Quick note before I get started on this weeks rant: As part of the Magical Appreciation e-tour, I signed up for to be interviewed by the very talented Mrs. Danik Dinsmore on the March 21st. Check it out on her blog
Anyway like I said in my last post, I love video games. And one of my favorite genres is the RPG, The Role-playing-game. Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, Chrono Trigger, Fallout, Mass Effect. I could just talk about these things for hours, I love this stuff.
Well, I'm not sure how this happened, but in today's gaming culture apparently the RPG fan base is now split into two warring factions: on the one side you have people who like Japanese developed RPGs (or JRPGs) and on the other you have people who like Western developed RPGs (or WRPGs). And while its easy to just file this under a matter of personal taste, the great mighty thinking tank that is the internet (sarcasm) has escalated it into the equivalent of the feud between the Hatfield and McCoys as lead by Ren and Stimpy.
WRPG fans and critics will tell you their Japanese counterparts are not really Role playing games at all because of their liner nature, telling their plots through scripted cut scenes and dialogue and by having defined player characters as opposed to having a blank slates. They also complain about the JRPGs overuse of turn based battle systems, saying that a player can win just by mashing buttons over and over again. Many see this as a sign that the genre is growing stagnant, and are calling for developers to "fix" the genre so that it will "fit in" with today's gaming culture.
Similarly, JRPG fans and critics will tell you that WRPGs are becoming less and less like RPGs and more like action games. And that WRPGs emphasis on customization comes with sacrificing story and character development (within the games narrative) and boring battle systems which in this day and age are molded after either first and third person shooters (as is the case with Fallout New Vegas, The Elder Scrolls Sereis, and Mass Effect) or massive online RPGs like World of WarCraft (as is the case with the Dragon Age series).
By now, some of you are probably wondering what side am I going to come down on, and if I am going to be joining my brothers and sisters in destroying the other side. Well sorry guys, I won't be joining in the slaughter. In fact, I'm going to be standing on the sidelines laughing at you. Here's the truth people: Neither side is inherently wrong, nor are they inherently right either. And the criticism of one side can just as easily applied to the other. For example: I won as many battles button mashing in a WRPG (I'm looking at you Mass Effect and Dragon Age) as I have in a Japanese one. And I've been just as bored with the story and characters of Radiata Stories as I have been with Dragon Age Origins.
With all of that being said: I feel like this debate is one in which we are asking ourselves the wrong questions. Instead of arguing to the point of stupidity about the superiority of one genre over the other, or how one genre needs to be "fixed" we should be asking ourselves how do the two genre's influence each other? and how, if at all, does the current popularity of one genre change the other?
I mean, do you honestly think its a coincidence that Squareenix decided to go with such a radically different approach to the gameplay of both Final Fantasy 12 and 13 (when compared to previous entries in the series) while Bioware and Bethesda were getting fat and happy on games that played like both genres of shooters and MMOs? Or that Squareenix's game Nier, has a 30 year old man as its main protagonist when Mass Effect and Dragon Age have main characters in their late 20s and early 30s? Gimme a break.
Just to further illustrate the point: compare this demo of the battle system for Mistwalkers upcoming Wii game "The Last Story":
With this battle from Mass Effect 2:
Don't the way the battles flow kinda look familiar? Both take place in real time, involve taking cover and hitting them from afar with a ranged weapon before going in and overwhelming the enemy? Am I the only one who sees this? Yup, Mass Effect 2 must have had an influenced on The Last Story's battle system.
It also works the other way around. I mean, have you ever noticed how Bioware's recent successes-like Dragon Age and Mass Effect-seem to combine a JRPG's liner story structure with the non-linear, so-called "freedom of choice" of WRPGs? At least int the sense that there is a strong over-arching narrative tying the game together, while at the same time giving the player the freedom to tackle that story in anyway that the player sees fit. In other words, WRPG companies took what worked with JRPGs and made it there own. And that's what I'm seeing happening now in reverse, just probably not fast enough.
Food for thought.
Well I could talk about this for another hour, but I think I've made my point. And with that: I'm out.