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PC RPGs, translation, and a lot of other opinionated stuff!

by Kris Wolfe

Okay, something different this week! Someone sent me a letter about one of my archived editorials, which was about how, although everyone whines about there not being any PC RPGs, I thought there were a few. I gave examples and cited why I think they're RPGs, and other stuff like that, and if you want to know more go find the thing and read it. (I don't recall where it is, sorry.)

So, anyway, this person sends me a slightly patronizing letter criticizing the editorial's points. I started to write back, but it got really, really long. I realised I was saying stuff I'd like to share with everyone, so I readressed it to the Editorials section. If I sound really bitchy, it's because I'm in a poor mood because I have to do this massive website update for someone and it's for a really stupid reason. Also, people who don't defend their points make me angry.

the letter sent to me is reprinted here IN ITS ENTIRETY (I wouldn't be unfair and cut out his/her good points or anything). The letter has the little >> marks in front so you know who said what.

The letter was from one Jean D., but out of respect for that person (or to prevent you from writing to him/her and agreeing, heh) I'm not giving the addy out. If s/he wants to do a rebuttal or disagree, s/he can damn well spend an hour of expensive time writing an editorial about it.

>>I must say that your essay on PC RPGs vs. console based ones is very
>>interesting. But I'd like to clarify some things up if you will. Okay, so
>>first of all, Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Space Quest, etc. are not
>>considered as "RPGs" in the pc (or computer in general) gaming world. They
>>are labeled "Adventure games" (the games were you 'pick up', 'talk to', 'use
>>this with that',...). This is derived from the text-based adventure games
>>that used to exist back in the '70s and '80s. And now, they just add the
>>graphics.

with all due respect, I don't think that's true. Zelda is considered an RPG, even though you don't talk to many people or buy many items, the puzzles are mostly pretty easy, and you usually go around swinging your sword. I'd call it an "adventure game." Contrast this with puzzle and speech heavy games like Sam and Max or Monkey Island. It's true they're not "CONSOLE RPGS" but, well, you don't often FIND console RPGs off the console, that's why they're called that. Similarly a game like Brainlord is considered an RPG because between little chunks of story you solve an assload of puzzles and such. Games with interactive puzzles, decent plots, and a little action often get called RPGs. I don't think it's fair to say the only PC RPGs are boring slash and spell fests like ultima and so on. They seem MUCH more like "adventure games" to me. Laughable plot that's only there to move the story along; lots of fighting and more fighting; not much character development.

Check out Space Quest 4 or 5. You get to know Roger pretty damn well. (Too well, one thinks.) King's Quest is again character heavy and the story is important as a reason to make a player want to finish the game (the puzzles are fun too, of course, but what do you want? An interactive book?). Quest for Glory is a VERY traditional RPG, even on the console. You get levels and stats that you improve yourself; a big world to wander around in; skills to learn; items to buy; people to talk to; and the story, which while not exactly wonderful, is there. It more than compares to FF1 or DW1, which are DEFINITLY adventure games, even though everyone calls them RPGs. Terranigma, a favorite RPG of mine, doesn't even have much of a plot until part 3, and even then, well, it's not much of a plot. (It's very interesting, admittedly, but there's not much of it.)

And the text-based adventure games you are looking down on were often culled DIRECTLY from P&P RPGs; they're meant to allow one player to traverse another world (or even our own world), as either a character s/he determined or a pre-determined character, interacting with other people (the computer plays those roles since these are the days before the net) and using their brains to solve problems instead of always using brute force. Wow, that sounds like an RPG to me. You seem to think that lack of mindless fighting means something's not an RPG.

>>True computer RPGs are usually first person perspective games, like
>>Daggerfall (as you mentioned), Eye of the Beholder, Menzo, Betrayal at
>>Krondor, etc.

no, those are "crappy computer RPGs" not true ones. -_-; well,I can't ENTIRELY say that (I like daggerfall, even though the story is nonexistant), but even so. Yeah, you raise your stats and save the world. And? What else? What separates that from Mega Man (you get new powers ("levels") and battle bad guys)? Plus I notice you're fond of medival things. Swords and sorcery do not equal RPG.

>>But I do remember games such as Dark Sun, Ultimas, Fallout
>>(and now Baldur's Gate and Torment) which are not. This has to do with the
>>interest of the target audience. PC gamers use to prefer first person RPGs.

that's silly, those games are often little more than beating up bad guys and getting experience points. I guess if that's all you want in an RPG... I look for fun characters, interesting gameplay, interesting dialogue, and puzzles myself. Perhaps we play different kinds of RPGs.

>>And of course, most pc games that come out here are North American or
>>European based, not Japanese. Around 90% of console games are Japanese, and
>>these types of RPGs have their own style. This style being adapted to
>>promote fun rather than intricacies.

I think it is INCREDIBLY snotty of you to assume that a decent RPG could not come out on something other than the console, or that it has to come from Japan. You know what? I love anime, I buy pounds of manga (in Japanese), and Japanese is my major in college. I also play buttloads of video games. Anyway, although I love japanese manga, I also like a lot of American comic books. They're not from Japan, does that mean they don't have any good art or redeeming plot? No way! Not all american comics are of the superhero nature, which most people don't realise, and even a few superhero comics actually have something to say other than "Here I come to save the day!" (ie Astro City, YJ, Impulse, Dark Knight). As for animation: just because it's almost entirely aimed at children in this country doesn't mean that what animation there IS is bad. I like more adult-oriented anime but I find time for disney movies and Wallace and Grommit. (Or is that not "animation" by your strict categories because it's CG?) I also watch kids' anime from Japan like CCS and Detective Conan. It's all animation to me. I am not going to be extra-critical because it's not from Japan.

my point here is that just because PC stuff is usually developed by (gasp!) non-japanese companies, it's possible for a good PC RPG to come out. And I think that PC gamers like console-style games; look at the popularity of FF7.

But an interesting point is that the reason console style RPGs have the menus and such is because you have to control them with a very simple CONTROLLER. A computer RPG has more elaborate and different controls because it HAS to. Have you ever tried to emulate something like chrono trigger or secret of mana on a computer without a controller hooked up? It's hard! Arrow keys weren't meant for that kind of movement, they were meant to help you scroll up your text document. It's hard to go through a bunch of menus and stuff, which were very fast and efficient on the console. So, superficially, a PC RPG has to be different from a console one.

>>I absolutely hate PC RPGs because of
>>this, there is usually no point to it. The battle systems are among the
>>most boring ones (clicking on enemies until they die), the story is told in
>>such a boring way, etc.

well, I'm sorry you feel that way. Of course, that's probably because the things you've classified as "PC RPGs" are mostly action/adventure games, and they don't have much story.

It's true that there's not many PC RPGs that have really long, interesting, deep stories, but the industry listens to the wallet. PC gamers often buy action-intensive, plot-light games; why do you imagine that companies don't make more story-ish games? But even there... I think (semi-boring) games like Myst were RPGs. Myst had a plot, more puzzles, and an beautiful interactive world. No battles, admittedly, but you know what else? I don't LIKE battles! I don't mind at all not having to go through a massive amount of stupid repetitive battling to have fun with the puzzles, talk to all the people, go on the side quests, or find out about the story and the characters. I thought the downfall of FF8 was its dull battle system. It just wasn't much fun. I liked the story, but in between, battling was a pain, not a pleasure. (Other games, like Terranigma, make battling so much fun that you don't mind at all.) To play a game like Sam and Max, with lots of characters, a world to explore, and neat things to do, lots of humor, real voice acting (at the time only possible with a PC), and all without having to fight pointlessly--that seemed really great to me.

and of course, really, just because some console RPGs have these massive plots and giant amounts of character development doesn't mean they all do. Games like Secret of Mana and Terranigma had almost no story (don't kid yourself; play back through SoM and tell me the intense story that leaps out at you at every turn). But they're RPGs, and damn good ones. Of course it's true they aren't menu-based and therefore you could make a claim that action RPGs are not "story RPGs" or even "real RPGs" but then look at Illusion of Gaia (coincidentally Terranigma's predecessor). I admit it's not the best game, but it is an action RPG (with graphics and music worthy of Square, and don't deny it) and it has a lot of story, with lots and lots of characters. Just because you can't play as them doesn't mean that you don't get to know them. Brave Fencer Musashi is another RPG with a sorta light plot, but a plot nonetheless, and it was an action RPG.

I honestly don't think there's much difference between a so-called "adventure game" and an RPG. A "console-style" RPG is a special thing, found almost exclusively on a system it is specialized for, and it's stupid to expect computer companies to make the same thing. And vice-versa. I first played Monkey Island on my Sega CD, and it was INCREDIBLY annoying to move a POINTER around the screen with your controller (don't even talk to me about load times); the interface was for people who used a mouse, and it was painfully obvious. Besides, to me, I don't CARE what kind of game you want to label something; I'm only interested in knowing if it's a fun game or not. I played "Crazy Taxi" the other day, which is as far as you can get from an RPG, and you know what? It was really fun and I didn't care that it wasn't an RPG. Many people don't play RPGs because they're RPGs, they play RPGs because they think that the sort of game that is often labled RPG is FUN. It's important to them that it's a good game, not that it's an RPG.

>>The reason why console RPGs' texts seem so
>>"childish" is because of the arduous task of translation.

I'm afraid you are wrong and should be slapped around a bit with a wet trout. It's true with earlier games like FF2 (or 4, or whatever you snotty bastards want to call it, I don't like it much and I welcome flames on the subject) there was censorship and removal of things like "porn mags" which I'm sure you'll agree would have really improved the story.

but nowadays? I don't call FF7's translation OR story childish; Celes tried to commit suicide in FF6 and they didn't hide it; Xenogears contained, of all things, SEX. Oooooh. But who says a game needs adult content like sex and swearing to be good? If that stuff makes you feel older, great. I'm personally now over the age of consent and I don't CARE if there's swearing. I don't recall anything over "damn" in FFT (I could be wrong, it's been a while) and it had a VERY adult story, meant for an older crowd than FF4 by far, with all the politics and the depressing parts of the plot.

Furthermore, as a Japanese major, I can tell you all about the arduous task of translation: it's a pain in the ass. Japanese is about as different from English as you get. I'm serious, even swahili is closer (not a lot, but hey). I learned this in my Japanese linguistics class, so if you question me I have some very boring text to back myself up with. Anyway, it's true that it's hard, but any competent translator isn't going to make things sound like they're childish. Furthermore, what often happens is that companies get a team of translators (often a native speaker and a person who learned the language) to translate, and then hire another person, called a script-writer, to make it sound natural. In Japanese "Roommate no juice o nondeshimatta" means something literally like "I completely drank all my roommate's juice." but a competent translator/scriptwriter team would make it something like "Oh no! I drank all my roommate's juice by accident!" because of context, politeness of verb conjugation, and certain things implied by the form "te shimau" blah blah.

The point of all this is that the spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and cruddy dialogue in many translated games isn't because of inherant problems in translation but rather because a lot of companies (Square comes to mind) honestly don't care about their script quality and are willing to put products out with errors. Square obviously doesn't care about some of the problems with their american releases (see my editorial about the quality of FFAnthology for examples). Spelling, syntax and grammar errors litter their work and it's not because Japanese is hard. Working Designs has very few errors in their work, and it's because they spend a lot more time localizing and checking for mistakes.

anyway, I know I've come off as harsh and mean, and I don't want to insult you or make you feel bad or anything; I just think you're wrong, and that's what the editorial section is for.

PS>> I did NOT run this though either a spell or grammar check, and I'm proud of it. I didn't even check it over very throughly and I'm pretty sure there aren't too many outstanding errors. Nyah. :
PPS>> Puzzle Fighter is REALLY fun. So's crazy taxi. ^_^

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