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JRPG Spoils Make No Sense

Trent Seely

One of the greatest strengths of the role-playing genre is the level of engagement inherent to its games. Many excellent RPGs go to great lengths in order to detail their socio-economic structures, mythologies or religious beliefs, and geographic layout. It gives everything an air of realism, and you take the events of the game more seriously as a result. There are, however, a few gameplay elements native to the JRPG variety of role-playing game which actively take you out of the experience. One of these being the end of battle spoils.

Spoils have always had a role in RPGs. Before Dragon Quest was even a thought, pen-and-paper RPGs used spoils as a motivating force for character and quest progression. The role of spoils was of extreme importance, but it was also tremendously realistic (or at least as realistic as you can be in a fantasy world). If you made a certain roll and defeated an adversary, you may be eligible to receive whatever is left on their corpse. Had they been carrying a broadsword and a torch, you may choose to take one or both objects. If it was an animal you fought, you could possibly take a fang or fur pelt. Naturally, you would also grow as a character as you overcame more trials and adversaries. It made sense and felt natural as it was fairly realistic. Sadly, not all video game RPGs have adopted this approach.

There are many differences between Western RPGs and JRPGs, but one of the more noticeable ones is the treatment of spoils. As with pen-and-paper RPGs, many Western RPGs allow character development through conflict and offer realistic spoils to incent player progression. Those spoils are limited to what your foe has on-hand at death. Humanoid opponents may carry currency, potions, or runes, but they almost always have armor/clothing and a weapon. JRPGs, however, don't operate the same way.

Breaking from pen-and-paper tradition, it's hard to understand the rationale behind JRPG spoils. Instead of being able to loot everything on the corpse of a fallen foe, limited spoils are distributed to you by the game. Generally speaking, most JRPG battles end with you receiving a certain amount of experience for felling the enemy, a certain amount of in-game currency to purchase new items, and possibly a piece of inventory. The nonsensical nature of this system may not have been immediately apparent to you, but your brain probably noticed it.

To give you an example of how this occurs, let's posit that you have a party of four diverse heroes who are in the midst of saving their world. In this scenario, you are fighting a pair of purple, horned bobcats. You didn't seek them out for their spoils — instead, a random battle occurred and you now have to take them down. After exploiting their elemental weakness and killing both of these majestic beasts, a small message box indicates that your party has received 810 experience points, 1200 coins, and a Fire Ring which can be equipped. This common JRPG situation doesn't make any sense.

To begin, why exactly are these wild, purple bobcats holding cash? Is it a regular occurrence in this world for wild animals to carry a local currency? Do they swallow this money whenever they find it or are they just outfitted with pockets? Why aren't people from the villages going on animal hunts as professions? It's clearly a lucrative way to get money, and not everyone can be a shop owner or innkeeper. What about that Fire Ring? Did you find that in the animal's bowels or something? How did it get this ring? Did it make the ring? Can all purple, horned bobcats make Fire Rings? If so, why are they wild? Shouldn't we have domesticated them and used them as little Fire Ring factories? I feel like that would be a better use for the monster. Finally, why do different monsters give me different amounts of experience? Let's say I use the same technique I did on the purple, horned bobcats on a giant magenta falcon and it goes down just as fast. Why exactly would each creature give me different amounts of experience? I clearly didn't learn anything new or different by killing the giant magenta falcon, so the experience should probably be the same. I know this seems like a lot of ranting over nothing, but there clearly are a lot of logical holes here.

Not only is this weird way of distributing spoils endemic to the JRPG landscape, but it is still being done today. The Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Tales of, Persona, Star Ocean, Kingdom Hearts, Shin Megami Tensei, Phantasy Star, Ar Tonelico, and Atelier series all continue to use this thoughtless system of rewarding you with things you rightfully shouldn't receive for felling opponents. Believe me, I like the fact that I don't have to work hard for money, experience, or items, however, it doesn't make any sense that the games are designed this way. It may not take every RPGamer out of the game, but certainly hampers my engagement.

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