Thursday, 4 July 2013

Critical Rocket's gaming genre breakdown 2


Another day and another two genres of gaming to cover.  Today I thought I would cover a pretty popular one in RPG's and it's eastern cousin the JRPG, although basically the same genre they play very differently from one another.  Recently we have seen something of a decline for the once globally loved JRPG with it's roots firmly set in the consoles such as the Famicom and SNES and earlier still with the NES.  Many a gamer could easily rattle off names of classic games that spawned from this much loved sub genre of the RPG.  But let's take a look at the larger and more generalised RPG.

Roleplaying

Although controversial for it's ending ME3 is awesome
Suffice to say the term is a little misleading really.  Unlike traditional tabletop roleplaying where you really do play a character of your own creation and then decide what they will do, how they will do it and whether or not they are good or bad in the way they approach problems is a far cry from the computer gaming version.  Really the RPG genre is stats and levelling up pre-generated characters which the player may or may not like.  Sure you can equip them, choose who is in your party and sometimes make decisions that ultimately change the outcome of the game, but none of it is by your own design.  The bad guy is already laid out for you as is the progression of the game.  You can't decide how to approach a situation unless that involves picking your spells, equipment or party AI, if there is a fight up ahead you must fight.

Not every RPG is like this granted you do have some where you have some flexibility like the original Baldur's gate series and to a lesser extent games like Knights of the old republic and Mass effect can give you some wiggle room, but the course is largely set.  If the game says I must kill the goblin king then I must, I can't barter with him, ally with him or even avoid him entirely, I must go in there and kill every single minion he has before having a boss fight.

Even the games where I can pick a gender, choose a class and background and even name myself comes off as hollow when the NPC's never refer to my character be name outside of some dumb title like "guardian" or "Kid" or whatever they decided would be the nickname for the protagonist anyway.  The story still plays out the same instead this time I can pick what beard my fighter will have throughout the experience.

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Dragon age and the witcher brought us mature fantasy gaming
The only real roleplaying element is stat progression and levelling up for new abilities or improving your existing ones.  Better equipment may make you look more badass or give you special bonuses but that is it.  Even the illusion of dialogue is all written so regardless of choice you only ever get a minor difference from the other options.  Bioware are great storytellers and allow you the illusion of choice when in reality you are only picking A B or C, or nice, neutral or asshole responses to most situations.  A lot of games run on this choice system as the ability to respond how you want to would be incredibly expensive and long winded to create, probably resulting in a massive game but at a horrendous cost to cover expenses.

Does this mean I dislike the RPG genre?  No I do enjoy it but I do tire of hearing about how great it is to choose your own destiny and change the face of the world when it all amounts to apples or oranges.  Even games like the Witcher only allows for limited deviation before reigning you back in.  RPG's are still very good though.  One of my favourite all time series is Mass effect not just for the roleplaying but for the combat, the setting, the characters, the aesthetic, the soundtrack basically the everything of Mass effect.  I can still be critical of the genre but enjoy what it has to offer at the same time. 

JRPG (Japanese Roleplaying Games)

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Resonance of fate had some cool gunplay mechanics
The JRPG is held in high regard by many as the best the genre has to offer and I sort of agree while also disagreeing at the same time.  My first experience of the JRPG sub genre was Final fantasy VII on the Playstation and yeah it looked cool and the combat was flashy and the music good and everything, but the characters are terrible, something JRPG's always do.  This isn't specific to Final fantasy but the genre in general it's like they can't help themselves sometimes.  There is always the protagonist who is either the champion of peace, love and justice or a total emo with a sword.  The love interest will usually fill the other role dependent on the protagonists setup.  Then you have the surly and often dumb looking big guy who enjoys fighting and laughing a lot.  The annoying jail bait female who is either quirky and weird or super fucking annoying in some other way.  Then you have the character most players want as the main character, the cool looking level headed badass who spouts wisdom every other line and knows more about what is happening in the game but won't tell you until it is absolutely necessary.

This paradigm hasn't changed for decades and it seems to work in it's native Japan but over in the west it has become something of a joke.  That isn't to say people don't like and play these games but they have become incredibly stale compared to western RPG's which have begun to show a more mature and darker edge to them.  Mass effect, Dragon age, The Witcher and more all typify this.  It's no secret that the Japanese gaming industry has hit a slump in the last decade as the industry still has this odd perception that people outside of Japan aren't interested in their games when the opposite is true.  Japan produce some truly awesome and quirky games and it's a real shame these fail to make it outside of the land of the rising sun.  Still they have tried to make some changes to their RPG formula to largely mixed or outright hostile responses.  Final fantasy XIII was an example of how much the Japanese industry doesn't get why western RPG's are so popular.  It's not based on aesthetic or simple control schemes, it's about the world and it's characters.  We love The witcher for instance because it has a deep and involving background.  Every location looks like it has a story or two to tell, while the people are far more relatable.  JRPG's suffer from weak stereotypes that appeal to manga and anime fans, but it doesn't always make the grade. 

Personally I like JRPG's when they try something different with the likes of the last remnant or resonance of fate (end of eternity elsewhere), these titles at least try to do something new with the same kind of characters and I prefer trying something new rather than plumping for the tired old formula.

Well that's all for today, come back Saturday for part 3, thanks for reading.

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