Roundtable - September 13, 2003 - Part 1

Googleshng: Hello everyone, and welcome to another roundtable discussion here at RPGamer. Tonight we'll be discussing the woes of categorizing RPGs, those wonderful Tactical RPGs everyone seems to be playing lately, and what can be done to put our old friend difficulty back into RPGs. But first, let's have our panellists introduce themselves.

Brian: Arr, Brian here. I haven't slept much in the past two days. A fluffy stuffed bear and a pink blankie would shut me right up, but you can blame FFXI and Disgaea for bringing me here.

Adoru: Hi, I'm Adoru and while my job has nothing to do with videogames, I play RPGs whenever I can. I've also been a regular of #rpgamer for at least 4 years now.

David: Yar, David here, Disgaea has eaten my brain. I am here because Google promised me cookies.

James: Hello, I'm James Robert Borden Jr, call me James. I do nothing important, however, I have been know to 'play some mean pinball', and video games of course.

Kugutsu: I'm kugutsu. Though I've been fairly distressed at the RPGs of late, I'm interested in the few innovative developers that still exist.

Googleshng: Our first topic of the night concerns the undue broadness of the label RPG. When games deviate from another genre, they get their own new name. For example First Person Shooter, or Survival Horror. The closest you get from the RPG side though are the terms Action/RPG and TRPG, and at that, people cram some strange stuff into those. Thoughts?

Kugutsu: Well, "RPG" is difficult to define as everyone pretty much has a different perspective on them. The first RPG that you play usually defines your expectations for years to come, and later games merely build on that.

David: Well I go by two things, my internal RPG meter that tells me when something is an rpg and when it is not. I mean, you could make a good argument for GTA 3 being an RPG, but it just doesn't have the RPG feel to it. Also I go by what the developer calls it. Even when it might not be a real RPG.

David looks at Sony

James: Firstly, I think poeple should, as a whole, understand the difference between RPGs and Strategy games.

Adoru: Well, I think in general, people who often play those different kinds of "RPGs" categorize them fairly well, even though we can always agree to disagree on some harder-to-describe games. The problem lies with publisher who try to sell other genres by labeling them with the term "RPG" because they are so popular these days.

Googleshng: I think another aspect of the problem is that RPG is a nice buzz-word to use these days.

James: I think that an RPG is: A game that has an in-depth story line (Pfft.) and has some sort of character development aspect, leveling and such.

Adoru: It seems that if a game has a fairly elaborate story these days, it will most certainly be called RPG by some magazine that isn't specialized in s console video games.

Brian: "RPG elements" thrown into games also seems to be a recent developing spinoff just to sell more, not to make them better.

Googleshng: By that definition, the original Dragon Warrior isn't an RPG.

Kugutsu: Perhaps, but many people these days have a looser definition of what an RPG is than people that started on Dragon Warrior. It doesn't help that Square tossed all those random minigames into FF7.

Googleshng: And, for instance, Metal Gear Solid is.

Brian: So many people have heard of, say, Final Fantasy *insert random number here*, and associate it with RPG... so when people see another game with RPG or RPG elements slapped on it, it looks more appealing.

Googleshng: Right.

David: Not really.

David: Outside of the people who already play RPGs, RPG elements mean nothing to them.

Googleshng: Were you to try and sell, say, the Harvest Moon games as farming sims, you wouldn't do as well as you would calling them RPGs.

Adoru: Well, you have to agree that Metal Gear Solid appealed to so many people that even though it isn't an RPG, it gets covered by RPG websites and magazines.

Brian: I'm talking about more shallow RPGamers, not people who know better.

Kugutsu: I think that RPG elements can be good for games, when they're done right. It's not entirely a marketing ploy.

Googleshng: True.

Adoru: But what is really the problem of misleading people by calling or adding the term RPG to something that isn't? Those casual players will never know they were "lied" to, and those who know better will not be fooled anyways? So why bother?

David: RPG elements are just a reward system really.

Googleshng: But then, some publishers will consider "having top view" to be an RPG element.

James: The problem with role-playing game as a title is, every game is a 'role-playing game.'

David: Everyone loves playing a game, and getting better abilites as you go on, it makes the game more fun.

David: Especially in action games where you get more spectacular attacks.

Googleshng: James: Yes, and adventure games make you solve puzzles, and puzzle games don't.

Brian: Or god games. You're really playing a role in those!

Googleshng: There's a certain degree of arbitrariness in the labels.

David: Here's an easy definition: if it could translate into a PnP [pen and paper] game easily, then it is an RPG

James: Exactly.

Kugutsu: Not necessarily. Many games that people consider to be mainstream RPGs have much simpler rulesets than the average PnP RPG.

Adoru: But not everyone that plays RPGs know about PnP

Kugutsu: Imagine trying to do the Sphere Grid in a PnP.

Googleshng: Yes, but you still tend to have the party of 3 or 4 people exploring dungeons.

Googleshng: And, a friend of mine has actually done that with the sphere grid.

Brian: Digital RPGs nowadays don't exactly have the broadness of real PnP RPGs, either, making them more "adventure" games than RPGs.

Googleshng: Oddly enough, before FF10 debuted

Brian: Maybe Fable from Lionhead Studios will defeat the linear aspects of more "adventure" RPGs, too.

Kugutsu: Most games that are classified as adventure games aren't really RPGs in my book.

Brian: Which is proven by our disputed coverage of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Googleshng: Speaking of adventure games, it seems to me that that genre is trying to slip under the RPG umbrella entirely.

Adoru: Kugutsu, what are you refering to?

Kugutsu:The games that are basically overhead action games that claim to be RPGs.

James: I have played RPGs for a while, about 10 years, and I realize I can't rightly define them. Basically, I know what an RPG is instinctively.

Googleshng: You don't see a lot of puzzle-solving these days, except for in the Wild ARMs series, and the occassional action game, say, Zelda.

David: Well I'd say Disgaea has puzzle solving in it with how some of the geo panels are setup.

Brian: Disgaea's Geo Panel system is a real puzzle sometimes, except it isn't all that broad. After you get the techniques and strategies down, they're overly simple and more like chores instead of puzzles.

Brian: Or the Alundra games, Google.

Googleshng: Them too.

Adoru: I'd say Zelda Wind Waker is an action-adventure/rpg or adventure/action-rpg.

Kugutsu: Puzzles have been phased out of more RPGs lately because they tend to frustrate the masses.

Googleshng: I honestly don't see any RPG elements in the Zelda games at all really. There's action, there's puzzle solving. There's no experience, no parties, not a lot of plot. The only thing that seems like an RPG about them is the fantasy setting.

David: Beyond Link's Adventure, I don't think any of the Zeldas qualify as RPGs. Well they didn't at one time.

Brian: Zelda games are all-out adventures, except for the second game, which is (and I enjoyed it heartily, I might add).

David: Now since the genre is so broad, it'd be hard to say they aren't.

Kugutsu: The plot that's there isn't much beyond the average action game.

Adoru: But if you start saying that Disgaea's Geo panels are part of a puzzle, then you could say trying to kill a boss is a puzzle in itself.

David: Geo panels are puzzles in part.

James: Adoru: In some cases, isn't it?

Adoru: But you don't need to solve them in order to advance and even if you screw up you end up solving them. You just don't get rewarded for it.

David: Yes you do

David: Without spoiling the game, it is hard to explain, but there are some levels you have to figure out how to change them to finish the level.

Brian: One thing that seems to define most Japanese-made RPGs is their stories. It links to Japanese animation in a way, since both art forms are based heavily upon a set story and allows minimal to moderate personal character development.

Kugutsu: It's really rather difficult to pidgeon-hole any games these days--they have become extremely complex.

Kugutsu: Back with older systems, games were simple enough that you could say that Game A is definitely a Shooter, or Game B is an RPG.

Googleshng: In any case, would everyone agree that the world would make more sense if you took all the various action/RPGs, straight action games, and action/adventure games of today, and labelled them as one genre? Doing the same with Tactical RPGs and turn based strategy, leaving the term RPG to just your straight up, traditional, menu based games?

Kugutsu: I actually think that Tactical RPGs are just a variation of RPGs themselves.

David: Sure, sounds good to me.

Kugutsu: But I also classify TRPGs and Strategy games as different.

James: Google: I understand what you're saying.

Adoru: Google, yes it would be simpler. But then, how would we differentiate a game like Alundra, from say, a game like Mario Bros?

Brian: TRPGs are generally turn-based, and strategy games can be real time or turn-based.

Googleshng: Well, this is why I specified the games of today.

Googleshng: Nobody is releasing games like Mario Brothers anymore.

Adoru: We'd need a new name for action/RPG since they are a genre by themselves

Googleshng: This is what I'm saying.

Kugutsu: TRPGs tend to have more emphasis on EXP/HP than Strategy games.

Googleshng: True, but that's really the only distinction.

Adoru: Well 2-D side-scrollers are rare, but they still exist and if you stop calling Contra: Shattered Soldier an action game, and call it a shooter, then you have to rename Ikaruga's genre.

Brian: Ikaruga and other Treasure-made shooters don't need a name. They're too special.

Kugutsu: TRPGs also have smaller battles, generally.

Googleshng: The closest I can find are, say, the recent Castlevania games.

Googleshng: Before we move on completely into the discussion of TRPGs, as we seem to be doing, does anyone have any closing comments on this subject?

Brian: Yes. Zelda (besides the second one) is not an RPG. Get over it.

Kugutsu: As I said before, we need to stop trying to classify games so broadly. They have become far too complex.

David: We should really leave the genre conventions alone, otherwise how will marketing people earn their money? "it's like Final fantasy meets Tomb Raider, think of it!"

Googleshng: OK.

Adoru: I don't think we'll ever all agree on naming genres, because there are more and more new once traditional games branching out in new direction, Breath of Fire V is a good example. But as long as we stay informed and check many different sources, we'll be sure to buy or play a genre we love.

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