So I finally got a hold of Dragon Warrior 7 for the PSX, a game released in America at the worst possible time -- somewhere around the time the PS2 had come out and a few months before the graphically superior Final Fantasy X. And sadly, no one gave a care for it, (at least in America) and most reviews spent a large amount of time bemoaning how ugly it was, and pretty much ignoring everything else, such as the fact that it had a truly epic story, an amazing class customization system, a massive world, great boss fights... y'know, stuff you want from an RPG. But, hey, graphics.
And playing the game (which is great if you have the desire for some classic RPG goodness) I've come to -- quite sadly -- realize that never again will an RPG like this be made. It's low on graphical fidelity, the presentation of combat is archaic, it takes eons to get going. These are all qualities you won't ever find in a present day RPG, whether it be W or JRPG. But this game, man, it's truly epic in every sense of the word.
Let's face it, RPGs used to be designed solely for the player who has a lot of time on their hands and is more than happy to sink 100+ hours into a single game. (You might call them nerds.) I can recall my HS days where I'd look forward to the weekend just so I could put some solid hours into FFVII. I was more than happy to spend hours and hours on these games.
But the market has broadened, and now designers are thinking about players who don't have time to wait for things to unfold, they want the action presented now, or they'll go do something else, like play an FPS or something more twitchy. Which sort of goes against everything that makes RPGs great, and why games like Dragon Age 2 and Final Fantasy XIII don't work, because in a foolish attempt to draw in these non-RPG fans, they're essentially gutting the entire foundation of what makes an RPG and RPG. It's like they've baked a cake, but it's just a pile of frosting.
I mean, I don't even know who asked for this change? A corporate suit at EA I guess. And bringing up FFXIII isn't really fair since that series has been pretty sub-par since 20 hours into FFXII when Sakimoto (the last man to possess any creative talent at SE) bailed on the project.
Looking at Dragon Warrior 7, it was designed in a world where designers made one game, worked a long time on it, and had the goal of giving the player as much content as they possibly could, because the idea of milking the consumer with subscription based MMOs hadn't quite come to fruition yet. (DW7 was released about 4 years before WoW.) And also because there was simply no other way to do an RPG. RPGs are big, involved, a bit slow, and players loved them that way.
But DW7 is a fully involved experience in the way few modern RPGs attempt to be. Playing it, you really feel like you're undertaking a grand adventure, that you're exploring a massive world, that everything is larger than life. Hell, the first battle comes 3 hours into the game, and I think that's great! It's a huge moment for you and your character when those first three Slimes approach. Everything is given added weight through this slower and more considered approach. You don't simply appear on screen and start flipping around and throwing fireballs.
The game goes out of it's way to establish a setting and an idea that you're a small, insignificant fisherman's son who is growing and setting out on adventures that are larger than you are. I mean, as an RPG player, there isn't much more I could ask for. This game is an homage to what makes an RPG so fun -- the adventure!!!
Of course, you could argue that MMOs offer a massive world to get involved in, where you can sink not 100 hours, but 10000000!!! But let's face it, the MMO experience is hollow and bland, and can't hold a candle to a true RPG adventure you might find in Baldur's Gate 2 or Dragon Warrior VII.
Hopefully we start to see designers get the idea, and that RPGs return not necessarily to the old ways (I'm all for innovation) but that designers realize that RPGs are friggin HUGE, very complex, and take a lot of time to finish (if done right). You simply can't ignore this stuff and expect to create a satisfying RPG.
Perhaps Project Eternity (and other amazing Kickstarters) can manage to flip the tables. With a large amount of players seemingly dissatisfied with modern RPGs, they might be able to accept slightly less lavish graphics for a more fleshed out experience.
Or at least this is what I dream would happen, in a far-off fantasy world...
Gosh, I can't believe I'm writing this, but I had to get it off my chest, and I figure it's better to do it in a blog format than to pollute the b.net forums, which has seen more than enough of this type of drivel. And besides, I hate the people who write "I quit" threads, and I guess you can sort of call this my "I quit" thread, but hopefully with more thought and less hyperbole and victimization on my part. (No, Diablo 3 was not a slap in the face or rape of my childhood.)
It's just that I need catharsis. I waited for Diablo 3 for a long time, you know? And now... I don't even want to play it. It's a bit odd to me.
Before release, I loved Diablo 3 for what it was -- a logical advancement of the series core principles, moving it into the realm of modern gaming, an improvement in all ways -- and I spent many hours "in the trenches" of various forums defending all the wacky stuff they were doing with that game, which, if you thought about it for more than a second, made a hell of a lot of sense in a designery, innovative, game-changing sort of way.
Skill points? Pointless! Stat points!? An illusion!
I mean, the genre needs innovation, right? Or at least I thought so at the time. I even shrugged at the inclusion of the AH and the always-online feature. Though those two elements are hardly what have made me lose interest in the game.
But now that I've sunken hours into both games, it's become painfully clear which game offers more fun to me, and it's Torchlight 2. The game is addictive in the ways I always thought Diablo 3 would be. Essentially, it's hard to put it down and go to bed. There's always one more dungeon, one more boss, one more item, one more character (I've re-rolled five so far). It's just compulsively playable and endlessly enjoyable in a way Diablo 3 never quite manages to be. TL2 just can't help but continuously throw cool shit at you. It's relentless in it's desire to hold your attention. Where as Diablo 3 has... rares. Lots of rare items. Hmm.
I feel the problem is that Diablo 3 is OVER-designed, which makes sense as the damn thing took nearly six years to make. Everything has been considered and polished to a point where there is barely any personality or wonder left to the game anymore. It all feels so safe, so...balanced. It packs as much surprises as a trip to Disney Land. Every item arrives at JUST the right time in a predictable progression, and you never find anything that blows the game open. And I think that designing a game of this nature in such a way just doesn't work. Because on some level, playing an ARPG is all about breaking the game. You yearn for that drop that suddenly makes enemies explode if you so much as look at them.
As a great example of over-polish, let's consider the removal of stat points. Sure, on paper, you can convince anyone that the customization is largely illusion, which is true, because people are already theory crafting the best distribution of stats in TL2, and will have that answer in a few weeks or less. But gosh darn it, sitting there and deciding if I want to put 2 points or 3 points into STR is so satisfying! And I don't care if the points have little to no effect on my character, the illusion is compelling!
But where Torchlight 2 really crushes Diablo 3 is the items -- the very heart and soul of this type of game. Every thirty minutes I'm finding something new, and then I find myself sitting there contemplating what would be better for my finely tuned character. I'll often find myself sitting there for a minute as I consider the benefits of certain stats, certain gems, properties, resistances, special effects. It's just really fun to have to choose between several pieces of great gear. The options TL2 offers you are dizzying and a far cry from D3's system where you'll choose a piece of gear only because it has 20 more points of strength than what you currently have. Yawn.
In Torchlight 2, with every piece of gear and stat point, I really feel like I'm making my character MINE, and that's something I never thought I'd say, largely because I wasn't convinced character customization amounted to so much, but boy has TL2 proven me wrong.
I don't know if I'll uninstall Diablo 3, that'd be a bit extreme, but I think from now on, when -- or if -- I ever play Diablo 3 again, I'll always be thinking... I could be playing Torchlight 2 instead.
And then I probably will.
As an aside, FORGET ARPGs, cRPGS ARE BACK: If you loved Baldur's Gate 2/Planescape/Icewind Dale, then you have to donate to this awesome, dream come true Kickstarter project from the guys at Obsidian who, surprisingly, made all those awesome games I just mentioned!
Final Fantasy XII, a tragedy of RPGs. So much potential, but the corporate suits at Square Enix had other plans. Creative differences and all that.
"What is this!? Where is the androgynous male lead? Where is the love story!? Quick, get someone in here who can shoe horn these things in to save our brand image! The 14 year old girls will be in an uproar."
Nothing proves Squares incompetence better than the 20 hour mark of Final Fantasy XII where all the political intrigue and subtle nuances of character development are tossed and what proceeds from there is the worst rush job in RPG history. It's depressing to think what might have been had Square had the balls to let Matsuno do what he wants.
Could you believe members of the FFXII staff were actually resistant to the removal of random battles? God, I'd fire those people on the spot.
Of course, that's all speculation. Maybe Matsuno just got tired of making the game, and just mailed in the last 40 hours with long endless treks across empty wastelands in pursuit of the wholly unsatisfying conclusion to a story that promised so much more. (Looking at FFT and Vagrant Story, it's hard to believe that to be the case, however.) But what else can you do, not like a major corporation in Japan is ready to spill the beans on how ball-less they are. (I'd kill for a documentary about the inner workings and drama of Japanese game design. Gosh that sounded nerdy.)
Final Fantasy XII isn't perfect, but I'm not looking to quantify it's worth anyway. I got tired of figuring out the best FF sometime around the 10th grade. But it was in many ways the best step forward Final Fantasy had seen in a long time. You can't deny that, based solely on the fact that removing random battles should have happened 6 years before FFXII was even released! If they had built upon Matsuno's work, we'd be looking at a completely different company right now.
I don't even know why I'm writing this. Japan hardly matters anymore when it comes to the video game industry. Not that America is doing much better. MW3 anyone? Or how about a regurgitation of Oblivion with slight improvements in the form of Skyrim!
So, whatever, I'm enjoying FFXII. The characters are human and believable (mostly) and even for this jaded 27 year old gamer, most of the lines don't make me cringe -- some of them are actually quite good. Even the combat system is fun. Yes, you can automate it so you never have to touch a button, but there's something satisfying about watching your pre-programmed fighters clear up mobs so seamlessly. And it's not like there aren't fights that require you to pay attention and micro-manage, provided you haven't spent 10 hours grinding up your characters on Mark quests, but that can be forgiven.
But this isn't a review, per se. I just want to say that it hurts to see a game with so much potential...um, well suck isn't the right word, but just to see it fall short. Imagine if Sakaguchi had been let go half way through FFVI. Yeah, that's about right.
I don't read a lot of video game articles, comments, and so forth, in fact it wasn't until this week that I began really delving into the world of video game journalism, the media, and people who contribute to it. I mean, I LOVE video games, naturally, but I've never really embedded myself in the hysteria so fully as I have this week.
It's ridiculously entertaining to be honest. Video games are such a diverse and growing medium so full of varying points of view and varying ideologies for what games should be. It's like being in Paris in the 1890s, well, that's an insult to Renoir, but well, maybe there is some truth in that.
The ideology I don't understand is how it comes to be that some people can be so incredibly invested in the companies and games that are released. I'm not talking mere excitement here but full on hysteria bordering on unhealthy obsession.
Before I go any further, I want to reiterate that I fucking LOVE video games, so don't go any further in labeling me as someone who just doesn't get it. I do get it, this shit is awesome, but I think a lot of fans need to take a step back from the medium and reevaluate the amount of faith they put in these games and their developers.
A game company is simply a massive corporation that finds out what sells and then offers it. It has no stake in your well being, is largely unconcerned with artistic credibility, creatively pushing any envelopes, or doing anything other than making sure they have enough money to develop another game. Of course, we have exceptions, but even then it's a long shot. So I can't understand how anyone could so vehemently defend a game, series, or company? You're an individual, not a spokesperson for these multi-billion dollar corporations. Trust me, they have their own people for that sort of thing.
Artistic growth is not dependent on making sure mega billion dollar companies survive or blindly praising the latest and greatest sequel because the advertising bonanza and all of your friend's opinions are so hard to resist. It's about always questioning the status quo, about expecting more out of the medium, and of course, enjoying it a hell of a lot every so often.
I propose that in the future when someone says a word that you don't' like about your favorite game, series, what have you, don't flippantly curse them out and storm off, try to take a moment to consider what they are saying, where they are coming from, and perhaps through mutual understanding you can gain a better appreciation for this fantastic art form and perhaps even begin to expect more from it. We need healthy discussion in this industry and among it's consumers, not soldier's defending the honor of a mega corporation that could likely care less about you - as an individual.
Of course, I'll try to do the same.
First of all, Final Fantasy XIII does not look like a fun time to me. Now, I've been a big, HUGE, fan of Final Fantasy games for about 12 years and for the first time in my life a Final Fantasy game does not entice me. It honestly looks awfully juvenile and quite bland. Of course, I could easily write it off and claim that's because it is the worst RPG ever, is terrible, horribly designed, and so forth, but I want to take a moment to look deeper than simply tossing insults.
Aside from looking abhorrent to me, FFXIII is in many ways absolutely genius.
SE has made a bold and gusty move with this game because they know more than we do. Or at least for the purpose of this article I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The current RPG scene is essentially, JRPG, WRPG, and MMOs, this is more the case now than it ever was. Never before have western RPGs had such a large chunk of the market. These games essentially represent everything that SE is not and they know this or at least I hope they do. These western games are open ended with an emphasis on role playing and classic European inspired medieval settings - Fall Out not withstanding.
Square Enix essentially had to make a choice, chase the WRPG market and strive for something of the same feel or appease the people who really have no interest in WRPGs in the first place. The people who are likely to say, "I only play RPGs for the story." These people don't want to wander around some cave for hours, strike out on their own to save some village that has nothing to do with the main plot, or do anything of that sort. They want an in-depth story hard and fast and sooner rather than later. If there isn't a good bit of story or rambling exposition somewhere in the near future, they're likely to get bored.
So, the choice was obvious for SE. Take the classic FF formula, strip it down to it's bones, make it a strictly story driven RPG, for the people who have been buying their games since FFX came out. I can assure you it is likely these people who love it the most.
This is another point I want to make. SE is absolutely NOT making RPGs for those who played FFVI any longer. It is quite clear by now that they are focusing on a new audience or those who started with FFX and have no inkling of the "good old days". Some companies attempt to grow with their market but I think SE has taken a different road. I think their market is strictly 12-18, give or take a few years, and it is with these ages that their aesthetic and story telling most resonates.
So I suppose the genius is really in understanding their market.
So, to read some particularly scathing reviews, it's hard not to say, "Well this game wasn't made for you anyway," because really, it wasn't, and yes, that sounds horribly elitist, but I don't really mean it that way. I mean that SE gave their core fans what they want in this release, and that core does not consist of people who loved FFVI or people who enjoy WRPGs, or towns, or well designed dungeons, decisions being made by the player, immersion, or battle systems that involve actual strategic think - oh, there I go.
Um, yeah, I'll just end it here.