Traditional RPGs are becoming a rare and seemingly dying breed. Are we looking at the end of a roleplaying era and if so what does that mean for gamers? Are the triple AAA, high dollared budget roleplaying games a thing of the past?
Over the course of many years I’ve played so many games, but none stick out quite so much as my time spent in the wonderfully crafted worlds of traditional RPGs. I’ll never forget the nights I spent sneaking out of my bed and playing Final Fantasy VI (then Final Fantasy III) in secret with the TV on mute. That simple joy of leveling every single character to level 99 and experiencing a story that blew my young mind. As I got older I still recall breeding stupid Chocobos hours on end just so I could witness the spectacular Knights of the Round summon. Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario Brothers RPG, Dragon Quest, and even the terrible Final Fantasy Mystic Quest; these are the experiences that defined my childhood and subsequently my growth into adulthood.
It seems these experiences are becoming more rare and yet certain facets of the RPG have never been so prevalent. How can that be? How can what used to be one of my favorite genres be disappearing yet becoming all the more common at the same time?
The landscape has certainly changed from the days of the original Nintendo. Then games with story were few and far between and I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to the original Final Fantasy. My older brother and my mom were both playing it and I watched enthralled, waiting for my turn at the controller. I was used to a story along the lines of here is a plumber and here is a princess now go rescue her. As a young boy that loved to read and adored narrative over anything else this is what got me hooked on video games. Don’t get me wrong, I love Super Mario Brothers, but there was just something magical to me about Final Fantasy. Buying armor, leveling my characters, discovering these brave heroes fates and secret passages. While the story is simplistic by today’s standards I still look back on it fondly to this day. As I grew so too did the complexity of my RPGs and then slowly they begin to become more rare. Not only that but they began to move away from brave knights, swords and sorcery. Now my television was filled with angst filled students, guns and spaceships. Even with Final Fantasy, which used to be my favorite franchise, things were becoming much different from what I once knew. When Final Fantasy XII came out I was thrilled at the art style, the different characters and races, and the fantastic opening scene. Then I discovered the tactical portion I loved was gone. No longer could I control every single character. Now it was just me running around in what appeared to me was a single player MMORPG with gameplay to match. To this date, it and Final Fantasy XIII are the only two Final Fantasy games that I haven’t beat and don’t know that I ever will.
So what changed? In my opinion it was technology and simply the march of time. As graphics progressed and gameplay blossomed no longer did stories have to be restricted to RPGs. Soon even a hack and slash title had to have some sort of narrative to push the player along. Once role playing games were a haven for narrative minded players now you could get an epic story in games like God of War and even Halo. Then the advent of multiplayer and particularly Xbox Live just pushed it over the edge. With multiplayer so popular and shooters on the rise, developers and publishers saw less and less money in the traditional RPG market.
After all, besides MMORPG’s, how do you make what is largely a single-player experience something multiple people can enjoy? How do you please what I like to call the “Bro” crowd that is only interested in Call of Duty and Madden? Lately even RPG’s from powerhouse Bioware are doing everything to court the new gamers as you’ve seen in Dragon Age 2; a significant departure from Dragon Age Origins. Yet at the same time the different systems once exclusive to traditional role playing games began to spread. Many action/adventure games now incorporate RPG elements such as leveling and gaining/assigning powers. Even titles like Call of Duty use perks that you can equip sort of like spells to really get their hooks in players.
Today traditional RPGs, which I define as a tactical turn based title that allows you to control the actions of multiple characters, have simply added a j to become a jrpg. Arguably the quality of these have dipped over time or perhaps it’s just my tastes changing. I find as a father and adult with a full time job that I enjoy games I can plug in and play for a couple of hours and then turn off. Many of these such as Assassin’s Creed or inFAMOUS still have that leveling aspect and epic story, but without the 60-80 hours worth of commitment. Perhaps it’s not just the industry and the games changing, but my tastes as well.
Still it’s undeniably more difficult to find the traditional RPGs that just last generation on the Playstation 2 were running absolutely rampant. Take heart though my traditional gaming friends. It seems that our RPG’s are not gone they’ve just shrunk down. Try counting the number of upcoming traditional role playing games on a console and you might not need both hands. Add in the PSP, DS, and mobile phones and suddenly your taking off your shoes so your toes can help in the counting action.
The workings of RPGs of old that games of every genre have borrowed have only made all games better experiences. Anymore you can’t even have a real multiplayer without some kind of leveling and perk system. RPGs may have changed but they are still all around us in one form or another. Still while I’ll always love games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age Origins I can’t help but long for a huge mass produced traditional RPG on a console. Luckily gamers still have a couple of games coming down the pike the foremost being Ni No Kuni the PS3 game made by Studio Ghibli. So chin up fellow roleplaying gamers and Long Live RPGs.