The lights are on
The role-playing game genre's focus on stories has always
drawn me. Having a reason to play beyond "let's get to the end" is a powerful
lure. For over two decades, I've enjoyed watching characters grow to save the
world. The ending credits always matter so much more with the added context of
a story I'm invested in. Until recently, RPGs were ahead of the curve in these
arenas, while many other games settled for superficial reasons to embark on
quests - sometimes simply a single line of text like "Your princess is in another
Today's gaming landscape is a different beast. RPGs now have
worthy competition in the story department. Take Bioshock Infinite, with its
strong political themes alongside ambiguous moments that leave gamers analyzing
their true meanings. Adventures like The Walking Dead are emotionally gripping
by necessity: Characters have to matter or the big moments don't hit as hard.
To be honest, it's been some time since I've had an RPG strike me that way. If
RPGs want to stay on top with the industry's ongoing move toward more complex
narrative, writing needs to be the focus - and frankly, it needs to be
Lately, I'm seeing characters and storylines with wasted
potential. How many times are we going to see the same archetypes interjected
throughout narratives? The older sibling who needs to protect everyone, the arrogant heartthrob who constantly shows off, the soft-spoken girl who can't stand up for herself,
or the (sigh) tomboy who's trying to find her feminine side? These characters
continually find their way into RPGs, and their thin personalities fail to add
any sort of depth or humanity to the tale. I want my characters to move beyond
cliché, to not be boiled down to a single trait. Wild Arms 4's Raquel is
refreshingly different not only because of her circumstances (she's sick), but
because she is multi-dimensional. I still think about Raquel, because she was a
walking contradiction - tough, yet weak, keeping to herself yet dying to let
Another gripe with many traditional RPGs is their predictability.
I've seen my share of save-the-world plots as a seasoned fan, but that isn't
the core of the problem. If the heroics are new and exciting each time, I'm
game. Having the world's destiny in my hands is always exhilarating. One series
that does this well is Persona. Yes, you're technically saving the world, but
having it set in the real world with all of its everyday activities brings a
new dynamic to the adventure.
Can the same backdrops and settings continue to be
interesting? While no two people look at a concept the same way, writers need
to challenge themselves to think of new twists they can put on these worlds. Look
at the political warfare placed on top of Dragon Age: Origins' fantasy
backdrop. Atlus' Radiant Historia took time travel and made it feel new with
its concept of intertwined timelines. When you get to see a world not only
evolve on its own, but also affect it from a parallel world, the plot is much
If RPGs want to stand out in the upcoming generation, the
stories and characters need to be stronger and more developed. While some do
leave their mark, too many are run-of-the-mill. Sadly, many other genres are
starting to outshine RPGs in an area where Final Fantasy once ruled the roost
with varied casts, surprising plot twists (cough, cough Final Fantasy VII), and
villains who got under our skin. Unfortunately, the progress I desire may never
happen; after all, an audience still dotes on these familiar scenarios and
character types, but resisting any change or advancements won't help in the
long run. Look at Square Enix: it's a shadow of its former self. The genre used
to be its bread and butter, but its RPGs are now stagnant and struggling,
making the company look elsewhere for its identity and financial
To remain relevant, RPGs must once again surpass - or at
least measure up to - the creativity the rest of the modern games industry is
bringing to the table.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
Soo... you want more games like Ni no Kuni then?
Well, yes, that raises an interesting question.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is one of my favorite RPG's of all time, even though it had the cliched save the world endgame, the journey there was amazing.
Thanks! Fun read, agreed with a lot of what you said.
One cliche I hope dies and gets buried forever is when someone uncovers a revelation in the storyline and then says something to the like of, "No way, it can't be.....". Then when someone hears them and asks what's up, they respond with, "Nah, it's nothing." Tales of Symphonia did that like every five minutes and I couldn't stand it!
i hate the title in this article and it's lack of substance and now cast a spell for one day the JRPG's will get revenge and come back and avenge all that were lost througout this darkest hour!. kim i hope you get your period for 10 weeks long.
100% agree, I've had a blog post gestating for some time on how to articulate why JRPGs just don't excite me like they once did 15-20 years ago. The graphics have improved but everything else is the same stale stuff that was done better back in the day. In fact, I would argue that voice acting and realistic graphics have detracted from the experience as now I can't help but eye roll over silly situations and bad writing, whereas it was charming with pixelated SNES graphics.
I agree with the concept behind this post. RPGs have kind of lost their way. I agree that the story is the best part of a game, for myself at least. I love having an engaging story. And, I second the character point as well. If I invest my time in a game, it has to have good, engaging characters. Majority of the games that I play have those elements. I do play games just for the sheer fun of it all(Defiance is one example), but if I'm investing my time in an RPG, I'm making sure the story and characters are worth it.
most rpgs east and west this gen have been great
I have noticed that RPG's stories have been getting worse as of late. I remember back when the story was the main reason to keep going but now I think it is mainly just exploration. Hopefully we will see more story driven games next gen.