Yesterday over a good round of beverages with my friends, the discussion went to Final Fantasy 7 and Crisis Core. I vented my disappointment about the shit-poor character development of the game, to the shock of two of my friends. “It’s Zack’s story!”, “The story was fucking good!” and even “You’re not a true Final Fantasy fan!” were some of the comments I got. I don’t want to go in depth on why Crisis Core is one of the most horrible abortions of game writing by Square Enix to date – you can read my review on that if you want. I whined about how Aerith was such a badly written character, devoid of any real personality and how Zack’s relationship with her was one of the most overrated and pretentious love stories in video game history. The most ridiculous comment I reaped was “But she was an ancient!”. Ha ha.
As I explained in detail to my buddies why Crisis Core is shit burned on UMD came the most hurtful of comments: “I think you expected too much man, it’s just a game”.
I’m into RPGs because they give me a sense of freedom of action, exploration, developing my own hero and yes, good adventure stories. I think that D&D and other role-playing rule sets were designed with the dungeon master in mind. A good dungeon master can create entire narratives for the players, and in that, the stories of these play sessions have real depth. But as soon as RPGs came to computers and consoles, the dungeon master was left behind, and what was left was the grind…the fucking grind. Until today, this is what RPGs are in their essence. They’re huge grinds and nothing more really. I understand that it’s extremely hard to simulate a dungeon master that can on the spot alter the story to accommodate all the different ways that the players have to interact with the game (again made possible because of a human DM). But the general design for RPGs today itself is actually not flawed.
I understand that in RPGs, combat is a central element for hero progression. I kill 200 orcs and my strength will increase, I will learn new techniques of beheading more kinds of monsters. Sure thing. But is that all there is to it? No. I like to imagine that the life of a world-saver is not just about murdering monsters and bad guys. Wouldn’t it also include complex relationships with other people in the world? Would a hero not be required to have other skills than being able to accurately throw a spear into the chest of a dragon? In most epic fantasy films and novels that I came across, the hero hardly ever spends as much time in battle as in CRPGs. The most interesting parts are the people a hero will meet, dilemmas the hero will stumble into and if there is battle, then it’s often either with very important other characters or with “bosses” and never for the loot dropped or the XP gained.
My point is that RPGs criminally ignore the most interesting and engaging parts of a hero’s adventure of saving the world, because it’s just simpler to add another 20 hours of “gameplay” by inserting more grinding into the game. One of the most annoying and insulting things is the addition of the meta-game of collecting items. Be it Pokemon, Diablo 2, Baldur’s Gate, or fucking Final Fantasy, they all want me to spend hours of my life looking for items for the sake of having that item – or even because the item will make it easier for me to look for more items.
I want RPGs that focus on the other parts of adventure and include combat when it is appropriate and fitting and not for the sake of stretching time. There is no real reward in finding a Corrinth’s Red Scale Right Shoulder Armor +39 with fire resistance +16. The item is an end in itself. No, I want a game that can challenge my very views on things that matter outside the game, or can give me new insight into things I hadn’t really thought of before. Very few games bother with good game writing. This is why we need more. Game developers, and especially RPG developers need to ask themselves why exactly their grind-fest is going to make any difference in the player’s life and why exactly it will stand out from the rest.
There are so many different combat systems, some painfully complicated and irrational (FF8!) and this is sadly too often the only thing that makes the difference between game A and game B. The fact that gamers still need to mention Planescape Torment, a game older than a decade, when talking about games with actual meaning is saddening.
Final Fantasy 7 had good character development, a truly interesting villain, good pace and plot events going for it. It wasn’t even one of the best plots in games back then. But it was the game that got me into RPGs in the first place. I loved it because it was the only game from so many others that showed me that engaging stories can be told in games. And 14 years later the genre has not moved a step forward, but became so preoccupied with the means of the RPG genre.
Come on. If your game isn’t going to revolutionize the way gameplay and narrative can be combined, if it isn’t going to be a piece of art by communicating an emotion to the player, at least give some love for the writing in it. Make it about something that isn’t trivial. Every time I see a game like Crisis Core with a “story” and “characters” who are just sad excuses just to wrap up the grinding in it, I wish for a game with good writing in it. Make a game about saving your drug-addict sister who is forced to prostitute herself by a cruel pimp. Make something that has some relevance to the world, even if it’s fantasy. Please!Share Share