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The Console War: Know Your Role

by CX

Well, folks, it's getting to be that time again. Summer is fast approaching, and with it, the onslaught of hype about the next-generation console systems to be released in the fall and winter. And, as no doubt many of you wonder, there is some confusion as to which console will be the predominant RPG platform in this round of the console wars. I do hope, of course, to offer my two cents on the issue.

First off, as the dust settles (finally) on the last grand battle for RPG supremacy on the previous generation's consoles, the clear winner appears to be Sony and it's Playstation. Frankly, the PSX offered the CD-ROM as its medium, which blew Nintendo's cartridge-based N64 out of the water. Sega's Saturn also used CD-ROMs, of course, but the machine seemed doomed to self-destruction. Another aspect, of course, of Sony's dominance of the genre is the name factor. Several big-name RPG series were continued on it, such as Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, and Dragon Quest, stealing much, if not all, of Nintendo's thunder. For the past two or three years, simply put, the words "RPG" and "Playstation" have been virtually synonymous to RPGamers everywhere.

So is it possible, then, or even reasonable to assume that Sony will be able to repeat its conquest of the RPG kingdom with its next-generation Playstation 2? Probably. Several big-ticket RPGs, like Final Fantasy 10 and 11, have been announced for the system already, and carrying a flagship series such as Final Fantasy means almost guaranteed sales for Sony. However, the PS2 has nowhere near the number of RPGs announced for it that Sega's Dreamcast does, and there have been reports that the graphics do not quite live up to earlier expectations. Furthermore, there's no guarantee that Final Fantasy will continue on Sony. Remember when it was practically a given that Final Fantasy VII would be on a Nintendo system (think back to when the first CG movies were released)?

Sega, having learned from the near-disastrous failure of the Saturn, has planned a few impressive RPGs for their recently-released Dreamcast. I have seen the DC in action, of course, in in-store displays, and I must say that the graphics are remarkably well-done. The return of the famed Phantasy Star series, in the form of PS Online, alongside other return engagements like Grandia 2 and Langrisser Millennium, almost ensures sales of the Dreamcast. Coupled with Sega's ISP deal, this too makes the DC a very attractive platform. However, I believe that RPGs will not be the primary focus of the Dreamcast. Rather, on-line gaming, an application that the machine was quite obviously designed for, will be the predominant genre on the latest, greatest Sega machine. While this does not necessarily exclude RPGs altogether, you can expect that games with a low amount of Internet connectivity, such as RPGs, will not be hyped as well or as greatly as other games. If anything, perhaps a turn-based strategy game like Shining Force would do well to mix the on-line capabilities and RPG genre.

Which brings us to the wild-card, Nintendo's Project Dolphin. It is clearly too early to expect any rational analysis of a system that has nebulous (at best) specifications. But, since when has rationality ever stopped me? Nintendo has come into the Console RPG war this round at a serious disadvantage. Their Nintendo 64 has been predominantly a platform for, well, platform games-- old standbys such as Mario and Zelda translated into 3-D. What's worse, their flagship RPG (of sorts), The Legend of Zelda, was not quite as well-received on the Nintendo 64 as was anticipated. The only traditional-style RPG for the system, Quest 64, was a dismal piece of garbage that never should have seen the light of day. And the often-whispered-of, frequently-delayed Ogre Battle 64 will be released far, far too late to resurrect the console's RPG side. So what, if anything, does this mean for Nintendo's Dolphin? The fact of the matter is, of late, Nintendo has been pushing two things in earnest: Pokemon (which is technically an RPG, yes, but then again what isn't it? ie Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Stadium, Wipe Pikachu's Bottom 64, etc.) and their hardware. The N64 was an amazing piece of machinery in its time, with its sole flaw being the cartridge medium. Nintendo has promised that the Dolphin will be the most technically advanced of the three major next-generation players, and I, for one, believe it. What remains to be seen is how Nintendo and its developers handle the glaring lack of RPGs for a Nintendo system. Sure, while one could say that no RPGs have been announced for the Dolphin, I would have to reply that that's partially because no other games have been announced for it, either.

To conclude, it's a toss-up until Nintendo announces a major RPG coup or a developer commits to the Dolphin. If you want traditional RPG gameplay in abundance, look to Sony's Playstation 2. If you want to challenge the might of your blade against someone in Albequerque, go for the Dreamcast. If you want something new, something unexpected, wait and see if Dolphin delivers. Personally, for the longest time, I was a raving, drooling Nintendo fanboy. No one could ever expect to pull me away from the fold of Mario et al. However, I quickly changed loyalties when it turned out that Nintendo, through its inaction in delivering a decent traditional console RPG, had abandoned a huge market. The next-generation's console war will not be determined by a lack of action, as had decided the fate of the Saturn, Playstation, and N64. It will be determined by a commitment to please everyone.

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