RPGs aren’t for everyone

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two weeks ago I began an introduction to game genres. Action games, adventure games and music games were covered. This week I’ll continue with RPGs.
Any game could be considered a “role-playing game”, but the genre classification comes from pen and paper RPGs like “Dungeons & Dragons.”
Like their paper ancestors, video game RPGs emphasize character customization and development, epic, far-reaching stories and collecting loot.
An RPG generally creates a large world for the player to explore, with one main story to follow and many optional side quests. Progress through the game rewards players with experience points (XP) and better equipment (armour, weapons, etc.). The more XP a player has the stronger their character becomes. Players are also often rewarded with more varied ways for their character to interact with the world.
RPGs usually focus on combat, giving players the option of hand-to-hand, ranged attacks and some kind of magic, mutation, cybernetic ability, etc.
RPGs are often differentiated by certain key game design choices.
RPGs can focus on playing and developing one character or a set of characters. Single character RPGs tend to be very personal as the player develops one character who is very deeply characterized, or because the player is treated as the character, seeing through the character’s eyes and being directly addressed by game characters.
Party-based RPGs usually develop inter- character relationships and allow characters to experience different aspects of the game play rather than focusing on one fighting style.
There are two types of party-based RPGs, those where the player controls all the characters, especially during combat, and those where the player controls one main character but influences the character development of the party members, often giving them orders as the leader of a squad.
Single Character RPGs: “Morrowind,” “Oblivion,” “Fable.”
Party-based RPGS: “Baldur’s Gate,” “Dungeon Siege,” “Mass Effect.”
The phrase “real-time” comes up frequently in video games and it simply means that events happen as they would in real life, with time always passing.
In real-time RPGs, during combat giving an attack command makes the character attack and you are free to run around like in an action game. The enemies can do the same. It’s a bit like a fighting game, but your character’s statistics determine how well you do, in conjunction with your attacks.
Turn-based RPG combat involves you giving a command or a series of commands which are then acted out in sequence with the enemy attacks, like moves in chess. Turn-based combat tends to feel slower but can also be much more tactical since players have more time to think through the attacks.
Real-time RPGs: “Oblivion,” “Fable,” “Mass Effect.”
Turn-based: “Fallout,” “Early Final Fantasy,” “Dragon Quest.”
In addition to these genre conventions RPGs tend to fall into various subcategories.
These sorts of games are fast-paced and while they focus on character advancement they also tend to rely on twitch reflexes and can play like action games.
They are good places for new RPG players to start as they feel less obtuse than more traditional RPGs.
Examples: “Diablo,” “Dungeon Siege,” “Mass Effect,” “X-men: Legends,” “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance,” “Kingdom Hearts.”
This is the gamer term for RPGs that originate in Japan. Japanese RPGs often fall under their own sub-genre because they tend to be different from RPGs that originate elsewhere in the world.
Many of the earliest RPGs were from Japan and featured party-based game play with random battles.
As characters walk through the game world battles appear at random and the majority of XP gained in the game is through these battles.
The “Final Fantasy” series is the most famous of J-RPG games.
J-RPGs also tend to be influenced by Japanese animation (anime) and feature strange sci-fiworlds populated by all sorts of strange creatures.
The most polarizing characteristic of J-RPGs for many gamers is their focus on dialogue and cut scenes. Much of the game time is often spent reading character dialogue as the stories are complex and compelling. Some players love the engrossing stories and others find the expository style boring, it’s really up to personal preference. My personal favourite J-RPG is “The World Ends with You.” It’s quite unconventional and worth a look.
Examples: “Final Fantasy,” “Chrono Trigger,” “Dragon Quest,” “Kingdom Hearts.”
In two weeks I’ll finish up game genres, hopefully leaving readers with some helpful insight into their confusing world.
“Jump Ultimate Stars”: This game is basically “Super Smash Bros.” for the DS. It plays very much like “Smash Bros.” but has a much more rich out single-player campaign. The local multiplayer is great and it has Wi-fi.
The catch: it’s only out in Japan and will never come out here because of difficulty getting the licenses for all the anime. It has a steep learning curve to figure out the controls and how to make teams of characters, but after that it’s fairly easy to play without Japanese knowledge, and it’s worth it, it’s a great game. There are quite a few FAQs and translations to help, since it’s a popular import and with good reason.
Calen Henry is a graduate of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound and has been a gamer since childhood. He is currently on an internship in Geneva, Switzerland.

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