Live A Live and Xenoblade 3 showcase Nintendo’s new RPG golden age

Over the last week, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself playing both Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Live A Live for preview and review at the same time. While you’ll have to wait a little while longer for me to give you a review verdict on either game, playing them has awakened one specific thought: Nintendo is currently in a Japanese RPG renaissance – and it’s awesome.

It’s not like Japanese RPGs have ever stopped being brilliant. But I’d say it’s fair to suggest that there have been a couple of JRPG golden ages over the years. The original PlayStation was of course home to a legendary explosion of creativity and ambition in the Japanese RPG space, with some industry-shaking results. Immediately before that, the Super Nintendo was home to many entries in the genre that remain some of the greatest games of all time. Given they’re back-to-back, and given that most developers switched from SNES to PS1, you can view this as either one long golden age or two discrete ones, but the point is that this was always the genre’s high. They were heights I wasn’t convinced would ever be reached again. And yet… here is the Nintendo Switch.

One thing that’s different now to then is Nintendo itself. Nintendo hasn’t typically been very hot on the role-playing genre. There’s Mother (aka Earthbound), Fire Emblem, and experimentation with RPG concepts across the Zelda series, particularly in Zelda 2, but Nintendo has never been that much of an RPG devotee. All of that golden age support on the SNES came from third parties; from Square with Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and their kin, from Capcom with Breath of Fire, and Enix with Dragon Quest – to name a few. Notably, most of Nintendo’s own RPGs of that era also never got localized: the company never even saw the point of releasing them outside of Japan.

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