Where's The Discovery Gone In RPGs?

By Adam Ma on March 29, 2010, 12:27PM EDT

There was a time when the only information that you could get about an upcoming game was in magazines. You would subscribe to your favourite one (perhaps more) knowing that each issue would give you a taste of what was to come, maybe you'd even dare to hope that your favourite upcoming title would be covered next. However, the world we live in today is quite different. The internet has created a new information craze, one in which people demand to be the most informed about their respective subjects at all points in time. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is a form of murder to one particular type of game: the RPG.

Much of the RPGs purpose is telling a story, from start to finish, using character development and purpose to drive forward the rest of the game. If it wasn't for storyline in fact, RPGs would just be fight-simulators, arenas where companies could pit their combat system against one another to try and showcase who was the most intuitive and creative. Unfortunately that is not the case, and most companies don't realize that in an attempt to promote their own games they may in fact be ruining much of the storytelling process. Final Fantasy XIII is a prime example of this, but there are many other games that are worth mentioning.

Most agree that the first twenty or so hours of Final Fantasy XIII are boring, for various reasons, but most striking is the one that remains largely unspoken. The entire introductory segment (the first twenty or so hours) to Final Fantasy XIII is unnecessary. Square-Enix already ruined most of the getting-to-know-you part in the five years leading up to the game's creation. Everything from the names, motivations, to the personal connections each character had was revealed long before the game's release date was solidified. Even the game's Summons were spoiled, to the point where the only thing left was looking forward to obtaining them, rather then learning about each one.

So can there be any surprise that the start of the game was so weak? When all that's left to really look forward to is minor plot points and a combat system for the first quarter of a game's life, how can Square-Enix be surprised that fans were a little disappointed? They're not the only ones to do this either, whatever happened to just giving character art and a name, then letting fans try and predict where things may fit in? Mass Effect 2's biggest shocker (team wise) was the only character they didn't announce, and it made participating in that particular story much more fun.

As it stands right now the best part of most modern day RPGs is the ending, the one part that most of these game companies cannot (for obvious reasons) spoil. Between knowing everything about your enemies and allies to having characters whose motivations are so transparent they might as well hold a sign up saying 'I'm the bad guy', it's hard to say that any modern day RPGs really encourage the same sense of discovery that older titles did. After all, that was why strategy guides sold so well. People wanted to immediately know what to do, where to go, and what was happening so when the game came out those people would buy the guide with it. Now, everyone gets a guide in the form of a marketing campaign, it's almost impossible to not be exposed to at least one spoiler.

With luck there's a chance that some of these companies wondering why their plots are floundering will stop trying to assault us with information about their game. Action and platformer titles can get away with it since gameplay is absolutely core to the experience, whereas plot is more of a treat (or a reason to get more abilities and kick more ass). But role-playing games? Stop trying to copy other genres, and give me a little less game coverage. I hate knowing how something will end before it even begins, so if it's not possible to tell me who the hero is without listing all his motivations, quirks, sexual preferences and favourite eateries, just don't do it.

blog comments powered by Disqus