Shulk, Sephiroth, and Squall Leonhart to name a few. Yes while they do all start with the same letter, they also all have something more important in common, they all use weapons that are rather unorthodox in size and stature. From as early as gaming’s projection as a medium of entertainment amongst the masses, fantasy weapons like swords/shield combos and axes were the basis for common weapons. With the emergence and influence of JRPGs and other Japanese entertainment mediums, the concept of JRPG characters wielding huge and whimsical weapons became something of a commonality. What is it about JRPGs that has invited this concept of heroes and antiheroes in gaming to wield giant weapons almost equivalent if not larger than themselves?
Harkening back to original manga series’ such as Berserk and Claymore, the emergence of giant weapons was something of a small yet growing troupe within the Japanese manga/anime/video game scene. Even within earlier Final Fantasy games like Final Fantasy 1 originally released for the NES back in 1990 in the U.S, weapons like the Ultima Weapon, while not fully realized due to console limitations, were believed to be big weapons capable of immense unimaginable power.
Flash forward to January 31st 1997 when the series’ magnum opus, Final Fantasy VII releases for the original PlayStation. With the series making its first steps into the 3rd dimension, animators are finally able to realize the dream of actually rendering original character designs, into in-engine models. The game’s main protagonist, Cloud Strife, boasts the Buster Sword, a weapon who’s size almost matches its wielder to a tee. With the growing emergence of higher quality JRPGs, games like Vagrant Story and Thousand Arms also basked in the same style of having weapons that were huge and bombastic to say the least.
Than came the sixth generation of console gaming, it was at this time that JRPGs started branching off into other variants on the traditional formula with which the JRPG was king. Japanese tactical RPGs like Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, shown our (anti) hero Laharl sporting a bevy of weapons, best of which were the eerily designed swords acquired throughout the game. On the handheld market, games like Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite and Gods Eater: Burst for the PSP, remain an understatement in the sheer size and power of each of the weapons obtainable within the game. Both leaning towards Japanese Action RPGs, both games were fluent in the idea of having the player character wield humongous upgrade-able weapons in order to defeat the almost colossal sized monsters within each game respectively.
It is within the last generation being the seventh generation of gaming that the JRPG has gone through an almost full blown transition of its original meaning of turn based RPGs into RPGs originating from developers in Japan. However, it certainly didn’t detract from the idea of characters wielding astronomically sized weapons. Games like the renowned Souls series which began in this generation with its first iteration, Demon Souls, saw players with the option to wield big two handed swords and clubs to name a few. Even on the MMORPG scene, games like Final Fantasy XIV and Phantasy Star Online 2 saw specific classes wielding weapons nearly as big and lavish as the player character themselves.
It is within this evolution of the original term coined JRPG that some games out now are great games that either follow the original tradition of the concept or evolves it through sub-genres. Action JRPGs like Nier: Automata and Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, both boast big weapons and cleaving through waves of enemies makes for an explosively good time. However games like Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance show that even in this day and age of sub-genre RPGs, the classic formula of turn based combat and sizable big weapons based on character classes still has a place in the hearts of many fans, and possibly even to eventual newcomers.
With current generation games, the entire concept of JRPG weapons being considerably bigger in scale has become commonplace in its genre and others alike. Among western audiences the idea of having player characters wield these gargantuan stylistic weapons has become merely an adoption of an originally eastern concept. While normal sized weapons are still commonplace among most other games, RPG/JRPG or otherwise, it’s this empowering feeling of wielding a weapon that’s much larger than life with nearly maximum efficiency that entices developers and players to embrace huge weapon designs.
So when it comes to Japanese RPG weapons, does size matter? While it may or may not be absolutely necessary, it certainly doesn’t make it any less welcome.