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.
Well said, Kim.
I love the class RPG's and JRPG's, and "overall" concept. But 2 thing's over time have stopped me from playing them.
First, was I never bought a PS3 or Xbox 360, Vita, or DS so any and just about ever JRPG/RPG I missed out on. So what did I do but load up the old PS2 and start digging through archives of old RPG/JRPG's and this worked out to a point, I totally fell in love with the Ar Tonelico series because of this.
But a lot of other games like Suikoden 3, Radiata Story, and the Atelier Iris line of JRPG's just felt strange for me to play when you had 12-14 year old's who looked like they where 9-10 years old saving the world and ruling kingdoms. Just couldn't get into those games.
my biggest problem now with most RPGs is that when I start playing the first thought is man this game is corny then I put it away.
I have to say this seems to be aimed more at the JRPG genre than RPG's in general. To be honest, we all know the primary reason Square Enix is doing so bad has more to do with the abysmal MMORPG they splurged all that money on. FF XIII wasn't exactly top-notch storywise, but it wasn't really "terrible" in the general sense, more like an A averaging student getting a B instead of the usual. I think they can bounce back from this, and the next generation is naturally ripe for the picking.
I would have to agree with the GI entry we need our JRPG's back they were better at creating heart-wrenching stories and tear jerkers, I can really remember WRPGS ever giving that same feeling, for example skyrim, Dragon Age, didn't do anything for me as far as inclined stories that cause you to actually want to change the outcome cuz you don't want a character to die.
You could of just said "Most RPG games stories suck thus they suck".
I see no need for RPG games to try to compete with modern games as most modern games suck.
Totally agree! I think character and story are very important in any kind of RPG ... and, in fact, in any type of game that has characters or stories. There's often too much emphasis on whiz-bang graphics. (This seems to be a problem in films as well ...)
RPG is my favorite genre. The big names better step it up. Lets get RPG's back on top!
I agree with this, JRPGs were my favorite genre because they kept you entertained with an engrossing story. I have not been as happy with them this generation because the stories were simply a rehash of something that I had already played. I think they need to expand their stories beyond the "normal" JRPG and then we will be seeing something exciting. Until they can do that though, I will be enjoying other games like Bioshock Infinite, Zero Escape, and other games that have unique stories and interesting gameplay. I wish Square Enix good luck, but I don't think they can continue to stay in business unless they fix some of their story issues.
I don't think the problem with RPGs is quite as simple or dire a situation as its painted here. There are a lot of cliche heavy or me too games at the moment regardless of genre and those have and will fall to the wayside. For JRPGs we definitely still get new champions joining the ranks of the greats of yesteryear (Persona and Xenoblade for example) and even those that are heavily cliche-ridden can still work through them in interesting ways (Tales of Graces F being a particular favorite of mine).
I love when your actions shape the world around you but you can actually notice the changes. It's not just simple little changes like how people react to you but something you can see and experience. Like in Fable 2 when you could help or destroy the town of Oakvale and when you came back from the tower it was either prospering or failing and depending on which, there were new houses or some houses were run down. I enjoy being able to actually shape the world and feel like I am making a difference.
I completely agree! And while I admit to being a doting fan of archetypal characters and scenarios, its repetition is not a good business model in general and does not make for memorable games. I think your observations of Square-Enix are spot on! Fanboys like me will always prop-up the market a bit, to play games and stories we love, but those that push the art of the RPG a little further, end up being the most memorable titles of all.
Ni No Kuni
True some games are losing their touch but so far I enjoy Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2 though I wish they remake Final Fantasy 7 I wanna play the game with this century graphics and animation.