In a recent interview with Video Games Chronicle, Bayonetta and Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya addressed criticism toward the term “JRPG,” saying Japanese developers should actually be very proud of the distinction it implies.
JRPG, meaning Japanese role-playing game, was a term popularized in the ‘90s as a way to distinguish Japanese-made console RPGs like Final Fantasy from more PC-style RPGs developed by western studios. This distinction, while accepted in the west as innocuous, had a lot of baggage for some Japanese developers, like Final Fantasy XVI producer Naoki Yoshida, who’s described how the term could feel othering. In an interview with Skill-Up, Yoshida revealed he never loved the term because of how it compartmentalized their works into a “JRPG box.”
“For us as developers [in Japan], the first time we heard it, it was like a discriminatory term,” Yoshida told Skill-Up. “[It felt] as though we were being made fun of for creating these games, and so for some developers, the term JRPG can be something that will maybe trigger bad feelings because of what it was in the past.”
When discussing the cultural differences between Bayonetta and God of War’s Kratos with VGC, Kamiya said he disagreed with Yoshida’s sentiments, and that he saw the term JRPG in a more “positive light” that “should be celebrated moving forward.”
“When you look at God of War, you have Kratos,” Kamiya said. “He’s muscly, he’s huge, he’s bald, he looks really kick-ass, basically. So we thought, ‘okay, we have games like this which are becoming more popular globally, could we create something similar from a Japanese standpoint?’
We discussed this internally, and the conclusion was that no, we obviously can’t, because this is something that’s not unique to us as Japanese creators. So in order to make an action game that would stand out we needed to create something that expressed our unique sensitivities as Japanese creators, and Bayonetta was a result of that. When you look at Bayonetta as a character, she doesn’t look strong like Kratos, she doesn’t look like she could take on these massive demons, but she was very unique in the way she was created, in the way we view action game heroes, from a unique Japanese viewpoint.
So when it comes to the term “JRPG”, this is something that ties into this– these are RPG games that, in a sense, only Japanese creators can make with their unique sensitivity when it comes to creating these experiences. I think it’s certainly something that should be celebrated moving forward, and someone should actually aim to make a “king of JRPGs” game to express that. As Japanese game creators, we’re very proud of the actual term JRPG.
While Kamiya has no qualms over the term JRPG, he does take issue with gamers calling a title “retro” because “hearing the word ‘retro’ from a Japanese viewpoint, suggests more of a ‘fad’ brought back from a past era and reskinned for the current era.” Basically, he thinks the term is disrespectful and would prefer older games be referred to as simply that or as “classic games.”
“I love games from all generations, and just because the game is ‘retro’ doesn’t mean it’s retro, because it’s the same game that existed years or decades ago—it still exists and it’s still playable and it’s still an experience that’s very unique in its own right—so there’s really no need to refer to it as ‘retro’ because it still does have special memories and experiences that stay with you after all these years,” Kamiya said. “That’s why I like to use the term ‘classic games.’”