[Author's note: I know this topic has already been touched upon
but hell I wrote this on the train going back to Wales so I might as well put it up anyway]
Arguably RPGs are one of the most hardcore of videogame genres. They require a lot of time and dedication to complete especially if one wants to find all there is to find in the game. Due to the traditional turn based combat system found in the majority of RPGs and the list of menus and commands, many gamers are turned off by the genre especially if they don't contain the words Final Fantasy in the title.
The Final Fantasy series has the biggest cult fanbase next to Dragon Quest and Kingdom Hearts series and can stand toe to toe with the Halos and Grand Theft Autos of the Western world in terms of popularity, however the truley devoted followers of these games and genres are somewhat different in the ways they see and play games.
In this blog I hope to flesh out and describe a dedicated hardcore RPG gamers. Of course all of the following points will not apply to every single hardcore RPG gamer out there as everyone is slightly different and has different tastes, so consider this as a kind of checklist that covers a broad range of points rather than a definitive list of what a hardcore RPG gamer is, if that makes sense. Well with that in mind let's begin!
Story > Game Mechanics
Every RPG gamer will tell you that the most important asspect of an RPG is the story. A good story can make an RPG with relatively boring game mechanics a good RPG and this can be seen with Mistwalkers latest epic Lost Odyssey. Likewise an RPG with excellent mechanics and a crappy story will lead to an average RPG at best which unfortunately can be seen in games such as Grandia 3. It is this preference in story that tailors a hardcore RPG gamers mentality towards a lot of games.
Personally a game with a rich story is more likely to grab me than one with a weak plot. If anything it keeps me playing just to see what happens next. Halo 3 apparently had a decent story, however I failed to see it and to me the plot seemed only there to give you a reason to shoot people. Apart from Bioshock, I find that's the case in most FPSs. I couldn't for the life of me explain the story of Call of Duty 4 or Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 apart from there are terrorists and you go kill them. Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction was a game that had me playing for the story and charming characters, although less so than say Persona 3.
Any real gamer will tell you that graphics come second to gameplay and this is none the more apparent than in RPGs. Whereas games of other genres can be super seeded by better versions that came out after the original, classic RPGs are truly games that stand the test of time. Games such as Super Mario Brothers on the NES may still play fantastically today as it did when it came out but there are better iterations you can play from Mario World to Mario 64 and Galaxy. Chrono Trigger is a game that many still regard as one of the greatest ever made despite the dated 16-bit graphics and presentation. Due to the fact that every RPG is unique in their setting and story, classic RPGs are truly irreplaceable and cannot be duplicated, much like a classic book. Sure they can take the ideas from one and make a better game/sequel but no matter how much better it is, it will never be quite the same and anyone whose played the majority of the Final Fantasy games can attest to that.
With the PS3 and Xbox360 being the graphical powerhouses they are pumping out beautiful games such as Eternal Sonata, uncharted and Assassin's Creed it's hard for a game that doesn't look as good to stand out. One of my favorite games of last year Persona 3 may not be as easy on the eyes graphically as those games but it can still stand toe to toe with them simply becasue of the rather unique graphical style.
A lot of amazing games I remember playing when I was little end up being really disappointing when I go back and play them now except for the RPGs. Some of them look horrendous like Panzer Dragoon Saga, but despite the graphics the game is still as good if not better than anything I've played recently.
Every gamer loves innovation. Hardcore RPG gamers are no different however, they are a lot more forgiving when there is a lack of it. Using Lost Odyssey as a recent example, the game received a fair amount of criticism due to it's traditional roots (turn based battles, random encounters etc) but any fan of RPGs can easily overlook this fact. After all the game is beautiful and the story is epic. The Dragon Quest series is as traditional as you can get with it's low damage turn based battles and game structure of town -> plot point -> dungeon -> repeat but that doesn't stop the games selling as much as Thuper Hardcore fails. Although one could also argue that RPGs are one of the most innovative genres in gaming from Final Fantasy XIIs gambit system to Mass Effects enhanced dialog trees.
So hardcore RPG gamers love great stories but there are a good number of games outside of the RPG genre that have great stories. So what is it that's missing in those games that prevent the same cult following? It may seem obvious but a great story needs great fleshed out characters. This is what makes the Dragon Quest series so good and it's what gives hardcore RPG players the drive to really get absorbed in the games. Not only do they allow themselves to get stuck into the world of the game but they allows themselves to get emotionally attached to the characters more so than any other gamer of other genres.
I hated Andrew Ryan in Bioshock, I felt like a comrade of Cpt Price and Gaz in Call of Duty 4 but after I finished those games I quickly felt no emotional connection to them. That being said I still hate Sephiroth, Kefka and Luca Blight while Junpei and Yukari still feel like my friends and teammates. The most memorable parts of an RPG are not always the huge plot twist moments but rather certain moments you have between yourself and some of the characters.
The most memorable part of Suikoden 2 (one of my favorite games) for me was when you finally came face to face with Jowy at Rockaxe castle. It's not the most memorable part of the game because of what actually happens which is quite a plot twist. It's because it's the first time you come face to face with your best friend Jowy and with neither of you able to stand down it looked like you had no choice but to fight each other, despite Nanami's pleas not to. You knew that confronting Jowy was inevitable but when it actually happens it still feels like you're turning on your brother. *end of spoilers*
Now while lovers of Halo 3 love it because of the gameplay and multiplayer, lovers of RPGs fall in love with specific games because of the story, characters and the world in which they inhabit. Some can fall in love to such an extent that they wish to be their favourite characters and as a result many of them cosplay. Now I know this doesn't just apply to RPG fanatics but I can guarantee that if you go to an anime or cosplay event you will not only see enough Naruto and Sasuke lookalikes to make you see them in your reflection in the mirror but you will see enough Soras, Axles and Clouds to make you feel like you're the odd one in your dtoid t-shirt and jeans.
I <3 Nihon
Although there are notable exceptions, most RPGs come from Japan. As a result a lot of them share many similarities in terms of themes and storytelling methods with other Japanese media, most notably anime. It comes to no surprise then that many hardcore RPG gamers also watch a lot of anime which also explains to some extent the love of cosplay. These similarities shine through and highlights a lot of the differences between Western and Eastern cultures. Since RPGs and anime are so typicaly "Japanese" it's not very surprising that many RPG fans become enthralled with Japanese cultures, especially the otaku subculture. RPGs send you away to a fictional world very different from our own and in the real world Japan is almost like another world found in videogames because it's so different than anywhere in the West. It also helps that many RPGs base their settings on Japanese culture which means it's easy to identify your favorite RPGs with things you see and hear about in Japan.
The Thinking Man/Woman
Turn based combat is the name of the game of many a RPG. This system allows for many different strategies to be implemented and since the flow of battle can change in an instant you have to keep your wits about you while you engage your enemy and adapt or change your strategy accordingly. With the exception of most Final Fantasy games going into a battle guns blazing, unleashing all your best moves from the get go won't necessarily equal victory. Veteran RPG gamers know when to take their time and use their heads to gain and maintain the upper hand whereas I'm sure there's many a hot-blooded Master Chief out there who will charge head first with an assault rifle and plasma grenade to the face. That's not to say that RPG gamers don't rush into things, it's just that they tend to be more aware of doing things at certain times.
As RPG gamers get so absorbed in the worlds that they play in, the thought of leaving it can be a bit too much to bear sometimes. As a result many gamers end up doing the large numbers of side quests in the game in an attempt to extend the lifespan of the RPG. They enjoy wondering around and discovering new areas with new secret weapons/items in them to use in their fight to undoubtedly save the world. Finding all the secrets the game has to offer is a joy and so to is watching your character evolve and grow to become as strong as they can possibly be. Since they've watched and grown attached to these characters it's a great feeling to see them get so strong that nothing stands in their way. Most RPGs also have a secret boss that is insanely difficult to beat. Not only do hardened RPG gamers like to explore their world, they also love to rise to a challenge. They don't mind the amount of grinding or time needed to sufficiently increase their strength in order to defeat the toughest of foes. In short hardcore RPG gamers like to obtain and do everything the game has to offer and in other words they are kind of like achievement whores.
The differences between a hardcore RPG gamer and a hardcore gamer of another type really boils down to the love of deep involving plots and unique and likable characters. Many of the other traits can be seen in other kinds of hardcore gamers as anyone can pump an obscene amount of time into any game that they really enjoy and playing strategically isn't narrowed down to just RPGs. It's the love of the story/characters/worlds that lead the more fanatical to get more involved with cosplaying and all things Japanese. Now I'm sure that I've overly stereotyped hardcore RPG gamers and missed out a load of things so I'm just going to leave you with this image for no real reason other than to distract you while I run away!