Title: Editorial #1: Mariner's Anti-RPG Manifesto
Posted: October 23, 2005 (10:13 AM)
The Anti-RPG Manifesto, or why console RPGs are rotten to the core
Everyone loves RPGs, right? Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Warrior, the list goes on and on. It's one of the most well loved genres there is, especially among the hardcore gamers. But why? I've noticed something simple while playing Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire, popular games I did not enjoy in the least. Three words: RPGs are stupid.
Before I begin, I figure I might as well defend myself against the two obvious objections people might make.
''They're not stupid, you just don't like RPGs.''
- Not entirely true. Or, more to the point, I can think of plenty of counterexamples. I don't like fighting games, I don't like FPSs, I don't like shoot-em-ups, heck, I don't like most genres. Yet I won't claim any of those are stupid, because there it is my personal preference against certain elements of those genres. Here, the elements of the RPG genre are inherently bad.
''They're not stupid. Why, [insert RPG here] is the coolest game ever!''
- Final Fantasy VI is the only game, IMO, that can rank up there with the Zelda games, and I adore it completely. I'll sing the praises of Lufia II as well as anyone. Counterexamples are possible, and I'll explain why later. But the average RPG is stupid and a bad game, unlike the average fighter or platformer or whatever.
So anyways, lets get started. Many people believe the story is the heart of an RPG. But think about it, do you really spend 40 hours in front of the television to watch a story unfold? Especially with the types of stories found in videogames? Virtually all RPGs are yet another variation of ''unseeming hero finds that he must save the world from total evil, generally getting the girl in the process.'' Let's face it, they're simple, illogical, and rarely contain much of any significant deeposity. A great movie will provide a better story, more realistic and interesting characters, better dialogue, and a more complete experience - and at 1/20 the time! Or just read any one of hundreds of books with more interesting stories than anything videogames ever produced. VG plots are still in their infancy, generally no better than sophomoric shallow fantasies, and provide, at best, a simple escapism. There's nothing wrong with that, certainly, but to spend 40 hours in such a simplistic fantasy world? If I want mindless entertainment, I'll read a 5 minute comic book, thank you very much.
And the interactive part doesn't help matters either. Mainly because the stories aren't interactive. The potential for multiple choices, for you actually affecting the outcome, has been eliminated in favor of extremely linear games. Ooh, but Chrono Trigger has multiple endings! Yes, that's true, but such minor differences can't make up for the fact that I can think of a half dozen books or movies regarding time travel that I'd rather read or watch than see that pathetic excuse for a plot. Besides, does anyone really make the choices based on what they think is best for the story, or what is best for the game (ie, which route will give you the best exp, items, less time consuming, etc). But you can decide whether or not to save Shadow in FF6! Yes, but that merely subtracts from characterization elements later in the game, rather than fundamentally change the plot. Besides, these are the exceptions, not the rule. Your average RPG just doesn't have a very good story and you can't do anything about it.
So, that kills the plot aspect. And do we really play RPGs for the *snicker* gameplay? A good 90% of RPGs are nothing more than move,get in battle, press ''A'', win battle, repeat process. I think we can all agree that the typical RPG setup is by far the most boring gameplay out there, and can't compare to Mario or Zelda or Contra or Street Fighter or Tetris or Goldeneye or whatever other genres I forgot. Battles are random, requiring minimal input, and require at best a little bit of knowledge and at worst pressing one button over and over. ''Exploration'' is limited to finding your next destination or an equippable item, nothing like the neato environments and rewards of Zelda and Metroid. And Square's fascination with minigames are ridiculously boring (tap a button at the right time to do CPR! Tap a button at the right time to do jumping jacks! Alternately tap two different buttons to race a hippo! Yay!).
But, you say, there's strategy involved. You have to know what equipment to equip, what attacks to use, when to cure, etc! Except, no. You equip the latest weapons and armor, you use your strongest attacks over and over, you cure when that little HP bar gets too low for comfort. And if you're still having problems, just go outside and level up a couple times. Nine times out of 10, this is good enough, even for the games I consider to have strategy in them. Where's the strategy in that? And knowing what the best moves are against certain bosses (such as elemental weaknesses) isn't strategy; it's just reading GameFAQs or scanning beforehand or finding some other clue. Most RPGs require little to no brains, and little to no action. And this is supposed to be a respectable videogame genre?
Keep in mind this is all for the ''average'' RPG - one that does nothing really wrong, but doesn't do anything significantly special. Thus, the average RPG setup is bad. Perhaps the ''average'' in every genre is bad? I don't think so. Take the fighting genre, for example. You can still have a lot of fun, at least for a few moments, with basic, average games. Button mash and watch your characters react. As long as controls are responsive enough and nothing horridly done, the game can still be fun for a little while. Yes, once you start trying to learn some depth and everything, you may want to find a more refined game like Street Fighter. But that's only after a few fun starts. Think about any basic game you've played over the years, any game that seemed to merely go through the motions. It may not have been a wonderful awe-inspiring experience, but you still managed to get some enjoyment out of it, right?
Perhaps a part of the problem lies in the length of the game. Going back to fighting games, your gameplay experience is divied up into nice neat sections of a couple minutes each - each round. There's an immediacy to your enjoyment, good play is rewarded by a quick victory while poor play means a defeat. Same with racing games. In more action oriented games, you feel elation as you pass every single tricky point, thus gaining satisfaction multiple times throughout a level. Even in longer running games like Zelda and Metroid you can find immediate satisfaction. Every time you get a new item, you can try it out and have some fun. But in an RPG, these moments are few and far between. Sure, reaching a new town or beating a boss might be cool, but it's still just the same old, same old. Beating regular enemies and finding items do NOT hold the same satisfaction as in action or adventure games. Either enemies are boring and easy, or provide a challenge. Obviously there's no satisfaction in the former, and any in the latter decreases as your stock of curative items or magic depletes after every battle. Likewise, new items often simply mean the numbers go up when you hit something, nothing compared to the experimentation and fun that comes from finding the boomerang or morph ball. In order to get any significant satisfaction out of RPGs, you pretty much have to play the entire game (especially when you consider story progression as satisfaction!). And waiting 40 hours for it means the ride had better be worth it. Every other type of game is, in some way, a pick up and play game. Sure, you're not going to get a complete picture of Zelda in 20 minutes of play time, but you can still get something out of the game from that. In RPGs though, you're left feeling nothing.
So what about those exceptions, like FF6 or Lufia 2? It's simple - they do something above and beyond the typical basic RPGs. They simply employ new concepts or take interesting approaches, which catapults them from ''average'' to ''extraordinary.'' This can be done in both story and gameplay, and both of these games do it in both (I'll focus on these two since they're my favorite).
Storywise, FF6 has practically no plot for the second half of the game. Since all RPG plots are various shades of lame, this is definitely a good thing. Instead, Square focused on bringing out the theme of the game (quothe Terra: ''It's not the end result that matters, but the day to day concerns, and the celebration of life... and love.'') We see people attempting to plant flowers, Terra caring for the kids in Mobliz, Relm cheering up Strago, etc. This simple yet fresh approach made the entire latter half much more interesting. Also, Square provided some excellent characterization as well, foregoing the usual sledgehammer style of making darn sure even the dimmest of lightbulbs can understand the 2-D characters of most RPGs. So many events are done which subtly shape the characters into who they are. There's never a defining moment when Celes went from the cold-as-ice general to the full fledged Returner, yet it happened somewhere along the line. Lufia II is different. For one, there is the promise of a deeper story. Iris, Dual Blade, Arek, and the people's reactions to the Sinistrals hint that the game could delve quite deeply into religious issues and the abilities of Man. Unfortunately, these ideas were never fleshed out, and the day to day plot was pretty lame, but at least the potential is there. Furthermore, the light-hearted attitude is a definite plus, and the characters bantering and insulting each other is a mainstay of the Lufia series (''My love is my sword!'' ''If I were you, I'd stay away from thoughts like that.'')
Gameplay-wise, there's even more improvements. Every FF game since 5 has provided almost infinite levels of customization, providing some depth for those who want it. With relics, skills, and espers, there's plenty to do here. In fact, this is probably the only RPG in existence where it is possible to beat the game with levels of 7-9 or so, thanks to smart management (well, and a design error, but that's besides the point) Also, due to the plotless second half of the game, you have almost limitless freedom to do what you want and in any order. That's a refreshing change from most RPGs. Lufia II's battle system isn't quite as in-depth as FF6 (but, thanks to IP and Capsule monsters, it's better than most), and it's linear to the extreme, but it has other advantages. A puzzle based dungeon system is its highest prize, as solving each individual puzzle (some of which are quite ingenious) provides some instantaneous satisfaction. Also of note is the Ancient Cave, a massive 8-10 hour long minigame that at least starts out exciting (but does, unfortunately, become monotonous after awhile). Besides, the ability to see enemies beforehand (and thus potentially avoid conflicts), massively reduces the frustration factor.
So, besides the wonderful exceptions, what's the point of these games? They are so basic, having simple boring plots and simple boring gameplay, and they tend to drag on forever. The only good games are the ones that don't follow the basic formula, the ones that actually do something different. So why is this the darling of the ''hardcore'' gamer, a group professing to play games because they're fun? Because, quite frankly, there's nothing fun about them.
Title: Just noticing
Posted: January 04, 2006 (09:54 PM)
Damn son, did you get into a rhythm or just have that much to say about rpg's?
The only real complaint I have with them is the gameplay for the majority of them is the same. I DESPISE TURN-BASED COMBAT! That's it plain and simple. Other than that, it seems to be a fine genre to me.