Does A "Western Focus" Affect Storytelling?
While the Western RPG designers took the route of freedom and player decision/customization, Japanese RPG developers kept with the linear adventure that focused on a deeper, cohesive storyline. Now, I'm not saying that all JRPGs had better stories than WRPGs - I'm not about to make that kind of rash generalization - but there's one rule of thumb that can't be avoided: the more freedom you give to the player, the less emphasis we can have on story. This is simply because the story writers can't possibly know what players will choose in their quests, which is why we've only seen minor branching storylines in some WRPGs like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Authors of books don't let you change the story; how could they? You get the point.
But as a direct result, it seems that fewer Western gamers consider a compelling storyline to be a top priority. They care more about supposed "freedom" and customization and they'd rather not be restricted to following a set plot. We can also toss in the shrinking attention spans of the American public, and I'm starting to wonder if a "western focus" means less of a focus on storyline. Now, Kojima and Co. have said they want to appeal more to a worldwide demographic, which of course means they'll have to cater more to the Western audience. I think we all know that last year's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots sported the best story of the current generation of gaming, but the question is...will Kojima's new "western-oriented" project push aside his amazing storytelling ability? Will we see more in the way of gameplay action and player decision making?
I'm not saying that MGS4's storyline is good enough to be a book or even a movie (well, we've seen some extraordinarily insulting films as of late), but I am saying it was a fantastic step in the right direction for this industry. Kojima tells a story like no other designer, and I'd hate to think that he'd have to curb his literary enthusiasm just to appeal more to a gaming crowd that doesn't have the patience to read two sentences in a cut-scene. I guess I'm just really interested to see how Kojima Productions will handle this shift; up until now, their titles have really always placed the Japanese public at the forefront. Thankfully, the games did well here, too, but it just isn't the same, and the man himself knows it. I have no doubt that whatever he does will rule the school, but I really, really, really want to have another amazing storyline. We just don't get a lot of them.
The good news is we won't have too much longer to wait. Kojima said he will announce his new game at E3, and time flies these days. It may be the biggest unveiling of the entire show, and you can bet the press will be listening very, very closely...
4/3/2009 Ben Dutka