Admittedly, many old-school RPGs, even some that were released years after Final Fantasy, implemented the very standard, no-frills, turn-based battle system. But the truly great RPGs, the ones that we play even to this day, did something different. A great example is Final Fantasy IV. While the series took a slight, though unfulfilling turn with the second game, the third iteration was back to the somewhat boring, straight-up turn-based battle mechanic.
The fourth Final Fantasy, however, redefined the genre all over again. Rather than having battles play out in real time, a character’s stats came into play. The higher the speed stat, the quicker the action bar filled up; once it was full, an action could be performed. Such an innovation breathed new life into the genre and laid the standard for constantly redefining what makes an RPG good.
And that, to be honest, is what has made gamers so tough on RPGs. Human beings, by nature, are easily bored. But RPGs, unlike other genres, took it upon themselves to fix that. Early on in its lifetime, the genre in general was constantly becoming better. The games were consistently becoming more fun, more exciting, and more innovative. And as a result, that is what we, as gamers, have come to expect from the genre as a whole.
Thus, earlier RPGs didn’t really need a good story in order to be fun; the game mechanic was constantly new and exciting enough to be the sole source of entertainment in the game. Now, however, the gamers’ reliance upon a plot to keep them entertained seems to point that RPGs have ceased to be quite so innovative.
I wouldn’t say that this reflects poorly upon developing companies that create RPGs. Instead, the fact is that so many ideas have already been used; it clearly must be getting tougher and tougher to churn out a really fun, innovative idea for an RPG. This is only challenging developers to become more and more creative, and especially take advantage of the hardware capabilities of the new generation of video game consoles.
Still, things are looking up for RPGs in general. Why? Because, simply put, developers are doing an incredible job of really putting to action what I’ve suggested above. They’re getting creative, combining genres, churning out great games, and working on creating the truly perfect RPG. They’re ensuring that the genre lives up to its pedigree of constantly pushing the envelope and raising the bar.
Developers all over the place are doing their best to continue modifying and perfecting the genre in general. For example, the widely anticipated title for the Xbox 360, Mass Effect, takes a sci-fi/action premise and adds to it unprecedented levels of customization, both with the game’s characters and with the battle system. Other games are well known for combining two genres into one, and in the process creating an unforgettable game. For example, Intelligent System’s Fire Emblem genre and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics combine tactical gameplay with critical RPG elements to procure an addictive, exciting gameplay experience.
No matter the company and no matter the system, RPGs are one of today’s hottest genres. The genre is home to some of the best titles in video game history, and will no doubt continue that trend. Beginning with humble roots 20 years ago to present day when they’re one of the industry’s most successful genre of games, the effect that RPGs have had on the video game world is irrefutable. They’ve become the standard for innovation and excellence, and the way that they’ve improved thus far, I’m sure it’s safe to say that they’ll be even better years down the road.
CCC Freelance Writer