Monday, March 31, 2008

General RPGs' Sailing

Sailing. Good lord, do I hate Sailing in RPGs.

Now, I should clarify what I mean when I say Sailing. I don't mean the traditional kind of sailing most often seen in RPGs. Sea- and lake-faring ships have been a pretty common staple in RPGs from the genre's earliest days. Generally, boats were used as an easy and fast way of traveling to new places previously unreachable, skimming across the waters of the globe at a quick pace to get you where you wanted to go. Simple, fast, easy to use. I mean, granted, the idea that you could sail around the planet in less than five minutes using a wooden boat propelled by sails is not altogether believable, and I know that I'm often making rants about how silly and unrealistic certain things in RPGs are. But this is the kind of unrealistic thing that I don't mind, and in fact, advocate, because it benefits the game's flow and enjoyability without being significantly odd. The game's story and realness wouldn't significantly benefit from making the ship slower and harder to navigate, but the ability to enjoy the game is significantly boosted when you can get where you want to go at a good speed, without having to wait ten minutes just to get your ship out of port. Not to mention, you can get a better feel of the plot being cohesive as you travel from one place to another if you get there sooner than later, since the plot's events will follow one another while they're still fresh in your mind. This is like the infamous 5 Second Inn Stay--the slight sacrifice of believability, or at least the slight quickening of an otherwise uneventful and long event, is easily made up for by how much the game and its story gain.

However, there are apparently people in Japan who don't realize this. These are the people who create games with the evil that I call Sailing.

The first ones, or at least the first ones to my knowledge, were, quite strangely, the fine folks at Nintendo. Specifically, the ones that made The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. TLoZWW takes place over a series of islands set apart from each other by large expanses of water. To get from one typically tiny island to the next, you must sail. You must sail a lot. For a long, long time. You will sail and sail and sail, and you will only see more water. More water, and lots of enemies. There will be nothing but enemies and water for God knows how long on your trips in between each island. It gets old REAL fast. But, y'know, I still liked TLoZWW. I liked it because it had a pretty original plot for a Zelda game, and getting originality out of a Zelda title can be like looking for meaning in an episode of FLCL. But still, playability-wise, it could have been MUCH less irritating if sea voyaging had been faster, less boring, and didn't have random monsters appear every few minutes to harass the player.

I said it was strange that this boring experience of Sailing was featured in (and, to my best knowledge, created by) a Nintendo game. This is because Nintendo, more than any other game company on the planet, seems to know and value the experience of actually playing a video game, and Nintendo games are typically among the most fun to actually play. So for Nintendo to release a title for one of their big-name series that was just so boring to play is surprising. But what followed was even worse.

See, the thing about Sailing in TLoZWW is, even though it's long and boring, it still controls smoothly and skillfully. When you're sailing along in your crappy little boat, you get the feeling from the controls that, yes, it's really not very good, but it's the CONCEPT that sucks, not the execution. Things are relatively smooth and responsive in their controls. It all feels polished, at least. But in the next and hopefully final RPG with Sailing, all that is totally lost.

I speak of Suikoden 4, renowned by Suikoden fans far and wide to be an utter disgrace to the series. It sits like a freshly-secreted mound of dung on a 3-tiered wedding cake. Now, as I've mentioned in a previous rant, just about every aspect of it earns this, and the worst parts of it are definitely related to how utterly pointless its plot and cast are. But Sailing is definitely still a very big part of why this game is so terrible.

See, they basically took the idea behind TLoZWW, and said, "Okay, how's this for an idea: there are even fewer islands to visit, they're further away from each other so you spend more time looking at the endless waves while you get to them, you go about one quarter of the speed, extremely repetitive random battles happen approximately every 30 seconds, and the ship controls like a tired sloth that just got off a 6-hour carousel." To get from one island to the next in this game, you will be staring at nothing but ocean, sky, and an extremely sluggish boat for the better part of half an hour, at least. Your only distraction will be the incessant random battles with enemies that stopped giving you significant experience at least 7 hours before. It's just about the most boring video game experience I've ever had, and considering that I've played Quest 64 from start to finish, that's saying something.

I actually timed myself on one voyage from one island to another that was roughly halfway across the map to see how long it would take to get there, if I ran away from every random encounter and made no stops. Turns out that, if you want to make a trip even halfway across the map in Suikoden 4, you'd better get ready to stare at the never-changing ocean waves for a good while, because your ship is going to spend almost 45 minutes meandering its way to its next destination, assuming you don't take the time to actually kill the random baddies accosting you every 20 seconds. Better figure in an extra few minutes in case you have trouble getting into the tiny port area for your destination island, too, since turning and getting around land masses is a ridiculously awkward and slow ordeal. And that's for 1 trip. Although the game's fairly short when you don't figure in the endless Sailing, you'll still be making many such trips over the course of the game. I figure about half the game's just monotonously getting from one place to the next. That's a good 20 - 30 hours of being bored out of your mind. And all presumably because some jackasses in Japan thought it would be a good idea to realistically show how much trouble and time is involved in traveling by sea. Probably the same idiots that came up with the realism of having to repair your weapon every 10 minutes in the Dark Cloud games or it'll oh so realistically break and leave you fucked.

Fuck Sailing. It just better damn well not become a trend.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

General RPGs' Dreams

You know, there's something that has always seemed a bit odd to me is RPG characters' dreams. Do they EVER just have regular, non-plot-essential dreams? I mean, if an RPG character has a dream, at LEAST 75% of the time it's a vision telling them of some immensely important upcoming event, usually one that spells doom and destruction for all they know if they don't go out and level up at least 40 times while procuring some holy super-powered divine object/weapon/maiden. They never just have a normal dream about random crap their minds throw together. It's ALWAYS prophetic somehow; even the purpose of the vision can't just be some made up crap. If they dream that they're the chosen one and that a race of aliens are gonna attack their world and they're the only person who can stop the aliens by finding 7 magic rings that can forge the Hyper Force Sword, then EVERY PART of that is true. Not one part of it can be made up, even though, for some reason, most of the characters who have the dreams ignore them until the predicted stuff is currently about to happen or IS happening. Even though EVERY dream has huge significance, they seem to treat the things with as little or even LESS interest than we do with our dreams.

The only real exception that accounts for the 25 or lower percent of the time is when a dream is showing a character some part of their past. And again, there's no possibility that this part of their past isn't incredibly important. Shadow of Final Fantasy 6 never just dreams about how fun it was to go hang-gliding with Baram that one time. He has to have dreams remembering monumental moments that changed his life forever. Karen from Phantasy Star Universe doesn't have a memory dream of a conversation she had with someone last Friday about what kind of boots she prefers. She has a traumatic memory dream of her mom dying when she was a little kid. I mean, I know that these are the kinds of moments that do stay with a person forever, and compared to the 100% accurate prophetic dreams, these ones are pretty believable, but still, no one dreams about massively significant memories like that all the time.

Y'know, I had a dream last week. I don't remember too many particulars (frankly, I'm surprised I remember it at all, because I usually forget dreams the moment I wake up), but I do remember that for some reason or other, I was talking to God about roast beef sandwiches. I really kinda wish I could remember the set-up to that conversation, and what I and God said exactly, because I know I really enjoyed it while it was going on and it would definitely be fun to relate, but that's life.

Anyways, living in this world, which makes more sense than it doesn't, I know I can disregard that dream as probably unimportant overall. But if I were living in an RPG world, this dream would have been a holy vision, and I would know for sure that God himself was granting it to me, and telling me that I must go on a journey to find the legendary Roast Beef Sandwich of El-Al-Eeal, lost since ancient times and key to the salvation of my world from the heinous Bologna Demons, summoned forth every thousand years to bring ruination to all. Not only that, but the dream might have then gone on to display a memory I had of my father leaving on a journey to discover the truth behind the Whole Wheat civilizations of old that created the sandwich I was now to find.

Seriously, though, I know this isn't a big deal or anything, but it still IS kinda silly. I know it would get boring if every time you slept at the inn you had to watch an inane dream sequence that means nothing, but still, it would be a lot more realistic if every now and then your sad-hearted pretty-boy protagonist just had a non-plot-significant dream where he was in front of his entire graduating class from Generic Main Character Mercenary Academy in his underwear.