Naoki Yoshida, the producer of the upcoming Final Fantasy XVI and shepherd of revitalised MMO Final Fantasy XIV, is not the biggest fan of the term JRPG, as it turns out. JRPG is a term a lot of us in the West throw around quite flippantly and, as fans, endlessly argue over exactly what constitutes a true Japanese role-playing game. It’s used as a shorthand to describe a specific style of game design that originated in that country in the late 80s, reached a golden age in the 90s, and was instrumental to the success of PlayStation as a platform.
In an interview with YouTuber Skill Up, who travelled to Japan to speak to the senior development team, Yoshida was asked how JRPGs have advanced compared to action games. According to the interviewer, Yoshida was visibly uncomfortable with the phrase.
Localisation director Koji Fox explained that “one thing [Yoshida] wants to get across is that when we create games, we don’t go into them thinking we are creating JRPGs, we are just creating RPGs. The term JRPG is used by western media rather than users and media in Japan”.
We are certainly guilty of relying on the term ourselves at times and had never really questioned its usage before, considering it just another neutral descriptive acronym along the lines of MMO.
Yoshida goes on to say (as translated by Fox) that some Japanese developers don’t like the term, explaining that “this is going to depend on who you ask, but there was a time when this term first appeared 15 years ago, and for us as developers the first time we heard it, it was like a discriminatory term. As though we were being made fun of for creating these games, and so for some developers, the term JRPG can be something that will maybe trigger bad feelings because of what it was in the past.”
Continuing, Yoshida states that “it wasn’t a compliment to a lot of developers in Japan. We understand that recently, JRPG has better connotations and it’s being used as a positive, but we still remember the time when it was used as a negative.”
With Final Fantasy XVI competing against other AAA heavyweights like Hogwarts Legacy and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, it seems that some developers don’t want to be pigeon-holed with a label that, in some cases, is used as a pejorative. Yoshida explains that the term has negative connotations, “that it’s turn-based, that it’s anime like, these teenagers saving the world, ‘very JRPG'”.
Considering how ubiquitous the term has become in the industry, it remains to be seen whether its usage will change in the future, but Yoshida has certainly sparked debate with his comments. What do you think of the term JRPG, and can you appreciate Yoshida’s sentiment regarding it? Come up with a decent alternative in the comments section below.