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In the year 2000!

by Aaron Gover

     You know, lately, there has been a large debate over where RPGs are headed, what new elements RPGs will incorporate. Almost every RPG coming out in the next year has its own "spin": Lunar 2: Eternal Blue is a remake of a retro game, Rhapsody is a "musical RPG." You can't swing a dead hamster without hitting a Pokémon clone. With all this hullabaloo going on, I figured I'd write this editorial as sort of an "open letter" to RPG developers, present and future, telling them what I would like to see in the next generations of RPGs.

Larger Parties.
     Now I know a lot of people absolutely despised SaGa Frontier, but there was one thing I really liked about it: the almost obscene amount of people you could have in your party at one time, up to fifteen. I'd like to see this implemented in future RPGs.
     On a related Note, it also doesn't make sense why the game ends when the current party is wiped out. I mean, you have a bunch of character sitting in the wings, do they all commit ritual suicide when the main party dies?

Better Menu Systems.
     There have been recently several RPGs that I was forced to stop playing because the menu system was so aggravating, namely Suikoden and Pokémon. My main gripe with Suikoden is as follows: If you're going to make a game with so many playable characters, you've got to make it much easier to switch equipment from character to character. Pokémon commits a similar sin with its monsters: I don't want to have to trek back and forth to predetermined places to switch party members if I'm going to be doing it as often as these two games seem to want me to do.
     Pokémon also commits a sin that seems peculiar to it: Indecipherable items. It takes at least ten minutes to find the machine you want to use on a pokémon, because all of them have numbers instead of names. Name your items clearly, especially if you're going to have a limited inventory.

More Interesting Battles
     Final Fantasy VIII was a step in the right direction here, with the "Boost" ability, alongside the "R1" attack of Squall's gunblade and the interactive limit breaks. However, I feel more could be done here.
     First off, I'd like to see more in-depth attacks. For instance, take Final Fantasy VI's Mog and his "Dance Attack." If I were implementing such an attack in an RPG today, I would make this attack similar to "PaRappa the Rappa," so that pressing buttons in time to the music would contribute to the success or failure of the attack.
     Another thing I'd like to see would be randomized attack animations. For example, a character could have multiple ways of swinging his sword at the enemy. This would be a purely cosmetic change, but would make random battles more interesting to watch.
     Another good idea would be smarter enemies, especially bosses. How many times have I fought a boss while my characters have been equipped with fire-type armor and the boss repeatedly uses fire-type attacks. I'd like to see enemies who are cunning and out for your blood.
     I'd also like to see a switch to a Chrono Trigger-style system of being able to see random enemies before you have to fight them.

More Detailed Interactions with the Environment
     Xenogears took a first, if flawed, step in this direction with the addition of a "jump" button. I cannot count how many times I have been frustrated in a maze by being unable to pass a stream of water I could probably step over. Additionally, why does it seem that no RPG characters can swim?
     I'd also like to see parts where you have to sneak around, such as in Metal Gear Solid. It would bring a new element to the game, and was already done somewhat in Final Fantasy VII (During the raid on the ShinRa Building.)
     Maybe this belongs in the previous category, but I'd also like to see a return to the Chrono Trigger system of having the battles on the exploration map. It would be neat if your battles could also affect the environment, as well. Say, for instance, a character casts a fire spell and it sets the grass ablaze (Kartia has this feature already.) It could work the other way, as well. For example, there could be a thunderstorm occurring and lightning could strike battlefield at random.

More Detailed and Mature Story
     First off, I'd like to see characters interact more like real people, with their own wants, fears, and desires. I'd like to see mercenary characters that don't always "come around" to the idea of saving the world. Or maybe have a villain who fits a stereotype traditionally filled by a heroic character, such as a rebellious princess.
     I'd also like to see more of a blurring of the lines between good and evil, more like real life. Why not have the hero end up having to kill the traditional "Mysterious Female Magic User" character because her power really is too dangerous.
     Another thing I'd like to see abolished is the fact that you always seem to solve all the world's problems when you beat the final boss. It would be more interesting to see characters go home to have to rebuild houses, cure diseases, and other reconstruction-type activities.
     As a final note on this particular subject, when I buy a sequel to a game, and the sequel is supposed to be set in the same world, I do not want it to be a thousand years in the future. I do not want an entirely new cast. What I want is to see the same world with a new adventure. I'd like to use some of the characters from the previous game. and the ones I can't play as Id like to at least meet during my quest. I want to have my actions in the previous game to have an effect on this one. (Attention: That previous paragraph was written with the creators of Chrono Cross and the Breath of Fire series in mind.)

     There are also many other things I would like to see in RPGs, such as more and better minigames, more non-combat abilities like the refining in Final Fantasy VIII, and more sidequests. However, I believe I covered the elements I consider most important to keeping the genre from stagnating.

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