The life of an NPC is tough. Perpetually stuck with one or two interesting things to say. Trapped in houses or stores, or making idle chatter around the town’s well. The most excitement that may happen is when the troublesome village kid runs off. But don’t worry, the protagonists will save them. Oh, but what’s this? The villain has set their sights on your humble abode? Uh oh.
Play enough JRPGs and certain themes become commonplace. One of these is the tried and true formula in which towns and villages meet untimely ends. If done well, the scenes can be surprising (even if players guess the outcome beforehand), or show how merciless games’ villains are.
Here are some of the most agonising moments in JRPGs where places and their people were annihilated, and one unconventional scenario that’s just all kinds of fun.
Nibelheim, Final Fantasy VII
Poor Tifa and Cloud. Those two townsfolk lying in the dirt outside the burning houses of Nibelheim? Yes, we feel sorry for you guys too. Not to mention the two guys who were cut down by Sephiroth and his masamune. Back in 1997 when the RPG released, Sephiroth’s iconic exit amongst the flames with his smug face, long black coat and silver hair, was the coolest thing to us. Looking back at it now, it’s simply horrible. It was always horrible but that’s why they’re called villains. Tifa and Cloud’s hometown was the one to bear the brunt of Sephiroth’s rage after discovering the truth about his alien lineage, and being a lab rat. He goes insane and concludes that he’s the rightful owner of the planet. It’s usually world domination with villains, isn’t it? And towns like Nibelheim are the places that get destroyed in the process.
If evil corporations like Shinra are involved, however, towns get rebuilt to hide cover-ups. Final Fantasy VII added insult to injury to poor Nibelheim.
Ryube, Suikoden II
Luca Blight is ruthless, and that’s an understatement. When he and his soldiers invade Ryube, the village is decimated. The details of the destruction are what makes Blight’s acts so depraved. Fire frames the scenes of bodies strewn everywhere and no life is spared, not even the village’s dogs. It’s unsurprising that Blight, one of the game’s major antagonists, has so little regard for life as demonstrated in the shocking moment he kills one of the villagers.
When the woman is brought before him, he doesn’t just kill her. He humiliates her first. When she begs for her life, Blight tells her to “act like a pig,” and she complies. On hands and knees she crawls around the dirt surrounded by soldiers, her text bubbles filled with the words “oink.” There’s a smidgen of hope when she questions Blight if he’ll spare her, but it’s fleeting. His next words are “Die pig!!!!” and what follows is a gruesome execution. When he lands two blows to her face with his sword, the animation is disgustingly effective—showing his lack of hesitation and quickness of the act with her head turning twice in rapid succession.
Ryube and its inhabitants never had a chance.
Palma, Phantasy Star II
It’s not every day an entire planet gets destroyed. But the main planet of Phantasy Star I, Palma, gets blown up in Phantasy Star II, taking with it all the villages within. Its destruction is a big shock, especially as it’s a cultural centre for artists and scientists (its climate is also the most temperate of the three planets). Their legacy continues through the escaping spaceship worlds, but Palma’s destruction gives new meaning to the saying, there’s no place like home since home no longer exists.
Kasuto, Zelda II
Last week, I (Peter) wrote about why Zelda II was one of my favourite games in the series and described how it got really dark in places. In the original The Legend of Zelda, we knew Ganon was a threat, but never got to see it directly. When Link comes across Kasuto, he finds a village completely destroyed by a bunch of invisible Moas. The buildings are dilapidated and in ruins. There is no life and the graveyard full of crosses nearby indicates the heavy death toll. Even if the survivors were able to build a New Kasuto, they have to live in hiding lest Ganon’s minions come for more. It’s a chilling visit that made us realise how important Link’s quest was.
Is Xenogears actually a treatise on the philosophical complexities of religion and life itself disguised as a videogame? The main protagonist, Fei, isn’t sure as he’s suffering amnesia. But when a group of Gears from Kislev attack Lahan, Fei’s instincts take over. He gets in an empty Gear and fights back, but ends up incinerating the entire village. “Fei is bound… by the dark, cruel destiny of God,” his friend, Citan, states. Everyone is afraid of him and one of the NPCs even calls him “Murderer!” Fei leaves, wishing he could forget some of the memories from the night before. Too bad the NPCs can’t.
Cobblestone, Dragon Quest XI
Dragon Quest XI almost lost me (Peter). I enjoyed the opening scenes with the Luminary as the story followed his life in the hometown of Cobblestone all the way to his visit to Heliodor Castle where instead of a hero’s welcome, he’s imprisoned. At the same time, there were so many other games calling me, I was about to put it on hold. Then Cobblestone happened. King Carnelian had sent soldiers to Cobblestone and initially, returning to your hometown, all seems okay, which was a big relief. But matters quickly becoming confusing as no one recognises you. Even Amber, who raised you, demands to know why you’re there. You come across a childhood version of your sweetheart, Gemma, and after you help her, she takes you to Chalky, your adoptive “granddad.” The Luminary has somehow jumped to the past but Chalky recognises him. “I’ve known you since you were a baby, after all. I knew it was you right away.” They have a touching exchange where he expresses regret for his actions, which has more poignancy since at the beginning of the game, he’s passed away, “Ahh, but what a fine figure of a man you’ve become… I’m so glad I got to see you all grown up.” And then the past fades and you realise the entire town has been destroyed. I grabbed for the tissues and felt devastated and angry and a hundred different emotions. Fifty hours later, I’m still playing.
Bowser’s Castle, Bowser’s Inside Story
Fear not, Toad Lovers! Bowser does not wipe out the Mushroom Kingdom (although there’s a disease, the Blorbs, which threatens the Kingdom and makes the citizens round and cute, or unsightly, depending on who’s asking). Bowser does, however, battle his very own castle and wrecks it. It may not be a town but it’s home to Bowser and his minions, and it’s just too interesting not to include. Think of it as a break from the heartache represented by the other entries on this list.
In 2009’s third Mario & Luigi RPG (and its 2019 remake), Mario and Luigi find themselves trapped inside Bowser’s body and work with him to save the world. The game sees the return of Superstar Saga’s Fawful, who takes control of Bowser’s castle as part of his plan to rule the Mushroom Kingdom. Fawful outfits the castle to fly, sending it to crush Bowser. With Bowser’s life flagging, the Mario bros. work to save him and in doing so, help Bowser to become a giant.
In a brilliant use of the DS’ (and 3DS’) capabilities, players have to turn the system vertically to enter into combat against Bowser’s castle, which Fawful has weaponised and transformed into a mech (of sorts). It’s meant to show just how enormous the scale of the battle is, and there’s an appropriately epic music theme to accompany it. Giant Bowser takes down his own castle, and though it’s not completely destroyed (amazingly!), it does get pretty messed up thanks to the fight.
It’s somehow even worse when players visit the castle later in the game. Fawful decorates the castle with statues of himself, and brainwashes Bowser’s minions to worship him instead—some don’t even remember Bowser’s name! Not only does Bowser’s castle get pummelled by its own ruler but Bowser’s identity is basically stripped from it. Talk about a whole other level of erasure.
These are just some of the villages, towns, cities, and civilisations that were destroyed by the greedy, murderous hands of some of JRPGs’ cruel villains (and that one Koopa who had no choice, thanks to a bad guy full of chortles). We selected just one from each franchise represented here (with so many others we didn’t include on account of our hearts no longer being able to handle any more sadness), so please feel to chime in with your memories of heartbreaking examples in the comments below.