I've been playing Persona 3: FES a lot lately. I bought it the day it came out, four months ago, and though I've been chipping away at it, I still haven't finished it. THe last time I looked at my save file, I've put in a good 67 hours. Not counting the occasional reset or failed boss fight and that puts me, conservatively, at 70 hours. That's almost three days. I've been playing for four months, nearly half a year. I haven't even started the add on quest which I'm told offers another 30 hours of gameplay. Atlus, your game is too long.
Now, console RPGS and I have a long and storied history together. I remember playing through Phantasy Star I on the SMS and Dragon Warrior IV on the NES, to give you some idea of my age. And I continued playing RPGs all the way up through the current era (I refuse to term it "next gen.") But somewhere along the line I quit finishing them and I think that I know why. I got old. I'm married, working, and working on a Ph.D. The days of the caffeinated all-nighter, so integral to RPG completion, are long behind me. I'm just too busy now to put in the kind of hours demanded by my cruel masters at Square and Atlus.
But I still love RPGs. I love shmups, platformers, all kinds of games, but there's something particularly relaxing about an RPG. Usually, after a long and stressful day I don't want to grind my teeth, sprain my thumbs, and throw my controller against the wall because I missed a crucial jump or got fried by a boss for the umpteenth time. I want to escape into another place where I can wander around the village at leisure, explore the overworld, and have a little adventure with pals like Frog, Ness, Yangus, Kaim.
RPGs, more than any genre, are about story and character. Playing an RPG but not finishing it is like picking up a novel, getting into the plot, starting to care about the characters and then not reading to the last page. I want that RPG experience in full, I just don't want to spend six months of intermittent playing to get it.
And here's where I think it goes beyond me getting old and not having time: somewhere along the line Square and Atlus and all their cohorts decided that a 25 to 30 hour adventure just doesn't cut it. 80 to 100 hours has become the norm. Now, these companies are very good at what they do. They've been around for a while now and they certainly know their fanbase. I mean, if Square didn't know who they're selling to, they wouldn't still be milking the withered teats of the Final Fantasy VII cash cow more than 10 years after the fact. So, gamers must demand that their RPGs be interminably long slogs, right? Maybe. I don't. I want an RPG that I can finish in under 40 hours. If the story of Godfather II can be told in 2 1/2 hours, if 40 straight hours of reading can get you through the bulk of a Dostoyevsky novel, then the story of Dragonquest VIII can be told in 40 hours.