One trend I’ve noticed over the years is the split personality of the Role Playing Game Genre or RPG. When it comes to most genres you are guarantee to have a similar experience playing one game in the genre to another, not so when it comes to RPGS. Over the years the genre has really become several genres over the development styles around the world. For this entry I’m going to look at two of the more prominent sub genres of the RPG genre
First we’ll look at the Western style(including Europe ) with Computer Role Playing Games or CRPGS. This genre is in no small part inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons game, and that influence is still seen today. In CRPGS plot and story development take a back seat in most cases to character development. Here players design a hero or team of heroes to embark on some quest which will most likely end with the world being saved. While the overall plot is basic, CRPGS allow alot of choices to effect the flow of the story. Encounters can be handled in different ways based on the skill sets of the characters or on dialogue choices available to the player. While the end of the game will remain the same the path to it should be different for each person. Another detail of CRPGS are multiple endings, most often we’ll see a “good” ending and a “bad” ending to the tale. One of my favorite games in the genre is the GeneForge series which not only allows multiple solutions to encounters but keeps the game’s morality choices firmly in the “grey” section. Still there are some problems I have with CRPGS.
As I mentioned, story development isn’t the main focus for CRPGS which places the fun factor of a game squarely on the customization and character development. Balancing a game that lets you build a character is a tricky affair as well as creating adequate challenges. Some games like to throw in numerous skills that for the most part aren’t needed or as vital as a select few, which leads to players shooting themselves in the foot if they create a character without at least one combat skill. Challenging situations in CRPGS are mostly going to be combat oriented and I’ve only seen a few cases where non combat related talents can be used to get through a situation (see Fallout 1 and the GeneForge series as two prime examples). Recently with Oblivion the game really messed up with the idea of scaled leveling (I should prepare a rant for Oblivion soon) which not only destroys any sense of challenging gameplay, but can screw the player if they place non combat skills as their prime skills. Still one of my main issues with CRPGS comes from the story side.
CRPGS have been trying to deal with issues of morality for some time now, and so far I’ve yet to see one game succeed perfectly in showing the merits and flaws with good and evil. I place the blame on BioWare personality, as it seems everyone has copied their bare bones system. In most BioWare RPGS the idea of good and evil boils down to being a complete gopher for people or being more of a jerk then an evil bad ass. The problem I think is that games are still being viewed as something for children and making a game where the protagonist can wipe out a village with his/her own hands is still a no-no. Then we have rpgs that mature means swearing and cleavage, I want to see a RPG where it is possible to hit pure evil, as well as being good. Keep this in mind as I’m planning an entry on morality and such in rpgs. Now moving on it’s time we head to Japan to look at the next genre.
The Japanese Role Playing Game or JRPG of course hails from Japan, and does things abit differently. In a JRPG the story is the main focus with gameplay systems pushed into the background . JRPGs have been around for awhile and the two biggest are the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises, each one involves a group of people having to save the world some how. At this point I could make a joke about certain off the wall plot points *cough Final Fantasy 7 ,if I wasn’t afraid of cos players coming to my house and beating me up. Recently a great trend has been surfacing with JRPGS that not only have interesting stories but unique combat systems to match, with the best examples from the Shin Megami Tensei franchise or SMT. Each game in the SMT series features a challenging combat system that requires mastery to deal with the bosses who can and will exploit the loopholes in it which you can do the same, not to mention a crazy story line that is sure to put some parents on edge. Take for example Nocturne, in it you play a boy who survives the end of the world to be turned into a demon and then set loose on the new world to remake it in your own image,along the way you will get a chance to fight the Christian version of God and Satan. Even with the rising popularity of the SMT series the majority of JRPGS follow in the same foot steps as Final Fantasy which leads me to my concerns with it.
For the most part you’re not going to be playing a JRPG for engaging and satisfying gameplay, as you will be too busy following the story line. On Zero Punctuation’s review of The World Ends With You there is a brilliant imagery of the player carting around the character to each major plot point which sums up the experience perfectly. Both critics and fans compare JRPGS to reading a book as there is in most cases zero interaction between the player and the narrative. Also don’t even think that JRPGS have multiple endings(with a few exceptions) as it would go against the plot the designers have created. One issue I’ve seen is that alot of RPGS have an epic (or try to make it epic) storyline and then have no idea how combat is supposed to play out. Which leaves us with a below average combat system to wade into with each fight while trying to get through the story. Take for example the Suikoden series, I love the story and worlds created for them but I detest the combat system, however there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
When we do get a JRPG that not only has a unique story, but also excellent combat and/or game systems it makes it that much better to play. Games like the SMT series or recently Square-Enix’s latest hit The World Ends With You . In this regard it’s in my opinion that the JRPG genre is evolving faster then the CRPG that still seems to be stuck somewhat in the 90s era of BioWare RPGs (in case you haven’t guessed by now I’m not a fan of their RPGS). I do find it funny to mention that I’m playing the Japanese take of the CRPG genre in the form of Etrian Odyssey 2 . I’m seeing a trend these days of more unique JRPGS to come out , and with my DS and 360 on hand I’m ready to once again kick some leveled monster ass. Just remember this one rule about JRPGS, butterflies are evil death bringers out to destroy you.