Naoki Yoshida says the term has better connotations now, but it still brings up bad memories.
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I usually think of Final Fantasy as the standard-bearer for JRPGs, but it turns out the standard-bearer for Final Fantasy wasn’t always a fan of the term. In an interview with Skill Up (opens in new tab), Naoki Yoshida (AKA Yoshi-P)—producer on Final Fantasy 16 and 14—mentioned that Japanese devs weren’t keen on the classification when it first cropped up, and even considered it “discriminatory”. “It wasn’t a compliment to a lot of developers in Japan,” recalled Yoshida.
Skill Up had asked Yoshida a question about how JRPGs had (or hadn’t) advanced as a genre, and found himself inadvertently stumbling on an old wound. Yoshida said that, when the term JRPG first entered people’s vocabularies, some devs in Japan felt like they “were being made fun of for creating these games” and that western players were “compartmentalising what we were creating into a JRPG box”.
After all, Japanese devs weren’t setting out to create something called a “JRPG,” Yoshida remarks, they were “just creating RPGs”. “The term JRPG is used by western media rather than users and media in Japan,” he points out.
I admit it’s not something I ever considered, but it makes sense. Siloing off JRPGs into their own subcategory of the RPG genre does carry the connotation that, through some quirk or flaw, the games don’t meet the standard required of a ‘real’ RPG. Sure, you could say the same thing about genres like CRPG or ARPG, but at least those don’t seem to awkwardly restrict games from a particular country to a separate category.
On the plus side, Yoshida says he’s aware that “JRPG has better connotations and it’s being used as a positive” these days, but Japanese game-makers still “remember the time when it was used as a negative”. I certainly got the vibe from the interview that Yoshida himself still doesn’t love the term, either, given the pains he went to in order to explain that the Final Fantasy team wanted to create an RPG, not a JRPG. So while we probably can’t jettison the term at this point, we might want to be a bit more thoughtful in how we deploy it.