Why do RPG games miss the mark? How can they be improved?

Ok, so I’ve just finished an RPG (role-playing game) called Rogue Galaxy on the PS2.

As I finished it I thought back to my experience of the game. I realised that most of the many hours spent playing I was slouched back in my seat, disinterestedly slashing and magicking through fight after fight.

I’d criticize the game, but it’s pretty much the same as most RPGs I’ve played.

So why do I play them?
Well, it’s because there’s a particular “need” that I’m trying to satisfy in playing, but it just happens that most RPGs only satisfy that need for very brief periods, separated by hours of tedium.
What is the “need”? I’m not sure but exploring imaginative worlds, advancing characters and seeing an original story play out definitely comes into it.

You might say that it’s inevitable for the size of these games that they give out their rewards in small doses, but I could spend an equal amount of time playing a strategy game, say, and every minute that I’m playing I’m getting the “hit” that I’m playing the game for.

So, what I’m asking (and I’d be particularly interested to hear the opinion of die-hard RPG fans), is whether you agree with me that RPGs don’t satisfy that “need” often enough, what you think that need is, and how you think they can be improved.

I think part of the problem is the allure and the sheer piles of cash that can be made from a successful MMORPG. They try to incorporate a lot of elements from those in recent games (although I haven’t been as active in getting RPGs because of the MMORPG genre and there haven’t been many that have tickled my fantasy that have come out for the Xbox 360).

I’d like to see a back-to-basics movement with RPGs. Yeah, they can be made more complicated, but I’d possibly like a difficulty slider (Baldur’s Gate’s difficulty slider was perfectly implemented in my opinion). I tend to like the Final Fantasy style of games, but I haven’t played one since they were on Super Nintendo. I never had a PlayStation, so I’m hoping and praying that Square-Enix jumps ship and releases them for the Xbox (but I’m sure it won’t happen).

One of the better RPGs I’ve played (on the console) in recent memory is Blue Dragon. It’s made by the guy that created Final Fantasy and the world is fleshed out by the guy that does Dragon Ball Z. I dislike anime in general but the graphics are so detailed and so well done that I give the anime a pass for this game. Marumaro is incredibly annoying and Shu can get there at times with his dialogue, but the game itself is done perfectly. My problem with the game is that it came out just before Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, so I haven’t been able to play it. Also, it’s pretty easy, but I hear there’s an easily-implmented mod that increases the difficulty.

Just give me longer, more difficult and prettier versions of Final Fantasy 3 (or 7…the numbers are American). That’s what I want. I fear that JRPGs are getting more steam in the genre because of their successes in Japan, so they get carted over for us.

I may end up getting a PlayStation 2 just for Final Fantasy and Romance of the Three Kingdoms games, though. That’s worth it right there for me.

Since there is now a forum dedicated to games and sports, I’m moving this there… you’ll get more and better responses.

I enjoy RPG’s but I want a plot as well as strategy and tactics in the combats.

I think it’s clear there was none of the above in your game.

I have enjoyed ‘Temple of Elemental Evil’, where you start off interacting with villagers and then must use the different skills of your party in combats.

Heh. And I was just thinking ToEE was terrible to actually play.

Things I dislike about a great many RPG’s, which they need to do better:

  1. Not enough numbers. Frankly, I’m irked at the RPG’s made for the Xbox twit crowd, who apparently aren’t trusted to handle any number except damage, and not even really that. It pisses me off when I get in and start playing and have to take a wild freaking guess at what things do. Give me the cold numbers and I’ll figure the rest. Stop talking in vague generalities! Even MMORPG’s often conceal as much as they actually tell you about what your abilities do, and there’s no reason for it. If I want an aggro meter, I shouldn’t need to find some third-party program to do the job. Let me do some quest to find one in-game, or something.

  2. Every scene needs ot be enjoyable. The old-style JRPG game was pretty much perfected with Final Fantasy 3e/6j, and since then it’s become this incedible tedious slog of bashing enemies and stupid minigames. Lost along the way is the thought of actual fun. One reason I liked

  3. Plus, the character art is disgustingly Amano-ized, so that all the characters are 16-year old girls or boys who look like 16-year old girls. Which really doesn’t sell if you’re NOT a 16-year old girl.

Personally? I don’t like real-time action-game-style battle systems. I had to give up on Tales of Symphonia because I just hated the battles, and I’ve avoided the Star Ocean series for the same reason.

My other thing is games that put a ton of focus on minigames/item synthesis/town building/recruiting dozens of characters/cooking/Triple Triad/whatever. I like meat-and-potatoes JRPG gameplay: exploration, battle, cutscene, buying and selling.

One trend I’m wary of is that a lot of recent games have done away with the overworld. I’d rather walk from Town A to Town B than select Town B from a list and just get instantly whisked there.

I’m a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series. IMO, they are going too far in the direction of minigames and obscure sidequests. I get particularly irritated with sidequests that you have no idea even exist unless you’ve read a strategy guide and and minigames that are so close to impossible as to be nothing more than a source of frustration e.g. chocobo racing and butterfly catching. The Kingdom Hearts games were excellent except that they include one of my other pet peeves, button-mashing realtime combat. It has no place in an rpg. I’m not playing an rpg to test my dexterity.

Original Everquest was horrible for this, hiding mana costs, your total mana amount, exact spell effects, stat effects, etc. I think that Brad McQuaid was trying to make the world as immersive as possible in the same sense as a Game Master who rolls all the dice behind the screen and lets you know if you’ve hit or not. You weren’t supposed to be thinking “My fire bolt does 221 to 334 damage with a -7 resist mod” but rather “My wizard launches a fire bolt!!”

They’ve patched a lot of the information into it since then but the original game was an exercise in frustration if you were a number-junkie.

City of Heroes did the same thing. All the numbers were hidden. The exception was, frustratingly enough, the bonuses to skills. So you have a skill that does +58% damage…well how much damage is it doing? ‘Superior’? Thanks a load. NCSoft recently made a lot of the numbers available to the players, and there was much applause. I don’t think I’ve encountered a peep of criticism for the move, which is a rare thing in MMO-land.

Too right. Most of the reviews said the story was well written, but for me “apparently-ordinary peasant young man, is joined by characters from around the game universe, discovers he’s the chosen one, and goes on to battle a generic ‘evil force’ and save the entire galaxy” hardly strikes me as original.
Sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone :rolleyes:

It’s interesting some of the responses I’ve had to the OP. I hadn’t really thought of combat systems as being at fault but it’s true there’s a big difference in slashing your way through samey fights and putting together complex strategies (and having some incentive to use those abilities you’ve worked so hard to acquire).

What I was getting at more with the OP, is that it’s been a long time since an RPG has really drawn me in. For me, a good RPG is one where, when you finish it, and it shows you all the places you’ve been, and characters you’ve interacted with, you genuinely feel emotional; that you’ve actually been on a long, fascinating journey.

But all the RPGs I’ve played in the last year or two, brilliantly presented as they are, just feel like I’ve been through a shedload of pointless battles.

I found “Knights of the Old Republic” did this for me. I found myself wishing they’d made a movie out of that, instead of the horrible prequels they did make.

It’s hard to pin down quite what makes it all work except just good writing, but the game system has to work as well. KOTOR was a bit different - essentially a D&D rules game made to look as it it was real time, giving you the best of both worlds, and they did a good job with side stories. I don’t really know how to explain it beyond that; it was written well. The characters were interesting; even the cliche ones were cool, and HK-47 was worth the price of the game.

And even then, you could have improved it. By the midgame your character has so many items in his inventory it’s hard to keep track of them.

I like making characters almost more than I like playing them. I have made dozens of Oblivion characters and only played a handful for any meaninful amount of time. Especially when I first get a game I’ll build and play a few wildly different types until I get a feel which type works for my style in that particular game. When I was a PnP RPGer I would roll up numerous different characters and just hold onto them until I had a new game to plug them into.

I have been thinking lately that I would like to get into a WoW-type-MMO but I’m against paying every month to keep playing a game I already bought. This is one reason I got a PS3 over an Xbox 360. Are they any good MMO’s like that that don’t require a massive upgrade on my current hardware? I can post my hardware speccs later when I get home if necessary.

::gasp!:: I’ve never heard that plot before! You really should put such shocking revelations in spoiler boxes.

That sounds nothing like…Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, Legend of Dragoon, Ultima. Nothing at all.

IMHO, weapon effectiveness needs to be more transparent. Or possibly just simpler. I think some of this has to do with D&D rules, which I only know via computer games.

KOTOR is a good example (although I love it). I understand the damage part - if my lightsaber does 13-33 I realise that if I non-critical hit, that’s what damage will be done.

I vaguely understand the critical thread ranges; ie. if my saber’s critical thread range is 19-20, I have a 1:10 chance of scoring a critical.
I vaguely understand “to hit” ratios, although I haven’t got a freakin’ clue why this is based on my Strength attribute. Shouldn’t this be based on dexterity pretty much by definition?
I don’t know what the hell a critical does, other than more damage.
Attack bonus? I know that +5 is handy, but I don’t know what that actually means either.
Massive criticals? My head is starting to hurt.
Off-hand weapon penalties? head explodes

It’s not just AD&D games, though.

In the Fallout games, I understand pretty much all of the ranged weapon stats, until you get to ammo modifier. Then my head explodes again, especially since half the weapons and ammo types in F1 and F2 are bugged…

So, what ends up happening is that I generally have absolutely no idea which weapon I should be equipping, unless one clearly does more damage than the other.

ETA: All this doesn’t even begin to touch on how the hell you figure the opponent’s armor modifiers and/or “save” abilities into it.

Many of the anime RPGs throw out character creation entirely, and force you into the prepackaged role of “spiky-haired 13 year old boy from a small village whose destiny is to save the world”. My favorite part of RPGs is the “role” portion, I actually want to choose abilities, gender, appearance, voice, clothes, etc.

My wife passes by most of these games now, though she loves the RPG concept. Her quote: “why do they assume that girls should want to play angsty teen boys all of the time?”

I would be a die-hard RPG fan-if such actually existed. My most recent attempt was Titan Quest, which from the outset I acknowledged as being almost pure hack and slash, and accepted it on those terms-only to end up utterly bored 2/3rds of the way through.

Here’s two illustrative examples:

Real role-playing:

Tarjon, Captain of the Guard for the West Birdon Outpost of the Melbrinion Empire, murdered your parents when you were a child in a dispute over mortgage payments on their farm. Since then you’ve been training hard for the day when you catch up to him and get your revenge.

In the meantime tho Tarjon had a change of heart/spiritual conversion and defected, now fighting on the side of the rebels, waging guerrilla war against the Empire. You eventually locate him and his band of irregulars, but have a dilemma: do you satisfy your thirst for vengeance, or, given that the enemy of my enemy (the Empire, who arguably was the real villian in the killings) is my friend, do you give him, for the moment, the tiniest benefit of the doubt? In quiet moments he seems to convey genuine regret about his various past crimes. Do you hang around with his gang (he doesn’t know who you are) and try to see if his conversion was sincere?

Computer role-playing:

Upon visiting Mizzar the Seer, he tells you that if you can find the 3 missing pieces of the Skull of Andros, it will serve as a scrying device to locate your hated enemy. After many trials (including the solving of a devilish puzzle created by the insane wizard Gimbatule), and with a long trail of dead bodies in your wake, you manage to defeat the Dinzurbel the Dragon and finally acquire the final piece. You hunt down Tarjon, now a General and one of the Emperor’s most trusted advisors, and assassinate him in the Royal Marketplace.

Now, some may find the latter to be enjoyable, and it can be, but the former scenario is much more interesting. Here the emphasis is on personal interactions and inner motivations, and not concrete quests and activities. Can such scenarios be crafted on a computer and be convincing? At this point probably not. Thus I won’t be buying my next computer RPG for awhile.

A bit more on the numbers:

These are very important because a great deal of the fun of RPG’s is creating some cool combinations of powers and things. But if you don’t know what you’re actually doing, you can’t make any kind of judgement. In MMORPG’s especially, this is critical to being able to figure things out. One issue that crops up in World of Warcraft a lot is that you know the “basics” but there’s some odd condition on the spell/attack/whatever which they didn’t tell you. And sometimes the description is just plain totally wrong.

I also think the next step in computer-RPG’s that many, though not necessarily all, need to take is accepting hardware limitations. You can, make an incredibly pretty 3D game which no one will buy, because it requires insane hardware. You will then optimize it and release it on XBox or PS3. It will only sell acceptably, because controllers suck, and the game is about 10 hours long at best. Witness Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Bioshock (“Hi, I’m not even reptending we had an original idea since System Shock 2! let’s play that much better game again!”), Silverfall. Not all bad, but lacking and distinctly unoriginal and hardware-intensive.

Or, you can make a 40-80 hour game, with simple but eye-pleasing graphics, which will work on any system around. It will cost less and will outsell the former game by a factor of 10. Witness Diablo/Diablo II, Half-Life, World of Warcraft, Sins of a Solar Empire.

I don’t understand why companies can’t seem to get it, honestly. it’s not like there aren’t numerous examples. Good games, with eye-pleasing but simple graphics, will sell like hotcakes. Virtually any system with a 3D card today can process enough visuals for gamer enjoyment, and there’s a huge market waiting to be tapped - probably vastly greater than the console market. But all the developers seem to STILL be thinking that if they can just make it look a little bit better than the last game, it will sell no matter what kind of shitty gameplay it has. That worked - kinda - in the 90’s.

Or they’ll put in a gimmick and forget the gameplay. Look, Max Payne and Prince of Persia played around with time. And both were good. But both games would have been good even without it (too hard, maybe, but good). But it does nothing if you don’t already have the basics. Gimmicks can make good things really fun; but they don’t make bad things tolerable.

Related concept: Most games so far have followed the Bioware model of interaction. This amounts to having three options in dialogue:

(A) I will do anything you desire, including dropping my quest to save the world to participate in some stupid side-issue because you’re too pathetic to do it yourself.
(B) I don’t care, but will do the quest anyhow.
© I initiate mindless violence you [insert insult here].

Plus a liberal dosage of railroading. And this irritates me. A lot. Bioware said they were doing it differently in Jade Empire, but they welshed. The Closed Fist path turned out to be same randomly-psychotic idiocy we’ve seen a dozen times already, and Open Palm turned out to be

I want to see an RPG with options like:

(A) This question/commment/action is specifically focused on the matter at hand.
(B) This question/commment/action is specifically focused on the matter at hand, but different from A.
© This question/commment/action is specifically focused on the matter at hand, but different from A or B.

…and then further things which are always present if you want them, without needing special talk options:

Attack! Yeah, you throuw down and start the hurting.
**Leave ** (Just leaves and breaks the conversation. This drops the friendliness between you and the target).
Keyword: ask the target about something specific. While in a few cases you need to have heard about it from someone else beforehand, much fo the time the keywords are just general stuff or related to the character. If he’s a fence, he can clue you into related thief stuff.
bargain: If he sells stuff, in you go.

The key points are that you don’t have to through conversations every time, and that the conversations can be specifically focused only on important things. Many characters won’t even need real conversations, so the designers can focus all their script-writing on interesting stuff. Do we really need 50 variations of, “Hahahahaha, I’m going to kill you now, you goat-faced one-legged hooker!”

Likewise, while it’s not for every game, why not have a game where you are “the hero” but just decide how you are going to be the hero. What drives you? Justice? Kindness? Freedom? And then let the players define themselves through that, not just being a wusy push-over “hero” or a psychotic rampagin “villain.” IIRC, Mass Effect did this a little bit.

Its not a traditional RPG game but Okami on the PS2 was the game that got me back into console RPGs after I got a little burned out.

Levelling linked to gameplay, good story, good characters and a unique mechanic and look with lots of freedom of movement. Pretty much all I want in an RPG.

Anybody who’s run a tabletop game knows that if you give players a lot of options, they’ll end up doing something you didn’t expect, and you’ll have to wing it. This is hard for a human, and impossible for any current computer program. As has been pointed out, the dungeon crawlers with stupid sidequests (Rogue Galaxy, for instance) sell pretty well, so why put the effort in to develop something that’s hard to do?