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The Big Battle Theory: Why Combat Is Required For An RPG

the temple of elemental evil 07-08-15-1

The Temple of Elemental Evil 

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

Though I lost respect for PC Gamer a long time ago and no longer read them, I couldn’t help but notice the editorial they wrote about combat and the ensuing dispute over its necessity in RPGs.

While this topic isn’t new, the “current climate” within the industry has made this a frequently embraced talking point that outsiders bring up when trying to discredit the genre, or even gaming as a whole. To them, deeply statistical systems are a barrier to the “common people’s” enjoyment of the modern RPG genre. They prevent the so-called everyman from partaking in them and should be either lessened or removed completely. They have even, in their impassioned pleas for inclusivity, asked that a fast-forward button be added to the combat in much the same way that feature is often attached to a game’s dialog.

As preposterous as that sounds (and as unlikely as it is to be implemented within a AAA game), there is already a small group of games that follow this new style of “play” and still have the audacity to call themselves RPGs. The most notable of the group being a highly celebrated piece of software that goes by the name To the Moon.

When I first saw To the Moon, it was revealed to me by an old friend who remarked on how deep the story was and how the 16-bit retro look made him feel like a kid again.

While I agreed, I needed to see actual gameplay before committing to a purchase of the game. As is always the case with a new title, I ran to Youtube and searched for a trailer or a Let’s Play video to see if the gameplay matched the narrative that my friend assured me was beyond anything he had ever experienced. What I saw not only guaranteed I wouldn’t buy the game, but it also pissed me off.

The video opens with a combat scenario much like Chrono Trigger, but instead of being real, the entire event is one big joke meant to make fun of combat in RPGs. Furthermore, after the ridiculous opening, the narrator talks proudly about how his game is an RPG without any combat.

Yes, an RPG without combat. Like a pizza without dough. Like sex without ejaculation. Like a vehicle without a steering mechanism.

Now don’t get me wrong, the game itself doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that this game not only calls itself an RPG, but is often brought up by others as one of the giants of the indie RPG scene and is considered “high art”. When a game that lacks such a crucial part of the RPG experience earns praise within the genre, it infuriates me. Especially when so many of the industry’s casual dabblers hold this game up as proof that combat in RPGs is something that needs to be axed.

I know what fans of To the Moon, or games like it, would say to me. “But what is an RPG anyway, isn’t it just any game where you play a role?” Good point. I’ve heard this argument bandied about on forums for over a decade. Everyone thinks they know what constitutes an RPG. Some say it’s the story, others say it’s the choice and consequence. Both of these theories are wrong. Want to know what really makes a game an RPG?

Dice rolls.

I was seven years old when I first got into Dungeons & Dragons. Since the big kids at my summer camp wouldn’t let me join their tabletop games, I bought all of the rulebooks and constructed my own games which I then played by myself. For a good two years I mistakenly believed the “R” in the intialism RPG stood for roll, as in rolling of dice. It wasn’t until I bought the core D&D rulebook and saw it spelled “role” that I corrected myself.

Yet for me, it made sense. Anyone can build a story around something, but it’s the act of random number generation that adds the strategy and tactical aspect to it that makes it an RPG. Merely choosing dialog options in a game or picking which hair color you want your avatar to wear doesn’t make a game an RPG. The use of dice rolls and the adaption you make to their results is what makes it an RPG. Take out the dice and you have no need for strategy or planning. Take out the random number generation and you have no variance. Take out that unknown factor and you have no reason to fear the game. You are merely reading a story and choosing your reply from a list. That’s called a (Editor’s note: kinetic) visual novel, not an RPG. Including them alongside of games like Ultima or Baldur’s Gate does the genre a disservice.

This is also why I consider many RPG hybrids to be RPGs, so long as they have some form of variance in the form of dice rolls. Even the first Deus Ex computes hit chance when firing a gun and uses your skill with each type of firearm to determine the rate at which your aiming reticule wobbles. Though you’d think my statement about games requiring dice rolls means the pool of titles that I consider to be RPGs is smaller than most, it actually means the opposite. To me, any game whose combat is heavily (And this, admittedly, is something I’d have to clarify in a separate editorial) influenced by dice rolls or statistics is an RPG.

Of course, if you don’t even have any combat…this is all wasted breath.

Pillars_of_Eternity_4-7-2015-5

A typical battle in Pillars of Eternity

So we now know an RPG is about dice rolls and combat is how you best use those dice rolls, really simple stuff here. With that out of the way, let’s use that knowledge to answer the original question here…and that’s whether or not combat is something that needs to be toned down for the RPG genre to evolve into a beautiful butterfly and attain its holy birthright and place amongst the stars. So does it? Is combat a problem? Is Pillars of Eternity, like the PC Gamer article said, a game with too many battles?

First of all, what I’d like to know is what the deal is with people using Pillars of Eternity as a case study for their whacked-out anti-combat RPG theories. Not only did PC Gamer do it, but the Guardian has as well. Granted, their article was more focused on people not completing the game, but it not-so-subtly insinuates that the reason why people didn’t finish the game is due to the combat, difficulty, and length.

Secondly, and more importantly, I’d like to know if the people writing these articles understand the roots of the RPG. Do they realize that the genre was birthed from the Wargaming scene of the early 20th century? Dungeons & Dragons isn’t something that fell out of the sky one day and knocked Gary Gygax on the head. It was a natural progression from classic tabletop wargames that simply added a story, world lore, and some motivation behind the fights beyond simply wanting to kill your opponents.

Throw in some Tolkien-esque nonsense (which was gaining in popularity in the 70s when D&D came out) and you have the beginnings of the modern RPG genre. It was these tabletop wargames that acted as the basis for pen and paper RPGs, which in turn acted as the inspiration for early digital RPGs like Rogue and Wizardry. Simply put, combat is at the very core of an RPG and to remove it means to take the engine out of a car and yet continue calling it an automobile.

Combat is where you form relationships with your characters. It’s where their personalities emerge and that player-character bond is forged. While your in-game party may strengthen their friendships between each other in dialog boxes during cut scenes, the bonding between the one holding the joystick and the character behind the monitor is done almost exclusively in combat. Whether it was Minsc’s hilarious battle cries in Baldur’s Gate, Mistral’s cute emoticon-laced utterances in Dot Hack, or Sulik’s crazy taunts in Fallout 2, there’s a lot of personality that can be inserted into a character through their behavior in combat.

It isn’t the only way to give them flavor, but it is the easiest and most profound…at least in my opinion.

But I get it, there are some slightly more rational folk who just want to lessen the combat. They don’t subscribe to Jennifer Hepler’s mantra of “Can we please just skip ahead to the awkward sex scenes” and they do, in fact, still enjoy a good tactical battle here and there. That’s great. Really, it is. I just have one very teensy little problem with that train of thought.

If you think that way, then don’t demand all RPGs change to accommodate your taste.

As I said, combat is the crux of any RPG. You can swim around in dialog trees for hours if you want, but you aren’t truly “role playing” until you get your ass out of the text box and into a suitably deep action menu whose proper navigation is the only way to prevent a game over screen from appearing. The combat is the “check” to see if you have what it takes to continue. If you don’t, well, then there’s always plenty of walking simulators on Steam that can give you the dialog choices you want, without the hassle of having to obsess over builds or learning to exploit the game’s rules.

This whole debate is just a symptom of the larger issue of non-fans coming into the gaming hobby and trying to weasel their way in without properly paying the dues needed for entry. Most of these non-games you see popping up are coming from these folks, and sadly, a lot of your gaming websites are now being staffed by pretenders who subscribe to that destructive “non-fan” design philosophy. Make the game easier! Make the game shorter! Please make an RPG for me that has no combat, is only 5 minutes long, doesn’t punish me for failing to use any strategy and lets me copulate with large non-human races that resemble something out of my Deviantart account!

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Some dialog in Mass Effect

It’s funny, but it’s not very far from the truth either. There is a real growing sentiment amongst newly arriving “RPG fans” that our games are not only too hard, but too long as well. For them, the drudgery of combat extends the game far beyond what they feel comfortable investing their time into, and they believe that the only way for the RPG genre to improve is to remove said drudgery and severely shorten the game’s length.

Granted, there are RPGs out there that even real fans point to as being too combat-heavy and obtuse in their design. Two that come to mind are Drakensang and Temple of Elemental Evil. The one thing to remember about them is that for every person who thinks they are too combat heavy or difficult, there is another RPG’er who values the challenge those games provide. There’s nothing wrong with not liking these combat-heavy RPGs, but at the same time, you shouldn’t berate their designers for simply focusing on that one defining aspect of the genre. Don’t like such an intense focus on combat? Try Planescape: Torment, which doesn’t even have much combat until the last 1/3rd of the story. Don’t appreciate a hardcore ruleset? Install one of the many simplistic RPG Maker games that sit on Steam.

I understand people have lives, families, and jobs. No one is more sympathetic to that than me, since I balance all three and yet still make enough time to game and write every day for this website. Yet to hear some of these folks talk, it’s as if they barely have enough time to wipe after going to the bathroom. If presented with an epic RPG that is more than 20 hours in length, they whine that they don’t have the time for it.

Wasteland2-5

A battle in Wasteland 2

If confronted with a really long game, like Pillars of Eternity or Wasteland 2, they roll their eyes and make a comment about how such titles are proof that the genre needs to change. If you have so little free time, why did you pick a genre of game that is universally known for being extraordinarily time consuming? Why enter into a notoriously demanding sub-genre that even the most devoted of geeks have trouble following?

My theory? The RPG hobby is the golden jewel in the crown of gaming and is the most prestigious – at least in terms of generating and proving geek cred – amongst all of the hobby’s genres. People who want to be a part of the cool crowd come here first, and that’s why the first bout of “mainstreaming” you saw in gaming this last decade occurred within the RPG genre before anything else. As RPG Codex frequently put it, that period was “the decline”. Thanks to Kickstarter, you’re seeing a huge “incline”, but it was a long time coming. Also, it was this decline in RPG depth and complexity that was the canary dying in the coal mine – the warning that this same problem would crop up in the gaming hobby at large. Unfortunately, we didn’t listen.

It reminds me of a quote by Paul Mooney, who when on Dave Chapelle’s Comedy Central show one time, remarked, “Everybody wants to be a [N-word], but nobody wants to be a [N-word].” What he was referring to is how everyone wants to have the swagger and the hip-ness of being black, but nobody wants to deal with the adversities they face in society (an argument I’m not going to get into here). It’s the same with geek culture and RPGs as well. Everyone wants to be a geek, but nobody wants to actually be a geek. They’ll call themselves a geek, or an RPG’er even, but they are only those things in name, and not by nature. If you dare point this out to someone who is such a poser, they play the tired old “Who left you in charge?” card, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Everyone wants to be counter-culture and seem “unique”, but nobody wants to actually live the proper life of a geek. Ask any of these pretenders if they know what a hikikomori is, and when explained, see if they would wear it as a badge of honor. Ask them if they know what “cat-assing” is and if they frequently do it (preferably with an RPG) and I’ll bet you they have no idea what you’re talking about. Granted, there are different levels of geek devotion, but it has been my experience that the same people crying for the genre to adapt to their mainstream preferences are often just RPG’ers in name only. Like it or not, geek cred matters.

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A still from the 2008 movie, Tokyo!

It’s like that television show The Big Bang Theory. It is essentially blackface for geeks.

The geek equivalent of what minstrel shows were for African Americans. A show that, at least in my opinion, is somewhat to blame for the sudden rash of wannabes trying to pull off the geek look and pretend as if they care about geek hobbies. Getting back to the editorial’s subject, it’s these folks who are writing those “RPGs are too hard/long/too full of combat” complaints. Either that or they are just using the sudden and disappointingly large influx of these people for web page clicks by echoing their concerns.

It all boils down to paying your dues. Which is to say, if you want into a hobby, you need to “come correct”, as they say. You need to understand its history, its rules, what made it strong and what keeps it healthy. You need to accept what it is that attracts people to it and what makes it unique and adapt to those things, not try to force the overwhelming majority to instead adapt to you, the new entrant. Doing so muddies the waters, divides the community, and creates general chaos.

The RPG genre is the one genre where you need to sacrifice a little bit of your life to better enjoy it. No one is saying you need to cloister yourself in a basement and shut all the windows, but I’m not going to tell you that doesn’t help, either (spoiler: it does).

Combat is what separates the gold from the dross and the wheat from the chaff. If your “RPG” lacks it, then it’s not an RPG. This is a hobby for the person who memorizes 500 pages of rules and spends years learning how to exploit them. This is a genre for gamers that play in 18 hour spurts and wake up to go to work without having slept and get sent to drug tests because their boss thinks they’re on amphetamines. This is the genre for folks that love to shut the doors, bar the windows, close the shades and sink into a chair all week to play the latest open world masterpiece. This isn’t a genre for half-hearted bandwagon jumpers that want to be seen as one of the cool kids.

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance, an upcoming RPG that focuses on realistic combat

Granted, as we age we can’t be the proud cave-dwelling geeks we once were. But you know what? That’s ok. You play what you can and enjoy it. Just don’t demand the genre change to placate the minority’s needs. RPGs aren’t meant to be short, easy, or simplistic. If you want that, you chose the wrong hobby.

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About

Carl is both a JRPG fan and a CRPG'er who especially loves European PC games. Even with more than three decades of gaming under his belt, he feels the best of the hobby is yet to come.



110 comments
  1. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 8, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    Interesting piece. I actually got into a similar discussion on another article here the other day about hentai in visual novels (though I don’t think it’s quite the same since ero games are really just a VN subgenre, even if they do appear to be the majority)

    I think calling something like To the Moon an RPG is a little like calling Portal an FPS just because it’s in first person and you have a portal “gun”

  2. Miguel Vidal
    Miguel Vidal
    July 8, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Please, sir, allow me to firmly hug you, for I also support the ideas here written.
    I am SO full of people complaining that “RPGs are too boring/long/difficult” or that “they haven’t evolved a bit since their origins”.
    Dude, if you don’t like this, enjoy other hobby, like canoeing, dunno.

  3. Random Marine
    Random Marine
    July 8, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Wow, great article…..Last week i saw someone commenting on a Witcher 3 article that he felt the game had too much stats to care about and that equipments and skills should be more “streamlined”….
    I don’t get why some people wants ALL kinds of games to be like what they want….”Ohh FPS needs deep narrative and less shooting….ooh RPGs need to be less complex….oooh all fighting games are the same…”

  4. Dewey Defeats Truman
    Dewey Defeats Truman
    July 8, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    I’m not an RPG guy by any measure but I can respect the genre for what it is and see the appeal.

    I will never understand people that want shorter RPGs. If you don’t have time to play an 80 hour story that’s cool, play something like Nights into Dreams or Cave Story or Mega Man X. Those are all less than five hours long and they’re all amazing games. Sure their stories aren’t as deep but they all do tell one. If you really only care for the story and not the game, just look up a let’s play or something.

    That’s the cool thing about video games. It’s a medium. There’s something for everyone if you look. If RPGs don’t appeal to you, you can play something else. You don’t have to force it to be something it’s not, because then you’ll get a lesser game and the actual fans will get a lesser genre.

  5. H. Guderian
    H. Guderian
    July 8, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    I think you were a taaad too defensive of the hobby, but I support the overall sentiment. A new person to a genre should gain some experience as to why the genre works the way it does before speaking as an authority on it.

  6. orbo
    orbo
    July 8, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    I like visual novels, but I’ve never once considered them to be rpgs.

    Funnily enough, even visual novels are more complicated than To The Moon.
    Most visual novels have lose conditions.
    And depending on what it is you’re reading they can be extremely lengthy too.

  7. Ncrdrg
    Ncrdrg
    July 8, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    I loved To the Moon myself but that’s because I tend to also like narrative games with limited interaction. It’s more an interactive story or an adventure game, I’m fine with that. No way should the word RPG come next to it though, regardless how how good its story is.

    Regarding the fake combat scene, it was mostly comedy really, you may be reading too much into it, the kids were saying they love role playing so the game eventually switched to typical rpg combat music and stuff while pretending you’re going to fight some animals. I saw it as a nod to RPG lore rather than mocking them.

  8. Ncrdrg
    Ncrdrg
    July 8, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    Yes, I never quite understand these folks. I like story-heavy games, with a lot of customization possible. I’m not going to like FPS games mostly and that’s fine, I’m not its audience. Which is why I’m not asking for it to be changed for me, I just play stuff I find more interesting.

  9. NuclearCherries
    NuclearCherries
    July 8, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Brilliant article. If they can’t grasp simple combat mechanics, why are they playing video games? These are the same people who insist all fighting games are the same. They want to get rid of gameplay in favour of some “Oh so artsy” story. Video games are fine as they are, and they don’t need dumbing down. I do not want to see the RPG market turn into what happened to the FPS market, though some would say we are on the path there with how dungeons have gotten a lot more linear in recent years. Games need to get longer and more difficult. I want to be challenged by games, and I want bang for my buck. No 6 hour game with simple combat is worth $60. But a 60 hour game with great combat? Better in every way.

  10. Muten
    Muten
    July 8, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    No combat? how should i use my stats then? 9 in strg lets me hug the super mutant with much much love and care…

  11. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 8, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    “I do not want to see the RPG market turn into what happened to the FPS market, though some would say we are on the path there”

    Well I mean Skyrim DID have a perk system that was pretty much straight out of Call of Duty so…

  12. Domhnall
    Domhnall
    July 8, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Agreed. I enjoyed To The Moon for what it was, but what it was was DEFINITELY not an RPG.

  13. Cred
    Cred
    July 8, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    there’s nothing wrong with a game that is like an RPG but without the combat, but calling such a thing an RPG wouldn’t be a very good idea, it would give people the wrong impression of what it is and it would dilute the meaning of the label

    and nothing wrong with making an rpg easier or providing a mode that makes it easier like fire emblem did, if it’s optional and doesn’t disrupt the way the game plays then what’s wrong with making it easier for those that choose to play it that way? games have had cheat codes for ages
    but they should be properly labeled, fire emblem openly calls its ez mode CASUAL
    casuals that don’t like the name of the mode should stop being so insecure
    and players that don’t like the idea of a casual mode existing should grow up too, if some people want to play a game in a way that makes it less fun it’s their loss

    what is wrong is the way some people are trying to turn this into a matter of politics and drama, the ones that preach about inclusion are the ones that exclude everyone else the most if they don’t agree with their views and will use bullshit and shaming language to make their point across, they are more like preachers than fans of the medium

  14. DeusEx
    DeusEx
    July 8, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    An RPG without combat is just a drama.

    And we’ve seen how well drama games sell, right, Tale of Tales?

  15. deadeye
    deadeye
    July 8, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I say if you make fun of combat in RPGs, or think RPGs have terrible combat, then you’ve never played a good RPG.

    My favorite RPGs have some of the most in-depth and rewarding battle systems I’ve seen in games. And plenty of them are very accessible.

    Even RPG focused sites tend to focus on games stories and treat gameplay almost as secondary. Something you just have to kinda deal with to get through the story.

    I don’t understand this notion at all. Why play it then if you don’t think it’s fun? It reminds me of the people that play stealth games and demand to be able to just go through the game guns blazing.

  16. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    I agree with plenty of points but would like to expand and disagree with some:
    – Struggle should be a part of pretty much any video game. Combat may not be necessary, but put resource management, make people take difficult choices, have them solve puzzles. VLR managed to do some of this right and it’s a VN.
    – Why do Game Developers care so much about people not finishing their games. Most people haven’t finished Super Mario Bros., fought the hardest opponents in Wii Sports or 3 starred all levels in Angry Birds. Comic writers don’t really whine about people not finishing their run, or anime producers cry about losing viewers each episode. I don’t think George R.R. Martin cares that a large part of his buyers finished the book much less read any page.

    – I hate people who want to enforce the option of diluting a game. It’s like buying a book like Dracula and getting “Dracula for kids” inside, I don’t want to be paying for that. Make it Free DLC, punish the people reading Dracula for kids or reward me for reading Dracula. Don’t be complacent to people who barely care about putting effort into your game.

    – “It’s like music! I should be able to skip to what parts I want” I’ve seen idiots argue about Bloodborne. First of all that breaks the game for people wanting to do online modes. Second of all it removes all of the struggle and sorry, not all games should be NSMBWii or Mega Man. Part of the appeal is that you can’t BS your way through the game, and it’s like a TV series or Performance art that requires you to marathon it to fully grasp. The devs create a certain experience and you can take it or leave it

    – I also dislike the people who say “I want to get into X series, what games should I skip” while it can be good to skip some shitty games, these people are just doing it for the “geek cred” and that’s something you hone not earn.
    – Big Bang Theory is sure to be the biggest factor in adults taking interest in geeky or nerdy hobbies. Still, I wouldn’t say its black face.

  17. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    There’s thousands of actual movies with better actors, graphics, dialogue and scenarios than video games. I think it’s mostly bitter people (Ben Kuchera) or people with Dunning-Krueger (Egoraptor) who whine about games not being “X.”
    Also I think character action games and Shmups have to be short and sweet by design, but the initial play through is basically a 4-6 hour tutorial.
    I do hate the people who say all games in genre are the same, nothing better to prove your ignorance, lack of attention while playing or failing to grasp the nuances. There’s plenty of ways why Resident Evil 4 stills stands as the summit of the third person shooter. What’s worse is people complaining about stuff I figured out as a kid when I had 30 minutes per day on the internet.

  18. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    While I’ve been playing RPGs and loving them for years among other game genres… I do feel that there needs to be a healthy balance of RPGs with LESS frequent random encounters and faster actions per turn alongside those really lengthy, drawn out RPGs. While I’ve played and loved these games for years and years, it does get tiring. Especially in games like Final Fantasy 1 where the encounter rate happens every 2 steps.

    Have games changed due to some of these issues actually being real issues? Yeah, many have. I can’t remember the last RPG where the encounter rates were so high, as an example. That’s because most of these issues are legitimate issues. The Final Fantasy 1 example is due to it being their first real RPG of this variety. It was an actual problem, not some high-bar that only “true geeks” could vault over.

  19. Zizal
    Zizal
    July 8, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    I’m a huge RPG games fan and I play them mainly for the gameplay. I never cared about the story.

  20. Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k
    July 8, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    There’s a reason To The Moon is only 5 hours long, it’s because an RPG without combat gets boring real fast. Without excitement to pad together between story segments you better keep the story engaging all the way through and get the pacing right.

    And a game purely about the story isn’t an RPG. RPGs are at their fundamental level about statistics in SOME manner.

  21. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    I agree, well said.

  22. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    – They want to be seen as cool without putting any effort.
    – They hate the genre and are salty 12 year olds are better than them.
    – They can’t grasp any nuance in the game.
    – They can barely control the game like my Sister-in-law in 3D Marios.

    – They are entitled and don’t want to step out of their comfort zone.

  23. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Aw, but the story is sometimes the best part! I feel they all need good gameplay mechanics as well as a good story.

  24. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    The best part about DQ besies the art style is grinding Metal Slimes. It’s the most Zen and nerve wracking thing ever. It’s also like Gambling but without losing your money.

  25. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Funny, I’m pretty sure some DQ games even have legit gambling.

  26. Clairity
    Clairity
    July 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Sounds like Bravely Default would be a great game for you. You can adjust the encounter rate on the fly, turn off money/XP/gold from battles (very useful if you only want to grind one of those), and you can speed up the action quite a bit (I think the x2 speed should be the default for games like it, honestly) or pause it completely.

    And of course, statting out characters and using the Brave/Default system is super awesome.

  27. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Golden Hands in Persona 3 & 4 as well. The problem is always, “Don’t run! For the love of god, don’t run!”

  28. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    They do (and give you some if not the best equipment) but you can save scum them unlike Metal Slime Battles. They say Yujii Horii is an avid gambler and that’s why they put the casinos and why you can only save in towns, because you either risked completing the dungeon or you give up and have to start from the beginning.

  29. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I own and liked that game very much. It was like Final Fantasy’s old job system got revived, and that system was a lot of fun. The problem with Bravely Default (this is just my opinion) is most people don’t want to be forced to play the same game over 2-3 times before they ACTUALLY win. The game was a bit upsetting having to fight all the same bosses over again.

  30. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    Yeah, I quit midway because of that. Real disappointing, but it was a serious design flaw.

    I mean there’s padding, there’s fluff, and then there’s just copy-paste. Not to mention the world was stupid small, the dungeons were laughably insignificant and the writing was (if I could allude to the Codex again) banal shit boring.

    I give the combat an A+ though. I might even play BD2 if they don’t have repeat episodes.

  31. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    A side note revolving gambling: Rogue-Like games have their appeal due to the “You die, you lose everything” mentality. And Rogue-Like games are. Kick. Ass.

  32. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Ah yes, my favorite part about old RPGs. The war on attrition. You could steamroll enemies yeah, but for how long? Oh, you’re out of mana? Guess you got to go back you scrub.

    *Developer evil laughs in the background, lightning strikes*

  33. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    I’ll be buying it as well if it looks exactly like the first but without the storyline conundrum the first had. I guess Bravely Default is a great example for the article, seeing as the combat WAS the game, and nothing else really mattered.

  34. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Yeah, it’s pretty much one of the de-facto JRPGs when it comes to combat. At least the classic Japanese interpretation of RPG combat anyway.

  35. Zizal
    Zizal
    July 8, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    The story definitely add to the experience, but my enjoyment is more about the gameplay. I like killing boss and looking for chests and equipment. My favorite genres are more about the gameplay like hack n slash and beat em up. I hate how games are easy these days. Check points everywhere no game over screen and other hand holding features.

  36. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 8, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    My only issue with that is my mentality of “I hate wasting my time.” If I play a section of a game and something slaughters me after 30 minutes to an hour of game time has elapsed… I feel like I’ve been gypped if there’s no checkpoint of auto-save somewhere between my last save and then.

    What sucks even further are the games that will kill you and expect you to learn why and how you died by actually dying. It’s inevitable, then, unless you research a complete walkthrough beforehand. Some games do it right (Dark Souls) and others… uhg…

  37. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Hey man, I’ve been playing RPGs for pretty much all my life and I had no idea what hikikomori or “cat-assing” was until this article. Give me some slack.

    But still, nice editorial. I get the sentiment. Which was funny, the reason why I avoided To The Moon was because of the same reason. I didn’t like how some people were calling an RPG even though it doesn’t have any combat.

  38. Zizal
    Zizal
    July 8, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    I agree about wasting the time but the feel of accomplishment will be less when there is check points also it will encourage players to try again without learning from their mistakes. The death penalty is a good way of punishing players without wasting their time.

  39. Clairity
    Clairity
    July 8, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    To be fair, if you were only playing western RPGs and wasn’t interested in anime or anything, you probably wouldn’t know.

    Also, apparently cat-assing is an MMORPG term and I guess if you don’t play those, you wouldn’t be familiar with that one either.

  40. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Sounds about right. Though I do play some JRPGs and watch some anime (mostly 80s-90s with a bit of modern) but I don’t really talk to anyone that likes it.

  41. Clairity
    Clairity
    July 8, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Fair enough. Actually, come to think of it, you could watch a LOT of anime before the topic of hikkikomori comes up, since that’s only really mentioned (to my knowledge) in some shows explicitly set in Japan.

  42. Cred
    Cred
    July 8, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    that’s just passion!

  43. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    We’re already on that path. RPGs are getting dumbed to heck, everything is easy. Bioware’s drivel is somehow being taken seriously, all is lost.

    I’m only being half facetious.

  44. Cred
    Cred
    July 8, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Check the paper mario RPG’s
    the amount of enemies is not random or always respawning so it’s not such a grind, and it’s always possible to interact with the enemies to get the first strike
    it’s a cool system

  45. Zizal
    Zizal
    July 8, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    I learned the word hikikimori from the anime called Welcome to the N.H.K.

  46. Alexis Nascimento-Lajoie
    Alexis Nascimento-Lajoie
    July 8, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    >It’s like that television show The Big Bang Theory. It is essentially blackface for geeks.

    This is the greatest line ever written.

    God bless you

  47. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    As for To The Moon, many people do consider it an adventure game. But on steam, in some reviews (professional, even) and probably through word-of-mouth there are still some that consider it an RPG. Somehow.

  48. Clairity
    Clairity
    July 8, 2015 at 10:43 pm

    I feel like a good compromise would be to have some sort of tradeoff for continuing at a checkpoint. Like, you could reload your last save for “free” or you could continue from this convenient checkpoint for a cost of X amount of experience towards your next level, or X amount of gold. Losing still has a punishment, but you have a choice of whether you lose in game resources or your real life time.

  49. Ippiki Okami
    Ippiki Okami
    July 8, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    Great article! I personally blame post EA-acquisition Bioware for this. With the exception of Jade Empire, all of Bioware’s games before EA was very stat, dice based, and required a significant time investment to both explore the game and learn the mechanics. Then someone high up thought the games were too difficult and starting with Mass Effect 2, they became action games with light rpg elements. The tumblr kids/critics who only played from Mass Effect 2 thru DA:Inquisition think that they every rpg needs to be easy without any investment while not realizing that many classic RPGs are actually the exact opposite. Fortunately I believe things are turning with Obsidian, From Software, and countless more studios embracing classic elements of the rpg genre.

  50. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 8, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    I’ve always pointed to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age sequels (and to a slightly lesser extent Skyrim) as the harbingers of the RPGs decline too. I say Skyrim to a lesser extent because the resurgence kicked off by Dark Souls had already started when it came out

    At least there aren’t calls for every RPG to feature awkward lesbian elf sex. Yet…

  51. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    It’s an old one, even Penny Arcade has used it before.

  52. Zizal
    Zizal
    July 8, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    The punishment must be harsh to force people to load the game. I was thinking that hack n slash developers should add reverse combos or anti-mashing mechanics to the game, where your character hurt itself for pressing the wrong combos to force people to learn how to play.

  53. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 8, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    I really think the appeal of Bioware games nowadays comes from people using them as wank fantasies or as settings they can use for their fanfiction. Mass Effect 2 was fine, except for the ammo thing and the leveling system but yeah comparing the dialogue options from ME1 to ME3 you can see the EA creep in.

  54. Wonderkarp
    Wonderkarp
    July 8, 2015 at 11:07 pm

    This all goes back to a firm belief I have that new gamers should start with classics from the 80s and 90s before they form any form of gaming opinion. These people play Candy Crush and Angry Birds on their phones, and then want to get into serious gaming, and instead of learning and trying new things, they instantly Bitch about this and that thats been around for decades, some of which before they were even born.

    I’ve been gaming since I was 5, and when my brother of 8 years younger than me was born, I made sure to instill with him a love for the classics. When he was in elementary school and early middle school, and kids were playing Megaman NT Warrior and were naive to the older games, My brother proudly said to them “Thats Not Megaman. This is Megaman” and Proceeded to school many on classic 8bit Megaman and the Megaman X Series.

    If you are going to bitch about RPGs, you need to level up your experience first. Play Mario RPG(I highly recomend Mario RPG as a starter RPG for the Turnbased RPG Genre), some old School Final Fantasy, Baldurs Gate, Diablo 2 and more. Then we’ll talk.

  55. Domingo
    Domingo
    July 8, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute here. RPGs that focus on story
    rather than combat can be as much fun as an RPG with a combat focus.

    My
    examples would be Planescape: Torment (a game where combat is pretty
    boring, and most would agree is to be played for the story), Shenmue
    (where the combat tended to be pretty clunky and uninspired, but the story was
    phenomenal) and even Morrowind (the combat was not good at all, but the
    exploration, world building and story were the biggest draws).

    Of
    course, what would have been ideal for these games would have been for
    the combat to have been improved, but even with lackluster combat mechanics, an RPG can still capture your heart due
    to the characters, the plot, and other story-related elements.

  56. Random Dude
    Random Dude
    July 8, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Fully agreed with you. You need a good story to make sure your audience stay or otherwise they’ll leave. If you can do that, then maybe you want to change profession to author instead. You don’t even have to code stuffs!

  57. deadeye
    deadeye
    July 8, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Personally, I’ve never agreed with the notion that “you need to do X to have an opinion on something”.

    While older games are worth playing, I don’t think they are necessary at all. There are plenty of modern movie reviewers and critics that have probably never seen a silent film, or even a black and white film.

    Video games would naturally be the same way. It’s just not reasonable at all to expect everyone that just wants to get into something to go play a giant stack of 80+ hour games before they can even have an opinion.

  58. deadeye
    deadeye
    July 8, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    I’d say those are exceptions to the rule.

    In the case of Morrowind, exploration is part of the gameplay, and is pretty much the main appeal of the game. One could also say that navigating the complex dialogue trees in Planescape: Torment is gameplay as well.

    Gameplay is not necessarily just combat, and I think that’s an important distinction to make. And in Morrowind, the actual story itself is nothing special at all, but the story you make for yourself through your explorations, choices, and adventuring, is really great.

    Morrowind and P:T have gameplay. Gameplay that’s fun and compelling. I don’t see any real compelling gameplay here, to be honest.

    Also, I’ve never played the Shenmue games, so I don’t have an opinion on them.

  59. GDI
    GDI
    July 8, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Nice. I’m inspired by this article.

    Even for JRPGs, the more casual of RPGs, this holds true: the battle system is one of the pillars, if not the pillar, of the game.

    Resonance of Fate was for me, 115 hours of pure tactical goodness. I didn’t even know what the hell the story was about, I only cared that Reanbell was my waifu.

    It is possible to create a smaller more casual experience without sacrificing what makes an RPG good. Take Crimson Shroud (Guild 01 3Ds Eshop), it’s literrally a tabletop figurine game in digital format, with wonderful lyrical storytelling.

  60. Raziel Barkrai
    Raziel Barkrai
    July 8, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    I usually like a balance between gameplay and story when playing an RPG with gameplay being the main seller since it’s harder for me to gauge the quality of a game’s story through videos.

  61. Domingo
    Domingo
    July 8, 2015 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks for the reply.

    Completely agree with your points, but that also contradicts some of what Carl states in the article several times. The main point I want to drive at is that gameplay does not necessarily have to equate combat. I can appreciate a game with a great combat system, just like I can appreciate a game that focuses on your choices and how they affect the world, or in exploring new locales and seeing the people that inhabit them.

  62. Random Dude
    Random Dude
    July 8, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    A bit off-topic here, but can you recommend some those good combat RPG?

  63. Raziel Barkrai
    Raziel Barkrai
    July 8, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Recently picked up Crimson Shroud since it was directed by Yasumi Matsuno and been having a blast. Also, I like to think that Resonance of Fate was about a group of gun-wielding acrobats doing odd jobs together that was presented to the player in a Cowboy Bebop-esque form of storytelling.

  64. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 8, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    Depends on your tastes, but Temple of Elemental Evil tops the charts in terms of western turn-based design. Same goes for Gold Box games, and the Wizardry games are just excellent in that regard. Especially the later ones.

    In the JRPG field you have your classics like Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. Perfection with that one, really. The series itself is a goldmine, but you can trip up once and a while. Bravely Default is definitely more casual but has an edge to it, that many people enjoy.

    For SRPGs ooh, you got some really good ones. The west has Jagged Alliance, Silent Storm, games like that. The east has some more well known ones like Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem (more of a Strategy game with RPG elements though, same applies to Jagged Alliance) and Tactics Ogre.

    For the real-time stuff you can’t go wrong with Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale with a couple of choice mods. Or, just recently, you have the Souls series. Always a pleasure there. And, this isn’t really an RPG, but for anything real time and combat related I have to mention Mount and Blade. I can’t help it.

    EDIT: This was just off the top of my head though.

  65. Cred
    Cred
    July 8, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    ME2 already had a more shallow combat, the aiming and cover and other shooter aspects were faster and more precise but the RPG aspects like managing all the abilities of the entire party and using different weapons for different jobs were all worse

  66. deadeye
    deadeye
    July 9, 2015 at 12:02 am

    For western turn based, I also recommend Divinity: Original Sin and Shadowrun: Dragonfall.

    Both have gameplay reminiscent of the modern Xcom game. Both have a lot of depth and variety to their gamplay.

    D:OS in particular is really interesting and has some really satisfying combat. I really like because if you just do the old “spam strongest attack” strategy, you will have a real rough time of it. The combat is all about using buffs and status effects, which is really great since those things are borderline useless in a lot of RPGs.

    Shadowrun: Dragonfall basically plays exactly like the newer Xcom game. Just with some Shadowrun flair. I think it’s really accessible, as you only have to focus on the stats and gear of your own character, and the stats are very plain as to what they allow you to do.

    The Fallout games are all really good. Three is a bit mediocre, but mods fix it. Or you can just play New Vegas.

    Grandia has one of my favorite battle systems of PS1 RPGs.

    There’s a whole lot more out there. That’s just off the top of my head.

  67. Misogynerd
    Misogynerd
    July 9, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Mass Effect 1 was clunky with how it managed the inventory in my opinion and the armors were butt ugly, while Mass Effect is better overall on a moment to moment basis, they really removed tons of stuff like Weapon Mods, EXP, Removed most passives, made the dumbest leveling system (4 levels before you can improve an ability wtf).

  68. Random Dude
    Random Dude
    July 9, 2015 at 12:11 am

    I’m actually looking for open world RPG right now, preferably one that let me play as pure archer. I heard a lot of good stuff from Icewind Dale so I’ll look into it. I’m already an SMT fan :). Too bad I don’t have my ps2 anymore. (that reminds me, I really need to finish Strange Journey)

  69. Random Dude
    Random Dude
    July 9, 2015 at 12:16 am

    D:OS somewhat irks me with the limited party thing, although I’m willing to try it again after I finished my XCOM: Long War. I’ll look into Shadowrun as well later. As for F:NV, I like how the game let you resolve conflict without having to resort in violence, assuming you keep your speech skill leveled. Now if only the game would stop corrupting my save, that would be golden.

  70. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 9, 2015 at 12:17 am

    Eh, I wouldn’t really recommend a Fallout game for combat. Especially something as flawed as Fallout 3 which wouldn’t be fixed in the combat department with mods, there is only so much that can be applied to a mediocre (or bad, depending on who you talk to) product. New Vegas lifted the combat a bit with better itemization and more interesting enemies, but I wouldn’t call it noteworthy by any means.

    Fallout’s strong suit was never combat, though it wasn’t its weakness either. The encounters were tough when it wanted to be, and it was fun to aim at specific parts to (possibly) get certain status effects but other than that…there’s not much there to work with imo.

  71. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 9, 2015 at 12:21 am

    A good amount of the games I mentioned can be classified as open world. The later Wizardry games, some Gold Box modules had a bit of exploration, Baldur’s Gate would be a better choice as a beginner to the Infinity Engine if you haven’t tried it already. Dark Souls and Mount and Blade also have over-worlds to travel through.

  72. Random Dude
    Random Dude
    July 9, 2015 at 12:31 am

    I think I’ll pass of Baldur’s Gate. It could be just a case of bad apple, but after playing Jade Empire for sometime I don’t think I like bioware’s way of handling morality.

  73. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 9, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Never played it, but Baldur’s Gate did it just fine. For D&D/Forgotten Realms standards anyway. The writing was solid for a basic fantasy story, and certainly above what Bioware writes today.

    Besides, I’m talking about the combat portions, which, as far as RTwP games go, Baldur’s Gate excels at. You’d be missing out.

  74. Tubsiwub
    Tubsiwub
    July 9, 2015 at 12:54 am

    My favorite game of all time is Paper Mario for the N64, which leads me to hate the 3DS Paper Mario game even more.

    Good suggestion, it’s truly an awesome game.

  75. Tyrannikos
    Tyrannikos
    July 9, 2015 at 1:14 am

    I love you, Carl. Thank you so much for defending this genre. I feel the need to bring up Alpha Protocol. It was totally shunned by RPG “fans” for it’s random, dice-roll nature. I felt it was a fantastic entry to the actual RPG genre – not the genre Dragon Age fans are used to.

    I need to go re-download Temple of Elemental Evil now.

  76. Tyrannikos
    Tyrannikos
    July 9, 2015 at 1:20 am

    “Dunning-Krueger”

    Good lord, thank you for helping me learn about this. I’ve been trying to find a good way to describe to my friends why I don’t like Egoraptor anymore and this describes him to a T.

  77. Cred
    Cred
    July 9, 2015 at 1:32 am

    of course going down that path is also what big companies like EA and UBISOFT would love to see
    they make more money if those RPGs everyone loves are more accessible

  78. Maciej Miszczyk
    Maciej Miszczyk
    July 9, 2015 at 2:16 am

    I enjoy good combat but I also like it when RPGs allow you to skip it (e.g. by having persuasion skill) and make non-combat builds viable.it was one of the things I loved about old Fallouts and, to an extent, Arcanum (though in this case the combat was pretty bad) – they allowed a lot of freedom in how you build character and progress through story.

    honestly, while I enjoyed some dungeon crawling in Pillars of Eternity, I’d like being able to play as a stealth-focused or diplomatic character.

  79. Another Milewide
    Another Milewide
    July 9, 2015 at 3:12 am

    I grew up playing the infinity engine games and I still count them as some of my favourite games of all time. But I have utterly failed to get into any of the newer “revivals” of the classic RPG genre like Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity.

    I’m always left with the notion that “there’s a good reason we don’t make games like these anymore.” However I can’t quite put my finger on that reason.

    It may be that I’ve simply come to see RPG mechanics with disdain. Having the character progress in power in order to overcome the next obstacle, in my opinion, takes the challenge away from the player. If it’s just a matter of getting your base stats up to a certain level in order to proceed, then it’s just a matter of investing time, not wit, and that does not make for an engaging gaming experience.

    Most of all, I hate seeing RPG mechanics creep into different genres, like FPS and action games. Because to me, challenge is what makes gameplay rewarding and when it comes to challenge there is always a sweet-spot to be found. But allowing the player character to vary in basic power due to included RPG mechanics makes hitting this sweet-spot more difficult.

    For example, in Destiny, an FPS/RPG hybrid, you get enemies that are massive bullet sponges if they out-level you just a bit. In the Ys games, arriving at a boss while under-leveled will make for incredibly punishing experience but being over-leveled trivializes the encounter, stripping you of the possible sense of accomplishment for having struggled before finally beating the boss. And let’s not even begin to talk about FE: Awakening…

    I feel like I’m getting rather long-winded here so let me summarize my thoughts on RPGs. RPG, in essence, place the onus on the player character to be come stronger, not the player themselves to become better and that’s where everything goes wrong.

    Anyone else feel the same way or am I completely gone here? xD

  80. Another Milewide
    Another Milewide
    July 9, 2015 at 3:20 am

    OH! I almost forgot.

    Vagrant Story got it right. Leveling up in that game did not change your base stats that much, but rather gave you more attacks and options when engaging foes. That’s the way you do it!

  81. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    July 9, 2015 at 3:23 am

    Only somewhat. I dislike the Infinity Engine games due to their combat style, but IIRC, DivOS really encouraged the PLAYER’s creativity (skill) for a good deal of battles, due to the whole thing with the element spells and throwing stuff around

  82. Cred
    Cred
    July 9, 2015 at 3:43 am

    those ways to skip combat through gameplay with builds and in game skills to avoid combat are good

  83. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    July 9, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Combat is definitely a crucial, important part of any RPG…

    …and that’s why RTwP games like Baldur’s Gate suck ass. :P

  84. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    July 9, 2015 at 4:47 am

    Knights of the Chalice does D&D combat better than Temple of Elemental Evil.
    It also has a UI that’s super user-friendly, and is cheaper and less buggier than TOEE. Check it out.

  85. JackDandy
    JackDandy
    July 9, 2015 at 4:48 am

    Divinity Original Sin also has great combat, and with the enhanced edition coming out soon it’ll only get better.

  86. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 9, 2015 at 6:19 am

    Already have it, just forgot about it.

    I go to the Codex man, I’ve that shit dozens of times.

  87. Sebastian Mikulec
    Sebastian Mikulec
    July 9, 2015 at 7:24 am

    To be honest, I’ve come to enjoy combat less and less in RPGs over the years and the notion of an RPG without combat is kind of appealing to me. Well, I don’t mean an RPG where combat doesn’t exist, but one where you don’t necessarily have to engage in combat it you’re clever and skillful enough (hopefully Torment: Tides of Numenera delivers as promised in that area).

    I am not here, however, to argue about dice rolling combat and stats and skills. I am here to reject the notion that games need to get rid of or lessen the systems that are a barrier to entry for some. I am fully and firmly against this horrible and, quite frankly, worrying push from people to make all games and game types completely inclusive and accessible for everyone. That sort of homogenization of video games frightens me and makes me sick. Games do not need to be inclusive and accessible for everyone. It’s perfectly okay if certain games have a barrier to entry for some people. We’re different people and we enjoy different things. There are different games that cater to our different tastes and I’d like it to stay that way. The notion that every game must be “streamlined” so that it can be accessible to a casual audience is awful as much of the depth and complexity that could have been had will almost certainly always get lost in the streamlining process. The idea that if we remove this and this barrier to entry then these types of people can play this type of game too may sound good at first, if you don’t give it any thought. The reality is that by removing those barriers to entry the game that is left is a hollow shell of what it could have been.

  88. R353ARCH
    R353ARCH
    July 9, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Carl, you have won me over with your insight on the RPG genre and can now read your articles understanding you know what you’re talking about rather than having to take the time to dissect them and arrive at my own truths, which is the process of reading about most other RPG previews and reviews. “Roll-playing game–” its hard to describe the formula for a rewarding player-experience, but I now have faith that you write not just knowing what good RPGs are, but why they are/were good.

  89. R353ARCH
    R353ARCH
    July 9, 2015 at 8:07 am

    I’ve never even made the connection that Jade Empire was made after and by the same team behind Baldur’s Gate. Baldur’s Gate is one of the rare examples of DND math being made accessible by anyone outside of SSI. Though great, it is somewhat of a challenge to go back and play these games without achievements or trophies, as unfortunate as my conditioning has become over these last several years. However, with all the retro remakes becoming more popular, it’d be pretty awesome to see an old DND system game like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or Dark Sun get a modern-day makeover. These were games that really could be described as “PC RPGs,” where Jade Empire and Mass Effect are “console RPGs,” if such distinction could be made with a single word–but mainly just think about using an entire keyboard and mouse and HUD shortcuts versus having your main 6-8 button inputs from a controller. Likewise, the morality choices were just as reflectively deep and complex as the required input peripherals for those early DND-inspired RPGs. Now when we face choices in games, it doesn’t matter so much what your character does or what future consequences there will be–morality isn’t much an issue anymore, but what the “best” choice (or best reward for choice is), and dear Internet, could you please direct me to that choice as I’m unable to reach it on my own. I think bringing up Jade Empire was a great comparison point, because as more and more comparisons are made, it also highlights many of what I believe are the points of downfall (see also, mainstreaming) of the Granddaddy RPGs.

  90. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 9, 2015 at 8:10 am

    JRPGs are only casual if you stick to the popular ones. Try first person dungeon crawlers. Dat team building

  91. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 9, 2015 at 8:17 am

    I think the point is that a lot of these new people come in, play a few recent AAAs and act like theyre experts on all of gaming and start making “suggestions” about how to “improve” things (all of which are dumb). Like, if you play COD and Assassins Creed you get an opinion on those but not anything else

  92. Hinafag
    Hinafag
    July 9, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I strongly agree with main point of the article – battles indeed are a core of an RPG. At the same time it’s was really difficult to understand what point you were trying to get across in second part of the article.

    That people in video games media don’t really understand, like or even play video games? That they demand games to be simpler, shorter, less
    confusing not because it will make games better, but because it will make
    their job easier? If that is the case then I wholehertedly agree, but again – I would prefer if the message was more clear.

    Every paragraph after “It reminds me of a quote by Paul Mooney…” made me roll me eyes internally.
    There
    is no “paying your dues” when it comes to RPGs, RPG players are not
    “proud cave-dwelling geeks”, geeks are not niggers, not every RPG-fan is familiar with english MMORPG slang and by Lord why did you even mention “hikikomori” – what does it have to do with anything?

  93. Noah Howard
    Noah Howard
    July 9, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Nice article!
    Personally, I come from the Tolkien side of the fantasy fandom and, to me, the role playing game fulfills his wishes of a continuing universe that others can build upon without getting into the complexities of copyright.
    Here’s the thing, though: Tolkien tried to keep his stories as real as possible and fighting is bound to happen, especially between species that have ages of bad blood between them!
    Also, I agree with the article! Different folks have different strokes! I, for example, love interactive movies (Dracula Unleashed is my personal favorite) and even though I love the genre to death, most had small budgets, unknowns, and not enough PR (also, didn’t one interactive movie by Sega, alongside Mortal Kombat, bring about the ESRB?) and other general things that not a lot of people would like if they saw it in a Hollywood blockbuster.
    Same premise, here! Not everyone likes a role playing game that has next to no violence, but if they do, more power to them, but some of us still want the good old fashioned RPG! If we loved the exact same things everyone else loved, than it would be a boring world!

  94. Fenrir007
    Fenrir007
    July 9, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Very interesting article, Carl!

    First thing I’ll say is that I’m pretty lax with what I would call an RPG. I had fiery debates during my teenage and early adult years with people over what constitutes an RPG, including mulling over the denomination, getting into arguments about if you playing a role at all in the more static RPGs (like JRPGs, which are, in general, completely railroaded) and all that. Nowadays, I have a more relaxed approach, which is similar to the one I use to define something like a Visual Novel a “game”, and that is an utilitarian approach. Is the general public expecting this to be sold as an RPG? Is this what would traditionally be considered by gaming media and gaming fans as an RPG? Is the presentation similar to an RPG? Then so be it. I’m not sure I see a better denomination for something like To The Moon (okay, maybe Walking Simulator). If we get into a purist debate, we would have to reclassify far too many games. I prefer to just use metatags and other descriptors to refine the classification so the consumer knows what to expect from that title in particular. In the end, this is not a scholar classification system – it’s just something meant to make sure the person buying it knows what they are getting themselves into.

    About combat, I’m of the opinion that combat is important in RPGs, but I favor those games where it’s also one of the possible outcomes in an engagement. I like to mention my favorite western RPG for that, Planescape Torment. You can avoid an awful lot of the combat in the game by using stealth or simply talking it over. Hell, the end boss himself can be “talked down” if you meet the pre-requisites and makes the right choices. You can, however, go full barbarian and club him to death, too. The option being there is something I cherish the most. This is another reason why I enjoyed my time with the MMO Dungeons and Dragons Online – I had other things to do in it than bashing skulls to complete objectives.

    The main aspect of an RPG, to me, is the writing. The story, the characterization and player choices being able to affect the game world – those are the meat of an RPG to me. I can’t play one if this aspect is crap. Combat, however, is the spice that turns this into a gourmet meal.
    Frankly, I like my stats like you, Carl. This is why so many JRPGs irk me to no end – the combat seems to be just a filler that you could auto-combat your way out 100% of the time beyond boss battles, and sometimes in them as well. Few stats (of which you usually have no control over their growth), formulaic encounters that can be just brute forced with no tactics… Far too many fall into this trapping. In those cases, its a mere annoyance breaking the pacing of the game (made tenfold worse when its random combat that pops up every 4 steps).

    But I don’t want it gone, much less streamlined. I like it when you have a smorgasboard of stats to fiddle with, like what the Arkania games give you. This opens up a lot of possibilites and customization. This makes you feel in charge of the end result, and gives greater replayability. If you want newcomers to be able to play it without number-crunching for an hour before starting the game, give them well designed pre-made characters to choose from with optional automatic level progression. Give them buttons to auto-equip the best equipment available on each character. Do things like these that don’t happen at the expense of hardcore players. Are they as good as doing them yourself? No, but that is the price you pay for not bothering to learn the metagame. The important thing is that you can still play the game from start to finish.

  95. Sergio Nacher Fernández
    Sergio Nacher Fernández
    July 9, 2015 at 11:51 am

    I have to admit, I haven’t been able to do poopsocking as much as I would have liked to. I got into the tabletop RPG scene very late, my only venue was IRC channels (I couldn’t find people near my home that also liked the hobby) and the time at which most games started was late in the night, which was the time my parents bossed me around into going to sleep. Now that I have been tossed out of home by them, I have some more time for hobbies, but not that much since I have to look for a job and earn money, but my point is, the problem lies not in the game, it lies in me. That bunch of RPG fans in name only are the same kind of people who refuse to admit their own faults and problems, wether they are things they can control or not.

    Awesome editorial. You have once again shown why I read you.

  96. Grampy_Bone
    Grampy_Bone
    July 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. The only reason I play RPGs is for the combat. If a game has good combat but a bad story, I don’t care. But if it has lousy combat, no amount of great story will save it (I’m looking at you, Banner Saga.)

    I blame all of this on 2nd Edition D&D. That was the point where the game developers embraced the whole “D&D doesn’t have rules” nonsense attitude and all the wannabe improv dramatards flooded D&D. Suddenly you had these obnoxious thespian players who ran every character like they were a hollywood actor and got annoyed when you told them to roll dice or play to their character’s stats.

    That ideology seeped into the CRPGs of the day, and when 2E D&D collapsed, RPGs began to fall soon after.

    Meanwhile, JRPGs fully embraced the combat-centric roots of the genre and still make the most inventive and engrossing mechanics to this day.

  97. Finandir
    Finandir
    July 9, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I think that the insistence that an RPG must have combat and dice is just as wrong as insisting that it shouldn’t. In the non-computer world, there are actually dice-less RPG systems that focus almost exclusively on story telling.

    I’ve been playing computer RPGs since Akallabeth (precursor game to Ultima) and have absolutely nothing against combat in RPGs. But there isn’t, to my way of thinking, a need to so strictly define the genre. I like experimentation. When it succeeds, it tends to push the industry overall. When it fails, hopefully others learn from it and don’t repeat the same mistakes in their game designs.

  98. Paganator
    Paganator
    July 9, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    What I don’t like about most 80 hours games is that they’re that long only because they’re full of pointless filler content: quests and cutscenes that add nothing of value to the story, endless grinding to reach the level needed for the next area, etc. If there’s only 10 hours of worthwhile gameplay stretched over 80 hours, then the game should be 10 hours long, otherwise it’s just wasting my time.

  99. Noctah
    Noctah
    July 9, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Great editorial, keep up the good work!

  100. Siveon
    Siveon
    July 9, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Spoken like a true Codex user. :salutes:

  101. Miguel Angel Opazo Arancibia
    Miguel Angel Opazo Arancibia
    July 9, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Why do we have to suffer those fools who dumb down everything ?
    They apply the same rule to everything. Movies, tv series, anime and manga no longer include more than 2 or 3 main characters. At least the ones who count for something. And they are nothing but generic standins that follow predictable trayectories.
    And i must say that “deep” is not pilling “moral” quests over one another like many games do these days.

  102. FalseTragedian
    FalseTragedian
    July 10, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    Many tabletop RPG scenarios run for a single session – 2-6 hours. This is without the automation which computers provide. Length is not an essential part of the formula.

  103. FalseTragedian
    FalseTragedian
    July 10, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    I agree with *some* of the author’s sentiments here, but his premise is wrong.

    Die rolling does not make an RPG. Role playing does.

    Yahtzee and craps are, by the author’s definition, role playing games, and LARPs are not.

    Honestly, you’re sounding a lot like the people you’re criticizing. Complaining about To the Moon’s lack of combat doesn’t cancel out the bullshit PC Gamer is spewing, it just adds to it.

    I love To the Moon, Etrian Odyssey, Steins;Gate and Nethack. Some of those fit the definition of “game” or “roleplay” more than others, but they are all good things, and the existence of one does not devalue the other.

  104. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    LARP isn’t an RPG. It’s role play. Role play and RPGs aren’t the same thing, otherwise 99% of everything could be called an RPG (including just about 100% of video games). Got a job? Doing a role in a company, your job is an RPG. Kinky shit in the bedroom? Just like Final Fantasy. You see why defining RPGs by the presence of roleplay is an issue right? I think the problem with the genre is actually the name

    Edit: LARP -can- be an RPG, if it’s done like one. If it’s just nerds running around in costume hitting each other with swords it’s not an RPG

  105. FalseTragedian
    FalseTragedian
    July 10, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Yeah, and if it’s just characters running around and rolling against THAC0 it’s not an RPG.

    RPG as a genre is defined far too broadly as it stands, that’s why we have JRPGs and DRPGs and WRPGs and SRPGs.

    The author is trying to swing the pendulum too far in another direction. Combat and die rolls are important elements in the RPG formula, but neither is essential.

  106. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    July 10, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    I would agree with the point in the article that combat is a key pillar of what makes an RPG and was one of the things that they were built around, and I do think that at least having it as an option (even if there are peaceful ones too) is a requirement to be what an RPG is classically defined as. But like I said before, I think the issue is the name. It’s too vague and people are just redefining it (which is understandable given that it’s so indistinct a name). But it’s also snappier than something more accurate like “stat-based action adventure” so what are you gonna do? lol

  107. Yabloko Molloco San
    Yabloko Molloco San
    July 10, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    TOEE’s (and a lot of similar games) problem wasn’t the combat system, which wasn’t obtuse or overcomplicated at all. It was having a questionable rng that made it hard to make keep going because you know your entire party will probably miss every single hit against that giant, soft skinned frog and chances are its saving throw won’t fail either.

    That’s why games like BG o IWD got it right. They pulled you away from the helplessness of low level dice throwing quickly, but didn’t hold their hand during that time.

    Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines or Deus Ex also got it right because they only awarded xp if you finished your quests, no matter how.

  108. Hagane-Cosplay.tumblr.com
    Hagane-Cosplay.tumblr.com
    July 11, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Nah, I don’t think that’s what NuclearCherries meant.

    They were talking about how FPS games became ultra-streamlined and linear, where CoD is considered the apex of the genre and generally they’re quite homogenous (with some exceptions of course).

    I think we’ve emerged from that now – we’re out of the state where you used to get those comparison images of 6 FPS titles, and only a clued-up person could tell some of the games apart. Games like HomeFront were particularly apt examples of this.

    It isn’t so much about individual mechanics, but rather an overall approach.

  109. Fatherless
    Fatherless
    September 23, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    There are all sorts of pencil and paper RPG’s that don’t center around combat. We haven’t seen much of them successfully crossover into video games but they might – they rely too much on human imagination to be captured by number systems. But I hope someone figures it out.

    Yeah, what we’re seeing here is a battle of creative agendas. Challenge, exploration, story – different systems emphasize one over the others.. But this idea that RPG = Combat… Man, just no.

  110. Celerity
    Celerity
    March 19, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    So I have an absurd hour count on RPGs and really only care about their combat mechanics for the most part. But say I didn’t, say I never saw an RPG before. The first one I encounter is Pillars of Eternity. At that point there’s a high chance I’d become one of those narrative sorts (or swear off the genre entirely) because my first experience with RPG combat would have been the most bland, banal thing I’ve ever seen.

    When you consider most reviewers have little experience with any genre, you can easily see how a few bad games can harm the view of all of the games. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?