Growing up, I spent tons of time in front of video games. Now that I’m grown and unemployed, I wish I could still find some games of the type I used to love.
These are the old-school RPG’s. Since many of you will only be familiar with the newer model, here’s a glimpse of the past:
That video highlights what used to be possible in a video game. At the start, you could choose the job type (magician, warrior, etc.) of each character and all sorts of combinations were possible. That meant you could play the game repeatedly and you’d always experience something new because you’d need a new strategy for the group you had selected. The four white wizards in the video were known as the most challenging combination possible in the original Final Fantasy game; a lot of imagination went into devising the method of winning portrayed in the video. (That was the game’s final battle, which is why the video’s ending is so surprising.)
In case you don’t remember what imagination is, look it up in the dictionary. We don’t breed much of it these days.
And since RPG’s have always taken notoriously long to complete, the video game companies obviously saw a losing proposition. You can’t have customers being happy with your product for too long or else they won’t need to buy anything new. (I wonder if this is why cars break down so often…) So the companies added more intricate storylines and, eventually, movies to the games. Once you add this, the characters must always be the type that is portrayed. Player choice becomes impossible unless the game companies start programming the myriad variations in stories and videos to accommodate a player’s options.
That’s going to happen, right?
And there died the ability to replay an RPG once you’ve completed it once. Evil marketing genius, I say.
In fact, new games arguably revolve around around the movies and storyline instead of gameplay itself. I liked the old-school RPG’s because I didn’t have to fumble with the controller and struggle with my less-than-stellar reflexes. And then these games were unceremoniously transformed into first-person battle simulators that bore no resemblance to the original genre. And now they’re becoming interactive movies that require neither reflexes nor anything else but the willingness to shell out large sums of money. (Well, I suppose they also require the ability to gaze into a screen for long periods of time.) If I want a movie, I’ll buy a DVD or join Netflix and spend a lot less for it.
Nevertheless, the game companies get away with calling these offerings RPG’s. In some cases (Final Fantasy, anyone?), game mechanics became unrecognizable in new releases even though the game title presents the new product as an installment in the longstanding series.
Just put a crappier car under the same nameplate and idiots will flock to the new vehicle, ignoring all evidence that they’re being sold nothing more than a name. This isn’t the understandable evolution of a product. Instead, it borders on bait-and-switch.
Granted, I don’t miss the hours and hours I used to spend repeatedly battling small monsters so I could build up my characters’ skills enough to progress in a game. Nevertheless, it’s not too hard to program a game with more major tasks that are separated by smaller gaps in how far your characters have developed.
Oh, wait. It is too hard. Those huge gaps ensured that programmers didn’t have to design larger world maps and more enemies to fight and longer stories.
And there’s the irony. Expanding the storytelling aspect decreases the quantity of story the programmers must devise. A 15-minute movie clip often progresses a story less than a few brief shots of text, but the movie clip looks good and that’s all that matters with games. Besides which, it takes fewer movie clips to make a “legitimately” long game.
Or perhaps I should say a legitimately long “game.”