Editorial: Hey...Where'd The RPG Go?
Role-playing aficionados will often debate as to which console was the best for RPGs, and it usually comes down to a standoff between the SNES and PS1. Personally, I believe the PS1 wins easily and it's the undisputed king of RPG goodness. The PS2 is pretty damn close, though, and in my estimation, managed to outstrip the SNES with plenty of great RPGs over a 7-year span. Like most fans of the genre, I was looking forward to the new generation because of games like Final Fantasy XIII, Lost Odyssey, and more. With all the capability the PS3 and Xbox 360 affords developers these days, my mind was literally buzzing with possibilities... But after some time, I find myself looking around and asking one very disturbing question: "Where'd the RPGs go?"
I'm well aware that early on in a generation, RPGs are generally few and far between. It's usually the very last genre to get on track, and I'm taking all this into account when surveying the current generation. But there's a tiny selection on the PS3 - and none of those titles are really worth mentioning - and the Xbox 360 does have a couple, including the aforementioned Lost Odyssey, but what else is there? Oblivion is really the only stellar option for both platforms, and that has been available for quite a while already. Looking down the road in 2008, I'm still not seeing much in the way of more RPGs, and trust me, as I handle news every single day, I'd be well aware of hot new RPG updates. They just aren't coming, as the big games seem to be centering on the action and shooter genres, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I love games like GTAIV, MGS4, GT5, etc.; I'm not going to deny that. My favorite game of the year so far is Devil May Cry 4, and last year, I loved Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Unreal Tournament III, Assassin's Creed, Bioshock, Heavenly Sword, Warhawk, The Orange Box, Beautiful Katamari, and more.
But I can't remember the last time I went through a whole year without playing a brand new RPG; back in the late '90s with the PS1, I could exclusively play RPGs all year long! My, how times have changed. I certainly won't say that 2008 or beyond seems to be devoid of quality, because that'd be downright idiotic. Many fantastic games are on the way, and I'll probably want to play them all...even if almost none of them will be role-playing. Right now, I'm looking forward to White Knight Chronicles, and I heard they're doing a Lost Odyssey sequel, but I have very little else to cling to over the next year or so. Nintendo usually isn't the best place to go for RPGs, but even the GameCube had several excellent offerings during the last generation (Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles, etc.) and for this generation, the Wii is all about motion sensing. That kinda leaves us RPGers out in the cold.
Perhaps it's just that we have a new generation of twitch gamers out there who require constant action to satisfy their tiny attention spans. Perhaps technical capability is far more important than storytelling, character development and artistry these days. Perhaps developers are starting to realize that unless the RPG's name is "Final Fantasy," they probably won't make much money in the US. Perhaps gamers are getting dumber. Whatever the reason, I'm very disappointed to see the decline of the RPG early in this generation, and while I'm on the topic, I really despise the death of the turn-based RPG. There's a very good possibility that Lost Odyssey might be the very last true turn-based RPG made, because everything is heading towards a real-time or hybrid real-time format. I don't mind those - Final Fantasy XII was excellent, for example - but the prevailing theory is that real-time styles can be more deep and engaging. This is a crucial mistake, because in my experience, all the freshness I've seen in the RPG industry has come from turn-based titles on the PS1 and PS2.
Real-time really does boil down to one of two things: 1. button-mashing in an action-type setting, or 2. focusing on a lot of preparation before battle and letting the AI control most of the action during combat. Neither of these ideas really impress me, and I've seen very little difference between most real-time RPGs. Turn-based RPGs, on the other hand, can be vastly different in how they're presented; the difference between the Judgment Ring in the Shadow Hearts titles and the demon creation system in the Shin Megami Tensei games is significant. And that's only one of dozens of examples. I think a lot more can be done with the turn-based setup, and because we're a society that's so enamored with fast-moving pictures on a television screen, we're sacrificing that potential. But I'd even be able to handle this if I could just find a small handful of RPGs I'd want to play within the next 6-12 months. That alone would make me happy, but I'm struggling to fill the RPG hopper, and it's bugging the crap out of me.
I guess I'll be playing through some of my favorite RPGs of yesteryear during this generation, just because I'd want my RPG fix and I don't see that coming from the PS3 or Xbox 360 any time soon. I imagine the role-playing goodness will eventually arrive, especially on the PS3, but in the meantime...damn, it's just a little depressing. Remember, I'm someone who sits here with a good 35 PS1 RPGs and 20 PS2 RPGs (not counting any SNES or PC RPGs I may have), so when I've gone through a year and a half with the PS3 and two and a half years with the 360 and I only have two RPGs, it irks me. Oh, glorious RPG, where ever did you go? 'cries'
P.S. I didn't label the pic here, because if you don't know what it is, you would never have bothered with this article in the first place.
4/9/2008 Ben Dutka