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Me and Rpgs - thoughts.

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The very first game I ever played on Nintendo was Dragon Warrior, followed by the first Final Fantasy. They were epic, massive immersion games that drew you in and really gave you a reason to keep playing. The random battles, and random item drops gave an element of realistic chaos to the game that inspired a sort of tension. Will that rare gold king slime come back this way, I could surely use some more of that XP. It was silly little ideas like that which kept me glued to game after game to see what would be around the next locked door, or in the next treasure chest, Mimic or no.

I played most of the big ones. I may have missed one or two, but for the most part I was a genre purest. I followed series well past their primes, I was so deep into the Final Fantasy's that it started to become unhealthy. They had me till 11, and thats where I drew my line in the sand. However, the truly epic ones left long lasting impressions that have never really gone away. I still to this day use a meter of basing emotional development in a game on whether or not it manages to evoke more emotional response than the ending of Chrono Cross. I judge music by nearly the same standard.

Looking back now on a youth spent questing, and dungeon running, I have begun to notice something missing from the current generation of RPG's on the market. A gap in the games currently made versus older titles. I've played MMO's and while enjoyable at times, they don't scratch the same itch that a Secret of Mana or a SoulBlazer did. TES- Oblivion is a magnificent game by all means, but its not Final Fantasy 3 (six). After evaluating the games past and present, I realize what it is, and where modern designers are missing the mark.

If you have ever played Final Fantasy 7, and actually completed the game, you may realize how nuanced the actual game was, and how different each experience playing it can be. Using different parties, different tactics, or taking a slightly different approach to the game changed how everything played out. Diablo 2, is exactly the same in that regard. Depending on how I make my choices my game play is vastly different. Current titles do, in certain ways replicate this idea, but most of them are fixable. You can do some quest or take some story path that gives you the ability to regain what you changed. In FF 7, when Aeris dies, she stays dead. When you use the choice Charsi gives you to imbue an item, thats it. The choice is made. This element of finality is a rare event in modern titles.

It requires an understanding of scope and scale that is lacking today. Looking at titles in the last five years, and titles currently under development, some of the old titans of the genre have lost their way, and other newcomers are trying to replicate the old magic, but missing the mark. I think it relates to how connected to the materials the early game makers were, and how disconnected from it the new ones are now. For the most part, it has a lot to do with the developers wanting to please their audience and giving them what they expect. Granted, no one wants to make a game that just pisses the core demographic off, ask John Romero how that goes down for you when you try.

It also has much to do with the people that make the games simply being afraid to take grand departures from comfortable materials into a level of scope that changes what the audience expects. Look at the amount of change between Chrono Trigger, which is arguably the best selling platform RPG of all time, and Chrono Cross. They are entirely different games. Not just like different iterations of the same thing, but completely original, independent titles. That would be like Capcom making a Street Fighter 3 that was exactly what you'd expect, and then making Street Fighter 4 that played like Soul Calibur. Both are awesome games, but are worlds apart.

That just doesn't happen now. The differences between Morrowind and Oblivion are large, but they are basically the same game, one just more advanced than the other. Or like the RPG's made by Bioware. While I grant you, that Dragon Age and Mass Effect are not the same game, they are essentially the same idea. They also play nearly identical to other games produced by them, as Kotor and Jade Empire are older versions of the same thing, with the same rehashed morality.

That brings us to another key argument in the RPG world, Linear or Open World. I like both personally, but I also like having a clear direction in which to head. It may seem guided, but only in the same way a book is guided, and personally I like like strong, plot driven narratives as opposed to the choose your own adventures I read when I was younger. However, a strong argument can be made for both sides. In the end, it comes down to how it is accomplished. Shadow of the Colossus is a perfect example of how to blend both into a single seamless experience that both entertains and engages you as a player and a viewer.

So lets think about this for a second. If we take into account everything I've said here, have I outlined a clear and present problem in the current RPG market? Not really, no. I've mentioned my opinion. I'm one gamer in a vast multitude of players, and I'm outside the main audience the people making these games are selling to. More than anything, I want something that takes the comfortable stuff i'm used to, and gives it to me an entirely different method. A game that changes the RPG paradigm. Thats not most people. Most game consumers want new, but new they are used to. RPG gamers especially are very static and tend to hate change in general unless it suits them. We are a fickle brood.

How do you accomplish making something like that? If I had that answer, I wouldn't be writing this article. I'd be pitching it to Square-Enix. I just know that as an old timey player in this new fangled RPG world, I'm beginning to feel left out and left behind. That makes me sad, that a genre I was raised in is starting to exile me as a consumer for more virile players who care less about story and more about combo systems and grindhouse visuals. It leaves me asking, with my Ness hat turned backwards and my character sheet empty, what role do I play when none of the games fit me? I want to continue, I want to keep playing and progress to see what else the genre as a whole has to show me, but perhaps I'm just not at your level anymore. Phoenix Down anyone? Anyone?

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  1. DragoonMog's Avatar
    Good article with a lot of good points.

    I believe the problem a lot of RPG developers have is that they try too please to many people or only a small portion of the people. I will use Dragon Age and Dragon Age II as an example. Dragon Age: Origins has more customization and allows you to choose your race and class. This limited Bioware some what in the cinematic and personal nature of the story and forced them exclude voice acting for your main character. In Dragon Age II they took away the choices of origin and race, which allows them to voice act the main character and make the story more personal to the main character, but limiting options and replay value somewhat. I have heard people give Bioware allot of flack over this choice, but then again many of people love it. Many developers seem to struggle with who to try to please, the niche audience or the broader audience. If you can get both the profit can be great, and the deciding factor is usually what will bring in the most money. Some try to hard to please everyone and others make a game for a much smaller group. The hardcore RPG fans or the causal RPG fans. I think allot of them can't find a balance and the game suffers. Atlus is an example of a developer/publisher that targets a very specific JRPG audience, makes limit runs of their game, and still is pretty successful. Bioware and Bethesda would be an example of a developer that is going for the broader audience with their games, and are blending in action and shooter elements with great monetary success.

    What many of them are doing is streamlining games, in my opinion, too much. For example Final Fantasy XIII. No towns. No mp. No exp. No world map. Linear game play and linear character progression. Exploration and customization are being replaced with cinematics and fast paced game play. Old RPGs flowed at a slow pace like a novel and contained lots of strategic elements much like the pen and paper games they derived from. The new games move at a much faster pace now and are losing much of their RPGness. I am not saying all new games are bad, but I believe the day of games like the AD&D Gold Box, Might and Magic, and Bauldur's Gate games I love are an endangered species. The Final Fantasy series I once loved is pretty much dead, to be replaced with MMOs and On The Rails RPGs.

    On the subject of JRPGs, they have changed with the rest of the Japanese media. The anime and manga are all high school panty shots and fetish anime, and the games are reflective of that. Now you haves games like the Atelier series and Hyperdimension Neptunia that thrive on girly outfits and showing girls bottoms. The Japanese obsession with dating sims are also spilling in. Not all RPGs have fallen prey to Moe harem theme, but it is more common.

    Well that's my rant. Actually I still find quite a few RPGs I enjoy on the handheld systems, but most of the big budget ones on the home console are lacking. A few I do enjoy are Lost Odyssey, Demon Souls, and Neir. I been wanting to play The Witcher, but have not got around to it. Hoping Dungeon Siege 3 is good. Elder Scrolls V will hopefully be out at the end of the year. I am going to pick up Final Fantasy 4 Complete on the PSP.

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