But here's the catch-22: would Xenogears's story be nearly as powerful or memorable without tracks like that? If not for Yasunori Mitsuda's beautiful melodies, would you still care about Fei and Elly's struggles? Would you still get as pumped to fight unrelenting battles? Would you even bother playing the game?


When I think about my favorite JRPG moments, my mind immediately jumps to their sounds. The slow walk down the staircase of Daryl's Tomb in Final Fantasy VI, punctuated by a slow rendition of wandering gambler Setzer's airship theme. The melancholy piano transitioning to a drum beat and then sudden silence when a certain character dies in Suikoden II. Beginning your adventure in Final Fantasy IV.

More than any other genre, JRPGs live and die by their soundtracks. Their powerful moments are made even more powerful by the sweeping, haunting, lovely melodies attached. Grand adventures rendered even grander. Frantic battles feel more urgent, more dangerous.


So maybe the most important part of a JRPG isn't its story, or its combat system, or its graphical engine. Maybe the most important part of a JRPG is its soundtrack. After all, that's the part that makes you cry.

This Week in JRPG News

What To Play This Weekend

Lunar: Eternal Blue Complete, a PlayStation game that mastered the art of awesome soundtracks. Comes complete with charming dialogue, an adorable story, and one hell of a sidekick-slash-flying cat thing.


Your Questions Answered

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: jason@kotaku.com


Reader Alec writes:

I love your columns and i can't wait to read your weekly ruminations on JRPGs over at Kotaku now. One topic i hope you get to cover is the evolution of the series Final Fantasy from VI - XIII-2. I grew up on the prime days of Final Fantasy. 6 - 10 were released in my days of middle school through high school. I Loved the turn-based format, the engrossing stories, and the limitless potential of the games. The culmination of the battle system coming together in FFX remains one of my favorite battle systems of all time and the rapid change in the series following X is understandable but i'm still holding out hope for a return to the turn-based combat found in earlier Square releases. XIII's frenetic pace and paradigm system is fun and challenging but after testing the waters of the MMORPG world and settling on the linear direction and fast paced action RPG system in XIII i'm worried we'll never see a return to the classics.


You know, while I don't think very much of Final Fantasy XIII, I do have a lot of respect for Square Enix's willingness to embrace innovation. Every Final Fantasy has brought a host of new mechanics to the table, from IV's real-time turn-based hybrid ATB system to XIII's class shifting chaos.

And we have no idea what Final Fantasy XV will be like. We know nothing about its world, its characters, its setting, its battle system, its summons, its dungeons, or its themes. All we know is that it will have a guy named Cid and maybe some chocobos or cactaur. That's kind of awesome.


So to address your concerns: No, I don't think Final Fantasy will ever return to its "classic form," and I think that's okay. As much as I loved those SNES and PlayStation 1 offerings, I think it's great to see one major video game series that isn't afraid to pursue innovation, even when it doesn't really work.

And if I want a classic RPG, I'll play Dragon Quest.

In contrast, reader David writes:

How's this for a topic: Alternative JRPGs. Any recommendations for a JRPG fan who's tired of the same tired old format of JRPGs that he once loved to death?


My recommendation is The World Ends With You, one of the most unique RPGs I've ever played. How about you guys? What unique JRPGs would you recommend?

Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG. It runs every Friday at 3pm ET.