Is The RPG Genre Dying?
It seems like they day of the Role Playing Game (or RPG) is dwindling to a close. One look at the top of the gaming charts and you will see action or shooting games like Call of Duty dominating the charts. Albeit, Pokemon (an RPG) is #1 but that does not count. I mean, we are talking about Pokemon here, the biggest thing since canned bread in Canada. Other than Pokemon, there are barely any titles in the top 50 that one could call an RPG.
You can break down RPGs into two categories: Western RPG and Japanese RPG (aka jRPG). Western RPGs are self-explanatory. Those are simply RPGs that were made for a western audience and are more closely involved with action/adventure. Examples of the Western RPG include, but are not restricted to, games like Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Fallout, and the Elder Scrolls. The jRPG could be described as RPGs made for the eastern audience. The characteristics of the jRPG would be (but not restricted to) an immense amount of grinding for levels, money, or items, a fixed story, and turn-based battling. Examples of jRPGs would be your Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Pokemon games. jRPGs are what brought the RPG genre into the light with the release of Final Fantasy VII (arguably) for the Sony Playstation. With that said, when someone says RPG, that usually implies jRPGs because of the popularity of those titles. At least, that is what the mass majority of people think of when RPG is mentioned. I will mostly be discussing the lack of good jRPGs.
My very first game system, as far as I can remember, was the Nintendo. I played games like Zelda, Super Mario, and Dunk Hunt but these games were merely for entertainment purpose. I would not say that those games are what made me the avid gamer I am today. It was not until the Playstation and Final Fantasy VII that made me realize that games were something I was passionate about. I was around six or seven at the time when my parents bought us a Playstation, and Final Fantasy VII was the demo that came along with the system. We did not have any games at the time so we occupied ourselves with that very same demo. Since I was the youngest, I did not get to play that much, but, from what I observed, Final Fantasy VII left me in awe. The graphics were amazing at the time and the characters were awesome. I was hooked. Shortly after, my brother was able to get the actual game and we played that for days. Final Fantasy VII was the game that introduced my love for RPGs as well as games in general. As a kid, RPGs were all I played. I played whatever RPG that I could get my hands on. I remember playing Xenogears and Legend of Dragoon. I also remember revisiting my Super Nintendo a lot because of Super Mario and the Legend of the Seven Stars. In fact, that game is one of my absolute favorites of today. I also remember attempting to play Breathe of Fire and Wild Arms but those proved a little to difficult for me because I played video games mindlessly at the time and did not really think about what I had to do. RPGs seemed abundant at the time as there were quite a few being released at a time.
Now, RPGs are rare and have seemed to move onto handheld consoles. RPGs are far and few for console gamers like me. We do not see many RPGs any more, not like how I use to get them as a kid. Now, it seems like the gaming industry is focused on banking in on games like Call of Duty. Everyone is trying to make games that are more action orientated and multiplayer friendly. We do have Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) for that, but I consider those a completely different beast from RPGs. Without completely transforming into a MMORPG, RPGs cannot provide the same characteristics as Call of Duty simply because if they did, then it would not be an RPG. RPGs are big on single player campaigns, highly immersive worlds, believable characters that we can relate or connect with, and just tons of exploration and discovery. Unfortunately, today’s gamers are not looking to invest a large amount of time into a game unless it provides some sort of competition or bragging rights. Today’s gamers would rather talk to their friends about how they got a five man shotgun feed on Call of Duty rather than how they acquired all the final weapons in Final Fantasy XIII. To put it bluntly, Call of Duty is cool and Final Fantasy is lame and nerdy.
Back then, I could talk about things like that to my peers. We could discuss tactics on how to beat certain bosses or where to find certain treasures. That day no longer exists because many people consider themselves gamers even though they only play one type of game. No one wants to expand their horizon if it does not involve guns and blood. The most popular RPG today (besides Pokemon) is the newly released Dark Souls and it is only popular because of its difficulty. What other RPGs are being released in the future? There’s Elder Scroll’s in November, Final Fantasy XIII-2 in January, and then Mass Effect 3 in March. There is no doubt that Elder Scroll’s and Mass Effect will be huge successes, but Final Fantasy XIII-2 brings mixed feelings across the table. In Final Fantasy XIII, it seemed like Square-Enix was confused on whether they wanted an action game or a role playing game. Instead, they give us this piece of crap gameplay wise. Linear “dungeons”, no towns and dedicated shops, and lame nonplayable characters (NPCs). What happened to the exploration? What happened to the immersive environment? This is the consequence of being too pressured to appeal to the masses. The mass that only wants guns and glory. Another example of catering to the action masses is Dragon Age. Dragon Age Origins was a great RPG. I loved every bit of it. I must have spent at least 60 hours on that game. When the sequel was announced, I was extremely excited. I could not wait to get my hands on it and when I did, I was extremely disappointed. Dragon Age II did not feel like a RPG. It transitioned from a RPG into a third rate hack’n’slash game. I was not the only person outraged by the changed, many fans were disappointed that Dragon Age was no longer a RPG. What else is extremely infuriating is that the developers acted like they were surprised by all the backlash they were getting. Well, Bioware, you first gave us this masterpiece of an RPG but then give us this crap you call its sequel. Of course you are going to get some backlash with the extreme changes you made to the game.
Honestly, I miss being so hooked onto a game that I would spend hours perfecting my set of characters, learning their backstories, and finding their best weapons. I would also spend plenty of time exploring towns and playing minigames and such that were provided in the game. Games that once logged 120 hours of playtime are now becoming 12 hour games and that is extremely disappointing, especially when it comes with a $60 price tag. Is the RPG genre dying? I certainly think so. I believe developers no longer care about creating games that could be played hours on end in the single player experience. They would rather bank on a multiplayer experience. Who knows when the RPG genre will rise again or what other genre will take the reigns, but until then, I will be here in my grandmother’s basement waiting. Of course I am kidding, but I will just have to enjoy the other quality games that are coming out, even if they lack substance at times.