|The Greatest Enemy of the RPG Genre
Let's take a trip back in time; let's say around 15 years ago, back to 1994. Final Fantasy III had just been released in the U.S. to much critical acclaim. RPG enthusiasts were gleefully exploring a new and vivid world with a large cast of diverse and colorful characters. The majority of RPG aficionados believe this to be the golden age of RPGs, when innovation within the genre was widespread and we didn't get 10 Tales games per year. RPGs were a niche type of game for a niche type of market, and nobody would've wanted it any other way. We liked to think and strategize battles in our games. We were not barbarians whose only thought was to shoot everything that moved in Doom. We liked to explore interpersonal relationships and connections among different characters. We were not mindless oafs whose only goal was to cut down or destroy anything blocking our path in Ninja Gaiden or Sonic. We were sophisticated strategists who fought battles with intelligence and cunning. We were not unthinking brutes that made lines in Tetris to watch the block exploding violently. RPGs were the sole property of gaming elites, and it was good. It was a veritable renaissance for gaming.
Then came Final Fantasy VII. A dark and mature story! CD quality sound! 3D graphics! Full motion videos! The continuation of a beloved franchise! Mainstream popularity and market appeal for the RPG genre!
It was the end of the world.
Suddenly the favorite pastime of a few who considered themselves the elite among gaming garnered new recognition and attention among the gamer populace at large. More people were playing the games we enjoy! To anyone who was not a complete jerk, this should've been a good thing. More people with whom to discuss the nuances of time travel in Chrono Trigger, more people with whom one could share strategies on how to defeat secret boss battles. With more people enjoying our genre, surely there would be more camaraderie!
The existing RPG enthusiast populace reacted violently to this change. Suddenly, as if overnight, their darling baby had been turned to the streets like some filthy harlot for all to witness and possibly buy. These elites now had to mingle and converse with the boors who hadn't even heard the term 'RPG' before Final Fantasy VII. The audacity of it all.
I like to label this period of time as The Great Sundering. Two groups emerged from this. The first group consisted of those who remembered fondly the good old days, when RPGs still had a soul beneath the crude 16 bit sprites, and new age RPGs like Final Fantasy VII were utter tripe that sold out for the money. The second group included those whose initial exposure to RPGs was during the PlayStation era. The first group often looked at the second group as pretenders, second class citizens donning socialite clothing.
Now that we've had a bit of a history lesson, let's move back to the present. RPGs have only become even more mainstream since then, and with more RPG series now than ever before, the RPG fanbase has split more and again. There are now more RPG series than we know what to do with. Final Fantasy, Tales, Suikoden, Shin Megami Tensei, Morrowind, whatever-the-hell NISA RPGs are coming out now, there's no dearth of RPGs to choose from nowadays.
A common complaint amongst fans of the less mainstream RPG series is that their preferred franchise is not getting the recognition it deserves. Either mainstream series 'tripe' like Final Fantasy is pushing it aside in its "communist monopoly" (that is an actual quote I've seen by the way; these guys are like Sean Hannity with even less sense and consistency, if such a thing were possible) of the genre, or the mainstream populace just doesn't 'get it.' Sales figures are posted and fans are aghast at the low sales. Review scores are shown and fans seethe with rage at the pitifully inaccurate scores, for no score will ever be high enough for their beloved game series. They question why people don't see what their series has to offer. They rage about how people won't even give it a chance. What they do not realize is that they themselves are to blame, because much like how there is no drought of RPGs nowadays, there is also no dearth in the elitism that RPG enthusiasts have to offer the world.
Rather often I see in forums (excepting our own, of course) blatantly offensive elitism from 'veteran' fans. Mere questions as to the quality of a game are assaulted mercilessly for even daring to suggest the possibility of 'their series' lacking in quality, if even a little. Those who don't completely understand the complications or nuances of the battle system or story are given such labels as 'morons,' 'ignoramuses,' and 'retards.' I remember a distinct occurrence where fans of the Fire Emblem series flooded into a small, privately-owned message board and trolled/flamed there for the better part of a week because a member there had said s/he thought the series was somewhat generic and that s/he liked Final Fantasy Tactics better. The question as to how they located that particular post in the vast ocean we call the Internet is still a mystery left unsolved, but the notion of someone grasping their keyboard in indignant fury as they Google "Fire Emblem suXX0rz" to see who they can lynch next is no longer completely absurd to me now. If it sounds like this is limited to one series, it's not; pretty much every series that doesn't begin with F and end with inal Fantasy has a mob like fanbase who decry the mainstream sheeple as unenlightened fools who do not realize the greatness of their series, from Tales to Suikoden to Shin Megami Tensei. I'd like to call these people stalwart, but that would imply some amount of positive connotation to what they do. I'd think the term 'delusional' is more appropriate–these people believe themselves to be champions of justice fighting for the honor of their fair maiden. And by fair maiden I mean of course their favorite video game.
It's a rather odd contradiction that these people have begun. On one hand, you have those who hate it when more people start to enjoy their favored series. On the other, these same people want more recognition for their preferred franchise. It's not an incident isolated to Final Fantasy VII, either–when Tales of Symphonia released it created a rather huge splash (due to the lack of decent RPGs on the GameCube at the time of its release), and those who were already aware of the Tales series before it gained infamy Stateside with Symphonia regarded the newcomers with disdain, as if being introduced to the series via Symphonia was some mark of shame. Yet when Tales of Legendia was released to lukewarm reviews, these same people asked the question "Why does nobody understand the greatness that is the Tales series?" I'll tell you why: they've all been driven away–by you!
Who is the greatest enemy of the RPG genre? It is plainly obvious that it is the fans.
- Ashton Liu