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The NZA
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Right, so, spoilers aside, its a lotta fun looking at The grand list of RPG cliches if you havent...problem is, its not as funny when you realize how very textbook its gotten. This is often where Bishop might interject with the x-boxish western RPGs ive been sleeping on, and rightfully so, i just think there's a lot more that could be going on in this genre, which used to be a farily progressive one i thought, than is.

 

The following are features I think any serous attempt at an RPG needs to consider leaving out.

 

Mute protagonists - Look, it was alright in the early 90's when Chrono's deepest sentiment was "...", but honestly, how can anyone form attatchment to a character that doestn speak? Oh, sure, he gets a few lines in based on one of the 2 or 3 things i get to say, a few of which often loop until you answer correctly anyway.

...Why was Cloud so big in FF VII? It wasnt just the CG. He was one of the first ones i remember being an outright dick, yet by the game's end, youd seen him transition from a liar and an asshole to something more noble. That kind of transition cant happen if everyone just seems to react to facial expressions from my godlike mime character.

I give props to Suikoden for managing to evict emotions with visuals and such, and i can appreicate that the enigmatic hero comes off better than the toolish Tidus protagonist, with voice and marketable jewelry and all, but its still a crutch as far as writing goes and im growing less tolerant of it.

 

Enemy battles every 3 steps - This ties more into the next point, but as far as this: how many fucking slimes are there, really? Does my genocidal campaign not end? Do they not think of attacking in larger numbers than 5, or perhaps seeing the trail of carcasses i left behind and, you know, walking on by?

Follow me here: when Greg Rucka wrote Wolverine, he only popped his claws a few times in like a year's worth of issues, instead of 10x a book. You know how impactful it was when he actually did it? It was serious, and had affect. By that mentality, what if RPG battles were somehow more scarce, but impactful like this? I cant say i know how it'd feel, because i dont think ive yet seen it.

 

Mindless mini-quests to lengthen the game's time overall: This is the bitching of an older RPG player, granted. I simply dont have the time i had in jr high/high school, nor the desire to max out my characters anymore....lvl 99 was fun in FF IV-VI, granted, but that was when i got about 1 solid RPG release every few months anyway, that's not the case anymore. You emerald/ruby/fuscia Weapon-hunting motherfuckers (you know who you are) can skip this part.

 

I understand titles like Disgaea are supposed to be real fun, offering hundres of hours of sidequests, and that sounds like its cool, if optional. But tehre's a reason im not an MMORPG player: i want my shit to end one day. If your title is 100+ hours, but half that time i spent saving the mayor's cat so i could cross a bridge (while the inevitable apocalypse clearly waited on me - Xenosaga II, im lookin at you here), how enveloped do you think i was when i was reading comics or studying during the tons of random battles and mindless tasks? Seriously here, you worked hard to get people into this almost escapist setting, and then did everything you could to undermine that.

Take racer gamers...they dont like bullshit physics when you ride off course and bump into an invisible barrier, because it really detracts from the overall simulation, and completely reminds them theyre playing a video game; the magic is lost in that moment. That very magic is, to me, way more integral to an RPG experience, and yet there seems to be no thought of maintaining it, sadly.

My point being: what's so bad about 30-40 hours of an amazing game? its not a badge of shame. Metal Gear Solid was like, wha, 10-15 hours? and that was some of the finest game ive seen.

 

Soundtrack issues - Im kinda looking at Uematsu and a few others here as well. Again, this might be a personal qualm, but...

in FF VI, not only was mucic good, it fit the scene....fuck that, it made the scene. Theres a track i can listen to know that vividly conjures up cyan watching his family leave on the phantom train, to the land of the departed....shit like that. Or, Kefka and Geshtal practially raping the esper realm, or kefka's mad dance, etc.

Since VII, i feel there's more focus on themes, and the big overall, John Williams-esque One Winged Angel pieces. So, you get a 3 or 4 disc OST with songs that arent bad, they just bring no attatchemnt to the scenes they were in, you follow?

 

And again, might just be me, but i dont always need the London philaharmonic booming brass and the like; subtle strings and keys can really, really evict emotion from the right scenes, i think. dont believe me? go listen to the FF VIII OST. Now, listen to the piano one (if you dont have it, lemme know, i can make copies). "Eyes on Me" sounded like another "My heart will go on" piece with lyrics, but its nice without. Even tracks i kinda skipped over were really impressive to me in this form: try Ami, and Blue Fields. Fisherman's Horizon is another good example.

 

Job Class Systems - Again, it works in FF Tactics, and back in V, it was prolly all kinds of innovative. But to me, i respect the idea of one person having dedicated themselves to a craft, and that making them a unique character. When we conquered beasts/gods in FF IV, they would only respond to Rydia's beckoning. This make sense. Why should the god of dragons pop up every time some random soccer player who's been in our party and held onto some stone long enough to get it calls him? I can apprecaite the attemtp to balance everyone out, but i like my ninjas to be ninjas, my empaths/healers to do their thing, etc. Cross-training's a fun idea, but isnt it a bit insulting to have one guy dedicate his life to say, blasksmithing, and then 45 hours later, everyone's at his skill level? Marx is spinning in his grave somehwere.

 

Cinematics/Load Time: Summons should be skippable, i think this is becoming more or less standard fare so i really cant bitch.

But any game with cinmatics of any length that i cant pause are ridiculous. I know this takes from the very affect i mentioned ealeri, but cmon, you gotta piss/answer the phone and such, and if i push start, it damn well better wait on me, not skip the scene and make me reload the game when im done throwing things.

As for load times: if it takes upward of 5-10 seconds for every random battle, something's wrong. Why cant i have the option of "old school chrono trigger: fight right the fuck here" like we used to? id trade the pretty visuals for, uh, flow.

 

 

Combat - You knew this had to come up. i kinda touched on it like 3 pages back, by now.

I know turn-based has forever been one of the trademarks of the genre, but is active time battle still as good as it gets? A lot of titles are going hack & slash, or modified hack/slash and still incorporating enough elements to be called traditional RPGs. Hell, Shenmue was a fighting game during combat (based on the exp you built training every day, or not), and to this day, part II's still one of the most enjoyable and enveoloping experiences ive had in the genre.

 

 

all these are gameplay elements, not even touching on cliche character design (the healer, the tank, etc), or redundant plots of us vs the evil empire. these are the things i think are wrong with it; next, ill work on what i think could be done right. Meantime, all 2 of you that read this far (or eve skimmed) what do you think? feel free to critique and add as well.

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My big problem, getting carted along through the story through sometimes ridiculous means. For example a game I played recently my party had gotten to a pretty high level, we were fighting friggen gods at that point and coulod kick a whole lot of ass. We get to a plot event and suddenly, at the end we are blatantly framed for a crime we didn't committ. Now the guys aressting us have proven themselves assholes in the past, so do we try to fight our way out? Do we say one word in our defese? Nope, we just happily go along with the guards for NO GOOD reason. Seriously that was some horseshit.

 

I agree with just about all the stuff you said though I will add:

 

Save Anywhere: C'mon back in the day you used save spots to try to minimize the space necessary to save, nowadays it isn't an issue, but I still need to cart my ass back to town, or to an inconvenient save spot to save my damn game, it's NOT my idea of a good time especially when I need to leave right then.

 

Static world: Y'know the world stays pretty much the same no matter what you do, in fact even though you are trying to save the fucking planet, no one really seems to give a crap, or be affected in any way, unless it is directly relevant to the plot. Nothing changes in smaller ways either, it's all just so blah.

 

Unrealistic towns: A bit of a nitpick, but we can make cities look realistic now, however I still see a town with a dozen people and three houses, a shop and an inn. I mean is it too much to ask to have at LEAST as much acoomodation as necessary for the population of the village? Seriously.

 

Padded length: This goes to your mingame thing, but I hate it when RPGs pad out the length by making you do the same thing over and over, like run through the same dungeon twice, to get some special toy or what have you, it just ruins the pacing of the damn game, and just makes you feel like you are doing work.

 

more as I think of them.

 

And yes, I love me my western RPGs.

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Yeah, its gonna be just you and me here for a bit, i fear.

 

Cant believe i forgot the "Save Anywhere" thing; god bless Shir's theiving ways, should be in every game.

 

Re-doing dungeons is indeed weak. If level design is so important in classic platformers, and adventure titles like Zelda, why cant i get more eventful/memorable dungeons to crawl through as well?

 

The unrealistic town thing is true, but you have to get around things like a) the fact that i wander into folks houses and loot them, and b) by the game's end, im clearly the only one gettin the job done, and theese assholes still charge top-dollar for heal items and weapons. I miss Ramus (sp?) in Lunar cutting me some slack for PR.

 

tutorials: im greatful, i am, but if it takes me a BA and 1 hour+? its prolly gonna feel like studying, and that makes me go play an FPS or something

 

something that they cuold all use...

 

Talk feature: PS IV wasnt the first to use this, but they were great for it. Sometimes, i have to take time off, and it sucks coming back and just wanting to start over cause i dont know where i am, what i was supopsed to be doing, etc. A "catch-up" feature is a must, even if its just a boring text screen like in Xenosaga.

 

 

lemme ask you, Bish (since im workin all weekend, ill call you this week man): what do your western RPGs do/have that you wish these might?

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What the fuck is up with me being able to fire thunderbolt blasts that can knock down a rock monster, but the MAP tells me that I can't go to a certain area because the FOREST is in my way? I'm thinking Diablo type games here, but more traditional RPGs too.

 

impassable swamp? I'll buy that. Unclimbable mountain... OK. but I can walk between the goddamned trees can't I?

 

And related to that is my beef with non-dynamic environments. In older games iI accepted that I couldn't take the 'decorative' boats I saw sitting at the riverside to cross the water etc, because of limitations in the technology, but that sure as hell isn't an issue now, so why the hell am I still struggling with this?

 

And don't even get me started on flimsy locked wooden doors which would crumble if my granny knocked on them but which I, might warrior, have to find a key for...

 

(while not an RPG, I have to say God of War was good at the dynamic environments though it also had times when it just went retarded.)

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Right, well, the flimsy-door-needing-the-key is an example of an outdated process bish named "ladded length". I still think such quests can work, and be fun, but they need more thought.

 

there was this SENS one, i think it was a PC port, called Dranken or something? i dont remember it being exceptionally good, but as far as dynamic environments: I remember being excicted about finally being albe to use dead enemy weapons or just pick them up off the wall when i see them in some armory or display.

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Well, one of the advantages western RPGs tend to have is the sheer number of choices that are given to the player, and the fact that the best ones take into account the abilities that the player has accmumulated throughout the game. If you get stuck in prison, well, if you have built up a character with a high lockpick skill for example, you can use that to get out, or maybe if you are a beefed up character you can break down the door, things like that.

 

Not to mention the best ones let you define the character in amazing ways. In Fallout 2 for example there is a city where there are several Mob families that are at war, you can choose who you want to align yourself with and how you want to do it. One of my favorite moments in the game was when I had the head of a family gunning for me, I was able to sneak into his headquarters, boff his daughter, seduce his wife, and sneak past him. It happened the way it did because of the choices I made in the game, not just in dialogue, but in the hours preceding it when i had built up my character.

 

Or in Planescape: Torment, when you are literally defining your characters alignment constantly throughout the game, and being either good or evil are perfectly acceptable within the bounds of the game, and unlike what some people say, the story does not suffer for it. In fact Torment had one of the best stories of any RPG I have ever played, it's right up there with Xenogears.

 

Very few Western RPGs have many of the crutches that JRPGs have, there are no random battles per se, or if there are, they are much better integrated into the fabric of the game, there aren't any jarring scene breaks and interface changes.

 

JRPGs have a general simplicity to them that when executed well, can be great, especially when that simplicity has layers of strategy behind it. Jumping into a western RPG can be daunting the first time, you usually have lengthy character creation process, and even leveling tends to be a lot more complex.

 

But the best of these games ofthen boast worlds that feel more alive than any JRPG I have ever played. Sure DQVIII has a day and night cycle, but it is a very static one, everything changes the second the sky turns dark, wherein in a game like Oblivion, the NPCs have schedules that they follow, not all shopkeepers will close up at the same time for example, and if you're looking for someone, and he isn't at home, he's probably at his favorite bar or somesuch. Western RPGs have been doing things like this since Ultima V, but the only JRPGs that are remotely similar to this from what I have heard are Rogue Galaxy and of course the great Shenmue.

 

In fact Shenmue is probably the closest any Japanese game has come to being a western RPG. There are differences to be sure, but they are very similar in the worlds simulation aspects.

 

If i had to pick one thing for JRPGs though it would be more choice in the story, too often in JRPGs it feels like you are being herded from place to place in an almost disjointed fashion, and heaven help you if you try to change it in any way. Western RPGs tend to be a lot less linear, and so it feels like you are causing the story to happen, as opposed to having the story happen TO you.

Edited by bishopcruz
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  • 6 months later...

dragon_warrior.png

 

Joystiq ran a really interesting article on what im talking about right here, citing Earthbound, Oblivion and Chrono Trigger of times things were done right.

 

Having played through FF XII recently, i gotta say, there's a fine example right there. That was a game that found me actually hunting monsters to level up & build, rather than constantly running like i was recently in Shin Megami after too many hours of random battles was bogging down any sense of progress. I was very pleased to see the engine being carried over to FF XIII, and im looking forward to playing Oblivion sometime as well.

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