Role-playing games. The pinnacle of the immersive experience. I remember vividly spending many hours pouring over the original Final Fantasy. While that may not have been many people’s first RPG experience, it certainly was for me. Nintendo Power’s guide to Final Fantasy in my lap, I made it to the end castle, and finally beat the game. It kept me enthralled. I have no idea how many hours I spent on that game. I have a simple question to ask to the RPGs that are coming out now: Don’t you remember where you came from?
I’m not trying to say that the games should just be carbon copies of one another, and I’m not saying that the original Final Fantasy was the greatest RPG to ever exist. What I’m asking is why the games are making great graphical leaps forward, but sometimes the stories and characters have taken a beating. This article is a rant about what I want to see in games, and a praise of RPGs that I treasure.
First and foremost, of any console RPG I ever played, Final Fantasy 2 was my favorite. Many people will say 3, but I honestly didn’t feel that the story was as strong as it was in 2. While 2 held some wackiness such as the whale being your airship, I didn’t mind. In fact, FF2 did something that I don’t think has been replicated since: you lost characters. I remember feeling sad for the characters that I lost through their sacrifice or other means. Why don’t RPGs do this anymore? Is there anything terribly wrong with having one of our characters die so that the rest of our party may live? I get the feeling that developers think people will get angry because their characters die. Losing characters adds such an important element to any story, be it a movie, book, or video game. When a character you have grown to care about dies, you feel it. Not in the way that losing a real person feels, but on some level in your gut, you want them back. Get some emotion out of the people who bought the game, don’t let your game be just another mindnumbing dungeon crawl with a thin plot about saving the world. True, I would hate to lose that swordsman that has been my character’s best friend since he was five, but it would also be memorable.
Saving the world, why must it always come to this. Not that I mind saving the world, that’s why I continue to go back and do it, but is the problem always so large? The best game that gives an exception to this is Fallout 2. I could go on and on about the second Fallout. While not a huge improvement in graphics over the first Fallout, it had a story that was exceptional, memorable quests and characters, fantastic fighting, and,to top it all off, a levelling system that worked very well. I’m focusing on saving the world, though. I guess it could be argued that you saved the world at the end of Fallout 2, but at no point did you realize, “Hey, I’ve got to finish this quest up, or the world isn’t going to make it.” I played through the game, each time just enjoying the quests, trying to finish them in different ways, trying to figure out where my tribe had gone and how to get them back. The world can thank me, but I wasn’t doing this for them anyway. Saving the world seems like such a huge thing that doing this over and over actually gets to be a bit much for me. There are so many stories that don’t involve saving the world, feuding kingdoms, princesses being carried away, for king and country, that I feel are being left out because developers think they have to aim for the stars and have us save the world every time we pick up a new game. What it comes down to for me is that I don’t think I should be able to save the world in less than thirty-five hours. If your game is going to be less than that, then please change the scope of the story to accomodate for the fact that saving the world should take longer than recovering the sacred sword.
An interesting evolution in the RPG game is the way that levelling has changed over the years. The early Final Fantasies took a hands-off approach and just told you what had increased. Thankfully, this has changed. Some games like Morrowind gradually increase your skills the more you use them. A very interesting concept, but this holds a few flaws which I would like to address. The first person view of Morrowind certainly lends itself to this idea that it is you who is using the sword or spear or jumping around on the map. However, I don’t like this as much as attaining a new level and then getting to distribute points. The reason for this is that seeing my sword skill go up by 1 point is all good and well, but I can max out my sword just by fighting the same mundane creatures over and over again. So you have maxed out your sword, and you still have 50% of the game left. Is it exciting to use your sword? Atleast its powerful, probably too powerful, but you aren’t advancing in it anymore. What about using a different weapon? What’s the point since my sword is maxed. You can see the problem with it. I realize that in a Final Fantasy type game, you can also roam around and fight enemies to max out your character, but I think that would take much longer than just swinging your sword around. The perfect mix, in my opinion, is a game that upgrades some stats, such as health and mana, based upon your base stats like intelligence and strength, but lets your upgrade other stats like sword use, magical affinity, stealth, on your own. But to really implement the perfect levelling system, random encounters should be kept to a minimum.
Experience is also a staple in the RPG world, but I think there are ways to go about getting it, and ways that should be avoided. First and foremost, random encounters are a cop out. While Fallout and Fallout 2 may have had minimal random encounters, they don’t count. All of your experience was gained from doing quests and fighting enemies that aren’t random. KOTOR and Jade Empire also did a magnificent job of keeping you focused on the storyline so that there wasn’t really any room for random encounters. While I may have problems with Jade Empire that I didn’t have with the other games mentioned, it still did a very good job of giving you enough experience without having to wander around in the travel map until you hit those Ogres that give you120xp a piece. I think that many people will disagree with me and my thoughts on random encounters, but just think how nice it would be that instead of having to wander the map and fight monsters over and over, if you just worked through all the side quests (which should be ample in any RPG) and get experience that way.
What do I want to see more of in RPGs? I want more weapons options. Is there an ultimate weapon? Why? I know its cool to have an ultimate weapon, but what about eight weapons that could be the ultimate weapon, but they have drawbacks. Maybe one is a bow and it doesn’t work well in close quarters. The mace is better for enemies in armor. The sword damages its user, sucking a bit of his life out with each hit. Its too easy to go to the next town, the next dungeon and get the next best weapon. I think that more thought could be put into this. Also, since so much focus is spent on the graphics, why can’t the enemies I fight be truly awesome. I can imagine the tickling feeling I would get with my warriors standing, swords drawn as a group of orcs charges towards them. Their eyes black, blades whirling, our forces clash together and the fighting starts. I want the way the characters look and fight to draw me into the game rather than push me out. I want my characters to be badasses, but not at the beginning of the game. I want my characters to be memorable, have flaws, get in fights with each other, leave, come back, die. I don’t want four superheroes that can take out anything that gets in their way and can solve any problem so superbly that the kingdom will flourish in happiness forever and ever. I want an interactive way to level my characters. But more than anything else, I want an epic story that leaves me sad when the experience is over. Note: This doesn’t mean I have to save the world, but if everything else is right, I won’t mind doing it again.