During the NES days of Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, the SNES days of Chrono Trigger and Breath of Fire, and the PSOne days of Legend of Legaia, and Legend of Dragoon, I was all about JRPGs. The leveling up, the upgradeable equipment, the stories and characters, I loved it all and didn't think RPGs could get better. Until I borrowed my friends Xbox many years ago and got a taste of something I've never had in my RPG career up until that point. That taste was freedom, and the plate serving such an exotic and delicious sensation was The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
What makes Morrowind
so much different than anything other RPG I played before it was it's lack of restraints. Whatever I wanted to do, I could do it (Except for pissing in a corner...One day!). I wasn't bogged down and restricted to a set storyline, I was never denied access to parts of the world because it wasn't unlocked, or closed off after an event had happened. I could talk to whoever I wanted, steal from them, even kill them. I had the choice to do what I wanted, for better or worse. No one was invincible, so if I wanted to cancel out a part of a story by killing someone important, I had the freedom to do so. If I wanted to skip out on any stories and just roam across every inch of land I see, I have the freedom to do so. The game conformed around me, rather than me having to conform around the game.
I remember playing through Final Fantasy X
, and feeling so confined in towns and dissatisfied with the exploration in the game. Invisible walls, so many invisible walls! I thought maybe it was just the game, as I had grown out of my Final Fantasy phase since VII and VIII disappointed me greatly. So I picked up Golden Sun
for my Game Boy Advance, and absolutely loved the game as it felt like a RPG from my earlier years.The animations, the characters, the story, and especially the music made the experience one of my favourites. But I couldn't help but feel the same limitation I felt while playing FFX. Even though I loved everything else about the game, it was this one major flaw - the lack of choice - that dampened what would have been a perfect experience for me.
So it boiled down to one of two things. Either RPGs were becoming worse, or Morrowind's sense of freedom raised the bar for what makes a perfect RPG to me. The only way to find this out is to replay all of the classics I grew up on. I started with Legend of Dragoon. And everything was going great, until I got to the third disc, and I just couldn't take it anymore. Every time I try to play Legend of Dragoon now, I'll get to the third disc, and watch the Divine Dragon trash the city, and by then, I just can't bring myself to care about continuing on. I get so bored with the game, that not even the almighty powers of nostalgia can push me to continue. At that point you're forced to crawl through the story, and when you don't care about the story, the game becomes a dud at that point. The limitations of the game kill it at that point, and it's such a damn shame because Legend of Dragoon is still one of my favourite RPGs.
The only exceptions that survived my recent playthroughs was Legend of Legaia, because of it's fantastic combat system, and Chrono Trigger, because it's the closest a JRPG has ever gotten to a sense of freedom found in WRPGs. It was then that I realized that Morrowind pretty much ruined the replayability of my childhood RPGs because it proved me wrong. RPGs could get better, and they did, and the bar was raised so high, I cannot enjoy most of what I used to.
Freedom - What killed JRPGS