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 parts...it'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?