RPG Hybrids: What Is Next?
By Kei Beneza (dividelife), OnRPG Journalist
Ever wonder why RPGs don’t evolve much? RPGs have been around for decades, providing players with huge make-believe worlds while shoving them into the shoes of a certain character classes. After playing of the most up-to-date MMOs and MMORPGs, we have come to the conclusion that RPGs are merely repeating themselves in terms of background and content. While Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect managed to give players a diverse choose-your -own-adventure system and unequaled combat mechanics, it does not change the fact that it still branches out from the same settings provided by countless other titles.
It’s always been about medieval and steam-punk fantasy worlds, and no other setting has been offered since the horror RPG Parasite Eve. Requiem: The Bloodymare also tried to give us something new by presenting a pseudo-horror theme, but those are just grains of sand on the beach of games.
The RPG Spectrum
In my opinion, RPGs are one of, if not the, broadest genres in the gaming scene. Since the early Diablo games, RPGs have presented different forms of game play, from dungeon crawlers to turn-based Japanese RPGs. It was so broad that it even branched out to the MMOs we know and play today. The possibilities of RPG designs are limitless, especially since they can combine with other genres to create even more variations. Whether it’s over the shoulder, first person, browser, or even RTS micromanaging, RPGs can copy almost anything and still claim the game as one of its own.
Lack of Diversity
It’s such a shame that RPGs today are no longer as innovative as the ones released in previous years. Instead, they just milk whatever titles that have sold successfully throughout the years. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is one of the best examples I can give regarding this matter, as nextgen games no longer exercise the epic feeling of 2D Metroid-mania mazes. Castlevania has long been the poster game for quality 2D games, until it was recently released an action game (Lord of Shadow) that is no different from Devil May Cry and God of War. There’s also the tactics subcategory, which uses grids to both move characters and perform actions. To be honest, I think that the evolution of graphics is partly responsible for this lack of diversity.
Nextgen Hinders Diversity?
Why yes indeed. Since nextgen platforms are not that cheap to begin with, gamers tend to want to play games that are rich in graphics, eradicating the beauty of 2D games and some side-scrollers. Some tactics games like Record of Agarest War and Disgaea are also affected by this visual migration, seeing as players would rather pay for Final Fantasy XIII (regardless of how good or bad it is) because it has good graphics that literally lets you smell the pores of Lightning’s 3D funbags than a 2D game that repeats the textures in the background.
Additionally, when it comes to game play, players tend to be a bit ‘picky’, and only respect certain RPG categories. This is precisely why games like Final Fantasy XIII and White Knight Chronicles fail to impress most RPG players. While these games share the same nextgen graphics that players today are looking for, they are definitely not enough to fill in for the lack of diversity. Final Fantasy XIII has seemingly regressed with its linear game play. While RPGs today give you tons of options as to where you can go and what side quests and stories you can explore. The game has oddly removed these features and basically just roped you into doing what only needs to be done making it bland and unimaginative.
Let’s put it this way. While Final Fantasies back then earned everyone’s respect, getting high reviews and nothing but raves, it isn’t enough to impress the nextgen engines.
What’s Next: Other Subgenres Worth Repeating
As a big fan of horror games, I would personally like to see horror RPGs like Parasite Eve again. Although the RPG genre may have problems in delivering scares due to the tactical pause menus that are essential when using skills, or the regular turn-based interface usually found in various RPGs, I’m sure that they can come up with new ways to heighten the experience. Requiem called itself a horror game but it was merely an MMO that had absurd looking characters, not even managing to scare my eyebrows half to death. Perhaps it is because they focused too much on character design. Hellgate London managed to make the experience darker, with monsters coming out from the darkness, and fat bloody corpses emerging from the ground. Although the scare tactics have improved, the game play was absolute trash with repeated (or perhaps re-colored) environments. No wonder they closed down early. They already executed an FPS-RPG hybrid successfully with Borderlands, which has a great levelling system, massive questing, and a good FPS targeting system. I hope they exercise this subgenre more soon.
When it comes to game play innovation, I would say that western RPGs have the edge in this decade. After seeing games like Fallout 3, Mass Effect, Diablo, World Of Warcraft, and Dragon Age: Origins, it was hard to appreciate the RPGs that we used to love in the old days. I guess evolution really plays a big part in this, especially since players often yearn for something new. Although the western industry has launched quality RPGs in the past few years, I still admire Japanese RPGs for creating weird hybrids such as the tactical action game Valkyria Chronicles–which has an ideal combination of unique graphics, EXP-earning system, story, action, and character balancing–and other action RPGs like Tales of The Abyss–which comes from a long line of series that still managed to stand out against its predecessors. Whether it’s western or eastern RPGs, I wish they would come up with something new and fresh.
Let’s admit it. The old RPG just won’t cut it anymore for today’s players. The good ole combination of an engaging storyline, interesting characters and great graphics isn’t enough. We also have to take into consideration the players of today: we are easily distracted and unfortunately, there are lots of other games to distract us from focusing on the new “epic” RPG on the market. Choices abound, and it’s easy to just throw away something when it doesn’t suit our interest. We are all looking for something unique that can give us the infinite adrenaline rush.
Having mentioned all of this, it seems tantamount to admitting that the standards of RPGs of today are almost synonymous with excellent and jaw-dropping graphics.
I am fully supportive and fond of titles that prefer to separate themselves from the mediocre system of copying content from successful titles. Games that break this linearity may not always be the next Dragon Age or Final Fantasy 7, but I salute these developers and hope that one day, they will come up with something we’ve yet to see.