The 3DS Ascends to JRPG Godhood

2015 IN REVIEW: As the 3DS enters its twilight years, Bob looks at the portable's legacy concerning one of his favorite genres.

Adaptation is the key to survival, and if you grew up with Japanese-developed RPGs throughout the '80s and '90s, you've no doubt had to do some adapting of your own.

Gone are the days when those epic, multi-CD adventures that would play out across your TV screen over the span of 50-80 hours. Well, it's not that those types of games are gone per se, but they've certainly become a lot harder to find. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two console games of 2015 that fit the old JRPG mold: Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yakuza 5—both big, beautiful games with sublime production values. (And yes, Yakuza 5 is an RPG if its random encounters, experience points, and quest structure have anything to say about it.) This current state of things isn't exactly surprising: Making any console game is a gamble, so most developers would rather gravitate towards a style of play that's more immediate and accessible.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is big, beautiful, and a rare beast.

Due to the general status of portables as "lesser than," many have assumed the lack of Japanese RPGs on consoles to be evidence of some intractable fiasco—though heels have cooled a bit over the past few years. When I first joined the website 1UP full-time nearly five years ago, what I remember most about those first few months was the anxiety over the fate of a genre that once stood as a video game institution. We even went so far as to publish a feature titled "Why the Golden Age of the JRPG is Over," a piece mostly fueled by Nintendo's reluctance to bring Xenoblade and Pandora's Tower—two games already localized for English speakers in European territories. Granted, Nintendo was being a little more conservative than usual, but these two games and the even more unlikely Pandora's Tower—the dark horse of Operation Rainfall—eventually received full retail releases.

Of course, in the midst of all this Xenoblade-based hand-wringing, the savvy among us knew JRPGs weren't going away—they were just moving to a smaller apartment. I wasn't completely immune to the paranoia, but, at the same time, I'd come to rely on my DS and PSP more often than my consoles for this particular style of game. And this always struck me as a real win/win for both the developer and the consumer: The former wouldn't need to touch the increasingly expensive world of HD assets, while the latter received an experience much more conducive to smaller play sessions. Atlus stands as the prime example of a company that's been able to adapt to a changing market by focusing on portable systems above all else; to date, 2011's Catherine remains their only internally developed HD console game, and Persona 5's multiple delays may speak to how the developer is much more comfortable making games on a smaller scale.

Don't let the small screen fool you: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one of the richest, deepest, and most rewarding JRPGs you'll ever play.

At this point, it should be clear that if you're a fan of JRPGs, but shy away from portable systems, your priorities could need some alignment—2015 is definitely the year Nintendo's 3DS inherited the King of the JRPGs mantle from the PSP and DS. And if you need a reminder, here's what this year added to the 3DS' substantial JRPG library:

  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
  • Stella Glow
  • Yokai Watch
  • Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
  • The Legend of Legacy
  • Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker
  • Etrian Mystery Dungeon
  • Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight

True, you might not find all of these games appealing, but, if you're into Japanese RPGs, you could probably pull four or five selections off this list and have a great time—if you have enough free hours to play them all, that is. And this collection of games doesn't include the already substantial JRPG library you might have missed over the past five years of the 3DS: Bravely Default, Fantasy Life, Fire Emblem Awakening, Crimson Shroud, Pokemon X and Y, and honestly too many others to mention here—including all the stuff available via Virtual Console. If I befell some sort of terrible Twilight Zone scenario and had to choose one system to game on for the rest of my life, I'd choose the 3DS, hands-down. There's so many potential wasted hours packed into mine, I don't see myself going without one until the inevitable future where I'm forced to rebuy all those games again via Virtual Console.

We may have had to wait three-and-a-half years to play the Dragon Quest VII remake in English, but better late than never, I guess.

If Nintendo officially declared the 3DS dead on December 31, I'd be sated, but 2016 promises to add more massive JPRGs to the current pile. Looking at the next 12 months, we have Dragon Quest VII and VIII, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Bravely Second, Fire Emblem Fates, and maybe, if we're good, Dragon Quest XI—but we'd have to be really good. You might have to accept a slight visual downgrade if you're used to the console standard, but it's hard to think of another time in recent memory when we've been so awash with Japanese RPGs. Yes, there's always the fear that Nintendo's upcoming NX system won't be as comfortable a home for JRPGs as the 3DS—and it's pretty clear Sony has washed their hands of the portable market altogether. But, for now, if you want more RPGs than you can possibly play in a single lifetime, the 3DS is the place to be.

Tagged with 2015 in review, Analyses, etrian odyssey, jrpg, Pokemon, USgamer, Yo-Kai Watch.

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