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Author Topic: The soul of the RPG  (Read 1230 times)
Summoner Yuna
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« on: June 16, 2013, 03:52:37 PM »

So, the RPG is my favorite gaming genre, just as fantasy is my favorite book and movie genre. Looking at this E3 I'm worried that RPGs and gaming in general are losing soul. I still remember the first time I fought Emerald and Ruby Weapons in Final Fantasy VII, the polished and delightful feel of Valkyrie Profile, the satisfaction of getting 108 characters in Suikoden. I still remember the first time I escaped Irenicus's dungeon and emerged in Waukeen's Promenade, the most beautiful shopping district in any RPG, or entering the Copper Coronet, bustling with activity, or exploring Britannia in Ultimas IV, V, and VI, becoming the Avatar and fighting for the virtues.

The RPGs of yore had a capacity for immersion seldom seen in games today. There was always something new or interesting to explore, tactical combat to engage in, and a good story to top it all off. I've seen my best friend play Skyrim, one of the few games of today that can achieve that level of awe and wonder.

Playing an RPG or any other game for that matter should be like reading a good book or watching a great movie. You should always want to continue forward, to see what happens next. Today's games seemed designed for fast reflexes and not for exploration and combing of its areas and characters.

I see this tendency towards games with less "soul" across the PC and home consoles. I would love for a game to make me want to OCD about it. To want to explore every little thread of the plot or to want to do all of its quests.

What do you think about the status of gaming today, especially RPGs?
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Dincrest
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« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2013, 05:01:34 PM »

What I see is that, like with any media oriented business, things aren't rosy.  Consumers are more wary and cautious about how they're spending their money so we give them the tried and true.  Popular movies are pretty much the same movies we've seen for ages and the ones we're excited about are often sequels to stuff we already like.  Popular music is very formulaic, but it's a formula that appeals.  With gaming, there are risks being taken, but mostly by smaller, independent developers.  Even then, a lot of the RPG Maker type games I play try to imitate the games we loved and sure imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but still... I have played superior RPGM games to Eternal Eden, but Eternal Eden is still my favorite.  It has that intangible mojo that puts it a cut above the rest.  

I think everyone's trying to search for that "mojo" but are rehashing what was already done to try and make lightning strike twice.  Even Shin Megami Tensei, a vanguard series that's defied convention since day 1, is starting to go by patterns a little bit (i.e. the statement from Doi about not wanting to break tradition with female protagonists.)  SMT is popular now and with that comes certain expectations.  

And that's not even talking about app style gaming which is very twitch in today's ADD-addled society where we can't go idle for longer than 3 seconds.  With every RPG becoming an action RPG, I wonder if the patient, turn-based gameplay I like will go by way of the dinosaur.  I fail at action games.  

But I hear you.  As a reviewer, I've probably played more RPGs and graphic adventures than the average schmoe.  I'm still waiting for that magical game that will give me that feeling I had when I first saw Final Fantasy VII's majestic opening, first landed on Zeal in Chrono Trigger, make me as emotional invested in the characters as a Persona game... The games I've given Editor's Choice to have either done that or are capable of doing that.  Ever 17, Hourglass of Summer, Anachronox, Persona, Radiant Historia, and most recently To The Moon (which got EC from another reviewer as well).  Most of those games didn't necessarily reinvent the wheel, but they clicked with me like nothing else did.    

Looking at RPGFan's coverage of E3 this year, Transistor and Blackguards tickled my mojo the most.  Deus Ex: The Fall looks interesting too.  But Transistor just oozes style!  At last year's E3, Dust had that effect on me; it looked hot, had killer music, and had so much "mojo."  I'm also hoping Pokemon X/Y live up to their potential, because I haven't been this excited about Pokemon since Crystal. 
« Last Edit: June 16, 2013, 05:10:02 PM by Dincrest » Logged

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MeshGearFox
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« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2013, 06:00:47 PM »

Game's aren't losing their "soul". Games haven't changed in any way. What has changed is your perceptions because you're older now and you're smarter now and you've seen enough that the smoke and mirrors -- the windows dressing and flash that oozed momentum and import, belying the nothing underneath -- don't work anymore.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2013, 06:15:13 PM by MeshGearFox » Logged

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« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2013, 06:44:55 PM »

Game's aren't losing their "soul". Games haven't changed in any way. What has changed is your perceptions because you're older now and you're smarter now and you've seen enough that the smoke and mirrors -- the windows dressing and flash that oozed momentum and import, belying the nothing underneath -- don't work anymore.

Mesh took the words right out of my mouth. Whenever I don't feel wowed by a particular game that I know is excellent, I know it's no fault of the game, it's my fault for getting older and not being as entranced by video games anymore. I still enjoy them, but I definitely don't get the same feeling anymore.

I am super excited about SMTIV, but I know when I play it I'm not going to feel like a giddy 13 year old playing FFVII or Breath of Fire 3. It's just the way it is. I'm certainly not going to turn around and say SMTIV has less soul compared to Nocturne because the developers put a lot of heart into making this game and from all the positive previews and reviews it should be easy to notice that.
« Last Edit: June 16, 2013, 06:48:34 PM by Fadedsun » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: June 16, 2013, 09:07:19 PM »

But, no matter what, we're all still chasing that feeling.  And sometimes a game comes along and gives that to us.  I can't look at the world now the same way I did in my teens, but being an adult doesn't mean I have to be a stodgy, jaded, crotchety grown-up.  I can still have a sense of wonder.  I can still evaluate and ponder.  I can still enjoy video games that offer that. 

And in chasing that feeling, there's a lot of retreading.  Doing the same things again to recapture the magic.  Sometimes it's not the same.  Sometimes replaying Chrono Trigger at age 30 is not the same is when you played it when you were 12.  But it can take you back.  Nostalgia is powerful.  But, again, there is a LOT of trying to cash in on the nostalgia trend in lots of media and a lot of those retreads DO feel superficial. 
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MeshGearFox
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« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2013, 09:47:15 PM »

I don't necessarily mean it's... purely cynicism but rather, what I've noticed, is a lot of games that gave me that wow factor when I was younger did it with stuff other than gameplay. I thought the combo's in CT looked cool as hell. FFVI's soundtrack was, and still is, amazing, and made me really FEEL something. But that was an aesthetic touch, and not something with the gameplay itself.

When I say that games haven't changed much, I mean they're still employing the same tricks they used to to garner emotional attachment. People remember Aeris' death cause it was the first time a lot of people saw that in a game, even though it really wasn't executed that well. Who's going to care when the dog in the new CoD game inevitably gets blown up in some equally poorly-executed manner?

No one, because we've already SEEN that trick, thank you.

Likewise, when you're less experienced with games, you're probably going to be more willing to overlook gameplay faults if the game... exudes enough of an aura to pull you in anyway. I'll use Panzer Dragoon Saga as an example here. Very well regarded game -- people love it. I personally think the battle system kind of sucks a lot, but it LOOKS cool, and if you're not really THAT experienced with JRPGs, the complete lack of difficulty or apparent usefulness of the special attacks isn't going to be as obvious.

As another example, I didn't really care about balanced before playing SMT: N. After playing SMT: N, though, every useless status attack spell, every non-threatening battle that I can just coast through without paying attention, all the pointless features really stick out to me.

The first time I played Legend of Mana, I was really impressed how in-depth the armor crafting system was. It wasn't until later that I really though about how there's no point in every crafting stuff in that game because the combat is irrelevant.

So I guess there's two parts to this:

1) If you play a game that wows you and it's legitimately good, there's a good chance you'll start regarding games differently -- effectively, it'll raise your standards.
2) If you play a game that wows you because of some aesthetic property or primacy effect, but the actual execution or underlying gameplay may be lacking, the next time you encounter a game that would, otherwise, be identical, you'll be less effected because you've already been exposed to whatever the trick is.

Although I guess you can also get unrealistic expectations. Ultima 4-6 were definitely NOT the standard when they came out, for instance,

(Also the metaplot in Chrono Trigger and Cross was ABOUT nostalgia, so I sort of love how people have strong nostalgic ties to CT).
« Last Edit: June 16, 2013, 10:13:07 PM by MeshGearFox » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2013, 03:24:50 AM »

i think its partly because the rpg playing audience has dwindled. what we need is for a new generation of gamers to come in that likes the same stuff as us. and sorry but i just cant agree that games havent changed. call me the next someone makes a wild arms'esque rpg or a game similar to skies of arcadia or grandia 2.
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« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2013, 10:34:04 AM »

The classic feel of RPGs is definitely dwindling away. It's not just nostalgia--though that does play a part.

There's a reason that a movement for old PC-style RPGs recently began on the likes of kickstarter. People want to recapture the charm of all those classic games they played long ago. Those games really do have something special. The same feelings apply to games like FF6/FF7, Chrono Trigger, etc.

The difference is that back in the day, game developers were treading new water and were quite unsure as to what the consumer actually wanted. That led to all of these passionate, small teams making games they themselves wanted to play. There was a fantastic article about the development of Chrono Trigger and how it all came together. Really amazings tuff. Nowadays gaming is pretty huge and there are clear markets that companies are going for.

For Western RPG developers, it's a bit more obvious. No more D&D style gameplay, no more heavily stat-based combat, etc. Combat is now mostly action oriented. We have actively seen this shift in recent years with the Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Witcher, Deus Ex, Elder Scrolls, etc, and with other games as well. They can't survive on the same audiences they once did in the old days. There's always going to be the "Call of Duty" crowd to go after. That's why even in other genres, things are changing to capture that crowd. Dead Rising 3 for example was recently revealed to have a much darker, grittier atmosphere.

Japanese RPGs are different of course, because they go for what the Japanese market wants first. We have main characters changed from masculine to flamboyant because that's what their market wants. And remember how Nier was about a young boy saving his sister in Japan, but a grizzly father saving his daughter in the US? And the combat is obviously taking huge steps away from turn-based. Perhaps that's what the Japanese market wants too.

Either way, my point is that developers are playing to these markets and it's damaging the "soul" of the RPG. Few developers are willing to go all out on an innovative idea. They just can't afford it. Gaming has gotten too big to facilitate a big RPG failing. There's some cool shit coming out of the indie scene fortunately, but it doesn't forebode well for Japanese RPG developers, who are either switching to pseudo-western RPG style games (Souls series), rehashing some cheesy anime-style game, creating games based on actual anime series (never localized), or are making big budget games (like a couple companies at most).

I know some of you will just say, "But Atlus! or X or Y" but it's still a damn short list of exceptions.
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Zalrus9
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« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2013, 05:36:54 PM »

I'm actually mildly pleased with RPGs today. Well, perhaps not ALL RPGs, and certainly not all JRPGs, but I think the future is still bright. Persona 4 comes to mind as the perfect modern take on the Japanese Role Playing genre, and Independant developers are allowed to take more risks and do art for expression's sake, and not just to pander to an audience. Sure, that means there are few good AAA RPG Titles (although even there can be some hits from time to time), but if you're just focusing on that, then you're missing the forest for the trees. There's a new paradigm shift coming, and we are seeing more and more independent publishers, and I don't think that's a bad thing. I mean, there's that new Shadowrun game coming out! That should be good right?

At any rate, I feel that holding a negative attitude that yearns for the "good old days" will just set you up to be dissapointed. Instead be open to things, and you will find good experiences!

Just as long as they don't pander to an audience. Or objectify women. 
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« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2013, 07:11:21 PM »

Honestly, when I look back at my favorite RPGs of old, none of them were "AAA" games in the first place.  At least not the way that term is used today.  So if "AAA" RPGs are dying...part of me wonders why I should even care.
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« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2013, 07:22:49 PM »

While a lot of the mainstream masses may be yearning for the "good ol' days" I think a lot of us at RPGFan are not.  We want to see risks being taken.  We want to see the envelope pushed.  That's what gives us that sense of wonderment, seeing gaming elevated.    

And a lot of us ARE disillusioned.  We're seeing our favorite franchises almost floundering.  Final Fantasy XIII was a solid RPG, but was it a solid Final Fantasy?  Many would argue that it was a decent RPG but a lousy FF.  Many would argue still that FF is becoming a bloated parody of itself.  And even really good series... I used to gobble up every Megami Tensei title that I could get my paws on.  Nowadays, even though I'm still a fan of the series, never clamor for every title.  I'm okay with not playing the latest SMT, even though there's a 97% chance it will be very good.  It's like, I'm ADD; not loyal to just one favorite band, but seeking out variety in flavors.  Maybe that's why the bands I like most are bands like Rush who reinvent themselves all the time.      

I said it a million times, it's the smaller indie developer that, I think, will take the most risks and often do deliver the games that make us go "wow."  This year, Richard & Alice came out of nowhere and thoroughly impressed me with a quietly powerful story.

The bottom line is that what tickles our mojo is complicated.  What gives a game mojo is complicated.  There are plenty of games I've played that were excellent on paper but didn't move me.  It's kinda like excellent sex on a technical level, but without the passion vs. sex that's not quite as technically refined, but passionate as hell.  We all like what we like and what tickles my mojo won't tickle others.'  

Some people might say stuff was better in the good ol' days, but I offer this counterpoint.  Perhaps many films were better in the "good ol' days" for whatever reason, but superhero/comic book movies are worlds better nowadays than they were back in the good ol' days.  Superhero/comic book movies were terrible back in the old days.  Now, I think we're in a golden age of superhero/comic book movies.  
« Last Edit: June 17, 2013, 08:05:05 PM by Dincrest » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2013, 11:27:52 PM »

I think you're seeing less turn-based combat in RPGs because, realistically speaking, outside of a handful of games it's handled pretty abysmally and 90% of the battle just amount to mashing X while not paying any attention to the actual game.

That's boring.

Heavily-stat based combat is boring. When I play a game, I want /my/ actions to matter. I don't want everything to be governed by some arbitrary, largely behind-the-scenes numbers that I can't even influence. That's why Morrowind is a terrible game -- combat doesn't rely on MY ability to play well but on some arbitrary math.

Also Chrono Trigger is pretty much the epitome of design-by-committee and a company going out of their way to pander to whatever they think would sell*.

(Also, reiterating my view that Square was always horrifically overrated and put graphics/music ahead of solid gameplay).

--- edit ---

Maybe that's why I like Chrono Cross more than Trigger, though. It really was just Kato doing whatever it was he was doing.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2013, 01:05:28 AM by MeshGearFox » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: June 18, 2013, 01:41:30 AM »

It really is in the hands of the developer. Do they want to make a great RPG that will appeal to the real fans, or do they want to innovate and try to do something different? Or make it to try to appeal to the masses? To make it a huge seller to those who may have never really gotten into RPGs. FFXIII was a good example. It looked nice, played nice, but was lacking in fundamental RPG staples. Part 2 corrected a lot IMO and I'm looking forward to the next one. Aside from indies, its just that big publishers may not want to sink tons of money into a project that may only appeal to a niche market. Hind sight is 20/20 and maybe we're never going to have that 'wow' moment again like we had with old favorites. There are still quality RPGs still being released but I'm not holding my breath for another Chrono Trigger or FFVI experience. Times have changed.
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« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2013, 04:56:08 AM »

It really is in the hands of the developer. Do they want to make a great RPG that will appeal to the real fans, or do they want to innovate and try to do something different? Or make it to try to appeal to the masses?

I think this is actually a pretty big problem. One example would  be Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter. I was among those BoF fans who hated the game for being so different to the rest of the series. It was only years later that I was truly able to appreciate the game. I always wondered if the game would have been better received if it did not have the BoF name hanging over it.

Out of the "big" developers that make rpgs, the only two I can think of that make truly unique rpgs most chances they get are STING and Idea Factory. Idea factory have a bad rep from earlier games but seem to be improving drastically with their latest games. You can hate them all you want but it is hard to say their gameplay is traditional.

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