For these last weeks of 2022, I have set myself a videogame goal: to finally finish that enormous adventure called Xenoblade Chronicles 3. Currently, the counter of hours spent in the company of the Monolith Soft game shows about eighty a quantity that in reality would have been enough for most to get to the end credits. Obviously not for me, because I have the problem of having to see more or less everything a game has to offer before completing it. Or, at least, I delude myself that I do, since just earlier this year, bedridden with a bad fracture, I wanted to see what I had left out in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, spending another hundred hours almost on a game I had completed at launch.
I therefore acknowledge a certain degree of guilt in spending hundreds of hours on a game, specifically a JRPG. At some point, I could have just ignored a large number of side quests and just stuck with the main quests. Or, I could have avoided exploring every single nook and cranny of the colossal game world, wanting at all costs to see what that hill, that creek, that cave was hiding, what the barely mentioned paths led to, what was the way to reach apparently unreachable.
However, it would have been a bit of a betrayal of the nature of the specific game. Since its first chapter, the Xenoblade Chronicles series has focused very strongly on the feeling of exploration, discovery, even disorientation, conveyed by crossing a world of unusual extension. A clear statement of intent, to be taken as it is: those looking for a more contained and direct experience should simply look elsewhere.
The speech is already different as regards, however, the secondary missions. It is often in these that the JRPG enthusiast finds some memorable stories or even more impactful events, from an emotional point of view, than those that dictate the progression of the main story. Skipping a secondary in a JRPG is, for me, always a source of some concern, because he who knows what I can lose, ignoring that marker that so impunity tempts me to deviate from the main events.
I'm wrong, I'm aware of it, but it's a mistake derived from the fact that I grew up with another type of JRPG, of a totally different setting, not yet contaminated by the open world, in which every single quest, regardless of whether it was main or secondary, was meaningful, not the expedient to playfully fill worlds that would otherwise seem more empty; woe to miss it, then!
The time when JRPGs didn't necessarily have to be very long, very vast, and very full of missions is now far away, but not so much as to make us forget that yes, another model, an alternative to the one that now seems to be prevailing, is possible. And that the fault of almost out of control quantities of hours is not only the players. As mentioned, the Xenoblade Chronicles series is even extreme, in certain choices, but it's not that Persona 5, just to mention perhaps the most popular Japanese role-playing game of recent years, is finished in a few tens of hours: the abundant hundred required is what, every time I think of trying it, immediately makes me desist from the intention.
I reached the end credits of Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of a lost era, which is certainly not only the most classic of modern JRPGs, but also the least distracting, after about 110 hours of play: I enjoyed them all, but it clearly took quite a while. In comparison, the abundant 50 of Tales of Arise seem few (but they are not). There are more contained experiences, it is true (just think of the chapters of the Ys series), but today the model of the standard JRPG is this: abundant, very much.
It hasn't always been like this, indeed, there was a time when hour-long JRPGs were the exception, not the rule. The games of the sacred triad of the Japanese role-playing game on the SNES, made up of Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, can be completed in about twenty hours, which don't even double if you dedicate yourself to all the secondary stories. Especially regarding the last two, it would be truly criminal not to do so, as they contain extremely intense and emotional passages, events that really remain engraved in the player's mind and heart.
Already on PlayStation, another queen console of the genre, the average had lengthened, but always remaining within certain limits: the 60 hours of a Xenogears, the 70 of a Dragon Quest VII, were all in all isolated cases, with the rule represented by thirty plenty of Final Fantasy. A quantity still accessible to most, more or less remained unchanged until the explosion of the open world as a model for more or less all videogames, the implementation of which, even in the form of semi-open world (see Dragon Quest XI), has caused dilatation of various types.
But why is the issue of length becoming exhausting and abundance becoming bulimia, which afflicts various genres, especially problematic in JRPGs? Because the latter have elements of capital importance in the story and in the characterization of the characters, elements that need an ideal context to be best expressed. To be clear: is anyone playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the story? No, because in Bethesda's masterpiece the story is a trace, a pretext to start moving in a beautiful and vast world, which can then be explored in the way it pleases, indulging in the purest feeling of adventure.
In a JRPG, on the other hand, the story and the characters are among the pillars of the gaming experience, and diluting the vicissitudes, events and situations in time and space necessary for the former to continue and always be pressing, for the latter to have moments dedicated to them, functional to their characterization and therefore to making them dear to us, makes them less significant. A well-paced story, without downtime, which skilfully manages to alternate moments with different tones and atmospheres, just can't manage to adhere to ever-expanding hours and worlds. And in my opinion there is no other remedy for this than resizing.