Online Gaming Woes
March 26, 2002

You know, it's funny. With the GameCube edition of Phantasy Star Online left with no sign of a release date, and Nintendo being slow and reluctant to announce their online plans and release the modem and broadband adapter, I've been left with few choices on what to play in the meantime. Strangely enough, the game I swore I wouldn't play again, I ended up playing.

Despite its numerous flaws, Ultima Online is surprisingly fun again, and I don't know whether it's my broadband connection, but I've experienced very little problems, unlike in the past where the game client was extremely bug ridden and I was on dial-up, and I would die more often from lag and shoddy coding than actual mistakes on my part. Since I'm having fun now, this should hold me over until Nintendo gives Naka-san what he needs, and Phantasy Star Online gets released.

The topic of the moment from last time was censorship, and since no one wrote in about it, it's going to stay as the topic for this update as well. And now, into the maelstrom.

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I was at the mall with a friend of mine one day, and we passed a video game store. Naturally curious, I wandered in to see what I could find. I stumbled across a pre-played section of the store, and began to browse through the games that were stacked on the shelf. I came across a version of Final Fantasy IX priced at ten-dollars. I was mildly surprised at the markdown. I picked it up and gestured over to my friend to show him the price. His response:

    "Yeah, I guess RPGs are really losing their audience."
    "What?" I asked back, extremely surprised.
    "RPGs just aren't as popular as they used to be. People just aren't buying them anymore."

Now, ignoring his statement about RPGs being unpopular and undersold, it began to get to me as to why he would even make this statement. What happened all of the sudden that would make him think that RPGs simply were not popular anymore? That is when I really started thinking about the evolution of RPGs from way back in the times of Zelda to the more recent industry. Right then it hit me; maybe RPGs are starting to become a stale genre.

After all, almost ninety percent of RPGs do follow the same linear storyline of:

    1.. Enter hero just after some traumatic time in his life (parents die, town destroyed, etc.)
    2.. He goes on a quest to destroy the supposed evil villain who murdered his parents/destroyed his town
    3.. He meets the beautiful heroine, and they eventually fall in love after feuding for the first chapter of the game
    4.. Villain kidnaps heroine!
    5.. Hero fights villain to save the heroine, but then finds out that there really is a bigger villain behind the other villain that is threatening the existence of earth.
    6.. Hero fights bigger villain to save all of humanity
    7.. Hero gets heroine

By no means do I mean to say that all RPGs follow this exact storyline, but I was (unfortunately) able to think of several RPGs that do follow it. It seems as if this same, simple, mundane pattern of RPG storytelling would destroy the actual purpose of many gamers: to avoid their own same, simple, mundane pattern of life.

So are RPGs dying? One may think so after my aggressive assault on the lack of imagination in recent storylines, but this is not the direction I mean to be going in at all. Rather I would like to point out that RPGs are still innovating without varying from this cookie-cutter storyline. The most traditional RPGs have, after all, occurred in medieval times where the knight had to rescue the princess and slay the dragon. And this plot has only slightly evolved as games became increasingly longer and increasingly complex. Yet innovation continues to happen.

And this is the innovation that is the topic of my discussion today. There are a great many systems that are implemented into RPGs that cannot be defined as anything less then innovative. Look at the original battle systems of RPGs of yore.

    : Fight
    Roderick hurts slime 8 points
    : Magic
    Herald's fireball hurts babble 17 points
    : Item
    Medical Herb cures 15 points of damage

Now contrast this system with some of the recent battle systems incorporated into games such as Legend of Legaia, Legend of Dragoon, or even a more clear distinction with the battle systems of Final Fantasy Tactics or Kartia. It is clear that battle systems have indeed become a great deal more complex and deep, needing more involvement on the part of the actual player. And this innovation usually provides for some of the greatest games in the RPG world. It's true to say that innovations to the battle systems, magic systems, and even the system of implementing new characters into your party have created some of the most explosive RPGs to ever hit the market.

Likewise, you have the converse of this. Some new RPGs with new innovations could just never stick. A great example is the drawing system in Final Fantasy VIII. Easily one of the most innovative magic-acquiring technique in RPGs to date, and yet one of the most often criticized, simply because gaining magic when gaining levels is an old, tired system that works and is almost universally liked. So even though innovations to game play are required to allow for a good game, there are still systems that need to be left intact to create the true feel of an RPG.

And that my friends, is why Role-Playing Games are not a dieing industry. The key formula for a nearly perfect RPG is to create a few new, innovative systems and features that set you apart from any other game while still keeping certain systems true to the original RPGs. I felt as if FFIX was more of an RPG than FFVIII simply because it kept elements of original RPGs that kept it true to the genre.

Likewise the key formula for creating a good RPG story is to keep intact the system that works (Hero-find heroine-slay villain-find new villain) and simply insert a unique twist when the moment arises. Pull a few heartstrings, conjure a few laughs, send the players on an emotional ride in and out of love for the characters at hand and you have an award-winning story fit for any RPG.

Thus, you have the reasons as to why RPGs are a genre that will simply never die. Because it is based on a system that is still widely accepted and thirsted for while still providing massive fissures in which to stick brand new innovations. Why mess with something that has worked for the past fifteen years? And why not add something new and unique to something that can only get better for the next fifteen? RPGs simply will not die. There is too much greatness on which they rest, and there is simply too much sky for them to continue expanding into.

- Brian "Flik" Cavner

Innovation can be a dangerous thing at times. One thing that's certain about humanity, is that everyone thinks differently, and tastes vary so much. Some criticize Square for being too innovative, others complain Enix doesn't innovate enough, and the old saying, "Try to please everyone, and you will end up pleasing no one" applies well enough.

Since I'm a big fan of Phantasy Star Online, I'll use it in my little mini-rant here... I'm one of the biggest defenders of the game against Phantasy Star fans who say that PSO has nothing to do with the rest of the series (their biggest argument is that it doesn't take place in Algo, yet Rieko Kodama and the rest of the PS Team wanted to move the series out of Algo according to the Phantasy Star Compendium Translation). Naka took the series online, and dared to make the game action-based as opposed to more traditional RPG stuff. Naturally, the fanbase was divided, and I think it's safe to say that more were upset than not with this move.

I think innovation is a great thing. But some want to hold onto what's old... nostalgia can be a powerful thing. In the end, I don't think there's a right or wrong argument when it comes to this topic, no matter what any of us say.


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Sunday, September 16
Wild ARMs 5 • 10am PDT/1pm EDT

Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals • 3pm PDT/6pm EDT

Star Ocean: Till The End of Time • 3:00pm PDT/5:30pm EDT
Wild ARMs 2 • 5:30pm 7pm PDT/10pm EDT

Wild ARMs 2 • 7pm PDT/10pm EDT

Kingdom Hearts - Re:Chain of Memories • 2:30pm PDT/5:30pm EDT
Wild ARMs 2 • 7pm PDT/10pm EDT

Final Fantasy IX • 3pm PDT/6pm EDT
Friday Super Variety Night • 7pm PDT/10pm EDT

Week in Review: Live Edition • 11am PDT/2pm EDT
Wild ARMs 2 • 5pm PDT/8pm EDT

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