Why FFX-2 Stinks|
December 23, 2003
After a long hiatus (due to a lack of submissions) the editorials page returns with an update in time for Christmas. I pulled a few strings (and some teeth) and managed to get two excellent writers, reader/ex-editor Third and editor Chris Holzworth, to write about two very relevant subjects. Third takes on the definition of an RPG, which seems to be a question on many RPGFan editors’ minds lately, while Chris takes a long, bloody stab at Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy X-2. Both articles demand a viewing, as well as some responses from you readers at home. Remember, the opinions herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of RPGFan.
|The RPG Distinction
In the earlier years of the gaming industry, titles fell into one category or another. Action games pitted one or more players against hordes of opponents, sending them along a linear and often repetitive path until the conclusion. Adventure games followed a similar format, but added elements such as puzzle-solving and exploration. Then, upon the induction of the role-playing game (RPG), players did all of the above. In addition, they could manage whole teams of characters, which included keeping track of individual statistics and keeping inventory. The greatest distinction between RPGs and other genres, however, was that the gameplay worked within the context of a fully developed storyline.
In today’s market, that distinction is not as clear, as games of every genre employ some type of storyline to enhance the experience. After all, what better way to justify fighting legions of enemies than to adopt a cause like saving the world from evil or carrying out a vendetta? Even racing games are incorporating so-called Story Modes (see Namco’s R:Racing Evolution) to differentiate themselves within a genre of clones. Players are able to identify with the characters they control, creating a whole new level of immersion. Not only do RPGs no longer hold the exclusive rights to telling a rich story, but the plots in games of other genres sometimes do it better.
So where does this leave the RPG itself? For that matter, how does one even define a game as an RPG with so many games utilizing its once exclusive elements? It seems to be something that gamers “know” intuitively rather than something they can rationalize.
There are games that seem to have one foot on each side of the dividing line, while the line itself has become blurred. There are games like Deus Ex, which superficially is a first person shooter, but has such great depth of gameplay - including character building, skill management, and story paths – that one would have a hard time classifying it as anything but an RPG. What about the legendary Guardian Heroes for the Sega Saturn, which not only had customizable statistics, but branching story paths? Does the fact that it plays like a Beat ‘Em Up disqualify it from RPG status?
How about the renowned Legend of Zelda series? Each installment has a main story complete with side quests, an upgradeable main character, and inventory management – all elements common to RPGs. Yet many people would say that it does not qualify. Why? The only reason I can think of is its platforming elements, which usually place it in the action-adventure category. But what about Kingdom Hearts, which in essence plays like a simpler version of Zelda, albeit with a more complicated story and a deeper character customization system. One could say that it was an RPG by association due to the label of leading developer, Squaresoft, and the cameos of established characters such as Cloud Strife (FFVII) and Squall Leonhart (FFVIII), whose games were undoubtedly RPGs.
RPG Purists, by which I mean those who trace the genre back to its roots in paper and pencil gaming (such as Dungeons & Dragons), may raise a different argument. They may say that it is the extensive character building and open-ended scenarios which make a game a True RPG. Dice rolling for stats, character classes, and non-linear story progression regulated completely by player decision were once the defining characteristics. As it stands now, the line between these old formula RPGs and the newer more linear and less interactive games, is the same line that divides “console RPGs” from “PC RPGs”. The purists would argue that by definition, an RPG is a game where one plays a role, which means that the character’s destiny is entirely in the player’s hand - that the character is in fact the player him or herself. Console-style RPGs, on the contrary, places the player in the position of a third-party overseer of sorts, guiding them along a pre-established path. While there may be some room for diversion from said path, these games for the most part are scripted like movies or books, in accordance with the vision of the developer rather than the choices of the player.
Could this be the difference, then? Are console RPGs not really RPGs at all, but rather simply story-driven games of another type? While this argument can be made, I don’t think too many people are willing to dismiss every console RPG from the genre altogether. The purists’ “True” RPG is a dying breed, as many PC game developers are recognizing the success of the console format. Now, the open-ended formula where every development is based on player choice has been left almost exclusively to yet another sub-genre, the Massive Multiplayer Online RPG. MMORPGs, however, seldom have any real storyline to speak of, and the actual role-playing element is missing entirely, changing the games into level-gaining races, rare item scavenger hunts, or chat rooms with GUIs (Graphics User Interfaces). "A/S/L? LOL! WTF?!" Indeed...
Whereas before there was a set of criteria that clearly identified a game as an RPG, the boundaries dividing genres have become flexible. Furthermore, the genre itself has begun diversifying, undergoing a branching evolution, and exploring a wide range of formats. From this division comes an excess of sub genres: Action RPGs, Strategy RPGs, Shooter RPGs, and Farming RPGs, to name a few. Then there is still the standard RPG, which is usually only distinguishable by having a turn-based battle system.
For the sake of discussion, however, let’s take a look at that list now:
Complete Storyline – where the plot moves clearly from premise to conclusion; usually includes extensive dialogue and pivotal points where player choice may render different paths to said conclusion or even multiple endings.
Player’s Choice – leaves key character decisions to the player, even to the point of altering the flow of the storyline.
Character Building – player customizes various aspects of the characters, such as physical appearance or the balance between various statistics; this process continues throughout the game.
Character Development – where the storyline either delves into the characters’ pasts for the purpose of showing how they’ve changed, or where it shows the character changing in real-time as a result of what they experience
Micro-Management – the player manages various small details, such as inventory, money, equipment, character skills, and party recruitment and selection.
Battle System – usually entails a complicated method of combat, as opposed to simply pressing buttons in repetition. Battle systems usually involve a breadth of options such as attacking with various weapons, casting spells or employing special techniques, and using items. It most often involves a menu of some kind, and places the player in control of multiple characters.
Puzzles - obstacles to game progression which require the acquisition of certain items and/or the permutation of the environment; the best of these fit within the context of the story and present situation.
Exploration – the incorporation of different environments to which the player can travel, where they can search, interact with other characters, or engage enemies in combat.
NPC Interaction – the ability, and often requirement, to speak to and engage non-player (i.e. CPU controlled) characters, some of which may then become player characters.
For every game that debatably is or isn’t an RPG, arguments can be made for either side. Some RPGs may have all of above features, but most are missing at least one. Some games which aren’t classified as RPGs may have more of these features than others that are placed in the genre. It may just be that we have to settle for the plethora of hybrids that have risen from the genre overlap, treating the term “RPG” merely as a suffix. After all, who knows what lies on the horizon? Racer RPGs? Sports RPGs? Music RPGs?
For that last one, I can see it now: You take control of a rising star, choosing what type of performer they’ll be (rapper, pop star, rock guitarist), what kind of image they’ll present (national sweetheart, trendy heartthrob, angry rebel), which of their abilities you’ll develop (e.g. dancing, singing, instrument-playing). You’d guide them from novice performer to international superstar, provided that you have the skill to sustain their marketability. All of this could be superimposed upon a touching rags to riches story or perhaps one of fierce competition where you control the underdog.
The possibilities are limitless, as is the potential for the RPG to continue to branch in many directions, spreading its influence across genre lines...
Third’s discussion of the traits possessed of an RPG are definitely timely. The lines have become so blurred as of late, that it is especially difficult for we at RPGFan to determine what we will cover and what we won’t. I’ve personally been privy to more than one of these debates, and often the decision will hinge on the lack of one or two elements from Third’s list.
When RPGFan first started out as LunarNET, the site covered a wider selection then we would today. Everything from Metroid to Castlevania graced our pages. But with the move to professionalism, the demand is placed on our collective shoulders to narrow our focus, a task some of us find stifling. It’s really more difficult than most readers are aware.
But even for those of you who don’t have to worry about coverage, drawing the lines can still be a hassle. Fortunately, for the reader, there is no need to choose based on such mutable characteristics as genre. So let the lines be blurred, and keep the bottom line as being having a good time with the game.
|Why FFX-2 Stinks
Well Damian, you asked for it, and now you shall receive. You came to the right person to hear a venomous rant on Final Fantasy X-2. This may seem biased, as I’ve never touched the game, but that’s what this is all about. I’ve never been so offended by a game that I’ve not wanted to play it. While the Final Fantasy series has admittedly contained more failures than successes in my life, I still adopt a positive, enthusiastic mentality towards each new one. This includes FFX, a game I hate. FFX-2 changed everything, however, and not because of its relation to its predecessor.
So what is it about FFX-2 that turns me off? Well, to be honest, there’s so much. I suppose the most obvious reason would be what it is. It is a mold-shattering, trend-breaking, tradition-smashing slut fiesta (Arriba! Ed.). No one needs to be told how the Final Fantasy series works. It’s this arrangement that allows it to always better itself, for each game in the series to have its own uniqueness. While I’m not adverse to sequels, it never became necessary for any FF to have one. Then Final Fantasy X came along.
Now, aside from the fact that I loathe this game, hate its characters, hate the music, and hate the plot… I can at least say, considering what transpired during the game, the ending was appropriate. Wait, what’s that in the distance? It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s FFX-2, here to ruin the only noteworthy aspect to a decidedly shitty game. Let’s not delude ourselves, people. We all know the ending to FFX-2. We all know what inevitability lies at the end of this game. Not all endings have to involve the hero and heroine joining hands in marriage. FFX’s ending wasn’t sad. They saved Spira, they brought hope, and they brought the idea of a peaceful future. Sure the cost was great, and sure how that resolution came about was sad, but that’s what made it good. The harsh reality is: not everyone can survive an adventure. Especially one to save the world.
Now let’s hop over to some of the silly, stupid shit that bothers me. I guess you can call me “old fashioned”. I always believed in “leaving a little for the imagination”. I’m not a fan of today’s clothing styles for women. I don’t like how they’re all walking around with their asses and tits swingin’ in the breeze. That’s not sexy, it’s lusty. It hops over the wall of attracting a man and dives right into the pool of thought that causes their dicks to stand high. I’m being blunt here, and if that offends anyone live with it. Once your cock’s in your hand you’ll do anything for a woman. Don’t fool yourselves.
If it’s one thing I hate more than real women doing this, it’s cartoon, anime, or CG women prancing about in the nude. It’s all the more disgusting a thought when you know there are fanboys out there tuggin’ on their wee-wee’s over these digital women and their digital nudity. I don't know, it’s just sad. The world’s so sensitive, so understanding, so acceptant now that everyone’s comfortable with the aspect of losers sitting indoors fantasizing over fake women as opposed to going out and doing what it takes to land a real one. “Oh but they won’t understand me, accept me for who I am”. Who you are? Who are you?! You’re nobody; you don’t have a personality until you’re a sociable, active person. Not a digital molester. I use that word because most anime characters look like they’re fourteen. Sorry, perverts.
Final Fantasy X-2’s job system is just an excuse to slap a hundred different costumes that are nothing more then tattered bits of cloth on the “femme fatales”. Every time a new costume is donned, another pimple-faced, moppy haired fanboy has an orgasm. Half of those costumes just look stupid, too. They aren’t even cool, just dorky and fiendishly sexual. Congratulations, Square. I’m glad “game making” to you is defined by how much Computer-Generated prostitution you can push. Considering the plot is nothing more than one big super-happy fun-time Japanese Comedy hour, I don’t see the allure. Zany antics and shitty dialogue ending with Tidus’ inevitable return doesn’t make for a good game. It’s just… giving everyone what they want.
Hopping back on the coherency train, I’ll toss a few positive comments towards FFX-2. From what I’ve read, been told, and seen, the battle system is fluid and fast. Although I’ve lost interest in Turn-Based combat, having become a glutton for the action real-time has to offer since Dark Cloud 2, I can tolerate this out-dated method a lot more when it’s quick, lightning fast, ala Suikoden. As usual for something put out by Square-Enix, the graphics of FFX-2 are eye candy, top-of-the-line and utterly gorgeous in some instances.
As many have already voiced, however, the game’s musical score is a lot like its all-female cast: trashy, overrated, and utterly volatile. I’m not one of those idiots who will tell you music makes an RPG. Honestly, I can’t stand “old school” game music because it’s irritating, ear-bleeding MIDI death machines. While the composition is solid, and the melody may be beautiful, the actual sound of a MIDI offends me. I’m one of the few people to complain about Xenosaga’s lack of music in dungeons because, honestly, I was too busy screaming about how shitty the gameplay was to be bothered with whether or not music was present. When Xenosaga did have music, however, it was the most beautiful, well composed stuff in a game to date.
FFX-2 failing in this department is irrelevant, in the long run. Dynamic characters and dialogue and a strong story are what make an RPG (or, in very rate instances such as DC2, a fabulous battle system.) At the end of the day, I play video games to have fun. They’re a form of entertainment. A game entirely composed of turn-based combat is not fun. It’s only tolerable when a killer storyline accompanies it. That’s what RPGs are about, and that is what FFX-2 is admittedly lacking.
Sorry everyone, but this game can burn in hell with the other Final Fantasy Failures. I know making money is what it’s all about, but… well, cut the gamers, the players, some slack, Square-Enix, and throw us a bone – that is, a game that’s actually fucking good…
- Chris Holzworth
Quite the impassioned diatribe from our own Chris Holzworth. Truly, it’s interesting to hear his opinions regarding this groundbreaking title. Groundbreaking does not equate to being good mind you, but it has to be respected for what it is, a departure from the tradition of isolation in FF games. Also, the fact that the three playable characters are all female, while not revolutionary, is still a positive step forward for women in gaming. Take issue, if you wish, as Chris did with the fact that the women are paraded around in skimpy outfits, the fact is that they are a step up from the distorted travesty of previous “game heroine du jour” Lara Croft. Are there better role models? Definitely, and to my knowledge the majority exist in Atlus strategy games (Cornet and Etna to name two) and the Phantasy Star series. But at least there are strong female PCs in FFX-2, and it is something the series hasn’t had since FF VI.
I will stop there, however, as I can neither confirm nor deny most of what Chris says, as I have never played the game (I intend to as soon as my friend is done with his copy.) So now I’m asking you, the readers, to do that for me. Do you agree with Mr. Holzworth? Do you disagree with him? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, I implore you to write in with your thoughts.