Where RPGs Can Improve

by Kimberley Wallace on Jan 28, 2014 at 08:31 AM

We just entered a new console generation and are anxiously awaiting new games from our favorite genres. All genres have places they can improve and RPGs are no different. These are some areas where RPGs could use some refining and take bigger leaps in innovation.

Eliminate Random Encounters

Random encounters have become an RPG staple, but they can often be one of the most infuriating elements. Taking a few steps and landing back in battle disrupts exploration, especially when you're trying to figure out where to go next. For instance, Final Fantasy X-2 had an awesome battle system, but repeatedly landing in battles without having a chance to catch your breath made it less engaging. Don't punish players with tired battles just because they want to explore every nook and cranny.  That's why it's better when enemies appear on the map and the player can decide when to engage them, like in the Tales series.

Quality Side Quests

Fetch quests have their place, but they can't be the sole side quest available. Developers should strive to make side quests exciting and varied, from downing almighty bosses to finding out backstories on beloved characters. A good example is BioWare's Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, where you learned more about the world and characters through them. Side quests should make players want to engage in extra content, not be something they feel forced into to succeed in the game. The quests shouldn't be about quantity, but quality, where you feel like you've found a hidden gem by exploring extra content. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning quickly wore out its side-quest welcome without a balanced ratio. We don't hear much about side quests being memorable; we'd like to see that change.

Step It Up In The Story Department

Clichéd characters and tired plots wore out their welcome a long time ago. Plots are becoming predictable and the same settings are losing their luster. The Persona and Witcher games found fanfare by bringing in mature storylines, which was a refreshing change from the typical stories that felt geared toward a ten year old. However, RPG writing needs to take even bigger risks and change the formula. Character archetypes, as seen in the Tales series, just aren't going to cut it anymore. Other games are providing stronger stories with less - it's time for RPGs to up the ante. RPGs have such a large space to tell a story; they must take advantage of that and remember it's part of why people fell in love with the genre in the first place.

Improve Pacing

Pacing is often one of the biggest issues that plague an RPG. Even the better stories, like Persona 4, struggled with getting its plot off the ground, taking hours before even placing you in battle. We'd like to see more games throw us into the action sooner, setting up the plot alongside it. Storylines should also stay consistently engaging; hitting lulls can sour the experience, making it hard to press on. The key is balance. Developers must make sure if story is taking a backseat, the player has plenty of exciting elements to keep them busy, whether they're imaginative dungeons or introducing elements like a new party member or a new means for travel. Final Fantasy X had enough action to start its plot and get you invested without holding your hand.

Eliminate The Filler Content

Backtracking must go. In this day and age, there's no excuse for not having a fast-travel system in an expansive RPG. Having to go through the same landscapes and fight the same enemies is exhausting. Why not think of new content or ways to make previously-visited places interesting? While exploring the same content might cut down on budgets, it does nothing for the player. We'd rather have an RPG five to ten hours shorter if it means no content repeats itself. Tales is a good example of an RPG series on the right path; it notoriously had backtracking, but in Xillia the series introduced a much-needed fast-travel system. However, the franchise needs to stop repeating bosses.

Focus On Non-Combat Progression

Combat is an RPG's bread and butter, but non-combat progression can be just as engaging and innovative. Look at Persona's social links or Fire Emblem: Awakening's relationship system. Both games provided insight into party members, but also gave you boosts in combat to make them worthwhile. Sometimes it's the extra things you do outside of RPGs that make them tick, even if it's as minute as crafting.

Better Exploration Opportunities 

Let's get rid of empty space. If treasure and hidden caves abound, why make the surrounding area vacant? Feeling like there's a discovery around every bend is part of the fun, and RPGs could do more to make exploration enticing. We're hoping Dragon Age: Inquisition takes a cue from Dragon Age 2's shortcomings in exploration - barren, linear roads without much detail aren't all that fun to explore. Skyrim is an example of landscapes done right with extremely detailed areas that feel like real places. Let's actually feel like we're exploring and not going through some desolate landscape to uncover a treasure chest.

Where do you think RPGs can improve? Let us know in the comments.