I absolutely love video games.
(I mean, obviously I do, or we wouldn’t be here right now)
It’s a form of media that, in my humble opinion, outshines all other hobbies, forms of media and entertainment. With a myriad of genres from countless developers around the world, it feels like there’s always something to play. While there are no genres that I outright dislike, there are some that I absolutely adore.
Role Playing Games (RPG) may be the closest to the top of that list.
My earliest experiences with the RPG genre revolve around the Nintendo Entertainment System and Final Fantasy. It was a fascinating first foray; I had four party members that I took all around this game world, defeating enemies that appeared out of no where, and getting their levels raised in the process. While I knew there was a greater purpose to what I was doing, there was little to no hand holding in how I got there. Villagers would give me scant clues as to exactly what was expected of me. It was a sense of awe and discovery that no game I had played before that provided me, not even the more open ended Zelda II: The Adventures of Link.
Final Fantasy was my first love, but I soon went to bed with countless other RPG’s throughout the years. The 16 bit era was arguably one of the two best eras for the genre (the other being the very next console generation). Not only did I see the continuation of the Final Fantasy franchise, but countless other RPG’s made their presence known. It wasn’t just the standard turn based games that appeared either; more action oriented titles started appearing, such as Secret of Mana.
The quality of the content saw a significant boost from the NES and the 8 bit era, to the 16 bit era, not just to visual fidelity, but also the storytelling. It was less about nameless protagonists taking the reigns of hero, but more directed towards actual protagonists with a more fleshed out backstory. The investment I had with each game became more significant – more meaningful. If the story reached out far enough, if the characters gave me a reason to care, I became totally engrossed.
One of the most significant RPG’s I have ever come across during any era was Final Fantasy VI on the Super Nintendo. Following a dozen protagonists with their own stories, own motives and their own unique way to play was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had with a video game. The loner Shadow always struck me as an incredibly complex character; learning more and more about him through the main story and his dreams became a fascination. Some of the greatest RPG’s of all-time have the players so heavily invested into the characters, that they almost come off as lifelike, and Final Fantasy VI delivered there.
Sometimes the gameplay is the biggest draw. With a myriad of sub-genres within the RPG umbrella, there’s countless gameplay systems, all with their quirks that grab a hold of me and make it hard to stop playing. Current generation gems such as Fallout 4 focus on a first person perspective, where players can either play it as a straight up first person shooter, or use the VATS system that allows for appendage targeting. With each enemy defeated, experience is gained, and at certain levels, new perks are unlocked. It also helps that there’s flexibility in how an encounter is approached – either sneak by certain instances, go guns blazing, or carefully calculate where you want your shots to land, so long as you have the accuracy.
There are times where I, for the most part, just want to shut my brain off and go slaughter some bad guys. Action RPG’s sate that hunger quite nicely, with such beefy titles as Champions of Norrath on the PlayStation 2. Based upon the same franchise as the granddaddy of all MMORPG’s EverQuest, Champions of Norrath used a retooled engine from Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance and injected the EverQuest lore into it. The result was a marriage made in heaven – familiar gods, entities and mobs from the famed franchise with the addicting Diablo style gameplay that the Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance had on consoles. The experience was made even more addicting and mindlessly entertaining with the online component, that allowed for up to a four player game. Even today it’s worth popping in the PS2 for a few hours, just to fill that craving for mass slaughter and loot collecting.
What happens when I want to put some more thought into my games? I can just boot up a dungeion crawler RPG, or for an added layer of thought, a tactical RPG, where I usually need to think three steps ahead of the CPU to be sure that I pull through with a victory. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2 would be my usual go to for the latter. Arguably a much easier experience than something like Final Fantasy Tactics or Vandal Hearts, FFTA2 still required players to think a few steps ahead. Placement in not just where the character stood but the direction as well, proved vital for being successful. With a plethora of classes to choose from, there was an added layer of depth and strategy in how you approach the next battle. My first playthrough of FFTA2 clocked in at a staggering 256 hours, and at no point did it feel like the gameplay dragged. It kept me on my toes and gave me a very respectable challenge.
If I want a giant open world to get lost in, all with RPG elements present, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim scratches that itch. From the highest snow capped mountain tops, to the darkest of dungeons, and everything in-between, Skyrim is a sight to behold. There’s always somewhere to go, something to see. With the Special Edition of Skyrim, the visual fidelity was boosted, bringing that already teeming with life game world into a whole other spectrum of gorgeous. I haven’t even gone into the nuances of the gameplay, the epic dragon fights and other aspects of Skyrim; that game world is so fascinating that it can sell anyone on just that alone, as it has for me.
We can’t have any kind of dialog about RPG’s without mentioning the massive multiplayer online role playing games sub-genre (MMORPG). Most of the younger crowd will clamor on about World of Warcraft, though the OG MMORPG gamers such as myself will always think of EverQuest as the first, and sometimes most cherished title in the genre. Going over 18 years, this former 989 Stuidos, then Verant Entertainment, then Sony Online Entertainment, and now Daybreak Games MMO, along with Ultima Online, helped shaped the genre into what it became in the mid 2000’s, with its current state seeming like a shell of its former self, but I digress.
EverQuest focuses primarily upon teamwork; grouping together to do a dungeon crawl or fell a raid target were some of the most memorable bits of gaming I’ve ever had. Countless quests (many forego killing or grouping), tradeskills and other aspects of the game gave solo players things to do besides kill polygons for “phat lewts”. But EverQuest has always been a very community driven game, between pick up groups, raids and other larger scale interactions. Moreover, the sheer number of aspects and activities players can partake in and get lost in, have made EverQuest an addicting drug, one that many old school gamers fondly (fondly?) referred to as “EverCrack”. For the 18+ years EverQuest has existed, I’ve been playing off and on for 17+ years of it, nearly half my life. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned and become from my time invested with the game, from being an introvert and having as many social interactions as I’ve had in a comfortable manner that aided in these interactions outside the game, to leadership qualities I’ve applied outside of the servers. If there was any one game that helped to shape, and even change who I was to who I am today, it is EverQuest. I may have a love/hate relationship throughout the years, but its importance and numerous enjoyable moments have meant a lot to my life.
Role Playing Games have meant a lot to me throughout the years, and I’m sure a vast number of readers will feel the same. From moving experiences with its storylines, to memorable moments in MMORPG’s, to discovering new worlds to get lost in, no other genre has provided as many game changing experiences and instances. Whether it’s dungeon crawlers like Dark Spire on the Nintendo DS or Etrian Odyssey on the DS/3DS, whether it’s action RPG’s like Justice League Heroes on the PlayStation 2, or whether it’s a traditional Japanese RPG like Persona 5 on the PlayStation 4, there’s an innumerable selection of RPG begging for you to get lost in, and I’d love to get lost in as many as I can. There are so many hidden gems out there that deserve more recognition; if you know of some, please share them in the comments. While my time is becoming increasingly limited, I would love to have an RPG or two I can pick away at over time.
For those dungeon crawler RPG fans out there, Etrain Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth will be out on October 17th in North America. You can preorder your copy of Etrian Odyssey V for the 3DS over at Shopville Canada! If you haven’t had the chance to play through the franchise previously, Shopville also has the previous games in stock.