Top Ten Most Over-used Japanese RPG Cliches

by Stephen Kelley, posted on 07 November 2010 / 12,893 Views

...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

 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289107611.jpg

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. 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289107932.jpg

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. 

 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289107554.jpg

 

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.

 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289108151.jpg

 

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. 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289107553.jpg

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   

 

Public Storage

 

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.

 

 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289108369.jpg

 

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. 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289108453.jpg

In our game people commute by way of giant ferret.       

 

Persistent Miniboss

 

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….

 http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289108681.jpg

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".    

 

Final Boss

 

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. 

http://gamrfeed.vgchartz.com/galleries/2010-11-07/rpg-top-ten/rpg-top-ten_1289108924.jpg

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. 

 

Join us again next week for another top ten list!


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27 Comments

Freyt (on 28 March 2011)

Well, they became cliches for a reason. Because people actually liked them. They're good plot ideas. But too much of anything is bad. I'd like to point out that, aside from the obvious, FF8 is one of the more normal ones... Everyone has a normal hair color. People actually drive. In cars. That run on fuel. As for all the other stuff... yeah its there. But it's an RGP. That's what RPG's are. Going into a turn based battle where my character does a craptastically awesome martial arts move that's seemingly realistic, might sound good, but that game better be about him being the best martial artist in the world, achieving fame, prize money, a nice house, and then letting it all go to his head GTA style. Of course, this article hit the naming right on the dot...


AussieGecko (on 15 January 2011)

wow shining force 2 is the biggest cliche in the world haha


Alby_da_Wolf (on 23 November 2010)

LOL, the parts about awkward names made me remember a king Pornteas in KRPG "Icarus: Sanctuary of the Gods" :-D


tolu619 (on 13 November 2010)

Public storage is the funniest! And it's a game maker for me!


hiroko (on 10 November 2010)

top 5 western game dev cliches. nr1 its an fps nr2 its an fps nr3 its an fps nr4 its an fps nr5 its COD


wolfofthepack (on 09 November 2010)

and yet i cant get enough of these tings! i without them its not an rpg! love jrpg their my #1 choice everytime! if it had guns and more guns then there wont b a problem! am waitin for 1 of these articles on FPS 's


nankinchrist (on 08 November 2010)

Jesus, that's rubbish. For the past 7-5 years JRPGs are nothing like this. Except for maybe 1 or 2 things everything else is from 90s at best.


OdiN (on 08 November 2010)

WRPG's like Fable and Dragon Age Origins comes to my mind.


Aiddon (on 08 November 2010)

a lot right on the money, mostly due to ineptitude on the part of developers. There's nothing WRONG with a lot of these archetypes and devices, but it's usually BAD EXECUTION that brings them down into mediocrity.


sapphi_snake (on 08 November 2010)

@V-r0ck I don't know of many Western RPG's that have guns and muscle heroes. |If you do, by all means mention them.


Jumpin (on 08 November 2010)

Hahaha, this actually sounds like a game I want to play. I think Earthbound covered the top RPG cliches of the 80's and 90's fairly accurately, and made an awesome game out of it. If only some other game would do the same, now, that Earthbound did back in the 90's. Still, RPGs are my favourite genre in existence, and mostly those that are made in Japan (probably my all-time top 25 are exclusively made in Japan).. PS. The Public storage part was my favourite. To this day, I still have the urge to break any pots I see in any game.


KichiVerde (on 08 November 2010)

You really summed up most JRPGs in a nut shell. And this is why I probably think Final Fantasy IV (III in the west) is the best. It was the first game I played that did all these things right. Then after that it was like everyone was trying to remaster the winning formula. Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IX were the only games I ever felt came close. I'm not saying the current JRGS are bad. Its just they will never measure up in my eyes.


benao87 (on 08 November 2010)

No Muramasa?


Jedidiah-Rose (on 08 November 2010)

really speaking it should be called "the Vegeta Rule" as there's probably more DBZ fans on this site than MMPR...But I love MMPR and intend to use the term "Green Ranger Rule" for everything in life now,from walking the dog to making tea...I'm just gonna shout Green Ranger Rule.


Gilgamesh (on 08 November 2010)

You forgot one important thing. There weapons or theres always a giant sword.


kevin the wiiite (on 07 November 2010)

Almost all of these fit with the generic pokemon storyline 1 - yeah the main character looks like a 10 year old 2 - You/Professor caught in tall grass 4 - Team rocket/ cloning pokemon is bad (mewtwo) 5 - Brock and Misty in the TV show 6 - random mostly useless items "hidden" in obvious places 7 - flying on a pidgey carrying 5 wailords and a steelix - nuff said 8 - your rival 10 - the 5th guy in the elite 4 always has some super preachy speech before the battle and to anyone who loves final fantasy tactics advance, I feel your pain. It's so true.


V-r0cK (on 07 November 2010)

lol funny stuff.....have there been a western cliche that involves always guns and big muscle heroes yet?


Lyrikalstylez (on 07 November 2010)

this is why I havent played a japanese rpg in years Cuze Once you play one, you play em all


Mad55 (on 07 November 2010)

pretty good but i like some cliches


Blacksaber (on 07 November 2010)

@kiefer23 Yeah I was thinking that but he never wants to be with the main group. Also he sorta kept wanting to kill the main the whole time so it didn't feel like he fit the cliche.


Thulak (on 07 November 2010)

I have a ferret! :D


AngelosL (on 07 November 2010)

I think this is the best article this site has ever publiced :D


kiefer23 (on 07 November 2010)

Skies of Arcadia has a anti-hero type character but he ends up being the final boss.


Dand (on 07 November 2010)

@arcane_chaos You like cliches, becaues cliches are good, if they weren't good they wouldn't be cliches. The problem is when a movie, game or something else is made of cliche only .


Blacksaber (on 07 November 2010)

You win just for choosing Ferrets! I love my ferrets! Lets see Skies of Arcadia does...really only Burn Baby Burn...


arcane_chaos (on 07 November 2010)

LOL!! this made my day!!! laughed hard at the "public storage" segment I'm a RPG fan and I agree with all the segments, for some reason I don't really get tired of these cliche formulas


Carl2291 (on 07 November 2010)

Suikoden 2 almost breaks this! There are a couple of "Green Ranger" types, but it's to be expected when you have 108 different characters to recruit. And of course, the final boss is there. Although it isn't anything Angelic... It's a giant 2 headed Wolf rune god-like thingy :-P So if anyone wants a JRPG that breaks the mold, I point you towards the best game [i]of all time[/i]. Suikoden 2!