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by Doug Hill
I know, I know. How could anyone challenge the might of the PlayStation 2's RPG power when the system has franchises like Final Fantasy, Lunar, Suikoden, and Xeno at their disposal? When it comes to RPGs, the PS2 pretty much has the console market cornered. However, all things change in this crazy market, and when a genre gets boring, the fans will follow innovation.
Now, just so you know, it does pain me to say this for many reasons. One, I'm a Nintendo fanatic. I admit it freely. I truly wish for Nintendo to regain the great 3rd party franchises on the GameCube, and I think it will regain some, but the chances of getting them exclusively are slim. Also, I have grown rather fond of my PS2, despite my intentions just to have it for non-Cube software. I still have many problems with it, but most of them don't actually affect me as much as they do developers and publishers. That's another editorial, though.
So, how is the Xbox the possible future of RPGs? Simple. It has a guaranteed hard drive. Every Xbox owner has a hard drive in his or her system, and every RPG for Xbox should utilize it. No, not by using an install to make the game load faster. That's a waste of space, when you should be concentrating on compression methods and reworking the data to load faster. The hard drive should be used to save a massive amount of world variables. Let me explain by giving you an existing upcoming example.
Big Blue Box, with help from game design master Peter Molyneux, is finally able to deliver on what many have been wanting to see for awhile--a persistant offline world--in the form of their upcoming game Project Ego. Finally a home console will have the power to take a world and evolve it as you play, where what you do does indeed change the world and the characters within it. Although we don't know exactly how drastic this will be in terms of the entire island it takes place on, I can confirm that the changes to the main character are very dramatic.
The character starts out young, but grows older as you keep playing. If you stay out in the sun, you tan. If you get cut bad, it could scar. The variations are uncanny, and stuff like this is usually only found in massive online RPGs where the servers have the capacity to keep track of such things. Not anymore.
To give kudos to my boys, Nintendo was very much trying to do this very same idea with the 64DD and Mother 3 (would've been Earthbound 64 in the US), but add-ons are messy, and the worst detail is that not everyone will have one. That's the main key here. Not everyone will have a PS2 hard drive. Not everyone will have the special SD Memory Card that GameCube will utilize. Every single Xbox owner has a hard drive. It guarantees that every person can utilize these functions that are pertinent to the game.
This degree of change is where many RPGs are headed. With the standard 3D RPG getting more and more repetitive, variations are abounding everywhere. The ability to have different choices and a less linear world while still keeping a decent plot and good content is what is needed, and having a hard drive to keep track of different world variables is essential.
Just to clarify, world variables refer to the differences you can have in a world, like if you choose to go left or right, or if you recruit a character or not. Imagine the incredible gameplay experience we could get in a game that keeps track of all possible characters you could recruit, and keep track of what they've done in the world up to the point you met them, where you meet them depending on the choices they make along with yours, and how that can affect he plot. Yes, these kinds of games would take much longer to develop, maybe even four years just to plan out all of the plot twists before you ever go into production, but they would also be games that are played for years.
That brings me to my last point. Much like Sony did early in the PlayStation's life, Microsoft will be looking for the hot new development houses. Fresh ideas with no affiliation, just waiting to be snatched up so that they are bound to Microsoft much like Bungie and other developers have been recently. It's a good idea, because even if you buy ten developers and nine fail, the tenth that makes it will make up for the loss in profit quickly, and then will continue to be a nice little cash cow for years to come. It'll be the PlayStation all over again.
Don't discount Microsoft just because all it has going for it RPG-wise is some nice Sega support and one or two games that might be good but we aren't sure yet. The system has lots of potential for games that can only be done on their system. It simply might just be a matter of time.
Of course, this is all speculation, and until Project Ego comes out, I'll hold off on getting an Xbox and enjoy my PlayStation, PS2, and Game Boy Advance RPGs.
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