…Or “Let’s create the most generic RPG out There!”
If one has played a number of Japanese role playing games, definite tropes come to mind for the genre. In the last twenty years or so, the medium has become further and further specified to the point that many of these tropes have left the realm of patterns and themes to full-blown clichés. The following is a list of the top ten most over-used Japanese RPG clichés, in no particular order. To aid in the fun, I have decided to present the list in the form of a plot synopsis for a fictitious game just to show how easily these can be applied.
Youth in Revolt
It seems that every RPG from “The Land of the Rising Sun” uses the same rule that giant robot anime seems to have: “Every hero must be a whiny prepubescent male with goofy hair.” This was fine with characters such as Cloud (and even Squall to a degree) when these games first started to get big over here, then all of the sudden every RPG starred a similar main character. After playing a number of RPGs I always long for a war-hardened old grizzled curmudgeon to be the main protagonist of any game I play. Not because I have a fetish for that sort of thing, but because it might spice up an otherwise bland aspect of these games.
For our game, I’ve come up with an effeminate 13 year old pacifist, because who could be more annoying than a teenager who thinks we need to hear about his political beliefs. I even drew up a picture using an online character generator program.
Now we need a sappy name, one that has both a biblical sounding quality and a character trait hidden deep within it. One could substitute a meteorological term for the biblical name (i.e Cloud, Squall , Lightning), but I think the former will come out better. For the sake of our demonstration, our hero is named Cherubish Bleak. This name not only implies that Cherubish has some sort of angelic quality about him, but that he has a depressing demeanor. Bonus points if he actually is an angel of some sort!
Burn Baby Burn!
So now that we have the whiny main character sorted and ready to go, we need some sort of motivation for him to actually go out and interact with other characters, as well as adventure. This could go any way really, including a plot that makes the character’s actual profession to be that of an adventurer, but that’s just plain boring. What we need is some sort of plot device that FORCES the character to step out there and whine all the way to the final boss.
I’ve got it, let’s have the bad guys march into his hometown while he is off collecting magical quail eggs or some other random stuff, and burn his home down. Points will be awarded for every single mother, orphaned sister, or family pet that gets mowed down in the crossfire.
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
There has to be an obligatory segment where our character meets an older and somewhat more menacing rival-type character in some way, usually in the woods. This character is usually the defender for another, usually female, character and is leading her on some sort of pilgrimage, escort mission, or trying to protect her. Our main character will almost immediately fall in love with the female character and insist on tagging along much to the dismay of our rival. Once in battle our Rival character, which has a creepy foreboding name like “Seraphimatos”, shows great prowess in magical arts and swordsmanship. He’s so “badass” that he can dispatch even the darkest of all villains in one mighty sword swipe. He is usually level 60 or so when our party is only more battle worthy than an acorn, and carries each battle for this segment of the game.
Suddenly, a swerve in the plot appears, our buddy Seraphimatos isn’t a good guy at all (GASP!), he’s actually an agent for the higher evil power (or secretly IS the evil power!) and is trying to kidnap the girl as a blood sacrifice. You now have to fight him in a futile battle where your entire party dies, but it’s okay because this is a storyline death. He spits on your supposedly dead corpse and wanders off pretty girl in tow.
The Luddite Rule
Now that we have not only a quest, but an antagonist to fight; we need some sort of back-story. You see, in this world technology is bad and everyone in the world resents it. They insist on living in a manner reminiscent of the Middle Ages due to some sort of past calamity that wiped out the whole world. This calamity was brought on by an over-use of technology and could be anything from a nuclear holocaust to a robot uprising. No matter what though, characters don’t talk about what caused the end of the world, they only allude to it in the vaguest of terms.
In correlation to this, the Evil Empire that you are undoubtedly against is a huge booming technological wonder and stands anachronistically against all other towns in the world. The hero will have to fight all manner of robot, tank, flying machine, and mech suit until the end of the game.
Laurel and Hardy
Once you are actually adventuring, our character needs a “buddy character” to latch onto. Since our main character is whiny tormented guy, a character that exists solely as the direct opposite of him needs to pop up. What we need is a “Chris Tucker” to his “Jackie Chan”, if you will.
This character will be insanely goofy, never take anything seriously, and dress like a total imbecile for seemingly no reason at all. Later in the game you will come to hear some sort of depressing back-story that reveals the character’s bumbling attitude is a facade he puts on to keep out memories of sadness, for example the death of his family
One of the more minor clichés, but a cliché none-the-less will always exist in that everyone in the whole world is so trusting of outsiders that they will let them into their homes at any moment of time at all. To repay their hospitality, our party will repay them by robbing them blindly and slipping out into the darkness. If anyone has the sense to actually hide any of their belongings, most will settle for stashing them in inconspicuous clay pots or barrels right outside their house.
Maybe these folks would move up a station in life, and not exist as poor commoners if they learned how to hold onto wealth!
Unorthodox travel method
As our party progresses through the game, a situation will occur that makes traveling through a particular area difficult. Maybe there is a tough monster that attacks those that travel by foot, or a huge desert that takes days to pass, whatever the reason the party eventually needs some sort of “beast of burden” to ride on. Horses? Like we’d put any filthy horses in our game; what we need is some sort of cute cuddly animal like a huge baby chicken or a bunny to ride on. I’ve got it – Ferrets – everyone loves ferrets. In our game people commute by way of giant ferret.
As we continue through the game, the Evil Empire will start sending some sort of mercenary after you. This guy exists as a stereotypical “cool anti-hero” type of guy. He smokes cigarettes, uses some sort of “cool” weapon such as a revolver or a butterfly knife, and pops up just about every five seconds from here on out. That is until….
Green Ranger Rule
Remember that show The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers? In the first few seasons there was a character called the “Green Ranger” that existed as a misunderstood evil analog to the heroes. Suddenly he had a change of heart and became a good guy out of nowhere. Our Miniboss character will suddenly do this at some point. This could be for many reasons, such as finding out the true intentions of the Empire, a show of mercy from our heroes, or even a “truce” so that he may fight the main character “for real” at some point. This could also be called “The Vegeta Rule”.
So now we come to the end of our hypothetical game, and things are looking bad. Our party seems to have overtaken Seraphimatos just in time for him to spout something vaguely biblical and turn into an angel-like monster with multiple wings and choir music accompaniment. A good way to find source material would be for us to get drunk and watch a documentary on a mystical ancient religion such as Gnosticism or Kabbalah and choose buzzwords to allude to.
In fact naming a multitude of other monsters, weapons, attacks, cities, and even characters after people and deities from all manner of world religions is a must.
The party has beaten the huge angelic monstrosity, and we are now blessed with the end credits. And just like many RPGs out today, the gamer will have a distinct feeling of “meh” on their mind. The bad thing is that many have played a game that follows a similar pattern.
Disclaimer: A version of this article was originally produced for a now-defunct video game website that I worked for in the past. I have decided to rescue some of this stuff so it doesn’t disappear from the internet forever. If you enjoy this, let me know and I might just do more!