Girlmore Girls is a light hearted and easy to watch TV series about a mother and daughter’s shared life experience in a small town, growing up with toughy family dynamics, personal goals and the politics of small town life. Running from 2000 until 2007, and with an upcoming Netflix revival, the show managed to retain a level of consistently easy to watch low stakes drama for the better part of a decade, while structuring episodes to be self contained enough to easily jump in and out of.
You might well be wondering what a show about two women living a quiet low stakes life together has to connect it to the high stakes, action heavy world of traditional JRPGs. While there’s very little similar about them on the surface besides their shared use of the term Gil, I think Gilmore Girls could teach the average Final Fantasy or Tales Of game a thing or two about how to be more readily accessable to a wider audience of players.
JRPGs are typically very lengthy narrative experiences that rely on action to pad out their running times. Their narratives usually rely on a limited number of plot threads, with character or story development spread apart in large gaps. Often seeing the progression of a plot thread will require hours of work, and leave you on yet another cliff hanger to brige your next few hours of gameplay.
The fact that JRPG plots so often only explore a single lengthy plot thread rather than a series of smaller plots that tie into progression and advancement of that central plot often means that players who walk away from the game for a while can come back to this central plot and face a lengthy amount of play before the larger plot once again becomes clear.
JRPG narrative structure tends to prioritise working toward a single extreme interpersonal drama, and leaves only a breadcrumb trail or narrative teases along the way to remind the player why they are working toward the larger eventual character development based goal. This can be prohibitive to players who either play games in bursts with larger gaps in between play, or just players looking for character development and engaging smaller plots on the way to their larger goal.
Gilmore Girls comparatively, with its current runtime of aproximately 103 hours, rivals many JRPGs in length, but far outdoes them in engaging audiences narratively throughout that runtime, while remaining easy to jump in and out of casually.
Gilmore Girls features a series of wider scope long running plot lines which are set out for audiences early on in the show, like expected relationship pairing and interpersonal milestones to be met, but builds toward those plots with a series of smaller stand alone stories. Each forty minute episode features a self contained plot which can be enjoyed on its own, includes enough wider context for those jumping in late to pick up on the wider plots and character motivations, while telling us something new about the characters in the world.
Where I and many other find it hard to jump back into a Blue Dragon or Eternal Sonata after a multiple week gap without feeling lost, Gilmore Girls every forty minutes provides a new place for folks to jump in or out and ensures they have the context to enjoy that additional slice of narrative.
Now, I’m obviously not saying every JRPG suddenly needs to throw aside gameplay and world ending stakes to be a story of interpaersonal drama, nor am I suggesting that JRPGs need to stuff in as much of those narrative elements as a long running TV show. TV is an inherently more narrative heavy medium, and interactivity is a cornerstone of video game design. I am merely saying that structurally, JRPGs could benefit from telling more self contained interpersonal stories on the way to their larger end goals, and making those interpersonal stories core parts of the narrative rather than optional side quests.
So yeah, I want Final Fantasy XXVIV when it one day rolls around to be a little more like Gilmore Girls in terms of narrative structure. Also, give me an adorable mother – daughter combo to go adventuring as. And let the final boss be the evil grandparents who tried to get the family together for weekly diners. Basically, give me a Gilmore Girls JRPG please.