What role does genre play in our understanding of video games? How can different categorizations of stories equip us with a shorthand to compare and contrast our experiences in different games—and how might these categories impact our ability to read and interpret the language of individual games on their own terms?

We invite you to join us this Labor Day Weekend at PAX West 2023 to probe these questions through a new presentation by With a Terrible Fate: “Is Pokémon a JRPG?” Read on for the panel details and a special sneak preview of what to expect.

Is Pokémon a JRPG?

When: Sunday, September 3 at 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM PT

Where: Blue Morpho Theatre

What: Pokémon is a global phenomenon that’s entranced fans of all ages for decades. It’s also a game series made in Japan that puts players in roles, guiding them to overcome a range of challenges and ultimately learn something. Yet the burning, perennially controversial question remains: do the Pokémon games count as JRPGs? Join the game analysts of With a Terrible Fate—one of whom is publishing a podcast retrospective on the entire Pokémon series, and the other of whom is streaming playthroughs of the entire Namco Tales JRPG series—in a debate over what makes a JRPG and what makes a Pokémon game. With any luck, we’ll end up with a new perspective on what makes our favorite games tick!

Who: Dan Hughes, Video Game Analyst & Seriesrunner of Pokémon Rose; Aaron Suduiko, Founder, Chief Video Game Analyst, & Seriesrunner of Tales of Praxis

The question of whether Pokémon qualifies as a Japanese role-playing game, a JRPG, is sometimes seen as a long-running joke among gamers, but it’s also a provocative topic for testing our intuitions about how we define genres of video games and what those genres can illuminate or obscure about particular games. If reading Pokémon as a JRPG sounds a little like fitting a square peg into a round hole despite the substantial overlap between the game’s characteristics and more “traditional” JRPGs, then why is that the case—and what can it teach us about both the storytelling of Pokémon and the definition of ‘JRPG’?

With a Terrible Fate’s PAX West presentation will be structured as a friendly mock argument between Dan Hughes, who’s been developing a new view on the narrative language of Pokémon in his Pokémon Rose audio series, and Aaron Suduiko, who’s been analyzing the storytelling structure of the Namco Tales JRPGs through the Tales of Praxis series of game streams and articles. Aaron will try to convince Dan that Pokémon is just another generic JRPG, while Dan will try to explain the reasons why the Pokémon stories don’t reduce to a paint-by-numbers genre formula. With any luck, we’ll arrive at some new insights not only about the Pokémon series, but also about how we can better articulate the more finely-grained distinctions that make more “obvious” JRPG series, like Tales or Final Fantasy, worthy of exploring in their own unique contexts. After interpreting Pokémon, we might even test out our new method with some live interpretations of Final Fantasy XVI and Tales of Arise!

The subject matter of this presentation sits at the intersection of many of With a Terrible Fate’s central concerns in the theory of video-game storytelling:

  • Pokémon epitomizes how dramatically interactive stories can shape the lives and identities of individuals, catalyzing new global cultures like “Pokémania.”
  • The notion of a JRPG demonstrates that video-game narrative is sufficiently sophisticated to require classification by genre.
  • The difficulty in evenly applying a classification like ‘JRPG’ to a wide range of narrative experiences speaks to the challenge—and the promise—of squaring a communal understanding of particular storytelling methods with the deeply personal nature of our individual playthroughs and interpretations of the video games that shape our lives.

All of these topics and more will be up for discussion throughout the PAX West panel; more so than definitively answering the question of whether Pokémon qualifies as a JRPG, our goal will be to sketch, test, and refine some new and useful ways for everyone to situate the storytelling of their favorite games within the broader trajectory of gaming as an art form.

We’ll be lecturing for the full hour of the panel, but if you’re able to stick around afterward, meet up with us outside the theater and we’ll gladly chat with you about Pokémon, JRPGs, and video-game storytelling for as long as you like: those conversations are consistently our favorite part of PAX! While it’s looking like the panel this year won’t be streamed, we’ll also do our best to get a recording to share online for those unable to attend in person, and we’d be delighted to keep the conversation going online as well.

If you’d like to pregame the panel with related content, you’re in luck! With a Terrible Fate features a wealth of multimedia studies about both Pokémon and JRPG storytelling. Here are some options for getting started:

Pokémon Studies:

JRPG Studies:

Our range of work on JRPGs, in particular, stretches well beyond this sampling: go ahead and explore the “Games” tab of With a Terrible Fate if you’re looking to read a study of any particular JRPG or series, from Final Fantasy to Ni no Kuni to Kingdom Hearts to NieR to Scarlet Nexus. You can also check out a range of more specific JRPG studies included in Dan’s article series, “Now Loading… The Video Game Canon!”, which explores the impact of specific games on the broader history of video-game storytelling—including Chrono Trigger, The Legend of Dragoon, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and many more. And stay tuned for new contributions to Pokémon Rose and Tales of Praxis in the weeks between now and PAX West 2023!

Game on, Seattle: we can’t wait to see you!

Aaron Suduiko

Aaron Suduiko - Founder and Chief Video Game Analyst

Aaron Suduiko is the founder of With a Terrible Fate and a philosopher of video-game storytelling. He specializes in the impact of player-avatar relations on game stories.  Learn more here.

Dan Hughes

Dan Hughes - Video Game Analyst

Dan Hughes has dabbled in everything from playwriting to religious studies to YouTube personas. He is the seriesrunner for With a Terrible Fate's "Now Loading... The Video Game Canon!"  Learn more here.

With a Terrible Fate is dedicated to developing the best video game analysis anywhere, without any ads or sponsored content. If you liked what you just read, please consider supporting us by leaving a one-time tip or becoming a contributor on Patreon.

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