The Decline of Quality RPGs

The Decline of Quality RPGs

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.

Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana

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?

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Trigger

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.

22 responses to “The Decline of Quality RPGs”

  1. Asd says:

    You should try the witcher.

  2. @Asd

    I’ve played The Witcher. It is a great game. The RPG’s that I was referring to were more of the traditional JRPG games (which I should have referenced) that were, at some point, as good as they got. 😉

  3. jml41286 says:

    It’s sad that the best RPG’s out are now on the ever so weak Nintendo DSi

  4. Dirk says:

    I’m not sure I agree that there isn’t any good RPGs in this generation of consoles. I consider Mass Effect and Fallout 3 RPGs and both of those games are good. In addition Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is also a pretty good RPG, but I’m not sure if it’s consider last generation or this generation.

  5. @ Dirk

    The argument isn’t that there aren’t ANY good RPGs this generation. However, not many RPGs are as deep as they used to be in plot. The games you’ve mentioned – Fallout 3, Oblivion – ARE great games because they are entertaining. But would I consider their stories great and captivating? Absolutely not.

    There are plenty of great RPGs this generation. Valkyria Chronicles, Disgea 3, Persona. Valkyria Chronicles, especially, was one of those games, which I was referring to, that captivates the player and sucks you into the storyline.

    The RPGs I’m referring to are, in fact, JRPGs. Western RPGs are booming and striding ahead of JRPGs. But, in all honesty, not a lot of them have the emotional grip that JRPGs once had.

  6. Chris Pee says:

    Yea,ur absolutely rite.
    The emotions are no longer there.
    Only a few breed of we”real jprg” gamers still exist.I mean i wuldnt mind playin ffiv on ps1 once again.
    Jeeez dat game waz sumthing else.

  7. aquaman839 says:

    I have yo agree with you on the most part. I own a PS3 and I love the system but the only good RPG I have played this generation was Valkyria Chronicles. I also played Fallout and was happy at first but the more I thought about it the game was too open to really draw you in. There are only a hand full of missions that hold on the main story line everything else in that game was a minor side quest. I have hope for the upcoming demons souls looks like Diablo which was phenominal. Over all good article it is too bad that the art of making a game is fading away so that all is left is the science.

  8. RyGuy says:

    Personally I’m tired of being “linear” storyline an issue. I tired of open world where I don’t have a clue of what the is the *real* reason to play the game.

    A think a tighter, much more concise and thoughout story is needed. The only RPG this generation that focuses on story is Mass Effect. Granted it’s not a JRPG, it has the *feel* of a JRPG. It focuses on the major story, while peppering side quests.

    Bring me memorable characters (for the right reasons), an emotional storyline, and a strong finish and you have my sold.

  9. Rhain says:

    Nice Read Yaris

    I totally agree, RPG doesn’t need to have uber graphics, just a great storyline, and gameplay.

    Suikoden 1 and 2 anyone?

  10. Danno84a says:

    I grew up playing the old NES/SNES RPG’s and I loved them so much. Chrono Trigger is still in my top 5 all time games… but looking back; generally, I dont think the RPG’s from back then had fewer “metrosexual” characters or better stories.

    Chrono Trigger and the early Final Fantasy games are FULL of metro’ characters. (Granted its not as evident w/ sprites, but if you look at the original character art, its pretty evident.)

    I’ve been re-playing through Secret of Mana over the last few months when I have spare time; and even though I love it just as much now as I did back then, It totally fits into all those negative JRPG stereotypes you described, including a fairly weak story.

    I do agree that in general the furthering in technology has resulted in an overall drop in quality content for all genres of gaming. An unfortunate trend that will most likely continue for sometime, until technology plateaus long enough for mainstream gamers to stop buying in to the glitz and glamor.

    I love the classic RPG’s I grew up playing and don’t wanna down play the fact that they truly ARE amazing games, but the games that come out now aren’t really worse (nor are they that much different from the ones we played as kids). Some of us just grew up and got higher standards.

    Thankfully nostalgia allows us to fore go those standards. 🙂

  11. franwex says:

    I think you just want a good storyline. I believe that RPGs today are ACTUALLY BETTER than the 16-bit/ 32-bit era. The stories might not be as engrossing, but what’s the big deal? The mechanics of the games are better than past gens, and in turn are more fun. If you want a good story I will suggest reading a book or something. I’m not being rude, I’m serious. Sure you may not control the actions of the protagonist, but books time and again have had better stories than any medium has offered.

  12. Rajeev says:

    my 1st game — Earthbound….loved it
    my 2nd game — FF12 on PS2…

    The whole FF series is only meant for there fanboi…as a noob it was quite an irritating game.

    i hate RPG now!!.

  13. Dragula says:

    Oh, I thought this was about RPGs, now I see it’s about linear japanese adventure games.

  14. Davy B says:

    Whilst I do love RPGs(JRPGs in particular) I do recognise that they’ve become harder to play because of their design… They feel outdated in someways and I think some of the top JRPG developers need to design their games with more elements of Western RPGs.

  15. @ franwex

    In gaming, the most appealing element about a game is its storyline. It is what keeps players immersed and attracted to the game, at least from my experiences.

    And I will have to disagree with regards to your outlook on books. It is _one_ of the few mediums that can capture a story pretty well if told correctly. The same thing goes for gaming, movies, etc. It’s all on how it is presented and how the writer wants to portray his story that keeps interest in people.

    Yes, the mechanics are important because without good gameplay, the game will just be tedious. But to mask a storyline behind it, well, then you’re just conforming to less than mediocre. It’s like watching a movie for its action bits. I’m more interested in knowing what’s going on and why. It’s good, but I don’t want to spend $60.00 to ask myself “WTF” in the end.

    @ Dragula

    Find me one game better than Xenogears. It’s SO linear, it’s ridiculous. /end sarcasm.

  16. DamTheLad says:

    I agree with you at 100 %. I was discussing this matter with my friends yesterday and we tought the same thing as you think on this matter. This generation of RPG for the PS3,Wii and 360 really sucks. I have finished only 3 RPG on these console and it’s Enchanted Arms (it was average), Lost Odyssey and Tales of Vesperia who were gorgeous and Epic Rpg like I love them.

  17. Montrealien says:

    I know what you are getting at with this article, and you have a point. However, I would have to suggest that you look at other mediums, quality jrpgs like you are looking for have just moved to portables, and there are plenty to be found.

  18. J says:

    Try Valkyria Chronicles.

  19. M3TG says:

    Great article. I completely agree. Gaming has become a competition on which company can make the best “looking” game, but content, game play, and story line then becomes very lacking as the companies attempt to push out games faster and faster.

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  21. @Dragula: The best JRPGs are sometimes horribly linear. Just because an RPG is more linear, doesn’t mean its not an RPG.

    Not that I don’t like freedom of exploration (although too much makes the main story seem weak, like in most Western RPGs), but focused, linear stories with defined plots and interesting characters would be more likely to get my attention than something like Oblivion or Fallout 3. I don’t play those for the main story, that’s for sure.