As a long-running fan of JRPGs, I’ve had a lot of free time over the years to think about inconsequential subjects. I’ve entertained such thoughts as “how exactly does he lift that sword and also where can I get a replica?” and “why is it always giant rats?” But possibly the most persistent question that continues popping up in my dusty attic is “why is the savior of the world always 17 years old?”
Look, I get it. Young people exude optimism and hope. At least they do in fiction. Hey, all I’m saying is I get the feeling JRPG writers haven’t been to Hot Topic. Anyway, it’s understandable why the developers in question might want to keep their stars young and full of possibilities.
But, and hear me out here, what if your new protagonist was some 35-year-old with no aspirations and who just moved out on their own?
Hey, I said hear me out. Calm down and let me finish. Here’s my pitch.
You’re 35. Not unattractive, but still effectively invisible to those who catch your eye. You just got home to your 13th floor condo after a long night’s work. Yep, you work night shift. This isn’t some stroke of bad luck in scheduling. No, you chose this. You wanted night shift because that means you don’t have to talk to people.
As you put down your phone, on which you’ve been checking various dating sites on the way in (the juxtaposition of the last two sentences might have made you chuckle if you were a clever sort), your dog acknowledges your existence with a side look from her bed. Once she realizes you don’t have food, she’s zonked out again. You reflect on how similar the two of you are before noticing a letter on the ground in front of the door.
“To: Occupant,” the envelope says. It’s impersonal, and yet you’ve never seen a word that describes you so profoundly.
You decide to open the envelope, because you’re feeling adventurous today, and the second you break that saliva seal, a glow begins to emit from inside. You reach in (you daredevil, you) and pull out what looks like a crystal. Its glow is almost blinding at this point, and as you move to put it back, your door flies open with a crack.
Standing in the doorway is a woman in a business suit holding a crossbow. You’re shocked by her sudden appearance, but not by the crossbow. Frankly you think your sword is a more impressive weapon. (Yes, this story is set in modern times and you have a sword, because the game is made by Atlus, probably.)
“It’s you! The crystal chose you! You’re the chosen one!” she exclaims, breathlessly. You answer with a meaningful stare, because you’re also a silent protagonist.
“Come with me, there isn’t much time,” she says, while already dragging you out to the hallway. You’re just barely able to fumble for your keys and lock the door as you go, because you’re 35 and leaving the door unlocked is irresponsible.
Thus begins the epic journey of [YOUR NAME] the Stoic. You have only a vague idea of your goal, which doesn’t matter because it’s a red herring anyway and the real story will kick in after 30 or so hours (game time). You periodically stay at rest stops, but only to charge your phone, pay off your credit card, and text your friend to make sure your dog is being fed. This is also how the game saves, by the way.
Along the way, others join your party. First, a defeated-looking suburban husband working on his lawn as you pass by. He asks where you’re going, and your initial companion answers “to battle a great evil.”
“Nice,” he says, “need a hand?”
“Not really,” she answers.
“Honey, I’m going out for a bit,” he says in the general direction of his house. Then he grabs his rake, saunters over, and now you have a party of three.
The rest join soon after. You battle through the “city hall” dungeon to find a family lawyer who hates his clients and a local mayor who actually really enjoys her life but goes along with you because she needs to go to the store and your thing is on the way.
Next, a disabled veteran who just got discharged but is ironically the only party member without a weapon. There’s also a robot because, at this point, why not? Both join the party because they have nothing better to do with their time. All four of these companions are romance options, because the game is also made by BioWare (no longer a JRPG, I guess. But I’m in too deep now so I’m going for broke.)
You fight what you think is the final boss, only to find out it was only a pawn. At this point, the plot begins getting super complicated for no good reason. You travel to a spa at some point (because it’s on the checklist right under “some kind of tournament”) but you just sort of sit there in the sauna with your head in your hands for an hour, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Finally, you reach the final boss. After a dramatic light show, your true enemy is revealed to be… the wife of the first guy you recruited. It doesn’t make any sense, and even the wife appears somewhat confused, but you go ahead and do battle. After you win, it turns out the whole thing was a misunderstanding based around something that could have been solved with 10 seconds of dialogue. You all have a good laugh, the mayor gets her groceries, and everyone goes back to their own lives.
Later, after the end credits, you’re walking home with your love interest and your dog (or just the dog, if you didn’t choose one), and you see a familiar envelope on the side of the road. Rather than open it and risk more unnecessary variety in your life, you simply walk past.
Which means you don’t notice when your dog, being the feisty little booger she is, grabs the envelope and rips it apart, revealing a glowing crystal.
This cliffhanger is never resolved due to poor sales.
So there’s my pitch. It may sound like I’m trashing JRPGs, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I love the genre. They’re what made me a serious gamer in the first place way back when. This was just meant as a loving homage. I hope JRPGs stick around forever and keep growing, and from my experience with games like Final Fantasy XV and The Legend of Heroes, I can sleep soundly knowing our developer friends overseas retain that same passion they’ve had since the beginning.