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The Times, They Are A-Changing

Josh Martz

I think I've finally hit that point where I'm getting just a bit tired of fantasy. Sure, it's great for quite a few different reasons, and there are perfectly good times when it is a favorable setting to use. But, one of the largest problems I see from this setting are the insurmountable number of cliches that are spread across the genre. Not all of them are bad, but they are certainly becoming (if not already) trite and tiresome. Dragons, swords, staves...the whole lot is stale.

The setting that really intrigues me is that of the modern day. I'm sure that's partly due to the fact that I exist within it, but hey, as far as RPGs go, it's fairly different. Most games I've played try to have some sort of mix of fantasy and current reality, maybe by introducing some modern mechanical marvels (appliances, vehicular technologies that rival what we see today - boats, cars, etc.) or by having the characters perform mannerisms and actions that are relevant to what we see around us everyday. Final Fantasy VIII is a good example of this combination. While there are numerous items and places that seem as if they are taken right from our world (Galbadia reminds me of any one of the historic towns you may find across the United States), there are still many elements that remain from the fantasy genre, such as the Witches and the Guardian Forces.

The three games that I can recall off of the top of my head that are in the "modern-day" genre are Parasite Eve, PE 2, and Persona 2. While Parasite Eve 2 wasn't your standard RPG (in fact, I felt it played more like a cross between Resident Evil and Final Fantasy XII), it still maintained the setting quite well, making me believe that the story was taking place in my time - no further in the future, no further in the past. The original Parasite Eve placed you in control of Aya Brea, a New York cop that somehow had some connection to all of the weird disturbances happening across New York. You traveled all across the city, visiting areas such as Central Park, Chinatown, and the Chrysler Building, tracking down Eve and figuring out what your connection was. While the game did have its own breed of 'magic,' it was explained as something biological, rather than something learned from a master, or bought at a shop. A subtle difference, it helps keep everything together in the same setting.

When creating a game of this style, the developers need to keep in mind that if something is going to stray from reality, there needs to be an explanation. No random monsters wandering around just because they are monsters wandering around. Either some evil force has brought them forward, by means of witchery or science, or something went wrong in a lab somewhere...whatever, as long as it maintains a continuity with the setting of the game.

While I didn't get very far in Persona 2, I did get a sense of how the game's setting was displayed. Set in our era, you play as a reporter that gets mixed up in all sorts of hijinxs, the most notable being tracking a set of incidents revolving around a mysterious serial phone caller. And, as in PE, the game does come complete with a system of magic involving Personae, beings that grant your characters with magical abilities. While this is a bit out of the league of what I was getting at, the game as a whole is a step in the correct direction.

The problem also lies in how equipment is designed. With modernization, you also have to take into account the technologies of the time. I think Parasite Eve hit the nail on the head with the weapon customization. With the assortment of weapons (all of them modeled after existing weapons), and the also (mostly) realistic way of being able to modify them to suit your needs really helped draw me into the game and make me believe that nothing was too far-fetched. Body armor could be adapted, from street clothing to Kevlar, instead of Mythril, for example.

What I would love to see is an RPG centered around a city with the size and detail of, say, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (with more NPCs, more inside areas), with a party of characters that has some quest to save the town and its people or whatnot from some imminent danger. I'd want my party members to be equipped with guns or any other weapons (even could find them in a shop in town, I'm sure) that could be seamlessly melded into the setting. A magic system based on, say, genetic mutation would be a good idea as well. Overall, I just want the game to draw me in and make me able to imagine that this could happen in our world, rather than forcing me to believe in some imaginary place far, far away.

But, is there anything wrong with fantastical games? Not in the least! It's merely a preference on my part that I'd like to see more efforts made into using the realm of the modern world. It's a step away from the ordinary, one that could potentially bring new light to the genre. Come on developers! Let's see what you can do!

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