If the number of RPGs you've played is above 3, you know what today's rant is about. You know it because you are intimately familiar with it, having encountered it dozens of times in your game-playing hobby life. It's like the scent of that slightly greasy, questionably employed fellow on the subway who you somehow always get stuck sitting/standing very near during your regular commute to work. You don't know his name, you don't want to know his origins, but you've been shoved up against that filthy, foodstain-spattered jacket of his in a crammed space often enough that you and his body odor have reached an "Old Friend" relationship status. You are familiar not by choice, but rather by forced exposure.
I am speaking, of course, about the Ancient Civilization plot device. You know the one--at some point in any given RPG, your party will invariably wind up exploring some ruin left behind by a long-gone culture which was, bizarrely enough, far more advanced than the current one in at least one, and usually EVERY, way. Now, true, this is an idea commonly used in ALL forms of entertainment, not just RPGs, but it's especially prevalent in them. I'd say it's maybe just a little bit less common in RPGs than Hit Points.
I mean, this theme is EVERYWHERE. If you have to have anything to do with a previous culture in an RPG, you are guaranteed to find out that they were way more advanced than any current country. This isn't just a common cliche, like some of the previous things I've ranted on, such as RPG women's stupid outfits and flying castles and whatnot. It's like a requirement for every RPG's plot to have super-advanced civilizations as its backbone. It doesn't even matter what kind of age the planet/galaxy/whatever the game takes place on/in is going through--you can run into a scattering of immensely powerful artifacts and abilities sealed deep in ancient temples in a fantasy setting, like in Final Fantasy 5, which you'd expect, but hell, you can run into devices left behind by advanced societies with technology far surpassing your own in a super futuristic sci-fi setting, too, such as in Knights of the Old Republic 1. I mean, how much sense, honestly, does it make to have a space-faring race in the Star Wars universe that existed thousands of years before the game's time, which just happens to have had a superior knowledge of both technology and the Force? It's not like technology in the Star Wars universe stands still for millenia. And with Jedi and Sith sporadically running around that whole time, seeking to understand the Force in their own ways, it seems equally silly that some bunch of technology-and-Force-combining aliens who died out hundreds of lifetimes previously would still have had better knowledge than a continuously advancing society thousands of years later.
See, that's what gets me about this cliche. It makes no sense whatsoever. Technology and knowledge do not move BACKWARDS as time passes. What would be known 5000 years ago, be it how to forge some ultimate evil-killing, time-splitting, aura-increasing blade of kickassedness, some special banishing/containing spell that can eliminate the ultimate evil, some special fever-reducing medicine's forumula, or whatever, would almost surely STILL be known, or at the VERY least, rediscovered. At the very most, if the culture had fallen somewhat recently (in RPG terms, this'd be in the last few centuries, rather than the last few millenia), then you could maybe make a case that some of its knowledge could still be lost and not yet rediscovered, since knowledge breakthroughs take time. But trying to tell me that over the course of 2500 years, no magical scholar has yet managed to stumble onto the proper chant for a more powerful attack spell that some idiots living back before the invention of cooked meat managed to master?
If it were just a rare thing, I could let it go. I mean, there're things that ancient cultures on this planet managed to do that are pretty impressive. Last I heard, we'd still have a damn hard time replicating what the Egyptians did with those pyramids, even if we were to employ our incredibly further advanced technology to do so. But every single time? Are we expected to believe in every RPG we play that for the next several centuries after the fall of such and such civilization, everyone in the world was too busy bashing their heads on rocks all day to bother trying in any way to regain the level of knowledge and power that their neighboring such and such society had recently possessed?
And for that matter, there's the matter of why all these clearly far more awesome civilizations disappeared to begin with. You'll only get an explanation of why the esteemed Ugga-Blugh Culture vanished without a trace about a third of the time, at best. The rest of the time, you're just left to imagine what happened to them, and why it is that they had time to build a full half dozen or more temples and towers and such to clumsily safeguard their secrets of destruction before pulling their vanishing act. I mean, since they were busily inventing box-pushing puzzles to hide their favorite weapons and spells and such, they clearly wanted to leave a legacy, implying that they knew they wouldn't be around for much longer. So why the hell not just write down a decent history of themselves and leave it sitting next to whatever apocalypse-causing/preventing crystal they were enshrining that day?
Hell, it's not even like the few times you DO get a reason for why the ancient, sophisticated Mezopotaromaniagyptianese are satisfying. More often than not, they'll have kicked the bucket thanks to the same evil force that you're currently facing off against. Yeah, because it makes a ton of sense for some supposed super civilization to be wiped out by an evil-doer who will by the end of the game be defeated by a group of 3 - 12 moderately stupid teenagers supported by a technologically backwards world that actually considers airships a non-laughable mode of transportation.
Frankly, folks, the whole Ancient Super Civilization plot tool is old. Really, really old. And most often, it's just writers being lazy. How does the villain plan to destroy the world? By using some ancient relic/spell/technology! How will the heroes stop the villain? By using ancient relics/spells/technologies! Where will you spend 1/5 or more of your time in dungeons? In ruins, obtaining ancient relics/spells/technologies! All these essential plot devices are just magically sitting around, waiting to be found and/or stolen, so that writers can show characters and villains and such doing what they want them to be doing, but not have to ever worry about how to get there.
And it's not a problem that's getting any better--hell, it's only seeming to get worse with certain recent games. I mean, much as I love Wild Arms 3, you're crawling around in previous cultures' ruins for something like 80% of your total dungeon experience, without a word breathed once about where the hell these things came from, who built'em, and for what purpose. And then there's Final Fantasy 12--apparently, in some timeline that Square released, FF12 occurs a long time before FFT does, possibly on the same world. Yeah, because it's so believable that people running around in a medieval setting with swords and spears and such were, less than 1300 years prior, waging war in crazy Star Wars-esque flying ships with canons and bombs and such.
Seriously, this nonsense has got to stop. Or at least cut back a little. If the writers for the games we purchase can't honestly think of a better way to advance the plot than by using a quest to obtain some random object of power from some ancient bozos' temple of miraculously preserved traps and robots, then they shouldn't be writing to begin with. Give us some material that makes SENSE.