Japanese role playing games (JRPGs) aren’t common in my regular gaming roster. The last JRPG I attempted was Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s a beautiful and brilliant game, but after learning about the extreme lengths I’d need to go to beat it, I had to set it aside. (A long and intensive game like that requires frequent play — one or two sessions a month just doesn’t cut it.) What drew me to Xenoblade was the success I had had with The Last Story, a really fantastic JRPG that breaks from tradition in combat but not in style. I’ve played a handful of Final Fantasy games and have happily rolled through JRPG-ish games like Kingdom Hearts and South Park: The Stick of Truth. In three decades of gaming, I’d say that JRPGs comprise around ten percent of my gaming experience.
And then I started playing Pokemon LeafGreen, a venture that I’ve been writing about on my own blog. In my last post on the game, I rambled on about how I keep forgetting to level up members of my team other than my starter. In the comments, @ctmurfy of Murf Versus reminded me that this game is a JRPG, and as such, some level grinding may be necessary in order to build up my team. What struck me about his comment was that he called it a JRPG, something I had never considered before. Not that I had ever given much thought to categorizing Pokemon games before, but still…he’s right. LeafGreen has a turn-based combat system, a strong yet linear story set in a limited yet explorable world, and iconic and memorable characters. Where it might differ from tradition is in leveling up, which is a pretty simple system in the game – defeat Pokemon, level up — unlike more intricate systems that might require jobs assignments and skill sets.
However, there is an intricacy to Pokemon, isn’t there? I used to make fun of it as a kids game, but the more I play it, the more I doubt that I really would have understood the game any measurable degree had I played it as a child. I now understand that addictive drive to battle repeatedly, to build up a character’s strengths until you have the strongest Charizard IN THE WORLD! But more than that, LeafGreen has reminded me of the thought and precision that lie beneath any given JRPGs flashy exterior.
I tend towards “tank” mode in video games – guns blazing, me against the world, standing tall and surviving right down to my last bullet (and health bar). I become impatient with planning, I ignore chances to give teammates orders, and I miss opportunities to garner things might make battles easier. This is directly where I went when I started played The Last Story. About halfway through, I finally paid attention to directing my teammates properly, which made all the difference in battles. Part of what made me give up on Xenoblade, as much as I hate it admit it, was the fact that I simply didn’t understand the battle system. I just wanted to hack, hack, and slash my way through enemies. In my hulking ignorance, I skimmed through battle tutorials without really paying attention, and I paid dearly for it.
With very little Pokemon knowledge in mind, when I started LeafGreen, I naturally plowed my way through early parts of the game with my starter, Charmander. Soon enough, he became Charmeleon. (And he’s not too far off from become Charizard now.) I could blast through battle after battle…but not all battles. In fact, there were some battles in which he was downright awful. And that really got me thinking about the whole type vs. type scheme of the game. So I took (and am still taking) time to level up and learn about my team of weaker Pokemon – some of whom are not weak at all versus the right enemies! As I progress and work through the occasional grind, I’m find more and more than I’m approaching battles less as a steamroller and more as a dance instructor, carefully calling up my Pokemon in certain order, depending on the battle, and using their abilities according to what’s needed at the moment rather than what will cause the most immediate damage.
So here I am, back in JRPG land (without first realizing it), and I’m really enjoying the view so far. I’m not saying that I’m going to jump back to Xenoblade after LeafGreen, but this Pokemon experience will, I think, steer me back on a path that may eventually lead me around to it.
Of course, you Pokemon masters out there already know all this! But have you ever learned something totally new about a game that you thought you knew pretty well? Something that made you rethink your approach when playing or reconsider its significance?