The RPG Genre

Sometimes I find myself thinking that offline RPG’s are getting too easy and are just not the value for money they once were, especially since they’re more expensive with every generation of console released! I won’t pretend I’m not biased – I’m a Playstation guy. I had the PSOne, PS2 and now the PS3, as well as currently owning a PSP. The original Xbox controller didn’t sit well with me, it felt awkward and it was heavy! I could’ve used them as weightlifting tools. However, while they got better for the Xbox360, I still wasn’t sold. That, however, is a discussion for another day.

My favourite RPG series is the Final Fantasy series by Square Enix (or at the time, Squaresoft). The stories were long and extensive, keeping me interested even if I deviated from the main story plot. FFVII and FFVIII are probably my favourite games of the series. Three and four discs respectively, there was so much going on in that world that by the time I had done it all and completed the game, I had no problems with going back to the start and playing it again, changing my choices to unlock new things. Add to that, that each game had new characters and gameplay features; it stopped them from being boring when the next one came along.

Even now, two consoles and many years later, I find these games to be much more of a challenge than their more recent counterparts. FFXIII and FXIII-2 are both good games in their own rights but I can’t help feeling like the longevity isn’t there anymore.

FFXIII is almost a completely linear game. You will follow the story and the maps give you almost no choice in that. When you reach a later point in the game, you can deviate a little but such is the level differences that any journey will require a lot of grinding and effort. After the game, you can return and complete what you missed, which is fine but that then makes restarting the game defunct, except to experience the very linear story again, and even that wasn’t a great story in my opinion.

FFXIII-2 is the second attempt at a sequel to a Final Fantasy game, the first being FFX-2 (which I’m currently pretending did not happen). It takes almost the opposite approach and goes for a game that almost encourages non-linear play. It’s almost as if Square Enix can’t make up their minds as to where the balance lies in this respect and have gone from one extreme to the other. Continuity is there though, with a very similar battle and gameplay system and the same characters but it’s the freedom to do what I want, when I want, how I want and to change it whenever I want that appeals more to me than FFXIII.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, is probably one of the best games I’ve played offline even if it’s not my favourite. Its predecessor, Oblivion, was also very non-linear and I found it hard to even find the story arc. It was supposed to be a free roaming RPG and it was, but very daunting. Skyrim rectified that problem and started you down the story and gave you the basics of how to play before letting you decide what to do – and there is so much to do! I’d be lying if I said it was so vast that it was impossible to complete but it is, and again, the story arc is relatively short in comparison to the size of the game.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another game I really enjoyed but again, found it very short. Once the story was finished – that’s it! There’s nothing else except to go back through the game and do it again, differently. That’s fine, but while I got the game towards the latter end of 2011, it’s now been over six months since then and I still have little interest to play it again. I give it points for being vivid enough to remember, but it loses those and more by not inspiring me to play again.

It seems that graphics are becoming more and more important to game designers as opposed to story, difficulty, content and gameplay. I’m still drawn back to games such as FFVII and FFVIII, despite their graphics being a lot less advanced because the games are more enjoyable to play opposed to looking at. Further to that, even earlier games such as FFVI using 2D sprite images still have a strong appeal – they’re harder to play and that’s a lot more fun, at least to me.

The PS2 will always hold a special place in my heart because it seems to have found the best balance between gameplay and graphics. Games such as FFX or the Kingdom Hearts series looked good and played better. If I could rule the big companies in charge of these games, this is what I’d tell them to look at for inspiration.
I’ve not spoken about online RPG’s, two of the biggest examples being World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. I’ve been a GW fan and player for almost seven years (partly because I can’t afford to pay a monthly fee for that long at the moment) and there were things about WoW that didn’t engage with me but one thing for online RPG’s is the constant updating of content and gameplay to keep their audiences interested. Of course, overcrowding can detract from story arcs onto the people and that’s not for everyone but on the other hand, not enough players can make it hard to do certain things in the game. I enjoy online gaming but you have to pick your time, whereas you don’t with offline or console gaming.
Then again, with Guild Wars 2 and the new WoW content coming over the summer, a fresh surge will be introduced into both audiences and it will be interesting to see what each side has come up with to beat the other!
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