The RPG Report, and the worst things in RPGs

Hey all! Today I have a new episode where I’m going to be talking about two things. First, I’m going to report on a bunch of RPGs that I’ve been playing or trying out, and give my takes. I say more about each game on the podcast, so make sure to check that out. Here are some quick bullet points, though!

What I’ve been playing

SCARLET NEXUS – Extremely polished, simple but fun combat. Kind of “adolescent anime” feeling story, a little silly and a little too fantastical in its basic universe for me, but seems well written. Overly smoothed out, like most modern big production videogames. Bad level design.

TALES OF BERSERIA – GREAT opening, compelling main character and good plot gravity. Sadly, also a way overly complicated combat system and overall it has “modern videogame over-smoothed-ness”.

IN STARS AND TIME – Very cool game that I recommend you go check out. Great art, great music, good writing. It’s this and Octopath Traveler 2 I’m most excited to play next. Combat system miiiight be a little too simple, I don’t know. Turn based (I think it’s made with RPG maker but they do a good job of not making it feel like it).

OCTOPATH TRAVELER 2 – This is probably my favorite of all of the games I’ve been playing, but, I am a little bleh about the way it tells its story. Doing 8 “90 minute character intro chapters” in a row sounds terrible. Introduce characters in a more natural way, please! Cool combat system, good art, good music – overall, good stuff. And it’s actually turn based, whaaaaaat!

DONE WITH BALDURS GATE 3 – You know all about Baldur’s Gate 3. Listen to the podcast to hear me say more about it. The TL;DR is that honestly this game’s biggest flaw is the D&D license. Still one of the best RPGs of the last decade, though.

FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS – Too depressing and cynical and 90s edgelord for me. Also I appreciate Obsidian’s attempt to Un-Bethesda the Bethesda Game, but the damage was too deep.

KINGDOM HEARTS – As much hate as it seems to get, it sort of seems like videogames all turned into Kingdom Hearts over the 20 years I wasn’t watching. Surprisingly fun combat, but forced crappy minigames and why on earth would I want Cloud to talk to Mickey Mouse???

FINAL FANTASY XVI – After playing a bunch more Kingdomheartslikes and getting more used to that, I’ve gotta say, this is a very well made Kingdomheartslike. Still needs more color and sensitivity. Probably just needs to be way more overtly gay.

Next up on the docket are Trails in Cold Steel 1, Demon’s Roots and Suikoden 2.


Some bad qualities in RPGs

Recently, I wrote about the three most important qualities in an RPG. Today, I’d like to talk about some of the worst things in RPGs, and I’m specifically going to be talking about JRPG-style RPGs here, more than western-style RPGs, since that’s what I’ve been playing… a TON of, for the past few years. Let’s get into the list.

  • A bad narrative setup.
    • Anything with “evil race has come to the land”. Demons, orcs, whatever, is all bad, because these are all stand in for “people”. There is a way you can do it where it comes off as more of a “force of nature”, almost like a huge storm or something, which is an improvement. I do understand that these games are about killing things, and so you need things to kill. But it’s important to be thoughtful about what you’re putting front and center, and what you’re saying.
    • Trails in the Sky – You’re a cop working through the ranks of royalty. Can you use enhanced interrogation techniques on enough poor people to rise through the ranks while defending the monarchy?
    • Anything where you’re the Chosen One. Being the Chosen One really undermines everything a lot. It turns my great feats into something sort of ordinary, and makes the world a lot more flat and dull.
    • For me personally, I would put silent protagonist in this category. I think if you’re going to make it through 40+ hours, you need there to be a central emotional thing that you’re heading toward. You need to care about reaching the ENDING, a satisfying conclusion. A problem I have in a lot of Dragon Quest games for example, is that it sort of feels like you’re going from mini-story to mini-story and I guess at some point the stories just end. Whereas if you compare that to something like Final Fantasy 13, there is a pretty central thing that’s being headed toward the entire time.
    • Follow-up: A good narrative setup that you promptly forget all about for the next 20 hours, like in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
  • Forced Minigames. Minigames are an important thing to have in an RPG: they can break things up, they can open new routes for worldbuilding and character building, and they can contribute to the worldishness of the game. However, when you force them, they can become extremely annoying – they just aren’t what the player signed up for, and they tend to be a lot less polished and fun than the main game. I didn’t sign up for “crappy starfox”, so don’t make me do it every time I want to switch worlds in Kingdom Hearts!
  • Bad Pacing. I was going to write “too long”, but there is no correct length for an RPG. They almost all feel too long, because they aren’t paced well for the length that they are. It feels to me like most JRPGs – including every Final Fantasy game I’ve played – has enough “stuff” for a game about half the length that it is.
  • Bad FIGHT pacing. Basically, players don’t want to fight the same fight over and over again. In the strategy game realm, you solve this by having enough complexity. But with RPGs, you generally want the gameplay to be really smooth, so you can’t have them be too complex turn to turn. This means that there needs to be literally new THINGS appearing – new abilities for the player to use, new characters, new items, new monsters, and so on, at a rate that will mean that the player isn’t fighting the same fights over and over.
  • Again: the last two bullet points can be expressed also as: “the game is too long”. Every RPG I’ve ever played felt too long, and the above two reasons are why.
  • Too “balanced”. Strategy games can’t really be too balanced, but RPGs easily can, and most that come out these days, are. You want the balance in RPGs, to be spiky, and have a “naturalistic” quality to them. Obviously you need some amount of balance – you generally want the progression to be smooth and the player to be able to beat the challenges they face, but not overwhelm the challenges so badly that it feels boring. But then, you also want the player to suddenly find a really powerful weapon sometimes. Or you want there to be a boss that’s quite hard and takes 10 tries to beat sometimes. You want to get a character who is too weak added to your party sometimes, and a character that is too strong. These are all important to create an interesting texture and a world that feels more like a world and less like a universal studios ride.
  • Feels like Software. Video games are made out of software, of course, but the magic spell that artists, musicians, storytellers, game designers and programmers do together is they use their skills carefully to make the thing feel like something other than software, something more than software. Like it’s a magical, precious little artifact. This is important, because a critically important element in an RPG is that the player feels like the creators really had something important to say, that they really cared. Like it’s a piece of art. I think Final Fantasy is generally pretty good at this, and PC RPGs tend to be a bit worse at it. One of the challenges that RPG maker games tend to have is that between the default fonts, generic UI and free assets that tend to be used, it can really feel like just some piece of software, and that’s devastating for a players’ ability to get emotionally invested.

That’s about it for today. Hope you enjoyed this article/podcast combo! If you did, please consider supporting my work over at