Editorial: The Current State Of The RPG
What is the current state of the role-playing game in our industry? Well, it's complicated.
Turn-based, real-time, hybrids; it all comes together in one big jumble, and while hardcore fans of any given style will defend it to the death, all the while likely casting multiple aspersions on the other side, all forms have their merits. Having played a good 50 or 60 RPGs in my time (I've honestly lost count), ranging from the purest form of old-school turn-based to FPS/RPG hybrids like Deus Ex, I do believe I have the requisite information to perform an accurate compare and contrast concerning the state of the RPG. So many things have changed...
There's what's known as "pure turn-based," which is usually only found in strategy/RPGs like Disgaea or full-on strategy titles; this is when speed is not a concern. The player places and moves all his units and then the computer does the same. Simple. It's just very rare; even games like Final Fantasy Tactics may appear to be "purely turn-based," but in fact, because speed is a factor, they really aren't. Furthermore, unless you put Final Fantasy VII on "Wait," the enemies will still move whenever they get their turn; you can't have an infinite amount of time to decide on your decision. But while we're on the subject of speed, what exactly is "turn-based?" Remember, even in the games that appear to be entirely real-time may have time bars operating in the background, which essentially designates "turns."
In my eyes, any hacking and slashing makes an RPG real-time, which is why Nier is certainly real-time but Dragon Age: Origins - as you can always pause, issue orders, change things up, etc. - is "turn-based" even if there are no "turns," per se... But you see what's happening here. What even separates an RPG from the rest of the genres, many of which sport obvious role-playing elements in this generation? Is it only decision-making and player freedom that can be considered the defining attribute? Some always said if there were levels and experience, it'd be an RPG, but that'd be downright ridiculous to say now, right? But what about all the fresh stuff? Last year's Demon's Souls was unquestionably an RPG but really...what the hell was it?
My favorite game series of all time is Final Fantasy and that's because I always loved that particular turn-based style. Yes, I understand Baldurs Gate was also technically "turn-based," but we all know the inherent differences in how the two games are played is very clear. I've always been partial to that JRPG style and I will always claim it's one of the best ways to play a game. But they're all gone now (although I know they still exist on handhelds) and anything new won't be played like the early FFs or Suikodens or Wild ARMs or whatever. I accept that. But I can't even put my finger on what an RPG is right now; there's Fallout 3 and there's Eternal Sonata and there's White Knight Chronicles and there's Dragon Age...they're all blending together and yet...they're all very different.
So in the end, I answer the question at the start of this article, "what is the current state of the RPG?" with the following answer: I have no goddamn idea.. Sorry I couldn't clear that up for you. I just know that defining "role-playing" today is a tedious and potentially combustible trial.
P.S. The reason I used a FFVIII pic is because we post FFVII pics enough and quite honestly, VIII needs some lovin'.
7/9/2010 Ben Dutka