I’m Not Dead! — What about RPGs of old?

I’ve just been busy or distracted. Sorry! Thank you for still reading on occasion! Now to the blog post which is what you actually care about (hopefully):

Old RPGs have so many norms that are followed to this day — but should they be?

1. Boring equipment ladders

2. The general RPG combat system

3. Grinding

First up: boring equipment ladders. Armour is the biggest offender, as frequently it’s simply “I can afford this piece of armour! It’s better than the last one!” and there’s not much thought put behind it. The player also might need to purchase the next tier up, unless he gets new armour in a chest, because otherwise he’s kind of screwed. Weapons, too. There’s a small amount of excitement behind picking up a shiny new weapon, or buying on, but really it’s a pointless ascent! A game could get along fine, especially a linear one, without giving the player more than one set of boring equipment ladders. The “Accessories” slot, filled with equipment that is generally interesting, is much better: the player gets to mentally debate as to which one to use. Unfortunately there is no debate in “202 > 174, so I should switch, duhh”.

Next: RPG combat system. I’m talking about the turn-based on where you pick you moves, watch animations, and have things happen. There are some variations, but a lot of combat just kind of boils down to ‘attack things until they die, use items or heals so you don’t’. It’s just sort of this little dance of “Watch animations while maybe balancing HP, MP, and item stock”. Unfortunately, some games are fairly easy so there’s not even any juggling of those things. There are games trying to innovate on this by adding choices, but is this form of turn-based spaceless combat doomed to blandness, once players learn that even with nice animation and/or 3d graphics, the system is still the same?

Finally: Grinding! Grind grind grind. So very many games… it’s not just old RPGs, but they have it too. If there’s a boss you run into without enough grinding, you have no choice but to grind grind grind, unless you have enough money to buy some new equipment or items. And if you don’t have enough money? Grind grind grind. There is a problem with games that don’t let you grind grind grind, but there is most definitely a problem with games that practically force it. There was a video on grinding and why in the world does it exist, and hopefully it’s not there just so the creators get an “80+ hours of gameplay!” bullet point on their box.

Whoops, there’s more. Any of you know about a little game called Etrian Odyssey? Well, I have. And I’ve played the hell out of it, and then played the second one and goddamn I wish I could play 7th Dragon but I don’t know any Japanese. (Foul language ahead)

I fucking loved Etrian Odyssey, and it did all of the things I just bashed despite being a relatively new game. For the most part, it had rather dull equipment ladders. There was a bit of variation, but it was more along the lines of a couple parallel ladders for each class. It had that turn-based RPG system too, and there was no question about it. There were definitely some interesting abilities (like those that only work against scared enemies, for example) but there’s no getting around the fact that it was that system. And finally, the grinding. There was definitely the grinding. Grind to get levels. Grind to get levels for new party members. Grind to get money. Grind to get items. Run out and suffer beatings to finish yet another “find the unfindable item” quest.
But I fucking loved it. It had three very special things going for it, though:

1. Very little story. So it wasn’t the story that kept me to it. It was definitely the ladder+combat+grind system.

2. Draw your own map (in-game). It was on the DS, and you used the bottom screen to draw your own map. It was so much fun.

3. So. Fucking. Hard. (And unforgiving.)

So maybe RPGs of old aren’t dead yet. Not quite yet.

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About Droqen

Droqen is a game designer/developer/creator/etc. from Toronto, Ontario. View all posts by Droqen

One response to “I’m Not Dead! — What about RPGs of old?

  • offal

    third hit on google now!

    i personally can’t stand the gear issue. smt nocturne does away with it entirely, and it’s refreshing.

    mother 3 is guilty of ‘equip the next tier’ syndrome, although they do manage to get some cute quirks out of it.

    the solution to making the whole turn-based combat thing really interesting of late seems to be placing heavy emphasis on buffs, debuffs, and status effects, to pile on the pressure. even ffxiii has picked up on this, apparently.

    really though, turn based combat is pretty well done to death by now, and the majority of games that feature it would be better off as action games anyway.

    i hate jrpgs but that somehow has not kept me from playing them, especially the last couple years. =(

    eo3 looks fantastic by the way:
    http://bit.ly/941QCx

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