The traits and qualities possessed by all the great protagonists of JRPG
Whether it’s the high fantasy tales of Dragon Quest or the high school shenanigans of Persona, Japanese RPGs are all defined by their main character, with some doing better than others.
So what makes a JRPG protagonist great? What makes them memorable? Here are a few qualities that most JRPG heroes possess, based on the plethora of games we’ve played over the years.
A story of change
Example: Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, Joker from Persona 5
As Luke Skywalker changes from moisture farmer to Jedi master, the hero’s journey isn’t complete without the central character becoming a better version of themselves throughout their journey.
While there are JRPG protagonists who start the story as simple villagers, games that turn the tide by starting their characters out as criminals or selfish never do well are great for changes of heart. massive.
A character with a flat story arc isn’t inspiring, and it doesn’t do much to the player when the protagonist of a story doesn’t grow up from the experiences they go through. If done right, the protagonist and the player will be virtually different people at the end of the journey.
A long and winding story
Example: Kaim from Lost Odyssey, 2B and A2 from Nier: Automata
As much as we love to see a simple farm worker become the strongest knight in the land, it is sometimes normal to meet our protagonist when he is already in the middle of his quest.
This disentangling of who the main character really is and his or her past actions can be just as intriguing as the journey underway. It’s a more realistic approach to storytelling, almost like presenting a real person’s story to the player.
A common trap with this side of the story is giving the main character amnesia, a trope that Final Fantasy used for their heroes from the fourth entry. It’s a boring trope and comes across as a lazy attempt to unravel the mystery behind the protagonist.
Example: Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, Luca Blight from Suikoden II
A hero cannot save the world without an opposing force, the one that causes conflicts all over the world and is the source of anguish for our hero. This is why a good antagonist is just as important as a good protagonist.
In many ways, the antagonist must also have the same depth and brevity as the central hero, as they act as a kind of mirror of the protagonist’s virtues. The fact that the two characters share a story is also a plus, which is way better than the typical overlord who reigns in the shadows.
A great antagonist will also serve as a benchmark for the player’s abilities, acting as the ultimate goal for the player to achieve. Beating the main antagonist should be the driving force for the player to grind their party and equip them with ultimate weapons and skills.
Example: the casting of Final Fantasy VIII and Persona 4
No hero should ever fly solo, which is why a great cast of characters alongside them is also important. Hero party members can easily elevate the JRPG experience by providing jokes, opposing views, and even more stories to unravel.
A good JRPG is defined by their cast, with some stories having the entire set acting as the protagonist instead of a single central character. That said, having a group of supporters helping out the hero is a great way to show us the different sides of the hero’s personality, as well as being great playable characters in their own right.
This also extends to love interests, which can range from zero to far too much depending on the JRPG. It’s the believable way to provide our hero with words of encouragement and a shoulder to cry on on their journey.
Weaknesses and secrets
Example: Alphen from Tales of Arise, Zidane from Final Fantasy IX
While playing through the history of a JRPG may allow us to get to know our hero, there are times when the game developers choose to withhold certain information from the player and the main character. A secret that would shake them to the core once revealed.
It could be a secret origin or a hidden truth about who they are. Either way, it can be a pivotal moment that can change our hero’s perspective and worldview. It can also be their main weakness that keeps them from becoming the hero they need to be.
From curses to Kryptonite, the hero is fallible and this susceptibility to danger or danger is what makes them approachable and human, and could make them an excellent combat mechanic as well. Even if they are a sort of demi-demi-god or chosen one.
Example: Tidus from Final Fantasy X, Ness from Earthbound
Speaking of relativity, even though the situations the hero and his party face are steeped in high fantasy or sci-fi, ultimately the characters’ motivations and personalities need to be grounded and true to real life.
Just because the hero’s dad is some sort of sacrificial knight doesn’t mean he can’t have some underlying daddy issues lurking beneath their steely exterior. As much as they are inclined to fly on dragons or airships, they might have a tremendous fear of flying.
As fictional as it may be, players always want to see a hero they can project themselves onto, a projection that serves as an escape and cure for life’s issues.
Example: Sora from Kingdom Hearts, Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles
No hero should save the world with just an ordinary blade or spear, especially with the crazy character designs JRPGs are known for. A unique signature weapon can complement the look of a main character, making them iconic in the game world.
From magical keys to a sword that lets you see the future, this tradition of a weapon that grants the user immense power dates back to Excalibur of Arthurian legend. An unknown weapon can also be related to how the player and the hero must learn to wield it throughout the journey.
It’s certainly an optional aspect of a JRPG hero, which isn’t necessarily a necessary quality among the massive pantheon of protagonists. But it’s cool to see, and can even serve as a game mechanic in most cases, which makes the gaming experience more engaging.
Example: Chrono from Chrono Trigger, Adol from the Ys series
The JRPG genre began with all of its protagonists silent, without uttering a single word. Still, that hasn’t stopped the heroes of those games from saving the world or connecting with the players who embody them.
This is where the action is really stronger than the words because even if the main hero doesn’t speak, what is important is that they are proactive in the story, making things happen instead of simply react to the world around them.
So even if they don’t speak, the fact that they and the player choose to fight and stand up for the weak is what matters most. This is where the role-playing aspect of the genre comes in, with players truly taking on the role of the protagonist.