RPGs (Role Playing Games, for those of you who aren’t too fond of acronyms) have been a major part of the gaming industry. Anyone who’s been around for the past three decades will probably tell you that RPG’s defined, for the most part, a large portion of the industry during the times of the most memorable consoles (SNES, for example). It was the genre that kick-started most of our lusts for gaming. Games like Xenogears, Chrono Trigger, Terranigma, Earthbound, Lunar, and Secret of Mana, just to name a few – titles that became more than just a game, for some; titles that birthed fanaticism in storytelling and left memorable imprints in the back of our minds. These were the times when games had meaning – where deep stories were of abundance and kept you at the edge of your seat anxious to reveal what happened next. But as newer generations of consoles began to spawn, storytelling began to change dramatically, and RPG’s became a withering breed conquered by western first-person shooters and the practical need to choose graphical prowess over a valuable storyline.
Anyone who recalls playing a good RPG will tell you how changes have badly affected just about everything in the genre. Constant promotion of metrosexual heroes with little to no back-story that are as intriguing as a No. 2 pencil; supporting characters with the personality of a dead moth; and stories that are either too bewildering to follow, too convoluting to take interest, or just too dull to even care for. RPG’s have gone from an epic form of storytelling through gaming to a mediocre blend of comedic content and uninspiring plots. Gargantuan companies like SquareEnix (formally Squaresoft and Enix) who used to deliver distinguished, unique classics that separated their games from their competitors, who are now ok with releasing mediocrity to their fans. Companies who once thrived on perfection now feed the RPG genre a spoonful of bullcrap for a profit – knowing that consumers will chew it up simply because it contains a familiar name. It’s the biggest problem with the current generation of RPGs. Developers are perpetually looking to make bigger returns on their investments by conceiving a much simpler formula over the past couple of years – eliminating the “complexities” that circumvent the genre. You think SquareEnix gives a rat’s ass that it was the hard-core RPG gamers that dispensed their cash to help place companies like them in the pedestal of godliness? No. Since newer generations of gamers consume genres like first-person shooters and third-person adventure games, publishers/developers focus their resources in targeting these folk. By doing this, any elements that differentiates RPGs from any other genre is stripped down to conform and cater to the non-hardcore RPGer. Hence, a much inferior, dumb-downed title is released with the expectations that it will attract the non-RPG fan – killing just about everything that made RPGs what they were to please a group of gamers that are happy with button-mashing rather than a true role-playing experience.
Of course, there’s the argument that gamers no longer want to cater to playing a 60-hour console RPG anymore, or that gamers no longer desire storylines of epic proportions. I believe that in order to even consider disputing the argument, such games need to exist this generation. I have yet to play an RPG this generation where players are drawn into, or even care, for characters. Instead, we’re thrown 60 plus hours of crap – with the most gorgeous graphics this generation is producing – which follows the story of a who-gives-a-sh*t character and his friends, to battle I-don’t-care-what-his-name-is, and save the world from its-not-that-interesting-to-even-remember. Any emotional connections that players once developed whilst progressing through an RPG has, basically, died out. We can recall playing games like Final Fantasy VII and feeling the impact of when Sephiroth penetrated Aerith with a sword the size of an 18-wheeler truck. It was emotional. Or Final Fantasy X – when you found out that Tidus had been a fayth the entire time and just fades away as Yuna desperately tries to hold him one last time. And people thought Titanic was frakked up. It’s moments like these that have become obsolete this generation. Moments where players are drawn into stories and empathize for characters they are playing with or playing as.
Most of this generation has become more focused on the graphical capabilities a game is able to whip out rather than the plot they need to play through. And because of this, publishers and developers have become dull in their writing; forgetting that the most important part of a game was and is, in fact, the message it conveyed and not the abundance of high-res textures that permeates the world. That’s why some folks don’t mind going back to play Chrono Trigger, Breath of Fire, or Soul Blazer (which had the dirtiest soundtrack, by the way); because, to them, an epic story captures a game far better than epic graphics. Back in the day, we remembered games for what they were about – not for how they looked. People sit and flame about game-x looking better than game-y, nowadays. It’s become a debate of graphical superiority. They’re more intrigued at how great a game looks rather than how great a game is; it’s a discouraging way of thinking. As long as people long for quality graphics rather than a quality game, publishers and developers will continue bringing mediocre Hollywood plots to the masses. Ask yourself this: how many times have you participated, or read, discussions amongst gamers where their sole reason for purchasing a game was more because of the graphical stimulation it gives them?
RPGs have become a dying breed of gaming. They have become an obsolete brand of visual masterpieces rather than the legendary monuments of adventures they once were. They have become a rarity in this generation of gaming. And as visuals continue to evolve, the storylines that accompany them will slowly deteriorate. It’s a ball that has been rolling this entire generation with absolutely no signs of slowing down.