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obeliskofaxum's blog

4:26 PM on 03.16.2010

My problem with JRPGs

Before I start, let me say that I LOVE role-playing games. However, my childhood self didn't know that yet, so he asked for a Nintendo 64 for Christmas instead of a Playstation. While all of my friends were playing Final Fantasy IX, I was taking my first steps with Paper Mario and Quest 64. So my first few big gaming experiences were much less dramatic fares, and that had an effect on me that still carries to this day. However, between then and now I've sampled plenty of other RPGs both Western and Japanese, and I have to admit that very few JRPGs could hold my interest. I think now I can finally pinpoint why that is.

When I took a look back to the JRPGs I liked- namely Persona 4, Chrono Trigger, and Disgaea- I found that they all had one similar trait. None of the protagonists dealt with personal drama. Now I know I sound like I'm repeating the tired 'Hurp derp JRPG iz full of emo kids' argument, but hear me out. Mass Effect 2 is full of characters with personal issues and plenty of people loved the game even more for it. Same with Persona 4. The only character not showing conflict or deep emotion is the main character, or rather, the character that the player is controlling.

I don't hate drama in RPGs. But when I pick up the controller and I'm ready to play, I expect the hero to match that. Let me give you an example. My brother was borrowing Star Ocean: The Last Hope from a buddy of his. I was watching him play and following along with some of the story. For a while, it seemed pretty fun- the world was vast and the story toed the line between serious and hilariously cheesy. But at some point in the game, a major plot twist occurs. Without spoiling it, the main character gets partly involved in an enormous fuckup which he (for some reason) blames himself for entirely. The scene that followed was painful for me. Despite his entire crew telling him it wasn't his fault, he decides to go off on himself on how stupid or thoughtless he was. Something to that effect.

I know if I had been playing, guiding that same character's actions for 20+ hours, I'd probably have to agree.

All of the games I've played that produced real gut-wrenching emotion in me all present themselves the same way. They'd take me to along on their story, allowing me some control but keeping me by the hand so I didn't miss any of their narrative, and then when it finally reaches its climax, and finally I see where the story had taken me, they release all narrative control and ask me ever so smugly, "And how did that make you feel?" With a number of JRPGs, however, they take me to that climactic moment and then immediately afterward tell me "THIS IS HOW YOU FEEL. Moving on..."

The main character, in my mind, ought to be much more pliable than the rest of the cast, partly removed from the storyline so that the player can inject some of themselves into the story and feel like they're actually contributing to it beyond just swinging the sword and moving. I'm not saying that every JRPG needs a silent protagonist or unfeeling bastard, I just want my drama given to me rather than stuffed down my throat.

But can't there be rich, fulfilling stories with main characters that can feel heroic regardless how the player defines them? Most WRPG loyalists would say no. There's no type that could express a multitude of emotions the same way they would none at all without betraying their Eastern sensibilities. That's a shame, because I'd love to play an JRPG with a main character that could be both a hardened warrior and sensitive and caring individual. That would clear up my gripe with JRPGs and probably make it more accessible to a western audience. If only there was some type of cultural or historical icon that JRPG developers could draw inspiration from...

Oh wait.


9:18 PM on 09.13.2009

A Troll's Retrospect

As I've made my first few tentative steps into the deep and vast ocean of the Destructoid community, I've been surprised by how well people get along here. It's an unusual and even staggering experience to have people speak to me with a genuine interest in what I have to say. On the very day I join, no less. It's an even stranger experience when compared to the gaming communities I was with before. As far as I can tell, many people migrate here from GameFAQs. I, however, had my beginnings on 4chan's video games board, /v/.

It's something I don't often bring up, because when people hear the word "4chan", they think of /b/, and all of the negative press it's earned. /v/ isn't that much different, it still has the trolls, the racism, sexism, the idiocy of any other part of 4chan, but at the very least it had a serious collection of people interested in the game.

So I thought I'd share my perspective on trolling on a site that's mysteriously free of them.

I'll start off by admitting I trolled. I'd start threads about how the PS3 had no games, or other times I'd start a thread about how the Wii is only for prepubescent children. My goal was to deliberately stir up drama by taking whatever side you weren't on. Sure, there would be personal attacks thrown, and the discussion would eventually fall off course, but for a while there would be be at least one gamer desperately trying to think of the cleverest, most well-thought out argument they could put to words on an online forum. I liked to think I helped incite discussions that might not have happened if I hadn't invoked Godwin's law three posts in.

I should also add a disclaimer- I don't and have never believed in trolling that spills over to IRL. Getting home addresses, phone numbers, or any other pranks that directly affect a person's life away from the computer is not something I do. That said, if I can bring a kid to a foaming rage by suggesting that Madden 09 was far superior to Metroid Prime, I'd happily do so despite actually really liking that game. Out of all the drama that exists on the Internet, whether it's religious debates, political arguements, or any other form of melodrama, I've found that Nerd Rage is hilariously easy to exploit, over and over again.

For my part, I have no regrets. It entertained me and the only consequence was the possibility that I might have hurt someone's feelings. On the Internet.   read

5:44 PM on 09.12.2009

+5 CHA: Words Hurt, You Know.

Pictured above: The fast-paced, action-filled, edge of your seat dialogue system in Mass Effect

This is my first cblog, so I thought I'd start out by revealing something about myself: I love playing as the hero in RPGs. Constantly, incessantly, without fail when given the choice between a good or evil moral choice, I go with good. No matter how annoying or frustrating the NPC, I walk the path of righteousness. Why? Maybe because I didn't have adequate acceptance from my peers as a child. Maybe my ego demands that all people, both real and virtual, see me as a likable figure. Or maybe I'm just a good person (unlikely, but possible).

For whatever reason, I choose to be a good guy. What do RPG developers do to reward this behavior compared to the rewards a player gets by choosing to be evil? Normally, I get a rushed thanks and some gold or a weapon, plus a little boost to my karma or whatever arbitrary point system used to differentiate between saintly and Hitler-esque. And if I'm really lucky, I get no gold or weapon but more karma.

Frankly, just getting a pat on the back and stuff what kills things gooder gets boring. I could try being evil, but it basically pans out the same way. Carcasses and some more stuff that puts down your enemies right quick. It's like being a kid You only really get two options in these games that are pretty much the same formula. Here's how I boil down every moral choice ever-

Good Decision + Kill Bad Guys = Profit

Evil Decision + Kill Good Guys = Profit

Good or Bad seems to be the only variable that's available to the player, and that's a problem. When I talk about this with others, most of them think the solution is to add more moral ambiguity. While I agree that may be part of the solution, I don't think that's the only way. There are many more variables that are rarely considered that can be added to this equation. For example, in Fable 2, your actions changed how every NPC interacted with you. As a good guy, you were loved by every woman and respected by every man (or some combination thereof). This made it easy to get a spouse and get discounts at stores with increased inventories. So the Lionhead formula would be-

Good Decision + Kill Bad Guys = Popularity

Evil Decision + Kill Good Guys = Infamy

The way the NPCs in Fable 2 react to you doesn't significantly change how the game plays out, but what if it did? In games like Persona 4, Knights of the Old Republic: The Sith Lords, and Mass Effect (sorta), your main character had to have conversations with his or her allies, it was a key part of the game. As you became better friends in Persona 4, new powers and abilities would become available. If you said the right things to the right characters in KOTOR, you could fill your space frieghter full of Jedi or Sith. And in Mass Effect you could unlock brand new stories through entirely optional conversation. Lets put say this kind of formula looks like this-

Popularity + Good Decision = Profit

Infamy + Evil Decision = Profit

There's an overlap between these games and another genre that most people ignore. Namely, dating sims. Like RPGs, you slowly build up your character to meet a goal. While that goal is usually doing the nasty in dating sims, the underlying concept of words being your primary weapon to affect change in the world is terribly unnoticed.

Try to imagine now, a game set in WWII where you're a spy behind enemy lines out to spread anti-Nazi propaganda, or an RPG where you lead a squadron of misfit soldiers whose abilities are directly guided by not only the missions you send them on, but also by how they view you, or if you're a particularly sadistic type, a Phoenix Wright style game where you discover and attack your enemies insecurities to send them into a downward spiral of psychological uncertainty.

I'm just spit balling with these, but the whole choice system and charisma stat in general are way too limited. If it's not discussed, we'll get more games with moral challenges like "Save the World or Kick a Cat?".

Which would be just great.   read

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