The Required RPG Transition
Fellow veteran role-playing fans, we need to adapt to the changing times. We need to accept the fact that our beloved RPGs of yesteryear will never exist again, and we have to embrace the brave new world of freedom and "open-endedness."
It's clearly the choice of the new generation, and as most of us have already realized, the true turn-based gameplay mechanic has all but died (Lost Odyssey may be the very last console title to ever have it). What we have now are either all-out real-time or real-time/turn-based hybrids that continue to lean more towards the real-time end of the spectrum. Then there's the concept of freedom, which some enjoy and others don't. For my part, I don't really consider wandering around a huge area as "freedom;" you don't really ever change the direction of the core storyline (no matter what you do), and although you can make plot-changing decisions, they're never what I would call momentous. In many ways, I see the advent of open-ended RPGs as more of a dodge: the developers have no need to generate an engaging and well-written storyline, nor do they need interesting and nicely developed characters. You can bypass all of that just by letting the player explore just about anywhere they wish under the guise of "freedom." But at the same time, there are plenty of inherent benefits to the idea, and we have to recognize those.
They're best used with this kind of highly advanced hardware, and the possibilities are almost limitless. So although the face of the RPG has changed considerably, we fans are just going to have to learn to adapt...or stop playing entirely. Perhaps the real downside is that games like Fallout 3 and Fable II - as good as they are - can only nab the new, younger next-gen gamers who don't remember the PlayStation days of Final Fantasy, Suikoden and Wild ARMs. Perhaps they will lose those old-school RPG fans, like myself. I can play both, even though I certainly prefer traditional turn-based for a variety of reasons, but I don't like this trend of completely eliminating one style and just focusing on real-time. Essentially, the lines between genres are getting very blurred...it's tough to distinguish what constitutes an RPG these days.
All I know is we had no difficulty ten years ago. And they were very different experiences. That's all I'm saying.
1/1/2009 Ben Dutka