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by Aaron Gover
A few days ago, Paul Langworthy expressed his views on a subject that I had also begun to notice in RPGs I had been playing: that the focus was being taken off of the characters and on to "things," such as Materia, Magicite, or Guardian Forces. I agree with him on this. Having established this point, he seemed to blame this shift in focus from statistic and combat-based character development to story based character development. This is where I disagree.
In my view, it is possible to have both a detailed story and an emphasis on the characters, as opposed to the "thing's", development and power. A grand example of this would be Final Fantasy Tactics. Here, When you leveled up your characters, it really did not matter, up to a point, what you equipped them with, they would still be powerful. The antithesis of this is Final Fantasy VIII. In Final Fantasy VIII, the level of the characters barely mattered. You could have a level nineteen character with 9,999 hit points (I would like to note here that I'm not bashing Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy VIII. I've enjoyed both games thoroughly.)
Both of the games I've mentioned have (what I consider to be) fantastic, complex, and enjoyable stories with a lot of story-based character development. Final Fantasy Tactics also has combat-and-statistic-based character development. By now, you're probably wondering what I consider to be the reason behind such reliance on "things."
In my opinion, it is what I like to call "Statistical Inflation." Take, for instance, Dragon Warrior. In Dragon Warrior, you dealt with very small numbers. Your strength would probably never go above the twenty-or-so mark. Your hit points were measured in tens. An enemy was considered powerful when he hit you for twelve points of damage. When you leveled up, maybe ten hit points and you might gain a point of strength here and there.
Flash forward to Final Fantasy VII. In Final Fantasy VII, your strength is measured in tens or hundred, your hit points in thousands. Powerful enemies could do five thousand hit points of damage. When you leveled up, you characters would gain a few hundred hit points -- and maybe three points of strength. Therein lies the gist of the problem: characters simply do not grow as strong as they used to.
Let me put it mathematically:
It is this reduced gain in strength that has lead to the increased reliance on "things", because no matter how strong your characters get, they're never going to be powerful enough without the right "things." However, some recent games have bucked this trend, or incorporated both features. An example of the latter is Xenogears.
In Xenogears, small increases in statistics are very noticeable. Elly with an ether value of twenty does much more damage with her magic than she does when she has an ether value of ten.
In the final analysis, I think that all three elements, statistic-based character development, story-based character development, and reliance on "things," can coexist in one game. Such a game wouldn't tie players down to "things," it would let their characters become powerful enough on their own. However, it would also let them beef up their characters with powerful items, if they wanted to do so. In short, it would walk a fine line between independence and dependence.
Original Editorial: The Action-Based Character
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