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Author Topic: Stagnation is bad... Right?  (Read 2838 times)
Evil Gately
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« on: April 17, 2006, 07:35:37 AM »

Having been a long-time RPG player (I've been addicted to them since Phantasy Star on the SMS), I've seen the genre go through a lot of changes. Most of these changes have been subtle, although a lot have been more in-your-face and obvious to all.

Consider the fact that since the late 16-BIT era, RPGs have tended to include some of the finest examples of graphical acheivement on their respective systems. Take every FF title since FFVI, the Chrono series, Phantasy Star IV, Fable, Kingdom Hearts and even as recently as Oblivion and Hellgate and compare them to their comtemporaries to see what I mean.

This is what I would class as a more 'in-your-face' kind of development.

Increasingly 'mature' or sophisticated methods of conveying storylines and themes could be considered a more subtle development. When you look at Phantasy Star, which begins with the main character's brother's murder and doesn't really progress until you defeat the final boss and get the end sequence, and compare that to something like, say, Xenogears, I think you can begin to see my point.

The presentation and production values of RPGs (and, arguably, games in general) has also improved dramatically in recent years. The Lunar titles are shining examples of this, taking an early 16-BIT title and applying mid-late 32-BIT production values to it. I think the gorgeous anime cutscenes presented side-by-side with true 16-BIT sprites illustrates what I'm trying to get across better than anything I could say. Another indicator of this would be the celebrity involvement in games. Patrick Stewart lends his vocal talents to Oblivion, while Haley Joel Osmont (Sixth Sense), Lance Bass (*nSync), Mandy More, Brian Blessed, Dan Castelleneta (Homer Simpson), Sean Astin (Sam from LotR) and David Boreanez (Angel) all appear in Kingdom Hearts.

My real point is that although it's very good that the genre is finally getting the recognition it deserves outside of Japan, is it coming at the cost of advancements in the genre itself? I honestly can't think of one truly ground-breaking RPG to come out of this generation of consoles. Sure, there have been plenty of great releases, but nothing I can truly call innovative.

However, conversely, is this necessarily a bad thing? I mean, there are two things that can redeem a RPG from a fate of simply gathering dust on my ever-growing stack of 'to-finish' RPGs. It either has to have an amazingly well-crafted story, one that will keep playing just to see where it will take the characters next despite flawed gameplay mechanics, like Xenosaga, or it has to be fun to play, so that even a cliched story will seem fresh, like Tales of Symphonia.

If there is too much innovation in either department, the results can be quite, well, just plain horrible. I'd hold Vandal Hearts II up as an example of trying to push an established mechanic into new territory with horrendous results. I'm a bit of a strategy whore, but I had to give up on VHII because of its simultaneous turn system.

Fable would be my example of what can go wrong when you try to evolve the method of story-telling. The promise was for a completely non-linear story, with you playing the protagonist from childhood through to old age, all wrapped up in the biggest adventure game released on console. The reality was a game that was so linear that it kept bugging you to go to the next story point, often at the expense of some of the more interesting optional stuff, and the only choice you had was whether you felt like killing the odd character here and there. And, even with the extra bits found in 'The Lost Chapters', it could still be possible to complete al the quests and the game in under 10 hours!

I'm sorry if I haven't presented my arguments very clearly. I'm looking for other people's opinions on whether the stagnation that a lot of long-time RPG players on the boards are talking about is such a bad thing after all?

Is it enough that we can have the constant refinement of what we already have?
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CarpeNoctumXIII
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« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2006, 09:37:44 AM »

I honestly think that RPGs can live with people just trying to create wonderful stories, like they have for years, and just trying to refine gameplay concepts(but making them very good). I honestly don't think there is much else left to do, and much like the examples you stated, trying too hard can lead to trouble. I am one of those people that can sit down and enjoy an RPG is it has a story that hasn't been done 100 times already, but with a gameplay that seems fresh and new, even though it's just a refined version of a already done formula. Take the recent MegaTen games as an example. I thought Nocturne was innovative in it's way of telling a story and in it's gameplay, DDS on the other hand, resembled Nocturne in many ways, be it the press turn system or something else, but that didn't stop me from actually enjoying both to no end.

I really think that this stagnation, if mild, isn't that bad at all. As long as a company can find a formula that works, and can refine it to the point where it's still new and fresh, this gamer will be happy. I would much rather have that, then games like Magna Carta, which tried a tad bit too hard to introduce 100 new things to the genre(and failed to make any of them fun). I think that this stagnation is getting worst and worst every year, and it seems like we get even less and less attempts at original design every year. While RPGs aren't becoming like FPS', it's getting there. All we get now are attempts at big-budget, Final Fantasy like experiences, which offer weak, un-challenging gameplay.

So while I agree with you, I do think there is a limit, and "too much of a good thing" might end up ruining the genre, and make it go the way of FPS. I hope any of that made any sense, and good topic by the way.
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Leo
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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2006, 10:18:10 AM »

Eh, the same can be applied to other mediums. Eye-catching graphics will always sell, I doubt that notion will ever go away. The Japanese can, at least, respect sprite games, and for certain titles, go absolutely fanatic over them.

Sorry, I don't have very much else to add to this thread. You both have touched on everything already.
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Professor Gast
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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2006, 12:17:07 PM »

First of all, if you want to create a commercially successful RPG you will have to stick to certain genre conventions people do expect (Dragon Quest being an extreme example). As others have already pointed out, many people are not too fond of a lot of innovation. Just look at criticism leveled at games like Final Fantasy VIII, Chrono Cross or most recently Magna Carta. One can argue whether this criticism was justified or not, but matter of fact is people complained a lot about all three games and many others. Whether the new systems offers by those games were real innovations or whether they were implemented the right way, is an issue. One however can't deny that the developers tried to do things differently and promptly got the bill (in case of Final Fantasy VIII it didn't matter, since the game ended up being the second most successful game in Square/Square Enix's history, but the criticsm was still there).

Second, RPGs have been the dominant genre in Japan forever. In the US and even moreso in Europe they might have become more than a niche genre over the last few years, but they are still only 4th or 5th most popular genre. Furthermore, this trend is only limited to Square Enix's big budget releases possibly some of Namco's RPG offerings. And even Square Enix's brand power and big marketing budgets are sometimes not enough to help games sell big in the US.

Personally I do believe a shift, rather than a change has occured in the RPG genre during this generation of hardware. The number of traditional turn-based RPGs has decreased,  as developers focus on two extremes: strategy RPGs and action RPGs. Not to mention the resources that are being pumped in the development of MMORPGs. As I have already mentioned countless times, I will always be a fan of traditional turn-based RPGs with deep storylines (Chrono Cross or Xenosaga), so I'm not too fond of this trend.

If we have had just stagnation during the transition from 32-bit to 128-bit, it would have been fine with me, since PlayStation and Saturn had a large number of outstanding RPGs. As for the current-generation, I don't think a lot of games have pushed the envelope like many of their 32-bit predecessors did.  This impression however could also be related to the leap from 2D to 3D. We have already had 3D visuals for a decade now and while you see a differences between current generation and the best looking next-generation games, it is not as mindblowing as the transition from 2D to 3D.
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Dios GX
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« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2006, 12:50:31 PM »

Best example of a simple game retaining RPG gameplay roots and being innovative without the expense of anything: Lufia 2.

Take away the capsule monsters, field tools and the IP system and all you have left is Final Fantasy 1. Despite these 3 seemingly minor additions the game plays exactly like an RPG should but has enough diversity in its own rite to stand out.

Choosing between strong statistical weapons or under-powered IP-buffed weapons, which capsule monster you want to evolve and fight with you and the level of puzzles that were in the game are a prime example of going in the "right direction".

Xenosaga is what happens when developers try too hard.
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Robert Boyd
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« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2006, 10:40:29 PM »

Although I would have agreed with you a year ago in that RPGs were static, I don't any more.  FF12 is very innovative, especially in its programmable AI system (has any other game given you this much AI control?  I can't think of any).  Although I think FF12 has some noticeable flaws, I daresay it'll pave the way for some truly incredible RPGs on the next generation of systems.

On the other hand, we've got SMT: Devil Summoner which not only has a unique battle system, an unusual story & setting, but also looks to have good graphic adventure style gaming outside of combat.  Looks to be highly original and a lot of fun.

Then you have Nintendo's Revolution.  Although I doubt traditional turn-based games will benefit much, I'm quite excited about the neat things developers could do for Action/RPGs with it.

Admittedly, a lot of RPGs use the "give it a new coat of paint, add a new battle system and you're ready to go" methodology, but to be honest, what's really wrong with that?  Suikoden 5 is basically just Sukoden 2 with a different story, a few gameplay additions, and cooler looking story scenes and I'm enjoying it immensely.  I know if Blizzard released a Diablo 3 that was just Diablo 2 with better graphics & a few new character classes, abilities, items, areas to explore, etc., I'd love it.  Summon Night 3 is my favorite Strategy/RPG and I doubt #4 will be much different, but I'm still looking forward to it.  If the original was awesome, I see nothing wrong with refining the gameplay a bit and updating the technology and calling it progress.
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Bogatyr
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2006, 06:38:56 PM »

So, why do you think the Revolution has potencial for amazing actions RPGs, but not turn based RPGs?
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Andrmgic
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2006, 07:48:47 PM »

Quote from: "Bogatyr"
So, why do you think the Revolution has potencial for amazing actions RPGs, but not turn based RPGs?


I guess because he thinks it would be hard to spice up selecting items from a menu, which is basically most of what a turn-based rpg involves in terms of gameplay. (outside of the strategy required by some of the games, naturally)

Perhaps developers will prove me wrong, but I think it would be hard to innovate in terms of control with a menu-driven battle system, so maybe we'll see turn based rpgs that don't use menus.
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Kiem
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« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2006, 04:58:51 AM »

Muahaha time to bump this thread after days collecting dust!

Anywhos,

Innovation is a very big word in this industry, one does not toss it around lightly. Most of you keep talking about how RPGs tweak combat systems and call that innovation, well, guess what? It is as good as you're gonna get :) If its a turn based RPG, it will retain its core with some modifications to the combat system. If its an Action RPG, it will retain its core with some modifications to the...wait for it...combat system. If its a SRPG...need I go on? Now, why do you think that is? Because the combat system IS the gameplay. Minigames, puzzles, anything interactive is going to get a small modification and it will be labelled as new.

Was Vandal Hearts II "really" innovative? Not really. It was a typical SRPG that made you and your enemies take a turn simultaneously. Was it new? Yes. Did it modify the combat system? Yes. But innovative? lol no...BTW, I thought VHII was awesome ;)

In my mind, innovation isn't something our generation can boast about anymore. Everything we do is a combination of other things that already exist. People say Fable was supposed to be the mother of all innovations, but what did it promise us? An RPG that mimics life, that was open ended and that remembered your every action. Is that really innovation? Not in my mind. Because I can tell you this, when Square sat down to make Final Fantasy I..I bet you the idea crossed their minds, but they didn't have the technology to make it. So, does this mean the first company to create a fully virtual world going to be innovative? Please :P

But anyway, I'm goin goff topic. Is stagnation good? Yes and no.

Yes because stagnation gives the genre time to catch up with itself. Like most people have said, Square Enix pretty much runs things in the RPG department. Without true competition, financially and creatively, the genre will only hurt itself as its being guided by one supreme force. So, with stagnation, the sales will start to fall, numbers will go into the black and designers will have to get their heads out their asses and start...designing :P

Not only that, it gives gamers time to figure out what they really want. You tinker with the same thing enough times and you'll start to see what your next step should be. The RPG scene grew too big too fast in my opinion. And though I think this is still a good thing for now, it could adversilly affect the way the genre matures.

No because designers get comfortable doing the same thing over and over again. And the only designing going on will be the colour of the main character's hair. Even that's being left to the gamers in some cases. For a period of time, gamers will get attached to a given method of gameplay and when something is introduced a sudden jerk will happen. Not because the new gameplay is bad, but because it is different than the norm, and we all know how well we receive things that are different.

Either way, there's always two sides to every story :) As a designer myself, I'd love to see how they modify the quest system to be less fetchy and more innovative :P But that's not one I can answer ;_;

Oh and one more thing, change is not always something that's noticable. Sometimes it happens so subtlely that you'll wake up one day to find a whole new RPG was right under your noses ^-^
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