The Role Playing genre has seen a lot of changes over the past few decades; earlier this year, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series, which gave every gamer a reason to look back at where they started playing video games. For me, it was on an old Apple IIe with a text-based game called Eamon, and on my NES with Zelda and Final Fantasy as my starter series.
The standards of 25 years, however, show the massive leaps in technologies that we’ve seen over the years. The RPG evolved from simplistic, brutal games to titles featuring refined graphics and voice acting. But have the games truly improved over time, or grown more stagnant? There are two schools of thought on the matter.
For some, the new arena of the RPG is the next-generation feel to the games. For example, Final Fantasy XIII gave us amazing landscapes and incredible character detail, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim should provide us with a richly detailed and open world to explore. The advances in graphical technology that were present in the PlayStation 2 now feel outdated and clunky, a remnant of the last decade. Some hardcore gamers lament the loss of a time when lower graphic ability translated into greater story elements and focus. To return to the example, Final Fantasy XIII was criticized for being linear, forcing players to take one specific route through the game and disallowing the ability to control how the story played out, or to deviate it in major ways. In comparison, Final Fantasy VI (or Final Fantasy III in the original SNES release for the US) allowed players to decide which storylines they wanted to play out, which characters they took into battle, and which characters they decided to not even get back into their party before the final dungeon. I, for one, continually cry out for the return of a player-controlled airship in these games!
In my mind, the difficulty that a developer faces has changed from the years of the “Old School” systems. The technological difficulties that a developer faced in the past are beyond laughable when you compare the Nintendo Entertainment System to the PlayStation 3; as developers are also challenged to find new and interesting ways to make a game playable, sometimes there can be an overzealous feeling to a game change. Returning to the Final Fantasy series, one must only look at the past two single-player iterations (not counting Final Fantasy XI and XIV) to see Square Enix’s massive changes in control scheme, eschewing the tried and true turn-based formats used in previous titles. Ask any fan of the series whether this was a good or bad thing, and the only guaranteed answers you will get are conflicting ones; was it a boon for the series to update and change the controls, or a mistake? Everyone has their own opinion on the matter.
Personally, I try to be a bit simplistic about my approach to the RPG genre: I honestly don’t care how pretty the game looks, and I don’t care about the (insert shiny game mechanic #473 here) that was done for the newest iteration of the game. The only things I really find myself caring about are: one, whether or not the game is easily playable with no aggravating control features, and two, whether or not the story is actually engaging enough for me to care. I sat down to many of my favorite RPG series in the past and played them as if they were an interactive book: I was always interested in what was going to happen next for the characters involved. The problem is, with some of the newer titles out there, I haven’t felt that same sort of immersion; it’s a lot harder to get into the story when you don’t care about the characters.
In the end, for me as a gamer, I can see this as a link to why I enjoy the Disgaea series so much: the characters, game system, and story are something I find genuinely enjoyable each time I play one of the titles. I would gladly give up some of the graphics potential of my PC, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360 to receive a good story. Many RPG players would most likely agree, and I can assure you that we all still hold high hopes for new titles coming from the “powerhouse” companies. Final Fantasy Versus XIII still excites me, despite my disappointment for the last couple releases in the series. Skyrim has my heart trying to claw a path out of my chest in anticipation.
Yet, despite all that, this morning I woke up and sat down with a copy of Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo, and wondered if these new titles would live up to the amount of fun I still experience with the games of the past.
Durandal, after turning 29 a few days ago, must be getting nostalgic in his old age. He highly recommends that you send him some cake, and a copy of whatever video game he asks for until he feels all better. An all-expenses-paid ticket to BlizzCon would also cheer him right up. Just saying. No hints or anything. Really!