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

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

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

The long road here

The golden age of JRPGs was in the 1990s, and Square Enix (which was just Square back then) was on top. Almost every Final Fantasy game from that era is considered a classic, in addition to 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 fell even more into obscurity. Most RPG fans wouldn’t even know about games like Live A Live unless they did some serious digging.

Chrono at the fair with Marle in Chrono Trigger.

During that time, the fans kept the passion for these 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 weren’t catered to as much. Over the past few 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. It will launch Final Fantasy VI remaster later this month and announced an HD-2D remake of Live A Live , a remaster of Chrono Cross that includes a localized version of Radical Dreamers, and remakes of Front Mission 1st and Front Mission 2.

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

What’s old is new

This strategy from Square Enix is brilliant for a multitude of reasons. Remasters of classic titles fill gaps in a release lineup and don’t require nearly as much work as developing a new JRPG game like Forspoken from scratch. In general, there’s currently a trend for entertainment media to revive legacy franchises as they already have built-in fanbases that will hype up and buy products related to that series. JRPGs just happen to be a much more lucrative source for that kind of initiative than it may initially seem.

Re-releasing these retro games, whether through a simple remaster or full-on remake, validates the fans who spent years supporting, translating, and preserving these niche games. I’m more excited for Live A Live and Chrono Cross: The Radical Dreamers Edition than I probably would’ve been if Square Enix had announced a brand new JRPG during the Nintendo Direct for that reason.

Chrono Cross' main characters sail on a boat.

Gaming is more popular than ever, and now a whole new generation will get introduced to these fantastic games that were unappreciated in their time. Live A Live and Chrono Cross have a chance of doing better in North America now than they did when they were released over two decades ago. There’s also no reason not to be happy that these games are getting 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 plans to continue embracing the past. Now, it’s time for other companies to do the same. In particular, companies like Nintendo have retro and un-localized RPGs that would cause a lot of buzz if revived. Golden Sun is one such series overdue for a revival.

Another game that comes to mind is Mother 3, the sequel to Earthbound never released in the West. It has lived on thanks to an extremely passionate fanbase that went through the effort to translate and make it more widely available. Look at how excited people got when it was announced 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 could be one of the most exciting Nintendo Direct moments since Banjo-Kazooie came to Smash Bros. Ultimate.

As companies with vast JRPG libraries assess how they will flesh out their future games lineup, it’s worth looking into the past. A great IP and eager fanbase might just be waiting there for you.

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