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Ten classic mistakes made by the modern RPG

5:00 PM on 04.08.2009 // Colette Bennett

If you love RPGs, as I do, you've likely played quite a few of them in your time. Even fans of the genre know that it suffers from a lot of cliche and repetition -- finding one with a decent story, characters that you haven't seen a hundred times before and a truly fun experience to offer can seem really daunting sometimes. For some reason, it didn't seem that way ten years ago to me. Has the RPG truly evolved thanks to technological advancements, or is it actually just stagnating?

While playing recent RPGs for review, it occured to me that if developers want to improve on the formula, there are some glaring errors that really should have been fixed by now. You know, things that make a game obviously less than fun to play. Some are just minor irritants, while others are annoying enough to make you want to chuck the controller out the window. 

Hit the jump and we'll talk about the stuff all RPG fans love to hate.

1. Get the fuck out of the sixteenth century

That screenshot above looks dated, doesn't it? You know why? Because it IS. Dragon Warrior is a classic, and it was exciting to wander through a medieval world populated with castles and fair princesses once. About twenty years ago, in fact. I want to see this time left alone in everything other than remakes, because it is truly exhausted. The same goes for neo-medieval settings -- set in some unspecified time in the past or future, but still has the same crap: castles, princesses, queens, etc. Take a hint from a game like Atlus's SMT: Devil Summoner, which has you tracking down the real life mad monk Rasputin: there are so many unique settings that have yet to be used in the world of RPGs. We want something new!

2. Get a new haircut, for Christ's sakes

I get it: Cloud is kind of the eternal RPG hero. The bad attitude, the spiky hair, the works. Seriously, if I see this stereotype in one more RPG, I will claw my eyeballs out of my skull. I have no problem with pretty boys -- after all, I watch Japanese dramas -- but the "hero must be a spiky-haired boy" stuff has got to go. Look at Yuri from Tales of Vesperia, for instance. He didn't get a pointy haircut and he still made a fine hero. Don't be afraid, people! Sure, we want to play as a hero that we find physically attractive or cool-looking in some way, but there are tons of other ways to make character look when it comes to their hair. And yeah, Square-Enix, I'm talking to you.

3. Don't give your hero a retarded name

Edge Maverick?


It's hard to want to play as a character who sounds like a douche before you even walk a single step. Yeah, Edge ended up not being a bad guy, but seriously, this trend has got to go. Cloud has a goofy name too, but since he earned his chops, I'm not going to complain -- this is another case where that character set off a major trend. Still, you want a name like Maverick, you have to be so fucking awesome that you blow people's pants off when you walk in the room. Kind of like Tom Cruise up there. Being a standard JRPG hero is just not enough to justify being named Night Chainsaw.

4. Don't hire terrible voice actors 

I feel fortunate that I grew up in a time where voice acting was not required for an RPG -- our imaginations were allowed to do the work for us. Sadly, this is no longer the case, and it seems every big budget RPG has full voice acting. Lost Odyssey's Jansen Friedh was voiced by actor Michael McGaharn, and poses a stellar example of the kind of voice acting that modern RPGs are sorely lacking: rich in character and deeply memorable. With this being such an important element of big budget RPGs, it simply isn't something you can skimp on. A voice can truly make or break a character.

5. Stop using children to manipulate my emotions

This is, by far, one of my worst pet peeves. I agree that children can sometimes be cute (although an equal amount of time they are annoying), but putting one in a modern RPG feels less like an attempt at spicing up the roster and more like someone giving me a reacharound. Oh, the child's parents are dying? Her village got blown up? The game's epic villain murdered her grandmother? How TRITE. Don't use a kid to manipulate my feelings and get me to care about your game. There's no reason children can't be in RPGs, but abusing their presence (and assuming the consumer's emotions can be so cheaply manipulated) is another story altogether.

6. Tell me where to go (or at least give me some tools to find my way)

Dead Space is not an RPG, but it did make me rethink the way I found my way to my next objective with a handy little feature that showed you a blue line on the floor that you could see with a click of a button. I wished I had something as handy at my disposal when playing an RPG like Infinite Undiscovery, which seems perfectly content to let you wander aimlessly with no idea where the hell the Palace of Divine Atrophy might be (and no, that's not a real palace. Sounds like one though). It makes sense to have a map to consult, considering the nature of these games, but might there be a better way to figure out where you're going that feels a bit more organic? Anyway, don't let me wander aimlessly. There's no quicker way to bore a gamer.

7. Why is there a chest out here anyway? (and other suspensions of disbelief)

I won't lie, I'll always take the contents of a treasure chest that just happens to be sitting out unopened in the middle of nowhere. This is one of those things that's been around in RPGs forever, and people just seem to be content with it. Same thing with enemies that drop gold. What is a tiger doing with a sack of gold anyway? These approaches work just fine, but I'd like to see more developers taking brave steps towards realism, like making sure treasure chests are well hidden instead of sitting out in the middle of a plain or forcing you to make money by selling found weapons or doing odd jobs.The old way works, but a new way could really do a lot for the details.

8. Streamline my shop experience (and don't waste my time)

Ah, those were the days -- you walked in, stood on what you want to buy it, and left. No clunky menus, no unecessary items, and always a shifty shopkeeper trying to fuck you over on prices. Well, the modern RPG has a lot more going on when it comes to commerce, so we need a more complex menu system. The quality of said systems varies widely from game to game, but nothing gets my panties in a bunch faster than a shopkeeper who does not offer the option to immediately equip the weapon I just bought and buy the one that I'm removing. Don't make me back out of the shop to do all this. These games are sixty hours long -- I don't have time to waste here!

9. Cutscenes require a "pause" option

This should be a no-brainer, but I find every time I assume something is common sense, some moron comes along and screws it up. If you are going to make a game with cutscenes more than three minutes long, YOU NEED TO INCLUDE THE OPTION TO PAUSE THEM. The reason for this is simple: people often have to use the bathroom, answer the phone, open the front door to the sound of a knock, go stop an intruding burglar, pause for a quick shag or any other one of hundreds of possible interruptions during game time. Even worse, some games just autoskip the cutscene if you press start hoping to pause it. This is a non-negotiable, developers. Please stop forgetting to include it!

10. Stop overcomplicating the battle system

This is a tough one. While some people still enjoy endless grinding, it seems like more tend to find the repetition involved a bit tiring. This challenges developers to find a way to spice up battle. However, I find that modern RPGs tend to take this a few steps too far sometimes, adding so much extra crap to battles that you find yourself distracted from the actual enemy at hand because you're busy trying to figure out how to pull off a certain type of combo or fill up some status grid to gain a bonus. SRPG fans may enjoy this, but making it an optional part of battle rather than a requirement seems to be the way to go. After all, the simplest battles were what addicted many an RPG fan to the genre in the first place!

Now, who's brave enough to shrug off all these cliches and make a great RPG? Anyone? Hello?




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