Disclaimer: whilst all true in their own way, the opinions expressed in this article are not meant to be taken too seriously.
If anyone asks me (and why they would do so still eludes me), I will freely admit that I enjoy RPGs- ever since the days when I was a slave to the Final Fantasy franchise, they have been the lifeblood of my gaming experience. And yet, when playing, I cannot help but sometimes lament to myself that actually, I don’t like the particular part of the game that I’m on. I’m sure that many of you feel the same way, and so let us analyse just what there might not be to like about wandering from village to village, watching cutscenes, trekking through dungeons and fighting monsters along the way.
Don’t you just hate villages? I mean, for starters, they’re totally unrealistic- why in hell would four or five people live on their own in the middle of nowhere with only weapon and item stores to shop in? Well, I guess NPCs would- their brains are so limited that they only ever say two or three things throughout their entire lives.
Anyway, there you are having sat down for a nice long playing session, and guess what- you’ve just reached the latest town or village. Fair enough, you think, at least I can rest, save and restock my inventory, but it’s rarely that simple, is it? You desperately want to progress with the game, but instead you have to run around trying to trigger that one little event that will let you do just that. You might need to talk to a particular character or three (cue long cut scene), find a particular item, or even backtrack to an earlier village because you need to get permission from NPC A just to talk to NPC B! And all the while, you’ve got some cheerful and irritatingly persistent background music playing over and over again, so that you just know that whenever you hear it again, all those feelings of pain and frustration are going to come flooding back.
Dungeons and Fields
Well then, if villages are so awful, surely every gamer must breathe a sigh of relief when they enter a dungeon or field and get to actually play? Speak for yourself, for what could be more painful than this particular aspect of gaming? There you are in the middle of nowhere, stuck in a monster-infested and entirely tortuous map with no idea of where you’re supposed to be going; you might have random encounters that kick in after a certain number of steps, or set enemies that rush towards you when you get close, but one thing’s for sure- you aren’t going to enjoy your time there. And pity the poor fool who’s playing a 3D game, because every time she rotates her camera, she’s going to completely lose her bearings.
Yes, dungeons and fields are a nightmare indeed, but much as you might hate the
RPG battles are tedious, aren’t they? I mean, with a few exceptions, they largely consist of standing around and glowering at the enemy until a menu comes up that lets you input commands- how’s that for divorcing you from the action? Every dungeon is filled with ream upon ream of minor enemies who can all be defeated by repeatedly selecting the attack command, but if you get bored and start running away, then you won’t be levelled up enough to fight the compulsory bosses. In fact, you might even have to run around and fight meaningless battles to level up of your own free will- how’s that for wasting hours of your life?
Of course, there’s supposed to more to battle than basic attacks, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also have access to some killer special moves. The trouble is, these moves always use some kind of MP, SP or stamina, and after you’ve fought a hundred battles with no save or heal point in sight, your poor, battered party is barely able to stand up to the simplest of slimes. Then along comes a boss, and bam- you don’t have the MP to take him down- great, just great.
Not to mention the fact that most of the skills in RPGs are just plain useless. Take status effects, for example- why waste a turn on the slim chance that you might poison your enemy when it’s faster just to attack them and get their HP to 0? The only battles where status effects really help are the longer boss battles, and most bosses are immune to status effects anyway. Elemental affinities are at least of more practical use, although for some reason game designers absolutely love giving you fire element skills and weapons above all others, only to then shove in a dungeon or two where all the enemies are immune to fire. Of course, by the time you get to such a dungeon, all your ice attacks are puny and weak, so guess what- it’s back to the good old attack button again.
Then again, at least with battles and wandering around you actually get to play, because there’s nothing worse than sitting down for a nice, long gaming session and having to spend all of it watching cut scenes. All you want to do is get stuck in, but the game has other ideas- it just wants you to mash X (or the appropriate equivalent) through reams and reams of badly written dialogue- and if you’re unlucky, you’ll have to endure a cheesy English dub alongside it.
What could be worse, you might ask, than having to hear a twenty to forty minute explanation of how the Lord of Darkness has escaped his seal, forcing the destined heroes to seek out the legendary
Sidequests and Mini-games
For all that, playing an RPG is usually rather fun, but in their infinite wisdom, game creators try to artificially extend playing time with a multitude of evils packaged under the innocuous-sounding title of “sidequests”. Said sidequests are apparently meant to help us get more out of a game, but the only thing they add is an additional layer of frustration, coupled with the desire to hurl the controller out of the window. Whoever thought that fighting in a hundred consecutive battles without a break (I got to ten before realising there were better ways to spend my time), or levelling up for hours just to face an optional boss with ridiculously high stats would be anyone’s definition of fun? Does anyone really derive pleasure from 40-200 level optional dungeons? Is spending day upon day breeding and racing chocobos, or trying to gain points in a battle arena really what we want to do in our spare time? I move that it is, in fact, one of the last things we want to occupy ourselves with.
And then there’s that other dimension of the side-quest, the so-called mini-game that lets us leave the standard game engine and indulge in something a little different. Most such mini-games involve some kind of frenetic and inhuman button pressing, or a poor man’s implementation of an arcade classic- not exactly what we signed up for when we purchased an RPG now, is it? At least, one can argue, the likes of Tetra Master, Triple Triad and even Blitzball aren’t too bad- until one realises that you have to absorb a set of rules more complex than the battle system just to master them.
RPGs are fun, aren’t they? They must be, else why would we play them? But what is that mystery element that takes the sum of all these parts and somehow makes it a worthwhile experience. We could go into that, but I’ve written enough, so why not stop sitting there and express your ideas below?