I love RPGs, but I hate…

chibi-karura-blog.pngDisclaimer: 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 Mountain of Trials or the Forest of Despair, at least take heart that they aren’t quite as bad as the Tower of Evil and the Caves of Doom. You see, interior locations can not only be packed with a hundred or more floors that you have to navigate one by one, but they are also home to those most hated of RPG staples- switch puzzles. Get the right combination of switches, and you might just open a door over on the other side of the castle, but do one thing wrong, and you can be sure you’ll be falling into spikes, lava or down to a basement level which will force you to climb all the way back up again. And as you fall through a hidden hole in the floor and have to fight the newly regenerated enemies on your fifteenth climb back up, you can be sure that somewhere, some sadistic game designer is laughing at your discomfort. 

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 Crystals that will spell his doom? The answer, of course, is having to listen to it twice, for in their infinite wisdom, many game creators like to place long cut scenes right before the most difficult of bosses, so that when you get a crushing game over, you have to endure that scene over and over again. Anyone who has played Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits will not only recall how difficult the final boss was, but how one had to sit through twenty minutes of cut scenes and two prior battles just to get to him- hardly a recipe to encourage game completion. Admittedly, some games now give you the opportunity to skip such scenes, but they remain in the minority. 

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. 

Final Thoughts
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?

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12 Responses to I love RPGs, but I hate…

  1. Caitlin says:

    The only things out of RPGs I dislike are the long, 45-minute cut scenes and side-quests. The villages I don’t mind as much (robbing is fun!) and the battles are ok, but after a while they do get annoying. But by that time, you’re so powerful you can just attack until its dead, heal yourself, and wait until you get to an inn to get your MP back. The dungeons…sometimes, they’re fun, sometimes they’re annoying, so I have mixed feelings about those. Dungeons that send monsters at you every 3rd step are evil.

    I think one reason I play RPGs, particularly the Final Fantasy series, is that they’re formulaic. This can be good or bad, depending on the player, but I like wasting less time on the technical aspects (which weapon does what, which element to use, where the menus are, etc.) and moving through the story.

  2. Gabest says:

    Try to think from the game creator’s point of view. It’s hard to create something that keeps you busy for hours. They are trying to make you do things that you feel a bit more challenging than boring. You will go from NPC A to NPC B because you know there will be a reward later in a form of a cutscene or more action. Cruel but that’s the “game” for you, even if you don’t realize it, you are a slave when playing. Unrealistic villages? What would you call a chess piece? As long as it serves its purpose. These things are often symbolic, with even prettier graphics as computers advance.

  3. Crusader says:

    I can only take grinding ins small amounts these days, I still haven’t finished FFIII for the DS and its been 6 months already…I don’t mind the random encounters so much, but rather the tedium of trying to level up so that you have a chance against the big baddies at the end. Also because I want my Level 99 Onion Knight.

    I think that if you like grinding level, getting sweet drops, and perhaps a better than average story then sitting through a Final Fantasy or any other RPG in one go can be fun.

    Mass Effect was the last RPG I was hell bent on finishing, mostly because the story was that engaging and that combat wasn’t that tedious and gave the illusion of being and FPS. I did the side quest simply to get more xp so that I could get the achievement the first time. the second time I didn’t want to do all of them since side quests don’t often add to the main story. the character specific ones on the other hand I did do because I wanted to keep my party members happy. It also reminded me of how bland JRPG turn based combat can be for me. The dialog options were a big plus for me since the female voice actor for the protagonist sounded deliciously snarky and bad ass when I used the renegade options. The other characters were pretty witty and funny too since I would often simply ride an elevator just to hear them interact with one another. The bosses weren’t too challenging and death while frustrating was usually the result of sticking your head out when a missile barreled towards you. At first it was kind of tough going but once I unlocked the Master Spectre weapons and got some tier seven items and more abilities the fireworks just got better and better,

    I still consider Legend of Zelda to be an RPG of sorts, but unlike most RPGs there is no leveling system per se and combat is much more fluid and under player control. Learning new combat techniques and getting hearts is nice but not mandatory since in theory if you are good enough you can beat the bosses with just he hearts you get from beating the previous bosses. The story is simple but still engaging enough, the story for Twilight Princess still had a few surprises and had a bittersweet feel to it. The Phantom Hourglass had its moments and was still delightfully funny at times. Twilight Princess still has some of the most memorable boss fights for me in recent memory.

    Super Paper Mario is one of my favorites since the turn based combat was swapped for good olde fashioned head stomping. Also the humor was top notch and the story was much better than I expected. Also the Nerd Chapter made turned me into a cackling mad man for the duration of the level. All in all i suppose that if at least one or more elements of an RPG make it enjoyable a player will usually overlook the deficiencies of the game or the reuse of the same old turn based combat plus a few minor tweaks.

    I think Yahtzee has was right when he did a review of the Witcher and Mass Effect on how rpgs can be frustrating at times.



  4. Setsukyie says:

    I don’t mind the villages but I sure hate dungeons and fields..
    Especially ones that are repetitive and just plain boring to look at..

    About the battles,
    I don’t like random encounters..
    They get really annoying from time to time..
    But most of the RPGs I play have random encounters..
    And my favorite RPG has random encounters..
    I also prefer real-time battles more than turn-based ones..

    Cutscenes are ok..
    Sidequests and Mini-games..
    I won’t even bother with them..

    In the end, I still continue to play RPGs despite all the above..
    Because RPGs are really fun..

  5. Neriya says:

    I’ve always seen RPG villages as representative – one character represents 5 or 10 or something, and ditto for houses.

    One of my pet peeves is when the random encounter rate is too high. A few culprits come to mind, but mainly older games. And like you say the bosses after long cutscenes who either take a lot of beating or have cheap-ass instant death/reduce hp to 1~10 attacks which you can only prepare for if you’ve read a walkthrough beforehand.

    >>The only battles where status effects really help are the longer boss battles

    I laughed hard at this bit. Debuffs *ever* working on bosses??!

    But I think the best thing about RPG’s is that they’re an interactive cross of a book and a movie. And a strong story or strong characters (preferable both) reward trekking through some of the more repetitive aspects of the genre. I really like those that let you interact with the characters in your party as you go along (Suikoden’s castle, Star Ocean 2’s private actions, and several other good examples).

    You’re also given more freedom in how you want to play than in most other genres, so you can explore as much of the game worlds as you like, or go straight from significant location A to doing significant thing B etc without talking to all the people in a town and going to check out any sidequests they may offer, or collecting any of the chests in a location.

    I personally enjoy getting the best equipment for a certain stage of the game for free by looking for it, or turning the leading female caster into a physical attacker better than any of the mid tier fighters in the party though stat boosting items and equipment (Elly in Xenogears is my favourite example of this, doing more damage than even lead male Fei at some points in the game).

    But sadly the current market seems to have taken some of the bad aspects you’ve mentioned too much to heart, so now we’ve got less “true” RPGs coming out than ever on current gen consoles, and things like Mass Effect and other games with varying degrees of RPG elements being labelled as RPGs. Still, I’ve got plenty of PS2 RPGs to play yet.

  6. Karura says:

    Gabest: I did say not to take it too seriously; I enjoy the games for the most part and I appreciate there are constraints, but still I find it somewhat ironic that I can enjoy RPGs so much and yet have so many specific complaints.

    Crusader: I think you might win the prize for longest comment on this blog 😉

    Setsukyie: I think we’re on the same wavelength here

    Neriya: That’s why I ended the sentence “but most bosses are immune to status effects anyway”. I do remember a couple of instances where a status effect has actually worked on a boss (and not just Vanish/X-Zone) but I probably should have said “In principle, the only battles…”
    For everything else you’ve said, I almost feel like writing another post to respond to it all (hell, why not?) so for now I’ll just say that I too have many PS2 RPGs to play; actually, the only ‘new’ games I really want are the various PSP remakes of old PSOne titles, and as I haven’t even bought a PSP yet, there’s hardly any rush.

  7. manga says:

    For me, RPGs are great. Mainly because of the stories, take Persona 3 here that I´m playing at the moment(trying to finish it before I get Fez) and wow, the typical allround hero comes back to town after being away for like 10 or so years.

    Mysterious things start to happen and there is even a special “hour” that “normal” people don´t know about.

    To this we add a dungeon crawler, you have 258 floors or so to go trough in Tartarus. Quite tedious and boring since if the main hero dies, it´s game over, add instant kill spells and well… let´s just say that irritation is high.

    What is the driving force that makes me want to keep comming back to level my characters? To be able to drive the story forward. I want to know what happends with the characters and how they develop. They all have personal problems and things aren´t always good, there are a lot of sad moments in Persona 3.

    To the dungeon crawler we add a school simulator, where you as the main hero has to go to school, take tests, participate in events etc etc. Here we also introduce the Social Link system, where some people are persons that you can get close to, the sweet classmate Yukari, the sempai Mitsuru and more. Give the right “answer” when they ask you about important stuff and you can develop feelings for eachother.

    You want to take care of the people close to you and you want to save the world from “the Shadows” that are creating havoc in town.

    So why do I love RPGs? Mainly the story, give me a good story that I want to finish and I´ll play trough most of the stuff that others would throw away.

  8. ritchan says:

    And… FF6 is the best Final Fantasy ever. I mostly play games because it feels like I’m adventuring.

  9. Byakko says:

    Well, while I admit the basic JRPG framework is archaic, just like the D&D system, there’s something magical and just right about it.

    Playing Lost Odyssey made me realize that there is a simple, perhaps even mathematical, balance and polish to the classic system, and given a few tweaks and spit-shine; the old becomes new again in LO. Well, old-school difficulty and the fact that for once in OVER A DECADE I actually HAD to use my mages and expend quite a bit of mana to win RANDOM ENCOUNTERS, was really a refreshing breath of air.

    Also, surprisingly, status effects are really quite handy in LO. The Rings system allow the elements/status effects/varied effects to be tailored to your weapon as you see fit, even in battle, and to accomplish some challenges you MUST use these effects.

    But LO pretty much epitomizes everything you’ve said here, and yet, aptly demonstrates just WHY we fell in love with those genre staples, but bringing the CORE component to its next evolution.

    I’m talking of course, about the STORY.

    What made Final Fantasy I stand out from the crowd? Not just its newfangled side-by-side battle system that displayed both you and your enemies at the same time, or its stirring score (for an 8-bit system); it was the “two paragraphs more” of story that began to set it apart. Keep in mind that it was the NES and that whole go-back-in-time thing was a pretty nice twist.

    Still, where have we gone since then? Let’s look at FF specifically here. My very big pet peeve: The use of Jungian terminology and philosophy, Christian motifs, and the wrongful representation of various sacred icons from various cultures in Final Fantasies. The first few FFs borrowed liberally from the reimaginings of beasties like Bahamut and Tiamat from the D&D Monster Compendiums; the later ones however, rather than fostering their OWN mythology, instead corrupted existing real-world ones into a mish-mash that has no literal or inherent meaning or merit.

    For example, FFVII, dear gawd the Christian imagery/motifs/names just up and BITCH-SLAPS you in the face! “I’m Sephiroth the One-Winged Angel! BEHOLD MY INEVITABLE BETRAYAL AND IRONIC ROLE REVERSAL!”

    And in this same ‘universe’, there are PHOENIXES (well, that’s where the Down comes from. There are obviously, a lot of balding phoenixes in FFs), and SHIVA (and Squenix, Shiva’s an adrogynous God of Destruction; NOT A FREAKING ICE MOTORCYCLE GODDESS!), and inexplicably giant dragons and over-the-counter steroids under the streetname ‘potion’!

    FFX then had you, how imaginatively, fighting SIN. In capitals! SIN!

    In my honest opinion, earlier FFs first had to draw on recognizable imagery to convey basic story elements. Yet, the universe in FF6 in all its 16-bit sprite glory had far more coherence than the random leather-clad wonder that is FFVII’s world (where Midgar is New Jersey and obviously, Gold Saucer is Vegas).

    There is NO MORE EXCUSE for Squenix to not spend some CREATIVE muscle and mind to just make up a damn mythology! If you’re going to wreck a tradition, WRECK IT WHOLLY, so at least, the pain you get from seeing a face you know being mutilated is lessened.

    Which is why I can actually take LO’s story inclusive of its world so well! In fact, while its story is naturally, not fully explained even at the end and leaving quite a few questions (which set-up for nice sequels though), Mistwalker has put much more effort in establishing its characters in the world they are in far more than Squenix has ever done.

    An original mythology is one thing I loved about LO. There are no blatantly inexplicable excuses for summons, or this-could-only-happen-in-anime style Limit Breaks; but that’s because for once in a low while, your characters are the same characters in and out of battle.

    But to get back, I want to say that LO has taken the RIGHT step in the evolution of the JRPG genre. The character-driven story. The characters in LO interact and relate in much more convincing and in just downright better acted manners than any of the other ‘modern’ JRPGs. They’re given the same treatment as if they were part of a novel or a movie, they’re not going to have stupid dialouge, and they’re not just banding together for no reason.

    I can’t say much on the story without spoiling. It IS traditional of course, good guys and bad guys, save the world, etc. etc.. Hell, if HIGHLANDER suddenly rings in your head while playing LO, seriously, you are NOT alone on that.

    But as any literature student can tell you, all stories are basically different versions of the 9 basic stories in literature. Its the presentation that counts. LO is brilliant in that presentation.

    The main character, Kaim, is for once, sufficiently motivated. Betrayal and revenge and fulfillment of duty – Stock motivations to be sure, but the devil is in the details. Cloud wants to get Sephiroth for burning a village, which I’m still not sure if Cloud even came from (personally, I think there was a homoerotic undertone in his relationship with Seph, but maybe that’s me…no, it’s…prolly not me). Oh, and yeah, save the world because he’s going to…force the planet to make a huge scab!

    Kaim wants to kill “bad guy” for betrayal of duty, to fulfill his own long overdue mission, and vengeance because “bad guy” literally made someone very very dear to Kaim (the relationship is important to the emotional crunch, so I can’t say it) commit suicide before his eyes.

    Kaim is ,you should know, over 1000 years old in the game (not a spoiler, it’s in the ads and on the box). The story revolves around his immortality, and the secrets of the past that is revealed.

    No other JRPG hero in history has the emotional baggage to have sufficient reason to be labeled ’emo’. And Kaim really isn’t, he’s just feeling and yet…unfeeling.

    There’s nothing much more that I can say. I wholeheartedly believe that LO has made me fall in love with JRPG again. If Squenix wants to make a dial-a-combo battle system in FFXIII, then go ahead, but I just don’t think that really makes it JRPG anymore, does it? It’s Action-RPG. Like Kingdom Hearts.

  10. Karura says:

    Byakko, thanks for all your comments and your email (I’ll reply to that later if I don’t cover everything here). Definitely some interesting thoughts there; you’ve made me want to check out LO but sadly I don’t own an Xbox 360 and with only a couple of games I’d want for it, it’s not really a console I want to spend money on just now. If you should ever feel like writing something about it (or RPGs in general) for me to post on here (with due credit given, of course), then feel free to put an article together and send it to me 🙂

    And a follow up post to this is coming, I’ve just been continually sidetracked…

  11. ken_apa says:

    I admitted what you said earlier are true but that’s what RPG is all about, some of my friends always asked me why would I played that kind of boring stuff. well they never have any imagination at all, thats for sure! but these days new RPG’s that came out are not good as RPG old days like FFVI or chrono trigger… oh I do really missed my youth with all the spare time I had.

  12. The_Dark_Wolf says:

    My english is a bit rusty, so please forgive me if it is not good.

    actually I read the whole thing here, and I can say only one thing after all…. The only reason, why I played JRPG like FF, SoM or Grandia, are the storys. It doesn’t matter to me if squenix made a erotic looking ice queen of shiva or named the bad guy in FF VII Sephiroth, the one winged angel. Only names i guess. After all, in FF VIII were Shiva only an Ice-goddess, nothing more. The only Beast which resembled a real mystic god was Quetzacoatl in FF VIII. Not only by name, but in the manual too if i recall it right..

    but as I said it doesn’t matter to me, if there are names which are assigned to some things in our real world. After all, the JRPG’s are Fantasy and made to enjoy I think. Why shouting about the name given to the big Boss in FF X ? SIN…. okay, but I don’t think it was choosen because of the meaning of the word “sin”. What if it has an other meaning? ALL I want to say i, that I play JRPG because of the Story and the Characters. I can overlook such small things like the names of gods like Shiva or some other things. No matter what some people say, the FF-series has up today a huge amount of fans. I don’t think, that you would call them all fools, because they overlook such things?

    Would you call SoM as an bad game, because one young man takes a holy sword (mana sword) out of an stone. A HOLY SWORD OUT OF AN STONE, just like King Arthur did with Excalibur? Call you SoM the same as you called FF because there is such an thing? Like I said before, i don’t care. After all the Story of SoM or better known as Seiken Densetsu 2, was realy amazing, even nowadays I play this game with joy. The same for all FF-Games from I to X-2. FF XII is an exception, because i sensed no feelings in the story. Yeah it was full of action, drama, fate and turns. But I couldn’t get some real feeling out of the deepts of some Chars. Its hard to explain in english, but after all I must say, that in every single RPG may lie a bit which has its original in our history, world or religion. Even if it is only a slight bit.

    Its the same as you could say every game is shit, because they have after all the same scheme. A bad guy raises his power and one or some good guys begin to fight him. Most likely would one of the good guys die in the progress, but at the very end the good guys allways defeat the bad guy and peace returns. It doesn’t matter, what you make up for the story, after all its allways the same. But does someone complain about it? Maybe, but after all there are enough people who continue to play, no matter what. Its the same for me. I will continue to play JRPG as long the storys and the Charas satisfy me. Thats all i have to say..

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