Computer and Console RPGs – A Different Voice, Part 1
First things first: Wizards of the Coast announced that it’s working on a new edition of D&D – most fans are calling it 5e, but the Wizards Team keeps referring to it as “D&D Next”, which sounds kinda cool when you’re not speaking out loud. I will be making a full blog post discussing my thoughts on the matter, and some of the things I think could make D&D Next the best D&D edition ever. That’s for another day. If you’re interested in following the ongoing discussion, you should follow #dndnext on Twitter, and sign up for the “open” beta (I’ll get to that in a post eventually) on the Wizards website. In any case, none of that has anything to do with what I’m going to be talking about today, so I’m moving on.
I indicated in comments to my brother that I would be providing a sorta follow-along blog to his, since he committed to a week about Computer and Console RPGs, and it’s an interest we share. We also share an interest in the more table-top style of RPG – in inverse proportions, no less. So, since I’m the complete nut in the family on that subject, you may find it creeping in to the conversation., Anyone who’s read more than a few of my blog posts would probably expect no less.
In his second post on the subject, Cullen talks about the two primary groups of Computer/Console RPG (I’ll be using his initialism, VRP, from this point forward). He – and many others – divide the VRP world into two very broad categories: Japanese Style and American Style, or Eastern and Western style, if you prefer. I’m not going to go over the terms again; I’m not especially fond of them, but they’re basically what we have to work with.
Assuming you read Cullen’s posts (you did, right?), you know that he outlined the basic difference between the two, and what he sees as the central strengths and flaws of the two different types. He also discussed a few examples – Icewind Dale and Dragon Age as Western RPGs, and Final Fantasy 6 and Lunar: Silver Star Story on the Eastern side. I’d… yeah, I’d like to discuss a couple of those, and then I’m going to see where this crazy boat takes me.
Final Fantasy 6 and Lunar are, in my humble opinion, two out of three of the best Eastern style VRP games ever made (the missing third one is Chrono Trigger). I consider all three to be stellar examples of what Eastern style games can do: tell a magnificent story
well, with fascinating characters. The fact that all three are, from a graphical standpoint, horribly dated is irrelevant. The combat
systems run quickly and fluidly, the dialogue is well written/translated, and the characters are deep. These are wonderful games that tell great stories. The lack of control you have over the story is something you can sacrifice to experience the tale. The downside is that they’re sort of like novels – with rare exception, one doesn’t usually read the same novel twice in a row. Why would you? You know the story, so… you wait a while. If it was great, you pick it up again and start reading some more.
On the Western front (ha-ha), on the other hand, I have a few more things to say about what a Western RPG is all about. My brother listed two examples, mentioned previously. He also brought up Wizardry, though, which is part of what confused me about his choices as exemplars of the Western oeuvre. Wizardry involved taking a single character on a dungeon crawl. There was little story – but that was the idea. You were encouraged to imagine yourself as this might warrior/wizard/whatever going up against the Mad Overlord – and everything else was up to you.
As Western RPGs progressed, more and more story was included, but rarely at the cost of character freedom. In more recent times, however, Western RPGs seem to be changing. More and more, the primary quest becomes bigger and bigger, with everything that isn’t the primary quest becoming smaller and smaller. Dragon Age does this so badly that I can’t even think of it as a “Western Style” RPG any more: it’s a Eastern Style game with Western Influences, and it’s a far cry from back when Bioware used to make – well, when they used to make good games, like Baldur’s Gate.
Not all Western RPGs are driving themselves off this cliff, however. The Elder Scrolls series embraced character freedom in its first incarnation, and has never turned back. Right now, I have a Skyrim character who’s barelypaused to look at the main quest line, and I can’t help but think I’m having more fun than anyone I know who “beat” the “main” quest. I’m not saying anyone is playing it wrong – you can’t play it wrong. I’m just saying that I’m still having a blast, and I haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m lost in the world, and that’s what Western RPGs are supposed to do. I
love when RPGs do that for me. I hated Dragon Age because it just couldn’t stop forcing me to do what it wanted me to do exactly the way it wanted me to do it.
So, yeah – I’m big into more open world systems. I’m excited about Dragon’s Dogma (from Capcom, which should make your eyebrow go up) despite it’s funny name. I’m even more excited about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, despite the name that goes on forever. I wish I saw something that looked as good as any of these on the Eastern RPG front, but… I just don’t.
Dragon Age can go suck it.
Aww, CRAP! I forgot to bring up Fable! Oh, well – I guess I’ll have to save that one for later.