I've always been an RPG person. I haven't even played that many, compared to the hardcore enthusiast, but I've always been easy prey for what I like to call the "RPG factor" or "incremental gameplay". Get a sword, kill monsters, get money, gain a few levels, get a better sword, reach a tougher dungeon, kill tougher monsters…you know the drill. Describing it to a non-enthusiast, let alone to a non-gamer, makes it sound exceptionally tedious and nerdy. But those of us who know...just do. People like shiny things; some people don't mind if said shiny thing is bitmap or polygonal.
Like I said, I have to admit to not having played tons of RPGs despite appreciating the genre. Nevertheless, I've had my Diablo, Warcraft and Baldur's Gate sleepless streaks. I've played text-based D&D, as well as old-school PC gems like Excelsior and Castle of the Winds (GITF - you'll thank me later). I wasted way more time on the Ehrgeiz RPG than on the actual fighting game (and I am also a beat 'em-up freak). Besides that, I have an unhealthy tendency towards brand loyalty - I finished Devil May Cry 2, for crying out loud.
The RPG factor kept me coming back for more. It's no wonder that more and more games (Resident Evil and Arkham Asylum just to mention a couple) are attempting to incorporate RPG elements. The RPG factor appeals to the innermost depths of the human mind, reducing every aspect of the world to deterministic figures; the player is at once denizen and god of the fictional world.
Is this why RPGs are so successful? Some argue that most of these games - especially those from Japan - simply use the RPG factor to sweeten an otherwise dull experience. Others claim that JRPGs are really subpar products that rely on collateral appeal - plot, characters, fanservice, whatever - to sell. In any case, the RPG factor has made the fortune of many a game publisher.
The next logical step is the MMO. Multiply the quests, monsters and equipment by over 9000, add in the online aspect: what could go wrong?
I drooled over the possibilities for a while. Then I tried out World of Warcraft and was genuinely unimpressed. I jumped over to Final Fantasy XI (brand loyalty, there it is) and felt it was exactly the same game with a different façade. Although I knew consciously that if didn't have those two magic words in the title (damn you, Squeenix) I wouldn't even have considered it, I made a serious effort to like the game. And I came up short.
Several cakes could be baked in the time it takes you to reach those people in the background
The game world doesn't feel expanded, but diluted. It seems every effort up to slightly slowing down the character's running animation has been made to ensure you spend as much time as possible on the game. And for a game you pay based on a measure of your playing time, that makes a world of sense. Most of the time, in fact, I was running from A to B. Most of the remaining time I was lazily pounding a twelve-inch hare, waiting for it to collapse under my apparently piddly blows and yield that measly XP reward. And to be precise, most of the time I was engaging an enemy both of us were just standing there waiting for our respective turns to end.
When I realized that most of the quests were apparently about killing n specimens of monster A, or gathering y pieces of item B, the obvious question dawned on me:
Why am I doing this?
It's a somewhat rhetorical question when videogames are the issue, I know. But bear with me. There was no plot, no characters to speak of, no storyline to keep me coming back. The grind was stretched out to unreal proportions; even just doing the research necessary to move things along more quickly takes so much time that I simply can't see people with serious commitments - even little more than a full-time job - actually enjoying this genre. I was stuck in an endless loop, spending hours killing the same monsters just to get a better weapon and move on to the next area - where I could find the same monsters as before with a different name and start over.
As a gamer, I've endured some pretty dull shit. I made an Ultimate Damascus Dread Shield in Vagrant Story, and anyone who knows the game knows what I'm talking about. Some of the chores the developers throw in their games are downright ridiculous. But when I started thinking "Man, I'd rather be playing this or that" I realized this was going too far.
brb guys, my beard is becoming aware of its own existence
People I played with, including high-level peeps who were just out there to help the noobs out, kept saying the same thing: it's dull at the beginning, but it gets better. But should I really put up with this? Should I waste my time by the shitload grinding it out just hoping for the game to "get better"? Shouldn't the journey be as entertaining as the ultimate goal? And after all, what am I playing for? Bragging rights for my Lv.75 Monk? So that one day I'll be able to tell my kids that I completed every single Final Fantasy game?
The truth is, I'm not bashing the game or the genre. Well, OK, I have issues with the idea of a game being explicitly based on wasting my time, which is the most valuable commodity I have. In fact, I wish I had the time to play it through. You know, if I could have unlimited IRL lives, I would definitely devote one or two to a couple MMORPG's. The appeal of the RPG factor in them is tenuous, at least to me, and it's unnerving when you remember how much you could get done in one sitting of, say, Diablo.
When we started out, gaming wasn't about achievements. It was about fun. Hell, you didn't even expect to finish a NES game when you bought it. You gladly replayed the same 2-3 opening levels each time you stuck the cartridge in, occasionally shitting bricks whenever you managed to get a little further. Because the simplicity of the gameplay was enough to keep you entertained. Diablo or the Ehrgeiz minigame didn't even need a plot to be fun - load the game and hack away, pure unadulterated RPG goodness.
South Park nailed it
I don't wanna piss off fans of the genre, in fact I'd appreciate it if you shared your views on this. But when you really look at it from an outsider's perspective - imagine the NORP reading that story about those guys spending 18 hours battling some boss - it really looks stupid. For crying out loud, FFXI doesn't even feel
like FF - it's closer to WoW remix. And yet, people love this stuff, just ask Blizzard. The bottom line is that the software houses are out to get our cash, as they should, and I can't blame them for it. But until they keep dishing out the same old recycled crap instead of actually attempting to focus on actually original game design, I know I ain't gonna chip in.
So you see, Junior, that's why XI is the only Final Fantasy I never completed.