The World of Asian RPGs

Other Japanese RPG Series: Part I

Many other series of Japanese RPGs emerged during different time periods, but none was ever able to compete in volume or popularity with the great series mentioned above. In this section I tried to cover most of the shorter Japanese RPG series, but invariably omitted some, especially those that comprised only two games, or were released for computer systems during the early era. I focused primarily on the series' popularity and influence on the genre.

The top place belongs to the RPG series Square created beside the Final Fantasy franchise. The short Chrono series, consisting of only two games, gained overall recognition and gave birth to a loyal fan community. Chrono Trigger was a contemporary of "Final Fantasy VI", appearing at the peak of Square's creative activity. The story was dedicated to the phenomenon of time, and involved traveling to different time periods, from prehistoric age to a grim futuristic world. Random battles were replaced by visible foes. The game featured a very interesting and flexible gameplay system, which allowed you to face the final boss almost at any time during the game. The amount of side quests was unusually high for an Asian RPG, and the game had several different endings. There was also a New Game+ option, which allowed you to start the game again after having finished it once, retaining experience and items from the previous play and opening ways to new endings. "Chrono Trigger" is easily one of the most popular Asian RPGs of all times.

The sequel Chrono Cross was connected to its predecessor story-wise, but most of the characters were completely new, and the time traveling gave way to the concept of parallel realities. The story was very intriguing and involved some interesting and original side quests. As in "Chrono Trigger", the game offered a good deal of non-linear playing, several endings, and a New Game+ option. You could also recruit many different characters to your party. Instead of traditional magic casting there were non-reusable spells you had to equip as items. Although "Chrono Cross" was less popular than "Chrono Trigger", it was equal to it in quality and even surpassing it in some aspects.

Another famous RPG by Square was Xenogears. Although Square itself never created a sequel to it, the game became so popular that Monolith decided to make it into a series by proclaiming it the final episode of their upcoming Xenosaga series. "Xenogears" had a distinct animé influence and was set in a futuristic world. Although not as heavy on philosophical and religious references as Megaten games, the story of "Xenogears" dealt with very serious topics, and was also extremely complex. Depictions of various psychological phenomena and usage of mythological symbols were abundant. Gameplay-wise, "Xenogears" also had very interesting features, including the ability to jump, usually non-existent in Asian RPGs, and combat between giant robots called "gears".

Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht started a series of remote prequels to "Xenogears", which took place in a different universe and many years before. Many features were borrowed from "Xenogears", such as sci-fi setting and additional gear combat. The religious references were however toned down in favor of a space opera-like story of considerable complexity and scope, which was only partially revealed in the first Xenosaga game. Battle system underwent many interesting refinements, and the amount and length of cut scenes surpassed everything seen before in Japanese RPGs.

Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse continued directly the unfinished story of its predecessor. While revealing more of the big picture and answering many questions, the story was not yet concluded in this installment. Beside slight changes in graphical style, the second Xenosaga had an even more refined gameplay system with an interesting addition of "break points", combination attacks you had to perform in order to gain upper hand in battle, and damage that depended on enemy's position.

Square's SaGa games were much less known than other RPGs by this company. Although the series had a fair amount of installments and interesting gameplay ideas, such as creating and playing as several main characters, the absence of emotional, involving story lines was the chief reason for its lack of popularity.

Breath of Fire series by Capcom contained five games, but was always somewhat in the shadow of the more important Asian RPG franchises. Lack of original concept in setting, story-telling, or gameplay prevented the series from being at the top of the genre's offerings. The series featured the same hero, a boy who could shift into a dragon, but the world was different in each game, and each story was independent from the other. The most original game of the series was the fifth, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. The traditional semi-medieval setting was replaced by a steam-punk environment, and the entire game took place underground, in a world populated by people who never saw daylight. The story was more focused this time, and the gameplay system was quite original, competing with, and even surpassing many of its contemporaries. The combat was strategic and allowed the party to move freely, with the battle beginning at exactly the same position you have encountered a visible enemy. The emphasis on careful planning and surviving made "Dragon Quarter" a very interesting and important contribution to the genre.

Cosmic Fantasy series also comprised five games, but the series was confined to a rather short time period. All five installments were released for the PC Engine (Turbo CD) console, becoming its most important RPG franchise after Tengai Makyou. The games were all set in a sci-fi environment with space flights, and the combination of this setting with voice-overs and animated cut scenes made it one of the most animé-like Asian RPG series. The gameplay was very traditional, but the games were still able to say a new word by mixing the stylistic elements mentioned above with humor and even eroticism. This tendency became particularly evident in later installments, the two chapters of Cosmic Fantasy IV. These two games tied together the stories of previous Cosmic Fantasy games, and the gameplay was an interesting mixture of Japanese-style adventure and traditional RPG.

Erotic RPGs were generally quite common in Japan, appearing mostly on either PC or MSX system. The founder of the genre was Dragon Knight, which introduced erotic images into an old-fashioned first-person dungeon crawler. The third game, known in the West as Knight of Xentar, was the series' strongest offering. It had solid gameplay and a developed story, and the erotic scenes were powered by comedy writing with elements of a parody. Cobra Mission was conceived in the vein of Dragon Knight series, but had several original gameplay features, such as first-person combat with real-time aiming, and an optional mini-game that simulated seduction of the girls you have rescued. The most long-running erotic RPG series is Rance, which originated in the 8-bit era and was mostly focused on dungeon exploration and strong sexual images. The third game, Rance III: Riizasu Kanraku, replaced the traditional first-person combat with strategic free-movement battles.

Continued: Other Japanese RPG Series: Part II

Table of Contents: The World of Asian RPGs