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In Paul Langworthy's editorial, "The Action-based Character", he states that the difference between old an new RPG's is that old RPG's develop the story through actions, while new RPG's use words. What Mr. Langworthy failed to notice is that newer RPG's aren't as drastically different as everyone makes them out to be. Aside from graphics, RPG's haven't fundamentally changed.
Mr. Langworthy's major argument involves character specialization. He argues that, because in "newbie" RPGs, characters are entirely dependant upon their matiria (or GFs, or crystals) for strength, they rely upon the "soap-opera-like" plot to define themselves, while "traditional" RPGs use special character skills to define personalities. There are several things wrongly assumed in this statement.
First of all, he make the assumption that all "newbie" RPGs have this lack of specialization. While only looking at his two examples, FF7 and FF8, it certainly looks that way. He fails to mention other recent RPGs, such as Xenogears, Grandia, and Chrono Cross, all of which have character specialization.
Second, Mr. Langworthy makes the faulty assumption that the "traditional" RPGs all have character specialization. One of Mr. Langworthy's primary examples was Final Fantasy 8 and Final Fantasy 5. He states:
"In Final Fantasy 8 the characters have even less inherent worth, and must rely completely upon god-like assistants to attain anywhere near the strength they need to overcome their foes. These are both very different attitudes toward character development philosophy then Square took in Final Fantasy 5, where characters earned every ounce of their skill themselves using the adequately titled job system."
He made one large oversight in choosing this example. In Final Fantasy 5, the characters are every bit as weak and helpless as Final Fantasy 8's characters. The characters in Final Fantasy 5 rely and the powers of the crystals to become powerful. Without the crystals, they would be just as helpless as characters from Final Fantasy 8. In fact, the Junction system in Final Fantasy 8 can be viewed as a slight modification of the Job system, where, instead of crystals, we find Guardian Forces. Final Fantasy 5 is not the only example of a "traditional" RPG with-out character differences. Final Fantasy 3 (for NES) also used the job system.
Third, he assumes that the "soap-opera-like" plots are limited to "newbie" RPGs. He claims that "newbie" RPGs are all about relationships and "traditional" RPGs are all about level-building to fight the ultimate evil. If that were true, we long ago would have abandoned "traditional" RPGs. I should hope we abandoned such simple plots long ago. Dragon Warrior (the original) and Final Fantasy (the original) may have had "build-strength/fight boss" plots, but RPGs more recent than that have almost all abandoned this for the "soap-opera" plot. Can you look at the number of times Kain switches sides and not call Final Fantasy 4's plot "soap-opera-like"? Does not the rivalry between Frog and Magus (among other things) make Chrono Trigger's plot "soap-opera-like"?
Unlike many RPGamers, I played Final Fantasy 4 at the same time I was playing Final Fantasy 7. I beat the original Final Fantasy at just around the time Final Fantasy 8 was released. I never understood the concept that RPGs had changed over the years. The fact is, they haven't. Mr. Langworthy states that the difference between old and new RPG's is the method of storytelling. He says that recent RPG's focus too much on developing characters with text and pretty pictures. If Mr. Langworthy really wants to play a game where actions speak louder than words, and there is as little character development as possible, he should go play action games.
Original Editorial: The action-based character
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