While the genre was established in the west it was taken further and evolved in the hands of the Japanese. Today we remember the likes of Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Lufia, Breath of Fire and early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles with teary eyes. Those were the glory days of Japanese role playing games, and for the most part this once flourishing genre has been relocated to the retro corner.
It's not necessarilly because of a downward trend in terms of quality. Dragon Quest IX: Guardian of Heaven, was a great game even if felt as though we'd played the game before. This conservative approach and sense of familiarity is both a curse and a blessing. This became very evident with Final Fantasy XIII, the most prominent Japanese RPG franchise, and one that had received a lot of criticism over its lack of evolution. It had a very slow start, but gained momentum after a couple of dozen of hours or so.
It was characterised by its linearity and a combat system that could almost be played by a blind man. In part it has to do with the reliance on turn based battles, but it also fell short in terms of storytelling where you can do so much more these days. For years the focus has been on presentation, while interactivity and player choice has been turned down to a minimum. And in the meantime games like The Witcher and Mass Effect have been born in the west.
While the genre is weakened it is far from dead, and there has been a number of great ideas in recent times. Often they haven't resulted in the best of experiences, and it is rare to see so many great ideas implemented as well as in Mistwalker's and Nintendo's The Last Story. Mistwalker, a studio founded by the creator of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi, wants to breath some fresh air into the genre with The Last Story.
It is true that The Last Story mimics Final Fantasy with regards to the title and logo. But the game itself doesn't come with a loaded backpack full of conventions, and more importantly it does not burden us with boring fights and outdrawn drama as it offers a significantly more compressed, varied and intense experience. It may seem confusing in the beginning, but the magic kicks in relatively quickly.