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Guest Article: The State of Role Playing Games

By Arionfrost

Lately, I have been thinking alot about the state of Role Playing Games, and the people who play them. I feel that we as gamers (I am speaking collectively, you yourself may feel you do not fall into this catagory) are likely the whiny, high-maintanence girlfriend who does everything to make her boyfriend’s life a living hell, yet he sticks with her because he knows where the good sex is. This is the analogy I use to describe the relationship between gamers and the game developer.

If I were to go into detail concerning the numerous grievances gamers have made via the expectations they have on every genre of game available, this post would never end. I think I really just want to focus on Role Playing Games right now, because honestly, I don’t see Madden Fans at the throats of NFL 2k fans nitpicking about God knows what compared to fans of RPGs. Thus, without delay, my short essay on Role Playing Games, enjoy:

Dr. Freeman, or how I learned to stop worrying and Love the Game

We as a society, at some point, became anal over titles. Dr. so-and-so (hey he didn’t go through years of grad school for nothin.) If I were to see Barack Obama on the street buying a cheeseburger, I would have to address him as Mr. President, because he earned the title (some may not agree, tough luck.) Some college teachers, who couldn’t tell their left hand from their right, prefer that you call them professor so-and-so. We love titles.

That said, we tend to classify games into titles, or genres. It seems to me that lately, we are doing this to the detriment of our enjoyment of the game. No genre receives as much scrutiny as the genre of role playing games, because hey, role playing games can become so intimate that they invade our real lives.

Role Playing (as regards to gaming): What is it?

As always, our trusty friend wiki provides an answer:

A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterization, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games.

This definition refers to the classic sense of the word, role-playing, in reference to what we remember (and some of us still play) as a table-top RPG. A story is crafted by a moderator, in common terms a DM or Dungeon Master, and the players proceed on adventures and craft the story based on their choices and luck of the dice guided by a system of rules.

Somewhere along the late 80s – early 90’s, games based on the systems for roleplaying, such as Dungeons and Dragons, began making their way onto computers in the form of games, and along with them came the moniker of Role Playing Game.

The POINT I am trying to make here is: why are we so latched onto the system, and not on the game? As I recall, in a classic table top setting, the players didn’t concern themselves as much with the system as they did the story and their character. The DM, Dungeon Master, would have a thourough knowledge of the system and craft the story and setting around the system. Thus the player was free to enjoy himself!

RPG: To Be or Not To Be?

What does it mean to be an Role Playing Games in this modern age of video games?

Let me polarize your viewpoint:

First person shooters can be roleplaying:
-Half Life: you control Gordon Freeman. The game was purposefully designed so that you fill his shoes. Each character that you interact with talks directly to you, as if you were really Freeman. You know only what he knows, nothing more. The story is told by the events that unfold before your eyes, not by monologues or cutscenes to explain just what the hell is going on. If you felt lost, there was good reason for you to believe that Freeman was lost too. Eventually, weapons were made available to you at various points of the story to help defend against every sort of antagonist. Guess what, whether you want to believe it or not: you were roleplaying based a very simple system of rules!

Even third person adventure games could be considered role playing. For anyone who has ever played Fatal Frame 2, you know what I am talking about: You roleplay as a defenseless girl, battling the supernatural. Had the protaganist been a hardened Marcus Fenix-like marine, the experience would not have been as viscerally exciting, the terror so thick you could feel it choking you like a lump in your throat. Props to anyone who could sit through this game with the lights off at night, I certainly couldn’t.

Now before I proceed, I know that the following will induce controversy, and hey, that’s a good thing. Discussion is the basic interchange of thought, and maybe the ability to walk away with some new idea that was not there previously. I am in no way bashing one company to raise another. I play games from every company, and every genre. I will just as easily play some NBA Jam as I would Gears of War, Street Fighter as I would Burnout Paradise. I like well made games.

Stats, Grinding, and Turn-Based battle systems do not make the game role playing!

I cannot stress this enough. If your definition for roleplaying includes the words “Final Fantasy” in it, your definition is flawed and maybe you should do some research.

Final Fantasy is a series of games based on a role playing system. Somewhere along the line, gamers decided that having the above elements was the only true way to experience role playing, only because developers insisted that these elements be recurring in their games. This is false!

A current example:

Mass Effect 2: the removal of elements considered to be classic to role-playing, i.e. micromanagement of stats. I have seen recent arguments as regards to the authenticity of its title as a roleplaying.
Do you not:
-Play as Commander Sheppard, whose dialog and choices craft the story through which you experience through his or her eyes, in his or her shoes?

-Do not the consequences of your decisions weigh heavily on you and your team, and adversely, on you the player?

-Live and interact in a world expertly crafted to be believable in every sense: sight, smell, taste, hear, touch?

Final Fantasy 13:
The removal of towns and shops. The linear progression from one end of a “map” to another. Where is the world, which was so expertly crafted by our moderator? If remarkable art-direction is what you refer to as a stand-in for Roleplaying, than I can say that Gran Turismo 5 can classify as a roleplaying game, after all, the environment in which you, the race-car driver, exists is so unbelievably detailed that you feel as if you were actually in the car.

The elimination of choice: from the choice of which gender you will play as, to which party members you wish to retain or release, to the progression and direction of the story.
Even simple choices on how to diffuse a confrontation: can I bribe a certain chracter to get him/her to do what I want? can I outright lie? Can I intimidate him/her? Is there another route that I can take to outright avoid confrontation with said character? And last but not least: Can I kill this character and in what ways?

Final Fantasy retains classic elements true to its series, but allow me to interject the following idea: if stats make the game roleplaying, could not an NFL Game be a roleplaying game? You progress through the game via player “stats”, playing through the season with your “team” winning or losing based on choice and some luck, and make it to the end of the season and battle your antagonist via the Superbowl aka “final boss battle”.

Let us loosen the reigns on game classification. The hyridization, if you will, of genres is OK, because as you may know, we live in the 21st century. We should be able to live and breath our games by now. They should be real, and we should have choice. The point was not to have rules, but to enjoy games!

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