JRPG Monogatari: In defense of cut ScenesBy: Tipamari posted at Jan 31, 2011 5:58 pm
Hello everyone. This here is my first column here as a part of the Quest! team. I’m going to be here writing weekly columns regarding anything and everything about the JRPG. Although I do play MMOGs, I’m very much an avid JRPGist. I study Japanese at university, a major which I believe relates to my love of Japanese RPGs, with my other major, English Literature, relating to my love of stories. I think the JRPG is a perfect story telling device just as much as any book or movie, and will be discussing these sorts of points in my columns, but I believe gameplay is just as important as well. I hope to cover as many bases as I can, covering the perspectives of a gamer, a reader, and a Japanophile. But, without further ado. Minna san, kore kara mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu!
I was in the lounge one day, watching my flatmate play through Final Fantasy XIII, and looked on with an almost trademark smirk at how irritated he become after every single cut scene. I asked him amongst a chuckle or two, “If you hate the cut scenes so much, why not just skip them?”
He paused, looked at up at me with his eyes semi-glaring and replied harshly somewhere along the lines of, “I can’t just skip them without knowing what happens in the story. I preferred it when I could just skim through the text and carry on with my game.”
I was stumped at this reply; not because I didn’t have a good enough counter to his parry, but because I didn’t really feel like a huge discussion. Yes, the JRPG is a video game, but really, if you want a game that gets you into the action quickly, then go and play a Call of Duty title or something else.
If you play a JRPG, you do not play it just because of the gameplay; that is important. We play these games because of the amazing narrative ability these games have within. In their earliest form, movie level cut scenes were not present at all for the obvious reason that the early gaming consoles really didn’t have that ability at that time to make these sorts of videos, resorting to text swapping and character portraits which a lot of us had grown used to (and really, still do). As gaming has developed, the cut scene is as much a part of the JRPG as airships and androgynous protagonists (Androgyny goes both ways, Lightning ;)). Although text based conversation is not extinct, what used to be moving sprites and dialogue is now CG cinematics, with graphical detail rivalling any Pixar movie.
With the majority of JPRG plots putting effort into their narratives , it was a no brainer that Japanese game developers would implement cinematics into their games, as since they are basically stories with moving images. Film has grown to be one of the most popular forms of storytelling. If I were to ask you whether it was easier to read a book then watch a movie, then you would say no. Reading a book is effort! To someone who isn’t bookaholic, why would you read the book when you could just watch the movie? It’s easier to process the meaning of pictures then it is to process the meaning of words, just as it is to watch a cut scene, rather than read a whole bunch of boring text. This is when I ask, why do people get so upset about them?
The answer is simple enough: JRPG cut scenes are long! Sometimes the game can make you sit down and watch a twenty minute cut scene without even a second thought. So really, it isn’t surprising that people put up such a stink when it comes down to these movie length cuts. Well, here is some personal advice for you, which so happened to be the exact same piece of advice I gave to my friend -- if you don’t like it, go play something else. Especially so with new generation RPGs, long and frequent cut scenes are not going to go anywhere anytime soon. If you can watch a movie, there is no reason why you cannot watch a cut scene, none of which are the same length as the average film. What other complaint could you have?
Games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time as well as most Western RPGs have interactive dialogue, which has proved to be very successful. I have played through a lot of these WRPGs as well, and I have thoroughly enjoyed them. However, I wouldn’t want to see interactive dialogue used by Japanese RPG Developers. Maybe it could supplement the current use of full motion cut scenes, but I would hate to see it replace them altogether. Games such as Oblivion and Dragon Age are told directly in the first person, or a position where you take the perspective of somebody‘s life; You’re the player, and the action YOU do affects what happens around YOU in the game. On the other hand, basically every single JRPG is told in the third person perspective. Although some games do have an in game character narrating over the scenes, the player is distanced from the story.
“Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.” -Tidus, Final Fantasy X.
This isn’t our adventure. We are the audience. The reader. The spectator. In these games, the emotions invoked within us are not of our own creation, but they are produced through the actions of the others in the game. I felt bad turning down the Dwarven girl by not taking her to the Circle of Magi in Dragon Age, but in almost every JRPG I play, my heart stops, my spine tingles, and my eyes burn. I play these games because want to know what happens next, not so I can get that new piece of shiny armour. As much as it is a game, the JRPG is a story, and in that an emotional experience. I guess that is a bit geeky, but that would explain a lot about the amount of fandom in JRPGs, wouldn’t it? From their past layouts, it was to be expected that these scenes would be animated and voiced much like a 3D movie.
If you still don’t like the prospect of all JRPGs having cut scenes, then buy a Nintendo DS or a PSP. There are plenty of JRPG titles being released on both handhelds which won’t bore you with long cut scenes like their console relatives, and you can go back relying on game text.
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