This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.
Whenever I sit down and read an ostensibly hilarious article about JRPG cliches, I can always count on someone making a snarky observation about the in-game economy.
"Isn't it funny that shops actually charge heroes trying to save the world? Don't they get a hero's discount?"
These sorts of observations are as cliche as the JRPG tropes they try to skewer, but there is a kernel of truth to them. Hence my interest in Rental Bukiya de Omasse – a Yoshiyuki Hirai-developed "fantasy rhythm" RPG which unfortunately may end up being the odd game out in the upcoming eShop release of games from the Guild01 collection. We have enough snarky fan observations to last us a lifetime. Self-awareness and a real sense of humor on the part of developer is something far more rare.
Rental Bukiya de Omasse is officially credited to Yoshiyuki Hirai, one part of a Japanese comedy and voice acting duo. The gameplay playfully skewers the shopkeeper trope by casting the player as a vendor who forges and sells weapons to passing heroes. The bulk of the gameplay is in a rhythm-based mini-game in which you try to forge the best weapon possible. Succeed and you'll get repeat business. Fail and ... well, you get the idea.
Much of the humor is derived from the actual interactions with the heroes. They are for the most part blowhards, each with a collection of invisible groupies that cheers and applauds whenever they walk in the door. After picking up their weapons, it's possible to see how they're doing on their quest. The formula is pretty simple – the better the weapon, the better the chances of success (like in any actual RPG, basically).
I don't know whether it can be called an "RPG" in the strictest sense of the word, but I appreciate Rental Bukiya de Omasse's playful sense of humor and nods toward the genre. It reminds me, in a roundabout way, of Peter Molyneux's Dungeon Keeper. Like Rental Bukiya de Omasse, it flips the script by presenting a heroic quest from an entirely different perspective; in Dungeon Keeper's case, an evil overlord. Also like Rental Bukiya de Omasse, it may not really be an RPG, but that doesn't make it any less of a must play for fans of the genre. They are the ones, after all, who are most likely to understand the humor.
Rental Bukiya de Omasse has the chance to be a charming little text adventure for the 3DS eShop if it ends up making it west. It was notably absent from the Guild01 lineup though, which suggests that Level-5 is passing on it altogether. If that's the case, then it's a shame. Japanese-developed RPGs aren't what I would call humorless – Disgaea is a series that comes to mind here – but it's rare that their humor translated to the mainstream audiences. It would be nice if people got the chance to laugh with a game that takes its inspiration from JRPGs, rather than at it, if you know what I mean.
Granted, I imagine that there are certain barriers standing in the way of a domestic release. It's a text-heavy adventure, for example, which means high localization costs (though that hasn't stopped Level-5 from releasing the pen-and-paper-RPG-like Crimson Shroud from the same package). And as I already mentioned, it was developed by a Japanese comedy duo for Japanese audiences. Level-5 may feel that westerners won't "get" the humor, though I would like to think that they have a higher opinion of us than that.
Regardless, a little parody never hurt anyone. I think I would enjoy having a chance to see a quest from the perspective of one of one of the RPG genre's ubiquitous shopkeepers. Here's hoping that I get the chance.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.