Well, this post got ridiculously long. You might want to make this a bedtime story, or wait until you have to use the facilities. Okay...Comfy? Let's go.
When I'm not firing up the original NES Super Mario Bros. for the ten billionth time, my go to video game genre of choice is roleplaying. Not because I'm a fan of fantasy, sci-fi or any particular theme being presented. Rather, for the immersion. I like games that take time, that pull you in, that get you mentally invested in their world, the characters, and if possible, the story. Though the latter is certainly the least worry for me if the other two meet the criteria.
For me, some of the most memorable games I've played were Fallout 4, Diablo III, Tales of Vesperia, Final Fantasy VII, Mass Effect 2 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Despite these being very solid games, unto themselves, they falter. As such, I have yet to play what I would call the PERFECT roleplaying game.
Today, I thought I would take you through the hits and misses of what would ultimately shape such a game.
New Game+ (Or Simply Don't End) - One of the most disappointing aspects to a roleplaying game is that most of them end. While I do believe that every game should have a good story arc that takes you through the typical three act process, I don't necessarily agree that roleplaying games have to be bound to a definitive ending. Especially in today's world of large games with potential downloadable content.
To me, it actually can border on a level of sadness to spend hours, which equate to months of game time with characters, only to reach a point where it ends. Fallout 4 gets this somewhat right by not necessarily ending, as you always have the option to continue roaming the wasteland with your party members, and also continuing on with radiant quests for factions that side with you. I suppose there is the probability of eventual boredom with that route, but it also allows the player to make the choice when they are done, vs. an end screen which says, "No more!"
One of my favorite ways to continue to enjoy a roleplaying game is the inclusion of a New Game+ mode. I don't know why, but so many developers shy away from this option. Tales From Vesperia somewhat gets this right, but falters a bit under its own sheer weight.
The problem with Vesperia is that in order to truly benefit from the New Game+ option, you have to meet a lot of criteria to unlock the bonuses that go hand and hand with it. These include increased XP, gold, weapons, etc. However, to meet with this criteria, you have to play the game to a specific parameter. Step one toe out of line, and you fail. This could result in you having to go tens of hours backwards in a save file, which you hopefully have, to correct any potential error you made. There is just so much to do that it becomes cumbersome to go for 100% completion in what would equate to a 100+ hour game.
Here's the thing though, coinciding with a New Game+ option, I feel a lot more people would play a roleplaying game two or three times, if they felt they were continuing to make progress, vs. starting over. Believe it or not, some people do want to create God level characters that roll over every opponent. It's the ultimate payoff for the time invested. Whereas if I have to start a game over, from level one, I'm more so going to be hesitant to do so, because while I want to play the game again, I don't want to grind it.
I don't feel that giving sufficient points to max out everything ruins a game. In fact, I happen to hear more from players that they don't use all their points in this scenario because they want a unique experience. So why not just allow people to do everything they want, maxing out levels as high as they want, and going from there?
Diablo III does this right. You can level up as much as you want, and assign said points however you want. You can make yourself ridiculously over powered, or tweak it as you go to create the level of challenge you want to experience. The point being that all players get the option to play how they want, and isn't that the core essence of a roleplaying game?
Game, Not Grind - There's a level of grinding expected when you play a roleplaying game. However, it's one thing to provide players with things to do, and another to expect them to fight the same enemy over and over and over again to grain just enough advantage to move on to the next and the next and repeat continuously.
Leveling up in a game should be fun, and if done correctly, it should be a reward for playing, and not a mandate to play. Most importantly, it should have a point to it. Diablo III and Fallout 4 handle this aspect well. In the case of Diablo III, you're encouraged to grind for the loot associated with doing so. I spent hours playing the various keystone portals and challenges simply to get all the unique armor sets. In doing so, I also ridiculously leveled up. So not only was I grinding out levels, but I was also being rewarded for investing the time to do so.
Fallout 4 on the other hand does send you to grind enemies, but it does so by way of radiant quests. It's ultimately not as rewarding as what Diablo III offers, but you still get the sense that you're accomplishing something. This is made all the more beneficial when traveling with a companion who you are trying to reach max affinity with. So again, it comes down to there being a purpose other than the next area I am going is to hard at my current level.
the other hand, don't do this like Mass Effect 2, where my ability to
level up and make progress is blocked by a linear path or XP that is
only obtained by completing limited quests. Even if one wanted to level up in
Mass Effect 2, there are only so many XP points you're going to get per
zone. This is not how rolepaying is done. If a player wants to, they
should be able to spend all the time in the world at the beginning of
the game grinding and maxing out their levels - You know, if you insist on having
Immersion - It's important when playing a roleplaying game that you can get lost in the time spent doing so. Worlds should be rich and full of things to do that aren't necessarily story related. This helps the world to not only feel larger, but also encourages players to explore every nook and cranny.
Fallout 4 immediately springs to mind in this regard because it provides you with so many things to do that you can spend days at a time just messing around. I've spent hours on end just building settlements, wandering through buildings, caves and in general searching every inch for unique items and experiences.
However, this comes with it's own downside. Because the game has an ever running clock and calendar, it's immersion breaking when you've spent twenty years building settlements, meeting and maxing out new companions, and in general, just exploring the wasteland to have your character finally get back on track and state to all the NPC's that he's looking for his infant son. It's ironically no surprise that the character Father (your son) is ninety years old when you finally catch up with him. I spent that much time just building the houses around me.
The point being is that if you're going to focus on a game that encourages players to put the story on hold, then the story has to make sense when you get back to it.
Don't Make Me Choose Consequential Paths - I'm like Captain Kirk when I play roleplaying games. I don't like no win situations. Especially those that promote playing a game all over (with no New Game+ option). Let's go back to Fallout 4 for this one.
I don't like making decisions in games where suddenly an entire faction hates me, or is at war with another one. Why can't I be a true mercenary and play both sides of the field? More importantly, why can't I be a harbinger of peace? I shouldn't have to choose to obliterate an entire side just to appease the other. That to me isn't a good ending. That's choosing your side and murdering the other. Why can't there be a peaceful option where all sides get along, and more importantly, I get all the various power armors and perks of doing so?
The Nuka-World DLC for Fallout 4 is the worst offender in this regard. You're tasked with either leaving the minimal town folks as slaves, or wiping out all the Raiders. While accomplishing the latter is considered the good ending, it results in a desolate map void of people, with exception of the handful that remain in the main market area. Wiping out the Raiders results in the remainder of the map being nothing more than a desolate and empty world. Yet not doing so effectively blocks you from another faction siding with you. Again, a no win situation. The preferred method would have been if you remove all the Raiders that more people show up and rebuild / reopen the park.
I get it. It all comes down to replay value, but again, why would I spend 100+ hours replaying a game that I have to start over, especially when said change doesn't come until the last hour of the game? For as much as I love Fallout 4, I will never finish the game, because I refuse to lose the ability to have access to all factions.
Fetch Quests and Busy Work - This one's a bit contradictory. Especially since all radiant quests essential boil down to fetch quests. If my character is such an amazing guy / girl, why is everyone sending me out on their errands? Every roleplaying game is guilty of this. I am not your lackey! Go get your own bucket of water.
To many roleplaying games fall prey to repeat quests that simply wear thin fast because it's rinse and repeat. I know this goes against what I said above where radiant quests for games allows you as the player to choose when you're done, but at a minimum, developers should put better effort in these to make them feel like there is a purpose, and not just something to keep you busy.
Inventory Management - Roleplaying games in general require the player to suspend a level of disbelief. We are after all talking about games that will let a character with no backpack carry ten+ swords on them, as long as they meet a weight requirement or storage capacity. Yet on the other hand, I can store 10,000 swords in a four by six crate in my character's room.
I hate inventory management. There is nothing worse than being limited in how fast you can move, what you can and can't pick up, or in general the work that comes with organizing all of this stuff.
I have yet to play a game where not only I can carry everything I desire, but that organizes it all in a manageable way. Games like Diablo III come close to doing this okay. By this I mean that they at least organize everything for you by category. However, you are still plagued with how much you can carry. Worst of all, you're also limited in how much you can store.
Why would a game that encourages you to pick up everything that isn't nailed down then limit you on how much you can carry? Even if they absolutely felt the need to do this, why on Earth would they limit how many items you can store? Roleplaying games, by nature, are loot based games! You should expect players to want to obtain one of every single item! It's what keeps them playing!
Game Play, Not Gimmicks - If there's one thing that ruins a roleplaying game fast, it's gimmicks that make them unique. This is often associated with the fighting mechanics of the game. Games such as Final Fantasy XIII, Lost Odyssey and Resonance of Fate are by far some of the worst I have ever played, and it's because they are built on quirky fighting mechanic gimmicks.
I'm not saying that roleplaying games need to be turn based, or even straight up free for alls. However, your game shouldn't be built around its fighting mechanics. The reason being is that it's rarely done well. Even the best roleplaying story in the world can't hold up the weight of a poor fighting system. I can't help but think back to one reviewer's opinion of the game Deadly Premonition where he was talking about the overall controls. He stated, "It's like reading a good book while getting kicked in the balls repeatedly". This is the perfect summary of a great story for a roleplaying game with poor fighting mechanics.
If your average player can't pick up and play your game, you're doing it wrong.
Save Me! - I need to be able to save anywhere. Be it in the middle of a conversation, during a fight, or in general standing around in every environment. Don't make me go to specific locations or reach checkpoints to save. I don't have time for that.
In the real world, power outages occur, unexpected things come up and sometimes I just want to stop playing. Don't make me hunt down save points. I'm looking at you Final Fantasy VII and Zelda II - The latter which has no save points!
Not only that, but I don't want to redo sections if I die. That's going to make me lose interest in your game real fast.
To Summarize - So to sum all this up, I haven't yet played the perfect roleplaying game. One that allows me to God level my character, while playing the game over and over as many times as I want, but not by starting all my stats over, that has unlimited experience rewarding quests that are meaningful, but free of consequence, no gimmicks, and allows me to pick up everything that isn't nailed down, while saving whenever I want.
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