WPR 546 - The Conversation Pits of Neomuna

A new Destiny expansion means our resident Destiny “expert” (aka Cado) is unleashed, but wait…is that a grappling hook? (Patrick’s been playing it, too.) But first, Ren’s checking out a tactical roguelike called The Last Spell, where you defend a town trying to cast the, uh, last spell. After the break, we wade into the JRPG discourse, and Patrick has beaten Hi-Fi Rush and embraced Zwan. Then, we head into the question bucket to decide if a listener will become more like Rob (computer in living room) or more like Patrick (computer in office).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://shows.acast.com/vicegamingsnewpodcast/episodes/wpr-546-the-conversation-pits-of-neomuna

“JRPG” discussion:

I know “don’t use it, grow up” is a really easy solution to just say on a podcast. If this isn’t your genre, yeah, simple. But if it is, what do you do?

And maybe yeah, that’s the black and white “right” thing, but ultimately “JRPG” is obviously a useless term. If Square Enix marketing is using it, if it’s been the engrained industry genre term for decades, if it’s what indie devs use on Steam, “JRPG” has a place. People don’t sub to /r/JRPG out of malice. There is a category and a tradition at play here - and maybe the technical meaning is so blurry as to be overly vague (welcome to all genres definition discussions), but there is a purpose being served here by it.

Alright, fine, the term needs to go, let’s agree with that. But that’s a bigger conversation. What are you replacing it with? “Eastern RPG”? “Japanese-style RPG?” It would be nice to drop the J but ”RPG” on its own is an enormous category, too large for the specificity that “JRPG” holds. It’s like telling people “anime” is too loaded now, you can’t use that word anymore.

Cause if there’s no answer, what am I gonna do here? I guess feel guilty and go on as I have?


I totally get what you’re saying, but even without the issues around cultural insensitivity, how many new RPGs from Japanese developers are actually “JRPGs”? Like, specifically menu based battle systems, party management, and constrained character customization? Off the top of my head, it’s Dragon Quest, Like a Dragon, and the throwback games in the indie space line Chained Echoes or CrossCode (not made in Japan to boot). From is a Japanese developer that makes RPGs, but is anyone going to call Elden Ring a JRPG? Heck, even when JRPGs are remade, like in the case of FF7 Remake, barely hew to the conventions of their original genre.

I’m not saying I have a better term for actual JRPGs, but if we are talking about the SNES Final Fantasies, the Genesis Phantasy Stars, and their ilk, maybe coming up with something with less cultural baggage isn’t the worst thing?

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I don’t have Yoshida’s quote in front of me after reading it last week, but I can see why he and other Japanese developers might chafe at the idea that all of their games is set in a different bucket purely because of their origin. Over here in the West, we make RPGs. But over there, in the mysterious East they make JRPGs through ancient techniques of folding steel to forge myriad layers (or, here in the West we make grown up games for modern gamers, over there they make silly stories with male protagonists that make me the reviewer uncomfortable with their presentation)

My question would be, what do you actually mean when you refer to something as a JRPG? Easy answer is to say that, instead. Shin Megami Tensei 5 is a dungeon crawling RPG from Atlus, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin mixes a farming life with RPG action, Dark Souls is an action RPG from Japanese developer From Software.

Or if you are refering to the superset of Japanese-made RPGs for a subreddit or whatever, I guess keep using JRPG but remember that there’s more inside that label that actually differentiates the games than there is keeping them together, and that there is a much larger overlap between Japanese and non-Japanese made RPGs than the title implies.

PS! Fuck Phil Fish, among many others.


At a certain point though, we have either have to redefine terms based on popular understanding of them or constantly clarify exactly what we mean when we use specific terms. Much to Ren’s point on this, I feel like I’m constantly having this discussion with regards to music genres. What is indie music? What does that imply or describe about their sound? Unless you clarify or further define, it doesn’t really serve a purpose. JRPG is similar. Maybe in specific places with a specific audience it means something, but it doesn’t really convey anything.

I guess the best analog in the music world would be how the term ‘urban’ was invented to describe a specific style of music made by specific black artists in a specific era and the term became increasingly meaningless and more racist as black artists of different styles were lumped under the ‘urban’ umbrella. We’re starting to see changes there with a clarification of Hip Hop vs. Contemporary R&B as broader categories, but that is a difficult change to propagate.

You kind of have to have a central body or coalition of central bodies advocating for and making that change until it catches on. I’m not sure who that would be in the games space? Publishers? Developers? Console makers?

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It’s kind of a tough one because there’s a certain era - that '90s era of console RPGs from Japan dominated by Final Fantasy, among others - where the term ‘JRPG’ was fairly clear. I found it interesting that in the podcast Patrick kept going to western RPGs of the 2000s like Mass Effect but I think this is just his background as a console gamer. To me, the distinction was very much one of the 1990s, between games like Final Fantasy or Suikoden and Baldur’s Gate or Fallout, way before Mass Effect or KOTOR came along (and now this is my background as a PC gamer talking, because I didn’t have the consoles that had these RPGs on them).

But as everyone has been pointing out, even if there are still some games where that original definition - loose even as it was then - still applies whether by accident or design and it might be useful to have it, if you’ve got Japanese developers saying, “hey, this is Orientalist, this is demeaning, this now has derogatory connotations” we should just retire it. It’s frustrating that this seems to be largely due to an era in western games journalism and games fandom that gave it, to a Japanese audience, racist overtones, but it is what it is.

As far as what to replace it with, it doesn’t seem too hard. Turn-based RPGs, action RPGs, we have a lot of appropriate language that doesn’t reference country of origin. And again, I get that there are definitely games that feel so characteristic of that label that it seems silly to try to slot them into other categories. I am sure I will forget to do it myself, because it’s so ingrained, especially when talking about older games, but sometimes we have to update the language we use regardless.

Of course, this kinda goes both ways. If Yoshida is out here asking for RPGs developed in Japan to be judged the same way we’d judge RPGs developed anywhere, that’s an entirely fair request. But it means scrutinising those games for how they depict people of colour or LGBTQ+ characters and a whole bunch of other stuff that often still gets soft-balled because Japan is “different”.