Divisive opinion alert! I miss enjoying JRPGS.
I came to this realisation recently, and it made me sad. I think the last time a JRPG really had me in its grip was probably Final Fantasy 8. Admittedly I haven't played every single JRPG since then, but I've played quite a few, and they all blur into the same type of game. A game obsessed with statistics. +5 DEF, -2 WEIGHT, +8 MP, RETRIEVE ITEM FOR NPC, ENCUMBERED, OK KIND OF BORED NOW.
When people talk about Final Fantasy 7, do they fondly discuss the materia system? No, they talk about Aeris and Sephiroth. When people remember Chrono Trigger, do they debate enthusiastically about the Active Time Battle system? No, what we reminisce about is the mind-boggling story and multiple endings.
RPGs live and die by their stories. Where has the 'role playing' in JRPGs gone?
I think the reason the JRPG genre is in such a dire state these days is because the developers who make these games have forgotten their purpose. They've become preoccupied with convoluted battle and crafting systems, obsessed with statistics and customisation. It's all for nothing if it's attached to a turgid and clichéd story, lifeless and generic. Final Fantasy 13's fatal flaw was not that it was linear, hell all games are linear to an extent, it was the story that had potential but mostly failed to live up to it.
The point of an RPG is to immerse the player in another world, to momentarily forget this one and make choices and relationships as another character. JRPGs shatter this illusion by having you obsess over numbers. They're more math-practicing games than RPGs!
The western variant by contrast has made leaps and bounds, with the likes of Bethesda's Fallout and Elder Scrolls, and BioWare's Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises, building entire worlds, populating them with characters who have complex and compelling relationships, all of which you can impact in various ways. The player's actions seem to matter. I'm not saying the stories are perfect, they're still lacking in some areas (Dragon Age couldn't escape Tolkien's constricting influence, and Skyrim was about as deep as an episode of He-Man), but at least they're not like JRPGs and put aside story for statistics.
So much emphasis on numbers, it's dizzying. When a JRPG puts more effort into collectables than story and character, I zone out. Sega's Yakuza series is more known for being a sandbox action game, yet its more of an RPG than some JRPGs. It has an imaginative, if ludicrous world which you can explore and though you don't have that much impact on things, at least it tells a story with enthusiasm and passion.
I don't care if I can dress Final Fantasy 13-3's Lightning up in a hundred different outfits. Why the hell is that your priority Square Enix? Perhaps you should hire a good writer to construct a narrative and characters I care about? A game could have the most basic and unimaginative combat system, but if it has a compelling story to tell, a unique world to pull me into, I will favour it over games that have the most amazing crafting system ever. If the story is utterly boring, confusing or inconsistent, I check out. (as an aside, I really like the gameplay of Demon/Dark Souls, but the games are so utterly obscure and incoherent, with literally no narrative, I can't really feel attached to them unfortunately)
I don't want to literally pause a game every sixty seconds to check my inventory and compare and contrast my weapons and mentally round up numbers for some arcane purpose. I want to explore a world, get into conversations, fights, relationships, and I want it to happen organically and seamlessly. I rarely ever want to see that paused inventory screen, and when I do I don't want to see column upon column of numbers.
It just grounds the pace to a grinding halt, ruining the momentum. It reminds me of Dead Space 3 and it's ridiculously complicated crafting system. Here you are, playing a character on a deteriorating ship being infested with necromorphs, you need to get off the ship, there's not much time left, people are dying!!! And yet the game expects you to waste time experimenting with dozens of different weapon types in a crafting system designed by someone who just didn't know when to stop designing. It makes no sense!
A game like The Last of Us feels like more of an RPG than Disgaea 3. It put me into Joel's shoes, it affected me emotionally and pulled me into a narrative where I was forced to make choices and had to deal with the aftermath. It clung to the spirit of 'role playing', despite technically being a survival action game.
I suggest JRPGS be careful before they bandy that genre title about, or just come up with a new one: JSOG. Japanese Stat Obsessed Game.