Final Fantasy XII, one of my top ten games of all times just re-released on the 11th of June under the new name, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. I just wish that I had enough money to buy it since I’m a poor and broke student…moving on. News of its return filled me with a ton of Nostalgia. I played the original when I was 7 or 8, and it was the first real RPG I had any memory of playing at the time. It’s probably what made me love games so much as well. The PS2 wasn’t the most powerful machine, but at the time the game looked flush and beautiful, with mesmerising scores of orchestral music, a vast and magnificent world to explore and difficult enemies to conquer. It was everything an introverted child like me could want from a game and then some. I spent countless hours sitting in front of the screen exploring the world of Ivalice much to the chagrin of my mum. It followed the stereotypical and classic RP formula well, with an above average plot and genuinely interesting side characters. However, what really makes the game shine so radiantly, is the battle system. Battle systems, and gameplay for that matter can make or break a game. Final Fantasy XII has two specific quirks. Firstly, the battles play out in real time. Gambits, which are pre-made commands can be created and assigned to each character so that they do things during specific conditions. If health falls below 20%, take a Hi-Potion, if party health falls below 70%, cast Firaga, and so forth and on. Furthermore, if you press R2, if I remember correctly, the battle pauses, allowing you greater control to make tactical decisions, which can just as easily take you out of a bad situation as it can prolong your suffering. One might think that this is boring, but it was an exciting and riveting experience, addicting as you progressed through the game trying to find the perfect gambits alongside the ultimate gear.
Another game I remember playing early on was Square Enix’s iconic Dragon Quest VIII for PS2-a game I am playing again on 3DS. Unlike Final Fantasy XII’s breakneck action, Dragon Quest had a slower, more enjoyable pace. The battle system was a more traditional turn-based style which gave you full control of every character and their own special abilities, and you had to anxiously wait and hope that the enemy didn’t land a critical hit. What set it out from other RPGs though, was the fact that the Hero character, your character, was unnamed and silent, which meant that you could name him and feel like you were crafting your own stories. Making your own decisions. It was amazing, and that was from a silent character. The side characters and random people you met on your quest were so vibrant and full of life, it would become a habit to visit every house, explore every crevice and talk to as many people as possible, and let’s not forget about its sardonic and carefully hidden adult jokes. I”m surprised my Mum didn’t walk in on me during a particularly perverse joke. All of this made me extremely curious and eager to continue playing.
Both games are exceptional, and even though they have their flaws, they were gaming achievements that brought joy to an entire generation of gamers, and you would be lucky if you managed to play it. That being said, all RPGs, even the mediocre ones or those that aren’t traditional contain certain characteristics that appeal greatly to both gamers and story lovers. RPGs are self contained worlds. They are huge, and by creating a world, you are creating many things within it as well. Histories, and lore, myths and legends, normal characters and spectacular characters, all of it possible as long as you have the imagination to create it. RPGs take hours to finish, and have side quests that lengthen that time even more. Your average Skyrim run would take at least 100 hours in the least to finish, bar most sidequests. I poured over 70 hours into The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, and I still have to play Blood and Wine which is absolutely monolithic in size. I’ve seen people spend 4 hours on end to simply gain an item or piece of armour, and don’t even count the hours it might take to defeat a particularly difficult boss. On top of this, the Lore of RPG games,, or games heavy with RPG elements is huge. Simply search up “Mass Effect Lore”, “Fallout Lore”, or “Dragon Age Lore” on YouTube to get an idea of how big the lore is. Those videos have been compressed and narrated to save time, maybe even missing out on some information. Now think of how many hours gamers would spend reading and learning that lore in-game. Also in many, but not all RPGs, there is the element of choice. After all, it is your story. How will you play it out? What will your team, gear or choices be? Will you be dark, or light? Will you play to your personality, or adopt a different one for the game?
Perhaps, the most famous makers of RPGs are the Japanese as a whole, and CD Projekt Red, the Polish team behind the Witcher series. I wont get into CD Projekt Red, although it should suffice to say that they are becoming a mainstay name when mentioning game developers. However, let us talk about the Japanese in passing. In all things, the Japanese strive for greatness, but on top of this, they are not bound by what some might call “cultural appropriation”. The Japanese will unashamedly take ideas from both Eastern and Western cultures to make media that can be shocking, offensive and more often than not, amazing. They will create a manga about the Protestant Church with a vampire killing zombies, Catholic assassins and Nazi bioengineered vampires blitzkrieging London, killing millions…yes, that happened, and the Manga is called Hellsing by Kouta Hirano if you’re interested. It has a great anime counterpart. My point is, the Japanese often have to censor or change games for Western releases, but you can see why their games above all leave such cultural impacts on gaming society even today. The are simply unafraid. Perhaps I will explore this in depth soon.
Ah, but what about more recent RPGs, are they worth playing? I talked deeply about games more than a decade old, and mentioned franchises well over a decade old, but what about the newer stuff? Well, the truth is, not all RPGs are good. A lot are utter shite, time-wasting and uninspired, but some in recent memory have risen above the ranks to become memorable games. The first I can think of is Horizon Zero Dawn. An amazing game with a strong female character from a studio that is primarily known for its shooters. The second is Mass Effect 3, the last game in a pedigree of magnificent sci-fi RPGs with game mechanics as amazing as its superb storytelling. And finally, call me biased but in my humble opinion, the Japanese games Persona 5, my personal favourite, Bloodborne, and the mixed mutt, Nier: Automata. These are but few examples of the amazing RPGs gaming has to offer, but in the end, I will still recommend RPGs to all. We all love a good story, whether written, or created by you. And I think that is something worth spending hours on.
One thought provoking quote from The Doll in Bloodborne is, “Hunters have told me about the church. About the gods, and their love. But… do the gods love their creations? I am a doll, created by you humans. Would you ever think to love me? Of course… I do love you. Isn’t that how you’ve made me?” It goes to show just how many ideas can be imparted into RPGs, how many philosophies and insights. Maybe the next time you’re thinking about shelling out £49.99 on that new FIFA or CoD, maybe consider picking out a highly rated RPG.