Despite having a limited importance on the market, JRPGs still maintain themselves in the spotlight. It is still the king of Japanese gaming : every manufacturer, publisher or developer wants its own JRPG to express their talent and influence. It’s a genre that has been captivating players for 25 years, there’s a lot at stake for Japanese companies.
In this long-running struggle, Final Fantasy had long been a unquestioned leader : its extreme refinements at each episode, its overwhelming content, its emotional power had crushed the competition for a long time. But lately, its leadership has been contested by outsiders like Tales of or Xenoblade. Final Fantasy XV’s motto “reclaim your throne” echoes the necessity to take back the crown. But the returning king could very well be robbed of its throne by a malicious thief.
March 30th, May 5th 2016, two dates that might change the balance of power for JRPGs worldwide. Two events aiming at striking the heart of the people, but of opposed style. More than that, a clash of ideologies : Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 don’t offer their JRPG experience in the same way. Absolutely not.
Final Fantasy XV went for a lavish show : fashionable soiree, large audience, funny MCs, CG movie, commercial partnerships… SquareEnix actually held that in Los Angeles, sign that they’re dropping the original spirit. Uncovered Final Fantasy XV feels terrible by its locked communication and flowery articles in the mainstream press. The publisher seeks to widen its marketing target, but distances itself from players in the same process.
The case of Kingslaive, animated movie that tells the events that occurred before FFXV, is interesting : the short film sure has a energetic pace, but it show a western way of making entertainment, we still aren’t in the JRPG sphere. It’s just like SquareEnix was going back to an approach similar to Final Fantasy The Spirits Within, and we know how that finished… And there is that Audi R8, which almost jumps out at your face, which ultimately suggests that pretty everything went awry in rotten business plan and a movie shot with a bugdet it doesn’t even have. And fuck, why is the gameplay trailer ending on Stand by Me!? This is truly the end, the RPG Final Fantasy XV is not Japanese anymore.
On the other side of the planet, Persona 5 (which tells the adventures of a Arsene Lupin-like master thieves) declares that it will “steal Tokyo Tower”. Original and clever way to make the buzz : the lights of the famous red structure indeed went off on 5/5 at 10pm. The commentary is given by some old Japanese lady no one knows where she comes from, and by the characters who run the prison in the game. An anime will air in September for the launch of the game, and it can only be better than Brotherhood, the tasteless attempt of Final Fantasy XV to go media mix. In short, Atlus shows a better symbiosis with its fans than SquareEnix, less business, more fun and passion. Cooler, closer to the people… Doesn’t that ring a bell? Yes, that is Sony’s strategy with the PS4, and it works.
But that was just the appearance of things. On the content presented, the gap is even wider between the two. Final Fantasy XV hardly shows anything new, since the trailer is just a patchwork of super short sequences that refrain to show precise gameplay or any bit of consistent narrative. True, there was the Platinum demo. But this trial version in reality doesn’t represent the FFXV experience and in fact, dodges the question of gameplay by conjuring up spin-off content. And that’s fortunate, because gameplay in the Platinum demo is atrocious : there is one button for attack and one to maintain for both defense and counter. Confusing, rough, even Duscae was more exciting than this. Evasion has magically vanished and the poor QTEs don’t give much hope for deep gameplay. Surely that was some secret experiment from the publisher that was recently saying in a Famitsu interview that half of the Duscae poll respondents wanted it less complex… Unavoidable consequence : between Duscae and Platinum, gameplay got nothing but worse and the hype for the story deflated.
Persona 5 does show lots of gameplay, serious gameplay. Stealth, joint assaults, dungeons, magic, interface, time management… you have to watch the trailer several times to pick up everything. You know more about Persona 5 after 4 minutes in video than you know about Final Fantasy XV after 2 demos. It also communicate an excitement on the storyline that Final Fantasy XV has barely shown. The master thieves are up to some unbelievable stunts and have the entire world against them.
But Atlus will strike its competitor when it hurts, on characters. No need to remind you how unappealing Noctis’s group is : JRPG players in the world are split between anger ad hilarity, SquareEnox failing to notice. Final Fantasy betrays and 25-year long heritage by refusing the very idea of a permanent playable female character. The series constructed itself by respecting parity to deliver the best in terms of story, emotion, art and visuals : the sloppy setting of Final Fantasy XV cannot work, and Atlus is fully aware of that.
While Persona 5’s team was already flattening the other in charisma even before May 5th , the dev team doesn’t just add one, but THREE heroines. Parity is totally rebalanced in Persona 5, loud and clear message send to its opponents and to the players worldwide. The role of the girls is heavily underlined in the trailer, way of showing that no, Persona 5 doesn’t have double standards.
All those elements show that Persona 5 wants to restate its commitment to the JRPG genre, and to its audience. It can be considered part of “the Final Fantasy spirit” which Bravely Default failed to inherit. With Final Fantasy itself being so far from its roots, Atlus’s series has a historical chance to reign over JRPG.