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The RPG Ailment

The RPG Ailment

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Or: Final Fantasy III: 0, Super Mario RPG: 1

After my songs of praises for Final Fantasy III, I’ve realized that it is FAR from a perfect game. Sure, it’s fun and all, and I’m a huge advocate of RPGs as well. But I’d like to go over the elements that make RPGs truly great.

1. A Compelling Story
This may seem obvious, but every RPG should have a compelling story, something to tie it all together. A great story keeps the player coming back to explore the inner workings of the storyline. It adds depth to the game. And when an RPG like Final Fantasy III has a less-than-intriguing story, it takes serious diligence to keep playing. The game itself doesn’t have enough depth to pull the player in. There has to be some outside influence convincing the player to keep playing. Truth be told, Final Fantasy III’s story is almost non-existent. Sure, there are characters and plotline, but nothing ever really jumped out at me. Of course I’m going to have to save the world. Of course I’ll have to gather a set number of key items from across the map in order to beat the game. But how a game makes that gathering interesting is what separates the good RPGs from the great ones, which leads me to my next point:

2. Character Depth
Any decent game has good characters. Even games without a “deep” story, like Grand Theft Auto, can have interesting characters. But how, in an RPG, can there be no character depth? It’s a role-playing game, for pete’s sake. Let’s go back to Final Fantasy III as an example. Maybe it’s because I’ve played some seriously incredible games, but I don’t give a crap about the characters in FFIII. They’re flat and forgettable. Sure, there’s a little personality in each of them, but I’ve been playing FFIII for almost 30 hours. And I barely know these characters at all. Then I take a look at other Square Enix games: Bravely Default, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger. These games are lengthy, of course, but each one of these games takes the time to show off the personality of the characters. And through these personalities, the player can find a deep connection with these pixels or polygons. Even though the game is based on slashing enemies, I want to know WHY I’m slashing. I want to know how the characters feel about slashing. Maybe one of the characters is terribly homesick. Maybe one has this insatiable urge to slash enemies. Truly great RPGs show the characters as more than the player’s weapon. Obviously, the characters are necessary for battling and story progression, but avoiding character development is missing a VERY important ingredient.

3. Personality
Again with the Final Fantasy III… As fun as this game is, there is nothing setting this game apart. It gets lost in a sea of generic games. And this one has a Square Enix backing. By that token it should be a roller coaster ride of emotion. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a NES game, but look at my personal favorite game of all time: Super Mario RPG. It rarely ever takes itself seriously. The battle music is lively and bubbly. The characters are both unique and necessary. There is not another game on earth like it, and that’s because it tried to be something original and succeeded. Rather than falling into familiarity, a game needs something to make it different.

There is one element that RPGs are known for, and it’s not good recognition either:

4. Grinding
The first 3 points are encompassing and maybe even border on the academic. Even though this 4th point may not sound as professional, it’s a huge point of contention in RPGs. Finding a balance of difficulty and fun is one of the hardest things to do in the video game world. I call it playability. Games with high playability are easy to pick up, they are enjoyably difficult, and they DO NOT require grinding. Final Fantasy III has, you guessed it, grinding. I don’t want to sit for hours upon hours grinding just to continue with the story. And yes, I’ve sat for hours grinding away in FFIII, and I’m still not a high enough level to even scare the bosses. Let’s go back to Super Mario RPG. It has the perfect balance in its playability. Some of the bosses can be difficult if you go out of your way to avoid enemies, but you won’t have to sit and grind for hours to be strong enough. The game is meant to be fun, though it can be difficult at times — but it’s not hard for the sake of being hard. The game isn’t screaming, “GO TRAIN SOME MORE” in blinking neon lights. You lost because your strategy wasn’t good enough. Maybe you need to heal more next time. Maybe you should just pummel the boss quickly so he doesn’t have time to whoop you. But in Final Fantasy III, I’m just not a high enough level, plain and simple. I’s frustrating. I’ve played through the entire game without experiencing TOO much difficulty, but with a few bosses, I’ve been completely overwhelmed by their power even when the enemies of the surrounding areas are pipsqueaks in comparison.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but they’re pretty crucial aspects that have the ability make or break an RPG. As long as the story and characters are endearing, I’m sure the game is great. Even after all the grief I’ve been giving Final Fantasy III, I’m still playing it. For some godforsaken reason, I’m still playing it. It failed in all four of my categories, and I still like it. So obviously there are more elements to RPGs that I’m missing. But seriously: just play a game that’s fun. And if you are a person who likes grinding, that’s great. Good for you. But that’s not me. I’d rather be learning the back story to this mysterious character.

The moral of the story is: play Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo.

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