Friday, November 23, 2007

General RPGs' Over-Complicated Battle Systems

The game industry seems a lot more competitive these days. I mean, it's always been competitive, no mistake about that--I was growing up around the time that Sega was still a game system company and thought it could compete with Nintendo. They were pretty into competing against each other back then; in fact, I think Sega was probably the only opponent that Nintendo's ever really taken seriously that I've seen. Ever since then, they've just cruised and done their own thing, and stayed in (or even, like now, on top of) the game just focusing on making games and systems rather than beating others at it. But Nintendo aside, things seem a lot more frenzied between game companies these days. Each new game is compared against a dozen others for how unique it is, its controls, how it looks, how it runs, and so on, and each big seller, besides Halo 3, seems to have busted its balls to provide something relatively new and exciting that's different than the others. I guess it's probably attributable partly to the fact that there are more big players in the industry than there used to be (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all have incredible resources to work with--Nintendo because it's got the longest history and most creative developers, Sony because it's obscenely rich, and Microsoft because it's obscenely obscenely rich), and partly to the fact that there are a lot more ways now to make games differently, with the better technologies.

Usually, this is a good thing. Game developers, in stark contrast to Hollywood, WANT to give the audience something new to lure their dollars away, rather than just keep trying to sell the same product over and over again with different titles. Well, I mean, they still do the latter, too, but that stuff is overshadowed by what's new and interesting. Thanks to all this competition for unique games and ways to play them, we get innovative products like the DS, the Wii, Guitar Hero, DDR, God of War, and so on.

But with RPGs, it's starting to irritate me a bit. The thing that RPGs do to compete with each other seems, in most cases, to be to make their battle systems ridiculously over-complicated.

Looking at some RPGs I've played lately, let's examine this. First, there's Final Fantasy 12, with its whole Gambit system. Now, I appreciate any attempt to not make me have to go through a million menus every single time I see a hostile enemy in a game. Taking the experience of actually playing the game's battles away is not something I mind at all, because it's a boring part of the game anyways. But the customization of how to set the damn thing up can be insanely complex, and if you don't have the imagination to tweak its little details in just the right way, you have a hell of a time defeating almost every side quest boss you find without a crapload of boring level-building. Thankfully, you can, for most of the game, probably get by with some basic "Heal when damaged badly, and attack/cast attack magic the rest of the time" Gambits. But if you want to get the full experience from the game? Be prepared to spend hours fine-tuning Gambits in the main menu. I thought the point of them was to LESSEN the amount of time navigating attack menus.

And the way you learn stuff in that game is just plain annoying. I mean, FF10's Sphere Grid? I could work with that. But when you have to get skill points just to equip a certain damn suit of armor, it's just plain irritating. I mean, you could have the skill to wear other, very similar sets of armor, but still somehow not know how to equip the next most powerful one, even though it would presumably take all the same, basic clothing putting-on skills as the previous one.

And that's just one of the more standard excessive innovations introduced to a recent game. There are some games that just take it to a pulling-hair-out extreme. Dark Cloud 2, for example, is just plain ridiculous. You have to keep track of your health, your weapon's health because it will break if not repaired, your robot ride's health, your weapons' experience levels (because THEY level up), the stats you'll need for them to evolve into their next form, which form you want the weapon to become, taking pictures of random crap to give your robot better parts, putting that random picture crap together to create the's like every time you clear a dungeon's floor, you have to then leave, go back to a village or whatever, get everything healed up, take about 15 minutes to figure out what you should do with your equipment, and then finally go back in and tackle the next floor, to repeat the process about 30+ times until you're at the end of the dungeon. It's needlessly complex.

And don't get me started about having to do the stat-building experience for your fucking fishing rod, too. I can't believe that they actually figured out a way to make fishing minigames even MORE infuriating and idiotic.

You know, my three favorite RPGs ever are Chrono Trigger, Suikoden 2, and Grandia 2. Grandia 2 has a reasonably complex (but not overly so) system of battle, but CT and Suikoden 2 are both pretty simplistic. You fight, you level up, you have a few magical spells and such that you can use when your level goes high enough, and characters' roles in combat are pretty well-defined, so you can concentrate on leaving magic to the magic-users and putting your hard-hitting equipment on the physical attackers. Neither of these fantastic games ever suffered from having a simple, straightforward system of gameplay. They're great for the stories they tell, and the characters in them.

Try getting something pleasantly straightforward like that today, though, and your options are limited to Action RPGs (which isn't so bad, but they're still not many to choose from), or be willing to settle for a Dragon Quest game, which is the complete opposite--rather than trying to create some sort of unique gameplay identity to set itself apart from the rest, that series distinguishes itself by having its games have NO identity.

I miss the days when RPGs were content with being simple. When I buy an RPG, I'm out to see a story being told. I'm not going to have fun with the battle system either way, so why foist a ton of time-wasting nonsense on me that's going to just disrupt my ability to actually follow the game's events? I mean, I know some people are into this stuff, but does that mean every single damn game has to come out with fifteen different ways in it to get your characters ready to swing a damn sword?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Final Fantasy 10's Tidus's Realness

Like every other large, popular series which attracts and entertains a fairly wide variety of people, Final Fantasy has some characters that, for one reason or another, a lot of people wind up hating. Most of the time, contrary to what you'd expect from a guy who uses the majority of his blog rants for RPG-related complaints, I find myself in opposition to people's opinions that so-and-so character sucks (I happen to like FF7's Cait Sith, see nothing wrong with FF9's Quina Quen, and think FF4's Edward is one of the more inspiring individuals in the entire series). Not to say that I don't sometimes agree that some characters suck, of course--FF5's X-Death is just downright lame, and there's frankly less creative talent behind the writing for FF8's Squall than there is behind See Spot Run. But in general, the FF characters who get bashed the most are ones I think are just fine.

FF10's Tidus is one of these characters. While perhaps not quite as universally mocked and denounced as the subject of my last rant, Edward, there are a lot of people out there who just plain can't stand him. Reasons for this range all over the place, although popular ones include the unreasonable and empathy-lacking "He whines too much," the shallow and stupid complaints about how he dresses and/or how he looks (some people apparently never mature past their "Middle School Cool Kids' Lunch Table" mindset for judging others), to a few--a very few--well-reasoned ones regarding aspects of his personality that indicate that the person expressing dislike was actually paying attention to the game.

Oh, yeah, and there's also people who hate Tidus (and/or Yuna) just for that one scene in the game where they're practicing how to laugh. I find this one hard to debate, because seriously, that was maybe the most fucktarded scene in the entire 20+ installment series, worse even than Odin being killed by that nitwit Seifer in FF8, or FF10-2 in general.

The reason for hating Tidus that I may hear the most often, however, and the one that I've taken 3 paragraphs to finally get around to discussing, is because he "isn't real." This view comes from the fact that Tidus is, like the Aeons you summon in that game, a manifestation of the dreams of the Fayth, put into the real world and maintained through inadequately-explored and plot-convenient magical means.

Now, there is an obvious rebuttal to this especially nonsensical reason to dislike a character: that NONE of the characters in ANY Final Fantasy game are real anyways, so for the love of sweet toast, how can it possibly matter how "real" they are in their own completely 100% imaginary worlds?

But, for the sake of having an actual rant on this, let's put aside that tidy piece of logic, and use our imaginations for a moment to pretend that a video game character's lack of realness in his/her/its own game is a legitimate complaint. Let's look at how "real" Tidus is.

First of all, in the strictest, most scientific sense, he seems real enough. He interacts with physical environments, affecting and being affected by them. He swims in water, holds and moves objects, and can physically interact with others, such as the ability to hug Yuna or strike Seymour. His body seems to work as any other real Spiran human's does--he feels physical sensations like cold, pain, and hunger. So I'm pretty sure he qualifies as being as physically real as anyone else in the game.

What about spiritually, though? What, if anything, decides whether he's "real" in terms of his humanity? I think the best way to go about determining that is to look at his existence as an emotional being, and his accomplishments and impact on others. Such things are, essentially, what verifies our existence to others, and to ourselves mentally.

So let's look at Tidus's state and development as a human being. Over the course of the game, Tidus shows (occasionally excessively) emotions of joy, sorrow, despair, determination, irritation, petulance, and enthusiasm, among many others. Over the course of the game, he develops from a somewhat selfish, very disrespectful loud-mouth to a selfless, supportive leader. He learns from experience, comes to terms with father issues he's had for many years, and falls deeply enough in love to be completely willing to give up his life so that the woman he loves and the world she inhabits will be able to live on in peace. It's pretty safe to say that he's as real a human being as any other given RPG character--hell, it's pretty safe to say that he's a lot MORE real than at least half of them.

What about accomplishments? His impact on others? Well, let's see. Tidus defeats hordes of monsters of all sizes, disrupts a global society's traditional religious views, brings a conclusion to a previously unending cycle of destruction and sacrifice, effects a complete change of thinking in several of the people who travel with him through his example and actions (teaching Wakka open-mindedness and tolerance, helping Lulu overcome some of the grief and distrust of emotions that she's had since Chappu's death, and, of course, showing Yuna what it is to live for herself and have the courage to break free and change what is wrong, rather than simply suffer it for others' sakes), and, of course, saves the world from a deranged, seemingly narcissistic nitwit out to destroy it for the most idiotic reasons imaginable (remember, it's not Final Fantasy if you don't feel like slamming your head against the wall at hearing the main villain's motivation!). Regardless of how "real" his origins are, Tidus is clearly real enough to be one of the most important figures in Spira's history.

So in the end, Tidus is real by any reasonable standard I can come up with. And even if one considers him not to be--it still obviously changes nothing about who he is and what he does, so how can it possibly be something to hate him for?