A LITTLE ABOUT THE EVOLUTION OF THE CURSORS IN JRPGs

Cover image: Photo by Naomi George in Starry Eyes + Coffee Cups

One element that can be never missing from an interface that is addressed to a user is the cursor. This is because this item is the indicator responsible for showing the current position for user interaction on a computer monitor or other display device that will respond to an action from an input device. One of the oldest examples of cursor is the underscore at the end of the line in the Windows Command Prompt. Other examples are the pointer or mouse cursor in shaped like an arrow or a hand that echoes the movements of a pointing device, such as the mouse, touchpad or stylus pen.

The cursor for the Windows Command Prompt is an underscore at the end of the line.
Pointer in the form of an arrow and hand.
Lordalpha1, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

With the aforementioned, video games can’t be an exception in the use of cursors in view of the player needs a graphic that echoes the movement of the joystick to be able to select objects, perform actions, etc. Due to the graphics of the time, the shape of the cursor in the early games was simple and the same for all types of screen, these being these the main menu, battles, shops, among others. With time and technological advances, the appearance of the cursor became more and more elaborate, in addition, as the mechanics of the games increased in complexity, the shape of the cursors within a single one diversified. Knowing this, its’ worth doing a little analysis of the evolution of cursors in video games. This post is here to do that, taking JRPGs due to this genre adopts this resource a lot. To do this, a journey will be made from the first JRPGs to those that appeared at the beginning of the 21st century. Then let’s begin!

8-BITS: WHEN IT ALL STARTED

At first, perhaps due to technological limitations or simply because it was not so important, in JRPGs the shape of the cursors was simple, most of the time being a solid white triangle. This always pointed to the right since in the games all the choices were presented in the form of a list. An example of the situation described above is the first JRPG “Dragon Warrior (JP1986 / NA1989)” or also known as “Dragon Quest”. The triangle appears at the moment to choose from a set of options when answering questions, in battle to select actions and objectives, or in the main and in the store to pick items. This resource was repeated until “Dragon Warrior VII (JP2000 / NA2001)” and in video games such as “The Magic of Scheherazade (JP1987 / NA1990)”, “Destiny of an Emperor (JP1989 / NA1990)”, “Ghost Lion (JP1989 / NA1992)” or “Earthbound (JP1994 / NA1995)”. “Bikkuriman World – Gekitou Sei Senshi (1990)” added an upward pointing triangle to target the sprite of enemies in battle. It’s good to emphasize that the latter was one of the first games to not only use the cursor within name lists, but also to point pictures.

Triangle-shaped cursor in “Dragon Warrior”.
In battles, the triangle-shaped cursor of “Bikkuriman World – Gekitou Sei Senshi” points to the right to choose the enemy’s name and up for its image.

There are some games that take this same triangle and draw only the outline like “Double Moon Dentetsu (1992)”, change the color for example to red like “Columbus: Ougon no Yoake (1992)”, or modify it a little to become an arrow like “Faxanu (JP1987 / NA1989)” or “Sansara Naga (1990)”.

The outline of a triangle serves as a cursor in “Double Moon Dentetsu”.
Red triangle as cursor in “Columbus: Ougon no Yoake”.
Arrow-shaped cursor on “Faxanadu”.
In “Sansara Naga” the cursor is a white arrow.

A game that decided to also utilize a basic shape, but different from the triangle, was “Sweet Home (1989)”, where a white circle is the cursor.

In “Sweet Home”, the cursor is shaped like a circle.

A franchise that from its inception marked its characteristic cursor was “Final Fantasy”. If one observes this series of “Final Fantasy I” through XV (except FFX, FFX-2 and FFXI) the cursor shape that never missing is that of a hand wearing what appears to be a glove and with the index finger raised to point. In recent games of the series, the hand is not employed all the time, yet it does appear at some point.

The hand-shaped cursor in the “Final Fantasy” game series.

Although “Final Fantasy” introduced it, there were other games that also used a hand-shaped cursor such as “Akuma Kun Makai no Wana (1990)”. “Chaos World (1991)” occupied it without the glove and with a different angle in order to show all the fingers.

The cursor in “Akuma Kun Makai no Wana” is a hand.
A hand without a glove is the cursor in “Chaos World”.

A cursor that cannot be left out in this era of 8-bit games is the flask-shaped one that was only seen in “Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (JP1987/ NA1989)”.

“Zelda II: The Adventure of Link” has a flask-shaped cursor.

The cursor is not only used to point to text or images, but to indicate waiting for the writing of letters as happens on the screen where the player names the characters. In most cases, this cursor is an underscore, also called an underline, low line or low dash that only varies in color from game and game.

The underscore on the screen where the player names the character.

Sometimes it’s possible to see this same line but in the middle instead of below as in the case of “E. V. O. The Search for Eden (JP1992/ NA1993)”. Other games prefer to place a line of a particular symbol that is replaced by the letter that is written. This symbol can be an asterisk (*) or a question mark (?). A more elaborate cursor for this screen is the rotating rhomboid applied in “SD Keiji: Blader (1991)”.

In the game “The Magic of Scheherazade” the question mark (?) indicates the position that the letter to be written will take.
The rotating rhomboid on the name screen of in “SD Keiji: Blader”.

Finally, another cursor that was introduced in 1990 is one that is shaped by the corners of a square and that serves to surround the characters in “Bloody Warriors: Shango no Gyakushuu” or icons of items in “Crystalis”.

The corners of a square that have a white background and a black border are what function as a cursor to assemble the battalion in “Bloody Warriors: Shango no Gyakushuu”.
In “Crystalis“, the white corners of a square are utilized to choose the icons of items.

16-BITS: THE POSSIBILITY TO ADD MORE DETAIL

The 16-bit consoles brought with them the ability to make more detailed graphics and create new animation effects. All this was used for the design of cursors. In the first place, an effect that became very common was the blinking that was employed, for example, in “Final Fantasy IV (1991)” to indicate the focused character.

Blinking effect in Final Fantasy IV.

The text in the menu of “Romancing Saga 2 (1993)” or the background of some elements as in “The 7th Saga (1993)” used this effect as well.

Flickering effect on the main menu text of “Romancing Saga 2”.

As stated above, the 16-bit architecture allows more complex shapes and, as a proof, one can see the spearhead that works as cursor in the video game “Uncharted Waters (1991)”. In fact, “Live A Live (1994)”, a game that has seven scenarios and each one with a different protagonist, takes advantage of this new capacity of the consoles to create a distinctive cursor for each main character. For example, a leg of beef for the caveman, a gun for the cowboy, a sword for the knight, among others.

A leg of beef as a cursor on the scenario of the caveman in “Live A Live”.
Each “Live A Live” character has its own cursor shape.

Continuing with the theme of complex cursors, a very curious one is that of the save screen of “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Starts (1996)” where it’s the protagonist himself, Mario, who is employed to select the slot where the game is going to be saved.

Mario is the cursor in the save screen.

AND THE FIFTH-GENERATION CONSOLES ARRIVE!

The launch of the so-called fifth-generation consoles invited video games to experiment with new cursor shapes and animations, since the level of detail they allowed was greater than that of their predecessors. With this in mind, the creators of “Lunar: The Silver Star (JP1992/ NA1993)” decided to design a cursor that consisted of a thick border of a gradient color that went from gold to white and which was constantly moving.

A thick border with a constantly moving gradient color from gold to white is used as a cursor in “Lunar: The Silver Star”.

The moving gradient is seen in “Grandia (JP1997/ NA1999)” as well, however, in this case there is a fill over the focus element and the gradient goes from white to transparent.

Here it’s possible to see the cursor that is formed from a gradient that goes from white to transparent and that constantly moves over the “Wind” Attribute.

In this generation, creating new effects and shapes was not the only thing that was done, but also improving those that existed in the days of 8-bits and 16-bits games. For example, the beveled rectangles perceived in some games like “Live A Live” look better detailed in games like “Suikoden II (JP1998/ NA1999)”.

Although it’s an interior bezel against an exterior, it’s possible to identify that the bezel on the right is more detailed than the one on the left.

An element that also underwent changes was the classic triangle that appeared a lot in the first games. This evolved into a prism thanks to the fact that 3D graphics were part of the characteristics that distinguished these new fifth-generation consoles. As the proof is “Final Fantasy VIII (1999)” that employed it on the battle screen to focus on the active character.

The yellow prism is an evolved form of the classic triangle that was employed in 8-bit and 16-bits games. In “Final Fantasy VIII” it serves to indicate the active character.

The 3D graphics were more noticeable in the TRPG such as “Tactics Ogre (1995)” or “Final Fantasy Tactics (JP1997/ NA1998)” that show the map in different angles, allowing to modify the cursor in the shape of the corners of a square used in TRPG in 2D. This is replaced by a 3D cursor above the focus element and the square on the floor where the element is located is also colored.

In “Final Fantasy Tactics” there is a cursor above, and the square on the ground is colored to indicate the focus position.

A custom that was gradually eliminated in games was to use the same cursor for all the screens. Although this change began in Super Nintendo with games like “Crystalis”, this diversification was more evident in the fifth-generation consoles. Examples of recent games that applied the mention before is “Tales of Berseria (JP2016/ NA2017)”. Its default cursor is a purple feather that is recursive to maintain consistency between interfaces, however, there are other cursor designs. In dialogs and lists, the focus option has a pink background with blurred edges, in the main menu the focused category icon is brighter, and in-focus character photo has an opaque white rectangle above it.

A purple feather is the default cursor in “Tales of Berseria”.
In dialog boxes, the focus option has a pink background with blurred edges.
The focus category is brighter.
The photo of the in-focus character, Eleanor, has a white rectangle with low opacity above it.

On the battle screen, the icon for the selected option is larger, glowing, and its background color changes.

The icon for the focused option on the battle screen menu is larger, brighter, and its background decoration is red.

Likewise, “Final Fantasy XV (2016)” has the classic hand cursor accompanied by a blue light line but, since the options in the main menu increase, there are more cursors. For example, on the “Ascension” screen there is a circular cursor. In addition, there are other types of menus with different design such as that of the restaurant, causing the cursor to change.

The classic “Final Fantasy” hand cursor accompanied by a blue light line in the “Final Fantasy XV” main menu.
The cursor on the “Ascension” screen is different from the one applied on the other screens as it has a circular shape.
The main menu of the restaurant.

Finally, due to the emergence of other battle mechanics, a cursor that became popular in real-time combat is the arc of light to select an enemy and that is seen in “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (JP2011/ NA2013)”.

An arc of light to target the enemy.

All the above allows to verify that the cursor is an important piece of video games. It’s also concluded that to design them it’s necessary to take into account the available resources, for instance the architecture (8-bits, 16-bits, etc.); the general design and story of the game to achieve a consistency between everything; and its function, for example a cursor to choose an option in a dialog presented in the form of a list doesn’t have the same objective as the one used to point a target in a real-time combat.


Well, the talk about cursors ends here for the moment. The idea is that in the future this blog will introduce more with regard to cursors, but within other genres of games in order to highlight other important features of this essential component of the graphical interface. I hope you liked this post and comment a bit about the cursors of the games you have played. Until then, see you in the next post!!

BIBLIOGRAPHY

LINKS OF IMAGES / VIDEOS

Video GameLink
Akuma Kun Makai no Wanahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNEQ2M4iMek
Bikkuriman World – Gekitou Sei Senshihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPtL3qHP8b0&t=351s
Bloody Warriors: Shango no Gyakushuuhttp://allconsolegame.blogspot.com/2017/09/games-roms-nes-part-12.html
Chaos Worldhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxU1niEasAY
Columbus: Ougon no Yoakehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-s9jv9ua6gQ
Crystalishttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTfTvrVvkZ8&t=2087s
Double Moon Densetsuhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlUvrubvqa4
Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dragon_quest_battle_2.png
Faxanaduhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4B2ZuY1fmY
Final Fantasyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTdlzqhSdt8
Final Fantasy IIhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zENBscPiExo&t=198s
Final Fantasy IIIhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wBYrLVtLxw
Final Fantasy IVhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbNFMBtxVcE
Final Fantasy Vhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0RtcAi94bQ&t=4434s
Final Fantasy VIhttps://lparchive.org/Breaking-Final-Fantasy-VI/Update%2008/
Final Fantasy VIIhttps://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Menu_(Final_Fantasy_VII)
Final Fantasy VIIIhttps://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Menu_(Final_Fantasy_VIII)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otBZ26I21sw
Final Fantasy IXhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qneuPK3W3WM
Final Fantasy XIIhttps://immersivenick.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/programming-the-ffxii-gambit-system/
Final Fantasy XIIIhttps://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Menu_(Final_Fantasy_XIII)
Final Fantasy XIII-2https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Menu_(Final_Fantasy_XIII-2)
Final Fantasy XIII-3https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?l=russian&id=572804109
Final Fantasy XIVhttps://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Character_creation
Final Fantasy XVhttps://www.3djuegos.com/foros/tema/43560185/0/melodia-menu/
https://www.usgamer.net/articles/05-03-2018-guide-to-final-fantasy-15s-ascension-grid
https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Restaurant
Final Fantasy Tacticshttps://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Chicken_(status)
Grandiahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q7Aa8Gmlwc
Live A Livehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUOI1qtaOWY&list=PL950A7D15C39E8ED8
Lunar: The Silver Starhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izav0KeT_AA
Romancing Saga 2https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zao4Z2LB1eM
Sansara Nagahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUO4GnuvhXg
SD Keiji: Bladerhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_KtHWemkRM
Suikoden IIhttps://lparchive.org/Suikoden-II-(by-The-White-Dragon)/Update%2002/
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Startshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG8Cez88FyU
Sweet Homehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5JqOc-8zBU
The Magic of Scheherazadehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvBRURRas58
Zelda II: The Adventure of Linkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVnYiVK-Du4
Links to the images and videos used in this post.

I'm a Graphic Designer in love with Otomes and JRPG. I like the interface design area and that's why I really like to talk about this theme. You can win me over with a good videogame Illustration book and a good capuccino.

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