For classic RPGs, what’s old is new in 2022

For years, niche audiences and fan translations kept alive the excitement surrounding Japanese RPGs, some of which were never released in North America. Now companies like Square Enix are taking notice by reviving games and franchises that mainstream American audiences may not know about.

While this trend bubbled over for a few years, it came to a head in the February 9 Nintendo Direct. Square Enix has announced four remasters or remakes of retro JRPGs, two of which have never been released in North America before. Going forward, it looks like the key to the genre’s continued success may lie in the past, and Square Enix is ​​the shining example of that philosophy in action.

The long way here

The golden age of JRPGs was in the 1990s and Square Enix (then just Square) was at the top. Nearly every Final Fantasy game from that era is considered a classic, alongside titles like Chrono Trigger. That said, not all JRPGs would catch on in the West, so quite a few titles underperformed or never saw the light of day in North America.

As we entered the 2000s, Japanese publishers like Square became even more focused on Western audiences, so these titles became even more obscure. Most RPG fans wouldn’t know about games like Live A Live unless they’ve done some serious digging.

During that time, the fans kept the passion for this series alive. Groups like Aeon Genesis made fan translations for games that never came out in the West, and a small but passionate group of people demanded the return of franchises like the Mana, Front Mission, and Chrono series.

For years, fans of these less popular series were not served so well. In recent years, Square Enix has renewed its interest in classic JRPGs. This resulted in new games like Octopath Traveler, as well as a new wave of remasters.

In 2021, Square Enix announced a remake of Dragon Quest 3 and released remasters of SaGa Frontier, Legend of Mana, and the first five Final Fantasy games. In the February 2022 Nintendo Direct, Square Enix showed it has no intention of slowing down. Later this month, Final Fantasy VI remaster will be released and an HD-2D remake of Live A Live, a remaster of Chrono Cross featuring a localized version of Radical Dreamers and remakes of Front Mission 1st and Front Mission 2, will be announced.

It’s a great time to be a classic JRPG fan.

What’s old is new

This strategy from Square Enix is ​​brilliant for several reasons. Remasters of classic titles fill gaps in a release lineup and don’t require as much work as developing a new JRPG game like Forspoken from scratch. In general, there is currently a trend for entertainment media to revive old franchises as they already have built-in fan bases that will hype up and buy products related to that series. JRPGs just happen to be a much more lucrative resource for those kinds of initiatives than it might initially seem.

The re-release of these retro games, be it a simple remaster or a full remake, validates the fans who have supported, translated and preserved these niche games for years. I’m more excited about Live A Live and Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition than I probably would have been had Square Enix announced a brand new JRPG during the Nintendo Direct for that reason.

Gaming is more popular than ever, and now a whole new generation will be introduced to these fantastic games that were unappreciated in their day. Live A Live and Chrono Cross have a chance to do better in North America now than when they were released over two decades ago. There’s also no reason not to be happy that these games are officially preserved from a fan’s perspective.

What’s next

The February 2022 Nintendo Direct highlighted that this strategy is successful for Square Enix and that it intends to continue to embrace the past. Now is the time for other companies to do the same. In particular, companies like Nintendo have retro and non-localized RPGs that would cause a stir if revived. Golden Sun is one such series that is overdue for a revival.

Another game that comes to mind is Mother 3, the sequel to Earthbound that was never released in the West. It has survived thanks to an extremely passionate fan base who have gone to the trouble of translating it and making it more widely available. See how excited people got when it was announced that the first two games in the series are coming to Nintendo Switch Online. Fans are begging for a re-release, and the announcement of a Western release for Mother 3 just might be one of the most exciting Nintendo Direct moments since Banjo-Kazooie came to Smash Bros. Ultimate came.

As companies with huge JRPG libraries assess how they will fill out their future game series, it’s worth looking to the past. A great IP and enthusiastic fan base may be waiting for you there.

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