What’s an RPG without a Themed Enemy Group?

JRPG Tropes I Love(Theme song — sung to the tune of “The Daves I Know” by Kids in the Hall):
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love

Welcome to another installment of The JRPG Tropes I Love, a series in which I celebrate my favorite recurring themes, elements, and outright cliches from Japanese role-playing games. Today’s trope:

Themed Enemy Groups

They’re the JRPG version of running the gauntlet. They’re not a mini-boss or a Big Bad. They’re a group of boss-level enemies that must be defeated either one right after another, or as a recurring element throughout the game.

FF7-UltimateWeapon
Ultimate Weapon from Final Fantasy VII

The Final Fantasy series, for example, features Weapons. In some Final Fantasy games they’re biological monsters, and sometimes they’re technological terrors, but they almost always appear as a group. In Final Fantasy VII, there are five, each of them an instrument of destruction built to defeat the alien menace Jenova: Sapphire Weapon, Diamond Weapon, Ruby Weapon, Emerald Weapon, and Ultimate Weapon. Of course, the fact that you fight them should be the tip-off that although the Weapons were created to defend the planet, they go a bit nuts and end up attacking it. This, too, is a common trait of Themed Enemy Groups.

SkiesOfArcadia-Piergoth
Piergoth, the Purple Gigas, from Skies of Arcadia

Another common element of this trope is color as the distinguishing trait among group members. The Lunar series features the Four Dragons. These powerful, ancient creatures are not always enemies; sometimes they’re friends or even members of the player’s party. But what’s consistent is that they’re named by colors: White Dragon, Black Dragon, Ruby Dragon, and Blue Dragon.

Color is also the distinguishing trait of the Gigas in Skies of Arcadia. There are six of them in that game, one for each of the planet’s moons: Recumen the Red Gigas, Grendel the Green Gigas, Bluheim the Blue Gigas, Yeligar the Yellow Gigas, Zelos the Silver Gigas, and Piergoth the Purple Gigas, which is a giant sky whale — a sky whale, y’all! Like so many other Themed Enemy Groups, the Gigas are enormous weapons of mass destruction built by the ancient peoples of Arcadia.

WildArms-Lolithia
Lolithia from Wild Arms

Wild Arms features the Golems, which are:

Checkbox2 Enormous

Checkbox2 Ancient

Checkbox2 Mechanical

Checkbox2 Weapons

Checkbox2 Built for good

Checkbox2 Now used for evil

Naturally.

Phantasy Star II turns this trope on its side a bit; it features a Themed Dungeon Group rather than a themed group of enemies. At one point in that game, artificially-created rainwater floods the planet’s giant lake, threatening many towns and lots of people. Rolf and his friends must open all four dams to end the flooding: Red Dam, Yellow Dam, Blue Dam, and Green Dam. At least they kept the color-coding!

Pokemon gets in on this trope with the Legendary Birds — Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, and later, Lugia. Going beyond JRPGs, Disney’s Hercules features the Titans, a group of giant monsters that ravaged the ancient land until Zeus stopped them.

eBook Cover
On sale December 11, 2018

I’ve made no secret that my fantasy novel series, The Verdant Revival, is my love letter to JRPGs and their epic, unforgettable stories and characters. In book two of the trilogy, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, Fritz Reinhardt and his friends must face the Steelterrors, ancient mechanical monsters — the worst chipware planet Verde has ever seen, resurrected and back on the warpath. There are four of them, one for each of the elements of the ancient world:

  • Samson, Verdant Warden of Soil
  • Leviathan, Verdant Warden of Water
  • Banshee, Verdant Warden of the Sky
  • Teufel, Verdant Warden of Fire

Yeah, I went all-in on this one for Tomorrow’s Shepherd, sticking very close to the trope, because giant robots, guys. The world just can’t have enough giant robots. Ever.

What Themed Enemy Groups did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

Hi-Tech and Lo-Tech in Peaceful Coexistence

JRPG Tropes I Love

(Theme song — sung to the tune of “The Daves I Know” by Kids in the Hall):
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love
These are the tropes I love, I love
These are the tropes I love

Welcome to the debut installment of The JRPG Tropes I Love, a series in which I celebrate my favorite recurring themes, elements, and outright cliches from Japanese role-playing games. Today’s trope:

Hi-Tech and Lo-Tech in Peaceful Coexistence

Before there even were Japanese role-playing video games, there was Dungeons and Dragons, and its worlds were decidedly lo-tech. Like the works of Tolkien which inspired it, the development level of D&D’s worlds was medieval at best. In the early days of computer adventure games, you had lo-tech King’s Quest and hi-tech Space Quest, but the two tech levels remained strictly segregated.

phantasy_star_boxAnd then Sega released Phantasy Star. An 8-bit masterpiece — soon to be re-released on the Nintendo Switch — the American box art made it seem the game was pure sword-and-sorcery. It sported heroes clad in medieval armor, brandishing swords, and fighting bats and skeletons and wizards. But turn the box over and read a little more about the game:

  • The story takes place across all three planets of a distant star system
  • Spaceships will take you between those worlds, and you’ll cruise over them in a futuristic SUV
  • You’ll be fighting robots and aliens along the way
  • And if you’d prefer to put down your ax, you can pick up a laser gun

Phantasy Star wasn’t the first story in the world to combine medieval fantasy and science fiction — see the John Carter stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs for a much earlier example — but it was one of the first JRPGs to do it. And after it paved the way, the floodgates were opened.

Phantasy Star II went all-in on hi-tech with a storyline featuring an artificial intelligence Big Bad. Final Fantasy VI broke with that series’s medieval traditions and featured a steampunk environment. The image of Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife armed with a giant Buster Sword and riding a motorcycle is practically an icon for this trope. And back in the analog realm, even the original RPG — Dungeons and Dragons — got in on the lo-tech/hi-tech marriage with 1989’s Spelljammer campaign.

My first fantasy novel, Yesterday’s Demons, is part of a trilogy I’ve often said is my love letter to JRPGs and their epic, unforgettable stories and characters. Yesterday’s Demons is set on the planet Verde, a world with a technology level and society much like that of the American Wild West. However, two hundred years before, it was a hi-tech wonderland only a few decades ahead of where we are now. Verde lost all of its technology in the Blackout, but some relics have been restored and repaired. Siv McCaig will need all of it he can find, plus a healthy dose of magic, to save Verde from destruction.

“Trope” doesn’t have to be a bad word. While there are certainly some that should never again see the light of day (I’m looking at you, women in refrigerators), others are like good friends whose presence never grows wearisome. I like Middle-Earth, and I like the Matrix. But give me both at the same time, and I’m in love.