The world is super crazy right now, y’all. It seems like everybody knows we’re in the weirdest timeline, but we all feel powerless to stop it.
What with Epstein getting (most likely) ganked in prison before he could spill who was part of his pedo-club, America having a reality TV star with a track-record of sexual harassment allegations (among other things) as its president, and other bull, I feel like I’ve been Isekaied into an AU of the #tragedy anime Banana Fish without even knowing it.
What I mean to say is that crazy crap happens every day, and social media weaponizes this info at lightning-fast speeds. It’s incredibly daunting, but as a marketing maven, I can’t quite leave social media behind.
Slap all this on top of the stresses everyone goes through each day, and it’s a recipe for “this ain’t it chief”, “yikes”, and “oof”…to coin a few Gen-Z phrases.
So what do dorky gamers like me do when the world is batshit? Some of us play Call of Duty. Some of us play Fortnite.
For me, the only answer to what ails me takes the form of cheesy JRPGs: the best comfort food of all time.
You may like consuming vast quantities of chocolate when things get rough, but I like having epic fights with otherworldly beings.
Cheesy JRPGs feel like home, at least to me, and home is very comforting when the world seems to be getting increasingly crazy.
The reasons why Cheesy JRPGs are a Stress Killer:
When the world is nuts, JRPG characters are always some level of ‘predictable’.
Take a look at the image above. That’s the main cast and crew of Tales of Vesperia. The anime archetypes are pretty easy to identify:
From left to right, you’ve got:
- Karol, the scrappy kid-character, who has a giant bag so you know he carries a heavy burden.
- Judith, who is scantily clad but somehow still obscured, which may mean she’s secretive.
- Yuri, who’s probably the protagonist, since he appears to be framed the most by white-space, and seems edgy due to his black outfit.
- Estellise, who seems like the innocent-pure-maiden-love-interest.
- Flynn is the obvious white-knight do-gooder based on his ensemble.
- Patty is the random tiny pirate-girl, and that’s basically who she is.
- Raven is the mysterious older bloke with a glimmer of mischief in his eye.
- Rita is most likely a creative genius, judging by her mismatched outfit and goggles.
Anime pairs form with function where character designs are concerned. These anime tropes are predictable, and JRPGs use them constantly.
You don’t have to guess who’s who, so your brain doesn’t have to work very hard. You can jump right in, which is comforting.
Take a look at another JRPG I’m a huge fan of: .hack//g.u.
- Haseo is the edgelord protagonist you play as, is front and center.
- Pi is the smart girl who probably bosses you around at some point, which you can tell by her power-stance.
- Yata is the blond guy who seems like he’s got a stick up his butt, which he does. He’s between Kuhn and Pi which establishes them as characters that orbit his goals.
- Kuhn has a headwrap, and if we know anything about anime dudes with headwraps it’s that they offer at least 1 layer of comic relief.
- The dude in purple, Endrance, is just pretty enough that it’s confusing. Bet on him to hit on you, which that does definitely happen.
- The teal-haired girl, Kusabira, seems mysterious enough that she’s probably heavily tied to the plot.
- And then we have two characters who mirror each other: Shino and Atoli. They’re both very different, but both serve similar roles in the plot for Haseo.
That’s .hack//g.u in a nutshell. There are many more characters than this picture shows, and they all follow anime’s “form meets function” format.
What you see is generally what you get in JRPGs, unless the plot shifts.
That’s the beauty of JRPGs; you know what to expect, you’re often given it, but when you aren’t, it’s always a pleasant surprise.
Stories about characters we love, who overcome obstacles and live in miraculous worlds, help us forget our worries for a time.
If I had to award one JRPG the title of “Most Likely To Make You Happy” it’d be Tales of Vesperia. Everything about this game was crafted to get you to buy into the plight of the world, the mindsets of its characters, and make you feel something special.
Because form meets function in JRPGs, ToV is obnoxiously fun, beautiful, and making progress really feels like you’re doing something productive.
Feeling productive isn’t always true in real life. Plenty of people work really hard, every single day, and don’t always have very much to show for it.
In JRPGs, you’re the hero. It’s easy to see your successes. That’s powerful.
There’s also always a cast of characters that have your back when you need them, too. That’s also not always true in real life. But in games like ToV, you’re never left hanging when you need your polygonal buddies.
ToV, especially, is also just a fun game. It doesn’t feel like work, because you’re rewarded after every single battle, and you can mark your progress by the plot and your levels.
And when you’re in a beautiful world with bright, fanciful colors, and an actively engaging battle system, it becomes pretty easy to forget all your worries.
Tales of Vesperia doesn’t ask a lot of you, except that you spend (lots) of time playing it. That you embrace the characters. That you have fun with the battle system.
It just gives. That’s what great JRPGs do, especially the cheesy ones.
They give, and ask nothing of you but to have a bitchin’ time.
When the world is absolutely nuts, Cheesy JRPGs bring the best medicine:
If I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, or just particularly frazzled, Lunar: Silver Star Story is my go-to. Whatever device it’s on, I’m always down to experience a sometimes ridiculous, often imaginative pixelated anime adventure.
With cheeky voice acting in spades, you truly get to immerse yourself in this world, and what a world it is. The dub-team is wonderful, and I’m reminded of that every single time Nall opens up his trap:
There are plenty of laughs to be had in Lunar, and when the world is batshit, laughter is totally the best medicine.
Another great thing about JRPGs in the early 90s is that localization wasn’t so stodgy. This meant that jokes weren’t stuck in “indecipherable Japanese inside-jokes territory”.
My sense of humor isn’t very high-brow, so learning that the dragon diamond I snagged in Lunar was actually dragon crap still gives me a chuckle.
Little details like this really make JRPGs like Lunar: SSS special. They make the characters relateable, and they make you smile. When the world is nuts, smiling really makes all the difference in the world.
JRPGs like Lunar: Silver Star Story are comforting because of their humor, simplicity, beauty, and all the love that went into making them.
Once I pick this baby up, I know I’m in for a treat, and treating yourself is one excellent way to stop obsessing about the shit you can’t change in the world, no matter how hard you try.
Even the cheesiest JRPGs have something special about them.
Like sick-as-hell crafting systems, which might even inspire you to make something.
One of my absolute favorite cheesy JRPGs is Star Ocean: Till The End of Time, featured above. It’s really not even remotely in the rankings of what other people consider ‘good’, and it hasn’t aged very well, but it’s still a treat.
There’s a crafting system in this game that completely floors me to this very day. I have yet to find something so obnoxiously addictive, and not even the Atelier series—known for being about, well, crafting—holds a candle to it.
Crafting in Star Ocean: Till The End of Time seems pretty basic at first. Set up your coolbro characters in an ‘assembly line’ in crafting locations around the main world you end up frequenting, and let them go for it.
And by go for it, I mean just plop them there and wait around while they burn a bunch of food, break a bunch of swords, and gain experience making items that you can then patent.
You can patent items just like you’d patent inventions in real life, except without any of the annoying paperwork. JRPGs like Star Ocean: Till The End of Time make even banal things enjoyable.
The coolest thing about this crafting system is that each character has something they’re a bit better at than the others, and that shines through as an example of characterization.
Albel Nox, best boy of the game, is good with blacksmithing. He would never stoop so low as to be seen in the kitchen, because that’s what weaklings do (I’m guessing at what he’d say, but it’s pretty close).
After slamming down a bunch of crafted items, I always find myself wanting to make something. Now, I know I won’t ever be a blacksmith, but I can make a mean Tuna Salad.
And after watching the characters fuck up that basic dish enough, that’s just what I end up doing. Making food, because these fake people suck at it, and I get hungry, okay?
Even if Star Ocean: Till The End of Time is one of the goofiest video games I’ve ever played, the crew that created it really put in a lot of interesting details like this.
If you want to flex on the game a bit, there’s tons of extra content. Why, even Best Boy Albel Nox is a bonus character you don’t necessarily have to recruit, but he is recruitable.
You bet your ass I recruited him, and then forced him to slave away making weapons for me, while I made mac and cheese.
Making things in games can spark a desire in you to make something, too. Whether that’s fanart, fanfiction, blacksmithing a sword, or making a mean tuna salad—cheesy JRPGs can get your creative juices flowing.
When the worst is nutterbutters, music can set you free.
Music can transport you to a new world when you listen to it. It can reframe your feelings, or offer you the unique experience that maybe, just maybe, someone understands you out there in the world.
Cheesy JRPG soundtracks are no different.
Take Tales of Vesperia’s intro song; it literally paints the entire plot for you, and when you realize that (about 20ish hours in), it feels like a very special moment.
I don’t know a lot of pop music that can make me feel so melancholy, and sometimes when you’re stressed, getting your feels out with a bitchin’ tune is aces.
Lunar: Silver Star Story also has a dank intro song. In fact, the plot is heavily tied to Luna and her singing, so you’d expect it has some comforting, hopeful, fun melodies.
There’s such whimsy and nostalgia involved, for me, with Lunar’s soundtrack that I find myself belting out the songs to this very day.
Much to my cat’s chagrin, as I sound like a dying animal most of the time.
Contrary to 99% of JRPG nerds, Kingdom Hearts is not my most favorite thing in the world. It’s a fun enough game series, but I’d prefer to stick to games that don’t have a duckton of Disney crap in them.
But I’d never say that Simple and Clean isn’t a great song; it is. And having a stellar soundtrack is sort of a prerequisite for being a semi-decent game, to be honest.
I’m a huge fan of the Persona series, especially Persona 4 (my personal favorite), but it’s such a dense series that I hesitate adding it to this already exhaustive list of JRPGs that give me comfort when the world gets nuts.
Every single Persona game has great tracks. They’re all catchy, even when they get engrishy, and because I’ve had such fond memories of the games even just listening to a track gets me feeling some feels.
Nostalgia is comforting. It brings the happy chemicals.
And now the pièce de résistance: Final Fantasy VIII’s Eyes on Me, by Faye Wong. I don’t consider FFVIII to be cheesy. Plenty of other people might, but there’s a reason it takes up a seat in my top 5 JRPGs of all time.
It’s special. It just is.
I’m also planning on penning up a full review of the FFVIII Remaster shortly, so it didn’t get added to this list.
Suffice to say, the sweeping romantic tone of Eyes on Me, the nostalgia-factor, and just how patently beautiful it is, make this a track that has stuck with me for 20 years.
When you pair awesome music with the warm memories you’ve had playing something that brought you so much joy, you effectively create a time capsule of comfort.
Even the cheesiest of JRPGs have songs worth listening to.
Just imagine: a whole team of people created something just for you to have fun playing, and wanted you to listen to fun music that would stick with you forever.
That’s a labor of love, a gift from creatives to you. That’s something truly special that cuts through the bullshit of the world, let me tell you.
There are plenty more Cheesy JRPGs I go to when I need a break.
But I can’t possibly list them all.
There are so many more calming, charming, engaging, emotive, and yes—cheesy—JRPGs than what I’ve listed, and the fact that I can’t name them all shows you just how powerful this genre truly is.
Tales of Graces F brings “The Power of Friendship Saves The World” as a cheesy, but comforting, plot device. The forgotten gem Skies of Arcadia is both familiar and novel, which hits on the nostalgia factor.
Pokemon is nostalgia all day every day, with a dash of completionist fancy to keep you feeling like you’re moving towards your goals.
The entirety of the Tales series basically deserves a compendium of articles that I just don’t have any time for, and that’s powerful.
All these games are important. They’re all powerful. They’re all, at times, cringey. And they’re all wonderful ways to escape from the daily grind, if only for a little bit.
JRPGs aren’t complicated. They’re decidedly uncomplicated, so much so that children and adults can get into them, and appreciate them all the same.
Some JRPGs are nostalgia factories. Some JRPGs get you to think. Some JRPGs feature saving the world with The Power of Friendship.
They don’t ask a lot of you, not like the increasingly chaotic world, or whatever circumstances in your life may be stressing you out.
JRPGs only ask that you play them.
They only ask that you enjoy yourself, and that’s definitely comforting.
I’d implore you to try them out, even if you’re a huge competitive gaming fan, or haven’t picked up a controller in over 10 years. All JRPGs ask of you is that you try to have fun, and they reward you for your adventures.
When life gets crazy, Cheesy JRPGs pave the way to good times. And aren’t good times the best panacea in an absolutely batshit world?
I think so. I really, really do.