As far as I could remember in my Role-Playing-Game years, a great game was composed of several different factors. Here at RPGamer their reviews tend to outline these factors. Battle System, Interaction, Originality, Story, Music & Sound, and Visuals are among the factors taken into account when reviewing an RPG. RPGs like Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, even Pokemon excel in most areas, making them classics, praised for their greatness in all areas. However, as we usher in a new era of RPG's, it seems that we are ignoring these important factors, in lieu of a newer system: plot and graphics.
If a game looks nice and has an interesting story, then nothing else matters, right? Wrong.
Don't get me wrong, RPGs can, and should have a strong intriguing, perhaps even original story. This keeps the game fresh and interesting. However, since when should we sacrifice other aspects of an RPG, just because we like the story? If this was the case, we might as well be reading a book or watching a movie. The point of an RPG is to be playing a role.
An excellent example that had the forums in uproar right here at RPGamer was Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The game received poor reviews because, the reviewer didn't enjoy the battle system, felt the game was an unoriginal rehashing of its predecessor, or felt the music was sub-par. All of these are legitimate reasons to dislike a videogame. After kweee's less than average review, the RPGamer boards were hopping with angry readers who didn't feel his score was inaccurate, especially due to Kingdom Hearts' "exemplary story." After reading that I thought, "Yeah! He's right, KH:COM was definitely better than a two! Who doesn't love Sora, Donald, and Goofy!?"
About an hour later, it dawned on me.
He didn't have fun playing the game. Even if the graphics were "some of the best 2D graphics on a portable yet”, regardless of the "engrossing plot," he found no other redeeming factors. One advantage cannot overshadow every other shortcoming. This has long been the adage attributed to graphics, but seems to be spilling into the story. When Xenosaga was released, even the back of the box boasted long cutscenes with amazing graphics, and a deep engrossing plot. There are people who have looked passed this and realized that, they didn’t appreciate the battle system, nor did they the lack of gameplay.
If this is the future for RPGs, then will they really be RPGs anymore? Will they become 20-60 hour films with sparse battle sequences, final bosses that present no challenge whatsoever, and an amazing story with photorealistic cutscenes? Will we soon be playing videogames from a remote control hooked up to our TV?
I'm sorry developers, but I still believe a videogame is meant to be played. If RPGs are headed in this direction, count me out.