A few months back I started making a few posts on my blog regarding the design of JRPG-type games. Tiberath suggested that they'd be better placed in the BYOND RPG guild. To that end, I intend to make a series of posts, semi-regularly, on various aspects of JRPG design, for your perusal, consideration, and criticism. If you've been reading the posts on my blog regarding this topic, the first few here will be repeats - although rewritten, and hopefully slightly more insightful this time around.
But before I go on with that, we need to lay some ground rules. First and foremost, what is a JRPG?
The acronym stands for Japanese Role Playing Game, but that's obviously a little too specific (Unless I was wanting to address only the Japanese developer population of BYOND). I intend to discuss games in the same vein as Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and Lufia, not just Japanese games in the same genre. "JRPG-like" would probably be somewhat more accurate, but it's an extra five characters.
Are there any characteristics that JRPGs tend to have in common? I'm glad you asked!
- The games I'll be discussing will mostly have turn-based battle systems of some sort - ranging from Lufia's "pick all of your actions for the next round and then do them" system to FF12's handling of speed differentials (Yes, Final Fantasy 12's battle system is turn-based. It might not look it, but it is).
- They all have a plot you must go through, with battles interspersed. Quests and puzzles should be expected, emphasised to varying degrees. Linearity is not necessarily a property of JRPGs, but almost all of them are very linear (Which is, I think, something that should be different - but that's an article for another time).
- Essentially all JRPGs have a party form around you - you're almost never on your own for more than short sections. There are very good reasons for this that will likely spring up in later articles.
- Characters get stronger over time and learn new skills primarily through winning battles. Generally this takes the form of 'experience points'.
- Battles normally abstract away creatures getting wounded into a system of 'hit points', that are reduced when characters are damaged, and increased when they're healed. When your HP hits zero, you're dead, and have to be revived via more special means (Generally some sort of special item or spell)
- In addition to HP, there are generally a variety of 'status effects' that can be inflicted on creatures, ranging from damage over time ('poison', or the like) to being unable to act ('sleep', 'paralysis'), to attacking your comrades ('confuse'). Some status effects are beneficial ('reflect', 'regen', 'haste'...)
That doesn't mean that if your game exhibits few or even none of the above properties, you can't learn anything from these articles, but you'll probably find them less helpful. Still, a number of the things I'll be discussing are somewhat more universal.
To wrap things up: What properties do you think I've missed? What properties do you think have I listed that you think aren't necessarily the case? What properties do you think are optional? What do you wish was different about JRPGs, on the whole?