Sometimes you see something on the Internet you just can’t let go. Some troll or noob will say something so flagrantly wrong that you can’t just dismiss it as webjunk and move on. Something inside you just calls for justice.
That’s how I felt when I saw this IGN article touting the Super Nintendo as the King of RPGs. This isn’t a matter of opinion. The article is just wrong. But I’d have been willing to let that pass as a nostalgic statement or an expression of bias based on a penchant for Nintendo products. The thing that got me was how the writer justified her choice by saying the key element to RPGs is the gameplay, which is just patently false with no room whatsoever for interpretation. In fact, I’d put gameplay at the bottom of a list of factors contributing to a successful RPG.
Consider this: what is the best RPG of all time; the most free, most in-depth, most consuming RPG you can think of? Without question, the only answer for the truly seasoned gamer has to be Dungeons and Dragons. And it sure isn’t because of gameplay. If I invited you to my house to spend two hours filling out a sheet of paper, then roll dice whenever prompted by a guy who runs the game from a map drawn on a sheet of paper, and if I were to further suggest that we get together and do this in the name of fun, you might consider having me committed. And I really couldn’t blame you. But what if I offered you the opportunity to be a fantasy adventurer in a fully-realized world of magic and grand feats of heroism? Chances are better that you’d at least give it a try.
My point here is that in D&D, the standard by which all RPGs should be judged, the gameplay is garbage. There’s nothing intrinsically fun about the interface or the mechanics.
We play RPGs to become immersed, and while good gameplay can provide us with a fun, interactive expereince, it can no more make us “feel” like a brave adventurer than it can make us “feel” like an Italian plumber.
…Bet you expected a witty picture here.
So what platform provides the best RPG experience? I’d say it couldn’t…I repeat could NOT, be any platform that doesn’t allow for voiced characters. The voice of a character is in most cases the first glimpse we get into that character’s personality. As the story progresses the actions and motives of that character will be revealed and fill in the outline created by those voices. No voiceless RPG has ever been able to draw me in like one where the characters had voices. The characters are just more difficult to understand that way. Take characters like Cloud and Sephiroth from FF 7. They were some of the most beloved, most decidedly “badass” characters of the RPG pantheon…until Advent Children. See, having nothing to draw on but the text transcripts of their conversations from FF 7, voice actors kind of had to “wing it” when voicing these two. That’s why we got a whiny child for Cloud and, I don’t know, some sort of mincing sex predator for Sephiroth. Not cool.
Compare them to Tidus, who is usually placed on the opposite end of the “badass” spectrum of RPG characters. He may be a crybaby, but at least we can tell that right off the bat, you know, by listening to him. We want to know his story despite his obvious personality faults, because he feels more like a real person.
Another requirement is graphics. I know some will disagree with me on this, saying they got “caught up” plenty in old-school RPGs, but getting addicted to a game isn’t the same thing as immersion. Skyrim is just plain better than FF-7 (and I say this as an avid FF fan) because you can get lost simply looking around the world. I find myself caring about things like the Divines and the Nords and the civil war tearing the land apart because I feel less like I’m moving a blocky little avatar around a faded gray landscape and more like I’ve truly entered another world.
So which console takes the cake for me? I’m not entirely sure I could pin it down, but it’d be a toss-up between the PS2 and the Xbox 360. The PS2 has classics like FF-X, .Hack and Xenosaga, while the 360 has Mass Effect, Fallout 3 and Dragon Age. I’d consider each and every one of these games absolute must-plays for the avid RPG fan, so valuing one console over the other in terms of the RPG experience is difficult for me. But I’ve narrowed it down to two consoles, neither of which are the SNES. And I think maybe that’s noble enough for this week.