Kickstarter is now officially a thing.
Not that it wasn't before. Since its launch in 2009, the crowdfunding website has evolved into an extremely effective financing tool for business ventures, creative projects, and auteurs of all kinds. It has facilitated the relationship between creators and their fans, both giving us access to the people who make things we love and allowing more people to make things we love.
But over the past few months, something's changed. When Psychonauts creator Tim Schafer earned $1 million in under 24 hours and shattered Kickstarter records, you could feel something snap. His point-and-click adventure project raised a total of $3.3 million in one month. Then, this week, designer Brian Fargo brought new life to Wasteland, raising over a million (and counting) for a sequel to the 1988 post-apocalyptic roleplaying game. 1988. Gamers came out in full force to revive a game that's old enough to get drunk.
It might not be a game-changer, but Kickstarter has certainly proven that it can make a splash, especially when it's used to revitalize old genres and appeal to nostalgic fanbases. So why not use it to bring back some dead JRPG series?
Here are five suggestions.
Capcom's reputation with fans has taken a few hits lately. Between sudden cancellations of beloved properties, on-disc downloadable content controversies, and cooperative woes in Street Fighter X Tekken, there's egg all over the Japanese studio's collective faces.
What better way to earn back fan cred than to revive a beloved RPG series like Breath of Fire? There's very little risk in launching a Kickstarter campaign for the dragon-heavy series. And different donation tiers can receive different downloadable bonuses when the game is inevitably financed. We all know how much Capcom loves DLC.
I know we never saw Mother 3 on U.S. shores. And I know creator Shigesato Itoi has stated multiple times that he doesn't want to make a fourth game in the quirky, poignant series.
But come on. If we can raise up enough money, put it in one of those oversized bags with a dollar sign on it, and dump it on Itoi's desk, he can't say no.
Publisher Sega has released several multiplayer RPGs under the Phantasy Star label in recent years. Its next one, Phantasy Star Online 2, will be out for PC this year and Vita in 2013.
But the real Phantasy Star—the set of single-player sci-fi epics that challenged Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest for RPG dominance back in the early 90s—has been gone for almost two decades. Give us a Kickstarter for Phantasy Star V, Sega. You know you want to.
We've seen a bazillion remakes of Lunar: Silver Star, the first game in this Game Arts-developed RPG series, but we never saw a true threequel. Which is a real shame, because Silver Star and its follow-up, Lunar: Eternal Blue, were both tremendously charming. The series was stuffed to the gills with quirky humor, lovely music, and top-notch writing. I think RPG fans would come out in droves to support a third Lunar.
As an unabashed Suikoden devotee, I'd probably kill for another great game in this Konami-developed series. With politic-heavy storylines and addictive, gotta-catch-em-all-style character recruiting, the Suikoden games are up there with the genre's best.
And sure, Konami has released two new Suikoden games, including a recent title for the PSP that we'll probably never see. But they're not *real* Suikoden games. They're spinoffs. They take place in entirely different worlds, with entirely different characters than those in the series' five main entries.
Like both Lunar and Phantasy Star, this is a series that has veered way off track. Save it, Konami. Save it, Kickstarter. SAVE US.
* Kotaku's Richard Eisenbeis discusses Pandora's Tower, the black sheep of Operational Rainfall. Basically, it's a Zelda clone.
* Publisher XSeed is bringing Ys: The Oath in Felghana and Ys Origin to Steam. The Oath in Felghana will be out on March 19 for $15. If you buy it enough times, maybe Xseed will give us the second chapter to excellent PSP RPG Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky?
* The ridiculously titled Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance will take you 35 hours to beat, according to designer Tetsuya Nomura.
* Square Enix released Chaos Rings II for iOS yesterday, in case you just bought a new iPad and need some hardcore JRPG action for your morning commute.
Something new: Tales of Graces F, which some say has the best combat of any Tales game thus far. Look out for Kotaku's official review of this new PS3 role-playing game next week.
Something old: Breath of Fire III, Mother 3, Phantasy Star IV, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue, and Suikoden II. Yes, all of them. It's the weekend.
Every week, I post several reader questions about JRPGs. Want to see your question featured in an edition of Random Encounters? Send it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reader Matthew Reis writes:
This question has actually been bothering me for awhile. I love Suikoden and Suikoden II. I still own the PS1 discs and will only part with them when they are forcefully pried from my cold, dead hands. I also own Suikoden III and Suikoden IV, which I have never actually played. I know we all have unplayed games sitting around, and I think the reason I have yet to play 3 & 4 is due to the legacy that 1 & 2 have built up over the years. I guess my mind just can't fathom how 3 & 4 can come anywhere close to 1 & 2 in quality.
So my question: should I even bother to play Suikoden III and Suikoden IV, or should they remain shrink wrapped on my games shelf, a reminder of a series that once shined so brightly?
Suikoden III is a great game. It can feel a little bit sluggish, not unlike many RPGs, but it's filled with great stories and moments and characters. Like a clan of talking ducks. There's a clan of talking ducks.
Suikoden IV is certainly the black sheep of the series, and it's certainly mediocre compared to the other four numbered titles. But it's not a bad game. There are some infuriatingly slow boat-sailing sections, and you might walk away wondering whether or not the plot actually made sense, but it's a fun 20-25 hours. And hey, it's still Suikoden—which means you get to collect characters, build up a base, play mini-games, and do all of those other little enjoyable things that series fans have grown to love.
Play Suikoden III. If you have extra time, play Suikoden IV too.
Reader James McEneely writes:
Do you feel that the progress made in graphics has damaged the story-telling ability of RPGs? I often feel like the budget of games NOW is focused on graphics, and then whatever they have left is sort of dropped into a rusty coffee can for a writer to scrounge. Games like Final Fantasy XII, which had such a good premise and looked gorgeous (for a PS2 game) caused me to rage, while games like Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana caught you in a death-grip and immersed you headfirst in the story until you finished.
Good question, James. But I don't think it's a matter of budget, as many gamers assume. I don't think Japanese RPG studios are getting together and saying "hey, let's put more money into graphics than story!" I think it's a matter of style. It's more difficult to tell a great story when you're busy worrying about which direction to point the camera or how to write shorter lines so your animators don't have to spend as much time on each character's lips.
Perhaps more importantly, old RPGs left a lot to the imagination. Chrono Trigger's characters had nuance and subtlety because its developers didn't have the graphical tools to do otherwise. Secret of Mana's story was simple, unobtrusive, and powerful—because it didn't have a lot to say. Lifelike graphics are wonderful for eye candy... and terrible for storytelling.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.