It seems as though I've begun to care less and less about stories in video games as time goes on. No, scratch that: stories in newer
games have tried and failed to interest me, over and over again. It's no coincidence that Final Fantasy VI (stop calling it FF3, you unwashed heathens) marks the last time I could muster the energy to give a shit about the plot in a Final Fantasy game. And the Final Fantasy series isn't alone: I'm trying desperately to think of all the recent games whose plot I enjoyed, but so far I have roughly four, give or take, out of all the titles I've played in the last year or two. That's just plain shameful, especially when you consider that RPGs are responsible for a sizable percentage of my game collection, probably a plurality. It frightens me that I can play all the way through an RPG and remember more about the combat than the story. After all, what's the first thing that jumps to your mind when someone says "Chrono Trigger"? For me, it's Magus, perhaps the greatest BAMF in RPG history. As great as the combat was, it's the story and characters that are foremost in my mind in these classic RPGs. Yet for some reason, the bulk of newer RPGs I've played don't follow this pattern.
This brings me to what I feel is wrong with today's stories: the characters. It seems like none of the characters in the games I've been playing recently have been anywhere near developed enough. Again returning to FFVI, it feels like character development dropped off immediately afterward in the franchise, with killing off characters completely becoming the best development they could muster. The only character that even came close to interesting me in FFVII was Tifa (I wanted to know why the hell she was interested in such a confused, angsty, aloof asshole who kept ignoring her for another girl), but unfortunately, the only characters who got more than one or two scenes of development were Cloud, Aeris, and Sephiroth, and I couldn't stand any of them. FF8 only got worse, by which I mean I couldn't bring myself to care about any of the party members. Cait Sith was a well-developed character by FF8 standards, I swear to god.
I'm gonna try to stop talking about Final Fantasy now, I swear I can do it. Gears of War, I think, marked the first time I realized that well-crafted narratives were almost nowhere to be found in the gaming industry. I recalled CliffyB going on and on about how Gears strove to tell the story of simple soldiers or some nonsense like that, and I didn't really expect anything, but if you're going to talk up the story of a shooter
, you should at least give the plot a passing glance before you send the game to stores. While Gears admittedly had one of the best comic relief characters I've seen in a while, not one of the characters ever saw any real development, ever. And let's be clear, my beef is not with storylines in the shooter genre, indeed, I never expect to encounter any story other than "go to X and blow up Y". Gears is a problem because Epic truly believed they had an awesome, interesting story backing up their action, when in fact there was nothing there but a setting. The industry has come to believe that this crap they slammed out overnight is the height of moving, intellectual literature.
All too often a developer sticks a plot twist in their game, and believes that's all they need for a good story. But the fact is that no matter how good, surprising, original, or whatever your twist might be, and however fresh, dramatic, etc. your plot may be, it does not matter one bit if I cannot care for your characters. That means that you have to actually take time out and flesh them out, give them a history, motivation, goals, etc. The most interesting character on earth is worthless if all that they ever do, story-wise, is introduce themselves, then stand in line with the party and shoot their gun. I'm looking at you, Vincent (dammit, I swore I wasn't gonna bring FF7 back up).
On the brighter side of things, Baten Kaitos in particular (and Monolith/Tri-Crescendo in general) is a series that gives me hopes for the future of RPGs. Not only do they stick in well-written, unexpected twists on a regular basis, but their characters are well-rounded for the most part. The story is at times cheesy and random, or even stupid, but for the most part the writers are always making an active effort to develop their goddamned characters.
I realize that this is a topic that gets beaten to death here on Destructoid, and every other damn gaming site in existence for that matter, but I just wanted to give my personal take on the subject. Maybe I feel this way because I'm an amateur writer with a few half-baked novel ideas in my notebook, and a dream of one day writing a video game with a decent story. Regardless, my stance is that solid, well fleshed-out characters always have been and always will be the foundation upon which any decent story must be built. So there, my first real blog post is done, and I'm not especially offended by it. Sometime soon I'll come back with a second (albeit shorter) part to this rant, on my problems with the way plot twists are used in most of today's games.
: stories in today's games suck, because their characters are flat. Thoughts, criticisms? Am I an idiot? Was FF7's story marvelous? Can you think of eleventy-billion games you played last year with kick-ass stories? Get your comment on and let me know (except about FF7, jesus god I'm sick of hearing about how moving Aeris' death was).