Friday, August 28, 2015

Celestian Tales 1

Celestian Tales: Old North is a Kickstarter RPG, the first of a trilogy (which is why I refer to it as Celestian Tales 1), which has recently been completed and released. It’s one of the RPGs I’ve been a backer for, and I’m pleased to have helped it come into existence. With little-known Indie RPGs such as this (good ones, that is), I generally try to come up with a rant talking about the game’s virtues, since even the teeny-tiny publicity this blog can provide can’t help but be beneficial. So, let’s talk about Celestian Tales 1. I don’t have any 1 particular topic about the game I want to cover, just a few observations, pieces of praise, and complaints, so don’t expect a particularly organized or insightful piece today.

Actually, anyone familiar with this blog probably knows not to expect that any day, really.

So, I’m just gonna put my 3 major complaints out there first, and then we can get to recognizing the things this game does right. First of all, and this is pretty much everyone’s complaint about this game: it’s too short. You’re looking at around 10 hours from start to finish, and though you’re encouraged to see the game through the eyes of all 6 characters (which would make it more like 60 hours long), there’s not a huge amount of variation in the game’s events and scenes from one protagonist to the next. I mean, there’s some, sure, but not enough that it makes up for the lack of time in which the plot takes place. Additionally, I gotta be frank, not all of the characters are really worth following--more on that in a moment.

The reason the game is so short is that it’s the first of a trilogy, but it’s only a trilogy because, as I understand it (I should probably pay more attention to those updates Kickstarter sends me about these things), of time and money issues with the game’s developer. Originally, Celestian Tales was just meant to be a single game, not split into parts, so the ending of this title isn’t like the ending of, say, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1, where you’ve got an overall story that was intended to be split between multiple installments, and that stopping point designated a huge point of transition for the story, the end and completion of one major task and the opening of another. Basically, Celestian Tales 1 ends in a way that feels like it’s the end of a chapter within a book, not the ending of a book within a series, if you get me. The final event of Celestian Tales: Old North is actually the point at which it feels like the real meat of the story is starting, so getting cut off right then is kind of frustrating.

Still, as annoying as that is, it’s a problem that I don’t really know if there’s a solution for. The developer had their reasons for needing to split Celestian Tales into a trilogy. While I feel perfectly comfortable lambasting a well-established, fully staffed, professional game company for not allocating its resources correctly to make its product properly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable really taking Ekuator Games to task over this issue...there’s just a wide gulf between a business that has the resources and experience to do and know better, and a tiny little independent developer that’s telling their story for the first time and learning as they go.

Problem Number 2: Some of its cast. There’s a pretty wide gulf in the quality of the protagonists. Some of them are dynamic, well-written characters (Ylianne and Isaac), and that’s great, but there are also characters who seem likable but don’t really have much in the way of personality and depth (Lucienne and Camille), and those who are neither likable nor developed enough (Aria and Reynard). I kind of get the feeling that the major character development for Lucienne and Aria is simply forthcoming in later installments, but that doesn’t really help Lucienne be more interesting in this game, nor does it help Aria be less of a horrible ignorant judgmental heartless monster.

With that said, this isn’t a clear cut case of being bad characters for some of them. I mean, Camille does not seem very interesting overall, as I say...but, if you’re playing the game with her as your lead, you do see some scenes involving her which give her a little more personality (not to mention spell out a bit of the plot intrigue at the game’s end). The same is true of Aria and even Reynard, a little. Lucienne, sadly, stays pretty boring even if you’re seeing the extra scenes for her. But anyway, you have a case here where the seemingly sub-par parts of the cast really aren’t as bad as they appear at’s just that the decision to show such a significant amount of their personal development through scenes only experienced in certain playthroughs makes the characters appear worse than they are. In future titles, I hope Ekuator Games will be more careful to show adeqaute character development for everyone in any playthrough, not just specific ones.

Problem Number 3: Okay, look, I know I tend to nitpick, but there are way too many typographical errors in the game’s text and dialogue. I can’t take SquareEnix to task for a dozen or so errors in a 30 hour game and then ignore and forgive thrice that number of errors in a game a third that length. It’s obvious from the speech patterns of this game’s characters that the writers are familiar with the English language and have a talent for manipulating it to distinguish dialects and different character mentalities, so the fact that there are so many errors present just comes off as sloppy. Come on, Ekuator Games, it cannot be that hard to find a proofreader or two. Dozens of fanfics are published daily whose authors have located beta readers to ensure the quality of their stories! Do you really want to seem less professional than a 14-year-old fangirl whose last creative work was summarized as “Mako is the vampire prince of the moon kingdome, can the love of the earth princess korra melt his cold heart?? wip, no-bending moon kingdom au, crossover with naruto in later chapters”?

Hell, I’d proofread the damn script if they’re so hard up for a spell check. I’d do it cheap! Anything to keep from constantly cringing at all these immersion-breaking typos.

Alright, so, that’s the bad stuff out of the way. Now for the good. Celestian Tales 1 is a good, solid RPG. Even if we’re only getting the first taste of its plot in this installment, the story becomes engaging quickly, the setting is pretty decently explained and detailed, and the general events of the plot are pleasantly Suikoden-esque, though not derivative of that series. The game clearly has several strong themes it wishes to focus on, including class distinctions, the complexity of right, wrong, and human society and customs, duties to those both above and below oneself, and the dangers of doctrines that close the mind to the possibilities and people of the world. These ideas, and the philosophies that the game wishes to convey regarding them, pop up frequently as the plot progresses, and the characters examine them thoughtfully and with gravity. This is a game that has something to say, and cares about doing so, and I appreciate that.

Another strong point in the game’s favor is its cast. Yes, that seems odd when one of my major complaints was also the cast, but give me a chance to explain. While not every one of the 6 protagonists carries his or her weight as a character on his or her own, as a group, they work very well together, providing great compliments and counterpoints to one another as their perceptions and beliefs are called to play. Yes, Lucienne may not be the most interesting or dynamic of the cast, but her basic steadfastness makes for a good influence in the superior character development of Isaac, as he is many times confronted with the fact that his black-and-white views of the nobility are not always accurate thanks to her example. Yes, Aria may be a particularly detestable harpy, but her cold, self-important intolerance serves to give the sweet Ylianne all the more opportunity to use her innocent wisdom to question the nature of humanity. There are weak characters here, to be sure, and Ekuator Games should work to improve upon them in future installments, but they nonetheless contribute to make a good team dynamic for the party, and the strong characters are all the better for having these counterpoints to work off of. And it also bears mentioning that the good characters are, well, quite good! Isaac’s view and character shifts subtly but dramatically as his eyes are opened to the complexity of the world, and I have to say that Yli, though she appears saccharine at first, is a pleasant surprise in how well her basic, sweet nature fits into the group and the plot’s events. Watching her find herself torn between her elvish understanding of what is truly Right and Wrong, and her developing human understanding of the complex intricacies of those shades of grey between Right and Wrong, is very interesting and even bittersweet.

And that’s...kind of all I really have to say about Celestian Tales: Old North. Is it good? Yeah. I know that I spent more time here talking about its problems than its virtues, but that’s the thing about critiquing in rants like this--you always wind up talking more about the negatives than the positives, because what more is there to say when something works than “it works”? Celestian Tales 1 is short, but what it’s got is good, it knows how to create a good team dynamic with its cast, and it shows a lot of potential for what we can expect from the next installment, especially since the plot seems ready to deepen dramatically.

So yes, it’s good. Then should you buy it? Well...probably, but possibly not. It doesn’t cost much, and it’s definitely decent, so I give it a recommendation, but at the same time, I can’t pretend that it ends at a satisfying place, and that means that the wait for the next installment of the story is more a case of frustration than anticipation. If you don’t think you’d do well with that, well, I’d say you should wait until the trilogy is complete before getting into it. But other than that, I say go for it, it’s a worthwhile beginning to a story that shows a lot of promise.* If you're interested, it can be purchased at GOG or Steam.

* If you do decide to play Celestian Tales: Old North, then I would very much recommend the following:

A. Play through all 6 characters’ prologues before going ahead with the story. First of all, several of the game’s best moments, like Ylianne’s talk with her mother and the choice Aria is forced to make that unfortunately goes on to define her character for the rest of the game, are contained in the prologues. Secondly, and more importantly, understanding a lot of the characters’ personality and the subtle development some of them receive really requires you to know where they’ve come from, and the prologues provide this insight.

B. If you’re going to play only 1 character, make it Ylianne. Most of the best character-specific scenes are hers, to start with, and though she seems excessively cute and sweet at first, once you get used to her you find that she’s probably the most appealing personality in the cast. Also, the fact is that Ylianne’s inexperience with the Old North and its people is similar to the player’s own, and her questions, reactions, and goals thus make her seem closer to the player and thus the natural fit for performing as the player’s specific avatar in this world. Any of the protagonists fit the idea of Main Hero well enough, of course, but Ylianne is the one I think feels most comfortable and natural as our lead. You may feel differently, of course, but like I said, she has some of the strongest character-specific scenes, so it’s still good to see her tale through.

C. With B in mind, it’s still a good idea to find a few Let’s Plays on Youtube of the other protagonists’ playthroughs, just so you can see some of the character-specific scenes of the others. To save you time, here are the moments in the game where the character-specific events occur, with as little spoilers as possible:
Chapter 1: After returning from the village and going to sleep.
Chapter 2: Deciding the bandits’ fate (only significantly different for Ylianne and Isaac)
Chapter 3: After reporting the results of the scouting mission.
Chapter 4: After the trial.
Chapter 5: Looking through the village house.
Chapter 6: NA
Chapter 7: The night before the ceremony, the decision after the final boss battle, and the scene after the credits.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lords of Xulima's Enemy Encounter Rate

I do not, unfortunately, care very much for Lords of Xulima. I don’t doubt the care that its creators put into it, but it’s obvious that effort was directed primarily at the gameplay aspects, while the exploration of their world’s lore was a secondary concern, the game’s plot was a tertiary concern, and the depth of the cast was...whatever comes below tertiary priorities. I’ve thought about ranting about LoX’s storytelling aspects, but there’s so damn little there that I don’t even know how I’d go about it. There’s only so much one can expand upon a game that can be summed up by 2 words: “It’s boring.”

At least what Lords of Xulima cares about, it does well, I guess. I mean, the gameplay works, which is good for people who care about gameplay a lot, but not quite enough to play games that aren’t RPGs. Still, even that’s not perfect...there is, after all, the annoyance of the random encounter rate in the game.

See, here’s the thing. The encounter rate in Lords of Xulima is really, really slow. Like, the slowest I’ve ever seen in an RPG. When you’re wandering through an area where there are random enemies to be encountered, you may stroll across as much as a third of the area’s map before you hit a random encounter. Sometimes even more. And I mean the sizable maps, too, the big outdoor areas that substitute for a world map.

Now, when you first go through an area, this is not all that noticeable, because in addition to random encounters, there’s a lot of enemy encounters in fixed positions on the field waiting for you to step into their line of vision. So when you’re initially exploring an area, you won’t notice the low random encounter rate, because you’ll be frequently scrapping with the fixed, visible enemies anyway. In fact, the low encounter rate is a really good thing, because it helps ensure that you’ll have a chance to retreat to a town when you need to be healed up without being overwhelmed by random enemies during your trip back. And in a game like Lords of Xulima, built with the idea that old-school RPG fans want a return of old-school RPG difficulty, and in which even the easy mode is rather taxing (at least for a lamer like me), being able to beat feet without monsters harassing my exhausted party every step of the way is a good thing.

But after your initial foray into a new zone, once the fixed enemies are cleared out and you’ve explored the area to your satisfaction, then the plodding special encounter rate is really, really annoying, both from the game playing standpoint and the standpoint of someone who has common sense. First of all, from the gameplay-practical standpoint, it’s frustrating that you have to just walk around for so long to bait each encounter because your food supplies dwindle as you do so. Walking back and forth is traveling, traveling slowly drains your food supplies, replenishing your food supplies costs money, there is a finite amount of money to be had in this game, and that money can always be put to better use. I don’t care if this is yet another case of elaborate checks and balances in the game, it’s still annoying, and it’s not like Lords of Xulima is wanting for intricate gameplay restrictions and challenges. They could’ve upped the encounter rate and dropped the whole “spend half the money you got from the random encounters just on the food you burned through trying to make those encounters appear” thing, yet still have had more than enough player micromanagement going on.

More importantly (to me, at least), this is just an irritating gameplay choice from a common sense angle. I admit that I played Quest 64 from start to finish, but even I have better things to do with my time than to spend hours--literal hours of my life, if you add it up!--watching a character move back and forth 45 times because the invisible pack of skeletons nearby are just too damned shy to come over and say hi. I’d probably be a lousy audience for a Las Vegas night show, by this point--playing Lords of Xulima has built up my tolerance for watching an object slowly go back and forth over and over again so much, that I’m probably completely immune to being hypnotized now.

For Poseidon’s sake, the majority of RPG hours are already unnecessary filler, Numantian Games, you didn’t need to add to that!’s like trying to go from one island to another in Suikoden 4, just empty, repetitive travel time that puts you to sleep as it drones on and on. And, oh, have I mentioned that as you clear the random encounters out of an area, the encounter rate begins to drop even further? The longer you go about this process, the longer it takes you to continue doing so. It’s supposed to be to make the process seem more real (the more enemies you kill in an area, the fewer there are running around to bother you), but all it does is just make the process even more tedious.

A minor additional annoyance in the common sense department relates to that food angle I mentioned before. Since you will run out of your food supplies like 3 or 4 times trying to clear an area of random encounters, that means you have to keep traveling back to a town (or other spot for food supplies), and then come back to continue your exceedingly prolonged monster extermination. So you’re adding that much more time thrown away by this ordeal, thanks to the low encounter rate.

And yeah, I know what you’re thinking, at least those of you reading this who have never played Lords of Xulima (which is probably everyone): if it’s so much trouble to fight random encounters, why not just ignore them and continue on without the level-grinding? Well, the answer to that is: finite experience points. LoX is one of those RPGs in which there is a limited number of monsters you can encounter in the game, and thus a limited amount of levels you can gain. Yeah, there are a TON of enemies to take down in the game, but it’s not Final Fantasy: eventually the enemies in each area run out. And Lords of Xulima is, as I mentioned before, not a forgiving game. You need pretty much every level up you can squeeze out of it, at least for a while. Late in the game, if you planned well long-term (Hint: When leveling up, ALWAYS INCREASE SPEED), and made smart use of your resources, you may be strong enough that you don’t really need to eradicate every possible enemy any longer, but early in the game, you’ll be clawing for every advantage you can grab hold of, and can’t afford to leave experience opportunities behind. So polishing off every enemy in an area is not an activity you engage in on a completionist whim, it’s just an assumed necessity of Lords of Xulima.

It wouldn’t be hard to fix this problem. All Numantian Games would have to do would be to increase the encounter rate to a regular level, like most other RPGs. The slight benefit of providing more opportunity for a retreat from a new hostile area just does not outweigh the frustration of waiting and waiting and WAITING for the next random encounter to finally show up later on. And also, get rid of the stupid mechanic of enemies taking longer to show up as their numbers dwindle. Yeah, it’s more realistic, but so are weapon maintenance and sprint meters--it’s one of those areas where dedication to realism is the sacrifice of enjoyability. It detriments the game, while gaining nothing.

Hell, if they really didn’t want to change the encounter rate, they could still make the system more user-friendly. Lots of RPGs have items or accessories that increase or decrease random encounter rates; the Tales of series has been using such things since the get-go. Numantian Games could just incorporate some kind of “lure” item, equipment, or skill in the game, and when the player’s ready to clear an area out, they could activate it and have the enemies come at a reasonable pace. Or maybe each area could have a programming flag that activates once all the stationary, non-random enemies are defeated that increases the encounter rate, since at that point the player’s obviously ready to handle everything the area can throw at him/her. Or how about one of those items like the one from Chrono Cross, the thing you get for beating the game which allows you to speed everything in the game up several times over? Even if the encounter rate stays low, with one of those babies, you’d still cut the boring waiting time down several times over.

There are probably plenty of other ways you could improve the encounter rate situation in Lords of Xulima besides the ones above, too. All I know is that just about any other way of handling the random encounter rate in Lords of Xulima would be better than what’s there right now.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

General RPGs' Underused Settings and Styles

There’s a lot of diversity in RPGs’ settings and cultural backdrops, and I appreciate that. If I want to have science fiction, there are great options, like Mass Effect or Anachronox. If I want to have cyberpunk, there are great options, like Shadowrun or Dex. If I want to have 20th century world history, there are great options, like some of the Shadow Hearts games. If I want something modern and uncomfortably close to reality, there are great options, like Deus Ex 1. If I want horror, there are great options, like Parasite Eve 1. If I want something that explores Christianity, there are great options, like many Shin Megami Tensei titles. If I want a crapload of alchemy, there’s the Atelier games. If I want western fantasy, there’s Crimson Shroud and the Dungeons and Dragons titles. If I want post apocalyptic, there’s Fallout. Dark gothic European, Castlevania. Oriental martial arts, Jade Empire. High School, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. Steampunk, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magicks Obscura. Sci-fi mixed with fantasy, Star Ocean or Phantasy Star. Norse mythology, Valkyrie Profile. Exploration of Hinduism and Buddhism, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga. And so on; you get the idea more than well enough, I’m sure.

Nonetheless, there are a few styles and cultural backdrops that are rarely or never explored in RPGs, at least that I have seen (and I flatter myself to think that I’m pretty well-versed in the genre), ones which could really make for some awesome Role Playing Games if someone were to make the attempt to do so.

...Someone competent, I mean. If you work at SquareEnix, or had anything to do with the development of Lunar: Dragon Song, please just stop reading this rant right now. I don’t want you people getting ideas.

So, in no particular order, here are some ideas for backdrops, overall game themes, and cultural settings that I’d like to see in more RPGs.

Arabian Mythology: Damn, game developers of the world, when are you guys gonna get on this? Old Arabian fantasy is creative, fascinating, and really kind of unique. I know a couple of RPGs have taken a stab at it, but they’re both extremely old games. Defenders of Oasis is dull and unimaginative, using the Arabian style as a backdrop for a story that really could have been told exactly the same way in any other setting; nothing actually connects it to Arabian mythos beyond the genie character. Meanwhile, I love The Magic Scheherazade, it’s inventive and interesting, as I’ve mentioned before, but the game still came out back in the days of the NES. Even if it was an impressive feat of RPG creativity and storytelling for its day, that still means it doesn’t have nearly the kind of depth and emotional and philosophical quality as can be expected from today. The RPG genre, on both sides of the ocean, has drawn decades’ worth of great ideas, stories, and characters from traditional western fantasy and mythology. I don’t think that western fantasy is tapped out by any means, but just imagine all the awesome directions RPGs could go in if a ton of game developers began to use Arabian mythos as their starting point. There’s so much that can be done with this!

Islam in Shin Megami Tensei: Kind of jumping off of the same region of the world as the last idea, here. I know I’m being specific here, but having seen what a kickass job the SMT series has done with representing, analyzing, and exploring the religions of Christianity and Hinduism and Buddhism, not to mention other forms of faith such as the Tarot and luck,* I’d really love to see that same brilliance and attention brought to another of the world’s major religions. And of those major religions, I’d most like to see Islam covered, because it has a hell of a lot of fascinating material, tradition, and ideas to cover, and, well, because a lot of the real world, at the moment, could really use an intelligent and objective perspective on the much-maligned faith. I’m generally happy for all the SMT I can get, but still, this is a subject to which I hope the series turns its unique brilliance soon.

Native American Culture: Really, I just want to see something, anything, basing itself off of the cultures of Native Americans. Their various societies and belief systems are fascinating, and essentially ignored by all forms of art and media, or at the most, just seen in relation to other cultures (mostly imperialistic white culture). It’s not that there’s nothing that relates to Native Americans in RPGs...the Shadowrun series actually makes Native Americans a big part of its lore, and some of its games reflect that to an extent, and sometimes you’ll come across a tribal culture in an RPG that give the distinct impression of being an analogue for Native Americans, like the tribes in Suikoden 3. And of course, the Fallout series, particularly Fallout 2 and New Vegas, have a lot of interesting material on the matter. Hell, you could probably argue that some elf cultures in RPGs are metaphors for Native Americans, albeit clumsy ones. And there’s always the actual inclusion of Native Americans in Shadow Hearts 3...but we shall not speak of that, for that game is terrible and should ever be shunned. Nonetheless, there’s never been an RPG, to my knowledge at least, that really just bases itself around Native American ideas, history, and culture, and as with Arabian mythology, I think there’s a lot of potential there to explore.

Which leads us to the next one:

The Wild West: Aw, man, wild west-styled stuff can make for such kickass entertainment! Desert-y environments, small and tough frontier towns, horses and six shooters, bar brawls, outlaws, sheriffs, that fascinating mix of early industrialist society both fleeing from itself and yet also fighting to bring its progress further forward, the equally fascinating war within the genre of glorification of individualism and freedom against community versus adherence to the law, manly mustaches and cool cowboy gear, an obsession with pillaging gold and hiding it which is similar to the pirate genre but at the same time way better, thrilling train heists, the continued thoroughly immoral expansion into Native American lands and treatment of their society and population as subhuman savages who make better pets than people...

...Okay, so...maybe that last tendency of the genre is not so good. Deeply disturbing, actually.

Still, so long as it manages to not promote racism and carefree cultural genocide, the American Frontier setting has a ton of really cool, fun stuff to offer that RPGs just don’t take advantage of. Oh, sure, there are bits and pieces of it here and there--aspects of it can be found in Fallout: New Vegas, and there’s a cowboy scenario in Live-A-Live that’s fun, but a real, sincere effort to use this interesting and exciting genre in RPGs is hard to find. Wild Arms 3 is pretty much the only RPG out there that does it (even though the entire Wild Arms series erroneously claims to be Old West-styled), and WA3 was one of the greatest RPGs ever created. And it’s not even like this genre is that hard to make work with other, more RPG-friendly ones. Wild Arms 3 may have committed to the setting in a way that all its predecessors and successors utterly failed at, but it nonetheless managed very competently to maintain a strong amount of the fantasy-sci-fi mix of the rest of the Wild Arms games, too, and as classics like Trigun and Firefly show, sci-fi can actually be combined with the Wild West really, really effectively. Here’s hoping the future holds more committed, great Wild West RPGs like Wild Arms 3 in the future.

Edit...From the FUTURE: The future does, indeed, hold West of Loathing, which is a terrifically fun humor RPG making use of Wild West aesthetics. But I'm still keeping this setting here in this rant, because we still desperately need more, and if WoL is anything to go by, they can, indeed, be pretty awesome.

Indian Culture: If it’s Shin Megami Tensei examining its social-religious aspects, great. If it’s a game just generally basing itself on the geography and society of India, great. Past India as a backdrop, present India as a backdrop, future India as a backdrop, all great. A fantasy land strongly based on Indian mythology, also great. I don’t care about how the game wants to go about it. I just want something that gives me an interesting glimpse of Indian culture that treats it with a shred of dignity. Because right now, all I’ve got to work with are ridiculous, insulting stereotypes on TV and in the movies. Although the USA entertainment industry is (for once) not entirely at fault for far as I’ve seen and am told, the Indian movie industry isn’t exactly breaking its back to defy stereotypes. Well, I don’t care what side of the ocean it comes from--I just want to see something using Indian people and concepts that doesn’t treat the culture as a fucking punchline, or a mandate for a dance montage.

Film Noir: Well come on. Film noir is just plain always awesome. Hard-boiled detectives, glamorous and dangerous scenarios and people, twisted schemes by crooked fiends, the dark streets, that singularly cool internal monologue that all the best protagonists keep going the whole time...gotta love it. Yeah, you might think that this genre would lend itself more naturally to different kinds of games, like an investigation game or even a first person venture, and you’re probably right. But there’s no reason why you can’t combine those things with an RPG and get a good result. Many RPGs, like Mass Effect and Fallout, have successfully combined shooters with RPG elements, and I don’t see why you couldn’t also have a hybrid between your typical detective game and an RPG. You could do it like Sakura Wars 5 combines a dating sim and an RPG together--SW5’s RPG elements (the stats of characters during its battles) come from how well you do with the dating game portion. You could have the investigative segments inform the RPG elements in a similar fashion, where the better job you do sleuthing and following leads, the better your stats will be when a couple hitmen jump you in the alley, or something. With a strong enough set of writers behind it, it could be a primarily story-driven game with only a few fights interspersed here and there, like Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle, or, again, Sakura Wars 5, so you could make investigative elements the main attraction but still draw on the RPG element. I dunno. All I know is that I love a good film noir story, and with RPGs’ strong penchant for focus on storytelling elements, it seems to me that a skilled developer could make a hell of a film noir RPG.

Real World, Modern Age: We don’t really get many RPGs that are supposed to be set in our own reality. It’s not that they don’t exist, of course, but they’re still few and far between, and even the ones that do set themselves in our world or close to it tend to set themselves apart by clearly being parallel but significantly different realities (the Fallout and Sakura Wars series), or ridiculously far in the future (the Mass Effect and Star Ocean series), to the point that they still come off to a large degree as being another world (Star Ocean doesn’t help this by constantly setting itself up on numerous alien planets that just happen to be another backwater standard magical RPG dump).

Still, there are RPGs that take place a little closer to home, and they’re often very good. Shadow Hearts 1 and 2 take place all over Europe and Asia in the first half of the 20th century, Deus Ex 1 takes place on a global scale in a near (and getting scarily nearer all the time) future, and a significant number of Shin Megami Tensei titles take place in the real world from the early 20th century on to the present and near future. All of the games I just listed are worthwhile RPGs, ranging from good to downright incredible, and some of them (Deus Ex 1 in particular) have a greater ability to comment on and provide cautionary tales for our lives, because they directly borrow from the reality that we live in. I just feel like we could use more games that do so. There’s all kinds of social and political issues in our world that the public needs exposure to, and while I’m all about documentaries and books and movies and whatnot, I’d like to see my favorite game genre step up and join the fray of telling tales of the real world with the purpose of making it and us the better for them.

Man, I can’t wait to play Unraveled: Tale of the Shipbreaker's Daughter.

2016 UPDATE: Moon Hunters is a decent RPG with a definite thematic backdrop of Native American culture. It's good, but very short and it doesn't really have the same sort of dedicated plot that one typically expects from an RPG, so I'm still hoping for more games that make use of this setting, style, and culture.

2019 UPDATE: Rakuen is a great RPG that (mostly) takes place in the real, modern world. In fact, it even directly references and builds off of the Fukushima disaster of 2011. It's very much an RPG in the spirit that I was hoping for when mentioning that we need more real life, current time period RPGs, which is great. Still, I'm keeping that setting on the list, because there's a LOT more that can and should be done with it.

* Christianity: SMT1 + 2, Devil Survivor 1, and, well, just most of the series, really.
Hinduism and Buddhism: SMT Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2
Luck: SMT Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon
Tarot: SMT Persona 3 and 4
Basic Foundations of Religions’ Behavior: SMT3