and track down what they have to kill/collect. The why they are doing isn’t important to them. Just for the record, the story in wow is pretty good. It has depth, layers and is over all pretty good, for a video game.

    Most gamers just don’t care.

    Of course some folks do like story. I imagine those folks that like games like Uncharted, where its less about the gameplay and more about jumping from one story laden cut scene to the next. Personaly, i am not a fan of video game story. I play to play, I read, watch tv/moies, even write for the sake of story.

    But a video game is just that, a game. Show a gamer what to do, then fill him/her in on why they are doing it second.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Dragon246

    Story is the most important thing for me in a game. That is why I think JRPGs can co-exist with other genres. Story gives a reason for the game, and without a strong enough reason , I cant force myself to do anything. Also I find this “there should be no cutscenes in games ” argument ridiculous. They are important for telling a story. If people dont like them just dont buy them.
    I just hope more JRPGs get released in english (minimal amount required to play the game).

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Deacon

    @8 sure, there are pick up and play games (Mario, Angry Birds, Shatter etc) which are great and require no explanation other than what to do to get to the next level, but I think you’re discounting a hell of a lot of players by saying that ‘most gamers just don’t care’.

    I agree in that at times it seems like 90% of the gaming population seemingly just want to kill randoms on CoD or win the World Cup in Fifa, but I think there are still a LOT of players out there who wouldn’t even consider playing a game unless it’s presented within a well thought-out storyline.

    I play games for adventure & exploration. If the characters are given a backstory and I have a plot to follow as well as the usual mechanics then I’m all the more likely to invest emotionally.

    The Final Fantasy games are rarely gushed over because of their intuitive gaming mechanics – it’s the storyline that the fans adore.

    Metal Gear Solid 3 would be just another shitty stealth game if it weren’t for the epic story woven into its very fabric.

    I think there’s definitely space for both (and all the variants in-between), but saying that the two don’t go together is quite proposterous!! ; p

    #10 2 years ago
  11. YoungZer0

    @8:

    “A story is something you read/watch/stand by while it unfolds.”

    No, it isn’t. Why do people keep saying this? Go with the time. Just because it doesn’t fit into the old pattern, doesn’t mean it should stay this way. This is what change means.

    “The where you are, the what you are, and the hwy your doing what your doing.”

    Most games don’t even get that right. Yeah, sure i know i’m supposed to save the princess, but why should it? I don’t like her. If the motivation is not there, why should i continue? The number of games i stop playing because i stop caring is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

    For me, the story drives the gameplay. The gameplay should have some depth, be entertaining and fun, but ultimately, it usually isn’t the reason why we keep playing a game.

    “Thats as deep as story needs to go.”

    No.

    “Thats ok, because most gamers don’t want story in their faces to begin with.”

    Disagree. Why do you think people actually play the singleplayer of Games like Call of Duty? Because they care how it ends.

    MMORPGs aren’t RPGs. Most people don’t play them for the story, because they are usually poorly told, Blizzards WoW just one example of many. Who cares how good the story is if the telling is done so poorly? Don’t blame gamers if Blizzard doesn’t go with the time. You simply can not throw thousands of words on someone just for a dumb fetch-quests. It’s just not worth it. The only game that gets away with this is Planescape Torment and that’s because of the story.

    For the record, i don’t like Uncharted. I certainly like how it tells a story, but i wasn’t that impressed, since i’m not into the treasure hunter genre. While the story didn’t interest me, it was so well-told that i finished the game from start to finish.

    Story-telling in videogames is changing, if you like it or not.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. WeazelGmr

    YoungZero is right, the emphasis on Elves & Orcs is bullshit. There are thousand of literature that developers can read from & implement something new in their game i.e Steampunk, Gothic or Victorian styles for example.

    Sakaguchi is right. there ain’t nothing wrong wit a lil’ linearity but JRPGs stressed them so much that when you ignore the story its just turn-based or some tweaked form of it. to me games like “Disgaea” & especially “The World Ends With You” have awesome narratives & great fucking gameplay systems. Western titles like “Bioshock Infinite” & “Hard Reset” are sweet because they bring something fresh to the FPS genre with their deep narrative focus.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. angelobrs

    Well, there really are some people who could care less about story, and the JRPG’s sometimes really fall into cliché, but I believe story goes much deeper than something that unfolds. The thing that make me prefer JRPG’s over western is the way characters and the world are unique. I could care less over skyrim, ok you have a gazillion hours of gameplay, but I don’t care, I don’t care if the character looks like a real person, or if I can get a super magic sword or something, I much rather see a new Breath of fire and play as Ryu again. Yeah, it’s the same guy that becomes a dragon, but he’s unique, like cloud, like squall and other ones. Why is WoW so sucessful? Simply because it’s universe is unique. Every game has trolls, orcs, paladins and elves, but the factions are different, the background is different, even the graphics are different and that’s what makes it so cool, and I believe that’s what makes Diablo so cool also. It all goes to the fun factor and the things that make it memorable.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. OlderGamer

    How can you discount a MMOrpg as a RPG? Millions of people play them. Saying that because they don’t feature scene by scene story sequences, that they aren’t “real” rpgs is like me saying that No players like story driven games.

    Of course there are players that enjoy story.

    And coming to a core games site and saying that no one likes story in their games, is like going to a gay bar and saying that no one is gay. Everyone your talking to would beg to differ.

    Just consider the audience. But the facts are heavy story driven games are overshadowed and outsold by what we could call “story-lite” games. Cod outsells Heavy Rain by a drastic margin. Why does CoD have sp? the great story? Not imo. Some people can’t get online, and others just don’t like OMP. If MMOrpgs aren’t real rpgs, why does FF have them? Didn’t someone mention the “real” reason to play a FF game was the story?

    I think that everyone often has their own unique take on things. And if gamer X likes something then gamer X feels that lots of people like the same thing, for the same reasons. Works like that on each and everyside of almost any coin you can think of. Its part of peoples needs to feel conected and justifed. Part of their self identy/value.

    You wouldn’t want to be that one gamer that likes a “bad” game would you? So it is hard to not project. But … look at sales numbers. Thats your best indicator of what people actualy want. People buy what they like.

    JRPGs haven’t mattered this gen. They haven’t dominated in two gens(could argue three, but I think two). That is because now gamers(western gamers) have more choices. They, in large, would rather play Elder Scrolls then FF or a Tales of.. game.

    Also the story lay out in a game like Diablo (II, anyways) doesn’t beat you over the head with story. The game is laid out in chapters/acts and it flows. Once in a chapter you have the freedom to pretty much go where ever you want. Explore, replay a stage, play with friends, grind for gear. You have options. Your never stuck watching/reading a scripted interaction between two or three npcs. And when they do present cut scenes they are skipable. I like that. Alot of people do. Also Diablos story is far more mature then most jrpgs.

    So if your going to feature story, it has to be palatable(for your general market) and it shouldn’t get in the way, and imo, should never be featured over gameplay. This lil paragraph, btw, is all my two cents. You could feel that story is lacking in most games.

    But what I think you would be missing is the notion that the reason it is lacking in todays games, is that todays gamers don’t want it(by in large – not all, just most). It isn’t lacking because somehow devs can’t hire quality writers to put story in their games. KoA has a ny times best selling auther pen theirs. Most people just don’t look for it as a reason to like a game.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. stealth

    japanese rpgs are the best when it comes to gameplay, story, characters, world, and basically everything else.

    Its why this gen like every other jrpgs smoke there western coutnerparts

    #15 2 years ago
  16. YoungZer0

    @15: Thanks for the laugh.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. stealth

    Its not a laugh its fact. Hell the only good rpgs this year in all regions are coming out of japan…….

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Da Man

    Blah blah blah. The guy ruined his own series and then produced what was one of the most atrocious movies ever (SW), subsequently leading to Squaresoft financial problems, his departure and Enix practically devouring Squaresoft, a former rival.

    Why would I spend time on some rasterized meshes completely devoid of real abilities to render feelings and driven by something i could easily find in any third grade book or cinema is beyond comprehension.

    Jrpgs suck since late 90s, fell far behind in the um, gameplay area. Only decent post PSX ones were Shadow Hearts and the tri-Ace games.

    Japanese games were ahead back when 3D was first used in RPGs such as in FF7
    Reality check. FF7 characters looked worse than the worst of western 3d games then. Let alone Descent or something. Everything else wasn’t even 3d, so why compare.

    Games like Ico pioneered proper story unfolding anyway, nothing has changed since then whatsoever, scripted events were present in video games since 90s and so were branching dialogues. And presenting everything through craploads of scripted events let alone cutscenes is the most inane and stupid thing to do with a video game anyway.

    #18 2 years ago