A Concise Guide to JRPG Characters

I’ve played a lot of JRPGs over the years. The first JRPG I ever played was Final Fantasy VIII, which I bought after watching the introductory video on a show called Video and Arcade Top 10. Before watching that show, I had never heard of this series.

I had to play it on a quarter screen because my PC couldn’t handle fullscreen. I bought the strategy guide (my first strategy guide) because I couldn’t seem to kill Elvoret on Dollet, and I didn’t understand the Junction system until close to the end of the game….

….and I was hooked, seriously hooked.

At the moment, most of the games on my desk are JRPGs: Fate/Extra, Radiant Historia, Devil Survivor 2, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, and most recently Growlanser: Wayfarer of Time (review to follow). I’ve played through most Final Fantasy games (save for the MMOGs and FF 13, because I don’t have a PS3). I go to great lengths to collect all the summons (yes, I did breed a golden chocobo, without cheating) and I’ve only beaten one Weapon monster (Omega Weapon in Final Fantasy 10) outside of battles that were required by the story. He went down in around three hits. I’ve borrowed every game in the Suikoden series from a lucky bitch friend who bought the first Suikoden game from the bargain bin at Toys ‘R Us (for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Suikoden series, it’s nearly impossible to get the first and second games for under $180). The first strategy RPG I ever played was Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance, and I will pretty much buy any RPG Atlus puts out because Atlus is just that amazing.

Okay, I went a little off-topic, suffice it to say that while I love JRPGs, they do have their fair share of stereotypes stock characters that get reused over and over again. So, for the newbie to JRPGs, here is Gef’s Concise Guide to JRPG Characters:

The Hero

The Hero is almost always a young man. He is most likely an orphan, or has one living parent (most often his mother) whose only function is to say: “Hi dear, aren’t you late for your adventure today?” The most common profession for a JRPG hero is a mercenary. A popular form of Hero in JRPGs is the silent protagonist, which allows the player to project mold his personality somewhat. If he does speak, expect him to be one of two types:

  • The Everyman
  • The Angstbucket The Cold and Aloof One

There are exceptions to this, of course (Zidane from Final Fantasy IX is pleasant and a womanizer, more developed than the everyman and not at all like the angstbucket cold and aloof. If this is a setting that makes use of elemental magic, expect the Hero to start with Fire.

The Best Friend

The Best Friend is typically the Hero’s childhood friend (sometimes their only friend apart from the Love Interest). Typically, the Best Friend will stick around for most of the game and will be absolutely loyal to the Hero….

….that is, unless they are the Best Friend Betrayer.

JRPGs love this trope. Chances are very good that the Hero will be betrayed by his Best Friend at some point (especially if it’s been established that the BF is jealous of the Hero). Sometimes the BF is jealous because the Love Interest seems to prefer the Hero, other times its a matter of clashing ideals, whatever the reason, players can expect a series of boss fights (usually ridiculously easy) against this friend. If a Best Friend Betrayer isn’t killed by the Villain, they usually end up rejoining the party near the end of the game.

The Rival

The Rival is the cold, aloof hero’s equivalent of the Best Friend (as cold aloof heroes rarely have any friends). The Rival’s skills typically complement the Hero’s: they may wield similar weapons or be proficient in opposing elements. The Rival will sometimes join your party, but at the very least, you can expect a series of boss fights against this person.

The Love Interest

The Love Interest is typically the Hero’s childhood friend. In the case of a cold and aloof Hero, expect the Love Interest to make it her mission to get him to lighten up. The Love Interest will typically be your party’s healer. The player better give her an entertaining name, because they’re going to be hearing it a lot, especially if she’s kidnapped at some point.

The Genki Girl on Caffeine Perky Girl

A favourite character type in Japan and the bane of Western audiences, the Perky Girl will typically have an unusual hairstyle (particularly hair colour) and an advanced case of motor mouth. She’s not usually the Love Interest, but expect any person she’s interested in to initially find her annoying (unless he’s the Womanizer). If it’s the Love Interest’s goal to make the Hero “lighten up”, the Perky Girl does this for the entire party.

The Womanizer

The Womanizer is, quite simply, the one who flirts, a lot. Expect that female characters will rarely flirt back at him. The Womanizer does tend to end the game attached to someone, giving up his womanizing ways for the sake of love, or something….

The Villain

There are many different types of villain, but here are a few of the most common:

  • The Nihilist – The Nihilist is the type of villain who is sick of war and conflict and the messiness of human existence. His solution to these problems, naturally, is to kill everyone and start anew. Sometimes this is combined with a major g0d complex.
  • The Bugfuck insane The Mad One – The Mad One is a very popular villain type, and even in games where the other types dominate, there will usually be at least one villainous character who lost his marbles years ago.
  • The Power Hungry – This type of villain wants power and is willing to do anything to get it. If this person is a corrupt official, he will likely be an early boss (sometimes even the first boss of the game). Generally, these villains serve as pawns for more nihilistic villains.

The Villain tends to be overwhelmingly male. If female villains are present, they are usually Femme Fatale types who tend to be lacking in the clothing department.

Other things you need to know:

Women are typically magic users – Sometimes she uses her fists, a bow, or an unusual weapon, but more often than not, female characters are mages, and more often than not, healers. Male mages tend to be villains or specialize in black magic. Men, on the other hand, typically use phallic symbols swords and spears in combat.

How do you spot a villain? Look at his hair. White hair (especially on a young-ish person) is a common indicator of villainy in Japan (stark white features being associated with death). Note that this obviously doesn’t apply if the protagonist has white hair.

There are a bunch of other character types I could have discussed: the Mentor, the Old Master, the Cheerful Child, but these are some of the most common.

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