Is The Term JRPG Derogatory?


The text you see below is a transcript of the video above. Whatever your preference is, you can either watch the video or read my thoughts like an article.

Is the term JRPG derogatory? Short answer: No, or at least not anymore, and I don’t think you’re racist or xenophobic for saying it. I think there’s enough people out there that have made it super clear that they use JRPG as a way to more clearly delineate different styles of RPG. It’s just done for the sake of convenience and to have a better picture of what someone is referring to when talking about a particular game. And for some, the term JRPG is seen as a badge of honor that distinguishes these games in a good way, implying a higher quality that sticks out from other RPGs.

That’s how the term is used now, in the current day, but I can understand seeing a game developer from Japan feeling wary about being separated from what is considered a “normal” RPG. This is especially so when the western market came up with it, and Japanese people don’t use the term JRPG at all.

Naoki Yoshida recently did an interview regarding Fain Fantasy XVI and in it he mentions how he used to not like the term JRPG. He doesn’t seem to mind it now, but in the past, he felt that it was a derogatory term, because it felt like it was creating distance among his peers and also pigeonholed him into just being one kind of thing. 

I like to think that I understand what he means, because as a weeb myself, the stigma regarding Japanese games in Western territories has always been apparent. I find this ironic, because all the best and most memorable stuff that brings a tear to people’s eyes are almost always Japanese RPGs close to the end of a console lifespan. Quite consistently actually. But, those games tend to be nostalgic for people. They grew up with it so they feel more attached. Also, when they were kids, none of that stuff was perceived as anime; it just was what it was without any distinction. It was just a really good game, regardless of who made it, where it was made, or what arbitrary genre it belonged to.

But now those kids are older and don’t feel nostalgia for the newer stuff. They have also been conditioned and molded by the gaming press and influencers to believe that Japan is the weird stuff that only niche audiences care about, despite those games withstanding the test of time better than most Western games, especially if those western games are awful live services that shut down after only a year. I’ve never seen any super solid proof that JRPGs are a niche genre. I always hear people say that it is, but it always seems to perform quite well when one comes out and Pokemon is one of the most popular IPs in the world. Dragon Quest is just a couple steps away from becoming a full on religion in Japan. FInal Fantasy is beloved by multiple generations all over the world. The Tales of series is still going strong, with one particular successful game that just came and did very well. The Persona games have been critically acclaimed for a long time, and the list goes on. So, I have no idea where people get this whole niche thing from. I have the suspicion that someone is trying to downplay These developer’s achievements because the people saying these things don’t personally care for the genre.

You can look a bit deeper into this and notice that JPN games never win anything come award season. Sure, they get nominated so it doesn’t look like the board is anti-anime or something. They always gotta have that one mainstream foreign game to make it seem more fair, but they ultimately never win anything.

Any time westerners talk about JPN games, JRPGs in particular, there’s always this air of shame and embarrassment that gaming journalists have whenever they talk about Japanese RPGs, or pretty much any other game that’s not The Last Of Us. Even when the games are good, they still have to let you know how strange they think they are. It’s like a quota they have to fill where they can’t say anything nice without throwing shade on top of that. Which I think is a really unfair way to treat an avenue of gaming that has given us so much, and as far as I know, Japanese people don’t talk anywhere near as much shit as we do about them. It just comes off as an arrogant culture that’s underappreciating another culture because they’re just different and value things outside of just shooting guns a lot, like forming relationships, and playing baseball. Lots and lots of baseball. 

People say that they don’t have any ill intent with the term JRPG. They just use it to categorize different games and it wasn’t meant to be derogatory. That’s a fair thing to say and I believe them. I don’t think anyone should feel bad because Naoki Yoshida said that a long time ago this felt derogatory but not so much anymore. But even then, I think it’s an interesting thing to think about. Yoshi-P said that back in the day it made him feel bad because he felt separated from all the popular kids at the gaming industry cafeteria table, and just because you personally didn’t think it was hurtful, it still had that effect on someone that just wanted to be treated as an equal.

It’s kinda like when people use the term POC or Person Of Color. All of us are equal human beings, right? So why is it that we need to make the distinction between white people and those other colored ones? I personally don’t like it when people call me a Person of Color because I think making that distinction is unnecessary. If you ask someone about it, they’ll say it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but it doesn’t matter what YOU feel about it, because you’re not on the receiving end of it. Although you didn’t intend for that to bother me, it still bothers a little bit.

So now see it through the perspective of Naoki Yoshida when he sees that Japanese creations are being separated from just being called “RPGs”. The Term JRPG wasn’t meant to be derogatory, but it still made people like Yoshida-san feel lesser anyway, and I think we need to consider those feelings. I don’t think the solution is to ban the term JRPG, that would be stupid at this point. I think it’s enough to just keep Yoshida-san’s thoughts in mind whenever you use the term and just realize that the term is kinda silly when you think about it.

Why can’t they just be RPGs? I know that some games have some elements that set them apart from their Western counterparts, but that never stopped other games from belonging to a single genre.

For example, Tetris is very different from Portal, but they’re still called puzzle games. Nobody’s calling Tetris A Russian Puzzle game or an R-Puzzler. Call of Duty doesn’t work in the same way as Splatoon, but both of them are still just called shooters. Nobody’s out there calling Splatoon a Japanese Shooter, or a J-Shooter or something like that.

Super Mario Brothers was made in Japan while Crash Bandicoot was not. Both are Platformers, but no one calls Mario a J-Platformer. And so many people have grown up with Mario that most people don’t even consider it a Japanese game. It’s just a game, but those same people feel the need to look at other Japanese games that are more overt about their culture and go, “okay, THAT’S a Japanese game” Even though both games were made in the same territory.

Metal Gear Solid and Thief are both stealth games, but there’s no distinction between a Japanese stealth game and a Western one, although I do hear a lot of people mock The MGS series for how goofy it can get, and saying stuff like, “Oh Japan. Look at Japan being Japanese as it always is. You guys are just soooo weird, just like your commercials, even though America has really commercials too, but ignore that. Japan is gonna Japan I guess.” Even though there’s tons of American games that also have goofy stuff in them, those don’t get called out anywhere near as often, especially not with that negative connotation. That unique air of contempt that you feel when game journalists and people of influence start talking about “the weebs.”

If anything, you’ll find game journalists praising Japanese games ironically. If they embrace a Japanese game, they have to say that it’s the strangeness that makes it so good. It’s like garbage, but like a good kind of garbage. These frustrating back-handed compliments that stink of insecurity. No one wants to admit that they like the anime thing, so they have to apply some mental gymnastics and say that they like it as a guilty pleasure. They can’t just like it, they still gotta take potshots and say that It’s good because it’s bad or that they recommend playing it so long as you close the doors and windows and make sure mommy isn’t watching.

So what is it about Japanese RPGs that need to be separated from the rest, and why don’t other genres get the same treatment? I don’t have the answers, but I do think it’s something interesting to think about. Please humor me as I meander around and try to play around with the thoughts in my head like I’m Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock organizing my thoughts floating around me. I apologize in advance if this video is all over the place with random thoughts that I typed out in a Word document at 3 in the morning. So…yeah, bear with me.

When I was a kid, I was a really big fan of G4TV. I would watch it everyday and keep my eyeballs glued to shows like X-Play, Attack of the Show, Cheat, and my personal favorite: Cinematech, which was literally just a marathon of video trailers and openings, but it was awesome. I discovered a ton of new games that way. I remember being a 12 year-old child watching the opening sequence to the 3D remake of Final Fantasy III and crying over how beautiful it was. Or having my mind blown over the very first time they showed the Portal Teaser Trailer and showing how the Portals worked.

Seeing one of my greatest passions in my life, gaming, show up on television felt great. It was almost like a form of validation in a way. Nerd culture has always been looked down upon, even in the present where it’s slightly more accepted. Seeing nerdy things like video game trailers and reviews on TV was exciting and brought a lot of people together to share their love for this hobby that exploded into a full-on artform that has now surpassed even the movie industry.

Of course, anyone can try and be nostalgic about the old days and assume that it was all great, and part of me wants to see those days return. But sometimes, it’s better for the past to stay in the past. Why do I say this? Well, because sometimes your memories can be deceiving. You remember all the good parts while ignoring or simply forgetting other parts that may be more uncomfortable to confront in the current day. Whether it’s good or bad, all those moments are important, because they play a part in shaping and molding you into the person you are today.

A part of that molding process can include instilling good things into you like wisdom, critical thinking, empathy, curiosity, or awaken your creative mind so you end up making your own video games and telling your own stories. But also, there’s the opposite. When kids grow up, they are also instilled with some more questionable things, like biases, prejudices, assumptions about other people, and fear amongst other things.

As much as I liked being able to live in a world where I had my very own video game channel to watch, I realize, now that I’m older, that it might not have been that great, especially when my personal tastes went contrary to the mentality that was proliferated by these shows, which usually involved creating a negative stigma towards Japanese content. Not always though. My favorite game of all time is The World Ends With You and I discovered it through the X-Play review where they gave it a 5/5, and Dragon Quest 8 ranked pretty well too, so there are exceptions that you can see if you search for them or just remember it.

Living as a Mexican kid during the 2000s, I always had to hide the fact that I really, really liked Japanese things. My other friends also liked Dragon Ball and Pokemon, but that was pretty much it. Anything that wasn’t that was met with the stink eye and then you got ostracized from the group. Even stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t all that accepted simply because it looked like an anime. And because it looked like the thing, then therefore it was the thing, and therefore bad. It wasn’t until much later that everyone went back to watch Avatar, and now it’s practically everyone’s favorite animated show ever. I’m glad to see that people decided to give the show a chance.

The kids that I grew up with were more interested in pretending to be big boy adults and impressing their friends with all the adult stuff they like to watch. They would always brag about watching South Park, Happy Tree Friends, Family Guy (believe it or not) and basically anything that came out of MTV, animated or otherwise, like Jackass and stuff like that. Even with games, they would go for something more hardcore like Sports games and shooters or anything that could pass as realistic for its time.

It was very much American programming and games that focused on what I like to call the “Pretending to be a big boy adult starter pack.” Which involves the Sacred Triforce of Violence, Sex, and Drugs. When these powers come together, all the edgelord teens and pre-teens gravitate towards it like a moth to a lamp.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I wasn’t one of them. I loved those shows just as much as anyone else, and a lot of my favorite games are super western too, but I was interested in anime and Japanese games way more. And music, but that’s a whole other thing. At the time, anything that looked too colorful and cutesy was determined to be too gay for them and I had to hide the fact that I liked it alot. It made it difficult to fit in with other kids and to truly be myself.

It didn’t help at all that there were shows on TV like X-Play that always found every opportunity to take pot shots at RPGs, specifically of the Japanese persuasion, called JRPGs. When you have a platform like that with a bunch of nerdy teenagers like me salivating at the mouth for an entertaining show that appeals to them, X-Play was basically the only choice anyone had. It makes me sad to see people’s accounts of their time watching X-Play and getting really disappointed at seeing a game that they were legitimately interested in get slammed down by the reviews on that show because it was too anime, it’s so Japanese, their hair is too weird, or decrying the fact that Japanese games had attractive women in it, implying that they’re only there because these fat, smelly, balding nerds that live in their mom’s basement want to pretend to have a fake girlfriend and not have a life. And it wasn’t just X-Play. The Gaming Media at large implied this about their own audience.

I’ve heard it a million times, and I still hear it now. It’s a stupid stereotype that I have no idea where it comes from. I’ve been to a ton of conventions, clubs and other nerd gatherings, and out of the thousands of people I’ve seen in real life, that stereotype only fits in with like 3 people. I guess the other 99% of perfectly normal human beings out there don’t count. It always has to be this one South Park picture and god forbid you portray them as anything other than the most pathetic thing you can think of.

There were a lot of stupid stereotypes that were reinforced and etched into the minds of young people watching the show that wanted to be perceived as cool and not a nerdy sack of Cheetos. And X-Play clearly sent the message that cool people played Western games and weirdos played Japanese games.

I really don’t see why there needs to be a distinction other than needing to find a way to separate yourself and not be associated with a group of people you don’t like, or at least, an imagined stereotype of someone you don’t like. 

I was under the understanding that all of us were nerds here. But for the longest time, people have deemed it okay for the nerds themselves to call other people nerds and bully their own kind so as to not associate with the ones that like the weird foreign thing that has the scary boobies in them. I like shooting stuff with big guns, I don’t like to talk about my feelings, what are you gay or something? You’re not allowed to sit with us at lunch.

Even now, in 2023, you can see Adam Sessler slamming down the thought of enjoying a game like this by calling Baten Kaitos, an old ass Gamecube game, a “boner simulator” and flat out just calling it “anime porn” and juvenile. This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that people within the industry were and still are super toxic about anything with an anime style. It’s this strange thing where people are willfully, sometimes even proudly ignorant about Japanese games, but still being more than happy to drag them through the mud and condition many young people throughout America to hate Japanese games for unfair reasons. And then those kids grow up to have their own gaming show on the Internet. And guess what they do? They spread that anti-anime perception to all of their fans, repeating the same thing they were told as kids.

Although the hypocrisy is always funny to witness. Because a lot of these same people that claim to hate excessively long cutscenes, melodramatic dialogue, seeing hot women on screen, turn-based combat and other aspects of JRPGs are the same people that will turn around and tell you that Final Fantasy VII is their favorite game of all time.

Y’know, the one game that encapsulates every single thing that anime and JRPG haters claim to despise in their games?

And while I’m at it, I would like to remind everyone that Mario, Zelda, Star Fox, Earthbound, Dark Souls, Cowboy Bebop, and many more are Japanese things. All those souls games you like are technically JRPGs. But of course, nobody calls them Japanese games or JRPGs.

The most common excuse I hear is that “it doesn’t feel like an anime.” Which to me reveals an important discovery. People’s perception of what anime is is very narrow. As a non-Japanese person, when you think about the word anime, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? 

If you’re Japanese, then it could be anything. In Japan, the word anime is just an abbreviation for the word “animation.” It’s extremely common in Japanese culture to shorten longer words like this. For example, Spongebob in Japan is called an anime, because they don’t make the same distinctions that we make here. But if you go on Youtube and type Spongebob anime, you’ll get a very different result, based on what Non-Japanese people think an anime is. You can see this perfectly encapsulated in a VTuber clip where an English-speaking VTuber is talking with a Japanese VTuber about their favorite cartoons. The Japanese VTuber talks about Courage The Cowardly Dog, Dexter and a bunch of stuff that here in America we would label as “Cartoons.” The other Vtuber gets really confused at hearing this and even expresses disappointment at not hearing what she arbitrarily defined as “anime.”

I think that these instances are not bad. In fact, I think they’re just innocent little mistakes due to cultural differences. When comparing both perspectives, the results can be really interesting to reflect on.

As I said before, most of us have a really narrow view of what anime is. There’s a very specific kind of image in our heads, usually a bright, colorful image containing an attractive girl that might give you some panty shots occasionally. That character will talk about her feelings a lot and fight evil with over the top attacks and the power of love.

For a lot of people, that’s what Japanese animation is like, as if it was a singular genre. What people often forget or ignore is that Japanese animation is a medium in and of itself. There’s romantic comedies, slice of life, action, horror, and a bunch of really brutal violent stuff that’s definitely not for kids. And of course, you have 18+ pornographic content as well that English-speaking countries call Hentai. All of it is pretty clearly organized into their own genre and subgenres, but a ton of people that grew up on X-Play and Angry Internet Man Game Review Show from 2008, you’ll grow up thinking that anime is only one thing. Either it’s Dragon Ball or it’s porn that you should be ashamed of watching.

This misconception has been etched into the minds of so many people that when they expose themselves to something that doesn’t fit their specific definition, they don’t even perceive it as anime or as a JRPG. 

That’s the number one excuse for why people love a show like Cowboy Bebop, but refuse to watch anything else you recommended to them because god forbid they get called a weeb, right?

That’s also an excuse for why people play super cheesy games like Resident Evil and FInal Fantasy VII, but they won’t give the same courtesy to other games that look like quote on quote “weeb trash.” Even if everyone tells them that Xenoblade for example is super good and it’s selling great, people won’t even touch it because of how it looks on the surface.

And in the age of the Internet where everything can be manipulated and taken out of context, people will just see the clip where the girl with the boobs shows up. That’s more than enough to call the entire game pornographic, shame anyone that likes it, and reject it completely. But those same people will type #TeamTifa on their Twitter.

Which leads me to the second most common excuse I hear: nostalgia. Somebody grew up playing Japanese stuff, but they didn’t know it was Japanese at the time. They just played it and enjoyed it. And as an adult, that’s one of the few exceptions they will make, but again, frustratingly, they don’t realize that if they like this anime thing, maybe they’ll like the other anime thing, but those brains cells never activate to help them realize that this is an opportunity to try new things, rather than digging your heels even deeper into the ground and refuse to change your mind about Japanese games. 

I don’t know this thing, so it’s cringey and weird and probably made for pedophiles to enjoy, but this other thing that I do know is good, so it magically doesn’t count. I’m not a weeb, you’re a weeb. 

Isn’t it funny that every time I like an anime I have to keep gaslighting myself that it’s not an anime so I don’t have to associate with people that I openly mock and disrespect every day for just enjoying different things? Isn’t that strange?

Human beings are full of bias and we need to be careful to not confuse xenophobia with just insecurity, or at least people being really overprotective about their comfort zones. Not only that, but also realizing the power that we have over our young people. This whole story reminded me of the Fishman Island arc from One PIece, where one of the biggest takeaways from that arc was to not pin the blame and direct anger towards the humans doing the fishmen wrong.

The argument that certain characters make in that story arc is that if you let hatred spread amongst your people, in particular with your children, then they will carry that with them as they grow up. Fishmen kids will grow into Fishmen adults having a deep hatred for humans, even if they’ve never met a human and don’t know anything about them other than the negative things that were told to them by the people that came before them.

In fact, the main villain of that arc is a racist fishman that despises humans and is trying everything possible to stop everyone from liking humans and making sure that they never coexist with them ever. One of the characters that fights against him asks him a question. What have humans done to you for you to hate them so much? What brought you to this point? What’s motivating you to enact all of this violence? And the villain’s words are quite shocking and eye opening, because the dude says, “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

The humans have done nothing to him personally, but he still hates them anyway. When he was a child, he idolized his fishman brothers, and it was those adults, who had the incredible power of influencing the youth, that corrupted him by transferring all of their hatred onto the next generation.

He knew close to nothing about humans, other than all of the bad stuff that he was led to believe about them. He was told that they were bad, and so he took the word of his loved ones to heart, and never let go of it. He really has no purpose of his own to the point that they call him empty. He doesn’t have any true goals. He’s just a mouthpiece for other people’s hatred that had nothing to do with him.

It is surprising seeing how much we can be affected by the information, or lack thereof, that we ingest at an early age. We spend so much time thinking that things are one way when it’s actually another. You’re told your entire life that a certain kind of game from a certain country is not as valuable as the ones from your own territory, only to find out that those people never had your best interest in mind, and only used you as a way to spread their prejudices as far as they possibly could.

Whether knowingly, or unknowingly, intentional, or unintentional, the damage has still been done, and it is still being done today by the kids turned adults that were influenced in this manner.

There’s way too many people today that get crapped on for simply having an anime profile picture on your social accounts. There’s still a ton of highly influential people out there that are dismissive or even hateful toward JRPGs and anime content, but they make exceptions and excuses for the handful of anime games that they personally grew up with, while still openly mocking people for liking stuff that’s really not that different, and if only these people gave these games a chance, maybe they’ll realize the big mistake they’re making in going out of their way to avoid these unforgettable experiences that have left a positive mark on many of us.

In closing, I’m going to echo something that my brother told me a long time ago: “Some people just like different things.” And that’s okay. That is a perfectly fair and reasonable statement to make. However, the problem is not that people don’t like the same things I do; that would be stupid. The problem is not liking or disliking; the problem is the reasoning behind it, especially if the thing you hate comes from a place of ignorance. As soon as you start asking questions, you’ll be severely disappointed in discovering that a lot of people’s reasoning behind their dislike is that somebody of influence (whether that’s their parents, their friends, games journalists, Youtube personalities, etc.) just told them that you shouldn’t like it and those are all the reasons they have.

So remember, everyone has their tastes, but I think those need to be discovered on your own without people jerking you around and pressuring you to favor certain things over others. As long as you have that, then I don’t care if you hate anime or anything else.

If I ask you why you hate JRPGs or anime and you tell me that you gave it a chance and it’s simply not your vibe, then cool. I’m not gonna worry about that, because you tried it and made that decision for yourself.

However, I will start to worry if I ask you what Japanese games or weebs have done for you to hate them so much, and your answer is simply nothing.