IGN has an article on the problems with Square Enix and how to fix them. As usual, I think the article misses the point entirely.
The goes through 5 problems with the JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games), in particular Square Enix. But many of these problems are common to JRPGs. This is an abbreviated list. Read the article for their points.
- Unreal Engine
- RPG Elements (cities and characters)
- More/Longer RPGs
Each of these miss the problem of the theme entirely.
The primarily problems, in my eyes with the genre are: no in game combat and no choice.
Let’s take Fallout 3, Fable 2, Star Wars: KOTOR, etc. All great RPG games. What do they have in common?
You see something you want to kill. You go over and kill it. No loading a combat screen. No battlefield creation. Nothing. You point your gun or sword at it and go at it. No loading. No time wasted.
The last JRPG I played, Final Fantasy 9, I believe..every time you entered combat, you had to go to a load screen, get your party to have some sort of lame “go get em!” shout then boring turn based combat ensued. After a while, I wanted to avoid combat entirely. It got tedious.
I just finished Fallout 3. Totally different. You see a group of guys to kill. You aim your gun and kill them. Take their loot and move on. The whole game existed in the same engine.
The difference is huge and important.
Another problem with JRPGs is their linear nature. You go here, then you go there, then there and there. I don’t want to be led through the game.
All the good RPGs these days happen in a sandbox. You do what you want, when you want. Oblivion let you take on tons of side quests and go just about anywhere and let you tackle the main quest at your own volition. Being led around by the nose through a game isn’t fun. When a game does that, it feels like it was programmed 20 years ago. Leave me alone. Let me play how I want.
If those two things were fixed or changed with JRPGs, I’d consider buying one. But if I see a game video that includes a combat load screen, I know I won’t be buying or playing it. If game programmers want to restrict movement to new areas before certain quests are done; that is easy enough if they follow the GTA model. Just make the access points to new areas “broken” until the proper point in the game.
On the flip side, I see a great way for game makers to cash in on the new era of downloadable content. I got the idea after finishing Fallout 3.
By the end of the game, I had 100 in most major/important skills (100 being the maximum skill level you can achieve and be “perfect” at something) and had enough powerful weapons to kill anything in the game with just a few shots – a few helpful perks to make it easier as well. (As a brief aside – there should not be an alien blaster in the game. The space alien is totally out of theme with anything else in the game – given that there are no real hints of aliens elsewhere. Unless that’s a future expansion pack)
Fallout 3, in a post nuclear world, makes it possible to have tens, if not hundreds, of expansion packs. Imagine New York in the Fallout 3 universe, or Chicago, San Francisco, even Paris or Moscow.
With the powerful character you have at the end of the story, any of those areas are not going to fun or challenging with a super skilled and totally leveled up guy. So, in the initial game, it makes sense to limit the maximum skill level you can achieve – by either giving you less skill points/level or making skills harder to upgrade as you raise their level (1 skill point/level up to 25, 2/level up to 50, etc) so that if you want to have 100 in “small guns” you’d really have to sacrifice your lockpicking or repair abilities.
That way, when future packs come out and the level cap is inevitably raised, you have something to work for. While exploring new areas as well. Thus, adding value to future expansion packs. If you have achievements that are only possible with either multiple playthroughs (10 points for 100 in small guns, 10 points for 100 in lockpicking etc) or playing through the expansion packs, you are more likely to get buyers for those expansions as well.
In short, I think – these days – that in the end of the game, you should not have a super powerful character, but an adequate one that can finish the game – even if you do every side quest available. That way, when future packs come out, you can improve your character more and become that super powerful guy, if you do all the expansion packs. That’s a future of gaming that I’d be glad to embrace.