Monday, February 01, 2010

The Death of the JRPG?

The first true computer RPG I played was Final Fantasy on the NES.  I guess The Legend of Zelda would count, but I consider it more of an action/puzzle game, but anyway.  I spend countless hours playing and leveling my characters until I beat the game.  That started me down the wild, and often times weird road of loving computer RPGS.  For the longest time, the only RPG's I could find were those made my Japanese companies.  Even now and then an Eye of the Beholder or the classic Gold Box D&D games would come out, and that was pretty much it for Western developers (at least that I got to see as a kid). 

Don't get me wrong.  The Gold Box games were good, but story wise they never matched up the epicness that was Final Fantasy II (IV in Japan) or Final Fantasy VII.  Japanese developers really knew how to put together a game that even though you had little control in the plot, you simply didn't care.  You wanted to see where things went.

That's where things went wrong. 

It wasn't until Final Fantasy 10 came out that I realized that somewhere, they lost me.  I still enjoyed the spectacle of the FF games (hell, I've had FFXIII on pre-order since November), but I almost wished they would just go ahead and make the games into movies.  Seriously, combat is simply the commercials to break up the movie.  There is really no exploration (FFXII did a little better at this, but it was still a railroad), and the only reason to level up is so that you can survive to the next beautifully rendered cutscene.  I, the guy who shelled out the money to buy the game isn't really getting much game to play.  I essentially just dropped $60 for a 4 hour movie that's going to take me 20-50 hours to watch.  That doesn't really excite me anymore. 

When the Baldur's Gate games came out, I had an epiphany of sorts.  Here's a game, that while still laid out a set of clear goals before me, A to B to C, had little extra stops along the way that didn't have to be done just because I was in the area.  I had a modicum of control over the story.  That got kicked up another notch when Planescape: Torment was released with its ambiguous moral issues and multiple endings based on what choices you made during the game. 

Fast forward to today and many games are wide open to the player to craft his or her own story.  I love reading and discussing Dragon Age: Origins because so far, nobody I've discussed with has had the same experience.  We've all made widely different choices at different parts of the game.  Even though the exact story is not our own, we're still reading the script presented to us, we're getting a level of control on the direction that we've never had before.  Those sandbox style games are all coming from Western developers. 

I would love to see some honest-to-goodness collaboration between developers like Square and Bioware to develop and RPG with the epic sense of scale and emotion that JRPG's convey with the player-driven storylines that are so prevalent in western RPG's.  THAT would make for one helluva game. 

So is the JRPG dying out?  From the looks of FFXIII, no, there's still life in it.  While I expect one helluva experience with the latest edition of the greatest CRPG franchise in history, I have my doubts that I'll either tear through it they way I did Dragon Age (or how I'm currently tearing through Mass Effect 2) or want to play it again once I beat it just like I did when I completed Dragon Age.  That's honestly the true measure of a video game: once you're done with it do you want to start all over again?  I haven't felt that way about any JRPG in a long, long time.  

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