Op-Ed: RPG: Role Playing Gripes

Robert takes some jabs at the RPG conventions he’s sick of!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/09/2015 07:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

The Worlds Ends With You, Neku

I’ve always felt like RPGs are the epic novels of the video game industry. Grand, sweeping, long, filled with story and characters, RPGs are the antithesis of the Super Marios and Angry Birds of the world. What was traditionally a Japan-centric genre of the medium has in more recent years been hijacked and modified by Western developers, and to great success. Titles like BioWare’s Mass Effect series have redefined what RPGs are, jettisoning common conventions of the genre that have irked players as far back NES (random encounters, anyone?).

Of course, Japan is still making RPGs, though that country’s output of such titles has been reassigned to its own subgenre called JRPGs. Fantasy settings, anime aesthetics, and all the spiked hair a human being could ever want are still found in the RPGs being shipped out of the East. Still, regardless of where the RPG is made, there are certain things about all of them that just drive me nuts as a player. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has passed, or how many innovations are made, the same old annoyances keep showing up game after game, and I really wish someone would put a stop to it!

Creepy Female Characters

I’m a red-blooded heterosexual male. I like a pretty woman as much as the next red-blooded heterosexual male. But if I have to look at another loincloth-wearing, pink-haired, giant-boobed, prepubescent-sounding shrieking warrior princess in an RPG, I’m going to scream. Anime culture is what it is, and I don’t begrudge people for liking it, but seriously, at what point does Japan become over saturated with doe-eyed women characters with super model bodies and the voices of twelve-year-olds? For the sake of simple variety, I’d like to get a JRPG that gives me female characters with a little more authenticity to them. Authentic as in they could actually exist in the real world.

The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles both do an admirable job with this, but they’re also decidedly unique in the world of JRPGs. Which is a total shame; those games are excellent and should be required playing for RPG game designers. BioWare’s Mass Effect is more representative of what has done by Western developers, in particular, to create great women characters, and is probably a big part of the reason that JRPGs continue to become more and more niche as time goes by. There are some JRPGs I’d like to give a whirl, but with Princess X’tan^sky or whatever running around in a thong and squealing every other attack, no thank you. I’m not saying this stuff needs to go away completely, but again, variety! I don’t buy Crunch Berries every single time I want cereal, Japan; sometimes I like to mix it up with a little Cookie Crisp. JRPG developers need more Cookie Crisp in their lives.

Menu for the Menu for the Other Menu After the Subquest of the Side Quest

The RPGs that I love the best, and this pertains to both the East and West, are the ones that don’t jackhammer my brain with ridiculous amounts of menus and tasks. I like to customize, and craft weapons, but when I have a drop down for a drop down for a sub menu, something has gone horribly wrong. And the build up sometimes just to even get to the jungle of menus! I don’t care enough to find seven different herbs, take them to a witch, boil the herbs, take them to the blacksmith to be fused into ore, then take the ore to the weapon smith to be turned into the hilt for the blade that I still need to acquire from the dragon who remains a third of the game away.

Seriously, some RPGs spend hours trying to acclimate players to their very nuanced, very deep, very robust customization and upgrade systems, and it can be soul crushing. I like you, Legend of Eclipse EX: Shaded Paradigm: Limited Delta Edition, but I don’t want to have to expend as much time as I did reading The Count of Monte Cristo just to make my armor black. I know some folks love this sort of minutiae, and admittedly there are times when I’ve been sucked into it, too, but enough is enough. Let’s cut to the chase every once in a while. Sometimes I just want to get the really cool plasma cutter without having to go through seven pages of a NeoGAF forum just to figure out how to even get to the right menu to build the thing!

DIY Headaches

After spending hours combing through an enemy base and taking out multiple squads of foes, there’s nothing like basking in the wealth of experience points that have been hoarded as a result. Unless, of course, there are several dozen attributes I need to comb through and disperse said experience points to. So, I want my character’s defense to be higher, but wait… her resistance should go up, too. Wait, but then there’s her stamina. But there’s her longevity stat, too. Offense should get some points, but I also have to think about strength, and power, and who the heck cares anyway?!

Look, I’m reasonable. I want a super cool avatar who isn’t from a cookie cutter, and I’m willing to think and work for it. But is there really a difference between strength and power? Can’t we just cut it down to strength? Who let the design team go crazy with the thesaurus in the first place? I know, some games try to hook us up with that nifty “optimize” button, but it doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t like to know what the heck I’m even optimizing to begin with.

Pause, Please

A show of hands for those in the audience who, like me, did a handstand when they realized, whoah, I can PAUSE the cinema scenes in Kingdom Hearts II?! To be fair, anyone plunking down to play an RPG should be aware that they’re going to be sitting and playing it for fairly long stretches at a time, but why do I have to spend an hour in-game before I can even save? I’m digging the dramatic opening, it’s very Hollywood, I’m impressed, but a man just has to pee sometimes, you know? It should be mandatory that every RPG made from Seattle to Kyoto have pausable cinema scenes and save points either every ten feet in the game world or be able to save anywhere. There’s nothing worse than leaving a system on for two hours because I have to head to dinner, do the dishes, say my goodbyes, then rush back to play for five minutes and THEN get to a save point.

How Do You Go to the Bathroom?

Another universal failing, the designs of the outfits that human beings will be wearing in the future really need to be put under a microscope by game developers the world over. JRPGs I guess can get a slight reprieve here, seeing that those games tend to be in alternate universes/realities versus the future, generally, but they’re getting an earful, anyway. One, the bodysuit is never going to be in vogue. People have enough trouble walking out on the beach in swimwear, do game developers really think that a plump person is going to slip into a body leotard to go get some Twizzlers at the corner shop just because it’s 2854 on the calendar? I’m a plump person and speaking as one, no, no I do not want to wear a body leotard to get my Twizzlers. Sorry, body suit plus jetpack and glowing energy dongle that doesn’t really do anything, but then who isn’t going to want ambient body-lighting in the 29th century?

Two, Ben Affleck’s Batman costume takes six hands to get on and off, you’re really trying to convince me that General Calamity in his space marine, fitted body tank is gearing up without all of Easy Company helping him? Before you answer, he’s an amnesiac, so unless the thing comes with a LEGO-like instruction pamphlet, there’d better be a good explanation. All right, I’ll give you that it’s the future, so maybe it snaps into place with an app or something, At least Nintendo has its act together; Samus’s armor just blinks into place. She’s like, nah, I’m cool with the Batfleck hands squad, thanks, and no, Captain Falcon, I don’t need any help “adjusting” the pieces, nice try.

Can I Get There in a Cab?

This is sort of a segue from above, in that it would be nice to see more RPGs set in the here and now. Parasite Eve and The World Ends With You are perfect examples of how to do an RPG that doesn’t take place on Leviathan IV Prime or whatever. Whether it’s the past or the future, RPG makers seem to struggle with adapting their turn-based shenanigans to anything but worlds that a person could never see outside of their window. The fantastic is a big part of gaming in general, but when things are intentionally grounded and relatable, it can be a breath of fresh air, too.


What aspects of RPGs are you sick of? What changes would you make to get the RPG of your dreams? Sound off below!

2 Responses to “Op-Ed: RPG: Role Playing Gripes”

  • 66 points
    haruhi4 says...

    I hope for more female playable characters on rpgs. There’s a female cast on xenoblade… who do i have to control? The guy. Kingdom hearts? 2 guys(except for birth by sleep which was 2 guys and just 1 girl). Except for the “tales of” series, there’s always a controllable male character and almost no female characters ._.

    Thumb up 2
    • 849 points
      ejamer says...

      Hold up. :)

      You can choose which characters are in your party in Xenoblade Chronicles, and (more importantly) which character you control. There are a few exceptions where you must control a male character, but the majority of the game will let you choose your character.

      Playing as female characters in Xenoblade is both fun and very effective. Maybe you just didn’t realize that it was possible? Or did you mean that you can’t start out playing as a female character (because they only end up joining your party later in the game)?

      Thumb up 2

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