Sometimes I feel surrounded by an overwhelming power that has gathered in the gaming community. Like if I don’t gravitate toward a certain game or series, then I am missing out on an experience that I am robbing myself of. Maybe some of that is due to some sort of anxiety I have built up by trying to just consume so much gaming content, but regardless, that feeling has never felt more present than when I approach one genre of game in particular, RPGs.
You see once you reach a certain level of fandom in the gaming community you tend to surround yourself with friends who share that passion for games like you do. And it doesn’t only reflect that passion in your friends, but in the content you consume via YouTube and news articles. Everywhere you are bombarded with new stuff to play, new things to try, and all the extra nerdy fandom your heart could possibly desire. However, it all comes with a catch. You are going to hear how every RPG game is absolutely the best game you’ve never played. It might just be the community I am in, but I feel like the minority which is very ironic because most of the times these JRPG games that are being shouted from the rooftops are being played by a small audience albeit a very vocal one. However, this has pushed me into thinking that maybe the RPG genre is overrated.
Disclaimer: Before reading any further in this article just know that this is merely my opinion. I by no means claim to be the most knowledgeable about many of the games and franchises I am about to discuss. This article is not meant to dissuade anyone away from the RPG genre, but just give my take on how I have struggled with it. And I feel like maybe I am not the only one.
Persona 5 Stressing All Night
It is April 4th, 2017 and I am excitedly updating my phone to see when my Amazon package will get here. Today is the day that the long awaited Persona 5 arrives. I have played Persona 4, but I had never beaten it. I always remember loving the characters and the style that the game so aggressively owns. Even the spin off titles like Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4: Dancing All Night are games that I really enjoy and have had a blast playing. But as I am waiting, I’m trying to remember why it is I have never beaten Persona 4, I mean if the game is so great than why have I not completed it.
I paid no attention to that question after my package arrived. Instead I was focused on downloading the updates so I could play and finally I was. The crazy hyper stylized menus, the awesome characters, and music all had me a glow as I began to play. It was awesome or so I thought, until about 10 or so hours into the game I arrived at the first dungeon boss and realized I wasn’t having fun. You see it was now that I realized why I had not beaten Persona 4. The combat is not fun. Navigating menus and pressing a funny sounding word to hopefully do damage to a foe is no more entertaining than scrolling through Netflix. I pick one show and its not very effective. I pick another show and its super effective and I keep hitting the button to play the same show until I run out of episodes.
Persona 5 and many other JRPG and RPG combat systems are like this. Monotonous and sadly most of the time when you have experienced one you have seen them all. However, even though at this point I had put Persona 5 down to experience a plethora of other games I couldn’t help feel that I was missing something. Every outlet had given the game high reviews and understandably so. The little time I experienced with the game was charming even if the combat did feel hollow. However, if it wasn’t reviews it was friends shouting Persona this and Persona that from the rooftops and websites everywhere talking about why it could be game of the year.
Should I pick the game back up and keep going if I am not enjoying myself. I mean I don’t want to miss out on a possible game of the year contender. Even as I write this article now I feel like I need to pick up the controller and finish this game or else I wouldn’t be considered a true gamer.
The Final Fantasy Dilemma
I remember having this same feeling before. In fact not just once, but several times throughout my life as a young gamer. Every time a new Final Fantasy game was on it’s way to the shelves every gaming magazine, every playground kid, and every internet game site would treat it like the second coming. It was hard not to feel left out when a new Final Fantasy game was released. Even if the game was considered to be one of the worst in the series like Final Fantasy XIII, I’d be damned if I didn’t see fan art, cosplay, and some sort of coverage on the game for at least the rest of the year.
I never quite understood what I was missing. If I told you the amount of times I have experienced the opening to Final Fantasy VII, you would probably laugh when I told you I have never once made it to the second disc of that game. That doesn’t mean that I hate the game or the series. I really enjoy Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III as it was called in the States) and I have also enjoyed several of the spin off games as well. I think the real culprit for me in a lot of these games is that the story and gameplay does not warrant such an extreme amount of playtime.
Sure you tend to get a lot of value with big long RPG games, but it can tend to drag quite a bit. It’s honestly kind of rare in these games to get a great story because so much of the campaign is just filler. That is not to say there aren’t amazing RPG stories. Take Chrono Trigger for example, not only does it feature one of the best stories in an RPG game, but the pacing is quick and at a total play time of twenty or so hours, it is never able to over stay it’s welcome. This is not to say that all RPGs should be short. Its more so to say that I would take a game that leaves me wanting more over a game that has me begging it to end any day.
It is all about striking that perfect balance. I mean if a game that is 50 -100 hours long has a mediocre story, then that is time I could invest in about 3 other games. Look at games like The Last of Us. There is not only an incredible story there is engaging game play that stays interesting throughout and all in the time it takes to beat 1/3 of the average RPG. However, its not all about story, its about gameplay too. There are plenty of RPGs that have experimented with the traditional battle system and have made it more fun and engaging.
A great example of this is South Park: The Stick of Truth. Not only does it have a great story and a quick campaign, but the combat system is filled with player cued button presses that effect the amount of damage dealt to your enemy. Creating less of the random lucky battle encounters and keeping your attention even when grinding for higher levels. And of course South Park is not the only one to do this, the Mario RPGs all do as well and the game Bravely Default also smartly plays around with its combat by adding a gambling mechanic.
A Higher Standard
My main point for this article was not to tear down the genre, but to simply say that its time to break the mold. Too many of these games simply follow an outdated formula that has shown very little innovation as a whole. And I feel like we might be at fault for it. As long as we continue to praise even the sub par entries in the genre like they are the greatest games of all time than we will only receive more and more of them until the well runs dry.
All genres adapt. Platforming games were completely flipped on their head when Super Mario 64 was released. The shooting genre was never the same when online multiplayer became a thing. It is time that RPGs experienced this same sort of transformation. Something needs to happen that will make the genre feel new again. And I believe we are getting closer and closer to the day that this will happen. Final Fantasy XV has left some of its tropes behind and upgraded its combat and setting to something refreshing and new. NieR: Automata has an incredible story and mind blowing gameplay that can only be played to be believed. These are the types of games that we need in the genre to shake things up.
I know there will always be a soft spot in the gaming communities heart for the traditional role playing game and that soft spot should never leave. It is just time for us to demand something new in our role playing games. As long as we demand the same mediocre mechanics and trope filled stories than the more of them we will receive. I want to experience something new and I think we can all agree that one of gaming’s greatest genres is in desperate need of a level grind.