Why Japanese RPGs Suck

11 problems and smartass advice on how to fix them

You'd never know it from seeing them, but JRPGs are actually written completely in Japanese. By the time most of them arrive on our shores, though, they've been completely rerecorded by 100 percent English-speaking talent. The "talent" being whoever happened to be standing closest to the microphone after the interns finished translating with Japanese-to-English high school dictionaries. No thanks, I'd rather just hear it in a language I don't understand.

Quick fix: Leave the original voices and add some subtitles. If a game wants to get fancy, write the subtitles in a funky font. Do nothing else.

In a perfect world: We'd all speak the same language, the language of love… or maybe math.

Worst offenders: Enchanted Arms - although this is also an example of how to fix the problem, because it lets you switch from awful English to acceptable Japanese. And in terms of raw, written translation weirdness, Legend of Heroes III's "Sworder Sword: Master it and you're a full-fledged sworder" still makes us giggle.

A big reason I play RPGs is for the chance to pretend to be someone that I'm not. Nothing ruins that faster than when the game actually forces me to stop being that character and watch a short film showing what "I" am doing. As gaming systems evolve, the extra processing power is being used to make longer, prettier cutscenes. Wouldn't it be better to incorporate more things that used to require a cutscene into actual gameplay? Recent games, such as Lost Odyssey and Eternal Sonata, have exactly the wrong idea and it's entirely possible to spend more time watching than actually playing the game.

Quick fix: Take a storytelling lesson from action games. Games like BioShock and Portal use the environment to tell a story without interrupting the continuity of the world.

Above: In this scene we learn that everyone has their own face

In a perfect world: Real life would have cutscenes. Then it wouldn't be as jarring when games do it. Imagine switching to a third-person perspective every time you have to open a stuck jar of peanut butter. The drama would never end.

Worst offender: Lost Odyssey nails you to your chair with nonstop movies. Opening a door often earns you an elaborate "door opening" scene. Uncovering the next memory from your mysterious forgotten past earns a screen full of text to read. Apparently Japanese gamers would secretly rather be watching TV or reading, but just play games for, you know, the chicks

Mar 25, 2008

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